Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Somebody else on English:

This is a funny forward of unknown origin:

FW: Euro-English News Flash

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility.

As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5- year phase-in plan that would become known as "Euro-English".

In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy.

The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f". This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.

Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl.

Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

If zis mad you smil, pleas pas on to oza pepl.

Friday, March 19, 2010

On one deficient vegetable:

I heard a conversation on Talk of the Nation on NPR the other day (March 12, 2010) about whether or not genetically modified crops are living up to their billing as a solution for starvation in impoverished countries. The upshot was that mostly they aren’t, but apparently one of the “successful” GMOs is the high-vitamin cassava or yucca. The expert guest had the temerity to say that cassava, in its natural state, is “deficient.” I ask you, how can a vegetable be deficient? The very definition of a healthy diet is a varied one. We get a full complement of nutrients from eating a delicious plate that appeals to the eye and palate with lots of different colors and flavors. Who would want to eat yucca exclusively anyway? Don’t get me wrong, I love yucca, but just yucca?

What? You say some people in this world are so poor, yucca is all they can eat? I say what’s deficient is an economic system that doesn’t allow all people to afford to eat the variety of foods human bodies want and need.

Maybe that economic system is what we should be re-engineering.

Link to the show:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

On the green revolution:

It snowed 3 feet in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago and for some Americans that’s an excuse to give up on the hard work it will take to make our society sustainable. (Never mind that climate scientists have long predicted that more powerful storms would be one more symptom of what’s ailing planet Earth.)

Is it me, or is this easy-way-out attitude completely un-American? Did our forbears found a great nation on greed, gluttony, denial? Manifest destiny at any cost? Well ok, maybe they did, but they also worked hard and never gave up. They invested in the long term as they built the infrastructure of their communities. They adapted to harsh conditions, endured and overcame hardship again and again. If we humans manage not to kill ourselves off, what do we Americans want our legacy to be? Do we want to be remembered as the indulgent fools who took advantage until there was no advantage left to take, or as the scrappy revolutionaries who survived because they reinvented themselves to meet their new reality?

Whether or not you believe climate change is being caused by humans, sustainability is good. There’s no controversy about reliance on foreign oil. There’s no ambiguity in mountaintop removal. There’s no up-side to an oil slick.

While we continue to do nothing, the problem we face gets harder to solve. While we make our excuses and our political calculations we get closer to the day when our fate is sealed. My understanding is that we won’t know that day has come and gone until it’s too late.

We can all buck up and begin the hard work of changing ourselves and our way of life TODAY, or we can keep hiding our heads in the snow…or the flood waters or whatever’s in store for us next as climate change advances inexorably.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

On the value of values

I was hoping the silver lining in this recession would be the resetting of the value of property and education and maybe even of an hour’s work. But some people seem to think it’s reasonable to use it to perpetuate the status quo—which benefits some people tremendously and costs others their dreams, their time with family and their very sanity.

President Obama wants to cap executive pay at companies which are TARP recipients at $500,000. Seems more than reasonable, right? I heard some financial services expert on NPR the other night arguing that this is unfair because it will drive the great minds out of the financial services industry, and by the way, these people have become accustomed to a certain standard of living and they’ll lose their homes. What? The “great minds” who caused this whole mess? Well boo hoo! And don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Having heard this, I was already pondering a post. But tonight’s story clinched it. The Boston Teachers Union (of which I was once a member) is contemplating agreeing to a hiring freeze, or even a pay cut, to try to salvage the threatened jobs of hundreds of its members.

So let me get this straight. The government can spend billions of dollars to bail out companies that failed because they overreached, the greedy can still make at least $500,000 a year (and probably more). While teachers, who do arguably the most important work there is for a pittance, may actually have to take less, despite the fact that many of them have mortgages too?!

I think we need to get outraged.

I think the monetary value of certain work and certain things is out of whack and, as a result, our values have gotten out of whack.

I don’t mean to sound cold, but honestly, I don’t care if those people lose the multi-million dollar homes they never deserved to have in the first place. (What about the work they do makes them worth so much more than me or you anyway?!) I doubt they will starve or go homeless on $500,000. In fact, I think we should let them learn to live on $100,000 or less like most regular people do. Maybe then they’d understand the value of a dollar, of honest work, of a home. Maybe then they’d think twice before putting everyone’s life savings at risk for their deadly sins of pride and greed.

I don’t think we will ever solve this problem if we assume that everyone must be kept exactly where they are. In fact, there’s a very large segment of the population, whose members probably wouldn’t mind changing their low position on the economic totem pole. The lesson of this whole debacle is that something was very wrong with our economic system. So let’s try to refrain from spending gads of money (that doesn’t even exist) putting it back just as skewed and as broken as it was.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On the house that greed built:

Several months ago, I began thinking about writing a post on the dangers of credit and how it has allowed the values of homes and tuition to get so out of whack. Well, I’ve been busy and haven’t gotten around to it, but now it must be said. Yesterday the Dow fell more than 700 points and I just know we are living several dismal paragraphs in my grandson’s history text book.

Aces and Kings are dropping off the teetering house of cards that is our economy, and the politicians and the financial analysts and the Wall Street moguls want us to shore it up.

Yes, I am outraged that they are telling me—a law abiding, hard working, barely middle class single mom-- to mortgage my child’s future to bail out people who’ve been proudly and happily stealing from us and undermining our economy in ways they understood much better than I can-- even now. But I’m against the bailout for an even more important reason. I’m not an economist, but it has occurred to me that our economy’s basis in credit may be a major reason for the development of the chasm of inequality that divides the haves and the have-nots in this world. By shoring up this untenable system, we may be unwittingly perpetuating the oppression of the majority of the world’s people and missing the only opportunity in generations to undo it.

Think about it: could the price of a “starter” condo in a city neighborhood reach $300,000 without credit? Could college tuition rise to a similar level? Before borrowing for school was widely done, my parents worked their way through, and on the other side, their wages were their own. I will probably be paying down my education debt (at the rate of over $300 a month) for the rest of my life. And in comparison to recent graduates of private institutions and to those who attended medical or law school, my debt is downright tiny. Having this debt at the very beginning of one’s adult life often means incurring even more debt to own a car and a home. It can mean building up large credit card balances to fulfill daily needs.

Credit may allow us to do lots of wonderful things. It also allows us to live beyond our means, and to pay interest on the debt which increases the cost even further. It allows the prices of things to go up disproportionately in regard to our salaries and for us to continue to believe we can “afford” those prices. Meanwhile, the masters of the universe who run the companies which supply the credit, make greater and greater profits. Relative to them and to the cost of living, we become poorer and poorer.

We may as well be indentured servants--even slaves-- to this credit economy.

Now our masters have driven the plantation into the ground and they want us to rebuild this tool of our own oppression by borrowing against our future and our national security. I say, “Enough!” A house of cards reinforced by still more cards will fall just as easily and with a greater flurry.

I have no doubt it will be hard to quit the credit habit. The next few years may necessitate changing The Great Depression’s moniker to “Great Depression I.” But if there is any promise of freedom from debt and equal opportunity on the other side, I think it will be worth it.

Since I doubt the vast majority of the people will agree to go cold turkey with me, I have a back up proposal. Any money the government puts into the crisis should be used to bail out the individuals who were sold bad loans, rather than the rudderless companies who sold them. If we’re going to intervene, let’s make sure we intervene on the side of the innocent.

Friday, September 5, 2008

On an organizer for our American community:

The other night, instead of telling us what their candidate plans to do in office, Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin chose to mock the significant life experience of Barack Obama.

They seem to have contempt for community organizing. What is it they find so contemptible? The people of our national community? The fact that, with the skilled guidance of organizers, those people are more powerful than any politician or any one party will ever be?

I spend my days (and sometimes my nights) working to raise funds and friends for an amazing group of skilled professional organizers and about 75 teenage organizers who work for the Hyde Square Task Force in the Roxbury and Jamaica Plain neighborhoods of Boston. I work so hard to support them because the work they do is unique and essential in our community. Last fall, our youth used sophisticated organizing tactics like identifying targets, power analysis, utilizing the media and negotiation to persuade the mayor and school superintendent of Boston that they should add a dynamic civics class to the city’s high schools. This summer, the youth labored with 2 curriculum writers and the head of history and wrought the curriculum they believe will make all students of the Boston Public Schools (BPS) as thoughtful and active as they are.

As a former BPS teacher myself, I can tell you that these “kids” have accomplished more meaningful reform in one year than BPS, and indeed, the federal government has in more than ten.

As someone who has seen first hand the results of community organizing on an inner city neighborhood, I can say that organizing is, in fact, the perfect preparation to be president at a time when reform is so sorely needed. Unlike lifetime bureaucrats, who tend to become part of the problem, community organizers come from the outside, analyze the problems, determine what the community needs—what the people need—and then set about strategic action and negotiation to help the people get those demands met. Good organizers are able to get people fired up; a leader who makes moving speeches about hope and the need for change is exactly what helps mobilize the power of the people to make that change.

No, organizers don’t have responsibilities-- to lobbyists or special interests or even to themselves. In fact, their greatest responsibility is to the people with whom they work. It’s not the positions they’ve held that prove their worth—it’s the skills. They understand how to navigate complicated political terrain—how to bring opposing parties to the table. I believe these are exactly the qualities we need in a leader today.

Yes, the Republicans show a great deal of contempt for great Americans like Barack Obama who do tough, selfless, essential work for little compensation, but I’m not sure that’s what they really feel. It's possible that contempt masks a fear that a President Obama might help bring about changes to a status quo that’s pretty good for the fat cats who run the Grande Olde Party.

How happy are you with how things are today? With the help of a few good organizers, some good people, and a great president we might just be able to change them.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On martial law in Trinidad—USA:

On June 7th, martial law came to America. Police in Washington, D.C. set up checkpoints on a one way street leading into the city’s Trinidad neighborhood. Anyone attempting to enter the area is asked for ID and a “legitimate reason” for going into the so-called "Neighborhood Safety Zone". Since when does an American innocent of any crime need to justify his or her travels around our free country as “legitimate?” This extreme and un-American tactic is being used ostensibly because there were 3 murders in a weekend and they are trying to prevent more drive bys. It is interesting to note that many of the media reports about this development mention that there were 7 murders that weekend, despite the fact that the majority of them were not in Trinidad. This smacks of the fear-mongering that Naomi Wolf identifies in her book, The End of America, as a tool utilized by many a would-be dictator seeking to precipitate a fascist shift in a free society.

“All those who seek to close down an open society invoke a terrifying external threat [internal threats are also invoked, see tens steps below]. Why is it so important for such leaders to whip up this kind of terror in a population? Free citizens will not give up freedom for very many reasons, but it is human nature to be willing to trade freedom for security. Before 1922 in Italy and 1933 in Germany, citizens of those nations suffered from mayhem playing out in the streets, and labored in economies ravaged by inflation and war. In both Italy and Germany, many citizens were eventually relieved when fascists came to power because they believed that order would be restored.” (The End of America, Naomi Wolf, 2007, p 36)

“Among the themes that fascist elites develop when they are driving toward an authoritarian system are: a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions…” (Wolf p 37)

When I first read the review of Wolf’s book, subtitled Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, I saw that she devoted a chapter to each of the ten steps she says dictators always take to close down a free society. They are:

1. Invoke an external and internal threat
2. Establish secret prisons
3. Develop a paramilitary force
4. Surveil ordinary citizens
5. Infiltrate citizens’ groups
6. Arbitrarily detain and release citizens
7. Target key individuals
8. Restrict the press
9. Cast criticism as “espionage” and dissent as “treason”
10. Subvert the rule of law

I knew the Bush administration had taken some of these steps but I did not understand how far down the road we’ve come until I read more carefully. Wolf spells out how each of these steps has been taken—is being taken-- and how each causes us to allow our freedoms to slip away.

We need to address this, despite the upcoming election, because our laws have been altered, reinterpreted and ignored such that Bush and any subsequent executive has too much power.

"Hitler could never have ascended to power as he did if the Reichstag [Parliament] had not first cravenly, but legally, weakened Germany’s system of checks and balances. Lawmakers who were not Nazis—who in fact were horrified by Nazis—unwittingly opened the door for Nazis to overturn the rule of law, and did so before the Nazis came formally to power." Wolf, p 39

"Hitler’s predecessor… was a centrist… but he tampered with the framework of the German democracy, reduced the power of the Parliament, and restricted civil liberties in a way that Nazis seized upon. Increasingly the republic was governed by emergency decree. The erosion of the rule of law unbolted the door for Hitler then he used the law to burst it open and let the flood ensue." Wolf pp 39-40

• Nazi “Hermann Goering informed Germany it was now on a ‘war footing’ because communist terrorists… planned to poison the water supply…” Wolf, p 41

• Another Nazi “introduced clause 2 which suspended parts of the German constitution” which, among other things, “gave police forces the power to hold people in custody indefinitely without a court order…” Wolf, p 41

• Then Hitler convinced Parliament to amend the constitution with the Enabling Act, “which would allow him to permanently circumvent some powers of the Parliament—it was now legal for the state to tap citizens’ phones and open their mail.” Wolf, p 41

“Not wanting to be seen as unpatriotic, there was little debate: lawmakers of all parties passed the Enabling Act by a wide majority…From then on, Hitler could govern by decree.” Wolf, p 41

Sound familiar?

We have already come too far down the road. One tactic of the ten that has not yet been widely employed is the turning of strong arm tactics on ordinary citizens by the state, usually by a paramilitary force (Don’t think Bush has one?—read the book!). If we go there, either because of fear of an outside threat like Islamic terrorism or an inside one like urban gang activity (or both!), I am afraid we will have passed the point of no return.

I heard about the checkpoints in Trinidad on National Public Radio, but I’m concerned that I haven’t heard a major outcry. When I googled to find articles about it, I couldn’t find them easily on the web (I had to search NPR’s site). The press is being restricted in insidious ways (read the book!). Wolf says bloggers, like the patriots who circulated pamphlets in the run up to the Revolution, must take over the responsibility of reporting the truth, thereby giving the people the ability to judge when action needs to be taken.

I believe that time is now.