Saturday, February 28, 2009

Taxes? What are those?

What do the following people have in common:
Leona Helmsley, the late hotel baroness
Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury
Tom Daschle, withdrawn nomination as Secretary of Commerce
And now the mayor of a local township here in Connecticut

They all believe, as Leona Helmsley so charmingly put it, that only little people pay taxes. What a pathetic group. With all the resources at their disposal, how can it be possible they 'forgot' or 'overlooked' their tax obligations. These people are clearly just the tip of the iceberg. There are probably tens of thousands of politicians and wealthy who are underpaying or, worse, not paying taxes. All the federal government has to do is close loop holes in the tax code and go after tax evaders and they'd balance the budget in no time-even the one recently proposed. Call or email your Senator and Representative today and express your outrage. Enough is enough.

Friday, February 27, 2009

'Technology' in School

While perusing the Economic Stimulus Package and Obama’s 2010 budget proposal I noted there were hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to ‘technology’ in schools. This caught my eye because back in the day when I was actively involved in education, I played a fairly significant role in educational technology. I wrote curriculum, taught students how to use ‘technology’ and trained teachers in the effective use of it. I put technology in quotes because very often what is really meant is ‘computers connected to the internet’. Of course there’s more to it than that, i.e. multi media, digital cameras, video, music, presentation software, packaged learning applications, Smart Boards and probably a whole lot more that’s happened in the 5 years since my departure! . So my question is what is really meant by ‘technology’ when shown in a budget? Very often it means stringing data lines all over the school and filling it up with state of the art boxes. Unfortunately, the part that often falls through the cracks is the training that goes with it. I think a core reason for this is that budget creators consult the wrong people. Who do they talk to? IT people-which is only natural because they’re the ones who know the ‘engineering’ requirements. But what do they know of education in general and students in particular-that is to say 'pedagogy'? Not a damn thing! You see, IT people tend to think of technology as an end in itself. But of course it’s actually a means to an end. Technology is a tool, much like a sophisticated calculator for the math student (in fact there’s another example of ‘technology’ not related to computers). So the challenge is to get educators on board to help guide the process of putting ‘technology’ in schools. In fact their involvement is crucial. Otherwise you have a whole lot of very expensive hardware sitting around collecting dust , or worse, kids using it just to play Kid Pix and do Google searches on their report topic. Any teacher will tell you this. Is anyone asking them? Is anyone listening?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

True Confessions

I have a confession to make. I'm getting worried. My frugal, yankee upbringing has conditioned me to be very careful about money. Early on I chose a career that, among other things, afforded relative security as opposed to affluence. My wife and I are not big spenders (except for grand children of course). We have one home, two vehicles, burn wood to save money, go easy on vacations and in general live a quiet life. The reason I bring this up is because in spite of my general support for Barack Obama's presidency I am getting just a tad nervous. His budget for 2010 is a mind boggling 3.5 TRILLION dollars. In my Feb. 23rd blog I allude to how difficult it is to comprehend this kind of money but I do know one thing for sure. It's a lot. As my 2 yr old grand daughter says when asking for a treat: a whole bunch! And it's going to be mostly borrowed money. That's the part that makes me nervous. Where's it coming from and who's paying it back (as if I didn't know). Well, already the Republicans are vowing massive resistance so maybe our system of checks and balances will restore some sanity to this situation. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A World of Words

One of the things that interests me is how language adjusts and adapts to specific situations. For example whole books have been written about the new words and phrases surrounding the internet. The war in Iraq gave rise to a bunch too, i.e. water boarding, the ‘surge’, aggressive questioning, green zone, etc. Well, the current economic crisis has produced a language of its own.

stimulus package
toxic asset
Amer. Recovery and Reinvestment Act
bank stress tests
subprime loans
Fiscal Responsibility Summit
generational theft
reaching across the aisle
entitlement programs

These are just a handful. I check several business websites everyday for new words and phrases so I’m sure this list will grow. I think my favorite is ‘toxic asset’. Isn’t that an oxymoron (one of my favorite words)? If something is an asset, how can it be toxic? Generational theft is a good one too. In case you don’t know, it’s what the Republicans call the deficit or Obama’s stimulus package-conveniently forgetting they handed us the biggest debt in history! Along those lines, you hear a lot about ‘reaching across the aisle’, meaning bipartisanship (another good one and maybe an oxymoron too). It’s just a matter of time before new terms emerge. Obama has yet to tackle Social Security & Medicare-entitlements. Hey, I’m old. Am I not ‘entitled’? And just wait for the illegal immigration issue to rear its ugly head! I fear for what will come out of that!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kindle (NOT) Revisited

Lately, I've found myself revisiting past blogs. That's usually because issues resurface or something has changed to warrant comment. Well the other morning on the Today Show Matt Lauer was interviewing Jeff Bezos, CEO of If you don't know who Jeff Bezos is or what is, forget it. You're beyond help! Bezos was there extolling the virtues of his gadget, the Kindle which has been out just about a year now. That's when I first wrote about it. The Kindle is about the size of your average novel which is appropriate because that's what it seeks to replace. Once you've purchased a Kindle, you're then able to download books, just about any book, and read it as each page is displayed on a relatively small screen. Now I love to read and I always have a book going but for me there's nothing like an actual book. I just can't picture myself laying down on the couch some afternoon with a Kindle in my hands. There's no substitute for a book. I love getting new books. I find the weight, texture and even smell of them appealing. Turning pages and sometimes looking ahead isn't possible with a Kindle. And what about picture books (see blog "Small Circles")? There's nothing better than having a small child sit on your lap, looking at....the Kindle?. Sorry, doesn't work. Give me a real book any day. To me this is just the latest in an effort to 'digitalize' everything we do. There's got to be a gadget for everything these days. Many people I know can't believe that just because I have a website and I blog a lot, I still actually use a paper calendar for reminding me of stuff. Some things shouldn't change. Reading books-real books-is one of them.

Monday, February 23, 2009

It's Just Another Number

Well, another birthday has come and gone. Definitely the best way to spend a birthday is with family. In fact there are really only 2 times when it's not particularly good to be surrounded by family. One is at a funeral for obvious reasons and the other is while getting dressed-for equally obvious reasons. Otherwise, it's always good. My five year old grand daughter who is beginning to form numeracy concepts can't quite figure out what it means to be 66. When she asks me and I respond, she usually thinks for a minute and then asks "are you older than my daddy?" All one need do to understand this confusion is think about the recently passed Economic Stimulus Package. Is there anyone out there who really comprehends what a trillion dollars means? Even when put in other terms, it's meaningless: a thousand billion, a million million, a one followed by twelve zeros. Ten to the 12th power. Here's yet another way. If you were to spend a dollar every second, it would take you almost 32,000 years to spend a trillion dollars. Help? Me neither. So, like birthdays, it's just another number. At this point in my life, I've learned to look at things this way: one CT scan at a time.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

(Mis)Information Update

My last piece mentioned information contained in another blog on my website (The Girl Math Analyst on
The Girl Math Analyst had included a partial list of items receiving money from the recently passed Economic Stimulus Package. Here's the website where that list came from:
The following disclaimer is displayed at the top of the page: is a user-generated site. That means the stories submitted by users are not edited, fact-checked or screened before they post. Only stories marked "On CNN" have been vetted for use in CNN news coverage.
Basically, this site is a blog. As stated in my last piece, verifying the accuracy of information on the internet can be nearly impossible. But one thing's for sure-if it's a blog it's immediately suspect. Pure and simple. In fact at the top of The Blog Spot page on my website, I quote Mark Twain: "Get your facts first. Then you can distort them as much as you please."
The closest I've been able to get to a detailed list of Stimulus Package spending is a 13 page summary from the Congressional Record. The actual list is hundreds of pages long. I'm not sure who's read it, if anyone. More's the pity. Shouldn't they have taken the time to analyze this a little longer? That, by the way, was exactly the point The Girl Math Analyst was attempting to make. But the issue here isn't the Stimulus Package. It's where we get the information to support our opinions. Our opinions may be valid, but if the information we present is bogus, who's going to believe us? That's the point. OK, enough with this. On to more pleasant things. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Age of (Mis)Information

The internet is a great thing, isn't it? Where else can you find an almost infinite amount of entertainment and information? Emails, blogs, live news/sports/weather/information streaming....It just doesn't get any better! Or does it? The internet is all of those things but it's one other thing we very often choose to ignore. It's the biggest repository of misinformation anywhere. This is one of the many reasons why teachers have such a difficult job today. Helping their students sort out the good stuff from the garbage is a daunting task. Take for example the blog submission I got today from The Girl Math Analyst (see The person submitting this piece was making the point that the Economic Stimulus Package was so loaded with pork as to be the boondoggle of the century. She went on to explain why we, as individuals as well as a country, are on a course destined for disaster. Now, let me state right off, she may be right. She may have her facts straight but I haven't heard back yet. The point is I checked at least 20 'reputable' websites ranging from our own U.S.Government Appropriations Committee to the Wall Street Journal to the Heritage Foundation to the ProPublica Journal to...well, a lot of other places. Conservative, liberal, independent, you name it. I checked it for some verification of The Girl Math Analyst's facts and guess what? I couldn't find a single thing on her list. I found a whole bunch of other stuff that could be questioned but not the stuff she had. So what does one make of this. Well, first I think the information was passed on in the form of a forward-much the same way I get stuff. Consequently, verification is almost impossible. Second, I've come to the conclusion that most people will believe that which fits their particular view and dismiss that which is out of their belief system. I'm guilty of that too but I must confess I at least try to verify facts. So, yes, the internet is a great source of information, but watch out! The old adage about not believing everything you read is especially true here. There's an awful lot of junk floating around out there in cyberspace along side all those dead satellites. Speaking of which....did you get that message making the rounds about the killer asteroid headed our way.........

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Nice Sight

I wrote a piece on this topic about a year ago. Very often, while driving through my son's neighborhood, I'm struck by the fact that there are few if any kids out playing. It doesn't matter when I'm there. I don't really expect that there would be many kids out early in the morning but if I'm there mid to late afternoon, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect tons of kids out playing in yards and even the streets? Often not-except last week. While babysitting for my grandson, I actually saw about a dozen kids playing in a neighbor's yard. They ranged in age from about 8 to 12 or so. It was encouraging to see that families still value sending their kids out to play. Nothing structured-just ordinary, random play. I wrote before about how much kids miss by doing this so maybe it's making a comeback. Maybe one day my grandson will be one of them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Tragedy of Travis

Have you been following or at least heard about the story of Travis? Travis is a pet chimp who for years was a cute, harmless creature until a few days ago when he attacked a 55 year old woman and basically tore her face off. Then he turned on the police who had to shoot him. The woman is in critical condition. Friends and neighbors are shocked-not at the poor woman's condition but because they simply didn't think it possible for this heretofore lovable little guy to do such a thing. Listen carefully, people. I don't care how cute it looks or what kind of behavior record it has, you absolutely can not trust a wild animal. It's as simple as that. They are completely unpredictable. Their instincts have been passed down from one generation to the next and if they perceive a threat of any kind at all they will attack. You can not 'train' or 'condition' these behavior sets out of them. I don't care how kind you are to them. The larger tragedy here is that this is not new stuff. Wildlife specialists have been warning people for years about this kind of thing but there are those who insist that if an animal looks 'cute' and behaves like it's actually lovable, it will be OK. Not so. And that goes for the Koala Bear too. In addition to everything else, it's simply not fair to the animals to continue to make pets of them. Very often when the well-meaning people who acquire them find out the truth, they simply abandon the animals. Nice. There needs to be tighter regulation on this matter.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Free (sort of) Trade

Sunday night’s broadcast of 60 Minutes featured a piece about a provision in the recently enacted stimulus package. It seems that part of this massive bill stipulates that any project undertaken with stimulus funds must use American made products. One of the featured guests was the CEO of Nucor Steel Corp. who spoke favorably of this requirement. One would think that all American CEOs would feel this way, right? But another person, the Caterpillar Corp. CEO, argued against this requirement by stating that if America institutes protectionist policies, it will only invite other countries to strengthen their trade restrictions. We need to keep trade borders open. Back to the steel guy. BULL! If we were on a level playing field with everyone following the same rules, fine. Let’s have fair and OPEN competition but it's his contention that the concept of fair trade only exists in a Harvard B-School classroom. Without exception every other country in the world has protectionist policies that work against U.S. manufacturers. Where’s the justice?
Soooo…..what does one make of this apparent contradiction? Who’s right? My gut says the steel guy. Here’s why. Other countries need the U.S. more than we need them. We all have something to lose unless we all play by the rules but others have more to lose because without question the U.S. is the biggest consumer of foreign made products than anyone else. Who exactly do you think it is driving the red hot Chinese economy? Besides, paraphrasing a piece someone sent me a while ago, what has happened to good old Common Sense? Enough is enough. American manufacturers are hurting big time. Are we really going to set off catastrophic trade wars by taking care of our own? I think not. It's a good provision. Caterpillar is still going to sell plenty of its stuff abroad because frankly no one makes heavy equipment like them. Should all imports be barred? Of course not. That doesn't make any sense either. After all, when it comes right down to it, let's not forget that it was foreign competition that was the driving force behind the vastly improved quality of American made cars. But there needs to be a balance and this provision seems to help do that.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day

Now here's a great way to spend Valentine's Day-with two little valentines, watching them get their fingers and toes done. Then off to a nice dinner next door. Even got to visit with grandson #1 a little. So when it looks like the country or the world is going to hell in a hand basket, the antidote is grandchildren.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

More GOP Hypocrisy!

Congressional Minority Leader John Boehner (R, Ohio) could be seen on the news this morning, veins popping, contorted face and a veritable forest fire under his color, decrying the stimulus package recently passed. Then, no sooner do I finish watching this spectacle, I get a blog submission from my good friend, The Workbench Blogger ( He, too, was concerned about the irresponsible action of the Democrats and went on to state, I paraphrase, that this was nothing more than a power play by the new boys in town. No matter. Time will tell whether Republican naysayers are right about the stimulus package. But the part of The Workbench Blogger's piece that troubled me was his assertion that we are in, and again I paraphrase, dire danger of an unacceptable level of government control-this in unison with like statements from many Republican Congressmen and Senators, including that great American Hero, John McCain! HELLOOOOO! Where exactly have you all been for the past 8 years? Where was your outrage when your phone was being illegally wiretapped? Where were your eye-popping speeches before your colleagues about this country's acceptance of torture? Where were you when the previous administration's policy was driven by personal religious convictions? Where were you when the last president never once deigned to travel to Capitol Hill to make his case before the loyal opposition? Where were you? Oh, but that's all OK because after all he's a fellow Republican. Talk about hypocrisy. It's OK for Republicans who controlled both houses of Congress for 6 of Bush's 8 years to condone Bush's misdeeds and on top of that hand the next administration the biggest deficit in the history of this nation but let the Dems take a shot at fixing what's wrong and it's politics as usual! What crap!
Here's a simple test:
1. Can you get up in the morning and watch whatever you want on TV without fear of government interference?
2. Can you pick up absolutely whatever publication you want, read it, and write a letter to its editor expressing absolutely whatever you want without fear of retribution?
3. Can you go (or NOT) to whatever temple or place of worship you want without fear of condemnation?
4. Can you be confident that whatever laws have been enacted were done so without consideration for some politician's particular faith (or lack of it)?
5. Can you vote in a fairly defined district (reference Tom Delay, Texas)?
6. Can you undertake whatever occupation or profession you want without fear of rejection?
I could go on but you get the idea. More government control? I think not. I contend that the next 4 and hopefully 8 years will bring less of it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

More Obama Drama

Poor Barack. He sure is having a tough time with his appointments. First, Bill Richardson. Second, Tim Geithner. Then, Tom Daschle. Now it's Sen. Judd Gregg turning down the appointment as Commerce Sec'y because of policy differences. Who is vetting these people? Between this and the unexpected opposition to the stimulus package, he's off to a rough start. But as someone once told me, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and you can bet the bank (no pun intended) that Obama's learning a lot from all of this and as such he's going to be an even better president.

By the way, just as an aside, did you see Obama's last press conference. Wasn't it nice to finally hear a president be able to string together more than 2 sentences without tripping all over his tongue and then grinning like an idiot after everything he says??

Monday, February 9, 2009

No No Nadya

For the past several days Nadya Suleman has dominated the news (well, except lately for A-Roid)-at least on the Today show. Now, I am the last person to make judgments about the choices people make in their personal lives. Lord knows, I've made some pretty questionable decisions in my illustrious life so I'm not about to join in the growing chorus of people who are questioning this woman's decision. However, there is one aspect of all of this that doesn't really seem to be getting much scrutiny. I'm referring to the fertility clinic that provided Ms. Suleman with the services she requested. Aren't places like this supposed to have professionals who are trained to evaluate a candidate's frame of mind and suitability for these kinds of procedures? Aren't they supposed to be experts at recognizing signs of emotional/financial instability? What in God's name were they thinking? This is a young, unemployed single woman who already had, what?, 6 kids????? She actually stated on the Today show that she wanted lots of children because since she was a little girl she thought it would be neat to be a mommy!!! I'm not making this up. We all know that someone else (guess who?) is going to be supporting and caring for those children. There should be a thorough investigation of the clinic she went to. How many others operate this way? This is a prime example of how society and law are light-years behind science! Don't be surprised if we see more of this kind of thing.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Another Scientist!

Now it's this little guy's turn. At 16 months is he playing 'scientist' like his cousins? Well, no, but he's certainly thinking like one. Curious about everything, in this particular photo he's experimenting with stacking. Many toddlers his age love to do this. They're not just acting like 'babies'! There's an enormous amount of experimentation and learning going on. He doesn't say it but he's thinking all the time. "What happens if I do this? Can this shape fit on top of another kind of shape without falling? How high can they go before they fall? What happens if I push it? What happens if I try to remove one from the bottom?" Sometimes he glances at me or the nearest adult when he's doing this. "Am I going to get in 'trouble' for this?" Then, before you know it, he's off to explore something else.
Soon it will be time to build a sandbox. More exploration and fun with trucks, tractors, bulldozers and back hoes. I'm betting his cousins are going to like that too.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Future Scientists

My two little grand daughters love to play scientist. For them that means mixing as much stuff as possible in a container of water just to see what happens. I of course scrupulously monitor this activity because we all know how this kind of thing can become a tragedy if not carefully supervised, i.e. the child who mixed bleach and ammonia, two chemicals found in every home, thus creating the poisonous gas ammonia chloride. I lecture them ad nuseum about doing this without my help. So what do we use? First, water of course. Second, a little food coloring. That alone gets all sorts of ooohs and ahhhs. Next some baking soda. You know where I'm going with this, don't you? And then of course the coup de grace: vinegar. After all of the excitement of that has worn off we progress to vegetable oil. They find it impossible to understand how vegetable oil can float on top of water when they get in the tub and sink! How's that for some higher order thinking from a 2 & 5 year old? All this is accompanied by lots of questions and requests for more 'stuff'. Eventually they wear out, need a snack and off they go leaving me with the mess. No matter. Who can possibly know how much learning went on there-not to mention fun? We'll be doing it again, I'm sure.
During my days as an elementary teacher, I used to do these kinds of things all the time. It's called 'inquiry based learning'. But then the 'powers that be' deemed this kind of thing wasteful. It looked like a little too much fun to be of educational value. I am-and happier for it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Joe the 'Dumber' Plumber

This guy is beginning to get on my nerves. It was bad enough that he rec'd so much unwarranted attention during the campaign but I just heard on MSNBC that the republicans recently sought his opinion regarding Obama's stimulus package. He said it didn't do much for him! He was then asked if he was going to run for political office and he responded that he didn't think the nation deserved him. You've got to be kidding! This guy is a fraud. I wish he & Sarah Palin would walk, hand in hand, into the Bering Strait and quietly disappear. I guess this and the continued attention Palin is getting is a measure of the desperation within the Republican Party now. Aren't there better republicans out there than Palin and The Plumber??

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Super 'Super Sunday'

I watched the Super Bowl yesterday with a group of 7 men at an assisted living facility. I do volunteer work there and the director had asked me to do this. I'm glad those men got to see that game. They enjoyed the pizza, O'Douls beer and the excitement of the game. The ads drew a lot of comments too. The game itself was probably the best one I've ever seen in terms of excitement and unexpected changes and I've seen all 43. Until yesterday's game the one I'll always remember was Super Bowl III when the Jets beat the Colts. That was a good one only because 'Broadway' Joe Namath kept shooting off his mouth about how the Jets were going to win so everyone watched to see what would happen. Lots of people were hoping the great Colts quarterback, John Unitas, would kick Namath's butt, but.....
Anyway, seven men got to have some fun at a time in their lives that often isn't so much fun.