Opinion

Sour Patch Kids

Wednesday, 21 July 2010 06:54 AM Written by

(ranting and emailing)

First of two programming notes this week: I have another guest rant today at the tail end of Omnivore, Mackenzie Carpenter’s newly liberated and delivered unto PG Minus webcast. After last week’s bit on fireworks and first responders, I aim both higher and lower this week to wrap up, and then spit out, a few recent thoughts on the University of Pittsburgh’s undercover-of-Friday-and-multi-paragraph-press-release tuition increase:

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My So-Called Eyelashes

Wednesday, 21 July 2010 03:17 AM Written by

Really, Claire Danes?

I mean, we could expect Brooke Shields to  be pimping a drug to boost eyelash growth -- modeling is her business. But you -- the woman who played an angst-ridden teen on the critically acclaimed TV show My So-Called Life?

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Tuesday Morning Poser

Tuesday, 20 July 2010 07:37 AM Written by

(for monday afternoon poseurs)

From today’s New York Times:

“The president knows that Republicans support extending unemployment insurance, and doing it in a fiscally responsible way by cutting spending elsewhere in the $3 trillion federal budget,” Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said in a statement Monday. “At a time of record debt and deficits made worse by Washington Democrats’ massive spending spree, that’s the right thing to do and the right way to do it.”

Which makes me wonder:

At a time of record debt and deficits made worse by Washington Republicans’ — and, to be fair, Democrats’ too — massive war spending spree, why wasn’t it the right thing to do, and the right way to do it, then?

Unless, of course, massive deficit spending that kills children in Iraq is preferable to massive deficit spending that feeds children in the U.S.

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Yes. The Jersey Shore.

(That takes care of the questions, "Did you have a good time on vacation?" and "Where did you go?")

The next time my daughter's boyfriend runs out of gas, and is stranded on the berm of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, let's hope my daughter isn't wearing a T-shirt that reads, "Pump Fists, Not Gas." More on that later.

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The Wall (7/8/10 - 7/17/10)

Tuesday, 20 July 2010 03:10 AM Written by

Lance Corporal Daniel G. Ray

Specialist Joseph W. Dimock II

Lance Corporal Tyler A. Roads

Sergeant Donald R. Edgerton

Specialist Robert W. Crow

Staff Sergeant Jesse W. Ainsworth

Specialist Carlos J. Negron

Sergeant Shaun M. Mitler

Staff Sergeant Christopher J. Antonik

Private 1st Class Nathaniel D. Garvin

Specialist Christoper J. Moon

Staff Sergeant Sheldon L. Tate

Staff Sergeant Christopher S. Goeke

Private Brandon M. King

Sergeant Zachary M. Fisher

Specialist Matthew J. Johnson

Specialist Jesse D. Reed

Specialist Chase Stanley

Sergeant 1st Class John J. Jarrell

Sergeant Leston M. Winters

Corporal Dave M. Santos

Staff Sergeant Justus S. Bartlet

Sergeant Jesse R. Tilton

Sergeant Matthew W. Weikert.

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Not Unequal. Just Different.

Monday, 19 July 2010 06:29 AM Written by

(and only occasionally strange)

In the midst of an otherwise thoughtful and sensible article on the debate over the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ plan to create a pair of single-gender educational academies next year, along came a paragraph that almost made me spit my orange juice across the kitchen table:

"For a woman who came into the professional world at a time when we didn't even have laws against sexual harassment, I am bothered by the message we could be sending to our children -- that they are different somehow," said Ms. [Annette] Werner, a member of PURE Reform, a watchdog group organized by city parents and taxpayers.

I’m not even going to try to address — by which I mean, decode; by which I mean, dignify — the first clause of that quotation, in which Ms. Werner either attempts to establish a credibility she does not need or, worse still, to suggest a correlation that does not exist. And I’ll simply move right to the absurdity of being bothered by sending a message to our children that is absolutely, unequivocally, scientifically true.

Note to Ms. Werner: Boys and girls, like the men and women they will become, are different. And not just somehow, but many hows.

There are, for starters, the penises and vaginas. The tubes and ovaries and testicles and prostates. The uteri and the menstrual cycles and the lack thereof. The breasts that could one day give milk and those that could not. The estrogen and the (eventually raging) levels of testosterone. The indifference to leaving the toilet seat up and the insistence that it be put back down.

Okay. That last one was a joke. But I was growing bored — and I’ll bet you were too — with laundry listing just the first few of so many physiological ways and hows that boys and girls and men and women are different.

We could move next into the research. Into the clear and unambiguous findings that boys’ and girls’ brains develop in different sequences, process language differently, and boast many differences in psychology, anatomy, and physiology.

We could also — and I suspect this part would please, if likely not mollify, the Ms. Werners of the world — note that psychologists and neuroscientists and plenty of other researchers and clinicians who publish this work also go to great lengths to note that biology is not destiny, that environment plays a significant role in the development of both boys and girls, and that just what these differences mean or how they can (or even if they should) be harnessed in education are subjects that remain wide open for debate.  

But what we can not do, nor pretend, nor hope to wish away, is the clear and simple reality that boys and girls are different. That men and women are different. That the genders, even with a great and rich diversity of sizes, shapes, types, and tenors across the continua of each, are not, never have been, and never will be the same.

Which is not, of course, the same as saying that they are not, never have been, never will be, or never should be equal.

This sort of silliness, in which we allay our fear of irrational discrimination by irrationally pretending that scientific facts do not exist, and that if they do, they do not mean what they say they do — before her stint at PURE Reform, perhaps Ms. Werner worked for the Bush Administration — reminds me yet again of the great and torturous lengths to which people will sometimes go to defend their ideological stance. Those lengths are sad and unfortunate enough when they intend to discriminate; they seem to me more sad and unfortunate still when they intend to prevent discrimination.

This sort of silliness reminds me also of a great old Sesame Street sketch, in which a young bird chides an owl for sleeping all day and staying awake all night.

That’s strange! the young bird declares.

It’s not strange, the owl replies. It’s just different.

The bird, the Sesame Street audience, and just about everyone not named or predisposed to think like Annette Werner understands the owl’s point quite well: Different is not strange. It is not lesser. It is not weird nor stupid nor ripe for discrimination. It's just different.

In an age when we rightly acknowledge and celebrate all sorts of our differences, it seems to me we would do well not to pretend, however good and noble our intentions, that our most obvious and elemental one does not exist.

And we would do even better, I suspect, honestly and openly to discuss how we might use those differences not just for acknowledgement and celebration, but for far more important ends like fulfillment and education.

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Notes From a Saturday Afternoon

Saturday, 17 July 2010 09:58 AM Written by

(earning the beads of my mind)  

For your consideration: another curious collection of thoughts, reactions, and observations that didn’t make it into a full-length post this week, or a regularly scheduled Notes post yesterday...

• Remember last November, when our poor, downtrodden local college students couldn’t possibly pay another 1% for the Student Shakedown Tax, because it would price them out of an education and drive them to other cities and do irreparable harm to our local university’s competitive advantage in attracting students to this area? Remember, in the interim, when Carnegie Mellon raised its tuition 2.98% and Carlow raised its tuition 4.05%? Well, not to be outdone in rhetorical or fiduciary shamelessness, the University of Pittsburgh yesterday announced — which is to say, buried in the third paragraph of its press release — that it will be raising tuition 5.5% this fall.

• Here’s Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, in a letter to The Mayor dated December 2nd: As long as [the tuition tax] proposal is being pursued, all of our energies necessarily will be directed toward defeating it and protecting our students. Here’s Chancellor Nordenberg, in the press release issued yesterday: Our three top priorities in structuring this budget were to maintain the high quality of our programs, to provide relief from the current salary freeze for the committed Pitt employees whose efforts have been central to our progress, and to keep tuition increases as moderate as possible. Given both the economic challenges that we continue to face and the market data available to us, we believe that we struck the best possible balance. This budget provides a financial foundation that should enable us to sustain the momentum that has seen Pitt climb higher and higher within the ranks of America’s top public research universities. The contrast between those two statements, in both and tone and intention, is so clear and so stark that I’ll leave the commentary and conclusions to you.

• Oh, who am I kidding? I can’t resist...

• Funny, isn’t it, that Pitt students needed all of the administration’s energies to protect them from a 1% city shakedown. But a 5.5% university shakedown, well, that’s just the moderate-as-possible cost of doing business and sustaining momentum.

• Once more, I call your attention to the so-naked-and-slimy-it-may-as-well-be-a-newborn-baby hypocrisy, and to higher education’s unsavory equivalent of “Nobody hits my brother but me”: Nobody fleeces our students but us.

• Think I’m being unfair? Think I’m exaggerating? Consider these astonishing tidbits buried in the dark heart of Bill Shackner’s PG report: Pitt’s tuition has surged by 119 percent in 10 years. With Friday’s vote, the base in-state tuition for a year of main campus study is within roughly $2,100 of what tuition for four years would have cost in 1990.

• Can you think of anything — besides gasoline, of course; but that has, at least, seen equally dramatic price drops as well — that has more than doubled its cost in the last 10 years and almost quadrupled it in the last 20? In the face of those numbers, last year’s institutional hissy fit over a 1% shakedown tax seems all the more shameful and absurd.

• You want to talk shameful and absurd? How about those mentally and historically challenged Iowa Tea Partiers who erected the billboard comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin? When President Obama tries to extinguish an entire race of people and/or signs executive orders authorizing the assassination of hundreds of members of the Tea Party movement, let me know. Until then, look up the word socialist in a dictionary and get a sense of perspective.

• Equally shameful and absurd, of course, are the people who will use this unconscionable act of rank stupidity by a small group of Tea Partiers as an emblem, or a symbol, or a symptom of the movement as a whole. I promise that there are great ranks of Tea Party members who would not want those Iowan idiots speaking for them, just as I, a (still tenuously) registered Democrat would not want plenty of extremists in my party speaking for me.

• Here are some sobering stats for you: Thirty-two soldiers committed suicide in June, making it the worst single month since the Vietnam era... Through June, 145 soldiers have committed suicide this year, putting the Army on track to top 2009’s record 245 suicides.

This week’s coolest factoid from my friends at the fabulous Franklin Institute: An elephant trunk’s extreme strength and flexibility come from the roughly 100,000 muscles and tendons it contains.

• New CD I can’t stop listening to this week: Alejandro Escovedo’s Street Songs of Love. It’s a raucous, rocking, smartly written set that, after a half dozen listens, makes a great case for itself as one of the best records of the year, and as the Austin-based roots rocker’s best since 2001’s brilliant and beautiful A Man Under the Influence.

And, finally, one other unqualified recommendation: for the YMCA’s Camp Kon-O-Kwee. Adam is on a weekend break in the middle of his fifth (and first as a counselor-in-training) summer adventure there, Ethan just finished his first, and I can’t think of a single less-than-effusive thing to say about the place, its counselors, or our ever-deepening experience with them all. I’ll write more about Kon-O-Kwee in an upcoming full-length post, but for now: there’s no place on the planet, much less right here in Western Pennsylvania, that I feel better, or happier, or more confident about sending my boys. There’s magic in those hills outside of Zelienople, and there are few greater feelings in the world than watching and listening to them bring so much of it back home.

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(Not Exactly the) Notes From a Friday Afternoon

Friday, 16 July 2010 10:02 AM Written by

(pausing the tape of my mind)

For your consideration: curious lack of collected thoughts, reactions, and observations that didn’t make it into a full-length post this week, and that won’t make it into a Notes post today...

I’m bugging out early today, hitting the road and heading north and bringing the boys back home from the fabulous YMCA Camp Kon-O-Kwee. More on that and a whole host of other things, including today’s Who Could Have Seen That Coming? oh, that's right; never mind — announcement that University of Pittsburgh students who could not possibly have borne a 1% Student Shakedown Tax will now be paying a 5.5% Student Shakedown Tuition Hike, in tomorrow’s special edition Notes From a Saturday Afternoon.

Until then...

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