Thursday, December 25, 2008

Obamamania Sweeps Confederacy

There are so many things I could write about this, my brain begins to overload. This begs for a caption contest. But it wins for "most interesting thing I've seen in 2008." Weirder than that: I had to drive all the way to Georgia to see it.

I'll soon be on the beach with my feet in the sand, but before I go, I wanted to show this picture to you and wish everyone a Merry Christmas & a Happy Holiday Season. This year's "holiday season" is, of course, running all the way from November 4th to January 20th. In every corner of America.





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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Bird By Any Other Name

Some salt in the wounds? Eating a little crow?

I'm used to hearing the LSU chants of "Tiger Bait," even though the Dawgs have taken, what, 5 out of the last 7? I'm far too used to hearing it from Florida fans. In my days, I've even heard it from some Georgia Tech fans, though they've had to be quiet for a long, long time.

Every time I hang out with Alli, I get an earful of delusional Notre Dame and Big Ten boosterism, and if the Dawgs do give this year's bowl game away to the northern land grant college that lent itself to the rise of Michael Moore, its gonna be a tough January.

Hell, I'm even used to hearing it from Saints fans, as I rolled out of Georgia and into New Orleans the night before the First Game Back in the Dome in 2006.

You remember that game, don't you?

But I am not at all used to hearing it from Falcons fans. Because even though the Saints and Birds split their home and home evenly this year, with a new QB and running back and coach, Atlanta fans get to keep playing after this Sunday.

Because of that, and my looming Christmas journey back to the homeland, I know what is coming. The Louisiana tags, the "UNO" parking sticker and the Saints magnet on the back of my ride will only ensure my subjection to "Dirty Bird" dances in and about the drinking establishments of Redfern Village.

But I'll enjoy it. And it will be fun to root for Atlanta in the playoffs again, as my relationship with the NFL is based more on teams that I hate than teams that I follow (New England must be destroyed...). I'll go to the bars, and watch the games, and raise my glass to the same toast I gave last time Atlanta made it to the NFCCG - "Not even supposed to be here today!"

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Ethics Laws & Punchlines

I don't know if I could find a better example of how not to administer a law. Selective and inappropriate enforcement of ordinances is the quickest way to make said ordinances ineffective.

Like the Mid-City bonfire issue, where "public safety" is being used as an excuse to shut down a holiday tradition while crime and violence continue to plauge several New Orleans neighborhoods, state officials are now saying state ethics laws do not allow patrons to give library staff cookies for Christmas. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if government is to be effective and cost efficient, the administrators who decide what work government does must be able to prioritize their efforts.

On "public safety" issues, go after the worst criminals and the high crime areas first. On "ethics" issues, prosecute high ranking government officials for things like cash in the freezer, take home cars, and paying for private events (like wedding receptions) out of public monies. Long after such large issues have been addressed reasonably in the eyes of the public, adhering to the letter and the spirit of the law, can smaller, less pressing issues be addressed. Sweating the small stuff erodes the faith that we are a nation of laws.

The punchline? You can't give library workers cookies and gift cards because those things have "economic value," but this year, you can give them an American-made automobile!

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Catch Your Breath

A lengthy report came out in the Nation this week about events that happened in New Orleans immediately following August 29th, 2005. I wonder if this kind of story will gain any traction, locally or nationally, and what terrible results will come from such terrible events. Will such ugliness be addressed or will we turn away? What kind of circus will this become for ideolouges?

I'm not shocked by what I've read, but I am saddened that we as a nation still go through things like this. I fear the coming accusations and recriminations on all sides, and I fear also what we will reap from sowing seeds of justice unresolved.

This isn't going to be easy history to write, whatever happens.


Update: 12/21/08:American Zombie puts the Nation article in the perspective of the disaster writ large. Also, Liprap's blogging about it as well.
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Innovation

Because it is a long and difficult process to fix and reform certain aspects of society, we are constantly coming up with band-aid solutions to larger problems while we wait. Homelessness in this country is a problem that will be more adequately solved when more people get serious about our mental healthcare infrastructure, public housing, education and social service programs. But, while powers that be argue and volunteers can only do so much, there are still too many people sleeping in cardboard boxes who either don’t know or can’t comprehend how to get themselves out of this situation.

The EDAR is an idea that is not a solution to a big problem, but helps alleviate some suffering. In the realm of small measures, it is something worthwhile. Not a step forward in the right direction, but a step forward nonetheless. While it is sad that it is necessary, it is necessary.


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Nardelli on Chrysler Bailout

I've been pretty harsh on the auto bailout so I though it only fair to post Chrysler's CEO's open letter concerning the bailout.

I still disagree with it though, especially in Chrysler's case. Chrysler is currently owned by Cerebrus. Cerebrus has the liquid assets to make the same loan to Chrysler but has elected not to. If its own parent company won't save Chrysler, why should the US taxpayer?

To be fair, Cerebrus isn't the most altruistic parent company on earth. Cerebrus is the same company that bought Mervyns and then spun it off into its own company minus its original real estate holdings. That put an already cash-strapped Mervyns chain in the position of having to pay exorbitant amounts to lease land it previously owned and proved to be the death knell of an already struggling store.

I only mention this Cerebrus business because of a curious comment in the open letter:
Cerberus has already agreed to forgo any benefit from the upside that would, in part, be created from the bridge loan and any other government assistance that the Company may obtain.

I don't really get that. Chrysler has said that without the bridge loan, it would go into bankruptcy. Few expect that the company could make it out of bankruptcy. If the government makes this loan, it is essentially saving the company. How exactly can Cerebrus not benefit from that? They get any long term profits that come from the company continuing to exist.

Update: I found an email picture that I really like concerning the bailout so I'm posting it here:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Priorities

Let me get this straight. Because it is dangerous, the New Orleans city government and the firefighting and crime-fighting agencies, want to put a stop to Mid-City's New Year's Eve tradition of building a giant bonfire of Christmas trees.

I guess it would be too much to ask that they prioritize the local "don't shoot people" and "don't steal stuff" ordinances ahead of the "no big bonfires" ordinance.

Or maybe this is the first time the enforcement agencies have heard of such a bonfire, as witnesses have refused to testify in the past, and the smoldering remains of yuletide foliage have a tendency to disappear from the evidence room.

I don't believe any of that, though. I'm a believer in "Cash Rules Everything Around Me." The city agencies are getting pressure from somewhere, and it has little to do with public safety. I think I know the real reason: the BCS is shutting down our bonfire.

This has more to do with businesses lobbying the city to shut down the bonfire in order to increase foot traffic in places like the French Quarter. While the Sugar Bowl invitation to the University of Alabama Crimson Tide will undoubtedly bring a horde of alcohol-guzzling revelers to the Crescent City, bars and tourism officials worry that the inclusion of the University of Utah Utes may drive down the number of total attendees and lower the total volume of alcohol purchased for the weekend. There is only so much money that can be made off Alabama Slammers, after all. The non-inclusion of a school like LSU or Georgia - whose students, alumni and fans routinely drink bars dry of all beverages percieved to contain alcohol regardless of price or recession - has business watchdogs spooked.

Shutting down the bonfire forces the hundreds of hard drinking natives back to more central party nodes of the city. Not that the natives wouldn't start or end their evenings there anyway, but those extra few hours can literally translate into millions to the powers that be.


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And Next Year's Darwin Award Goes To....

That's it. One line. I...I can't add anything to the story.


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Something Completely Different

Disclaimer: I say these words in the full knowledge of the ass-whipping I will recieve by my friends who are past and future residents of Gwinnett County, Georgia. I may have to suck up my pride and one day live in or near Atlanta, Georgia, but I will never, ever, ever, ever live in Gwinnett County of my own free will, no matter how many times I have to visit people I love who live in that place.

Gwinnett County schools just voted to remove themselves from Georgia's state rules regarding education. Kindof like secession, but different. It still has to be approved by the state, of course, but as Georgia's largest public school system (wow, I did not know that), Gwinnett "Success Lives Here*" County has considerable leverage.

This is interesting news on the education front, as many so many other public school districts consider state takeovers (please see also: Recovery School District, Louisiana & Clayton County schools, Georgia), Gwinnett feels strong enough to submit a plan to the state that grants them nearly total autonomy.

I was wondering how they would do this (they have some fantastic schools and some rougher institutions), then they provided me with the answer without meaning to. The statement also sums up how the charter school movement is truly viewed by Southern public school policymakers:

In exchange, the district would agree to produce results or face penalties. Low performing schools could be transformed into charter schools if goals are not met by a deadline.
Emphasis mine.

Oh. So, Gwinnett will be state-rule-autonomous in exchange for the ability to unload schools of ill repute back to the state as charter schools. Becaue, through all the praises sung about charter schools by policymakers, they are seen as "penalties" on the local level, by the folks who send their kids to good public schools. Riiight. How much do you want to bet those "deadlines" don't come soon enough, and that the "progress" required by said deadlines are impossible to meet?

Bad schools and bad students will become somebody else's problem. That's some real incentive for Gwinnett to really work on those low performing schools and meet those deadlines, isn't it? Like when your neighbor complains about the junk car on your lawn, and makes you a deal that if you don't fix it he'll haul it into his yard at his expense and show you how its done. There's a "you might be a redneck if" joke in there somewhere.

I know y'all think I'm crazy for talking like that, and I'm sure the policymakers have nothing but the "students' interests in mind." I don't know any other places where such conflicts of interest might exist. < / sarcasm >

But I'd bet the populations being served in the low-performing schools will be "sold" on the charter schools as a "better situation" than the schools being run by the "county," right? Because, if this goes into effect, Gwinnett can add an 'average' of one more student per class and save themselves "$30 million." I wonder whose classes will show up at the top of the average aggregator and which ones will show up at the bottom?

Sneaky stuff. All sold under the moniker of 'progress.'

In related news, Jefferson "We Shoot Nutria Here" Parish is finally getting around to addressing that whole "desegregation" thing. It's been on the "to-do" list for a while now.

(* - If you're driving on I-85 through Gwinnett County, there is a large, industrial water tower with the slogan "Success Lives Here" written boldly on the side. I've always wondered if they meant "in Gwinnett County" or just "in this water tower right here.")


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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reasons For the Auto Meltdown

Time.com has a list of the 50 worst cars of all time. Many from companies who have already failed or, at this point, been bought by other companies that are about to fail. What is best is the snappy prose, however, delivering such lines as:

This is the car that gave Communism a bad name. Powered by a two-stroke pollution generator that maxed out at an ear-splitting 18 hp, the Trabant was a hollow lie of a car constructed of recycled worthlessness

Interestingly, in a car where "carpet" was listed as a standard feature, the Yugo had a rear-window defroster — reportedly to keep your hands warm while you pushed it.

The most ineffective bit of French engineering since the Maginot Line, the Renault Dauphine was originally to be named the Corvette, tres ironie. It was, in fact, a rickety, paper-thin scandal of a car that, if you stood beside it, you could actually hear rusting. Its most salient feature was its slowness, a rate of acceleration you could measure with a calendar. It took the drivers at Road and Track 32 seconds to reach 60 mph, which would put the Dauphine at a severe disadvantage in any drag race involving farm equipment.

A 3,200-lb. motorcycle with training wheels, a V8 engine and enough copper tubing to provide every hillbilly in the Ozarks with a still

A vehicle that promised to revolutionize drowning, the Amphicar was the peacetime descendant of the Nazi Schwimmwagen (say it out loud — it's fun!). … Its flotation was entirely dependent on whether the bilge pump could keep up with the leakage. If not, the Amphicar became the world's most aerodynamic anchor
I couldn't stop laughing. A spectacular examination of very bad ideas.

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Jekyll Island Blues

If I could take any one thing from New Orleans and transport it back home to Island City, it would be something you probably wouldn't think about. You might imagine that it would be a particular restaurant, a brass band, or WWOZ 90.7 FM. All of these things would be great, but you've got to think outside of the culture box. Think: infrastructure.

Yeah, I know. Quit laughing. What possible infrastructure improvement could the Crescent City have that Island City - the land of convenient health care and paved roads - needs or even wants? With that in mind, you may come to the conclusion I'm talking about the streetcars, and you'd definitely be getting warmer.

Warmer because the one thing I would transport back to the homeland would be a $1 ferry boat that ran between the Village on St. Simons Island to the north Pier on Jekyll Island. Just like the one that runs from the foot of Canal Street to Algiers.

Some folks may complain that linking the islands so closely would spoil the charm of Jekyll's less populated, more pristine beaches and quiet vacation homes. Well, pick your poison. If Jekyll Island keeps losing this much money, the state will let the developers in, anyway, and then all the things that make Jekyll different from St. Simons can be kissed goodbye.

With a ferry, you could keep Brogen's and Mullet Bay back on St. Simons where they belong, and still generate more sightseers on Jekyll to keep the place afloat, no pun intended.

The difference? No 45 minute to an hour long car commute through Brunswick to get from one island to the other island a mile away as the crow flies. Increased bicycle traffic & golf tourists could roll from one island to the next, and people would be more tempted to stay on Jekyll and party on St. Simons. This would also completely revitalize the Village area, which needs revitalizing. Badly. The only business that could lose business is Spanky's on Hwy 17, conveniently located at the halfway point, for those islanders who bravely set out from one to the other and found themselves hungry on the way.

But these are just the musings of an old Village Rat, pay no attention to me.


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The Guilt Trip

You know, nobody ever has the balls to say shit like this to Florida, Texas, & the Carolinas when they get hit with hurricanes. I wish they would, because then we'd see some true colors about the difference between natural disaster/federal engineering failures vs. crappy businesspeople who think their MBA actually taught them something. Who will they guilt trip next? Tennessee and Kentucky for the TVA?

While there could possibly be some academic and wonkish situation comparison devices you could use to contrast the road that led to the Big 3's current inability to balance a checkbook, and the road that led to federal levees failing, inundating a major American city and ending thousands of lives; those comparisons mostly lead back to one thing and one thing only: incompetence of people in a boardroom who should know better but handled an ongoing downward turn badly. That's the same way almost every problem known to mankind started. Congratulations. Shame you didn't figure it out sooner. In other news, the sun will also rise tomorrow, from an area we call "the east."

As a current resident of New Orleans, I do thank, from the bottom of my heart, all the individual and charitable donation and volunteer effort that has gone into rebuilding New Orleans. And plenty of this has come from the good people of the Midwest. Such generosity, individual motivation, and indominable spirit let me know, deep down inside, that America is truly the greatest country and that we will overcome our current national crises - from New Orleans' flood protection & Louisiana's coastal restoration to the fact that US Automakers' corporate heads and union bosses can't get their shit together.

Just thank your lucky stars that Detroit's corporate incompetence and union boss lunacy didn't cost the Motor City 2000 + human lives in the process.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Water & Power

One thought that bounces around inside my brain on occasion has to do with power in New Orleans. The idea is generally more prevalent in the summer, while I'm paying exorbitant power bills to air condition wheverever I live, but the recent power outages in the Northeast reminded me of it.

Could New Orleans' residents ever start their own Electric Membership Corporation, along the lines of EMC's in upstate Louisiana and Georgia, or are we better off getting our power from Entergy indefinitely? Would a Crescent City EMC be a feasable option to inject competition into our power bill woes, or would it just tack on another middle man as we purchase electricity and infrastructure from someone else?

It is something to think about, after all.

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Changing Nature of Divorce

Post-relationship-examination (mostly of others) has ruled an unhealthy majority of my socializing hours of late. Something in the homily at Mass this weekend made me wonder how much more sucessful the Catholic (and Protestant) 'Culture of Life' would be if the marriage counseling and family support mechanisms in each parish (and Church) were more robust than the political lobbying machines that dominate national Christian discourse. I also have thought about these things in regards to my running social discourse with DADvocate, one of the few bloggers out there who has really made me think and rethink my positions on several subjects.

While he and I have rather divergent opinions on many of these subjects (not the least of which include the sports exploits of our respective alma maters - Lane Kiffin? Really?), I have to tell you that, without the writing, articles and links he has been posting for years, I would have been fairly lost reading this massive Newsweek piece on the changing nature of divorce in America. Specifically, I would have been lost on many of the changes, societial and legal, regarding the fathers in the divorce proceedings.

I'm glad that this rather center-left national publication that I've been reading since I was 12 has decided to write up such a piece about an important and underreported social issue. But I'm also glad that I had a good primer for this material.

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Interesting Idea

Don't bail out the Big 3 vs. We Must Bail Out the Big 3. What other way is there? How about making them submit bids for a bailout, and then only bailing out two of them? I got to admit, I'm intrigued, and would love to see the reaction of American culture to this sort of thing.

Right now, the frame is this: CEO's, wealthy investors & Unions vs. the American taxpayer. Since we see so much in terms of winners vs. losers, this frame is driving the public discourse. Right now, it is seen as a "people who don't work for money" vs. "people who do work for money."

But this would completely change in a bidding war, because then it would look like reality TV. "The Next Top 2 Detroit Automakers." People would follow it closely, have their favorites, and then chime in on the internet about which carmaker gets voted off the island. Congress could even bring in Donald Trump to the press conference, to berate each CEO and then yell "you're fired!!" at the loser.

How effective will it be? Who knows? We could only hope. But it sure would change the debate.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

< controversy >

Somebody back in the homeland came up with a novel idea recently. In response to the economic climate and state budget cuts, there is an idea floating around the halls of the Georgia State Capital to merge four medium sized public universities that have for over 100 years, existed in two cities.

That sounds fairly reasonable, right? Consolidation of four major institutions into two. There aren't many nominal differences in programming - it isn't like merging Georgia Tech's engineering with Georgia State's law school. There aren't large established endowments that will now be combined (a la Newcomb and Tulane in New Orleans). No, there's only one major division that seperates these universities within their respective cities: two are historically black colleges, and two are historically not.

As the title says, right? Thing is, the plan does make sense, but will be met with stiff resistance from dug in faculty and alumni. But the plan picks up an endorsement from someone the right wing describes "the most liberal editor of the most liberal Southern paper" - Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. (I wonder if Bill O'Reilly will bring this up on his TV show, as he has criticized Tucker for many of her other stands.)

It will be fairly interesting to see how this idea plays out back home.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Medical Profession

Umm. Once, a person from Glynn County wondered why I became a teacher in New Orleans instead of Georgia. She then wondered why I stopped teaching altogether, and followed up with a "I wonder why more young people don't become teachers," and "it sure is hard to keep people in the teaching profession."

I told her that the reason there was a teacher shortage everywhere and why more young people won't teach or have given up teaching is simple: the way it is set up right now, teaching is kind of a shitty job. Teachers work long hours, do extra work outside of the work day, never get to leave their jobs at their jobs, and watch as bumbling administrators, union officials, legislators, contractors and system administrators constantly undermine and undercut them. There are constant threats of litigation. And then pundits tell teachers they are the reason behind America's failing public schools.

Oh yeah? Let me sign up for a little more of that.

On the flipside, I hear a lot about how America's health care system is failing, and how we have less and less young people opting to go into the medical profession. I've always wondered why, but reading this article, the answer struck me. If teaching is a shitty job, you have to be masochistic to go through what is described in that article. Thirty hour shifts? Really? I don't know many people who could pull 30 hour shifts of sleeping effectively, these people are performing surgeries and emergency medicine? No wonder people die in ER's, the staff can't see them through the blurry eyes of sleep deprivation.

Now people are complaining that residents, after 16 hours on the job, may be forced by what pundits will inevitably call "onerous job rules," to go get 5 hours sleep. After 16 hours on the job??!!?? I'm not worried about the cats who came up with the 5 hour sleep rule, but show me the asshat that decided residents should work for 15 hours straight before stitchin' my wounds up, and I'll send his stupid ass to the ER, stat. Blunt. Force. Trauma. Style.

So, I guess that means American Medicine is at roughly the same place as American Public Education: Work long hours, extra work outside the work day, never get to leave their jobs at their jobs, watching as bumbling administrators, HMO & PPO officials, legislators, contractors and system administrators constantly undermine and undercut them. There are constant threats of litigation. And then pundits tell them they are the reason behind America's failing health care system.

But the docotors & the teachers are to blame....



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sNOwLA



Though right now, as of 10:15am CST, it has turned into a "wintry mix" of sleet and rain, this morning was beautiful in New Orleans. I woke up several times during the night, and there was nothing to be seen. But this morning, I was woken by the squeals of children coming out of their houses in Faubourg St. John to run around.



I texted friends and called Mom & Dad, and most were shocked. More than one resident of North Georgia called me a bastard because all they have is rain and misery. We'll have snow today and sunny skies with 70 degree highs by Sunday. My Aunt was delighted that her grandkids get to see snow this year.



It was really coming down just before 9AM. You couldn't see very far, and the drivers on the roads were acting like they had never gotten behind the wheel of a vehicle before. I made two icy missiles out of what had come off my truck's windsheild, but my roommate had already left for school so there was no one to throw it at. I should have stuck them in the freezer and walloped my friends good later in the week.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mental Health Infrastructure

After a lengthy post on education and the problems caused by certain students the systems cannot seem to effectively address, I ran across this important article as well.

It deals with Nebraska's Safe Haven Law and the picture portrayed in the news and among pop culture, but it deals with these issues from the other side: from the parents who have relinquished custody of their kids because they felt they had no where else to turn, no alternatives. It is a rough tale, but an important one given the state of our communities, families and institutions in this country. Doctors are saying our medical facilities are suspect, which only means our mental health facilities are worse off.

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Louisiana (Education) Burning

Schools are burning. I like to think that if people really knew what was going on in our schools, there would be protests in the streets. I like to think people don’t actually know – I like to tell myself they don’t have a good idea. There are many reasons. The Times-Picayune reports that there have been six fires in a week at Frederick Douglass High School, but has ignored so many other incidents at this and other schools. I mean, it is a wonder that such a thing wasn’t reported at one or two or even five. It took six incidents of setting fire to a school to get any attention, and if you look at the article, that’s not much attention.

I mean, for all the historical & neighborhood activists trying to save Frederick Douglass HS, the folks who want it gone just have to run it badly enough that the students burn it down. Neglect becomes their ally.

But you won’t read about this in the paper, or many other places for that matter. The article doesn’t mention, for instance, all the classes disrupted over the last week. Why can’t these children learn, when they’ve got whole days devoted to ingress and egress of a building through metal detectors. (Oh, yeah, that’s the fault of the teachers and their unions, right?)

The article doesn’t mention that to set these fires, students were cutting classes. (Students that the school won’t or cannot kick out because of state legal protections of those deemed “special education.” They just learn differently! Their setting fires is the fault of the teachers and their unions. Wouldn’t you be frustrated if you couldn’t read? Wouldn’t that make you want to set fires?) It doesn’t mention that nothing was done by the administration and the only six security officers. (The teachers have to keep these students, often bigger then they are, in the classrooms in their seats, outnumbered 20+ to 1, with no support from the administration, security, or school system to remove repeat offenders.)

The article doesn’t mention that the fire department had to come out there because there aren’t any fire extinguishers or sprinklers in the building. It doesn’t mention that the state ignores its own laws when it comes to making a building safe (but not when it comes to “special education security problems”). It doesn’t mention that, when there were fire extinguishers, the students who were cutting class would take the extinguishers and turn them on security guards, teachers and other students. (Wouldn’t you be frustrated if you couldn’t read? Wouldn’t you want to take a fire extinguisher and use it as a weapon?)

And again, this article doesn’t bring up the appalling conditions at other schools. I’ve seen video of students slapping teachers who were calling for help on their cell phones because the intercom system didn’t work. The cell phone broke, costing the teacher, because they will not be reimbursed nor the student disciplined or prosecuted by the school or the system. I’ve seen video of students trying to bust down the door of a classroom they weren’t supposed to be in (they were cutting class) so they could socialize with the students inside. I wonder why the students can’t do simple English and Math.

Funny thing is, in New Orleans, if all this information were to be brought to light, if the video were to be shown on television – the teachers would get in trouble: one for having a cell phone in the school in the first place; another for not “doing more” to get these kids out of the hall (1 vs. 12 +); one for locking her door and, finally; one teacher or student or concerned observer (whichever it was) for daring to bring a video recorder into the facility. That last person could be sued by the school system and the students for invasion of privacy.

We have gulags in America and they aren’t named Guantanamo. I’d like to believe it is just that people don’t know, I’d like to believe that it is the media that underreports the story. I’d like to believe that people would take to the streets if they actually found out what is going on. But then I read something like this article by Alter that makes me think again. It just proves to me that there are members of the pundit class in this country who really have no clue what is going on.

Here are some statements:
The Gates Foundation has learned some lessons from its investments in recent years in pathbreaking schools. The first big idea—to break up big schools into smaller, more manageable units—proved insufficient without major changes in personnel. Gates argues that rigorous accountability is the only option, from mayoral control (elected school boards are mostly a menace) to principal control (teacher tenure and onerous work rules are quality-killers) to data control (IT systems that closely track performance are a must).


1. Break up schools. Done right, it could accomplish something. Done wrong, you hamstring your staff into teaching four or five different classes to different age groups (quality killer), undermine any elective/extracurricular activities you may have (quality killer) and force the school system to maintain an overextended physical plant (quality killer).

2. Mayoral control: C. Ray Nagin. Enough. Said. Holding boards or individual elected officials accountable is one of the greatest questions our nation is facing right now. Until we get that right, it won’t matter who controls schools.

3. Principal control: Why don’t we ask these people to start actually managing their schools and facilitating the development of their subordinates? Some do it well, some run their schools in such a way that six fires can be set and no one has a clue who did it. Then, when a good principal does come along, the district or the system hamstring him or her with rules (you can’t expel the “special ed” kids who are trying to kick windows out of classrooms and throw desks at other students) or budget (no, you have to keep the elective teacher who sleeps all day on staff, because if you fire them, your school doesn’t have a high enough enrollment to justify hiring anyone new - please see also ‘break up schools’).

4. Onerous work rules: Speaking from a city where the public education system requires teachers to work from roughly 7:30 in the AM to 4:30 in the PM with a 30 minute lunch break, insufficient planning time (teachers are generally trying to cover other classes due to few substitutes or are chasing students back into their classrooms to keep them from setting fires) during the work day requires extra work at night and on weekends, and multiple preps (we’d like you to teach 7th grade Life Science, Louisiana history, 8th grade Earth Science and U.S. History all this semester, and stay an hour after school for LEAP tutoring…) I guess I would call those work rules a little ONEROUS. But I reckon the plan isn’t to KEEP good teachers around but to piss them off so turnover is high and any union activity is weak.

This quote “unions have simply prevented teachers from being judged, even in part, on whether their students improve during the course of the year” is just wrong. If this is true, then what the hell are all the benchmark tests New Orleans teachers have to orchestrate every three months? The reasons unions fight this sort of thing isn’t because they don’t want to judge teachers, it is because the tracking software doesn’t collect data relevant to students’ improvement. Last year, I got “judged” on the test results of 3 no-shows (students who never showed up at school, not one day), countless organic special education students who did not have the appropriate paperwork for their condition, students who did not take these benchmarks because of absence or transferring to another school (but whose benchmarks still counted as “zeros” for me, the teacher), roughly a dozen students who had shown up at any point during the year from another school (whose benchmarks still counted for me, the teacher, even though I had not been their teacher all year). Not to mention that all of this data was collected from students subject to sitting in classrooms with anti-social borderline personality cases constantly disrupting class because there was no mechanism to deal with them from a system-wide discipline perspective. I’m sure I would have taught these students more effectively, and would have no problem with results and improvements of 15 out of every 20 of my students if the school system would have done something about the remaining 5 who wanted to throw rocks, turn over tables, and start fires.

Alter quotes: “Whenever he gets depressed about education, Gates says he visits one of the more than 60 KIPP schools nationwide, where the energy is palpable and the results irrefutable.” Yes, enrollment standards do produce irrefutable results, Johnny, that’s why colleges look so good on paper. Not all “at-risk” kids learn well by jumping around and chanting all that nonsense. Some do, I give you that, but not all. I had no less than 12 out of every 20 students who would have been able to sit in a traditional classroom and learn traditional material in the traditional way – if they didn’t have other students throwing rocks and furniture at them in class and starting fires. KIPP can get rid of students for throwing rocks and starting fires. RSD apparently cannot.

Then discussing the future Secretary of Education, this quote tells me Alter lives in Never-neverLand with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys: “That's why it's more likely [Obama will] settle on a superintendent like Arne Duncan of Chicago, Michael Bennet of Denver or Paul Vallas of New Orleans, any of whom would suit Gates and other reform-minded philanthropists just fine.

If Obama selects Paul Vallas as his Secretary of Education, with the support of Bill Gates, it will be difficult for me not to immediately switch from PC’s to Apples for my computing needs, and become the best Republican I can be. At that moment, it will appear to me that the Democratic Party will have abandoned all hope for public education in the United States of America. Alter, get your ass to New Orleans and into one of these schools Paul Vallas manages before you make any more suggestions to a national audience about who ought to run the show nationally.


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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Are they going to make it better or worse?

In case you missed it, there's a slight problem with the automobile industry right now: no one is buying. During fat times, the Big 3 automakers were struggling. Now that times are lean, they might be drowning. There's a lot of talk from Congress and our Compassionately Conservative President and the Head of the Fake Office of the President-Elect of the United States about doing something with taxpayer dollars to help them out.

My gut reaction is that the government will screw this up. They're going to cow-tow far too much to the UAW and the environmentalists and leave the automakers in an even worse position than before. Looking at some of the proposals I see don't make me budge much from that opinion.

I do however see one plan coming from the Head of the Fake Office of the President-Elect of the United States that I don't agree with but at least has the virtue of actually being tried. Obama backs the "structured bankruptcy" approach. The Big 3 would get nudged around by centralized government planning similar to what the Japanese went through in the 80's (article says it went back as far as the 70's). I don't like any of the plans I've seen but at least this one can point to some sort of results and some sort of "exit strategy" that has actually been reached in the past.

If you're going to back a plan, I'd advise backing the Obama plan. Yes it's fascism but it has a track record or working and it would keep the government from directly owning parts of the Big 3 if I understand it correctly. The market will always correct itself but not necessarily in the amount of time you have to remain solvent. Let's keep "the government" from being that "you" if possible.

Personally, I'm seeing a lot of auto manufacturers who are struggling but making ends meet. I see no reason to single out 3 who have poorer business plans for special treatment. It would mean a lot of lost jobs but what's the point of keeping those jobs around to build automobiles nobody needs or wants?

One last point, be aware if this bailout happens the airline industry will be next in line hat-in-hand asking for some cash to get them through tough times.

EDIT: I almost missed the barbershop comment by Pelosi:
"We call this the barbershop," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat. "Everybody's getting a haircut here, in terms of the conditions of the bill," she said, noting the likely impact on labor, bondholders, shareholders, car dealers, suppliers and executives. "The management itself has to take a big haircut on all of this."


Nancy Pelosi: The Demon Barber of Capitol Hill is the first thing that comes to mind. Wealthy execs coming in for a haircut only to get dropped down a trapdoor to their deaths, stripped of any money they may have on them and then getting baked into meat pies. Pelosi's comparison is indeed a good one.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Republican Win Warms My Heart

That's right, folks. The first time I voted Republican in 6 years ended up with a win (just like last time). Joe Cao becomes the first Vietnamese - American to serve in Congress by being in the right place at the right time as contemptable Rep. William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson's luck ran out. This is literally an epic win for every interest group: the GOP has one bright spot in a dismal election year, the Democrats lose a constant national embarassment, and another feel-good American-dream style story is written.

The best part was watching the concession and victory speeches, as it was obvious the Cao camp was not expecting a win yesterday. The stage was too small, and there was no podium - Joe had to hold the mic in his hands in front of a crowd filling a too-small room. Jefferson had a stage, a DJ and what appeared a large hall prepped for a long night's party. The absolute shock on the faces of the losers and the elation on the faces of the winners was evident. This brought warmth to my cold, black heart.

The end result was far closer than when the news called the election, but as Florence, SC's new Democratic Mayor Wukela proved in the primary you only have to win by one.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Liberal Genetics

After the 1970s, liberal became something of a slur, associated as it was with love-ins, bra-burning, and moral equivalence. Even people who supported big government avoided the word. At the same time, conservatism became equated with responsibility and economic growth. Even today, a full quarter of Democrats identify themselves as conservative, according to Pew. In other words, Americans call themselves conservative more because of the residual backlash against 1960s and '70s social upheaval than because of their real-world beliefs.

I linked earlier in the week to an article that traces GOP political tactics back to McCarthyism. I’m going to try and keep that debate on that post and start a new one on this post. Because as much as I hate the McCarthy gene of the GOP (the one that runs through the culture wars, the paranoia & the jingoism), I also hate the lunacy that runs through many liberal political tactics and infects far too many Democratic leaders in safe seats, and eventually bubbles up in so many liberal/progressive organizations that start off well but end up skipping to the same old scratched record tune.

The quote above comes from a Slate article examining the terminology of the “Center-Right Nation.” It is a fantastic read about political labeling, but the quote above got me thinking tangentially about the problems with Democratic politics that are married too closely to “Liberal/Progressive” thinking that is anything but traditional liberalism and progressivism that guided me to a Democratic affiliation.
The word “liberal” should have a far better connotation than it does today (and the article also examines how this is changing in the youth of America). Think about the following terms “liberal democracy,” “a liberal arts education,” “liberty”, “liberation” and even “libertarian;” these are all phrases that are perceived as good things in the West, and have meanings outside the frame of politics. So much of our cultural makeup is tied up to change, progress, rebellion and revolution that cases could be made that we are a center-left nation (or at least a contrarian one).

But there are limits even to revolution, and “liberals” as we know them today took it a step too far, abandoning pragmatism and competence for symbolism and righteous indignation. It did start when the love-ins and bra-burning and moral equivalence folks showed up on my side of the aisle uninvited. While most liberals and progressives were worried about the Civil Rights movement, the peace and love element somehow stole the show, got in front of the cameras and started rubbing their ideology in the faces of folks on the other side, and that’s where it has been ever since. Liberalism is about ideas like expanding opportunities through education, justice in economics and law, and effective government moderating anarchic excesses of the absolute free market. But over time it appeared to be about getting high, telling others how awful everything was, and being indignant about society’s wrongs without actually doing much to correct them. In a generation, “Liberalism” turned from a very real political philosophy to a bunch of shrill nagging, plagued by the Hyperbole Genetic.

Constant overreaction and political circus have now made devastating societal ills like sexual harassment and racism butts of jokes. You think I’m kidding? In New Orleans, the city sanitation director, the mayor and a civil rights group recently cried racism very publicly against a white city council member who dared ask for receipts to verify the city garbage contracts – with black owned businesses – were providing garbage collection services at the appropriate price. If you don’t think that kind of behavior both devalues the very real race problems we have in the country and serves as justification for some folks’ already racist views, you are deluding yourself.

Add to this the splinter-faction chamber (as opposed to the McCarthy gene ‘echo chamber’ on the other side) of groups that loudly dominate “liberal” politics in the USA. The “all our problems are caused by X and we can only do Y to fix it” groups. The X will always destroy the planet, or humankind, within 20 years if America does not accept Y as The Plan immediately. This philosophical cul-de-sac operates on the assumption that America is the world hegemon (because as soon as America institutes Plan Y, the rest of the world will do it, thus saving the world) without admitting it (because that would require admitting that America is a Great Nation) and then casts America in the role of evil nation hell-bent on world destruction when no one in charge decides to agree with this week’s splinter faction and their world saving solution.

And this behavior only feeds into the mythology of McCarthy gene of the GOP, who could sell the culture war and paranoia more effectively since there always seemed to be some group out there advocating wholesale destruction of American families, apple pie, prayer and the flag. That behavior is a twofer for the McCarthy gene of the GOP, because so many American “liberals” sole reason for membership on my side of the aisle is based on being contrary to conservatives and the GOP. So we have plenty of folks who are told how to think by the people they are arguing against. Kind of like the atheist who can’t stop talking about God.

These conflicting forces, the McCarthy gene and the Hyperbole gene, combined to nearly wipe the old guard of Liberals out of the Democratic Party. Zell Miller, a famous defection, was the most progressive governor Georgia ever had: liberalism as a political philosophy to enact or start programs like the HOPE scholarship, PeachCare for Kids, the grandest government-works infrastructure improvement machine in the lower 48 states, and improved schools and state government efficiency throughout his two terms as governor. Got to Washington as a Democratic Senator and famously defected from the Democratic Party a few years later because of the culture wars, and was derided by symbolism and Hyperbole genetic liberals for not changing the Georgia State flag during his stint as governor.

This is why Obama’s election is so important to policy liberals. We have someone who can actually explain liberalism as a political philosophy and not as culture war or hyperbole. Such accusations bounced off the President-elect because his demeanor did not fit the mold of the “liberal” so many Americans have come to expect over the last 20 years. This is a very important change for the American left, one that will hopefully encourage a breeding out of the Hyperbole genetic and get my side back to the competency and problem-solving genetic of the past.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

GOP Genetics

Something thoughts I had while reading this opinion piece.

This is actually something we’ve spoken about on this blog for some time. In our running debates over what defines conservatives vs. Republicans vs. right wingers and what defines liberals vs. progressives vs. Democrats, we have come up with some rather clever monikers to describe the circus-like American political theatre. We have spoken of the Right-Wingers Against Really Real Reality! (RWARRR!!), the Band of Liberals Opposed to Winning Major Elections (BLOWME), and – of course- the organization I work for – Super Secret Liberal Takeover Headquarters*.

SAWB has mentioned many times that I need to rethink my Party affiliation based loosely on my general disdain for individuals named Pelosi, Reid, Waxman and Frank. I could be convinced to do so if the other side ever gave up their disdain for individuals named Eisenhower, Roosevelt & Lincoln. With that in mind, and with the Green and Libertarian Parties running washed-up Georgia congressmen and women for the Presidency, it seems I’m “home” to stay.

I have long lamented the lack of really real conservatives that actually make sense to the “Center-Right America” we claim to be. The conservatism that I recognize as beneficial and necessary to America seems dead, and the GOP abandoned it. Nowadays, and I’ve said this before, the right wing and the GOP machine seem more a party of marketing majors selling nothing more than a brand name made popular by Reagan. They sell efficiency and competence and have rarely delivered over the last 8 years.

But my biggest problem comes from the more sinister items they sell: the culture wars, the anti-intellectualism and the jingoism. I’d believe they were actually “pro-life” if they had a volunteer, education and cultural movement as strong as their high dollar-high division political machine. As someone who keeps the unwanted pregnancy numbers lower by not tomcatting through town, it leaves an awful bad taste in my mouth when “conservative” friends and family call me a “baby killer” in one breath and tell me I need to get laid in the next. I find it disgusting that so much political hay is made over marriage by the generation that laid waste to mine through the dysfunctional nuclear family and the 52% divorce rate – if they cared so much about family values they’d clean their own house first. The demonization of public education and college professors erodes the value of critical thinking so necessary to find real solutions to problems. And the “with us or with the terrorists” nonsense and “enemy combatants” legal maneuvering used to explain away such varied and disasterous tactics from not sending enough troops in the first place all the way to water-boarding.

Those things aren’t conservatism, but they bring in money, encourage the “base,” and help win elections. This is especially true when you can sell underdog mythology to a population. I know more upper-middle class, financially comfortable, Christian Caucasians who feel oppressed and victimized by boogeymen than I can count.
Those things aren’t conservatism: they don’t make government more cost effective and efficient; they don’t address even the few problems conservatives believe should exist in government purview; and they don’t inspire true courage to be a great nation. Those are the politics of short-sightedness and electioneering.

One of the reasons for the collective disappointment in the John McCain campaign (and something that probably contributed a great deal to the confused message) was that he was thought of as a true conservative (agree with his immigration policy or not) on many issues, and then let his campaign run like the Bush culture warrior ethos that people have started to associate with inefficient, costly and ineffective government.

So, why would McCain have switched from real conservatism to Bush-Palin divisive politics? The GOP’s McCarthy genetic, that’s why. It sums up so many things I have thought over the years, wondering why the Party representing “conservative” values ended up tacking so far away from real conservatism. And you can bet we’ll see these politics again. Last night in Georgia, we saw them win. We’ll see them in 2010 in the mid-term elections. And Sarah Palin will run for President in 2012, bringing all this marketing, electioneering and McCarthyism with her – just in time to defeat pragmatic conservative Bobby Jindal in the primaries.

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2009 Predicitons

I have some predictions for 2009. Most of them are political in nature. Feel free to add you own:

- Obama's first year won't be as bad as Republicans think it will.
- Obama's first year won't be as glorious as Democrats think it will.
- A federal universal Health Care package eerily similar to Romneycare is going to make it to the floor this year...
- ...but union card check will happen first.
- Bail outs will continue and any financial institution or heavily unionized industry will qualify.
- There will be no terrorist attacks on US soil in 2009.
- Oil prices will remain low in 2009.
- Our likely recession will not last past 3rd Quarter 2009.
- There are going to be some serious power play issues among Pelosi, Reid, and Obama.
- Assassination attempts on black politicians by white supremacy groups will be the formula plot of the 2009 Fall TV lineup. It's no "family/individual getting cash it shouldn't" or "family/restaurant-on-top-of-bar finds out part of neighbor's property really belongs to them" but it'll be there.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Fill-In-The-Blank

Haven't we read this story before? If you think you know, time to prove it. Read the following quotes and fill-in-the-blanks with the following words: Russia, New Orleans, India or Louisiana; national, empire, local, city or continent. You may use some words twice, you may not use some words.

Go:

Government in ______________ is dysfunctional. With the exception of a few elements of the __________ government....the ____________ state is simply not up to the challenge that it now faces.


______________ has a decentralized political system that is plagued by weak coalition governments, patronage and corruption, with little emphasis on professionalism and competence.


“But not everything went well. By all accounts, the initial response of the _____________ authorities was slow, haphazard and incompetent.” The place this describes is _______________.


But at the same time, the ______________ political system is uniquely unattractive in the one sphere of influence that the ______________ have always cared about most


But the ______________ political system—based on crony capitalism, democratic rituals without democracy itself, heavy media controls, omnipresent criminality—isn't itself of interest to anyone, and the _______________ have trouble creating a(n) ___________ around it.


There are, it is true, ________________ minorities across the eastern half of the ______________ that rely on ____________ for financing and political support. There are also extremely powerful business lobbies across the ____________... that can be counted on to praise _______________'s leaders, whatever they do.


Quotes ripped from articles here and here.

How did you do?


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