Archive for September, 2009


Chamber of Commerce = delusional extremists?

September 30, 2009

You don’t say!

Flying Whale


The right to compromise

September 23, 2009

Though smaller than it should be, there is an ongoing debate in the non-profit community about whether or not non-elected advocates have the right to make compromises during the legislative or regulatory process.

Whether its land conservationists compromising on CAFE standards at the national level or wildlife enthusiasts at the state level promising not to object to the next site chosen as long as the military moves away from this migratory bird nesting site, advocates cut deals on our behalf all the time.

The only thing is, unlike elected officials, we didn’t elect them.  And worse, they aren’t really accountable to us in any way.

It’s a problem for a supposedly democratic society that currently houses much of its policy expertise in the non-profit sector.



When big agriculture gets really, really big

September 23, 2009

20070615_corn_seeds74115193_18It creates crazy contracts that take away farmers’ rights to privacy, legal action in their own state, and damages beyond the price of the seeds themselves.

And it counts opening a bag of seed as a signature.

Pretty damn unbelievable.



Rural education: and what in the world are we going to do about it?

September 23, 2009

dirt road farm landLately, I’ve been having the same conversation over and over again.  From concerned parents to stressed out Initially Licensed Teachers (ILTs) to grassroots activists to state level decision makers, I’ve been listening, learning and talking about the challenges of rural education.

Not that we’ve arrived, but we are making real progress on urban education (see New Leaders for New Schools’ Urban Excellence Framework).  There are smart, thoughtful folks figuring out how to turn chronically low performing schools around, engage the community, synch high school prep programs with local employers, and feed students directly into institutions of higher educations.  But for all the excited momentum around these urban models, we have yet to find ways to address the poverty, geographic isolation and constant staff turnover that plague rural communities.

One of the ILT’s I talked to this week pointed me towards a segment on North Carolina Public Radio about rural schools, using Warren County as a case study.  It’s nice to see someone else drilling down into a community to begin understanding what these challenges look like on the ground.

There are a million subtleties, but from what I know, Dave DeWitt gets it about right:

  • Urban Tier 1 schools get more money per pupil than rural Tier 1 schools.  Secretary Duncan has gestured toward changing that, but don’t hold your breath.
  • Because school budgets in most states are comprised of formulaic money from the state supplemented by local money, rural communities with weaker or more dispersed tax bases have fewer resources to spread (literally) farther.
  • Because of this reality, rural school districts are usually unable to raise teacher salaries above the (relatively low) state level.  Unable to compete, they lose their good teachers to the nearest urban school system (DeWitt’s comparison to baseball’s minor league feeding their best into the major leagues is a good one).
  • In addition to being unable to compete on salary, rural school districts often struggle to provide housing for young teachers (take Warren County which has not a single apartment in the entire county) and/or job opportunities for the partners/spouses of teachers.
  • In Warren County’s case, you end up with a superintendent admitting that he would be unable to staff his schools if it wasn’t for the constant influx of Teach for America Corp members.

Add on top of these the preference at the national level for competitive grant money for innovation in the form of charter schools and merit pay for teachers (changes more easily–though not exclusively–managed in districts with more concentrated resources and population) and you can see why this is often a discouraging conversation.

It’s a long row.  We’re working on it.  But in the meantime, we should all say a blessing over TFA.



The Atlantic 50

September 20, 2009

Based on influence, reach, and web engagement, they are the “all-star team.”

These are the most influential commentators in the nation, the columnists and bloggers and broadcast pundits who shape the national debates.

We conducted surveys of more than 250 insiders – members of Congress, national media figures, and political players – asking respondents to rank-order the commentators who most influence their own thinking.

I clicked on the link.  I was curious to see how mainstream my sources of information and commentray are.  As I skimmed through I found it to be more or less the list you’d expect.

But by the time I got to twenty, I was paying attention to something else.  You have to scroll down to number thirteen before you find someone who isn’t a white man.  Among the fifty, there are only nine women to be found, and only two men of color.  There isn’t a single woman of color in the list.  Not a single one.

I don’t mean to overstate the importance of this list.  And demographics certainly aren’t everything.  But to those who think equal opportunity has been achieved, I’d ask what the chances are that the overwhelming whiteness of the group is merely coincidental.



Double bind

September 18, 2009

Turns out, being a victim of relationship violence counts as a pre-existing condition in eight states and the District of Columbia.

Under the cold logic of the insurance industry, it makes perfect sense: If you are in a marriage with someone who has beaten you in the past, you’re more likely to get beaten again than the average person and are therefore more expensive to insure.

In human terms, it’s a second punishment for a victim of domestic violence.

Economic and healthcare consequences if you stay.  And often, economic hardship if you leave.

And that, dear readers, is a double bind.



Teabaggers in DC

September 12, 2009

Sometimes RedState is my favorite website ever.

Today, a whole lot of people marched in DC against, uh, government. They weren’t anarchists, they were teabaggers. Most media outlets are citing estimates that there were probably between 50 and 100 thousand of them. But RedState goes off the deep end and declares, TWO MILLION march on Washington! On the other side, Josh Marshall accepts a figure of 60 to 70 thousand and writes a post titled, “Small Protest Against Big Govt.”

Come on. Can’t we agree that 70,000 people is a lot, and more than many of us would have expected? It’s not small, and it’s certainly not two million.

Anyway, I also love RedState for posts like this one, with a slew of photos of signs from today’s march. My favorite sign in this whole mess is right near the beginning: “If Abortion Had Not Killed 53,000,000 Babies We’d Have Plenty Of Money For Medicare and Social Security.” I believe it’s important to understand where people are coming from, but sometimes, as here, one is confronted with utterly nonsensical statements and such a good-faith effort is bound to fail spectacularly.

Flying Whale


Spanish is scary

September 11, 2009

I find this absolutely appalling.  Why folks couldn’t sit tight for 30 seconds until Representative Himes translated the question is beyond me.  Why folks felt comfortable trampling on someone else’s right to free speech is even more beyond me.      

But it did make me stop and think about the English Only movement and Americans’ fear of Spanish.  I think the capacity to understand why someone else believes or behaves as they do is a powerful skill to develop; accurately analyzing what is at the root of a given belief or behavior can shine quite a lot of light for activists wanting to address it.  And so, here is my best attempt to dissect what is going on here (and keep a lid on the snark as long as I can).

But first: there is a very real combination of racism and xenophobia at play.  And it deserves to be mentioned first.  There are folks who believe that English is a superior language, much like there are folks who believe that Whites are a superior race.  There are people who wish to create as many hurdles as possible for non-English-speakers immigrating to the United States; there are folks who would like to see them prevented from thriving or even functioning in our society via any means possible.  I’m not trying to address these people right now.  Their primary issue isn’t language; it’s hate.  

But I do believe that there are non-actively-racist, non-actively-xenophobic* folks who still support many of the principles of the English Only movement.  And they’re the ones I want to zero in on.    

1. It’s part our national identity! We’re a relatively young nation.  We’re racially and ethnically heterogeneous.  We have strong state and regional identities.  Though the majority of Americans identify as Christian, a significant and growing minority don’t, and there is almost more diversity between some interpretations of Christianity than between Christainity and other world religions.  And to top it off, there isn’t much of an American cuisine either.  So I think its conceivable that many folks think of English as an important part of American culture.  It isn’t a far leap to believe that being a “real” American means speaking English.  Seems relatively reasonable and makes for a great organizing tool.  That said, when folks are shouting down a bishop trying to ask a question in the language he’s most comfortable expressing himself in, we’re really talking about the majority forcing something upon a minority to protect the majority’s culture.  Makes it a little less compelling, doesn’t it?    

2. Speaking a single language increases political unity! Funny, I thought shared political ideals like democracy and freedom were supposed to do that.  

3. Monolinguists just don’t understand how polylingualism works. Woah, can you tell I spent some time wallowing in linguistics jargon once upon a time?  In simpler terms: as a nation of folks who mostly speak one language, we assume that expanding the number of languages we speak will dramatically change our society and for the worse!  We won’t be able to communicate with each other; the government will either descend into chaos or fail to serve a significant portion of the population; translation costs will be astronomical; infants will be confused and stop speaking altogether; the Southern states will try to secede again; and the Dark Ages will return.  

Unfortunately for the folks who believe this, it just isn’t true.  

3a. If the next generation of Americans learn to speak both Spanish and English: Although adults admittedly have a more difficult time, kids are completely unfazed by an increase in the number of languages they encounter.  A infant will learn to speak two (or three!) languages just as quickly as he/she will learn to speak one.  If they are exposed to it before the age of ten, most children have no trouble picking up a second language.  There is absolutely nothing developmentally complicated about having children learn the language(s) their parents speak at home and then learning additional language(s) needed once they start school.  There are a lot of countries already doing this very successfully.      

3b. If most non-Latino Americans continue to speak only English but increasingly interact with Spanish-speakers (gasp!): We have plenty of tools to compensate for interaction between different languages.  The degree to which technology can facilitate flawless comprehension between languages is impressive and also, increasingly affordable.  But even without technology, most of us could make it through daily life just fine.  As someone who lived abroad in two different regions of the world without first mastering the primary local language, I can vouch for the notion that the first 100 vocabulary words–even without verb conjugation–are the most important for functioning day to day.  A mix of charades, gestures and the quick sketch or two can usually fill in the gap.  (Just imagine what frequent application of this would do for Saturday night rounds of Pictionary all across the country!)  

4. This just sounds like more work. Some folks don’t want to make an effort to accommodate other folks they don’t really think are all that important in the first place.  Or maybe they do think they are a little bit important but not quite important enough to exert energy playing charades.  Well.  Then be apathetic and don’t interact with your Latino neighbors.  But please sit down and shut up while others are talking in the town hall meetings.  Kthanks.    

*Flying Whale, a post about the Racism Matrix, please?



Hey, someone gave a speech last night

September 10, 2009

So I sort of lied about no posts for a while, but I didn’t lie about no substantive posts, as this is merely a miniature link dump. The lefty blogosphere responded pretty positively to Obama’s healthcare speech to Congress last night, and Rep. Joe Wilson gave them a convenient punching bag to rile up the believers. There are any number of insightful posts I could link to, but I’ll limit myself to three.

First, Ezra Klein gives a positive, if sober, assessment of the speech. Second, two posts at Open Left offer opposing, if not directly contradictory, views: Daniel de Groot applauds Obama’s sweeping defense of liberalism, while unsurprisingly, David Sirota provides the loudest dissenting voice from the left, with the rather biting post title “Reviewing President Rahm Emanuel’s Health Care Speech.”

The difference? Sirota is refusing to resign himself to Obama’s centrism. The rest of the liberal blogosphere appears to have done just that, at least for now. Ultimately, I’m not sure which attitude is more productive.

Flying Whale


We have jobs

September 9, 2009

Unfortunately, both Jonas and I are currently going through phases in our day jobs in which we are a little too busy to be able to put adequate effort into blog posts. We will return shortly (me before Jonas, probably). Don’t miss us too much.

Flying Whale