Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (6-29-07)

Open Thread Friday!


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Valentines, Winter Games, and Protests

In response to this post, I was asked whether the Winter Games were ever reinstated. Well, the problem was that the principal conflated two things. For years, the choir nerds (including yours truly for a couple years) would go around on Valentine's Day and deliver singing telegrams. The Winter Games, or Snow Daze, just happened to fall during February 14 that year. Choir nerds were not the ones throwing tennis balls and tins. In fact, we were in a concert during the incident that inspired the cancellation.

The Valentine's Day telegrams actually were scheduled for two days. But because of the one-day cancellation, half of the people didn't get what they paid for.

Did the principal relent? No. First it was a couple of choir nerds (not me) meeting politely with him. Then it was time for Plan B. I brought out the headband and urged the Student Senate to support the sit-in. Here is a picture of the whole thing, including a blurry one of my Jim McMahon headband.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Banners, Bongs, and Books

The Supreme Court has now ruled in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case. I have no legal insights, just a couple memories from my youth.

There was one guy in my high school (now a lawyer) who wore a shirt that proclaimed, "Fighting for Peace is Like F----g for Virginity" (expletive deleted). I am not sure if any teacher/administrator noticed, let alone disciplined him for it.

My other memory is of a sit-in we held on my senior year. Hopkins High School was designed like a shopping mall (originally nicknamed "Ridgedale II") without escalators. We staged the sit-in in the common "mall" area - an odd choice given that we weren't disrupting anything. My silent protest was to wear a headband with the principal's name on it (in 1986, an obvious homage to quarterback Jim McMahon). What were we protesting? The principal cancelled our Valentines/Winter Games festivities because of a tennis ball and chewing tobacco tin fight in the mall area on the previous day. What can I say? We had a weird school.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Water, Stem Cells, and San Francisco

In the debate over federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, individuals sometimes wrongly refer to a "ban" on such research. Actually, it is a ban on federal funding of stem cell lines created after a certain date in 2001.

To be fair, we should apply the same scrutiny to a claimed "ban" on bottled water in San Francisco. Read this story (excerpted below) and decide for yourself.

Newsom's executive order bars city departments, agencies and contractors from using city funds to serve water in plastic bottles and in larger dispensers when tap water is available.

"In San Francisco, for the price of one 1 gallon (3.8 litres) of bottled water, local residents can purchase 1,000 gallons (38,000 litres) of tap water," according to the mayor's order.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Adult, Embryonic, and Stealth

Take a look at this editorial excerpt from the Minneapolis Star Tribune about funding for cord blood initiatives:

Now the issue is how to expand inventories of frozen cord blood so that enough units will be available for all who need treatment. Congress can do much to help, by following through on funding goals it set in establishing just such an effort earlier this decade.

That follow-through is important because umbilical-cord blood has several advantages over bone-marrow transplants. The match doesn't have to be as precise -- and the recent research found fewer cases of "graft-vs.-host disease" complications in the children in the umbilical-cord group. It also should be easier to persuade people to be donors, since the process involves simply having new mothers donate their newborn's umbilical cord to a cord-blood bank.

The study involved several hundred children 16 years old or younger for whom other treatments hadn't worked. Some received cells from cord blood, while others received bone-marrow transplants. Since the results were equally effective and bone-marrow waiting lists for good matches can be long, the prospects for patients look brighter indeed.

* * *

Now read the whole thing and tell me which words are missing. It talks about funding and health benefits, but not...stem cells. I wonder why.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (6-22-07)

Open Thread Friday!


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Separate, Equal, and Reserved

A case referenced in the Minnesota Lawyer weblog could have a profound impact on Indian reservations.

A woman objects to receiving social services from her tribe, rather than from the county in which she lives. The dissent by Judge Randall calls into question not just the distribution of social services, but implicitly the reservations themselves. Read it here.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Immersion, Increase, and Decrease

I have two points to make about this story concerning "Hmong flight" away from Minneapolis North High School.

Let's begin with a quote:

Safety isn't the only problem. Wa Chora Yang also worried that his children weren't making sufficient progress speaking English at the Minneapolis schools. "They just put all the Hmong there in one class," he says. "They just speak Hmong all the time. They don't speak English."

Hooray for Mr. Yang! Immersion is the best way to learn a language. School systems seem to have figured that out with every language except English.

And then there's this quote:

Despite the sanguine views expressed by the incoming Hmong students, evidence is mixed as to the effectiveness of the Choice Is Yours program. A 2006 analysis by the Minnesota Department of Education found that kids enrolled in the program did better on standardized tests than their peers in the Minneapolis schools. But a follow-up study, released in January of this year, showed markedly different findings. It determined that, on average, students enrolled in the program fared 15 percent worse in reading comprehension gains and 17 percent worse in math skills increases than their counterparts enrolled in grades three through seven.

Did you catch that? The "gains" in reading comprehension and "increases" in math skills were less than the students who stayed put. Did you see any mention of what the actual scores were? By way of illustration, if Person X goes from a C-minus to a B-minus and Person Y goes from an A-minus to an A, who is doing better in school? This is the danger of measuring only "gains" and "increases."

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Promises, Promises, and Stewart

I have been meaning to say something about the on-air love-fest between Bill Moyers and Jon Stewart here, here, and here. For that matter, I promised a long time ago that I would write a review after watching a week of The Daily Show.

I am still waiting for the right insight to hit me on this Stewartmania. Any thoughts from readers?

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Race, Poverty, and Statistics

Regarding the recent editorial on the racial "gap" in Minnesota graduation rates, I am of two minds. I agree with the call for educational reform. However, it is difficult to get past the sloppy and/or sneaky way they interpret the data from Education Week.

First off, the report breaks out racial groups and also gives data on poverty. But it does not combine the two (in the version I found), leaving one to wonder whether differences in poverty rates could account for the racial differences.

Secondly, it may be less important to look at Asian/Pacific students as a group than to look at immigrants and first generation Americans versus those who can trace their roots back several generations. If we are truly looking for solutions, it is probably more helpful to look at which students grew up speaking English at home than to paint with a broad racial brush.

Finally, as I have said before, we should focus on raising everyone's achievement, not just on shrinking the "gap." In criticizing Minnesota, the editorial actually cites the numbers for individual minority groups, which is an improvement over those who focus only on the difference between whites and minorities. If one focuses only on the gap, an easy way of narrowing it is to lower white achievement.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (6-15-07)

Open Thread Friday. Random thoughts are welcome.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

First Amendment, Logical Fallacies, and More Stuff

Good stuff over at Marty Andrade's blog, including the ever-popular logical fallacy.

Also, Derek Jensen writes to point out that the NCAA revoking press credentials from its baseball championship for live-blogging is probably not a First Amendment violation. It is also probably not going to lower the value of the national television rights for college baseball, which remains at $1.50.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Beach Balls, Bubbles, and Diplomas

I must admit being conflicted about this Steve Chapman piece on rowdy graduations. In my three graduations (high school, college, and law school), I put a message on my mortarboard every time. I also wore shorts to every ceremony. To my delight at the time, my mother proclaimed my high school graduation to be the most ill-behaved that she had seen, and she had seen at least five of them, not including her own.

No matter what hardships a student or family endured to reach the commencement ceremony, it is difficult for me to grant it the seriousness of a wedding or even a confirmation service. An exchange student from Finland who lived in my college dorm said that they do not have such formal graduation ceremonies in Europe. We guessed that it was because there is so little formality and tradition in America that we go all out for diploma distribution.

My recent experience viewing graduation ceremonies involves the affluent Minneapolis suburbs of Wayzata and Maple Grove. To my horror, the powers-that-be are now prohibiting short pants. There may have been other rules; I couldn't get past that one. The soap bubbles and beach balls of my youth are but a memory. Still, if other commencement ceremonies are getting out of hand, I support the school administrators in making reasonable restrictions. This leads me to the disturbing, yet predictible fallout, as outlined in the Chapman piece:

In the enforcement phase, the students perceived racial bias, noting that four of them are black and the other is Hispanic. At other schools, there have been complaints that imposing commencement decorum amounts to forcing nonwhites to abide by stuffy white conventions.

There is no infallible way to define and detect "disruptive behavior," but the school did its best by stationing four observers around the auditorium, and all four wrote down the same five names during the ceremony. Are the educators racist? When I called one of the kids who were punished, Nadia Trent, she said that during her student days, she had never encountered racial bias from school officials.

In any event, bad behavior is not a product of skin color. Well-to-do white schools have their share of people who feel entitled to do whatever they want regardless of how it affects others. Back in 1999, an outdoor venue in suburban Chicago banned a local high school from holding commencement exercises there after students and parents threw marshmallows, trampled flowers, ignored no-smoking signs and insulted employees. This is a high school that is less than 1 percent black.

I have nothing to add.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and So On

Speaking of gangster movies, check out the Minnesota Lawyer blog posting on The Untouchables baseball scene, including comments by yours truly.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Tony, Paulie, and Meadow


Is there any series finale that measures up to the series itself? I would argue that last night's final episode of The Sopranos did just that.

Just as The Godfather novel/movies were as much about the World War II post-immigrant generation as they were about the Mafia, the HBO series dealt with everyday experiences of baby boomers in the context of a crime family. The lead characters in The Sopranos were probably meant to be a little older than the actors who portrayed them (what couple named their daughter "Meadow" in 1982?), as the show explored what lives were like for fortysomethings in the 1990s -- from getting your kid into college to putting a parent into a home.

Using the Mafia to talk about real-life problems did not set The Sopranos apart. What made the series unique was how skillfully it was done. Last night's finale was a fitting example of such skill. Too busy to cook, the family meets for dinner at a family-favorite 50s diner. As with almost every show, it proceeded both on the level of a family show and an organized crime drama. As they rave about the onion rings, the audience is eyeballing every restaurant patron as a possible assassin or FBI agent. For a moment, the audience experiences what life must be like for a wiseguy. We were looking over our shoulders for the cops and rivals.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (5-31-07)

Open Thread Friday. Enter comments below.