Friday, April 29, 2011

Follow all of us tweeting from the STS 134 tweetup here.  It's Endeavour's final trip into space, and tweeting's the only thing I can do right now.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Just for the hell of it, I signed up through NASA's website and thought there was no way in hell I'd get picked to see one of the last two shuttle launches - and, even if I did get picked, one of them was scheduled for Passover.  There was definitely no way in hell I'd pass over visiting my grandparents, who I only see once a year now, for the shuttle.  What were the chances? Pretty piddly, I thought.

I checked my email the morning after the sign-up deadline to find that I was one of 150 chosen - out of over 4,000 signees - to view Endeavour's explosive escape from the earth's gravity to orbit around the planet.  Surprise! If I'd have known how lucky I'd be, I'd have bought a Powerball ticket, too.

At the time I found out, there was one hitch: Endeavour's original launch date, the night of April 19th.

My husband looked over my shoulder at the confirmation and exclaimed "That's great! You can't go!"

We laughed together.  The Passover seders and the time with extended family absolutely won out...but Dan said, "You know, they change the dates of the launches all the time. Go ahead and register.  See what happens."

Fair enough but for another problem - the impulse I had to scream this news from the virtual rooftops of Twitter and of the blog I maintain and those to which I contribute had to be held in check.  I didn't want to start blabbing to brand new Twitter followers headed to Kennedy Space Center that hey, I was going to go to the launch if it was moved - I felt like my place would be instantly revoked if any NASA folks saw that tweet in the stream.  Bitter herbs and matzah over the orbiter built to replace Challenger going up and coming back for the last time?  What kinda space enthusiast are you anyway??? Buh-bye, special pass to the press area.

But it's a fair question.  I grew up in Houston.  I barely remember all of us in school being herded outside to see Columbia sitting on the back of the 747 taking it to Florida - the plane did a nice circle around the city in tribute to the home of Mission Control and the training ground for the astronauts.  We took occasional school trips to Johnson Space Center and I unfortunately remember them as being kind of boring, initially: NASA didn't have a flair for making things look pretty or exciting for the tourists.  The small museum on the JSC campus had a lunar lander and a display I nicknamed Space Suits Through The Ages.  It wasn't until I won the city science fair's Earth sciences division with a project about crystals and crystal growth that I got a real taste of what lay beyond that first impression.  I also received an award from NASA that had me meeting an astronaut (Pierre Thuot, who served on Endeavour's first flight), seeing the swimming pool in which the astronauts train in full space suits, and peering into Mission Control.  I'd gone beyond that hall of space suits, and it was pretty damned cool.  It wasn't long after that that those areas I was only allowed to view for winning a science award were opened to the public.  The nation's space agency had finally figured it out.

So how did I get from gnawing on my fingernails and worrying about my scheduling conflict being exposed to the world to running off to see this spectacle after all?  I have the Russian Space Agency to thank for that.  The Soyuz launch earlier this month took precedence over Endeavour's, and instead of having an orbiter that couldn't dock at the International Space Station because a Soyuz capsule was already there (nyaah nyaah), the STS-134 launch date was pushed to April 29th.

Yes, fine, all you locals know that's the first weekend of JazzFest.  No, I can't create a Space Travel JazzFest at KSC - they don't allow folding chairs or alcoholic beverages, or even bands, in the press area.  But I have to go all the same.

I ask only one thing of all of you...recite the Shepard's prayer on my behalf as I embark on this long car journey all by my lonesome to Cape Kennedy today...that's Alan Shepard's prayer:

Dear Lord, please don't let me fuck up.

cross-posted at Humid City

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Even though I was never much good at math, the first thing to pop into my head when I contemplated it was an equation:
(X + car) NY traffic = Z
X = family member
Z = the driving experience (which, depending on the variable X, can indeed vary widely)
I guess, as a late-bloomer in the driver's license sweepstakes and an even later first-time car owner, I don't see the act of driving in the same way the rest of my family does.  Being in the car with my mom, my dad, and my brother this time around was an experience, for certain.  It only happened a couple of times, the most memorable being when they were headed back to the airport on that artery from hell known as the Van Wyck Expressway, and I was a helpless passenger and captive audience for their road show.  Traffic was at a fever pitch, a couple of drivers decided to follow the ambulances passing us by on the shoulder - "That's ILLEGAL," someone in the car nearly shouted at the ambulance chasers, I can't remember who - and then, further up the road, someone in the left lane decided to change lanes regardless of whether or not there was a car there, and the car that was forced into the shoulder to avoid a wreck was ours.  The scream that came from my mother was enough to give me a heart attack, and I first thought she was suffering from one, but once I got over the initial shock, it was simply a lot of blood-vessel-busting anger at the lane-changing offender.  As she directed multiple birds at the guy who nearly held my family back from their Delta flight home and shouted a bunch of curses through the closed windows while I tried to calm her down, Dad moved the car back onto the Van Wyck and we continued making our way slowly up the road.

Much as I love my family, getting behind the wheel once we got to the terminal was a relief.  I made my way back to my grandparents' house going through neighborhoods we'd haunted some when Dan and I had lived in Queens: Corona, Elmhurst, Middle Village, and on to Woodhaven Boulevard and (relatively) cheaper gas to fill up the car before heading to the Belt Parkway and Grandma's.  My grandmother got behind the wheel to take us to a South Shore playground, where the little guy frolicked on monkey bars and swings while we suffered the high winds in the sunniest spots we could find.  An hour of that was more than enough.  The drive back featured a few of my grandma's less-than-5 MPH turns from one street to another, and when some impatient jerk decided honking his horn wasn't enough and passed her too fast going into her subdivision, the curses came flying again, only from a different source. I just had to shake my head.

Later that same night, more lone driving nirvana, this time in the Nissan my grandpa drives, which has a keyless ignition that scares my grandma so, she made my grandpa take it to pick up my parents and brother from the airport despite my dad's protestations at the smallness of the car and its trunk space.  I took the Cross Island to the Grand Central Parkway to visit a friend in Astoria I haven't seen in ages.  After we caught up in all too brief a time, I got back on the Grand Central and chanced the Van Wyck, which was moving well at 11 at night, but not well enough for the driver of a sporty black Mercedes ahead of me who tried to weave through traffic and ended up impatiently weaving on a much smaller scale in the left lane before finding an opening to the right in which he could shoot in and let the horsepower fly.  I mentally will people like that to keep calm, and I'd like to think it worked, but it was like watching ADD on wheels.  But that's driving in New York, and it's better to accept it and move away from it rather than try to direct it from your car.

The seasoned pro, however, is my grandpa, who turns ninety next year and was driving for two years before he got his license (which he got after he first flunked the driver's test because of all the bad habits he'd learned in those pre-license years).  The man is having trouble seeing as well as he used to at night, true, and having my parents and brother in the car with him on a rainy, dark night, yelling at him to get off the lines in the road  would be difficult for anybody to endure (okay, so, he probably turned down his hearing aids when they got in the car), but he reportedly drove my aunt back into Manhattan just fine after the first seder night, and he did all right taking us to the Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn despite my less-than-exact recall of where to exit the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

One particular wrong turn of his was reminiscent of his being behind the wheel when I was a kid: he missed the median in the Houston suburbs and ended up turning into oncoming traffic, and he did the same in downtown Brooklyn, where there was fortunately no traffic coming at us when he turned. My impulse to yell as I did when I was a kid (Grandpaaa, you're going the wrong waaaay!!!) was tamped down by the need to not scare the heck out of my son in the back of the car.  We negotiated around the median, weaved through some pedestrians and got on the right side of the road.  He told my grandma the next day what happened and she gave him a good scolding about how oblivious he could be...but don't we all have some of that going on?  Constant vigilance is always the key with good driving, but sometimes, one just can't help one's natural tendencies.  My grandpa sees a median sometimes at one edge of a road with many lanes, and it doesn't register as an indication of a divider to him - especially if he doesn't know the way too well.  Is it time for him to hang up his license?  Is it time for my grandma to take a cold, hard look at her less-than-5 MPH turns and hang it up as well?  Do I really want to confront them with their mortality like that yet, when they already have many reminders of it coming at them every day?

What I do know is that Grandpa, having never even heard of the Transit Museum before I directed him there, likes it a lot and wants to return, but he won't be taking the Long Island Rail Road, the buses, or the subways to get there.  Old habits die hard...and he will remember that wrong turn.  It won't happen again.  And on a future visit, I will be there with him when he turns to me and says, "I got it that time!"  When he doesn't get it is when I'll really worry.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ah, Passover...

...that time of year when that burning question is on the mind of every Gentile leader throughout the world...

Yeah, it's tasteless, and so are some of the attempts to make, say, kosher for Passover beer.

Chag sameach, everybody.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Video via Dambala's "More Cries For Help":

Louis was one of over 40 fisherman I spoke with on Saturday who is gravely ill. All of these fisherman confirmed to me that the Gulf is still full of oil and dispersant is continually being deployed....including areas which have been deemed safe for seafood harvesting.
There are more testimonials coming....please help spread this message...please help spread the truth. The nightmare BP left us with is not over, in fact it may just be starting. The MSM is not going to report what's happening, but I implore you to dig deeper and don't trust what you are being spoon-fed.
Dambala includes a link to the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, which is keeping up with these developments.  Keep a close eye on it and spread the word.

Many prominent fisherfolk are joining in on the fight, too, in other ways.  Well worth your time to watch the Kindra Arnesen and Ryan Lambert links on the clips in there.
Kindra Arnesen and Ryan Lambert live only a few miles from each other deep in the bayou of Plaquemines Parish, LA. They share the same love of the marsh, the sea and the coastal wilderness that make this area an irreplaceable treasure of the south.
But this week they are now  both in Washington talking to members of Congress about the need for comprehensive legislation to protect against future disasters and make sure money is provided to restore the damaged Gulf coast.
Kindra and Ryan are neighbors but live worlds apart. Kindra and her husband are commercial fishermen, who shrimp and fish all year long to sell their catches to the market, providing some of the finest seafood on the market. Ryan is a fishing and hunting guide, one of the Louisiana's most successful. Together they share a love for the bayou they fear has been irreparably damaged by the oily assault, a land that is rapidly washing away due to human intrusion...
...Ryan and Kindra are among many Gulf residents who feel the country has no clue about what’s really going on along the coast. They face tens of millions of dollars worth of ad campaigns funded by BP and local governments putting a pretty face on the oil disaster. But they say they have no choice but to fight for their land and their future.

Update, 3:56 PM: More from WhoDat35 - Dr. Riki Ott on what is going on in the Gulf:

This mother is tired - and not just physically, although that is a good part of it right now.  You'd be zonked, too, if you walked with your child's class twenty-plus blocks from his school to a local library lugging a book sack the whole way...but I'll get back to that in a bit.

Saw this Twitter hashtag the other day, commented on its creation and how dissatisfied more parents seem to be with the whole process and hype of charter schools, and got a response from another Tweeter Tuber saying that most New Orleans parents seem to be giving the most kudos to the charters here.  My answer to that: depends on which parents you talk to and what their experiences are.  It'll be intriguing to see what happens with my son's school in the next few years in this regard, as I'm no stranger to gripes about administrative actions large and small - or teacher actions - but now that we're set to have the school building worked on for the first time in ages, there's already serious questioning of the site where the kids will be for the next couple of years.  I personally like where it is, as now the place will be within walking distance of where we live...but hey, parents, news flash: lead is everywhere and so is crimeThe International School is right by there and I don't see people yanking their kids out of there every time something happens in the neighborhood.  But the bigger concern for some parents is how much the school has fallen in the state rankings, which are based solely on the results of the LEAP tests.  I am mightily dreading next year's emphasis on the LEAP in the little guy's third grade year.  I heard tell of the late arrival of LEAP study materials this year, and then the supplemental instruction parents had to do on Louisiana history, because the school doesn't obsessively teach to the test in every way.  Has anybody outright boycotted the test in Louisiana? If so, lemme know.

And then, amid the front page reports of wild chickens roaming our city streets (they'll form Mardi Gras chicken tribes next, recording chants such as "Meet De Chickens On Da Battlefront", "Pluck My Peace Pipe", and "I looove to hear him caaall Rhode Island Reeeeeeeed..."), there's now the added stress of dear God, parenting is making me fat.

There was a time when we parents were entitled to our zaftig states, but now it seems we aren't running after our kids enough to make it worthwhile for the childless in our society to retain their stick-figure physiques.  Case in point was yesterday's LEAP week field trip the little guy's class took to a local library branch.  The emails were sent out previously to let everyone know a brisk march was going to be the mode of transportation, but boy, did the kids' energy test the parent chaperones in attendance. I'm glad I began working out in early December, myself, even though I'm not svelte by any stretch of the imagination - it helped endurance-wise.  The double-time walk back was what did most of the parents in, especially since some of them were toting back loads of books the kids got at the library's Wednesday book sale (including a few hardcover dictionaries, as the kids have gone mad for definitions).  We were all simultaneously envious and slightly scornful of the cute, skinny, marathon-runner teaching assistant who ran, without breaking into any visible sweat, ahead of the kids to direct traffic at each intersection so that our group could keep marching safely.  I certainly needed a drink after all that, and I was quite ready to buy my fellow parents a few rounds of their alcoholic beverages of choice, because, by God, we deserved it after all that kid-wrangling and speed-walking.

Another news flash, to first the women: you will gain weight in your pregnancies.  If you didn't gain a fraction of an ounce after having four kids, you are an anomaly and I hate your genes for setting some impossible standard.  Most mothers out there are working too damned hard to worry about extra pounds, so if you're all up in our business about our weight, then get some better working conditions going for all parents, better food prices, better schools that don't cost an arm and a leg in time put into getting the kids in or in tuition payments - hell, better lifestyles regardless of race, class, or economic status.  Don't keep it so that having anything to do with the birthing and raising of children makes us non-people.

Pardon me while I kick back responsibly with food and drink I like because I earned it, despite constant admonishments that I'm just a lowly part-timer in the working-for-bucks world.  If I were getting paid for all this worry and all the explanations of why Big Freedia is a she, I'd be doing quite well, thanks.

cross-posted at Humid City

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One mom said, in the refill line for the water spraying toys, she was glad she didn't have to go to Blue Bayou as much now.

One can only agree after having seen the gator deluge a bunch of times:

Take it from me: it is darned near impossible to go to the Cool Zoo water park and not get wet.  And it's about time for this town, too.  Now if we could just get some splash parks adjacent to all the spiffy, newly-equipped playgrounds cropping up all over New Orleans...

Yeah, I know the big obstacle to that is the Sewerage & Water Board. Stop laughing.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Over at the New Orleans Metblog, Rayna Nielsen has begun to blog about her experiences starting her child in a local charter school and has already run into a financial fact of life that didn't exist when my son was starting:
Since the school lost federal funding for it’s Pre-K program last year they were forced to cut the K-3 grade all together and charge tuition for K-4. We will be heading into K-4 next school year so we will be paying tuition. The up side to this over private schools in which we would also be paying tuition this year is that every year after next is free. That makes paying $4,570 by July 15th much more appealing if not actually easier.>
The long and the short of last night’s meeting was we all have to go to an independent website ( type in our financial information and that will tell us if we are eligible for reduced tuition. I am pretty sure we are not eligible though I will be plugging our numbers into that little website just to be 100%. They also mentioned a loan that is available but of course couldn’t really answer any questions on that since it is “official bank stuff”. The whole shebang lasted half an hour and I didn’t learn a single thing I couldn’t have learned easier from an e-mail.
May she and all other parents negotiating the current system of schools landscape here only go from strength to strength...which will be sorely needed in negotiating any bureaucratic speedbumps along the public education way.

Speaking of those speedbumps: Read through this New York Times article on Middle School 223's triumphs, travails, and daily battles in the Bronx.  Yes, it's long, but it's good.:
In certain respects, 223 is a monument to (former NYC schools chancellor Joel) Klein’s success: empower the right principals to run their own schools and watch them bloom. Thanks to Klein, (MS 223 principal Ramon) González has been able to avoid having teachers foisted on him on the basis of seniority. He has been able to create his own curriculums, micromanage his students’ days (within the narrow confines of the teachers’ union contract, anyway) and spend his annual budget of $4 million on the personnel, programs and materials he deems most likely to help his kids. 
And yet even as school reform made it possible for González to succeed, as the movement rolls inexorably forward, it also seems in many ways set up to make him fail. The grading system imposed by Klein that has bestowed three consecutive A’s on González also disqualifies him from additional state resources earmarked for failing schools. The ever-growing number of charter schools, often privately subsidized and rarely bound by union rules, that Klein unleashed on the city skims off the neighborhood’s more ambitious, motivated families. And every year, as failing schools are shut down around González, a steady stream of children with poor intellectual habits and little family support continues to arrive at 223. González wouldn’t want it any other way — he takes pride in his school’s duty to educate all comers — but the endless flow of underperforming students drags down test scores, demoralizes teachers and makes the already daunting challenge of transforming 223 into a successful school, not just a relatively successful one, that much more difficult.... 
...González prefers to think of himself as a community activist. His vision for 223 is in some respects anachronistic in the era of school reform. Klein’s animating belief, and surely what he will best be remembered for, is the notion that while low-income families may not be able to choose what neighborhood they live in, they should nonetheless be able to choose what school their children attend. It was toward that end that he brought more than 100 charter schools to New York — with at least 100 more still on the way — deliberately concentrating them in high-poverty areas like Harlem and the South Bronx to create competition for existing public schools. Without ever quite saying so, Klein was agitating against the very idea of the neighborhood school with deep roots in a community, which is precisely what González is now trying to revive and reinvent. 
Broadly speaking, the modus operandi of most charter schools, or at least those in impoverished neighborhoods, is to separate children from their presumably malignant environments. González objects to this in principle. “I don’t want to be part of the history of taking talented kids out of the neighborhoods and telling them to move on,” he says. More practically, he doesn’t think it’s a realistic objective, considering 223’s population. “Most of our kids are never going to leave this area just for financial reasons; they can’t afford to live anywhere else, they don’t have the guidance, whatever. So how do we make those places better so that their kids aren’t going through the same cycle?" 
Given his and Klein’s conflicting agendas, it’s no surprise that González is critical of many of the policies of education reform. He has no problem with schools being held accountable for their performance, but he worries that the reform movement’s infatuation with competition will undermine the broader goal of improving public education — that by grading schools against their peers you are encouraging them to hoard their successful innovations rather than to share them. He is concerned as well about the fact that the new principals being sent, disproportionately, into disadvantaged neighborhoods have little experience with or connection to the communities they’re supposed to serve. And he is made uncomfortable by all of the educational experimentation, the endless stream of pilot programs, being implemented in neighborhoods like his. “I’m just afraid that our kids are being sacrificed while everyone is learning on the job,” he says. “This is not some sort of urban experiment. These are kids’ lives we're talking about.”
Think John White would bring that sort of thinking with him to the RSD? That'll be about as likely as White hanging at his namesake bar in the Quarter on a regular basis.

Yeah, all right, all serious links make this blogger a dull let's cut this stuff with a YouTube, shall we?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The best link-o-rama thus far concerning John White's appointment as replacement RSD head can be found at NOLA Defender.  When one of the links cited there begins with "my condolences to New Orleans", well, it makes me wonder...
In the views of many public school parents, he has consistently ignored our concerns about overcrowding and inequitable distribution of resources and space. See this account, for example, of the proposal to place the Hebrew Language Academy charter school within Marine Park middle school; here are also videos of the highly contentious hearings.
During the proceedings, he called the 150 children who would attend the Hebrew charter school the “jewels” of the DOE, which hugely offended the parents of the 1100 children currently attending Marine Park MS, as well as the community’s elected officials, including Rep. Anthony Weiner.
White also supported the creation of a middle school called “Quest to Learn” based on video games, despite the opposition of District 2 parents and the Community Education Council. He promised it would not go into an existing school building but that it would find its own building. That never happened, of course. Instead it was inserted into the Bayard Rustin building, eliminating precious gym space for students at the schools already housed in the building. His refusal to consult with parents and the CEC led to a lawsuit.
More recently, White has been pushing the rapid and costly expansion of the Izone, or online learning, to 400 schools, despite the fact that it has little or no research to back it up, as today’s NY Times points out. Yet he wants to spend $500 million on technology next year to make this possible. As quoted in this recent report on the Izone, White said, “We are trying to make achievement the constant and adults the variable.”
It is no wonder that White would want to leave NYC, considering the negative feelings he has aroused; and the fact that approval ratings for Bloomberg’s handling of education is at an all-time low of 28%. Despite all the money spent and often wasted, achievement has lagged, especially among black and Hispanic students.
John White also led the campaign to close schools. Below are videos of public hearings at which he presided concerning the closing of Jamaica HS in Queens and Metropolitan Corporate Academy in Brooklyn.
Jamaica HS Closing Hearing: James Eterno Presents the Real Data from Grassroots Education Movement on Vimeo.
Hey, just so we know what we're getting into... Lovely to know that, if I were the parent of an RSD child, White would see me - and RSD teachers - as a "variable".

So today, as part of the Education Writers Association seminar here, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who infamously said "The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina," will be addressing seminar attendees today.  If any of you are going, can you ask Duncan why his policies deviate so much from what the president feels about education?
In a town hall meeting hosted by Univision, President Obama was asked by a student named Luis Zelaya if there could be a way to reduce the number of tests that students must take.

His answer was superficially reassuring, but underneath, rather alarming.

He replied:

"... we have piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids. Now, there's nothing wrong with a standardized test being given occasionally just to give a baseline of where kids are at.

"Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn't a high-stakes test. It wasn't a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn't even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn't study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.

"Too often what we've been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we've said is let's find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let's apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let's figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let's make sure that that's not the only way we're judging whether a school is doing well.

"Because there are other criteria: What's the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not."

Then he said something really radical.

"So what I want to do is—one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you're not learning about the world; you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that's not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they're interested in. They're not going to do as well if it's boring."
Barack...Barry...Dude...after you've met with Boehner about keeping the government working, get with your education guy and figure out where you guys' signals have crossed, because this country desperately needs your kind of thinking.  Yesterday and today.

The Department of Ed's responses to Anthony Cody's questions on Obama's thinking versus policy are here.

Further extrapolation in a two-part "Obama Knows Best" series is here and here.

And finally:
Let me explain why I think this is resonating so much.
The Obama campaign relied on the energy of millions of us, activated by a call to our hopes and dreams. We were exhausted by eight years of Bush, seven years of No Child Left Behind, and Obama promised a fresh start. We have not seen that fresh start in education. Instead we are seeing a deep entrenchment on the part of the Department of Education, finding ever more creative ways to pretend that making the tests more frequent will somehow make them benign. Those of us who are experiencing the effects of these policies are not deceived. We see how they are destroying schools, and stealing opportunities from children.
Three years ago, in 2008, I actively campaigned for Barack Obama during the primary. I knocked on doors in my neighborhood, and brought together more than a hundred educators to raise thousands of dollars for his campaign. About 18 months ago, deeply disappointed by the way that President Obama was continuing the test-aholic traditions of NCLB, I wrote him an open letter. I posted it here on my blog, and launched a Facebook group called Teachers' Letters to Obama in order to gather more letters, and create a forum for educators to gather and discuss how we might reshape the education debate. We gathered 107 letters, which were sent to both President Obama and Secretary Duncan. We eventually had a brief conversation with Secretary Duncan, but otherwise, our concerns have been ignored.

Last week, President Obama reminded us all why his election gave many of us so much hope. In 338 words he spoke of how he wanted his daughters, Sasha and Malia, to have their learning tested. He described a low-stakes, low pressure environment, with the results used not to punish them, their teachers or their school, but simply to find out what their strengths are, and where they might need extra support. He spoke of the need to avoid teaching to the test, and the value of engaging projects that would make students excited about learning. President Obama has made sure his daughters can learn this way. If only Department of Education policies would allow students in our public schools this same privilege!

President Obama needs to understand. Those of us who care deeply about our children and public schools cannot support his candidacy if he does not fix his education policies so they align with what he said on March 28th.
We have created a petition asking President Obama to support the Guiding Principles of the Save Our School March and National Call to Action, which are aligned with his. Please sign it here.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Reposting the following via Dambala and Varg at The Chicory:

Clayton Matherne from Blackbird Media on Vimeo.

Please get the message out....nothing has been "made right". We're being lied to...but that shouldn't come as a surprise to the people of the Gulf Coast, now should it?
The groove hit us almost before the band did. It rolled off their rendition of “Didn’t He Ramble” and rocked the crowd as the players came to a stop by us in the dark, hampered by the non-motion of the parade before them.  A few fellas from the ‘hood were nearby, soaking it up and giving it back with every dance step.  They paid the players one of the ultimate compliments at that moment: they made a request.  “ ’Casanova’! ” they cried.  “Can y’all play ‘Casanova’? “

The band heard the request and shook their heads.  The classic ‘80’s soul tune, a part of the repertoire of more than a few black brass bands, thanks to Rebirth's rendition, wasn’t this white band’s cup of tea.  The moment had passed, leaving me empty and bothered inside.  Granted, the band was probably tired after having walked half the parade route; plus, I’m sure, they already had their set list down to the point where the leader could shout out a number and off they’d go…but I felt like it was, somehow, an opportunity missed.

When the tagline for The Whole Gritty City, a documentary slated for release in 2012, presents the local high school marching bands as being “the front lines in a battle for survival”, that’s a lot to put on the power of music.  It was something I never seriously thought about until that moment along the parade route. Jordan Flaherty has said in his book Floodlines that the presence of a brass band can help create an alternate space, “a lawless but communal utopia” that can draw anyone and everyone on the street into its possibilities.  I considered that, and then it hit me.

Amid the stops and starts of a trio of Mardi Gras parades, that utopia had, unexpectedly, sneaked up on us all for a brief moment between floats.  Sure, these days, the whiter bands stick closer to the traditional jazz and the brass bands like to rock out more, taking on some Marvin Gaye and even Lady Gaga, but the band that night slammed us right between the eyes with a simultaneous trip backwards and forwards in time, showing us why jazz was and is le jazz hotDidn’t he raaamble…rumbled up from the street with a small growl…he raaAAMbled!  That he did, and it made you want to shout…Rambled ‘til the butcher cut him down.  Oh, but it made you feel good, even so.

But then the instruments left the players’ lips.  There wasn’t going to be “Casanova”, nor any other tune coming from the band for a while when the parade royalty far ahead was being toasted at Gallier Hall.  The disappointed fellas wandered off, and so did I, failing to find any utopias in the bits and pieces of parade refuse strewn about.  We’d heard the call of truly moving music and had wanted more, but we had to settle for that cherished feeling of having had the ideal in our ears for an all-too-brief time.  May we never become too closed, too jaded, to hear that ideal again.

cross-posted at Humid City

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Get your tickets for this one before they sell out:

A concerned mother turned filmmaker aims her camera at the high-stakes, high-pressure culture that has invaded our schools and our children's lives. 
Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace; students are disengaged; stress-related illness and depression are rampant; and many young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired. 
Race to Nowhere is a call to action for families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.
Tuesday, April 12, from 6 PM to 8 PM at
United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) Headquarters Oak Park Shopping Center
4718 Paris Ave (corner of Mirabeau) New Orleans LA

Tickets available here.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Knowing a good friend who was a friend of the late Jim Dugan is to know how terrible the whole situation has been for friends and family involved.  The fact that a senseless accident was exacerbated by a witness' lateness in coming forward and by the non-action of the 5th District has made things harder to bear.  May his memory forever be for a blessing.

The one who has been keeping up with the developments and posting them is Champ Superstar - check them out here, here, here, and here.

A major account by Eve Kidd Crawford of the bumbling of the local police in this matter is here.  Some excerpts:
On Saturday, Jim’s friend Abby Van Deerlin, a lawyer, and Sarah and I, two journalists, went to the Bywater police station with printouts from the Facebook group in which Kelly had stated, again, that she could not be sure he made it out of the water. We just wanted the police to know that there was a very high probability that he did not make it out of the water and that they should be focusing their efforts there.

At that point, the woman behind the desk said that NOPD didn’t handle anything in the water. She told us that she couldn’t even swim and that it was far too dangerous for NOPD to do water searches. She said Coast Guard would help recover a body when it surfaced. She said Harbor Police could possibly help search for a body. She said we could call the coroner. She did not seem to sense our urgency.

We asked when we could expect anyone to look at our printouts, and she said nothing could happen until the only copy machine in the office was fixed because she’d need to make copies for every person involved in the case. When will it be fixed? we asked. She didn’t know exactly but assured us that it wouldn’t stay broken for days.

Feeling defeated, we left. Abby made the copies herself and delivered them back to the police station. No one has contacted any of us about them...

...A volunteer dive team from Texas, EquuSearch, was finally called in by the police yesterday (March 27th). They have known since Wednesday that he had fallen into the river and not been seen since.

Another friend, Molly, called both NOPD and Harbor Police and had this to say on the Facebook group: “I called NOPD just to ask why Harbor Police or Coast Guard haven't resumed a boat search to supplement the dive team search, and mostly just to let them know that the public cares about this. So I was surprised when neither the NOPD public information officer nor the Harbor Police shift lieutenant could give me accurate information about the search. NOPD sent me to Harbor Police, saying they would be the ones to decide to resume a boat search. But when I called Harbor Police, they said NOPD's the lead and they're waiting on instructions from them. So I called NOPD back, got in touch with Officer Williams, the public information officer on duty at the dive search site. She repeated what the other PIO had said, that Harbor Police is responsible for deciding whether to resume a search. I told her what HP had told me, that NOPD is the lead, and that it looks pretty bad that neither of them knows what the other is doing or supposed to be doing. So all I said was, if NOPD has not yet coordinated a resumed downriver search with Harbor Police, Coast Guard and downriver parish emergency operations, then that should be done, because obviously you can't rely on this dive team searching one spot on the river. She said she would look into it.”

Molly later reported back that the Coast Guard wasn’t involved because they only look for living people and the detective and the Coast Guard had determined that it was impossible for him to have survived in the river. We all knew that. We weren’t living in a fantasy world where he’d be found alive in the river clinging to a piece of driftwood. But we were never told – by anyone – why dive teams weren’t called in sooner, and it’s been nothing but a jurisdictional nightmare since this all began. I know resources are scarce everywhere, but, you know, they found Douglas Schantz. They found Brian Reed. Jim wasn’t a big shot, and his brother doesn’t play pro-football. But Jim was still better-connected in terms of friends and resources than many other people, and we all should be worth looking for. As Jim's friend Margaret Davidson said on the Facebook group: “What about people who fall into the water who don't have 1,600 friends with computers and connections? This whole thing is heartbreaking, and the idea of the countless others that it's happened to without so much as a whisper just makes it that much more despicable.”

Sarah and I went today to search surveillance footage from Turn Services, a private business located near where Jim went into the river. We found nothing, but it was good to be able to cross that off the list. “Have the police contacted you?” Sarah asked. They said no, no one from the police had been in touch.
Ummm, why did they call in EquuSearch when there is already a dive and rescue group operating locally?  What exactly is the NOPD's procedure for finding people who may have taken a tumble into the Mississippi?  Wait until they float up in their jurisdiction?  Pass the buck to the Harbor Police who will pass it right back to them?  And, of course, this has to involve the worst of the police districts in the city.  Don't die suspiciously in the 5th, New Orleans residents.

A Fundrazr account has been set up for the recovery of Dugan's body and for his seven-year-old daughter.  But we must still, by all means, keep demanding the answers to these questions and the changes that will ensure this doesn't happen to another family.