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Monday, December 19, 2005


Executive orders & spying on Americans: Wrong!

what is comes down to is this: history demonstrates that governments abuse whatever powers those governments have. the governments always overreach. always. given that background, our forefathers (undoubtedly under the heavy influence of our foremothers as well) weighed in on the side of individual rights and protections. President George Bush asked for a lot in the Patriot Act, and has now overreached. If you believe in liberty, and freedom for all, you cannot write this overreaching into law. residents and citizens must be able to go to court and say, "the executive branch cannot do this." do not believe for one minute that the law will stop our governemnt from torture or whatever else they believe is necessary to defend us from the terrorists. the unfortunate innocents subjected to the devises of the government must have legal recourse. and that means recourse for the guilty as well, as it's not always so easy to tell them apart at first glance. we cannot have a government by imperial fiat without ultimately losing our own freedom. i eagerly await Bush's announcement that he's decided to join the tribe, and will have the circumsision ceremony done in the old way, as recently mentioned in our scroll. then he'll have a real prick, instead of just being one.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


iPod shuffle top ten

what i-pod? i'm still working on the transition from vinyl to cds. FYI, good quality vinyl has the best sound. more information is recorded than on CDs, which just sample the sound instead of continuously recording. mp3 is lower on the scale. in order to fit the tunes into a limited capacity hard disk, sampling is done at a lower rate, and then compressed. but it's so cool, it must be better, right? cool, and handy, for sure.

these CDs are currently at the top of the stack:

1. Bob Marley & the Whalers - Live at the Roxy
2. Hamza El Din - A Wish
3. Quincy Jones - Q's Jook Joint
4. Laura Nyro & Labelle - Gonna Take a Miracle
5. C. Lanzbom & Noah Solomon - Butterfly
6. Yofiyah - Kabbalistic Kirtan
7. Van Morrison - Too Long in Exile
8. Achinoam Nini (self titled) [Noa to you]
9. Simply Tsfat - Fresh Air
10. Steely Dan - Countdown to Ecstasy
11. Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited

good tracks from start to finish, and the music never ends!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Giving up on New Orleans

We may as well abandon the Big Easy because the White House is killing a plan to protect the city from the next Katrina.

By Mike Tidwell

MIKE TIDWELL is the author of "Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast" (Pantheon, 2003).

December 6, 2005 copyright Los Angeles Times 2005

AS WE NEAR the 100-day mark since Hurricane Katrina hit, it's time we ended our national state of denial and abandon New Orleans for good.

We should call it quits not because New Orleans can't be made relatively safe from hurricanes. It can be. And not because to do so is more trouble than it's worth. It's not. Instead, the hammers and brooms and chain saws should all be put away and the city permanently boarded up because the Bush administration has already given New Orleans a quiet kiss of death.

Although he has encouraged city residents to return home and declared "we will do whatever it takes" to save the city, President Bush last month refused the one thing New Orleans simply cannot live without: a restored network of barrier islands and coastal wetlands.

Katrina destroyed the Big Easy — and future Katrinas will do the same — because 1 million acres of coastal islands and marshland vanished in Louisiana in the last century because of human interference. These land forms served as natural "speed bumps," reducing the lethal surge tide of past hurricanes and making New Orleans habitable in the first place. A $14-billion plan to fix this problem — widely viewed as technically sound and supported by environmentalists, oil companies and fishermen alike — has been on the table for years and was pushed forward with greater urgency after Katrina hit. But the Bush administration has turned its back on this plan.

Instead of investing the equivalent of six weeks of spending on the Iraq war or the cost of the Big Dig in Boston, we must now prepare to pay for another, inevitable $200-billion hurricane in Louisiana. Which is why, tragically, we are better off simply cutting our losses and abandoning New Orleans right now.

In the weeks after Katrina, the media portrayed the catastrophe as a matter of failed levees and flawed evacuation plans alone. But these were just horrifying symptoms of a much larger disease. No amount of levee building or stockpiles of bottled water will ever save New Orleans until the barrier shoreline is restored.

Just since World War II, an area the size of Rhode Island has become submerged between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, most of it marshland. Every 2.7 miles of marshland reduces a hurricane surge tide by a foot, dispersing the storm's power. Simply put, had Katrina struck in 1945 instead of 2005, the surge that reached New Orleans would have been as much as 5 to 10 feet lower than it was.

These marshes, as well as the barrier islands, were created by the sediment-rich floodwaters of the Mississippi River and deposited over thousands of years. But modern levees have prevented this natural flooding, and the existing wetlands, starved for new sediments and nutrients, have eroded and subsided and washed away. Every 10 months, even without hurricanes, an area of Louisiana land equal to Manhattan turns to water. That's 50 acres a day, a football field every 30 minutes.

The grand plan to change all this, commonly known as the Coast 2050 plan, would use massive pipelines and pumps along with surgically designed canals to guide a portion of the river's sediment-thick water back toward the coastal buffer zone without destroying existing infrastructure or communities. This would rebuild hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands over time and reconstruct entire barrier islands in as little as 12 months. The National Academy of Sciences recently confirmed the soundness of the approach and urged quick action.

Yet the White House in effect killed the plan by authorizing a shockingly small $250 million out of the $14 billion requested in the spending package sent to Congress. Tens of billions of dollars have been authorized to treat the symptoms — broken levees, insufficient emergency resources, destroyed roads and bridges. But next to nothing for the disappearing land that ushered the ocean into the city to begin with.

How could this administration, found totally unprepared for this disastrous hurricane, not see the obvious action needed to prevent the next Katrina? My theory is that Bush hears "wetlands" and retreats to a blind, ideological aversion to all things "environmental."

"Either they don't get it or they just don't care," said Mark Davis, director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. "But the results are the same: more disaster."

So stop the repairs. Close the few businesses that have reopened. Leave the levees in their tattered state and get out. Right now. It's utterly unsafe to live there.

As someone who dearly loves New Orleans, it pains me immeasurably to call for this retreat. I mean what I say. Shut the city down. To encourage people to return to New Orleans, as Bush is doing, without funding the only plan that can save the city from the next Katrina is to commit an act of mass homicide.

Anyone who doesn't like this news — farmers who export grain through the port of New Orleans, New Englanders who heat their homes with natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico, cultural enthusiasts who like their gumbo in the French Quarter — should direct their comments straight to the White House.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Missing: Men for the marriage pool & why

Disappearing Act
Where Have the Men Gone? No Place Good
By Michael Gurian
Sunday, December 4, 2005; B01

In the 1990s, I taught for six years at a small liberal arts college in Spokane, Wash. In my third year, I started noticing something that was happening right in front of me. There were more young women in my classes than young men, and on average, they were getting better grades than the guys. Many of the young men stared blankly at me as I lectured. They didn't take notes as well as the young women. They didn't seem to care as much about what I taught -- literature, writing and psychology. They were bright kids, but many of their faces said, "Sitting here, listening, staring at these words -- this is not really who I am."

That was a decade ago, but just last month, I spoke with an administrator at Howard University in the District. He told me that what I observed a decade ago has become one of the "biggest agenda items" at Howard. "We are having trouble recruiting and retaining male students," he said. "We are at about a 2-to-1 ratio, women to men."

Howard is not alone. Colleges and universities across the country are grappling with the case of the mysteriously vanishing male. Where men once dominated, they now make up no more than 43 percent of students at American institutions of higher learning, according to 2003 statistics, and this downward trend shows every sign of continuing unabated. If we don't reverse it soon, we will gradually diminish the male identity, and thus the productivity and the mission, of the next generation of young men, and all the ones that follow.

The trend of females overtaking males in college was initially measured in 1978. Yet despite the well-documented disappearance of ever more young men from college campuses, we have yet to fully react to what has become a significant crisis. Largely, that is because of cultural perceptions about males and their societal role. Many times a week, a reporter or other media person will ask me: "Why should we care so much about boys when men still run everything?"

It's a fair and logical question, but what it really reflects is that our culture is still caught up in old industrial images. We still see thousands of men who succeed quite well in the professional world and in industry -- men who get elected president, who own software companies, who make six figures selling cars. We see the Bill Gateses and John Robertses and George Bushes -- and so we're not as concerned as we ought to be about the millions of young men who are floundering or lost.

But they're there: The young men who are working in the lowest-level (and most dangerous) jobs instead of going to college. Who are sitting in prison instead of going to college. Who are staying out of the long-term marriage pool because they have little to offer to young women. Who are remaining adolescents, wasting years of their lives playing video games for hours a day, until they're in their thirties, by which time the world has passed many of them by.

The old industrial promise -- "That guy will get a decent job no matter what" -- is just that, an old promise. So is the old promise that a man will be able to feed his family and find personal meaning by "following in his father's footsteps," which has vanished for millions of males who are not raised with fathers or substantial role models. The old promise that an old boys' network will always come through for "the guys" is likewise gone for many young men who have never seen and will never see such a network (though they may see a dangerous gang). Most frightening, the old promise that schools will take care of boys and educate them to succeed is also breaking down, as boys dominate the failure statistics in our schools, starting at the elementary level and continuing through high school.

Of course, not every male has to go to college to succeed, to be a good husband, to be a good and productive man. But a dismal future lies ahead for large numbers of boys in this generation who will not go to college. Statistics show that a young man who doesn't finish school or go to college in 2005 will likely earn less than half what a college graduate earns. He'll be three times more likely to be unemployed and more likely to be homeless. He'll be more likely to get divorced, more likely to engage in violence against women and more likely to engage in crime. He'll be more likely to develop substance abuse problems and to be a greater burden on the economy, statistically, since men who don't attend college pay less in Social Security and other taxes, depend more on government welfare, are more likely to father children out of wedlock and are more likely not to pay child support.

When I worked as a counselor at a federal prison, I saw these statistics up close. The young men and adult males I worked with were mainly uneducated, had been raised in families that didn't promote education, and had found little of relevance in the schools they had attended. They were passionate people, capable of great love and even possible future success. Many of them told me how much they wanted to get an education. At an intuitive level, they knew how important it was.

Whether in the prison system, in my university classes or in the schools where I help train teachers, I have noticed a systemic problem with how we teach and mentor boys that I call "industrial schooling," and that I believe is a primary root of our sons' falling behind in school, and quite often in life.

Two hundred years ago, realizing the necessity of schooling millions of kids, we took them off the farms and out of the marketplace and put them in large industrial-size classrooms (one teacher, 25 to 30 kids). For many kids, this system worked -- and still works. But from the beginning, there were some for whom it wasn't working very well. Initially, it was girls. It took more than 150 years to get parity for them.

Now we're seeing what's wrong with the system for millions of boys. Beginning in very early grades, the sit-still, read-your-book, raise-your-hand-quietly, don't-learn-by-doing-but-by-taking-notes classroom is a worse fit for more boys than it is for most girls. This was always the case, but we couldn't see it 100 years ago. We didn't have the comparative element of girls at par in classrooms. We taught a lot of our boys and girls separately. We educated children with greater emphasis on certain basic educational principles that kept a lot of boys "in line" -- competitive learning was one. And our families were deeply involved in a child's education.

Now, however, the boys who don't fit the classrooms are glaringly clear. Many families are barely involved in their children's education. Girls outperform boys in nearly every academic area. Many of the old principles of education are diminished. In a classroom of 30 kids, about five boys will begin to fail in the first few years of pre-school and elementary school. By fifth grade, they will be diagnosed as learning disabled, ADD/ADHD, behaviorally disordered or "unmotivated." They will no longer do their homework (though they may say they are doing it), they will disrupt class or withdraw from it, they will find a few islands of competence (like video games or computers) and overemphasize those.

Boys have a lot of Huck Finn in them -- they don't, on average, learn as well as girls by sitting still, concentrating, multitasking, listening to words. For 20 years, I have been taking brain research into homes and classrooms to show teachers, parents and others how differently boys and girls learn. Once a person sees a PET or SPECT scan of a boy's brain and a girl's brain, showing the different ways these brains learn, they understand. As one teacher put it to me, "Wow, no wonder we're having so many problems with boys."

Yet every decade the industrial classroom becomes more and more protective of the female learning style and harsher on the male, yielding statistics such as these:

The majority of National Merit scholarships, as well as college academic scholarships, go to girls and young women.

Boys and young men comprise the majority of high school dropouts, as high as 80 percent in many cities.

Boys and young men are 1 1/2 years behind girls and young women in reading ability (this gap does not even out in high school, as some have argued; a male reading/writing gap continues into college and the workplace).

The industrial classroom is one that some boys do fine in, many boys just "hang on" in, many boys fall behind in, many boys fail in, and many boys drop out of. The boys who do fine would probably do fine in any environment, and the boys who are hanging on and getting by will probably re-emerge later with some modicum of success, but the millions who fall behind and fail will generally become the statistics we saw earlier.

Grasping the mismatch between the minds of boys and the industrial classroom is only the first step in understanding the needs of our sons. Lack of fathering and male role models take a heavy toll on boys, as does lack of attachment to many family members (whether grandparents, extended families, moms or dads). Our sons are becoming very lonely. And even more politically difficult to deal with: The boys-are-privileged-but-the-girls-are-shortchanged emphasis of the last 20 years (an emphasis that I, as a father of two daughters and an advocate of girls, have seen firsthand), has muddied the water for child development in general, pitting funding for girls against funding for boys.

We still barely see the burdens our sons are carrying as we change from an industrial culture to a post-industrial one. We want them to shut up, calm down and become perfect intimate partners. It doesn't matter too much who boys and men are -- what matters is who we think they should be. When I think back to the kind of classroom I created for my college students, I feel regret for the males who dropped out. When I think back to my time working in the prison system, I feel a deep sadness for the present and future generations of boys whom we still have time to save.

And I do think we can save them. I get hundreds of e-mails and letters every week, from parents, teachers and others who are beginning to realize that we must do for our sons what we did for our daughters in the industrialized schooling system -- realize that boys are struggling and need help. These teachers and parents are part of a social movement -- a boys' movement that started, I think, about 10 years ago. It's a movement that gets noticed for brief moments by the media (when Columbine happened, when Laura Bush talked about boys) and then goes underground again. It's a movement very much powered by individual women -- mainly mothers of sons -- who say things to me like the e-mailers who wrote, "I don't know anyone who doesn't have a son struggling in school," or, "I thought having a boy would be like having a girl, but when my son was born, I had to rethink things."

We all need to rethink things. We need to stop blaming, suspecting and overly medicating our boys, as if we can change this guy into the learner we want. When we decide -- as we did with our daughters -- that there isn't anything inherently wrong with our sons, when we look closely at the system that boys learn in, we will discover these boys again, for all that they are. And maybe we'll see more of them in college again.

Author's e-mail:


Michael Gurian is a family therapist and founder of the Gurian Institute, an educational training organization. His most recent book, written with Kathy Stevens, is "The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons From Falling Behind in School and Life" (Jossey-Bass).

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Thursday, December 01, 2005


Like being in the country

November 30, 2005 copyright The New York Times

Feeding the Beast for Light in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 29 - The generator people are internal colonists, staking out islands of light in the sea of dark still covering much of the city.

In lives where the monstrous, belching backyard power generator is king - where a streetlight flickers tantalizingly, say, in the near distance, but their own block is black - the machine's subjects must follow its rules.

Every night at 1 a.m. it calls Willie Solomon, 62, or her husband, Raymond, 68, into the cold and dark, out of the warm bed. Armed with a flashlight, they feed it: two five-gallon cans of gasoline a day, and sometimes more depending on what is plugged in. But they do not plug in too much. The fuel bill already runs $135 a week.

It naps at noon and is ready for ear-splitting action again at 5:30 p.m.

Barely more than a quarter of this city's prestorm households are illuminated by the power company. Some neighborhoods have limped on since Hurricane Katrina; others have barely budged. When night comes, these electricityless pioneers - nobody knows how many there are - live in a shrunken world, reduced to a few lighted rooms, inside their house, on a darkened block. Scavengers roam, they say, and it is best not to be out.

The roaring beast gives back power in exchange for the gas, through long, snaking cords running all through Ms. Solomon's frayed camelback house in the St. Roch neighborhood, in the Eighth Ward of the city. At night, with a few rooms illuminated by a naked bulb, she must walk on tiptoe to avoid tripping on these tentacles, taped fast to the linoleum.

Water for washing is heated on a hot plate and dumped into a big plastic bucket; baths are military-style rubdowns in a darkened, chilly bathroom; red beans are cooked on a low-power crockpot; and laundry is done by hand.

"Other than that, I just say, I just got to go back to the old days, pretend I'm in the country," said Ms. Solomon, a good-humored former Los Angeles school district guard who says her 30-year absence from the city she calls "Noo Erlens" pained her.

"I'm living the old-time way; I never thought I'd go back to the country," Ms. Solomon said. "Yes indeed, it's pitch-black."

She sleeps in a sweatsuit, wears a big fur-lined hat in bed and walks around the cold house during the day in what she calls Eskimo boots, lined with plush fur. Doorways are hung with blankets, to cut down on the penetrating, chilly draft of a late New Orleans autumn, and windows are sealed up with plastic sheeting. Cold is as much of an enemy in these uninsulated old wooden houses as the intense heat of summer.

"Yeah, the country," Ms. Solomon said. "Being in the country."

She and a neighbor, Brenda Batiste, are the only ones on this semi-abandoned block off Elysian Fields Avenue. Ms. Batiste, 62, has domesticated her generator, covered it with a leopard-skin cloth and a turtle yard ornament, and keeps it dormant much of the time.

She cannot afford to run a refrigerator on it, uses candles at night and must unplug the televisions to turn on the hot plate. Her little shotgun home is darker than Ms. Solomon's house. "This is three months," she said. "It starts to wear on you, your outer being as well."

At night, the glow from the illuminated French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny, a mile or more distant, casts a pale light on the block.

This area flooded, though not as extensively as the nearby Lower Ninth Ward. Every so often the innards of an emptied house are spilled onto the sidewalk: Sheetrock, toys, beer cans, CD's, bits of clothing, a stool.

A neighbor one street over said he chased two looters out of a house on a recent evening, and faced down another pair with a .22-caliber revolver. Many front doors swing wide open day and night, and some may never be locked again.

"At about 5:30 everybody's inside," Ms. Solomon said. "You've got to worry about the thieves." All the neighboring houses have been broken into, she said, adding, "I don't even know what they're looking to steal."

The police say they are aware of the looting problem and have formed squads to deal with it. Arrests have been made, police officials say.

But this is not a welcoming environment. Ms. Solomon, with her rooms stuffed full of toys and teddy bears for the grandchildren, her portrait of John F. Kennedy by the door and a refrigerator - turned off - covered with outlandish magnets, is not giving up.

"I've been fussing with the utility companies for the longest time," she said placidly. "I've been fussing and fussing. Sometimes, I think they're punishing me for being here. There's one little old lady here, and they can't even get my lights on."
Note: Mortgage payments are due today on damaged homes. These were deferred for 3 months, and are now due. The good news is that the bankers, for now, are not planning foreclosures because they don't see any value in owning the damaged homes. Stay tuned.

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