2012 Person of the Year: The Brave Faculty of Sandy Hook Elementary School!!!

Dear Commons Community,

At this time of year, various media announce their person of the year.  The New York Daily News awarded its “Person of the Year” to the faculty and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School who gave everything — some their own lives — to to rescue students from the massacre that claimed 26 lives on December `4, 2012.

We will remember them always!


Unshackle Us from the Constitution!

Dear Commons Community.

As we get ready to ring in the New Year, many of us are keeping an eye on the  “fiscal cliff” discussions going on in Washington. D.C.  As of this morning, negotiations did not look promising.  Starting with the Obama presidency (2009) and especially in the past couple of years, there has been commentary about the dysfunction of our system of government and its inability to agree on courses of action.  A good deal of blame for this has rightfully been directed at the partisanship that has come to supersede all other negotiation in the federal government.  Louis Michael Seidman, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times that directs our attention to  the U.S. Constitution and begs the question:  Should we “give up on it”?

“…no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.

Consider, for example, the assertion by the Senate minority leader last week that the House could not take up a plan by Senate Democrats to extend tax cuts on households making $250,000 or less because the Constitution requires that revenue measures originate in the lower chamber. Why should anyone care? Why should a lame-duck House, 27 members of which were defeated for re-election, have a stranglehold on our economy? Why does a grotesquely malapportioned Senate get to decide the nation’s fate?

Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.

As someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years, I am ashamed it took me so long to see how bizarre all this is.”

Seidman goes on to provide examples in our history where the Constitution was at least bent if not ignored.

“The fact that dissenting justices regularly, publicly and vociferously assert that their colleagues have ignored the Constitution — in landmark cases from Miranda v. Arizona to Roe v. Wade to Romer v. Evans to Bush v. Gore — should give us pause. The two main rival interpretive methods, “originalism” (divining the framers’ intent) and “living constitutionalism” (reinterpreting the text in light of modern demands), cannot be reconciled. Some decisions have been grounded in one school of thought, and some in the other. Whichever your philosophy, many of the results — by definition — must be wrong…

…perhaps the dream of a country ruled by “We the people” is impossibly utopian. If so, we have to give up on the claim that we are a self-governing people who can settle our disagreements through mature and tolerant debate. But before abandoning our heritage of self-government, we ought to try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.”

Seidman makes sense but with what do we replace the Constitution?  Also the elected officials who have brought the country to this state of affairs, are the only ones in the position to unleash the country from its constitutional shackles.



How to Read in 2013: Advice from Ross Douthat!

Dear Commons Community,

Ross Douthat provides advice today in his column entitled, How to Read in 2013?  He advises that 2013 will be an excellent year to expand our reading habits because it is non-election year in national politics and therefore the various media will be covering a broader menu of stories and topics.  He comments:

“It’s a year without a midterm election, and a year that’s as far removed as possible from the next presidential race. This means that for a blessed 365 days you can be a well-informed and responsible American citizen without reading every single article on Politico, without hitting refresh every 30 seconds on your polling-average site of choice, without channel-hopping between Chris Matthews’s hyperventilating and Dick Morris’s promises of an inevitable Republican landslide.  So use the year wisely, faithful reader. For a little while, at least, let gridlock take care of itself, shake yourself free of the toils of partisanship, and let your mind rove more widely and freely than the onslaught of 2014 and 2016 coverage will allow.”

He advises:

“First, consider taking out a subscription to a magazine whose politics you don’t share.

Second, expand your reading geographically as well as ideologically. Even in our supposedly globalized world, place still shapes perspective, and the fact that most American political writers live in just two metropolitan areas tends to cramp our ability to see the world entire.

Finally, make a special effort to read outside existing partisan categories entirely…

If these exercises work, they’ll make 2013 a year that unsettles your mind a little — subjecting the views you take for granted to real scrutiny, changing the filters through which you view the battles between Team R and Team D, reminding you that more things are possible in heaven and earth than are dreamed of by John Boehner and Harry Reid.”

Good advice but remember here in New York City we will be electing a new mayor in November!!!


Education is a Process: It has a Beginning but no End. It Continues throughout Life.

Dear Commons Community,

Russell Hvolbek, a retired professor from the University of California, San Diego, has an opinion piece in the Teachers College Record, with the pessimistic title, The End of Education.  He argues:

“that as we absorb the socio-economic values of our age, an age ruled by business, we have drifted away from what we in the educational community should be doing: teaching students to think, to see, to read, and to write.

Education as a dwelling in the human experience of reality is ending. As with the Roman Empire, it is ending with a whimper, not a bang.

The root of the problem is that we have absorbed the socio-economic and intellectual values of our age, an age ruled by business and science. The pragmatic values of business and science have become the values of our educational practices. Within these two orientations there is little understanding of and no place for the life enhancing studies of philosophy, history, literature, and the arts. Today we train students. A practical utility determines our thinking.

Pragmatic and useful things, of course, are easy to evaluate and quantify, but when the useful is quantified it precipitates a judgment: 5,500 square foot houses are superior to 1,500 square foot houses. An “A” is superior to a “B” and an “A” student is superior to a “B” student. Measurements. Judgments. The accountant’s truths are what are now deemed important.”

His conclusion;

“the fact that students are not getting educated is not their fault. They were weaned into these socio-cultural values. Students are not participating in their education. Students are being trained to live for goals and new electronic devices. Goals have become a narcotic that society accepts as education, which they are not.

Education is not chasing a grade. It is not chasing a college or a job. If you do that you may get what you want, an “A” or a “B,” but you will never be educated. An education is a process. It has a beginning but no end. It continues throughout life. It is learning to see and think.

Ultimately an education is a deep unfolding involvement with life here on earth. The deeper the involvement in seeing and thinking, the more complex is the dance in which you participate.”

Food for thought!



As Bookstores Close – Libraries Seeing New Roles for Themselves!

Dear Commons Community,

I am sure that many of you have noticed that bookstores are closing.  Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble.com have taken their toll.  However, the New York Times reports that the role of brick and mortar bookstores is beginning to be filled by public libraries.

“As librarians across the nation struggle with the task of redefining their roles and responsibilities in a digital age, many public libraries are seeing an opportunity to fill the void created by the loss of traditional bookstores. They are increasingly adapting their collections and services based on the demands of library patrons, whom they now call customers.

Today’s libraries are reinventing themselves as vibrant town squares, showcasing the latest best sellers, lending Kindles loaded with e-books, and offering grass-roots technology training centers. Faced with the need to compete for shrinking municipal finances, libraries are determined to prove they can respond as quickly to the needs of the taxpayers as the police and fire department can.

“I think public libraries used to seem intimidating to many people, but today, they are becoming much more user-friendly, and are no longer these big, impersonal mausoleums,” said Jeannette Woodward, a former librarian and author of “Creating the Customer-Driven Library: Building on the Bookstore Model.”

“Public libraries tread a fine line,” Ms. Woodward said. “They want to make people happy, and get them in the habit of coming into the library for popular best sellers, even if some of it might be considered junk. But libraries also understand the need for providing good information, which often can only be found at the library.”

Cheryl Hurley, the president of the Library of America, a nonprofit publisher in New York “dedicated to preserving America’s best and most significant writing,” said the trend of libraries that cater to the public’s demand for best sellers is not surprising, especially given the ravages of the recession on public budgets.

Still, Ms. Hurley remains confident that libraries will never relinquish their responsibility to also provide patrons with the opportunity to discover literary works of merit, be it the classics, or more recent fiction from novelists like Philip Roth, whose work is both critically acclaimed and immensely popular…”

Gretchen Caserotti, the assistant director for public services at the public library in Darien, Conn., said, “We are terrifically excited about the sea change at libraries, and rethinking our model in a new world.”

“The library should be as they say, a third place — you have home, work or school, and then you come to the library because it is the center and heart of the community,” Ms. Caserotti said. “Our staff is 100 percent committed to hospitality, customer service and welcoming people to the library as if they were visiting our home. We need to remember it is their library, not ours, and they are paying for it.”






Nicholas Kristof: On Corporate Philanthropy – Needs to Do More Homework!

Dear Commons Community,

Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times column today, looks at corporate philanthropy and has a “Gosh Darn Golly” moment while congratulating the likes of Ted Turner, Bill Gates and others for their generosity in recent years to various causes.  Some of what he says is fine such as Ted Turner giving $1 billion to the United Nations Foundation  to fight global poverty.  However, when he praises Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation, Kristof has not done enough homework.  Bill Gates made his fortune at Microsoft which for decades engaged in monopolistic practices, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying to secure tax loopholes, and has frequently made the yearly top ten list of corporations paying the least taxes.

This is not to say that there are corporate-affiliated philanthropies doing good things but some of them are using money that should have been paid to the American government in the first place.  In a sense, they are using the people’s money for their own glamour and glory.   I have great respect for Kristof  and his views but in this case,  he missed something.



Cloud Computing: Google versus Microsoft!

Dear Commons Community,

In the early 1980s, I remember a feature article in Newsweek that had an illustration of two very large football linemen going head to head.    One lineman represented IBM and the other AT&T.  The article centered on the competition between these two corporate giants over development and control of data communications hardware and software that was emerging.  It portended the future of digital technology replacing analog technology for data and voice communications.  In today’s New York Times, there is a similar article but the two giants are Google and Microsoft and the technology is cloud computing.

The article states:

“As the two behemoths [Google and Microsoft] slug it out in the enterprise market, their cloud-computing software is changing the way businesses operate. Internet-based computing makes it easier to communicate both within and outside a company. Fixing software and adding features can be done automatically, the way consumers get the latest version of Facebook when they go to its site.

“People were looking for cheap e-mail at first, but now it’s about collaboration, calendaring and data storage online,” said Ms. Webster of IDC. Over time, her firm says, software revenue will be at least 50 percent from the cloud, which could challenge the complex way Microsoft prices and discounts its products.”


Google… is “constantly making it better for teams to work, inside and outside the company, with controlled access.”

Microsoft says it does not yet see a threat. Google “has not yet shown they are truly serious,” said Julia White, a general manager in Microsoft’s business division. “From the outside, they are an advertising company.” In 2011, 96 percent of Google’s revenue came from advertising.

It is my opinion that the future of digital technology will reside in the cloud.   As the article mentions, we are still in the early throes of the cloud phenomenon and certain aspects of it especially pricing are difficult to predict or even get a handle on.  IT professionals would be wise to keep current with what the cloud offers and how it evolves.




Peace on Earth/Good Will to All – And Remember the Innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School!

Dear Commons Community,

For the past several years, my daughter, Dawn Marie, her husband Bruce and grand kids, Michael Anthony and Alissa, spend two weeks with Elaine and me for the Christmas holiday.

This year my daughter felt the need to visit Newtown, Connecticut.  She took with her a poster with messages from friends and colleagues where she lives and works in Poulsbo, Washington.  The messages expressed condolences and support for the families of the victims of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  This holiday we all join in remembering and offering our support to the Newtown community.



Gap between Rich and Poor Widening for College Completion!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times featured article yesterday focused on the four-year college completion rates between rich and poor students.  It followed the post-secondary careers of three low-income students from Galveston, Texas, who wanted to do something “better with our lives” and saw a four-year college degree as the vehicle.  All three did well academically in high school and enrolled in an Upward Bound program designed to prep them for a college career.  Angelica was headed to Emory University, Bianca enrolled in a community college, hoping to later enroll in a university, and Melissa left for Texas State University. Four years later, their story seems less like a tribute to upward mobility than a study of obstacles in an age of soaring economic inequality. Not one of them has a four-year degree. Only one is still studying full time, and two have crushing debts. Angelica, who left Emory owing more than $60,000, is a clerk in a Galveston furniture store.

The article comments:

“Everyone wants to think of education as an equalizer — the place where upward mobility gets started,” said Greg J. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine. “But on virtually every measure we have, the gaps between high- and low-income kids are widening. It’s very disheartening.”

The growing role of class in academic success has taken experts by surprise since it follows decades of equal opportunity efforts and counters racial trends, where differences have narrowed. It adds to fears over recent evidence suggesting that low-income Americans have lower chances of upward mobility than counterparts in Canada and Western Europe.

Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference between the share of prosperous and poor Americans who earned bachelor’s degrees, according to Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski of the University of Michigan. Now the gap is 45 points.

While both groups improved their odds of finishing college, the affluent improved much more, widening their sizable lead.

Likely reasons include soaring incomes at the top and changes in family structure, which have left fewer low-income students with the support of two-parent homes. Neighborhoods have grown more segregated by class, leaving lower-income students increasingly concentrated in lower-quality schools. And even after accounting for financial aid, the costs of attending a public university have risen 60 percent in the past two decades. Many low-income students, feeling the need to help out at home, are deterred by the thought of years of lost wages and piles of debt.

In placing their hopes in education, the Galveston teenagers followed a tradition as old as the country itself. But if only the prosperous become educated — and only the educated prosper — the schoolhouse risks becoming just another place where the fortunate preserve their edge.

“It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that a low-income student, no matter how intrinsically bright, moves up the socioeconomic ladder,” said Sean Reardon, a sociologist at Stanford. “What we’re talking about is a threat to the American dream.”

The article provides important insights for American higher education especially for public institutions that generally admit large percentages of poor, first in their family to attend college students.






Backlash to NRA: Wayne LaPierre a “Lobbyist for Mass Murderers”!

Dear Commons Community,

As the last of the innocents were buried yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut, the media backlash against the NRA and its spokesman, Wayne LaPierre was furious.  At a press conference on Friday, LaPierre blamed everybody except his own organization for the proliferation of guns in this country that resulted in the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The New York Daily News front page referred to LaPierre as the “craziest man on Earth”. The New York Post, a newspaper generally friendly to the NRA, had a front-page referring to him as a “gun nut” and a “loon”.

Perhaps the most pointed condemnation came from Lawrence O’Donnell on his MSNBC program, calling LaPierre a “lobbyist for mass murderers” and denouncing him for attempting to take issue with the media’s coverage of the slaughter in Connecticut.