Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fast and Furious Unravels

I'm pretty tired of hearing about the Fast and Furious controversy, including on the Daily Show, but the latest information from a Fortune investigation -- summarized here on Mother Jones -- is an eye-opener. The lead in puts it this way: "A Fortune investigation reveals that the ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. How the world came to believe just the opposite is a tale of rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust."

According to MoJo, "Fortune's investigation puts the lie to [the claim that the ATF and DOJ sold guns and covered it up], and suggests the scandal is really about how gun-proponents have hogtied ATF agents and federal and state prosecutors in their efforts to halt fishy gun purchases."


Friday, June 29, 2012

Waiting for the Affordable Care Act Decision

While waiting for the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act yesterday, I was watching MSNBC and got distracted momentarily by this bit of visual amusement:

Two standing men near the camera on either side of a man farther from the camera who looks like a miniature human
Did they set that shot up intentionally so the middle guy looks tiny?

I also passed some of the time by reading the newspaper from the town where I'm staying. Just to make it clear that this ad (which was at the bottom of the front page!) was not in the Star Tribune or Pioneer Press, my usual newspaper subjects:

Very horizontal ad for 2-for-1 drinks, which is labeled THISTY THURSDAY
It's not as bad as the classic pubic notice ad, but sheesh.

Because I was watching, MSNBC, I found out from Twitter that CNN and Fox News had blown the lead on the story. Amazing they they could spend months speculating on a story and then not bother to get the most important part of it right.

I hope you have a happy day after the Supreme Court proved it was partially sane. I know I will.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Trip to a Cemetery

While visiting family, I wandered through the town cemetery. I lived in this town for 17 years and have visited at least annually for another 30, but I've never been in the cemetery.

Large gravestone with an anvil carved at the top
This stone, from the late 1800s, was probably the most distinctive. I assume Mr. Moses was a blacksmith. (Click to see any image at a larger size.)

Two 19th century gravestones for two women, married to the same man
These two stones mark the graves of two women who were married to the same man (not at the same time -- one died in 1820 and the other in 1853). The husband's stone is to their left. I wonder if the second woman wanted her stone to be identical to her predecessor's?

And do you wonder what that illustration is at the top? Does it appear to be...a pair of buttocks?

Rest assured that it is not. It's a tree:

Willow tree carved into a stone
...a variant of this much more nicely engraved one. "The [willow] tree was the most popular gravestone image in the nineteeth century up to 1860. It clearly emphasized the mourning and sadness of those left behind" (source).

Stone for a woman named Hepzibah
Here's one of those great names that none of us ever gives our daughters any more. I wonder why not?

Stone for a woman named Experience
And then there is Experience, wife of Daniel Churchill. Now that's a name that should be brought back. Imagine all those little girls called Ex for short.

Postscript: Almost all of us have words we habitually misspell. "Cemetery" is one mine. To me, the final "e" seems like it should be an "a." But I know I have this problem and so each time I write it I challenge myself to make sure it's correct.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

James Garfield House -- a Porch, a Tree, and Windmill

Recently I got the chance to see the James Garfield historic site in Mentor, Ohio. It's a beautiful building in a park-like setting.

Gray Queen Anne-style house with red roof, porch all along the front
Garfield, elected president in 1880, spent the campaign season on this porch. Up until this time, candidates did not campaign; instead, surrogates would speak on their behalf. Garfield was best known as an orator, however, and so he played to his strength by speaking from the porch, with crowds and the press gathered on the lawn. Historians consider this to be the beginning of modern campaigning. (Thanks a lot, Jim.)

Two of the most striking elements of the site's grounds are not the house itself, beautiful as it is. First, there's this tree:

Twisted and weeping tree, next to gray and red house
It's a weeping European beech (Fagus sylvatica pendula), about four stories tall, and, according to a National Park Ranger I talked to, it's about 110 years old.

Close up of tree leaves, twisted twigs
Probably the most beautiful tree I've ever seen.

Second was the windmill:

Craftsman-style windmill with cedar shake shingles, stone base
It was built in the 1890s by Garfield's widow, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, to create a "feature" on the property as well as pump water out of the ground. The middle of the tower houses a tank that held 500 barrels worth of water. Underground pipes connect to the house, where the water was pumped to a 300-gallon tank on the third floor so it could be gravity-fed to the bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry room.

Garfield and his house were prominent in Sarah Vowell's book Assassination Vacation, in which she recounts her visits to sites connected to presidents who were assassinated.

Garfield's story confounds me just a bit. I've been reading his Wikipedia entry, trying to figure out how a 30-year-old man with no family money or military training managed to get commissioned as a colonel in the Civil War, serve two years, get elected to Congress, and then buy this huge house and estate (plus a house in Washington). He was basically a smart, well-spoken guy who went from college straight into politics.

Where did the money come from? Members of Congress in 1865 were paid $5,000 a year, the equivalent of $70,000 today, so that's not it.

I guess next time I'll have to plan my visit when the site is open so I can ask these questions of the Park Rangers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Signs of Our Time in Saint Paul

Someone in Saint Paul is making some nice stencil art to protest the state of our country.

Corrugated cardboard sign, spraypainted green with black smoke-belching factory and words Explain to future generations it was good for the economy. When they can't farm the land, breathe the air and drink the water.
A bit of cardboard, an X-acto knife, a few cans of spray paint, and an opinion.

Corrugated cardboard sign, spraypainted purple and blue stripes, with black words 2+2=5 If we just let the corporations do what they want everything will work out great
Hope to see more of it soon.

Monday, June 25, 2012

We Now Resume Our Normal Spelling

The point of this ad from one of my local papers was to say that sorting paper résumés is as out of date as typing on typewriter:

Black and white newspaper ad of a 60s-dressed woman typing on a typewriter, headline reads Of course I don't mind staying late to sort resumes
But the thing I noticed was the use of the word "résumés" without accents. I realize this is a common way to spell this French word, but in this headline -- which suffers from a deficit of clarity to begin with -- it's almost unintelligible.

I'm extra-sensitive on this point, since a proofreader I work with constantly adds both accents in the help-wanted section of a publication I produce. In the midst of a bunch of classified ads, I find the accents less important for clarity, but in a headline in a full-page ad that ran in the front section of a newspaper, I feel differently.

I admit, the accents generally strike me as a bit precious, especially the first one. To me, the final accent is helpful to the reader for pronunciation and differentiating from the verb "resume." But, of course, dropping one accent while keeping the other would be a mishmash of convenience.

An excellent comment thread among grammar curmudgeons on makes many interesting arguments for and against the use of the accents. Some authoritative-sounding commenters claim that when a word moves into English, it automatically loses its accents because we don't use 'em in this here part of the world. Others make my point -- that résumé needs the accents in order to be clear. Some even advocate for the one accent approach.

Many commenters explain the loss of the accents because it's hard to type them when using a computer. One commenter shared this minor nightmare:

Whether the accents are appropriate or not I wouldn't recommend you use them. I've submitted several resumes thru job sites and just found out that they convert e's with accents over them to i's. So everywhere I spelled resume with accents came out as risumi. That looks really dumb when you're applying for professional level positions!!
Another commenter adds this fairly definitive point:
For what it's worth, the current edition -- the Fourth -- of the American Heritage College Dictionary (which, as suggested by its title, gives preference to American usage practice), lists resumé first, followed by resume, and then résumé.
And then there's the Wikipedia to the rescue:
A number of loanwords are sometimes spelled in English with an acute accent used in the original language: these include sauté, ... café, touché, fiancé, and fiancée. Retention of the accent is common only in the French ending é or ée, as in these examples, where its absence would tend to suggest a different pronunciation. Thus the French word résumé is commonly seen in English as resumé, with only one accent (but also with both or none).
It is common to see English uses of those other French words without their accents, of course. Cafe and fiancee don't bother me when they're unaccented, because everyone knows what they are on sight and how to say them. Saute, fiance, and touche, however, always rankle me.

The long-term solution is spelling reform, of course. Let's see. Rezuhmay, anyone?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

John Green, Meet John Knowles

It's a good day when you read a book that makes you say, Damn, now I have to read every other book this person has written.

The book in this case was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It belongs to one of my favorite YA subgenres, which I call TIT -- terminally ill teenagers. (TIT includes books such as Going Bovine by Libba Bray and May I Cross Your Golden River? by Paige Dixon, a pseudonym of Barbara Corcoran.) The Fault in Our Stars is a winning combination of sharp humor, strong characters, and dexterous pathos, with a good helping of rumination about writers' responsibility to their readers.

I picked up all of Green's other books soon after, and, being a completist, plan to read them in order to see what can be seen of his development as writer. That means beginning with his 2005 novel Looking for Alaska.

Green wrote Alaska in his mid-20s while working for Booklist, where he read a lot of YA books and wrote hundreds of reviews. (I wonder what his writing was like before that?) The book is clearly based on his own experience attending a boarding school in Alabama, but I assume the action is fictional. Or at least I hope so, for the sake of his classmates.

Looking for Alaska's characters share a similar sharp quality with the ones in Fault, but still stand out. The novel is well constructed, even suspenseful. But what I think I liked best about it are its open-ended gender politics and nuanced adults.

Contrast that with another boarding school classic, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, which I read in ninth or tenth grade and just reread as a response to Looking for Alaska. Why did my high school English department have us read it, circa 1974? Was it supposed to be relevant to us because the characters were close to our age?

Because in so many ways they had no relevance -- they are all male and very upper class, living in 1942, during a war that was 30 years before my time, ancient history to me and my classmates. They're stiff and mostly unrealistic, limited in odd ways. They don't appear to have parents or to care about them if they do. Their teachers are stick figures. They don't think about girls. They don't have inner lives, generally, just class work, athletics, school genuflection, and the war.

What is the fascination with boarding school stories anyway? At least Holden Caufield ran away from his school early in the action of The Catcher in the Rye, so the book isn't really about that. But A Separate Peace is very much about the school.

I have to say, it mostly annoyed me upon rereading. Without the assumption I had in high school that this was surely a meaningful text, I was free to dislike it, and not only for its many "which"-when-it-should-be-"that" uses and overly self-conscious attempts at literary imagery.

There is some nice language, yes, especially when Knowles describes the school environment, but at other times there is so much detail that it undermines the framing as a recollection of events 15 years earlier. (The narrator, Gene, reports on every item he ate at dinner one day. I'm not kidding.)

Compared to Looking for Alaska, A Separate Peace is wooden and false. Its characters are unmoving, at least to me, a now-middle-aged woman, while Alaska's are resonant, even though I'm not a cigarette-smoking, cheap-wine-drinking merry prankster. A Separate Peace's famous character Phineas, subject of so many high school English papers, reads most of the time as flat and almost bullying, not heroic.

Usually when I go back and examine a text I read as a teen, I find more there than I remembered. But not in this case. I think schools stopped assigning A Separate Peace to students not long after my era, and that's a good thing, in my opinion. Its only redeeming value is as a glimpse of U.S. life during wartime, which doesn't seem enough to make it an iconic text of the teen years.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Heil Kitty

You may already know about cats that look like Hitler, but have you seen one in person? I saw this furry Fuhrer the other day:

Long-haired black and white cat with prominent black moustache
I wonder if kittens who look like Hitler are more likely to be killed when they're young?

Friday, June 22, 2012

When Good News Is Bad News

Cover of The Good News Club book, with a chalked hopscotch board in the shape of a cross on a playground
MinnPost's Beth Hawkins has an eye-opening interview with Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Assault on America’s Children. (Nice cover, by the way!)

An excerpt:
[Religious organizations like good News Club are] taking advantage of a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Good News Club vs. Milford Central Schools. It removed any serious Establishment Clause concerns with Good News-style activities.

Whenever a school creates what is technically known as a limited public forum -- say it opens its doors to soccer or art or pretty much anything like that -- it also has to allow groups such as the Good News Club because the religious activities in the club are now basically considered nothing more than speech from a certain point of view.

The number of Good News Clubs in public school went up 728 percent in the 10 years since the Milford decision. Other religious initiatives have made use of that decision as well.
Stewart tells of "student-led" prayer events that are clearly adul- driven and of students repeatedly leaving religious pamphlets on another student's desk even when asked not to. She continues,
So finally the mom went to the pastor of the youth group whose kids were doing this and said, “Look, we know you mean well, but we’d really rather you didn’t do this.” And the pastor said, “We don't care about you, lady, we want your kid.”
It's hard to believe these proselytizers don't see how they are violating their own cherished Golden Rule. Would they want an atheist or Muslim group to treat their kids like this? Obviously not.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

That Puts It in Perspective

There's not much to say about this:

Ari Shapiro is NPR's Whitehouse correspondent.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Lucky Michael Lewis

I admit to being a bit obsessed with the role luck plays in each individual's life outcomes. It turns out one of my favorite writers, Michael Lewis, feels the same way, and used it as the subject of his recent commencement address at his alma mater, Princeton University:

The [first] book I wrote was called "Liar’s Poker." It sold a million copies. I was 28 years old. I had a career, a little fame, a small fortune and a new life narrative. All of a sudden people were telling me I was born to be a writer. This was absurd. Even I could see there was another, truer narrative, with luck as its theme. What were the odds of being seated at that dinner next to that Salomon Brothers lady? Of landing inside the best Wall Street firm from which to write the story of an age? Of landing in the seat with the best view of the business? Of having parents who didn't disinherit me but instead sighed and said "do it if you must?" Of having had that sense of must kindled inside me by a professor of art history at Princeton? Of having been let into Princeton in the first place?

This isn't just false humility. It's false humility with a point. My case illustrates how success is always rationalized. People really don’t like to hear success explained away as luck — especially successful people. As they age, and succeed, people feel their success was somehow inevitable. They don't want to acknowledge the role played by accident in their lives. There is a reason for this: the world does not want to acknowledge it either.
Worth a read, especially the part about the cookie.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Let's Get Rid of the Parasitical Participants

I recently came across this pithy explanation of the difference between cooperatives and corporations. It reminded me that I need to pick up a copy of Marjorie Kelly's new book, Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution:

A cooperative’s most essential attribute is the lack of outside investors who neither use nor even need the enterprise but take on ownership interests purely as wealth-extracting rentiers. 
The absence of such potentially parasitical participants, combined with the limited liability and perpetual existence provided under U.S. law to all corporate truly the so-called “cooperative difference.”
—Don Kreis, in "Cooperatizing Corporate Personhood," a review of John Restakis' Humanizing the Economy, from the Journal of Cooperative Thought and Practice, Summer 2012 (in press).

Monday, June 18, 2012

1812, Canada-Style

Black and white version of a portrait painting of Laura Secord
NPR today had a nice report on the differences between how the War of 1812 is taught in U.S. and Canadian schools. While Americans learn that the war was basically a draw, and not too important overall except as an example of our new country beginning to flex its muscles, Canadians learn that it was essential to Canadian independence from Yankee domination.

I learned a lot from the brief story. One fact that particularly surprised me is that Canada has its own Paul Revere figure, except he's a she: Laura Ingersoll Secord, a 37-year-old Ontario resident. Born in Massachusetts, she and her family were British loyalists during the Revolution who later moved to Canada to rebuild their lives after the war.

After marrying, she and her husband lived in what is now Niagara Falls, Ontario. In June 1813, she is said to have walked 20 miles to warn the native warriors and British troops, under a Lieutenant FitzGibbon, encamped at Beaver Dams of an impending attack by 500 U.S. troops. The warning enabled them to prepare, and led to a decisive victory over the Americans.

According to the Wikipedia:
The question of Secord's actual contribution to the British success has been contested. In the early 1920s, historians suggested that Native scouts had already informed FitzGibbon of the coming attack well before Secord had arrived on June 23. Later still, two earlier testimonials by FitzGibbon (written in 1820 and 1827) were found which supported Secord's claim. FitzGibbon asserted that Laura Secord had arrived on June 22 (not the 23rd), and that, "in consequence of this information", he had been able to intercept the American troops.

Over the years, Laura Secord and James FitzGibbon petitioned the government in request of some kind of acknowledgment but to no avail. Finally, in 1860, when Laura was 85, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), heard of her story while travelling in Canada. At Chippawa, near Niagara Falls, he was made aware of Laura Secord's plight as an aging widow and later sent an award of £100. It was the only official recognition that she received in her lifetime.
It appears that, in all fairness, the Canadians are right to think they won the War of 1812, because they prevented the U.S. from annexing their land. Seems like a pretty clear victory.

But from the U.S. perspective, a draw also seems to be a reasonable assessment, since the key enemy was the British, not the Canadians. The Canadian front was lost, but not the war.

As the NPR story concluded, the losers of the war were the native peoples who had allied with the British and fought to preserve their land from U.S. expansion. Yankee domination, indeed.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Darwinian Explanation

Happy Father's Day from Hilary Price:

More from Hilary at

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hanging Punctuation Explained

It's not every day I see a 10-foot-tall illustration of how not to display punctuation.

Rasmussen College billboard with headline LOOK AHEAD. WE'VE GOT YOUR BACK.
This billboard is currently gracing south-bound highway 280 on the border between Minneapolis and St. Paul. For some reason, the designer decided to align the headline on the right, despite the fact that there are two punctuation marks.

This leads to an unclear alignment. Is it flush right? It doesn't quite seem so, because the two periods don't "read" as full letters. They look more like spaces at the end of the line, with the T in GOT sticking out beyond the overall block of text. Because of this, the type doesn't appear to be flush right, but it's not centered, either. It just looks messy.

Here's my attempt at hanging the punctuation:

Rasmussen College billboard with headline LOOK AHEAD. WE'VE GOT YOUR BACK.
To my eye, it looks much more clearly aligned on the right, and therefore more coherent.

(Yes, I really do spend my time thinking about things like this.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

North Dakota Is Number Two

If you're not from these parts, you may not know that North Dakota is in the midst of a huge oil boom, driven by newer methods that make it possible to get at oil that wasn't accessible with traditional drilling.

That has led to a push for more pipelines, as the Star Tribune reported today. The state is being transformed by the drilling, with a shortage of housing and all the other social issues that come along with a sudden huge influx of male workers. (The solution to the housing shortage is called a man camp, believe it or not.)

But the thing the Strib told me that I didn't already know is that North Dakota has surpassed Alaska as an oil-producing state, second now only to Texas. Both of those facts surprised me; I would have thought Alaska was number one, with Texas a fading second, but I guess not. Probably Texas is using the same new drilling methods to get at deeper wells.

North Dakota is now producing 600,000 barrels of oil a day, and estimates of how many barrels of oil are in the Bakken formation that lies beneath the state keep going up. What gets less coverage is the ecological effect of the drilling, which relies on hydraulic fracturing. According to ProPublica,
...oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids in 2011, about as many as in the previous two years combined. Many more illicit releases went unreported, state regulators acknowledge, when companies dumped truckloads of toxic fluid along the road or drained waste pits illegally.

State officials say most of the releases are small. But in several cases, spills turned out to be far larger than initially thought, totaling millions of gallons. Releases of brine, which is often laced with carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals, have wiped out aquatic life in streams and wetlands and sterilized farmland. The effects on land can last for years, or even decades.

Compounding such problems, state regulators have often been unable — or unwilling — to compel energy companies to clean up their mess, our reporting showed.

Under North Dakota regulations, the agencies that oversee drilling and water safety can sanction companies that dump or spill waste, but they seldom do: They have issued fewer than 50 disciplinary actions for all types of drilling violations, including spills, over the past three years.
The best information on what's happening in North Dakota comes from reporter Todd Melby, who is out there for the next year or so reporting for Black Gold Boom, a project of Prairie Public broadcasting.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tab, Tab, Goose (or as They Say in Minnesota, Gray Duck)

Not sure what that headline has to do with it, but the tabs are threatening to blow up my browser once again, so here goes.

I'm not sure how long Chris Hayes will last in his MSNBC gig. It's pretty close to being mainstream media, and clearly his thinking is too nuanced for anything close to primetime. As evidenced by his new book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy. Check out this except in The Nation. My head is spinning.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a graduate student, has crossed an analysis of racist Google search terms, by state, with a look at presidential voting results in 2004 and 2008 to quantify the effect of racist voters on Obama's numbers at the polls. Pretty interesting. And that's not even mentioning what he has to say about Colorado and West Virginia.

A devastating, personal critique of the way our culture and health care system deal with the inevitable decline of aging. By Michael Wolff, from New York magazine. That's all I can say.

The case for single-payer health care from Minnesota's Growth and Justice think tank.

An elegant put down that I almost didn't get at first, from Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing:

Self-delusion is an ugly thing: "While on a 1:1 audio call, users will see content that could spark additional topics of conversation that are relevant to Skype users and highlight unique and local brand experiences. So, you should think of Conversation Ads as a way for Skype to generate fun interactivity between your circle of friends and family and the brands you care about."

From MIT Press: The most fun I've had with proofreading marks in quite some time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Possibly, They Hold the Truck Together

What is it with old pickup trucks and bumper stickers, and the artsy folks who drive them?

I recently saw these two examples in St. Paul. Each one has at least one sticker indicating support for the arts and artists, but that's not all:

Red Ford pickup with two dozen bumper stickers
The owner of this one is clearly into science fiction movies and television. Not to mention roller derby. Although I have no idea what BrownCoat means or what a hypnotoad is.

Green Dodge Ram pickup with about two dozen bumper stickers
While the owner of this one is more into co-ops, local food, and other progressive causes.

The red truck definitely belongs to a woman. I get the feeling the green one may also, but the stickers are not as revealing on that count.

I have mixed feelings when I see this many stickers on a single vehicle. One part of me thinks it's good to express yourself. But more of me wonders if there's not at least a bit of pathology underlying the need to put signs of our interests and beliefs all over our vehicles.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


This bit of juxtaposition gold comes from @chernowa:

Front page of Highland Villager newspaper with photo of people in an eating contest next to headline about homeless and hungry people

That's definitely one for the layout hall of blame.

Via @chris_steller

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I Woke Up Thinking About Children Left Behind

Years before both parties of Congress passed the No Child Left Behind act for President George W. Bush in 2001, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund used the phrase "Leave No Child Behind" to bring attention to the ways America fails poor children.

It's interesting to note the grammatical difference between the two phrases. Wright Edelman's is addressed to an assumed "you," who is commanded to leave no child behind. Bush's version is in the past tense -- somehow, no child will have been left behind. Both the actors and the mechanism are unclear.

And that's exactly how it has turned out. Underfunded, founded on mistaken or false premises of how schools can succeed, and most egregiously, assuming that children are outputs that can all be made the same, NCLB has provided a goad for anti-union, pro-business-at-any-cost forces to undermine public confidence in the one remaining social institution that had substantial support among most groups in our country.

The remedies prescribed by NCLB for failing schools were all unknowns or wishful thinking, as Diane Ravitch has shown. "Free" tutoring has led to a boom in tutoring businesses, most of which rip off families (and district taxpayers). Reorganizing schools has not led to improved outcomes for the students. Charter schools are no more likely to improve students' learning than the public schools whose funding they have gutted. Kids who got vouchers to attend religious schools don't do any better either.

Once all the cherry-picking of student populations is controlled for in research, the only school models, whether charter or traditional public, that have led to clearly improved outcomes for most (but still not all) low-income students are the ones where the school year and day are extended and students and their parents are supported with a host of social services.

Is anyone surprised by this? Having trained staff working with kids and caring about them from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week and most of Saturday as well works. Getting rid of summer "vacation" works. Providing free breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus social workers, job counseling for parents, and transportation… It's no shock that a child from a family with little infrastructure will do better once there is infrastructure.

It takes more money to make up for things that poor kids don't have.

As publications like Rethinking Schools show, there are plenty of unionized teachers who think our public schools need reforming, but not with NCLB's methods. Testing, which transmogrifies learning into a vacant shell lacking art, music, history, or science, is often absurd, as well as a money magnet for companies like Pearson. And privatizing public schools into for-profit chains takes it one step further.

Leaving no child behind takes a Finland-like commitment to education as a core societal good. It takes addressing child poverty and income inequality as the root cause of the problem. It requires policy that comes from research rather than wishful thinking.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

No L, No L

Digging through some boxes a few days ago, I came across this ad. If I remember correctly, I got it from a graduate school professor who handed out photocopies as an example of how readers make closure despite the reality of what's in front of them.

Black and white newspaper ad for a car dealer with large all caps headline PUBIC NOTICE
She was impressed that I saw the ad's problem right away. This convinced her that I was an extra-special student and led to academic opportunities down the road that I may or may not have deserved.

Little did she know, but I had seen an ad with the same typo when I was a freshman in college, and had been sensitive to the spelling of that word ever since.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Leaving School

Daughter Number Three-Point-One, shown here as she appeared when she started school 13 years ago, is graduating from high school tonight.

5-year-old child holding a diploma triumphantly
I'll be back tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You Have to Watch Out for the Quiet Ones

They were hanging out in the petting zoo, with a label over their heads that said Patagonian Cavy.

Four brown giant rabbits with short ears and long legs
Like giant rabbits that don't hop, they're also called Patagonian Mara, a species of South American rodents that are closely related to guinea pigs.

But I think they are actually the mythical jackalope of the Plains, post-plastic-surgery, gone into the witness protection program.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Passing on the Costs

The other day, when writing about choosing a child care provider, I alluded to the fact that decisions like child care or health care are "not simple ones with easy choices between good and bad." They require information that the decider does not have.

Today's Pioneer Press carried a Kaiser Health News story that made my point for me, titled High Health Insurance Deductibles Hit Fortune 500. As costs have continued to rise for our bloated and inefficient system of care, even large employers have begun to move their employees to high-deductible plans.

Supporters say the plans can contain health costs. Patients who have to pay for care up front will take better care of themselves and shop more carefully, the thinking goes, seeking lower-cost providers or asking whether tests are necessary.
That quote might be correct with a few revisions: Seeking lower cost providers who aren't doctors, maybe. Refusing tests that are necessary. How can a person who's sick judge whether a test is necessary? We don't have enough information to know the answer. But we do know if we can afford it or not, so if it's not covered by insurance, it's pretty easy to know which way the question will be answered.

The Kaiser story sited the Wenger family, whose daughter has juvenile arthritis. Under a new high-deductible plan, their "out-of-pocket medical costs... soared from a few hundred dollars a year to $7,000."

The story concludes:
Among high-deductible plans' advantages: For both companies and workers, premiums are substantially lower than for traditional coverage. Employers often use money saved on premiums to fund tax-free health savings accounts and similar arrangements to help workers pay for deductibles.

For severely ill patients or families coping with chronic illness, switching to high-deductible insurance can be the equivalent of a large pay cut.

"I've always hated the term consumer-driven health plan," said Oberlander, the health policy professor. "If we want to describe them accurately, they should be called employer-driven health plans for less comprehensive health insurance."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Monkey on Your Roof

I wonder if this Jetta knows it has has a problem...

Red Jetta car with a brown and hot pink giant monkey tied to the roof
...or if it needs an intervention.

Seen in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Books to Keep Me Busy

You may have noticed that I've been reading Michael Pollen's The Botany of Desire for more than a month. That's not a mistake -- I've been impossibly busy and haven't had much time to read before falling asleep each night.

But I just finished it, and like many other readers, I'm very impressed. I'll have some favorite quotes and thoughts soon. In the meantime, other books have been stacking up, waiting for my attention.

I have the habit of reading several fiction titles for each nonfiction one, and I have a feeling it might be more than several before I get back to nonfiction this time.

I went to a used book sale yesterday and came home with these beauties:

Including a copy of Pete Hautman's Godless for Daughter Number Three-Point-One's collection, China Mieville's Kraken (which I keep hearing is essential modern science fiction reading, even though I fear reading him), Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography Infidel, my second Margaret Atwood novel, a nice first edition of Tony Earley's Jim the Boy, cute little illustrated versions of a Russian folk tale collection and Tolkien's Smith of Wootton Major, and David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy, which somehow, I have not yet read.

Mixed in there is a 1962 ex-library book called Valiant Captive. It's part of the "white people taken captive by Indians" genre and may be horrible, but I thought it was worth a $.50 look just out of cultural curiosity, if nothing else.

And then there was this signed first edition of Sarah Vowell's Take the Cannolli to complete my S.V. collection.

Before the book sale, I had wandered into the Red Balloon book shop to buy Kristin Cashore's Bitterblue, a sequel to Graceling, and wound up raiding their YA shelves of:

  • Every John Green book (after my recent encounter with The Fault in Our Stars)
  • Nothing Special, the latest book by Geoff Herbach (author of Stupid Fast)
  • Plus two science fiction YAs recommended by the staff, Victoria Roth's Insurgent and Ilsa Bick's Ashes.
Then Friday I found my way to Uncle Hugo's (the oldest science fiction bookstore in the country!) to pick up 2312, the latest from all-time favorite Kim Stanley Robinson, as well as John Scalzi's Red Shirts.

And finally, there was a quick trip to Micawber's, which netted a paperback printing of Rosemary Sutcliff's The Shining Company (a title of hers I've never heard of before) plus a beautiful picture book called One Times Square, a pictorial history of that famous address over the last hundred years.

It's going to be a YA and science fiction kind of summer, I think.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Child Care Choice Not as Simple as He Thinks

I usually reprint Star Tribune letters when I agree with them, but this one breaks the pattern:

Day Care

Parents are the key in monitoring kids' care

The Star Tribune has published a series of articles trying to sway public confidence in the state's two-tiered day care system ("Lack of child-care records puts kids at risk," May 30). We have become a society that seems to think that personal responsibility should be shifted to the government for everything. Selecting a day care is a choice parents make; they should take it seriously and not just rely on some public website or on inspections by the state or county. Ask for references, talk to other parents, etc. You are your child's best inspector. If you are a parent who drops off your kid without going in and talking to your provider, then you are not doing your job. We don't need unions, more regulation or more websites to make day care better. We need parents to stop shirking their responsibility and put the time and effort into knowing who is watching their children.

So many things are wrong with Mr. Anderson's thinking. First, I don't know what he means by saying the Star Tribune is "trying to sway public confidence in the state's two-tiered day care system." My impression was that the Strib was being a newspaper by investigating something in the public interest. The paper reported that more children die in family child care than in centers, both in absolute and per capita numbers. Is Mr. Anderson opposed to reporting facts?

Second, his simple-minded approach to the tough decision parents face would almost be laughable if it weren't politically motivated by his anti-government, anti-union worldview. He is clearly a believer in homo economicus, the rational man theory of human behavior. He thinks parents can get perfect information if they just put their minds to it.

However, like health care, child care decisions are not simple ones with easy choices between good and bad. References from parents who use a provider are great, but they don't tell you whether the provider is over-capacity or puts infants to sleep on their stomachs. Talking to the provider is important, but it's only one piece of information. Having ratings or assessments from an unbiased source is a good thing, and in fact, should play a key role in parents' decision-making.

In essence, Anderson is blaming the parents of every child who has died in a child care setting for their child's death. Because the child died, in his book, obviously the parents weren't careful enough, they were "shirking their responsibility." I suppose they should have insisted on surveillance cameras or something.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A New Name for a Stick

What do you call this little item you would put into a computer's USB port to transfer files from one computer to another?

USB thumb drive, small black electronic item with silver plug on one end
It's one of those solid state flash memory thingamabobs that has no moving parts, but can hold between 200 megabytes and many gigabytes of data. They started out costing hundreds of dollars about 10 years ago, and now are so cheap it's pretty easy to get one for free.

Some names I've heard used:

  • Jump drive
  • Thumb drive
  • USB stick
  • Data stick
  • Flash drive
  • Memory stick
But yesterday I saw a new name in a client's email:
  • Junk stick
Which I can only imagine is an eggcorn combining a mishearing of jump with stick.

Given the kinds of files that wind up remaining on mine, I think I will immediately switch to this new term.