Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Your Dog Wants Steak.

I just saw a story today that says the carbon footprint of a pet dog is more than double that of a gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle (SUV).

OK... as an owner of two dogs, when I first read the article I felt a twinge of guilt for once criticizing  Al Gore's hypocritical energy consumption.

Upon closer review, I did discover the comparison in the article uses the assumption that the average medium size dog consumes almost a pound of meat each day and the owner of the SUV only drives 6200 miles per year.  OK...given those comparative assumptions, maybe a dog does have a larger carbon pawprint.  However, I highly doubt these assumptions are reasonable.

With articles like this, it's no wonder that so many people are skeptical about the claims of climate change.

For the record, I take the issue of climate change very seriously.  As someone who leans conservative, I believe it should be a conservative's nature to "conserve"  while at the same time be concerned about how the human race is polluting the Earth that G-d gave us. However, I tend to be a bit skeptical about both the claims from the extreme left and the denials from the extreme right regarding this issue.

Besides, after evaluating my own energy consumption habits using an online carbon footprint calculator, I discovered my 10.4 tonnes of CO2 is just half that of the average American (20.4).

As a result, I'm feeling less guilty about my dogs right now.

Hey Gypsy and Maggie... bark once if you'd like a rib-eye for Christmas dinner or bark twice if you'd prefer a porterhouse.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Moon Shots

Is "Moon shot" becoming an overused phrase?

Just this morning already, (and it's not even 5:00 AM yet) I've run across two news articles that use the "Moon shot" phrase.

A GM engineer uses the term in his reference to the development of the new Chevy Volt.

Most importantly, this article mentions "U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called the Obama administration's Race to the Top initiative "education reform's Moon shot," the largest pot of discretionary school funding -- $4 billion or so -- in the nation's history."

Call me a cynic, and I know $4 billion is a lot of money, but in the scope of the number of schools in the entire nation and compared to the $700+ billion spent on the Wall Street bailout, $4 billion seems like pocket change.  Plus we can't forget the estimated $600 billion spent on the invasion of Iraq.

And in reference to the "Moon shot"? Adjusted for inflation, the NASA moon project of the 1960's cost $237 billion.

So what do I think of the $4 billion being offered as the "Moon shot" for the nation's schools that are "in crisis"? Get back to me when you're serious about a real "Moon shot" type endeavor for education and have some real "Moon shot" type money to back it up, OK?

Otherwise, quit calling it a "Moon shot".  It might be a decent federal initiative however it's not a Moon shot.

But then that's just my 2 cents.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

But Will This Tax Apply to Tea?

Michigan's Lt. Governor, John Cherry, is floating an idea for a 10 cent tax on bottled water in order to fund the "Promise Scholarships" that were recently cut out of the state's budget.

The details of his plan are still developing, but so far it sounds like the tax will only apply to companies that manufacture bottled water in Michigan. The tax will apply to water sold in Michigan or shipped out of the state. Lt. Governor Cherry estimates this new tax will raise $118 million, of which $100 million will be used for the scholarships and $18 million will be used for wetlands regulations and other conservation plans.

I think this plan will be pronounced dead on arrival. 

First of all, how fair is it just to tax companies that use Michigan's water for producing bottled water?  If "It's time for the big bottlers to pay their water bill", as Cherry says, shouldn't all beverage companies that use Michigan's water have to pay the tax?  What about beer producers and soft drink bottlers?

What about tea?  Should it then also apply to bottled tea?  If I remember correctly a tax on tea eventually led to a thing called the American Revolution.

According to my research, the tax on Michigan state tax on beer is only about 2 cents per bottle.  Can anyone really justify that bottled water should be taxed at a higher rate than beer?  I'm not necessarily advocating for raising the beer tax, I'm just referring to the beer tax to illustrate a point.

Besides, the Michigan Promise Scholarship is the program that replaced the Michigan Merit Award.  The Michigan Merit award was originally funded with 75 percent of the proceeds from the state's tobacco settlement.  What became of that money?

Just for the record, I was against using the tobacco settlement money for that purpose originally.  The lawsuit was filed against the tobacco companies under the guise that their product was costing the state in terms of health care benefits.  But did Michigan then use the majority of that settlement money for health care and smoking cessation programs?  No, they used most of it for college awards.

In addition, considering all of the cuts being made to the funding of K-12 schools and other important programs in Michigan, should creating a new tax just for the Promise Scholarship be the top priority?   I realize it's called the "Promise" Scholarship, but there are many other "promises" that were implied in past state budgets that are now being cut.

Again, as I mentioned in this blog a week ago, it is time for Michigan  to consider some major tax reforms. To continue to nickle and dime its citizens with piecemeal tax ideas that don't address the root cause of the state's financial problems is legislative malpractice.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What's New with the News?

The Brookings Institution recently released a study that reports only 1.4 percent of national news coverage from television, newspapers, news web sites, and radio dealt with education issues.

And if you think about it, education doesn't get much coverage from local and state news outlets either.

Think about that the next time you watch any local TV news broadcast.  Usually any local TV news about schools is related to a scandal, an outbreak of a disease like H1N1, closures due to snow, or a successful sports team.

Rarely do you hear anything good about education on a regular basis much less any reports on important issues such as the effects of "No Child Left Behind" or the Michigan high school graduation requirements.

A few weeks ago when Novi High School was reported to have the first H1N1 case in the Metro Detroit area for this school year, TV news trucks were lined up at 6:00 AM waiting and beaming live reports for the morning broadcasts.  However, you never saw the news crews in front of the school at 6:00 AM the morning after the Novi F.I.R.S.T. Robotics team won a national championship.  Plus you never see any in-depth reporting on what state budget cuts are doing to our schools or other urgent education issues that will have long lasting consequences.

Just think how much time on the local news is dedicated to weather each day.  Doesn't that make you wonder why TV news organizations can't have a full time dedicated education reporter to give updates on issues that effect the lives of our school children on a daily basis?

It's not just the local TV news either.  Check out any local newspaper web site and you'll be hard pressed to find a section of the news dedicated to education.  You'll find sports sections, business sections, entertainment sections, obituaries, etc., but you really have to search to find a subsection for schools or education.

I know as a teacher I'm biased toward education issues, but really, isn't the disproportionate coverage of other subjects in the news when compared to education a bit of a disgrace?

One final thought... I "Googled" a few phrases to see what kind of "hits" I'd get and the results are astonishing.

10,400,000 hits for "Jon and Kate plus 8"
9,390,000 hits for "Tiger Woods scandal"
7,440,000 hits for "American Idol"

5,040,000 hits for "Pimp my Ride"
4,970,000 hits for "South Park"
2,900,000 for "Dancing with the Stars"

677,000 hits for "no child left behind"
362,000 hits for "race to the top"
113,000 hits for "influential teachers"
70,500 for "blue ribbon schools"

Oh... and by the way... the report on the Novi H1N1 case was inaccurate.  The student's test results ended up being negative.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Random Thoughts on School Budgets and Taxes

Random Thought #1:
Detroit Public Schools asks each teacher for $10,000 interest free loan.

The Detroit school system is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.  If the system does end up declaring  bankruptcy, will the teachers ever get that loan money back?  Plus I'm not sure if I was a teacher in Detroit how I'd feel about loaning money to a district that has been so corrupt and mismanaged for so long including the fact that Detroit Public Schools overpaid millions for real estate after middle-man markups.

In addition, the Detroit school system has taken other major voyages on the Failboat which includes the dispute that mothballed state of the art equipment at the $122 million Detroit School of Arts and the infamous school book depository.

Random Thought #2:   
Should Michigan tax pensions to help fund schools?

I found one particular quote in that article very interesting, from the state's budget director, Bob Emerson. "My son, who works his butt off as a chef in Oakland County, he makes in the mid-$30,000s," Emerson said. "He pays 4.35% in state income tax. I get a public pension that's greater than his salary, and I'm not taxed on that. Someone explain the fairness of that."

Yes, I agree with Bob that it is not fair.  However my solution to the unfairness is to not to tax the pensions, but to consider eliminating the state income tax altogether and replacing it with a system similar to the "FairTax" that has been proposed for the entire country .  The state of Michigan is now at a crossroad that will require a major overhaul to its tax system.  

I realize that a "FairTax" system relies heavily on a variation of a sales tax.  Plus I realize the current problem with Michigan's revenue shortfall is due to a dip in sales tax receipts.  However a "FairTax" system would also collect taxes on services, unlike the current sales tax system.  Wouldn't it be an acceptable trade off for a higher sales tax on purchases, including services, if the state income tax was eliminated? Plus, wouldn't it make Michigan a very attractive state for new residents and businesses alike? 

Random Thought #3: 
Deadline Nears on Michigan School Budget Cuts.

It seems that the lawmakers in Michigan are now more worried about qualifying for "Race to the Top" funds than they are about fixing the current funding crisis.   And why is the "Deadline" so near?  Because the legislature breaks for Christmas vacation in a couple of weeks.

I don't guess we should expect them to give up any of their vacation time to fix a crisis that is a direct result of their neglect, huh?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Early school-year start back in play

The Detroit Free Press reports today that because of Michigan's desire for the federal "Race to the Top" education funds, the law mandating schools must start after Labor Day is back up for debate.

I believe we need to take the school starting date before the United Nations and propose that no school in the world should be allowed to start before Labor Day. Heck, we are always comparing the performance of America's schools to schools in other countries so how fair is it that politicians in other countries stay out of the way and let their educators determine when the first day of school is?

(I'm joking, but I'm really trying to make a point too.)

I found one quote from the article exceptionally unbelievable... "Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, the Michigan House's top-ranking Republican, said the Melton measure would undermine one of the Legislature's most pro-business achievements of the decade."

If a law mandating an after Labor Day school start date is one of the Legislature's most pro-business achievements of the decade then Heaven help us.

Personally I liked starting school after Labor Day, however it's time for the state to get out of the way and return control of schools to the local school boards.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Race to the Top?

I just returned from The Network of Michigan Educators conference held in Lansing today.  Our afternoon session included a surprise visit by Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Needless to say, it's always exciting to be at an event when the governor pays a visit regardless whether or not you agree with her policies.

The purpose of Governor Granholm's visit was to enlist the conference attendees support of Michigan's application for the "Race to the Top" federal dollars that will be awarded next Spring.  However, as she explained, Michigan must first pass some education reforms through the legislature before they can even apply.

These reforms include more charter schools, expanded alternative teacher certification, and teacher reviews tied to student performance.  If passage of the reforms is successful and Michigan is able to have their application accepted to "win", it would mean an influx of nearly $400 million dollars in federal aid for education.

This money if awarded, would come with federal strings attached and couldn't just be used to restore cuts to the general education budget. 

State School Superintendent Mike Flanagan spoke after the governor and made an interesting remark.  He compared President Obama's education initiatives to President Nixon's diplomatic outreach to China.  He explained that a democratic president of the era wouldn't have had the support to restore relations to a communist country, and in this era a republican president would never be allowed to suggest the education reforms that President Obama is proposing.

To me, the forms make sense on a philosophical level, but like most federal legislation there could be a devil in the details.

Your input by participating in today's survey will be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

If Algebra = "X", and careers = "Z", then find "Y".

A story in today's "Baltimore Sun" has a troubling headline: Algebra II test indicates 15% ready for college.

I'm amazed that a mere math test can determine a person's readiness for college.  I guess based on that one test then maturity level has nothing to do with college readiness. I also guess being self-motivated and goal oriented have nothing to do with college readiness either.  I could go continue on with other examples of what I think determines college "readiness" but I will admit that was not the main focus of the article.

However, it does seem that many educational "experts' and politicians have decided students who can't handle Algebra II are unfit for college. It wasn't until recently that I realized what a "gatekeeper course" Algebra II has become.

Is Algebra II really a vital course for every college major? Aren't there many careers which require a college degree that don't involve such high level mathematics as Algebra II?

Personally, I never attempted an Algebra II class, but I believe I have been successful in both the technical job marketplace and in my career as a teacher. But in retrospect, if Algebra II had been a requirement for me, I most likely would have chosen a different career path that didn't involve a college degree.

If Algebra II is such an important course to every student and every career, shouldn't our educational "experts" and politicians provide some insights and real support on different ways of teaching Algebra II so more people can truly learn it?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy Birthday To This Blog

It's official... This Blog is one week old.  And other than Thanksgiving Day I've been able to provide a new posting every day.

But now I'm wondering if blogging every day is a bit too much, not necessarily for me, but for the readers.

As a result, I am requesting everyone answer today's survey question.  "How often should MisterRoger's Rants Reflections, and Reason Blog be updated?" 

In the meantime, I'm posting a link to the most important story of the weekend, scientists discover cure for cancer, time travel, and life on Jupit....., wait, what???... OMG!!!TIGER WOODS WAS IN A CAR ACCIDENT!!!

Ah... the priorities of our news media.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Top Ten List - #9: "24"

I really struggled yesterday to create a blog entry with a "Thanksgiving Thankful" theme. But gosh dang, there are just so many things in my life to be thankful for, plus yesterday was a bit of a busy day I just could not narrow my focus for a decent posting.

So as a result, I gave my self the day off from blogging.  It was a holiday after all, right?

But now, the day after Thanksgiving, I have some time to reflect.

Of course I"m thankful for the obvious... my family, friends, health, job, and my yankee in-laws. (OK honey, you can put the gun down now.)

But if I had created one of my goofy top ten lists for Thanksgiving, I probably would include on the "thankful" list somewhere between number 5 and number 9 the TV series "24".

I really don't watch many network TV series... Before I got hooked on "24" during its fifth season, I think the last shows I watched with any regularity were "Dallas", "L.A. Law" and "Miami Vice".

But now I ask myself, "Self, what is it about that "24" TV show that keeps you watching it?".

First, I'd have to say it appeals to my inner "conservative" leanings. There doesn't seem to be anything "librul" about the lead character of the show, Jack Bauer.

But also, it provides a bit of hope that some government agencies when led by competent people, can focus on their primary mission and provide a valuable service to its citizens. While I admit I do lean conservative, I still believe their are positive things that government can do for the people if they stick to the original intent of the law and not try to overreach.  Social Security and the Tennessee Valley Authority are my two favorite examples, but those will be topics for another day.

Of course there are other things about the show that appeal to me... the suspense, the non-stop action, the technology used in the show, and the "geeky" characters that continuously spout computer jargon.

And I've got to admit since I began watching the series and Netflixing some of the older ones, I've actually developed a bit of an emotional attachment to some of the regular characters.... Jack Bauer of course, but also Chloe O'Brian, and Bill Buchanan.

Heck, when Bill Buchanan was killed in the show last season, I've got to admit I felt a bit of sadness.  But I soon realized that I was not the only one sadden by Bill's demise as seen in this posting from another blogger.

So I guess in this age of reality shows, the "talking heads" on the cable news networks, not to mention the plethora of comedies and dramas that seeem to have distinct "librul" leanings, I'm thankful for an ongoing action series that appeals to people like me.

(I'm also thankful it's only 46 days until the next season of "24" begins!)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cry Me A River, Version 1.0

I knew when I started blogging I would come upon a news story that would entice me to use the "Cry Me A River" title plus I'm sure there will be more.

The headline in this Detroit News report reads "Some Fathers Say Michigan Paternity Law Shuts Them Out"

Fair enough, I think, since I'm sure there are some ancient laws on the books that need updating.  However, upon reading the article I discover the main focus of the story is guy who is being denied "because the girl was born while the woman was married to another man -- who is still her husband -- meaning [he] can't demand visitation or even pay child support".

"I'm a good dad," [he says]. "Why should I not have rights to my child? Everything I do is for her."

I don't know but somewhere I think there's a definition of "being a good dad" that excludes being a man who fathers a child with woman who is married to someone else.

I do understand that the guy featured in the story is emotionally torn knowing he has a child that he can't see and help raise.  However, I believe he should suck it up and realize that what's best for the child is to leave her alone and not disrupt the family that she is being raised in.

Besides, I think he should consider himself lucky that the husband of the married woman is not coming after him looking to kick his butt. (or worse.)

Perhaps when he chose to have an affair with a married woman he should have realized the following: (from a reader comment on the article)

If you sleep with married women, expect your heart to be broken on many levels. The cold hand of the law will not be there to comfort you. You are an interloper with no rights. Man up and get over it. If mommy really loves you, she will divorce her husband and marry you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Michigan middle-schoolers dabble in lawmaking... In related news Michigan's real lawmakers continue to act like kindergartners.

Sorry... I saw the headline to this story in the Lansing State Journal and that was the first thing that entered my mind.

Perhaps the elected legislators should read the quotes of some of the participating students and remember how the legislative process is supposed to work.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Reflection on Charter Schools

Charter schools is an idea that I wholeheartedly support on a philosophical level.  However, on a practical level, the charter school concept has a few glaring flaws.

First, charter schools are a wonderful idea.  They are public schools funded with tax dollars and they give parents an additional choice of schooling for their children.  In addition, charter schools can be organized as specialized institutions to meet the needs of students that might not be otherwise met in a "traditional" school.

However, charter schools are given special exceptions to the normal rules that regulate other public schools.  I'm mainly commenting on charter schools in this posting because of one specific charter school, Basis Charter School in Scottsdale, Arizona, has been mentioned in the news lately as being "the best" or one of the "top ten" high schools in America.

However, after a little investigation, particularly this video clip from CNN,  I discovered that Basis Charter School has a few distinct advantages other public schools don't have.

First, this school has been allowed to set really high graduation requirements for it students, including passing at least six (6) Advanced Placement courses.  As a result, the type of student applying for admission to this school is right away probably a student that is self motivated and above average academically.

Furthermore, Basis Charter School does not provide extracurricular activities such as sports, or transportation for its students.

Also, add to its advantages, the demand for special education services is probably pretty low since its high academic requirements would most likely discourage most parents who have children with special needs from even applying there.

The CNN video and other articles praise this school for being able to operate for $1000 to $2000 less per student per year than traditional public schools.  But heck, does not having to provide transportation, extracurricular activities, and special education support services account for most of those savings?

I'm not writing this to necessarily complain about Basis Charter School, in fact I applaud what they are doing.  However, I do think based on the advantages this school is allowed to have over "traditional" public schools that the media and politicians need to temper their praise for this school as being the "best" school in America.

Perhaps the lesson learned from the success of Basis Charter School is that politicians should consider giving "traditional" public schools a bit more flexibility instead of imposing so many "cookie-cutter" requirements.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The New Louisiania Purchase - 2009 Style

I know both the Republican and Democratic parties do this type of stuff, but it's still an example of why I don't trust the government.

From the Washington Post:

Staffers on Capitol Hill were calling it the Louisiana Purchase.

On the eve of Saturday's showdown in the Senate over health-care reform, Democratic leaders still hadn't secured the support of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), one of the 60 votes needed to keep the legislation alive. 

The wavering lawmaker was offered a sweetener: at least $100 million in extra federal money for her home state. 

And so it came to pass that Landrieu walked onto the Senate floor mid-afternoon Saturday to announce her aye vote -- and to trumpet the financial "fix" she had arranged for Louisiana. "I am not going to be defensive," she declared. "And it's not a $100 million fix. It's a $300 million fix."

Day Two Reflection

So it's now day number two for my new blog.

Six people have taken my survey.  Four plan on visiting my blog on a regular basis, and two people "like ice cream".

I actually had one person post a comment on my "Healthcare Debate" posting.

I've also posted a link to this blog on my Facebook page which attracted a handful of comments.

In addition, since I first created this blog, I've noticed an unmarked car driving by my house on an hourly basis.  It's a dark blue Ford Crown Victoria.  I'm not sure if it's the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, or the NEA.

As a result, I'd say my new blog is off to a good start.

So I've scanned my normal politics and education websites this morning but I'm not seeing much worth commenting on.

As a result I'll offer up a link about Sarah Palin and see if that baits anyone into some comments.

Hundreds of Palin Fans Left in the Cold.... but please try to avoid any distasteful comments about the photo of her and Trig in the top right corner of the article.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Health Care Debate

Before I start this "reasoned rant" let me first say I believe our society has a responsibility to provide access to quality heath care for its citizens whether they be rich or poor.  And I also strongly believe that our country can not prosper in the future with the health care system that we have now.

However, I am very concerned that the current proposals before the legislative branch of the United States government are most likely to end up as a huge Rube Goldberg bureaucracy.

I think most of us have witnessed well meaning legislation be manipulated to provide special benefits to a few or to be so cumbersome to decipher that some segments of our society are able to gain advantages that were never the original intent of the law.

I truly think there are some incremental changes we can make to our current health care system before we attempt any of the massive overhaul plans that are now being proposed.

To me it seemed like the CEO of Whole Foods had some ideas worth considering in his Wall Street Journal opinion piece.  His article did not seem to bash any of the proposals before congress, yet many people and organizations were outraged by his suggestions and called for a boycott of his company.

Education Reform: Wrong Diagnosis, So Wrong Cure.

Ok... so I've been wanting to compose a "letter to editor" for a while now regarding education reform.

However, I discovered an article that says pretty much everything I've been thinking about the topic... so much so it's almost like the author of the article tapped into my brainwaves and stole my ideas.

Anyway... here is the link to said article.

Welcome to my version of the 3 "R's"....

Welcome to my version of the 3 "R's".

Ok... so this is my umpteenth attempt at keeping blog or journal on a regular basis.

However, I figure if I place the bookmark for this blog right between my Facebook and Netflix bookmarks then I might be likely to update it on a regular basis.

Besides... Lawd knows I read enough of other people's opinions so I might as well put mine out there as well.