Thursday, February 28, 2013

Elizabeth Warren for Pope

“When Benedict dies, he will have the pleasure of standing before whatever furious God he believes in, to answer for how it was that he knew for undeniable fact that one -- if not dozens -- of his priests repeatedly molested, abused and/or raped young children for decades, and he did nothing to stop it. How much does God believe the pope's argument that Vatican PR trumps pedophilia? Joe Ratzinger, 82, will soon find out.” Mark Morfordcolumnist and culture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate.com

I PROPOSE THAT Elizabeth Warren take over as the new Pope. Her ascent would simultaneously:

A) Do away with clergy celibacy. (What could possibly go wrong with having 405,000 men who aren't permitted to marry or have sex working with boys and girls in a close and 'fatherly' way?) She's married and has two children, so she's obviously not been celibate unless we're looking at another miracle here. Well, she is pretty much a miracle worker, but not that kind.

B) Reduce misogyny by eliminating bans on female priests and birth control. 

And I bet she'd kick some behind in terms of cleaning the place up. And I don't mean dusting.

Her Popeness.

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Another one!

"Recent news coverage about the brown recluse spider in Iowa has sensationalized our situation and lead to unnecessary concern. The brown recluse spider is rare in Iowa. Less than one specimen per year is submitted to the Iowa Insect Diagnostic Clinic." — by Donald Lewis, Iowa State University Department of Entomology

PAUL HAS ANOTHER bite wound. Whether it's a brown recluse spider again remains to be seen, but it's certainly acting the same way as before. He's not quite as sick as last summer, but he has a big, ugly open wound, body aches, exhaustion, bite site and whole-leg pain and swelling. 

Perhaps neither was the result of brown recluse spiders, and he's extremely allergic to any kind of spider bite. We're hoping the thing drains today so that we can get some fluid for analysis. Meanwhile he's on heavy-duty antibiotics, and you know how that makes your stomach feel.

He noticed the bite when he woke up in his hotel room in Topeka while on tour with Five By Design. Based on the PubMed research papers he's been reading, the odds of being bitten by two brown recluse spiders are exceedingly low unless you have them in your home, but the odds of that are also low because if you have them, you don't just have a couple of spiders, you'd have hundreds, and we'd see them.

And all this comes on the heals of his having had minor, but quite painful, outpatient surgery for something else he endured while on tour, so all in all, they guy is suffering — and really sick of being sick.
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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Breast cancer in younger women

"That's a problem because we don't usually screen before age 40 unless you know there are genetics in the family or a strong family history." — Dr. Thomas Julian, director of surgical oncology at Allegheny General Hospital

ADVANCED BREAST CANCER appears to be on the rise in younger women, and experts don't know why.  Here's an article that appeared today on ABC News' MedPage.

By CRYSTAL PHEND, MedPage Today Senior Staff Writer
Feb. 27, 2013

The number of young women being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer has been slowly but steadily rising over the past 3 decades, a national study found.

The incidence of advanced breast disease among women ages 25 to 39 crept upward by 2.1 percent per year between 1976 and 2009, according to Dr. Rebecca Johnson of Seattle Children's Hospital and the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues. The steepest uptick occurred in the most recent era from 2000-2009, during which incidence rose 3.6 percent per year.

The upward trend was not seen among older women in the analysis of the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, published in the Feb. 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The findings are worrying for an "age group that already has the worst prognosis, no recommended routine screening practice, the least health insurance, and the most potential years of life," the researchers pointed out.

Why more young women would be presenting with tumors that have already spread to bone, brain, lungs, or other distant sites isn't clear, they noted.

Rising obesity rates, changes in alcohol and tobacco use, and genetics are possible causes, according to Dr. Thomas Julian, director of surgical oncology at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Whatever the cause, something needs to be done to find these women at an earlier stage of cancer, he told MedPage Today in an interview.


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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Two thumbs down

"The best moment of Seth MacFarlane's Oscars hosting gig may have come late in the night when, in announcing Meryl Streep, he said 'our next presenter needs no introduction' and then just walked away. If only he'd kept his mouth shut more frequently." — Spencer Kornhaber, senior associate editor at The Atlantic

MY FACEBOOK FRIEND, Galen, asked me what I thought of the Oscars. I must say that I really, really, REALLY disliked the host, Seth MacFarlane. To be more precise, I called him a smug, little punk. 

I ran across a blog post for The New Yorker written by Amy Davidson, the title of which was "Seth MacFarlane and the Oscars’ Hostile, Ugly, Sexist Night." That was the headline, followed by her first sentence: "Watching the Oscars last night meant sitting through a series of crudely sexist antics led by a scrubby, self-satisfied Seth MacFarlane." 

Couldn't agree more.


Peter Brady and Seth MacFarlane separated at birth?

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Erasing hate


"A former neo-Nazi, who had massively threatened me in the past and later exited the scene, stopped me on the street one day. He took off his sunglasses, looked me straight in the eyes and said that he wanted to thank me for never giving up my fight." — Irmela Mensah-Schramm

SO MANY OF the world's problems seem overwhelming and intractable. It's difficult to believe that any of us can make any measurable difference. Below is a great story from NBC's World Blog about a 66-year-old woman who is doing so — all by herself.

A retired teacher's courageous crusade: Tackling neo-Nazi hate
By Andy Eckardt, NBC News

BERLIN – Irmela Mensah-Schramm has embarked on her very personal "combat mission" almost daily for 26 years. Her weapons? A scraper, nail-polish remover, a camera and lots of courage.

Come rain, heatwaves or stormy weather, the 66-year-old sets out to battle what she calls "extremely disturbing" neo-Nazi and racist graffiti, stickers and posters that blight the streets of Germany's capital.

The retired special-needs teacher has now removed more than 90,000 stickers and scribblings.


Using a scraper, nail-polish remover and a camera, 66-year-old
Irmela Mensah-Schramm is tackling neo-Nazi hate in Berlin. 

"Even when I injured my leg several years ago and was walking on crutches, it did not stop me from removing the muck off traffic light poles, bus stops or building walls," Mensah-Schramm says.

Mensah-Schramm travels by commuter train to areas she believes are right-wing strongholds, places where xenophobic propaganda and spray-painted Nazi symbols mix with gang-related graffiti and the more colorful works of spray-paint artists.

Appalled


Her "vocation" started with a single neo-Nazi sticker on a street light outside of her apartment in the upmarket Berlin-Wannsee area.

"One morning, I saw a banned Nazi symbol well visible on a lamp post and was appalled that people in my neighborhood ignored it day in and day out, without removing this trash," Mensah-Schramm recalls.

"Only a short while later, I witnessed an incident in which my Indian brother-in-law became the victim of racist bashing. This shocked me so much that I decided to act."

She documents much of the offensive material in photographs and has compiled a scrapbook, which she always carries with her. Mensah-Schramm calls her project "Hate Destroys".

"For many years, I have been displaying my pictures in exhibits across the country," Mensah-Schramm says. "I talk about my experiences in schools and I regularly host workshops with children and students, generating awareness for the bad impact of these ugly racist messages."


This neo-Nazi sticker that reads "nationalism" in German
is among the thousands that  Irmela has removed.

Swastikas


Even ill health hasn't stopped her determined drive to wipe out extremist propaganda. After undergoing a cancer operation at a Berlin hospital in 1995, Mensah-Schramm found two swastikas painted in a stairwell. She rushed back to the nurses, asked for acetone and scrubbed away as much as she could before becoming too weak to finish the job. It was the first day Mensah-Schramm was able to get out of bed.

"In some journeys, I need to take tougher measures with black spray-paint or anti-graffiti solvent to remove writings off walls, and sometimes I even ask people on the street to help me out, if I cannot reach the graffiti," Mensah-Schramm says as she walks past run-down apartment buildings in an economically depressed neighborhood in the Berlin suburb of Koenigs Wusterhausen, which was once part of communist East Germany.

"Look, that is my work," she proudly points out, as she walks past a black square, which was once a swastika that she recently painted over.
Her message is clear: Don't look away.

"You cannot achieve something by doing nothing," explains Mensah-Schramm, whose husband was born in Ghana.

"This type of xenophobic propaganda on the streets can help to spread dangerous ideologies, which can be part of a radicalization process that ultimately can lead to extreme violence," she says, referring to recent revelations about a neo-Nazi terror cell that shocked Germany and led to a nationwide debate about the danger of right-wing extremism in the country.

Murder spree


Two men, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, and their 36-year old female accomplice, Beate Zschaepe, formed the so-called National Socialist Underground (NSU). The group is believed to be responsible for the murders of at least nine small businessmen of Turkish and Greek origin between 2000 and 2006, as well as the slaying of a police officer in 2007.

Much to the embarrassment of German authorities, the country's law enforcement agencies only connected the crimes and their xenophobic motives in late 2011 after two of the three cell members committed suicide, following a bank robbery that put police on their trail.

German investigators originally suspected that the victims were most likely killed by fellow immigrants and might have been involved in gang-related crimes.

While critics say that German authorities had turned "blind on the right eye", by focusing instead on tackling Islamist terrorism, lawmakers set up an anti-terror center for right-wing extremism in December. Last month, Germany's parliament also appointed a commission of inquiry into the series of killings.

The German government has also established a database aimed at better coordination in the fight against violent neo-Nazis, partly because the NSU terror cell apparently remained in the shadows for so long due to poor lines of communication between different national security agencies and state authorities.

"Attacks on local politicians and violent acts against foreigners show that the goal is to spread fear and terror," Heinz Fromm, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, told a recent symposium in Berlin.

Brutality


Germany's domestic intelligence agency estimates that there are about 9,500 potentially violent neo-Nazis among the 26,000 right-wing extremists in the country.

"For years, we have been seeing that brutality within right-wing extremism has been on the rise," says Dr. Alexander Eisvogel, vice-president of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

However, Mensah-Schramm insists that she remains unafraid.

"I have been threatened many times by neo-Nazis, who have seen me remove their works,” she says. “And once, I came across big letters written on a wall that read: 'Schramm, we will get you'.

"Another time, I found my photo illegally posted on a well-known neo-Nazi website, where the subtitle indicated that nobody would care if I was dead," Mensah-Schramm describes.

She filed an official complaint over the violation of her personal rights. 

"Unfortunately, that got me nowhere because the server for the page was based in the United States," Mensah-Schramm says.

In fact, German authorities are facing a growing challenge when it comes to online enforcement.

Extremist groups are turning to web servers in the United States to host their content and spread their messages beyond the jurisdiction of local authorities. While displaying of Nazi symbols and the incitement of racial hatred are outlawed in Germany, neo-Nazi websites take advantage of free speech laws in the United States.

As the retiree counts sticker number 70,076, removed at a bus stop outside a local high school, she turns and says, "There are these small, but very rewarding moments."

"A former neo-Nazi, who had massively threatened me in the past and later exited the scene, stopped me on the street one day," Mensah-Schramm says with a choked voice. "He took off his sunglasses, looked me straight in the eyes and said that he wanted to thank me for never giving up my fight."

"I was so overwhelmed by the gesture that I started to cry," Mensah-Schramm says, before walking off to complete her mission of the day.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lending a helping paw

"All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For after all, he was only human. He wasn't a dog." — Charles M. Schultz 

I NORMALLY DON'T repeat quotes, but this one is so good that I'd publish it every day, and I don't even own a dog. Doesn't mean I don't love 'em, though. Check out this story from the New York Times.

For Law Students With Everything, Dog Therapy for Stress
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
Published: March 21, 2011

An Introduction to Legal Reasoning? Check. Small, cute dog? Check.

Yale Law School, renowned for competitiveness and its Supreme Court justices, is embarking on a pilot program next week in which students can check out a “therapy dog” named Monty along with the library’s collection of more than one million books.

While the law school is saying little so far about its dog-lending program, it has distributed a memo to students with the basics: that Monty will be available at the circulation desk to stressed-out students for 30 minutes at a time beginning Monday, for a three-day trial run.

“It is well documented that visits from therapy dogs have resulted in increased happiness, calmness and overall emotional well-being,” Blair Kauffman, the law librarian, wrote in an e-mail to students.

The school is not saying what sort of dog Monty is; what happens to him when school is out of session; or how Monty himself may be kept from becoming overstressed with all his play dates.

Sebastian Swett, 26, a second-year student at the law school, said he had signed up for a session with the dog, but does not necessarily think that it will relieve all the pressures that come with being a student at Yale. “I don’t think its going to solve anybody’s anxiety problems, but it’s certainly nice to play with a dog for half an hour.”

Monty, according to the memo to students, is hypoallergenic and will be kept in a nonpublic space inside the library, presumably away from those who don’t much like dogs.

“We will need your feedback and comments to help us decide if this will be a permanent ongoing program available during stressful periods of the semester, for example, during examinations,” the note to students reads.

A handful of other universities offer similar services, including the University of Wisconsin at OshkoshYale Law School has kept its dog-lending plan so quiet that some faculty members were not even aware of it.

“I’m surprised to hear of it,” said John Witt, a professor who was awarded a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship last year for a project on the laws of war through American history. “I’ve always found library books to be therapeutic. But maybe that’s just me.”

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Gun buy-backs work, Part II

"I have seen the kind of weapons turned in, and I know we are preventing some gun violence." — Cory BookerMayor of Newark

I SOUND LIKE a broken record perhaps. How shall I put this; oh yeah, I don't care. How I sound that is. I do care about imposing sanity on the gun psychosis we have in this country. Here's an opinion piece by Joe Nocera from yesterday's New York Times.

Notes From a Gun Buyback
By JOE NOCERA
Published: February 15, 2013

The first gun turned in at the Calvary Gospel Church, in Newark’s tough South Ward, was an old shotgun. It wasn’t sawed off, and it wasn’t semiautomatic. It was made for hunting. The person who brought it in was paid $150.

It was early Friday morning, the start of a two-day gun buyback being held in Essex County, at sites in Montclair, Newark and elsewhere. A few weeks ago, when a gun buyback was held in Mercer County (which includes Trenton), 2,604 guns were turned in, 700 of which were either illegally bought or illegally modified. Among the guns turned in was a rocket launcher.

Things were slow at Calvary Gospel. Though other sites, especially Montclair, were buzzing with activity, the dozen-plus Newark policemen in the Calvary Gospel gym were mostly killing time. Every so often, an officer would yell, “Incoming,” meaning that someone was bringing in a gun. The police would snap to attention.

Most of the gun sellers looked embarrassed. “This is awkward,” said a man turning in three guns, one of them an assault weapon. A Newark police veteran later told me that he and his team could often trace a gun bought at a buyback to a particular crime or a particular dealer in the South, where many of New Jersey’s illegal guns come from. But, because the gun buyback came with guaranteed amnesty, they couldn’t pursue it any further. I tried to talk to some of the gun sellers as they were leaving, but most of them just looked straight ahead and kept walking.

By 10 a.m., about 20 guns had been turned in, including a half-dozen semiautomatic pistols. Just then, Jeffrey Chiesa, New Jersey’s attorney general, and Carolyn Murray, the acting Essex County prosecutor, walked in. They were providing the cash being used to pay for the guns with money confiscated from drug busts and other crimes. (The sellers got paid on a sliding scale: from $25 for a BB gun up to $250 for an illegal weapon.) Chiesa made a point of thanking the pastor, the Rev. Steven Davis. “It’s important that people turn guns in at places they can trust,” he said.

There are plenty of critics of gun buybacks. They argue that people turn in guns that would never be used in a crime — like that hunting gun I saw early on. They say that criminals are hardly going to be tempted to hand over their guns because someone is waving a few hundreds dollars at them.

But Chiesa wasn’t buying it. “The governor,” he said, referring to Chris Christie, “has told us to use every means necessary to reduce gun violence, traditional and nontraditional. We have collected a lot of guns in these buybacks, many of which were acquired illegally. Anecdotally, we know it makes a difference.” Later, over the phone, Mayor Cory Booker of Newark told me that while he had been skeptical of buybacks before he took office, he was now a true believer. 

“I have seen the kind of weapons turned in, and I know we are preventing some gun violence,” he said.

Chiesa went to another Newark site, the Paradise Baptist Church, where he held a brief news conference. “What are you going to do with the guns?” a reporter asked him. “We will destroy them,” Chiesa said.

It’s actually a little more interesting than that. Shortly before noon, a woman named Jessica Mindich walked into Cavalry Gospel, accompanied by Sgt. Luke Laterza, a Newark ballistics officer. A striking, 42-year-old mother of two from upscale Connecticut, she was going to be the recipient of the guns bought during the buyback.

Mindich runs Jewelry For a Cause, a company that designs jewelry tailored for specific philanthropies. In December 2011, she heard Booker speak so movingly about the devastation caused by urban gun violence, that she came up with the idea of designing bracelets made from melted down guns.

Though she had no ties to Newark, she soon convinced the mayor and the Police Department to back her initiative. To get her started, the police gave her the metal from some guns that had been confiscated in long-forgotten cases. She had the guns melted down and designed slim bracelets that included the gun’s serial number. In the nearly three months she’s been selling them, she has raised enough money to donate $40,000 to Newark — to help finance the next buyback. She calls it “The Caliber Collection.”


The Caliber Collection

Around 7:30 p.m., I heard from the attorney general’s office that the gun buyback would acquire 1,000 guns on Friday alone. Montclair was such a hotbed of gun selling, that the Newark police had decided to send some officers there to help out on Saturday.

Many hours earlier, as I prepared to head back to the office, I said to one of the officers, “I wish you success with your buyback.”

“If we get one gun off the street,” he replied, “we’ve succeeded.”
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Monday, February 11, 2013

Music man

"The only thing that ultimately matters is to eat an ice-cream cone, play a slide trombone, plant a small tree, good God, now you're free." Ray Manzarek, singer, producer, film director, writer, and co-founder and keyboardist of The Doors 

PAUL IS HAVING a busy week as a trombone player. Tonight it's Des Moines Big Band where he plays lead trombone. You can catch them at 6:30 at Adventureland Inn in Altoona.

Tomorrow he's goes to Jefferson, IA for a Five By Design concert with Tanner Taylor, Jim Oatts, Dave Bohl, Dave Altemeir and other musical buds of his. Tanner is a piano phenom originally from Jefferson who now lives and plays in Minneapolis, and Five By Design is a singing group based in Shakopee, MN featuring music from the 30s, 40s and 50s. (For more information about the group, scroll down.)

Thursday night Paul plays with the same group in Topeka, KS. Normally he'd be playing with the Turner Center Jazz Orchestra on the Valentine's concert featuring the great Janey Hooper on vocals. (I'll be at TCJO to sub for Paul — administrative duties, clearly not on the trombone.) If you live in central Iowa, the TCJO concert starts at 7:30. Tickets are $25 at the door, or $20 if you call and reserve ahead of time.




Friday night Paul is home. Yay! Saturday night he plays the same Five By Design concert in Ottumwa, IA, and Sunday they're in Des Moines at Hoyt Sherman Place. I'll get to go to that one. Monday night Paul would again normally be playing with the Des Moines Big Band, but Five By Design is in Forest City, IA for another concert, and he's with them.

Here's a link to the Five By Design website if you want to buy tickets, but I have to warn you that the procedure for purchasing them for the Jefferson concert seems to require no small amount of persistence. Loyal jazz fan, Karl Shilling finally resorted to driving to Jefferson to get tickets because neither buying online or over the phone worked. Tickets for the other dates are no problem; you can purchase them online. Below is their schedule for the year and a little description of their music, both pulled from their website.


Five By Design


Five By Design's signature harmonies have withstood the test of time in a career that stands out on America's musical landscape, spanning more than twenty years. Whether backed by symphony orchestra or studio big band, Five By Design embraces the unforgettable melodies, lush harmonies, and swinging rhythms that evoke the names of Miller, Mancini and Mercer.

Radio Days, Five By Design’s flagship production, debuted in the 1980's as a patriotic tribute to the “golden age of radio,” commemorating the 50th anniversary of World War II.  Nearly two decades later, Radio Days still receives great reviews.  The Washington Post heralded its Kennedy Center debut with the National Symphony Orchestra as “one of the best pops performances of the season.” 

With the success of Radio Days and the renewed interest in swing, the Baltimore Symphony requested another production from Five By Design ultimately leading to the Baltimore premiere of Club Swing in 2001.  The show follows the rise and fall of the big band era from 1937-1955 at the fictional Hotel Crosby, “where the music’s hot, the drinks are cool, and the legend lives forever.”

In 2006 Five By Design unveiled their third production.  In true variety show fashion, Stay Tuned moves seamlessly from songs to skits and back again providing a night of marvelous entertainment when television ruled the airwaves.  The music of Perry Como, Rosemary Clooney, Bobby Darin and many more is presented live and in living color. 


Feb 12
Jefferson Scranton High School, Jefferson, IA

Feb 14

Topeka Performing Arts Center, Topeka, KS

Feb 16

Bridge View Center, Ottumwa, IA

Feb 17

Hoyt Sherman Place, Des Moines, IA

Feb 18

Waldorf College, Forest City, IA

Mar 02

State Theatre. Uniontown, PA

Mar 05

Ashland University, Ashland, OH

Mar 23

Elgin Symphony, Elgin, IL

Mar 24

Elgin Symphony, Elgin, IL

Mar 27

Lincoln Way North Auditorium, Frankfort, IL

Apr 06

Anderson Symphony Orchestra, Anderson, IN

Apr 26

Edmonton Symphony, Edmonton, Canada

Apr 27

Edmonton Symphony, Edmonton, Canada

Jun 23

St. Louis Symphony, St Louis, MO

Sep 21

Sheboygan Symphony, Sheboygan, WI

Sep 22

Oconomowoc Arts Center, Oconomowoc, WI

Nov 01

Heyde Center, Chippewa Falls, WI

Nov 03

Lucille Tack Center, Spencer, WI

Apr 04

Fort Worth Symphony, Fort Worth, TX

Apr 05

Fort Worth Symphony, Fort Worth, TX

Apr 06

Fort Worth Symphony, Fort Worth, TX
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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Unconsidering Jefferson

"By perseverance the snail reached the ark." — Charles Spurgeon, nineteenth century English preacher called the 'Prince of Preachers' 

HA! I finished adding a "quote for the day" to every blog post I've written — all 367 of them. This should not be considered an accomplishment so much as a an exercise in obsessive-compulsivness. 

Even so, I pleased myself by doing it, and I derived a great deal of satisfaction from removing every quote by Thomas Jefferson and substituting ones by African-American women. Take that you old slave-owning, racist, cruel hypocrite. You are now officially unconsidered by me. (See Reconsidering Jefferson to know why.) 

I also had a little laugh changing a blog title here and there. I had called one from last month Golden Globes Best Dressed, and there was a companion post titled Golden Globes Least Liked. I changed the latter to read Golden Globes Least Dressed as my own little personal joke. That was, after all, the reason I found a good many of the dresses entirely unacceptable.

And as always, I learned lots of Shiny things along the way.
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Thursday, February 7, 2013

They're part of us

"Something is profoundly wrong when we can point to 2-year-olds in this country and make a plausible bet about their long-term outcomes — not based on their brains and capabilities, but on their ZIP codes." — Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times

I'VE BEEN LOOKING for this Nicholas Kristof column since it first was published January 23, 2013 in the New York Times. I read it at the time, liked it and wanted to share it, but I couldn't find it again. After days of looking, I finally tracked it down.

For Obama’s New Term, Start Here
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: January 23, 2013 

Point to a group of toddlers in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in America, and it’s a good bet that they will go to college, buy nice houses and enjoy white-collar careers.

Point to a group of toddlers in a low-income neighborhood, and — especially if they’re boys — they’re much more likely to end up dropping out of school, struggling in dead-end jobs and having trouble with the law.

Something is profoundly wrong when we can point to 2-year-olds in this country and make a plausible bet about their long-term outcomes — not based on their brains and capabilities, but on their ZIP codes. President Obama spoke movingly in his second Inaugural Address of making equality a practice as well as a principle. So, Mr. President, how about using your second term to tackle this most fundamental inequality?

For starters, this will require a fundamental rethinking of antipoverty policy. American assistance programs, from housing support to food stamps, have had an impact, and poverty among the elderly has fallen in particular (they vote in high numbers, so government programs tend to cater to them). But, too often, such initiatives have addressed symptoms of poverty, not causes.

Since President Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty,” the United States has spent some $16 trillion or more on means-tested programs. Yet the proportion of Americans living beneath the poverty line, 15 percent, is higher than in the late 1960s in the Johnson administration.

What accounts for the cycles of poverty that leave so many people mired in the margins, and how can we break these cycles? Some depressing clues emerge from a new book, “Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance,” by Susan Neuman and Donna Celano.

Neuman and Celano focus on two neighborhoods in Philadelphia. In largely affluent Chestnut Hill, most children have access to personal computers and the shops have eight children’s books or magazines on sale for each child living there.

Take a 20-minute bus ride on Germantown Avenue and you’re in the Philadelphia Badlands, a low-income area inhabited mostly by working-class blacks and Hispanics. Here there are few children’s books, few private computers and only two public computers for every 100 children.

On top of that, there’s a difference in parenting strategies, the writers say. Upper-middle-class parents in America increasingly engage in competitive child-rearing. Parents send preschoolers to art classes and violin lessons and read “Harry Potter” books to bewildered children who don’t yet know what a wizard is.

Meanwhile, partly by necessity, working-class families often take a more hands-off attitude to child-raising. Neuman and Celano spent 40 hours monitoring parental reading in the public libraries in each neighborhood. That was easy in the Badlands — on an average day “not one adult entered the preschool area in the Badlands.”

When I was a third-grader, a friend struggling in school once went with me to the library, and my mother helped him get a library card. His grandmother then made him return it immediately, for fear that he would run up library fines.

The upshot is that many low-income children never reach the starting line, and poverty becomes self-replicating.

Maybe that’s why some of the most cost-effective antipoverty programs are aimed at the earliest years. For example, the Nurse-Family Partnership has a home-visitation program that encourages new parents of at-risk children to amp up the hugging, talking and reading. It ends at age 2, yet randomized trials show that those children are less likely to be arrested as teenagers and the families require much less government assistance.

Or take Head Start. Critics have noted that the advantage its preschoolers gain in test scores fades by third grade, but scholars also have found that Head Start has important impacts on graduates, including lessening the chance that they will be convicted of a crime years later.

James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, argues that the most crucial investments we as a country can make are in the first five years of life, and that they pay for themselves. Yet these kinds of initiatives are underfinanced and serve only a tiny fraction of children in need.

We don’t have any magic bullets. But randomized trials and long-term data give us a better sense of what works — and, for the most part, it’s what we’re not doing, like improved education, starting with early childhood programs for low-income families. Job-training for at-risk teenagers also has an excellent record. Marriage can be a powerful force, too, but there’s not much robust evidence about which programs work.

So, President Obama, to fulfill the vision for your second term, how about redeploying the resources we’ve spent on the war in Afghanistan to undertake nation-building at home — starting with children so that they will no longer be limited by their ZIP codes.
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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Seven years old and packing

"Gun violence in and around our schools is simply unconscionable and must end." Kasim Reed, Mayor of Atlanta

HELLO?! America? Is this really what we want to be about? If not, write or call Congress.

Pistol-packing pupils becoming an everyday occurrence
By M. Alex Johnson, NBC News



A pupil and a teacher were shot Thursday, Jan. 31 at Price Middle
School in Atlanta. A second grade student at the school was arrested.

A 14-year-old pupil and a teacher were shot Thursday, Jan. 31, at Price Middle School in Atlanta. Another student at the school was arrested.

Police in Henrico, Va., were waiting at school for the little boy Monday morning after he allegedly threatened another pupil on their ride to Ratcliffe Elementary School. They found a handgun in his backpack, NBC station WWBT of Richmond, Virginia reported.

The case of a Virginia second-grader caught with a gun on his school bus this week may be shocking but it's by no means uncommon.

Across the country, children are being suspended or arrested for having weapons on campus or buses on a daily basis.

The incident made national headlines Monday, as did a similar incident when a loaded gun was found in a pupil's book bag last month at P.S. 215 in Queens, N.Y.

However, these incidents aren't as isolated as they may appear. An NBC News survey of crime dockets and news reports across all 50 states reveals that, since Jan. 1, there have been at least 48 incidents in which guns have been discovered on students, in their bags or in their lockers.

There were at least five last Thursday alone: in Atlanta; Augusta, Kan.; Chicago; Raleigh, N.C.; and Winston-Salem, N.C.

There have been 23 class days since some districts resumed school Jan. 2 — not including Jan. 21, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. That works out to more than two gun reports a day this school year. (The survey excluded incidents in which pupils were caught with toy guns; all of the weapons were handguns, rifles, BB guns or air rifles.)

And those are just the cases that have been made public: Juveniles' police records are generally protected, so an untold number of other such incidents are likely to have occurred.

While it's impossible to determine whether such potentially deadly show-and-tells are happening more frequently, the public data do indicate just how hard it is to clamp down on guns on campus since the issue became a national concern in December in the wake of the fatal shootings of 20 pupils at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Most of the time, the weapons are brought along for protection or as items of curiosity, with the pupil more interested in showing off than in shooting. And usually, they're intercepted before anyone can get hurt, with the student's being suspended or charged for a weapons violation, depending on his or her age. Often, a parent or guardian is charged with failing to secure the weapon.

But when they're not intercepted, tragedy is often the result.

Last week, a 14-year-old boy was shot and wounded by a student at Price Middle School in Atlanta, police said.

"Gun violence in and around our schools is simply unconscionable and must end," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said. "Too many young people are being harmed and too many families are suffering from unimaginable and unnecessary grief."

And on Jan. 10, a student was wounded by a classmate who shot him at Taft Union High School in Taft, Calif., police said The boy targeted a second classmate but missed, authorities said.

While many lawmakers have introduced legislation that would put armed police or security guards in schools, that may not be the answer, according to a state task force reviewing campus safety in Virginia.

The task force last week stressed the need to fund anti-bullying programs and school resource officers, but it stopped short of calling for more officers in schools.

"If we were to put 1,000 new police officers in our schools, those police officers would have to come from somewhere, and we might inadvertently make things less safe in our communities," Dewey G. Cornell, a law professor at the University of Virginia who's a member of the task force, told WWBT.

The boy who opened fire last week in California was one of those who carried a weapon because he said he had been bullied, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said.
But that's not a good enough excuse, parents say.

"That just doesn't make sense," said Jeremy Massey, the parent of a student at Daly Elementary School in Inskter, Mich., near Detroit, where a third-grader was found to have taken a loaded gun to class two days in a row last month. The boy told police he carried the gun for his own protection.

"If you are 10 years old, the only protection you need is to go tell an adult," Massey told NBC station WDIV of Detroit.
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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ears pinned back

"As soon as someone tells me: 'You're rather sexy,' I wish I could disappear." Daniel Craig 

I WILL admit to two things concerning Daniel Craig.


1) I found his movie Skyfall rather boring. Our friend Terry Lebo exclaimed, "What?!? How could you possibly have found it boring when it was a thrill a minute?!"

Don't know. Just did. There was the whole repeatedly violating the laws of physics thing, and predictable violence. Except for the end, I just thought the movie was somewhat slow — although I have to give props to Javier Bardem for being a thoroughly grotesque and creepy villain.

There was one thing, or perhaps I should say — two, that kept me completely riveted: Daniel's ears. I couldn't stop staring at them. I'm afraid I kept up a running commentary to Paul throughout the movie. "Would you get a load of those ears?!" "Yikes, what a pair of wings." "All I can see are those ears!!!" 

So naturally I laughed raucously when I learned that someone else felt the same way I did — Daniel Craig

Paging through junk magazines is my favorite thing to do while I get my hair cut, and contained within a tabloid was this little snippet:

“Daniel’s always been oversensitive and self-conscious about his protruding ears. He recently confessed to the director of his super-successful Skyfall movie that all he could see while watching the film was…his ears! So he’s finally going to fix them for good,” a source said.

Hey, did I call it or what?



2) Paul and I can't help but like him for being embarrassed about all the attention his gets. Check out some of his other quotes. 

"If somebody says: 'You were voted the world's sexiest man,' I have no idea what that means. How do I respond?" 

"My mother gave me a real kick toward cooking, which was that if I wanted to eat, I'd better know how to do it myself."

"I've been very lucky." 

"I don't care about how much other actors get. I don't care what other people are doing." 

"Things need shaking up politically, culturally." 

"I'm not trying to be macho, I promise you." 

"It's not like I was trying to be sexy, but I had to get fit because I had to be able to do stunts."

"I take my work seriously." 

"My family and friends treat me as they always have." 

"It's not like I go out there to be a sex symbol. I mean, it's nice of course — but embarrassing." 

"The genuine truth, and I do think about this a lot, is that I'm one of the least competitive people you'll ever meet. Except with myself."

"I know in my life there's stuff that will come back because I haven't dealt with it, and it's the same with everybody."

"I love that my friends are all freaks." 

"I stopped worrying about being desired a long time ago." 

"I'm a really bad liar." 

"There's always going to be someone with a bigger toy than yours." 

"You need to impress me, outwit me, compete with me? Go ahead, knock yourself out, I have no problem with that at all." 

"I think there's a lot to be said for keeping your own counsel." 

"I want people to treat me as normally as they can. Anybody who doesn't, I feel awkward with." 
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Friday, February 1, 2013

A new lease on life

"I had visions of cages in a lab or in the back room of a Thai restaurant." — Galen Brooks

I'VE MADE a new friend-of-a-friend. Galen read my post from January 1, 2013 containing the story from the New York Times about Goathouse Refuge. A cat lover himself, he had his own uncommon narrative to tell me about collecting many cats. I'm sharing it with his permission.

Almost 20 years ago, Galen's son, Ben, adopted a kitten while attending Oberlin College and was raising him in his dorm room. This, unsurprisingly, was entirely against the rules, and when he got busted, he phoned Dad in a panic. Galen immediately made an emergency trip to Ohio to rescue Soot the kitten. 

Soot moved in with Galen, and they had a "spectacular time" (his precise words) for three years. But then circumstances changed in Galen's life rendering him unable to keep Soot and do him justice. He worried about finding a proper home for his housemate.

The dilemma still unresolved, one day Galen noticed an ad in the Baltimore City Paper soliciting unwanted cats. He was alarmed! No matter how many times he turned it over in his head, he couldn't think of a benign reason someone would offer to take any cat of any age from anyone. 

Days passed, and still he wondered and worried. 

"I had visions of cages in a lab or in the back room of a Thai restaurant, but finally I realized, 'Well, whoever it is can't reach through the phone and actually grab Soot from me. I can call and sleuth out what kind of sinister plot is afoot.'"

As it turned out the ad was placed by a woman who, with her husband before he died and then afterward on her own, had acquired a substantial portfolio of rental properties in Baltimore. In addition to the customary clauses, she had one singular, but strict condition in every lease; tenants were required to assume responsibility for the care and feeding of one cat for each house or apartment.

She kept a number of cats at her home all the time so that when a dwelling was let, the renter could choose his or her cat.
 Many of her tenants were college students who often rented for less than a year, so she experienced a fairly high turn over yielding many cat opportunities.

Although her goal of placing as many cats in homes as possible was worthy, Galen questioned the soundness of her plan. What became of these cats when people moved out? Were they doomed to experience a continuous cycle of being uprooted and shunted about?

"Oh no," this benevolent landlady said. "That never happens. Tenants always take their cats with them. Actually, I often have renters come back for a second cat as a playmate for their first. And that's why I'm constantly looking for cats. Any cat, any age." 

And what about Soot, you may wonder? As it turned out, there was no need to 'lease' Soot after all. Ben was out of college and living in Portland by the time Soot needed a new home, and when he called Dad to say he was coming home for Christmas, Galen said, "Aha! And you'll be taking Soot home with you." 

Soot is now 20 years old, Ben and Jen and Soot have moved back to the DC area, and Galen gets to see all three often. In fact, 'Grandpa' just spent a week babysitting for Soot while Ben and Jen were out of town. 


Soot T. Cat has reached the ripe old
age of 20 with Ben and Jen and Galen's TLC.
The lovely Miss Shiva. We adopted her from the Animal Rescue League.
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