PC Cop Alert: Justin Bieber or God Bless the USA?

OK. The Prez opined Friday that the private sector is doing fine. So with the economy now back on track [note: LOL], I can stop fretting about the millions who are unemployed, have given up looking for a job, or who are under-employed. Actually, that frees up a lot of time and mental storage space.

So I’ll fret about political correctness. And I’ll admit that I am warming to the notion that not everyone should be required to sit through an Xmas program in a public school. Less sympathetic these days to those who want to ban students from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

But some of this PC crap is really ridiculous. Here’s an example, “Controversial principal yanks patriotic song from kindergarten graduation“:

Greta Hawkins, the principal of the Edna Cohen School in Brooklyn, New York, told students they could not sing the Lee Greenwood classic, “God Bless the USA,” at their moving-up ceremony, the New York Post reported late Saturday.

According to Department of Education spokeswoman Jessica Scaperotti, Hawkins found the lyrics “too grown up” for 5-year-olds.  While the patriotic song has been banned, the Post notes that “Justin Bieber’s flirty song about teen romance, ‘Baby,’ was deemed a fine selection for the show.”

“Hawkins,” the Post notes, “had no problem with 5-year-olds singing lines such as, ‘Are we an item? Girl, quit playing.’”

Scaperotti said the Department supports Hawkins’ decision.

“The lyrics are not age-appropriate,” she told the Post.

Hawkins’ decision to ban the patriotic song has sparked controversy at a school the Post says is “filled with proud immigrants.”

According to the Post:

Five classes spent months learning the patriotic song, which skyrocketed in popularity after the 9/11 attacks and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

It was to be the rousing finale of their musical show at the June 20 commencement. The kids, dressed up for their big day, would wave tiny American flags — which, as the lyrics proclaim, “still stand for freedom.”

Hawkins interrupted a rehearsal and ordered the CD shut off.  She then told teachers to drop the song.

“We don’t want to offend other cultures,” she reportedly said.

Staff and parents were stunned at her edict.

“A lot of people fought to move to America to live freely, so that song should be sung with a whole lot of pride,” Luz Lozada said.  Her son, Daniel, is a kindergartener at the school.

Wow. “A lot of people fought to move to America to live freely…”

Bet even Justin Bieber couldn’t argue with that.

By the way, Fox News was all over this while I was chasing the treadmill belt early this a.m. Expect some major league soul-searching on the part of New York school officials today.


Social Networking Sites: Worth the Risk?

I know I’m starting to lose it in my dotage. But I’m starting to fret that the greatest threat to our personal privacy and freedom — and our economy and national security — is the ability of some nation, criminal organization or terrorist group to unleash a Lisbeth Salander who can hack away at our computer systems and turn the Internet and our lives into mush.

What happens when everyone’s checking account flashes zero? Just a thought.

And I guess I’m not the only one yelling fire in a crowded movie theater about this. Here’s from the NYT, “Expert Issues A Cyberwar Warning“:

MOSCOW — When Eugene Kaspersky, the founder of Europe’s largest antivirus company, discovered the Flame virus that is afflicting computers in Iran and the Middle East, he recognized it as a technologically sophisticated virus that only a government could create.

He also recognized that the virus, which he compares to the Stuxnet virus built by programmers employed by the United States and Israel, adds weight to his warnings of the grave dangers posed by governments that manufacture and release viruses on the Internet.

“Cyberweapons are the most dangerous innovation of this century,” he told a gathering of technology company executives, called the CeBIT conference, last month in Sydney, Australia. While the United States and Israel are using the weapons to slow the nuclear bomb-making abilities of Iran, they could also be used to disrupt power grids and financial systems or even wreak havoc with military defenses.

Computer security companies have for years used their discovery of a new virus or worm to call attention to themselves and win more business from companies seeking computer protection. Mr. Kaspersky, a Russian computer security expert, and his company, Kaspersky Lab, are no different in that regard. But he is also using his company’s integral role in exposing or decrypting three computer viruses apparently intended to slow or halt Iran’s nuclear program to argue for an international treaty banning computer warfare.

A growing array of nations and other entities are using online weapons, he says, because they are “thousands of times cheaper” than conventional armaments.

Uh, gulp.

So is this a case where we should just follow the advice of the great American philosopher Bobby McFerrin who opined: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy“?

Probably not.

Here’s an excerpt from a NYT op-ed by Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, “Asleep at the Laptop“:

THE alarm bells sound regularly: cybergeddon; the next Pearl Harbor; one of the greatest existential threats facing the United States. With increasing frequency, these are the grave terms officials invoke about the menace of cybercrime — and they’re not understating the threat.

Some cybercrime is aimed directly at our national security, imperiling our infrastructure, government secrets and public safety. But as the recent wave of attacks by the hacker collective Anonymous demonstrates, it also targets private industry, threatening the security of our markets, our exchanges, our bank accounts, our trade secrets and our personal privacy.

With all the attention paid to the so-called fiscal cliff approaching at year’s end, it is equally important to ask whether collective inaction has us simultaneously barreling toward a cybercliff of equal or greater height.

As the United States attorney in Manhattan, I have come to worry about few things as much as the gathering cyberthreat. Law enforcement is racing to respond, filling its ranks and fortifying its defenses against cyber-malefactors. Businesses should worry, too. But my experience suggests that they are not doing nearly enough to protect themselves, their customers and their shareholders.

Recently I met two executives from major companies who did not even know whom in law enforcement to contact in the event of a hack or intrusion. A few weeks ago, after a speech I gave about cybercrime, a board member of a significant Internet-based company took me aside and admitted, with some horror, that his company’s board had not spent a single minute discussing cybersecurity.

Hmm. Why Worry, Be Happy.

Well, I started thinking about this yesterday when I received a slew of emails from LinkedIn telling me to change my password. Oh boy. A nap-interrupting wild goose chase. And I don’t use LinkedIn for anything — but amazingly, I joined several years ago disclosing a password (which I can’t remember now) and most likely other personal information.

Here’s the reason, from PCWorld, for the sudden interest in my LinkedIn account:

LinkedIn Wednesday confirmed that at least some passwords compromised in a major security breach correspond to LinkedIn accounts.

Vicente Silveira, Director at LinkedIn, confirmed the hack on the company’s blog Wednesday afternoon and outlined steps that LinkedIn is taking to deal with the situation. He wrote that those with compromised passwords will notice that their LinkedIn account password is no longer valid.

Silveira added that owners of compromised accounts will receive an email from LinkedIn with instructions on how to reset their passwords. These owners then will get a second email from LinkedIn customer support that explains the situation at greater length.

Silveira also apologized to those affected, saying LinkedIn takes the security of members very seriously.

The fact is that these sites apparently can’t protect our personal information or privacy. So I’m going to try to figure out a way to delete as much personal information as possible. Not worth the risk.

And since I’m sure that won’t be easy, in the meantime, I’m sitting here singing along with Bob Marley and hoping that Ohio enacts a medical marijuana law to cover illnesses and neuroses associated with blogging.



Running and Life Lessons

OK. I’ll admit it. I didn’t know that today is celebrated as National Running Day. And it didn’t appear that the Talking Heads on CNN and Fox News had much interest in heralding the day. As I chased the treadmill belt this early a.m., I couldn’t escape the chatter about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker surviving (CNN’s view of the world) or winning a great victory (Fox News) in the state’s recall election yesterday. [Big waste of time and money. IMO]

I should have run outside, hitting the concrete on what really was another glorious morning here in NE Ohio.

And then I could have concentrated on a story that teaches some valuable lessons way beyond the political intrigue and posturing in Wisconsin, Inside the Beltway and elsewhere these days.

At a track meet in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday one runner stopped and helped another make it to the finish line. Here’s from The Daily Mail:

A high school runner competing in the 3200-metre race is receiving national attention, not for winning or a feat of athleticism, but for an extraordinary act of kindness after she helped a struggling competitor finish the race.

Meghan Vogel, a 17-year-old junior at West Liberty Salem High School in western Ohio, is now being praised for her sportsmanship, and has had to deal with an overwhelming response to the now-famous photograph.

She said she appreciates the accolades but said today that she is a bit overwhelmed by the praise that has been pouring in since Saturday’s track meet in Columbus.

The 17-year-old was in last place in the 3,200-meter run as she caught up to Arlington High School sophomore Arden McMath, whose body was giving out.Instead of zipping past Ms McMath to avoid the last-place finish, Ms Vogel draped the runner’s arm around her shoulders, half-dragging and half-carrying her about 30 metres to the finish line.

Wow. In an era when pro football teams are trying to figure out how to most effectively maim opponents–and when our elected leaders are interested primarily only in their own reelection–stopping to help someone seems almost quaint.

Wonder what made Megan do it?

“It’s an honour and very humbling,” Ms Vogel told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from her West Liberty home. ‘I just thought I was doing the right thing, and I think others would have done the same.’

Not a bad life lesson.

Jobs Disaster: Will Pigs Fly?

I was in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, and one of my brothers, Mark, said he was looking forward to November when Romney would be elected president. I said if that happened pigs would fly, so better be prepared to duck when going outside.

After the release of the feeble employment numbers last week, and the related stock market decline,  I imagine Porky Pig and associates are heading to aviation school.

In fact, when the Huffington Post has any headline critical of the Obama administration, “Total Mess” — you have to figure that Hell has frozen over.

Or pigs are getting ready to fly.

Ban Sugary Drinks Today. Donuts Tomorrow?

OK. When I was teaching a course in media ethics at Kent State, this kind of situation used to drive the advertising majors nuts. Should the government be able via regulation or other means to modify individual decisions and habits involving food and drink? The advertising students would opine, ah, no.

Many, I’m convinced, had caveat emptor tattooed on their forearm.

Here’s a situation where I gotta agree with them.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has unveiled plans to ban large sugary drinks from restaurants, movie theaters and street carts. Here’s from the NYT, “New York Plans to Ban Sales of Big Sizes of Sugary Drinks“:

The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.

The measure would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages [note to self: whew]; it would not extend to beverages sold in grocery stores or convenience stores.

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ ” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview on Wednesday in City Hall’s sprawling Governor’s Room.

“New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” he said. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

A spokesman for the New York City Beverage Association, an arm of the soda industry’s national trade group, criticized the city’s proposal on Wednesday. The industry has clashed repeatedly with the city’s health department, saying it has unfairly singled out soda; industry groups have bought subway advertisements promoting their cause.

“The New York City health department’s unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks is again pushing them over the top,” the industry spokesman, Stefan Friedman, said. “It’s time for serious health professionals to move on and seek solutions that are going to actually curb obesity. These zealous proposals just distract from the hard work that needs to be done on this front.”

Clearly, obesity is a major issue in this country. According to an article in USA Today, obesity could affect nearly half of all Americans in less than 20 years. That fact represents some serious challenges in terms of health, medical costs and flying while in the middle seat of an airplane. It also represents a national security issue. Hey, when the Chinese start pounding on our door demanding to collect on all the IOUs, we better hope that there are at least a few people in the USA capable of pulling themselves off the couch to at least let them know we are still at home.

Still, the New York ban seems kinda silly. If you really want to down an unlimited amount of sugar water, couldn’t you just buy a larger number of smaller bottles? I’m sure, as usual, I’m missing the bigger picture here.

Maybe Stephen Colbert has a better perspective:

On Thursday’s Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert lashed out at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg over his proposal to ban supersized sugary drinks in restaurants, movie theaters, food carts and concession stands, calling him a “sick bastard.”

“No more giant soda at the movies for the entire family to share. No, the man says. No, you can’t have it,” Colbert lamented.

“No more giant sodas? Come on! This is America, the land of plenty,” Colbert protested. “We haven’t even achieved Type 3 Diabetes yet. We’re so close. And I don’t know about you folks, but i can’t drink less than 16 ounces. I need a soda so large that James Cameron wants to go to the bottom of it.”

Doesn’t everyone? Sigh.

Oh well. What’s next? Donuts?

By the way, New York this morning is the venue for an event celebrating the 75th Annual Donut Day.

Go figure.


Should Everyone Go To College?

Well, I’m back. I was in Pittsburgh late last week for a memorial service for my Dad. And I spent the long holiday weekend doing not much more than running, eating and drinking — and taking advantage of the early summer hot and sunny weather here in NE Ohio.

So I’m back at it this early a.m.

And I noticed over the weekend some pundits opining in national forums on issues involving education. That good. Quality education is the driver for our informed democracy and for our economic prosperity in what really is now a global economy. But I’m slowly and somewhat reluctantly coming to the view that attending college isn’t for everyone.

One reason is that clearly not everyone is prepared for college based on their high school achievements. [Or lack thereof.] Here’s from an AP story:

Each year, an estimated 1.7 million U.S. college students are steered to remedial classes to help them catch up and prepare for regular coursework. But a growing body of research shows that the courses are eating up time and money, often leading not to degrees but to student-loan hangovers.

The expense of remedial courses, which typically cost students the same as regular classes but don’t fulfill degree requirements, run about $3 billion annually, according to new research by Complete College America, a Washington-based national nonprofit working to increase the number of students with a college degree.

The group says remedial classes are largely failing the nation’s higher-education system at a time when student-loan debt has become a presidential campaign issue. Meanwhile, lawmakers in at least two states have pushed through changes, and numerous institutions are redesigning the courses.

Clearly, the cost of getting a college education has become an important issue, one that will play out eventually during the fall elections. And it becomes an even bigger issue and concern if students go into debt while not obtaining a degree.

Related is the issue of whether everyone attending college is gaining the skills that employers are demanding these days. Getting a quality education just for the sake of being better educated should have value. Yeah, I’ll admit it. I’m a fan of the liberal arts. But it’s becoming tougher to justify if you are facing years of debt and no job, or one that may not require a college degree. [Assuming that you even graduate.] Here’s Robert Samuelson opining in WaPo, “It’s time to drop the college-for-all crusade“:

The college-for-all crusade has outlived its usefulness. Time to ditch it. Like the crusade to make all Americans homeowners, it’s now doing more harm than good. It looms as the largest mistake in educational policy since World War II, even though higher education’s expansion also ranks as one of America’s great postwar triumphs.

Consider. In 1940, fewer than 5 percent of Americans had a college degree. Going to college was “a privilege reserved for the brightest or the most affluent” high-school graduates, wrote Diane Ravitch in her history of U.S. education, “The Troubled Crusade.” No more. At last count, roughly 40 percent of Americans had some sort of college degree: about 30 percent a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution; the rest associate degrees from community colleges.

Starting with the GI Bill in 1944, governments at all levels promoted college. From 1947 to 1980, enrollments jumped from 2.3 million to 12.1 million. In the 1940s, private colleges and universities accounted for about half. By the 1980s, state schools — offering heavily subsidized tuitions — represented nearly four-fifths. Aside from a democratic impulse, the surge reflected “the shift in the occupational structure to professional, technical, clerical and managerial work,” noted Ravitch. The economy demanded higher skills; college led to better-paying jobs.

College became the ticket to the middle class, the be-all-and-end-all of K-12 education. If you didn’t go to college, you’d failed. Improving “access” — having more students go to college — drove public policy.

We overdid it. The obsessive faith in college has backfired.

For starters, we’ve dumbed down college. The easiest way to enroll and retain more students is to lower requirements. Even so, dropout rates are high; at four-year schools, fewer than 60 percent of freshmen graduate within six years. Many others aren’t learning much.

In a recent book, “Academically Adrift,” sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that 45 percent of college students hadn’t significantly improved their critical thinking and writing skills after two years; after four years, the proportion was still 36 percent. Their study was based on a test taken by 2,400 students at 24 schools requiring them to synthesize and evaluate a block of facts. The authors blame the poor results on lax academic standards. Surveyed, one-third of the same students said that they studied alone five or fewer hours a week; half said they had no course the prior semester requiring 20 pages of writing.

Still, most of these students finished college, though many are debt-ridden. Persistence counts. The larger — and overlooked — consequence of the college obsession is to undermine high schools. The primacy of the college-prep track marginalizes millions of students for whom it’s disconnected from “real life” and unrelated to their needs. School bores and bothers them. Teaching them is hard, because they’re not motivated. But they also make teaching the rest harder. Their disaffection and periodic disruptions drain teachers’ time and energy. The climate for learning is poisoned.

That’s why college-for-all has been a major blunder. One size doesn’t fit all, as sociologist James Rosenbaum of Northwestern University has argued. The need is to motivate the unmotivated. One way is to forge closer ties between high school and jobs. Yet, vocational education is de-emphasized and disparaged. Apprenticeship programs combining classroom and on-the-job training — programs successful in Europe — are sparse. In 2008, about 480,000 workers were apprentices, or 0.3 percent of the U.S. labor force, reports economist Robert Lermanof American University. Though not for everyone, more apprenticeships could help some students.

The rap against employment-oriented schooling is that it traps the poor and minorities in low-paying, dead-end jobs. Actually, an unrealistic expectation of college often traps them into low-paying, dead-end jobs — or no job. Learning styles differ. “Apprenticeship in other countries does a better job of engaging students,” says Lerman. “We want to diversify the routes to rewarding careers.” Downplaying these programs denies some students the pride and self-confidence of mastering difficult technical skills, while also fostering labor shortages.

There are plenty of reformers out there these days with ideas about improving education. In fact, that has kinda become a growth industry since the business community jumped into the education game in the early 1980s with the idea that you could run a school as you would a profit center or a division of a larger business. Not.

So perhaps the time has come to question whether college is right for everyone.



Micah True: Run Free

Since my Dad died last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about life and death — about how I want to spend my days and then exit when my life clock strikes midnight.  And many of these thoughts surface while I’m running, especially when I’m hitting the concrete in the pitch black of the early a.m.

Yesterday while downing my first double Jameson, I read a story in the NYT that profiled a man — a runner — known as Micah True. His life and death provides an inspiring look at how an individual can chart his or her own course in life, make a real difference to others, and then leave behind a legacy defined by friendships and accomplishments.

Here’s an excerpt from the story by Barry Bearak, “Caballo Blanco’s Last Run: The Micah True Story“:

GILA HOT SPRINGS, N.M. — Micah True went off alone on a Tuesday morning to run through the rugged trails of the Gila Wilderness, and now it was already Saturday and he had not been seen again.

The search for him, once hopeful, was turning desperate. Weather stoked the fear. The missing man was wearing only shorts, a T-shirt and running shoes. It was late March. Daytimes were warm, but the cold scythed through the spruce forest in the depth of night, the temperatures cutting into the 20s.

For three days, rescue teams had fanned out for 50 yards on each side of the marked trails. Riders on horseback ventured through the gnarly brush, pushing past the felled branches of pinyon-juniper and ponderosa pine. An airplane and a helicopter circled in the sky, their pilots squinting above the ridges, woodlands, river canyons and meadows.

“We’re in the middle of nowhere, and this guy could be anywhere,” Tom Bemis, the rescue coordinator appointed by the state police, said gloomily. He was sitting in a command center, marking lines on a map that covered 200,000 acres. Some 150 trained volunteers were at his disposal, and dozens of others were there too, arrived from all over the country, eager and anxious, asking to enlist in the search.

“Coming out of the woodwork,” Bemis said wryly.

Not only did Micah True have loyal friends, but he also had a devoted following. At age 58, he was a mythic figure, known by the nickname Caballo Blanco, or White Horse. He was a famous ultrarunner, competing in races two, three or four times as long as marathons. The day he vanished, he said he was going on a 12-mile jaunt, for him as routine as a lap around a high school track.

But True’s mythic renown owed less to his ability to run than to his capacity to inspire. He was a free spirit who survived on cornmeal, beans and wild dreams, aloof to the allure of money and possessions. He lived in the remote Copper Canyons of northern Mexico to be near the reclusive Tarahumara Indians, reputed to be the greatest natural runners in the world.

His story was exuberantly molded into legend in the 2009 best-seller “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. Caballo Blanco, however private and self-effacing, was suddenly delivered to the world as a prophet, “the lone wanderer of the High Sierras.” To many, he represented the road not taken, a purer path, away from career, away from capitalism, away from the clock.

Micah True lived life his way and by his own standards. And he did it essentially “off the grid.” Good for him.

And even if you are not interested in True’s life, or in long-distance running, this article is worth reading. If you believe that there is no excellent writing in newspapers these days — or that long-form journalism is dead — this article will challenge those notions.

Here’s another excerpt:

MICAH TRUE’S CORPSE, encased in a body bag and draped over a brown mule, was taken through the forest and out to the main trailhead in midafternoon on Sunday, April 1. Maria Walton ran up a slope to meet it, calling out, “I love you,” and kissing the end of the bundle that appeared to be the feet.

Just then, a heavy wind began to blow. Dirt spun in the air. A hearse had been parked in an adjacent lot since morning, and the driver, dressed in a coat and tie, looked away to shield his eyes.

The mule was slowly led to the vehicle, and the body bag was lifted through the open door at the rear. Walton insisted that Guadajuko be permitted a farewell, cradling the dog in her arms and taking him over. “We’re going to see Daddy, your best buddy,” she said, sobbing.

Ray Molina, haggard and exhausted, hugged Walton and then leaned against his old Mercedes and talked about finding the corpse. “Micah was bloodied up, so I think he took a tumble and then a hypothermic night did him in,” he said.

Mike Barragree, an investigator for the state medical examiner’s office, had gone with the team that reclaimed the body. He speculated that “some sort of cardiac event” was the likely cause of death, and that turned out to be correct: idiopathic cardiomyopathy, a heart ailment.

The search and recovery mission was finally over. The remembrances had already begun. The evening before, Walton and Scott Leese and many of the Mas Locos hung out at a campground that also had a few small cottages. The moon was a half-circle. The stars were abundant. Someone had thought to buy beer.

For them, this was a requiem for a dead friend. They ate tortillas and eggs and canned stew, heating the food on an old white stove and subduing their sorrow with laughter. They each had a favorite Caballo Blanco story to tell, or two or three. The past flooded into the present.

Above all, their friend wanted to be authentic, they said, and no one could doubt that he had been. This was no small thing.

His death was terribly sad, and yet there was also perfection about it.

Micah True died while running through a magnificent wilderness, and then many of his closest friends came together to search for him, stepping through the same alluring canyons and forests and streams, again and again calling out his name.

All in all, not a bad way to go.