Sex Education for Teenagers – Online!

Dear Commons Community,

A New York Times article describes the growing popularity of online sex education services directed mostly to teenagers.  It establishes the need for these programs as:

“Sex education is a thorny subject for most school systems… Shrinking budgets and competing academic subjects have helped push it down as a curriculum priority. In reaction, some health organizations and school districts are developing Web sites and texting services as cost-effective ways to reach adolescents in the one classroom where absenteeism is never a problem: the Internet.“

The article provides an example of a young woman using the service while in a science class:

“.. Stephanie Cisneros, a Denver-area high school junior, was arguing with a friend about ways that sexually transmitted diseases might be passed along.

Ms. Cisneros knew she could resolve the dispute in class — but not by raising her hand. While her biology teacher lectured about fruit flies, Ms. Cisneros hid her phone underneath her lab table and typed a message to ICYC  ICYC (In Case You’re Curious), a text-chat program run by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Soon, her phone buzzed. “There are some STDs you can get from kissing but they are spread more easily during sex,” the reply read. “You can get a STD from oral sex. You should use a condom whenever you have sex.”

Ms. Cisneros said she liked ICYC for its immediacy and confidentiality. “You can ask a random question about sex and you don’t feel it was stupid,” said Ms. Cisneros, now a senior. “Even if it was, they can’t judge you because they don’t know it’s you. And it’s too gross to ask my parents.”

The article goes on to discuss the concern that “some parents fear that sex education will encourage a child to experiment”.  Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of Answer, a national sex education organization says that the opposite is true and it is important to make sure that Web-surfing teenagers find these sex education programs rather than the pornographic sites that proliferate on the Web.

Good advice and better safe than sorry!



Federal Government to Start Establishing/Sharing Databases on Children!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this week there was an article in the New York Post on the subject of the federal government establishing databases on school children.  On the surface this does not seem problematic except that the nature of the databases and the fact that they will be shared among agencies infringes on the privacy of individuals and in this case defenseless children.  A case can be made that data on student outcomes, health issues and behavior should not be collected in massive data files that can be accessed and transferred throughout the federal bureaucracies.  The article raises important questions:

“Would it bother you to know that the federal Centers for Disease Control had been shown your daughter’s health records to see how she responded to an STD/teen-pregnancy-prevention program? How about if the federal Department of Education and Department of Labor scrutinized your son’s academic performance to see if he should be “encouraged” to leave high school early to learn a trade? Would you think the government was intruding on your territory as a parent?

Under regulations the Obama Department of Education released this month, these scenarios could become reality. The department has taken a giant step toward creating a de facto national student database that will track students by their personal information from preschool through career.”

This situation has evolved as a result of federal stimulus and Race to the Top funds.  The article states:

“Buried within the enormous 2009 stimulus bill were provisions encouraging states to develop data systems for collecting copious information on public-school kids. To qualify for stimulus money, states had to agree to build such systems according to federally dictated standards. So all 50 states either now maintain or are capable of maintaining extensive databases on public-school students.”

This is highly questionable and possibly illegal without Congressional approval.  This deserves further investigation.


How Much is a Graduate Degree Worth? Depends Upon the Major!

Dear Commons Community,

The Daily Finance reviews a forthcoming article in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics that outlines the dangers of starting a career during an economic downturn.

“For most people, the best move is to delay entry into the job market until the economy is stronger and workers are in higher demand. And when it comes to orchestrating that delay, few methods are better than graduate school: Not only does an advanced degree improve employability, but it can also have a huge effect on earnings. In fact, the median salary for someone with an advanced degree is $73,738 — over $13,000 more than the average salary for someone with only a bachelor’s degree.”

Based on an analysis of Census data, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce determined that the payoff from a graduate degree can vary wildly, from a 1% salary bump to a 190% wage explosion. The article provides the following summary on specific degree areas:

“On the low end of the scale, the worst graduate major for salary improvement is meteorology, which only improved wage prospects by 1%. Only marginally better were studio arts (3%), petroleum engineering (7%), oceanography (11%), mass media (11%), advertising/public relations (12%), pharmaceutical sciences (13%), forestry (15%), computer engineering (16%), and miscellaneous education (16%). The reasons for the low salary bumps varied: In some majors, such as petroleum engineering and computer engineering, workers with bachelor’s degrees already earn high salaries, which aren’t much improved with higher degrees. In others, such as studio arts and mass media, the job market is weak regardless of how much education one has.

On the happier end of the spectrum, some graduate degrees can vastly improve your earnings. The big winners are health and medical preparatory programs, from which graduate or professional degrees can increase salary by 190%. Similarly, social sciences (134%), zoology (123%), molecular biology (115%), public policy (107%), biology (106%), biochemical sciences (101%), chemistry (93%), pre-law (81%) and physiology (78%) majors can all expect to get a major dividend from pursuing graduate or professional degrees.”

The bottom line is that during an economic downturn it is a good idea to enroll in a graduate program and improve one’s skills and credentials but understand that not all degrees/majors are created equal.



Young Women Leaving Workforce – Going To School Instead!

Dear Commons Community,

A New York Times article is referencing Bureau of Labor statistics (see above)  indicating that workers are dropping out of the labor force and that they are mostly women. In fact, many are young women. But they are not dropping out forever; instead, these young women seem to be postponing their working lives to get more education. There are now — for the first time in three decades — more young women in school than in the work force.

While both men and women are going back to school, the growth in enrollment is significantly larger for women (who dominated college campuses even before the financial crisis). In the last two years, the number of women ages 18 to 24 in school rose by 130,000, compared with a gain of 53,000 for young men.

The article comments:

“Many economists initially thought that the shrinking labor force was caused primarily by discouraged older workers giving up on the job market. Instead, many of the workers on the sidelines are young people upgrading their skills, which could portend something like the postwar economic boom, when millions of  World War IIveterans went to college through the G.I. Bill instead of immediately entering, and overwhelming, the job market.

Now, as was the case then, one sex is the primary beneficiary. Though young women in their late teens and early 20’s view today’s economic lull as an opportunity to upgrade their skills, their male counterparts are more likely to take whatever job they can find. The longer-term consequences, economists say, are that the next generation of women may have a significant advantage over their male counterparts, whose career options are already becoming constrained.”

Both men and women are going back to school, but the growth in enrollment is significantly larger for women (who dominated college campuses even before the financial crisis). In the last two years, the number of women ages 18 to 24 in school rose by 130,000, compared with a gain of 53,000 for young men…

The main risk in going back to school is the accompanying student loan debt. Tuition increases have been outpacing inflation for years, a trend accelerated by state budget cuts.”

We wish these young women luck.  Their decisions should  benefit them in the long run.





Story and Plea from a Jewish Survivor Who Escaped Germans in 1942!

Dear Commons Community,

There is an Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times by Eva Weisel, a sixty-nine year old retiree living in Los Angeles but who in 1942 managed to escape German soldiers along with her family.  There have been tens of thousands of these heroic stories but the interesting twist in this one is that it occurred in Tunisia and the rescuer was an Arab.  Ms. Weisel makes the case that her rescuer, Khaled Abdul Wahab, deserves recognition for his heroic deed but has been denied it by the Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial museum because he is an Arab Muslim. In her own words:

“During the horrors of the Holocaust, non-Jews saved many thousands of Jews from death and depravity at the hands of Germans and their allies. Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial museum, has recognized more than 23,000 of these brave men and women as “The Righteous Among the Nations.” Our family’s rescuer deserves to be among that number. And in his case, the impact of recognition would have powerful reverberations, striking a blow against Holocaust denial in a part of the world where such denial is widespread.

That is because my hometown is Mahdia, on the eastern shore of Tunisia, and our rescuer, Khaled Abdul Wahab, was an Arab Muslim. (He passed away in 1997.)

So far, however, Abdul Wahab has been denied the recognition he deserves. Nearly five years ago, in January 2007, the Department of the Righteous at Yad Vashem nominated him to be a “righteous,” the first Arab ever to be formally considered for this honor. This nomination was based on witness testimony from my late sister, Anny Boukris. In March of that year, however, the official Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, a body presided over by a retired Israeli judge and created by Israeli law to decide who merits recognition as a “righteous,” voted to reject the nomination…

Sixty-nine years after pinning a yellow star to my chest in my native land, I know that I was able to enjoy a long, full life because Abdul Wahab confronted evil and saved me, as he saved other fortunate members of my family. I hope that Yad Vashem reconsiders his case before no one is left to tell his story.”

Besides the deserved honor, Ms. Weisel is right to make the point that Abdul Wahab’s recognition would have “powerful reverberations” in the Middle East today.



Top New York City News Stories of 2011!!

Dear Commons Community,

At this time of year, it is common for the news services to rank the top this and top that.  Below are the top New York City news stories for 2011 as compiled by the Huffington Post.


  1. Occupy Wall Street
  2. Tenth Anniversary of September 11th
  3. A particularly violent Labor Day weekend culminates in bloody shootout in Crown Heights after the West Indian Day parade that leaves an innocent bystander, 57-year-old Denise Gay, dead from a bullet wound to the head.  When all is done, the three-day weekend sees 67 people in New York shot and 13 dead.
  4. Hurricane Irene lands in New York City as a tropical storm, packing 65 mph winds instead of the anticipated 100. Trees are damaged, there is some flooding, but for the most part, the damage is minimal in the City.   In the northern suburbs, there is major damage.
  5. A blockbuster report from the Associated Press reveals the NYPD has been cooperating with the CIA since September 11, 2011 to spy on Muslim communities in New York City.
  6. Tremors from an unusual magnitude 5.8 earthquake that strikes Virginia are felt in New York City. It lasts for 15 or so seconds, and there is hardly any damage .
  7. The dismembered body of Leiby Kletzky, a 9-year-old boy living in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community, is discovered in the home of Levi Aron and in a dumpster.
  8. After weeks of contentious debate and negotiations in Albany, the GOP-controlled state senate passes a bill, 33-29, allowing same-sex marriage in New York.
  9. On June 16th, Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, resigns from office after lewd photos he sent to women on Twitter surface.
  10. While aboard a plane about to depart from JFK on May 14, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is arrested on charges of sexual assault and attempted rape.
  11. After three months of gaffes and an abysmal 17 percent approval rating, Cathie Black steps down as schools chancellor in New York City.

Cornell the Winner in New York City’s New College for Science and Technology: Follow Up!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article today on how Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology developed the winning proposal to develop a new college for applied science on Roosevelt Island (New York City).   It appears a combination of capable presidents, supportive alumni, and a generous gift from one donor were the key ingredients that enabled the Cornell/Technion bid to win the City’s request for proposals.

As indicated in the past on this blog, this should be a real boon for science and technology for the City.


Demonstrators in Moscow Call for End to Putin’s Rule!

Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press reported that more than 100,000 people gathered on Christmas Eve in Sakharov Avenue in Moscow, cheering on opposition leaders and calling for an end to Mr Putin’s 12-year rule.  The Christmas Eve demonstration, bigger and better organized than a similar one two weeks ago, as well as smaller rallies across the country encouraged opposition leaders hoping to sustain a protest movement ignited by a fraud-tainted parliamentary election on Dec 4.   Estimates of the number of demonstrators ranged from the police figure of 30,000 to 120,000 offered by the organisers. Demonstrators packed much of a broad avenue, which has room for nearly 100,000 people, about 2.5km from the Kremlin, as the temperature dipped well below freezing.

A stage at the end of the avenue featured banners reading “Russia will be free” and “This election is a farce”. Heavy police cordons encircled the participants, who stood within metal barriers, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.

Today Online quoted the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who closed down the Soviet Union on Dec 25, 1991 as:

“I’m happy that I have lived to see the people waking up. This raises big hopes,” Mr Gorbachev, 80, told Ekho Moskvy radio.

He also urged Mr Putin to follow his example and give up power peacefully, saying the Prime Minister would be remembered for the positive things he did if he stepped down now.

“I would advise Vladimir Putin to leave now,” he said. “He has had three terms – two as President and one as Prime Minister.  Three terms, that is enough.”

Bill Keller in an op-ed column in the New York Times commented:

“Putin seems clueless in his disdain, dismissing the protesters as tools of America…

It’s difficult to see yet a clear alternative to Putin. The contenders include a billionaire oligarch who is majority owner of the New Jersey Nets, Putin’s disenchanted former finance minister, a few old faces from 20 years ago, Communists, ultranationalists, reformers. Absent a consensus opposition leader, the odds are that Putin will prevail for another round.”


How I Spent the Christmas Holidays?

Dear Commons Community,

For the past three years, my daughter, Dawn Marie, her husband Bruce and grandkids, Michael Anthony and Alissa, spend  two weeks with us for the Christmas holiday.  Here is a recap in pictures for this year.


First we put up the tree!

Then we set up the Lionel trains!

Then we go to the Museum of Natural History!

Then we go shopping!

Then we go to Radio City!

Then we go to Rockefeller Center!

Then we watch the ice skaters!

Then we go Lincoln Center!

Then we go to the Big Apple Circus!

Then we feed the horses!

Then we visit my grandparents grave!

Then we welcome Santa!

Then we rest!