Manhattanhenge 2015!

Manhattanhenge 1

Dear Commons Community,

Twice a year, the setting sun aligns with the main east-west streets of Manhattan. This event known as Manhattanhenge, occurs on dates evenly spaced around the summer solstice. The first Manhattanhenge occurs around May 28, while the second occurs around July 12. Here are some photos from this year’s Manhattanhenge.


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Manhattanhenge 2

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The Seattle Times to Change the Way it Covers Public Education: Stress Solutions not the Negative!

Dear Commons Community,

The Seattle Times has teamed up with the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) to change the conversation about education. As reported in The Huffington Post, the initiative, titled “Education Lab: Moving the Needle,” seeks to take a “solutions-oriented approach” to the paper’s education coverage, the Seattle Times’ Linda Shaw said.

The Solutions Journalism Network is a New York-based nonprofit, organization, formed by a team of experienced reporters and editors, that works to legitimize and spread the practice of solutions journalism: rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.

Through newsroom partnerships, funds that support individual reporting projects, curriculum development, and collaborations with journalism schools, the Solutions Journalism Network is building a network of journalists who are equipped to do critical and clear-eyed reporting on emerging innovations and proven solutions — coverage that changes public discourse and better engages citizens.

The partnership with the Seattle Times will be one of the first times that a daily newspaper reports on education with a direct focus on solutions. The news around education is largely negative and grim, and this partnership aims to point the way toward change.

“Instead of talking about what was wrong, we were able to apply the solutions model and ask our reporters to use all of their reporting skills and apply them to stories about education initiatives that showed promise and that were working,” Seattle Times’ editor Kathy Best said.

The newspaper, along with SJN, then hope to take their coverage to the next level and move the conversation forward by asking one key question: “Can that success be duplicated?”

Congratulations to the Seattle Times and SJN.  Since the 1980s, there has been a great deal of negativity about public education,   much of which has been fueled by the media operations of education profiteers, anti-teacher union operatives, and neo-liberal ideologues.


Chris Christie Ready to Abandon Common Core in New Jersey!

Dear Commons Community,

On a day that saw his neighbor, ex-Governor of New York, George Pataki, enter the race for the GOP presidential nomination, Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, is ready to abandon the Common Core in New Jersey. As reported in the New York Times:

“Gov. Chris Christie said yesterday that New Jersey could abandon Common Core education standards, changing his position as he tries to reconcile policies that he embraced as the moderate governor of a blue state with his bid to win over conservative voters in the presidential contests.

Mr. Christie, who two years ago proclaimed himself among the governors “leading the charge” for the Common Core, is widely believed to be preparing to run for president and is seeking to gain traction after the George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal.

In his comments on Thursday, Mr. Christie appeared to be trying to straddle both sides of the issue, one that has become unexpectedly thorny for Republican presidential hopefuls.

While once pushed by the party as an important element of accountability in schools, the Common Core has come under increasing opposition from conservative parents who see it as another example of big government excess.

Speaking at Burlington County College, Mr. Christie called for new standards to be developed by New Jersey parents and educators, which should appeal to Republicans who have long called for local control of education.

“We must reject federal control of our education and return it to parents and teachers,” Mr. Christie said. “We need to take it out of the cubicles of Washington, D.C. …”

I agree that we should return the control of education to parents and educators. Fifteen years of Washington, D.C. political and ideological education policies under No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top have been disastrous for public education.


Senator Rand Paul Blames the Rise of ISIS on GOP Hawks!

Dear Commons Community,

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), running for the Republican presidential nomination, yesterday blamed the rise of ISIS on hawkish members of the GOP who he said were too eager to intervene abroad. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Paul has worked to push back against the characterization that he is an isolationist and weak on foreign policy. On Wednesday, Paul said that those who said his kind of foreign policy was responsible for the rise of ISIS were wrong.

“I would say it’s exactly the opposite. ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately. And most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS. These hawks also wanted to bomb [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], which would have made ISIS’s job even easier,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “They created these people. ISIS is all over Libya because these same hawks in my party loved — they loved [former Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya. They just wanted more of it.”

Paul’s comments come amid a heightened focus on the Iraq war and U.S. foreign policy. Earlier this month, a college student confronted former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another likely Republican presidential candidate, and told him that his brother was responsible for the rise of ISIS — something that the 43rd president did in fact help with. Both Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) struggled to say whether or not they would have invaded Iraq in 2003 with the intelligence available today.

On Wednesday, Paul said that the hawkish members of his party had long been wrong on foreign policy.”

Thank you for your honesty, Senator Paul!



Goodbye F.A.O. Schwarz! One of NYC’s Special Places for Children is Closing!

FAO Schwarz

Dear Commons Community,

It is official, F.A.O. Schwarz, one of the country’s oldest toy store is closing in July, 2015. Founded originally in Baltimore in 1861 as the “Toy Bazaar”, F.A.O. Schwarz opened on 14th Street in New York City as the Schwarz Toy Bazaar in 1870,  moved to Fifth Avenue in 1931, and moved to its present location in 1986.

As a child in the 1950s, I remember my father taking me to F.A.O. Schwarz. The past several years, I have been taking my grandchildren, Michael and Ali, to experience the same wonder that I did looking at the fabulous assortment of toys. A New York Times article this morning provided a bit more history:

“F. A. O. Schwarz remains one of New York’s most venerable retail brands, having outlasted other carriage-trade stores such as B. Altman, Bonwit Teller and Best & Company. The store began as Schwarz Brothers Importers soon after the Civil War. It was the Manhattan outpost of a family-run operation from Baltimore, but the other brothers disappeared from the marquee in a few years. The one who remained, Frederick August Otto Schwarz, made the store his. It probably helped that many people saw in him more than a passing resemblance to Santa Claus.

He concentrated on intriguing toys at premium prices. He had to, said Christopher Byrne, the creative director of, an online toy review — in those days, most toys were imported from Europe. “There were very, very few manufactured toys in the U.S.,” he said. “These were luxury goods, the dolls and the trains and the building blocks, and these were unheard-of.”

There was a time when F. A. O. Schwarz was a status symbol. “Their slate blue box under the Christmas tree was as impressive to child as a Tiffany box would have been to a grown-up in New York,” Mr. Byrne said.

Those were the days when F. A. O. Schwarz published “this huge Neiman Marcus-style catalog that came to people’s homes.” He said the catalog, as much as anything else, had established the company’s identity from the moment Mr. Schwarz put out the first one in the 1870s. But catalogs have long since become passé, and ogling toys in a store “is not really an American pastime anymore,” he said.

“Kids still love looking at toys, but they’re doing it on their iPads and their phones and their different devices,” he said. “The image of the saucer-eyed child looking at some object of desire is the same, but the child is looking at a tablet.”



MaryEllen Elia: New Commissioner of Education in NYS!

MaryEllen Elia

Dear Commons Community,

The New York State Regents will recommend the appointment of MaryEllen Elia, a former superintendent from Florida, as the new commissioner of education. As reported by various media:

“The Board of Regents will name MaryEllen Elia, the former schools superintendent for Hillsborough County, Fla., to the position at an afternoon press conference in Albany.

She will replace John B. King Jr., who resigned as commissioner in 2014 for a job at the U.S. Department of Education.

Hillsborough is the eighth-largest school district in the country with 200,000 students. Elia has roots in upstate New York, where she started as a social studies teacher in 1970. Elia moved to the Hillsborough district as a reading resource teacher in 1986. She worked her way up and was appointed superintendent in 2005.

The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, offered in a statement that while the union was “opposed to high-stakes testing” and grading teachers on students’ test performance, “even when MaryEllen applied it as required under Florida law, she made collaboration her mantra.”

Collaboration is something that New York desperately needs. Carmen Farina brought it to New York City. Let’s hope that MaryEllen can bring it to Albany and the rest of the state.



Securing Smart Cities – We Need a New Initiative!

Dear Commons Community,

Cities around the world are spending billions of dollars into bringing more of their basic services and infrastructure online. Big data and analytics are finding their way into health care, education, social work, traffic control, housing, police, and most other city services. The New York Times has an article cautioning mayors and managers that they are not paying enough attention to cyber security and their databases are increasingly vulnerable with each new application. As reported:

“…Cesar Cerrudo, an Argentine security researcher, began pointing out critical vulnerabilities in America’s so-called smart cities, where wireless sensors control a growing portion of city infrastructure from traffic lights to water and waste management systems.

One year later, Mr. Cerrudo discovered that little had been done to patch those basic vulnerabilities, even as cities around the world poured billions of dollars into bringing more of their basic infrastructure online. Without renewed focus on security, he and other researchers warn, those cities are just creating larger and larger targets for nation states and cyberterrorists.

“What I found is that there are a lot of security problems — the situation is really bad — but I didn’t want to just point out problems without offering solutions,” Mr. Cerrudo said.

In response, on Tuesday, he and others from IOActive Labs; Kaspersky Lab, the Russian cybersecurity company; and a growing list of security experts will announce a new Securing Smart Cities initiative. Their goal is to bring private security researchers and public administrators together to set up basic cybersecurity checklists for smart cities, including properly installed encryption, passwords and systems that can be easily patched for security holes…

Every day cities are incorporating new technologies really fast without any testing and they are putting citizens and businesses at risk,” Mr. Cerrudo said in an interview. “Every day we depend more and more on technology. If that technology is not secure and protected, it will get attacked, and people and businesses will suffer the consequences.”

This is sound advice!



Math Genius, John Nash, Killed in Automobile Accident!


Dear Commons Community,

John F. Nash Jr., the mathematician who shared a Nobel Prize in 1994 for work that greatly extended the reach and power of modern economic theory and whose long descent into severe mental illness and eventual recovery was killed, along with his wife, in a car crash on Saturday in New Jersey. He was 86. Nash’s up and down life was well-depicted in the book and a film, both titled “A Beautiful Mind”. Here are several excerpts from his obituary:

“Dr. Nash was widely regarded as one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century, known for the originality of his thinking and for his fearlessness in wrestling down problems so difficult that few others dared tackle them. A one-sentence letter written in support of his application to Princeton’s doctoral program in math said simply, “This man is a genius.”

“John’s remarkable achievements inspired generations of mathematicians, economists and scientists,” the president of Princeton, Christopher L. Eisgruber, said on Sunday, “and the story of his life with Alicia moved millions of readers and moviegoers, who marveled at their courage in the face of daunting challenges.”

“…Harold W. Kuhn, an emeritus professor of mathematics at Princeton and a longtime friend and colleague of Dr. Nash’s who died in 2014, once said, “I think honestly that there have been really not that many great ideas in the 20th century in economics, and maybe, among the top 10, his equilibrium would be among them.” A University of Chicago economist, Roger Myerson, went further, comparing the impact of the Nash equilibrium on economics “to that of the discovery of the DNA double helix in the biological sciences.”

“…early in 1959, with his wife pregnant with their son, John, Dr. Nash began to unravel. His brilliance turned malignant, leading him into a landscape of paranoia and delusion, and in April he was hospitalized at McLean Hospital, outside Boston.”

It was the first step of a steep decline. There were more hospitalizations. Dr. Nash underwent electroshock therapy and fled for a while to Europe, sending cryptic postcards to colleagues and family members. For many years he roamed the Princeton campus, a lonely figure scribbling unintelligible formulas on the same blackboards in Fine Hall on which he had once demonstrated startling mathematical feats.

“…The Nobel, the publicity that attended it and the making of the film were “a watershed in his life,” Dr. Kuhn said of Dr. Nash. “It changed him from a homeless unknown person who was wandering around Princeton to a celebrity, and financially it put him on a much better basis.”

A beautiful mind and an incredible life.



Veterans Frustrated by How Politicians View their Sacrifice and Participation in the Iraq War!

Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press interviewed several veterans of the Iraq War on the issue of presidential hopefuls distancing themselves from the decision to invade that country. The AP article reports:

“Veterans of the Iraq War have been watching in frustration as Republican presidential contenders distance themselves from the decision their party enthusiastically supported to invade that country.

Some veterans say they long ago concluded their sacrifice was in vain, and are annoyed that a party that lobbied so hard for the war is now running from it. Others say they still believe their mission was vital, regardless of what the politicians say. And some find the gotcha question being posed to the politicians — Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded? — an insult in itself.

“Do-overs don’t happen in real life,” said Gregory Diacogiannis, 30, who served as an army sniper in Baghdad trying to spot militants laying roadside bombs and chased high-value targets in the city of Baqouba. “I have trouble with the question itself just because it lends itself to disregarding the sacrifices that have been made.”