Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Are Japan's schools really better?

Date:      Fri, 25 Nov 2005 07:49:27 -0800 (PST)
From:     "Richard Wolfe" <>
Subject:     re Are Japan's Schools Really Better? (7 Letters)

Dear Editor:
re Are Japan's Schools Really Better? (7 Letters)

Seven letters but not one that answered the question. My answer: no.

US schools are better. Why? Brent Staples’ arguments
are part of a decades-old, knee-jerk litany that he and every other talking head uses so much it seems like an MP-3 player on repeat. Excuse me, but I was hearing the exact same thing in 1972 when I graduated from high school. How is it that technologically and in terms of Nobel Prizes we remain at the top of the heap, still the world leader in industry after industry, still the leaders in space exploration, and the originators of the Internet to boot? C’mon! Something else is going on that makes the test-score comparison a meaningless diversion. I suspect it has to do with local autonomy as opposed to national standardization, but there may also be a sense in which our system is somewhat more open to late achievers (doesn’t make as much use of high-stakes tests that close off educational avenues). And one more thing: stop bashing our teachers. During the 1990s, Japan’s Education Ministry began to encourage emulation of US teachers’ more experiential approach: could they have concluded that their students’ high test scores weren’t doing the country any good? Instead of bashing our teachers for their methods or the state of their content-area mastery, how about doubling their numbers? Then that hard-to-manage 26-student class would be 13 students, a size that’s quite amenable to the new, individualized approach known as differentiated instruction.

Richard Wolfe
43 Blanchard Road
Cumberland, Maine 04021

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Senators vote to deny civil rights

Date:     Sat, 12 Nov 2005 12:40:05 -0800 (PST)
From:     "Richard Wolfe" <>
Subject:     Senators vote to deny civil rights

Dear Editor:

This past Thursday, both of our Senators voted in favor of denying “enemy combatants” access to federal courts.

The prisoners at Guantanamo Bay will have no recourse other than a challenge on the narrow question of whether the government followed procedures established by the defense secretary at the time the military determined their status as enemy combatants, which is subject to an annual review.

There was no coverage of the vote in this newspaper, but I think that Mainers would want to know of this action by their senators. The citizens of this state have a strong and abiding respect for their own rights and liberties, and they are proud of their country’s historic leadership among democratic nations. They would not want to see it compromised and sullied in this way.

And they have a choice. They can choose to vote for new senators. Perhaps they will, if they realize what company their representatives in Washington are getting them into in voting to abridge civil rights. It is not the company of our fellow democratic nations, but rather more in keeping with less-than-democratic regimes around the world and throughout history.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Speaking of electoral maps ...

Check out this one:

Looks like a Harvard grad is going to the Executive Mansion (multi-story pile on the beach in Monrovia, now full of bullet holes but looks like a resort hotel).

Isn’t it a trip to see an election in tropical Africa happening on line? Of course, they still don’t have electricity except here and there (not to mention running water, hospitals, schools...) so they can’t see it.

Also: check out the news “source” (below). Another mind-bender.

DATE: 9 November 2005
SOURCE: Xinhua News Agency (c) Copyright 2005

Harvard-trained Iron Lady Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf took the lead
in Liberia's presidential runoff with more than 59 percent of
the polling stations counted on Wednesday but her rival,
football great George Weah claimed fraud immediately.

Johnson-Sirleaf has 293,363 votes at 56.4 percent while Weah
has 227,244 votes at 43.6 percent with votes from 1,813 of the
3,070 polling places counted, Frances Johnson-Morris,
chairwoman of the National Elections Commission, told a news

But it has to be quick to point out that the results are "still
partial" and can not determine who will win eventually. Final
official results will be announced by November 23. If Johnson-
Sirleaf wins, she will be the first female head of the state in

Thirty-nine-year-old Weah early in the day alleged that more
than 35 pre-marked ballot papers were intercepted, intended to
be stuffed in ballot boxes in favor of his challenger Johnson-

The former FIFA player of the year, who rose from the slums by
dropping out of high school to take up a football career and
became a millionaire, urged the United Nations, the African
Union and the international community to look at his fraud

The electoral commission chief said the evaluation of the
runoff should be left to observers but not Weah.

Paul Risley, spokesman for the United Nations Mission in
Liberia, told Xinhua the mission has not received complaint
from Weah or the CDC.

However, "the UN mission is awaiting report by international
and domestic observers who are deployed throughout the country
monitoring the election," Risley said.

"We are not aware of incident or violation of the kind Weah is
said to be alleging," he said.

On Tuesday, UN special envoy Alan Doss described the election,
the first since the end of 14-year civil war in the west
African country in 2003, as "peaceful and transparent" and
urged the two presidential aspirants to "accept the results

Meanwhile, he assured that the 15,000-strong UN peacekeepers
will "remain on full alert throughout the country to ensure a
secured environment."

International observers such as the National Democratic
Institute and the Carter Center are expected to hold press
conferences on Thursday to release their delegation's
preliminary statement on the runoff.

During the past several days, Weah repeatedly claimed he had
earned 800,000 votes, or 62 percent in the October 11 first
round instead of the 28.3 percent certified by the commission,
which was described by Johnson-Morris as "reckless and

"We can revoke the CDC (Weah's party) registration
certification for seeking to undermine the security of the
Liberian state. His remark is totally foolish ... He is trying
to hijack the electoral process," she said in the morning of
the runoff day.

N.B. – Mrs. Johnson-Morris’s picture is on the home page of the elections site (link, above).

Here’s a page with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s picture:

And George Weah:

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Terminate this, Arnold!

State Ballot Measures
100.0% ( 17726 of 17726 ) precincts reporting as of Nov 9, 2005 at 7:27 am
Statewide Returns County Returns | County Status
   Propositions                      Yes Votes   Pct.   No Votes   Pct.
  73 N    Minor's Pregnancy          3,130,062  47.4   3,465,629  52.6  Map 
  74 N    Teacher Tenure              2,987,010  44.9   3,662,932  55.1  Map 
  75 N    Public Union Dues          3,092,495  46.5   3,551,011  53.5  Map 
  76 N    Spending/Funding           2,522,327  37.9   4,115,388  62.1  Map 
  77 N    Redistricting                    2,673,530  40.5   3,920,487  59.5  Map 
  78 N    Rx Drug Discounts          2,719,999  41.5   3,821,957  58.5  Map 
  79 N    Rx Drug Rebates            2,523,803  38.9   3,950,763  61.1  Map 
  80 N    Electric Regulation          2,189,126  34.3   4,182,374  65.7  Map 
      Y - Proposition is passing
N - Proposition is not passing

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning

As you know I’m a very religious guy.

You didn’t know that?

But haven’t I tried to sell you on UUism, the faith without a creed, the people who, if crossed with Jehovah’s Witnesses, would knock on your door without quite knowing why?

Ah, good then. Now you remember. (In the confession booth: I haven’t been to church more than once or twice a year since Robert became too big to intimidate into coming with me.)

That off my chest, let’s get down to business: the title of my post is from this link:

Anti-War Sermon Brings IRS Warning

I actually forwarded this to my minister, saying that I was doing so in my capacity as “Former Finance Chair” (of the congregation).

I used that (admittedly small) leverage to make the point that taking away tax-exempt status is a non-event for the typical American congregation. I.e., there simply isn’t any net income to be taxed.

I thought this piercing insight might be valuable to my minister because, although of course all ministers are wo/men of principle, it’s nice to know that, even if that nasty revenue agent does take away your tax-exempt status, it’s not going to cost you anything.

I further thought my advice timely because today is Election Day.

In Maine, as in Collie-fahnya (sorry, but our state’s name is easier to pronounce – maybe Arnie should’ve lived in Maine – nah, it’s boring, tiny, parochial), there are seven ballot initiatives. No. 1 in Maine is: "Do you want to reject the new law that would protect people from discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations and credit based on their sexual orientation?"

This question came before voters twice in the 1990s (three times if you count the first one, which was City of Portland only – the right got clobbered in that one, but the pinch-faced people prevailed in the statewide elections … polls say otherwise this time), and our church played a role in each of the statewide referendums (the city referendum having taken place while I still lived in Connecticut – which passed a Lesbian/gay rights law in the 1980s – and in any case I live in Cumberland, not Portland).

In the first statewide election, our minister (not the present one) offered – and obtained a face-to-face meeting (in a local watering hole) with the instigator of an initiative to amend the state constitution to override the Portland Lesbian/gay rights law. That initiative failed (55% to 45%).

The second time around, the Legislature passed and the Governor (not our present Governor) signed a Lesbian/gay rights bill, and the right petitioned it onto the ballot and won 54% to 46%. (How do you read the two elections???)
Anyway, that time, our minister (still another one) sermonized from the pulpit while the TV cameras rolled, cutting back and forth between our pulpit and that of the right-wing pastor who had spearheaded the repeal initiative (who appears to do nothing but campaign against gay people but apparently without attracting the notice of the IRS).

Anyway, ………it seems to me that if the Pasadena congregation stepped over the line, then we did too, and in spades.

So the IRS should lean us, too. It should try to get us to admit fault, just as it did with All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena.

Last month, the Maine Department of Human Services announced

that it was turning down US government funding for sex education because of the Bush Administration’s abstinence-only restriction (a gag rule).

That took courage. Only two other states have done it. It costs real money to do that.

It doesn’t cost any money for the typical congregation, even the typical mega-church, (and with 3,500 members, All Saints is a megachurch of the left) to do the same: i.e., to tell the IRS to go to hell (and still comply with the tax law).

I long for my church, and my minister (who is gay, and married to his life partner, under Canadian law), to play a more prominent role in terms of political advocacy (never mind what a prominent profile the church already has). I conceive of that in terms of issues; I want my church to come right out and take a position on Lesbian/gay rights (it already does), health care (it doesn’t), war (it doesn’t), political prisoners (it does), the minimum wage (it doesn’t), and so on.

And so it would be a big laugh – on me – if the “play it safe” people in the congregation – practically a dominant force, now – since most of us are AARP members – were to impose some sort of guidelines that were intended to make sure we never run afoul of the IRS thought police.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Thousands Protest in Argentina

Latin American polls: Bush the most unpopular American president on record(1).

Chavez addresses 25,000 in local soccer stadium(1).

In New York Times coverage of the Mar del Plata summit, the following quote:

One marcher, Rafael Abu-Adal, a 52-year-old teacher from Buenos Aires, carried an Iraqi flag. His objective, he said, was not only to express solidarity with the Iraqi people, but also to draw a parallel to Latin America's situation.

"They are victims of American imperial power, and we are potential victims," he said. "Bush has destroyed their country with bombs, and unless we stop him, he will destroy ours through F.T.A.A."(1)

Free trade has become a much tougher sell for Bush than for Clinton. Could that have to do with Latin Americans’ realization that, to the IMF and to Bu$h, “free trade” doesn’t just mean removing trade barriers, it means tearing down social safety nets (or at least gutting government spending, which is the same thing).

Rest of the NYT article:


Argentines: 1990s privatization and IMF intrusion didn’t make us better off, did it?

Bolivia: the presidential campaign of Evo Morales, present coca farmer and former llama herder, draws thousands to a rally where the candidate, who leads the polls and should come into office leading “the first majority Indian administration in centuries(2)” (i.e., since the Incas), roars, “We will defeat the evil norteamericano empire!(3)”


(3) NPR Morning Edition, Nov. 4, 2005.

Morales’ platform plank concerning his chosen occupation: decriminalize the growing of coca(2).

Isn’t there a logic to this? Why should surplus American helicopters be poisoning Bolivian cropland when treatment of American addicts is being cut? Destroy Latin American property so that we can go on cutting US government services?

And isn’t there a tie to Europe and the other countries (Japan, Canada certainly, many more debatably) that are still providing adequate social safety nets? A new German chancellor (first woman in that office!) says “reforms” must be made for the sake of “being competitive” but she’s not getting anywhere. The same in Berlusconi’s Italy. (BTW: it’s a different spelling, but it’s funny to think of what “Merkle” once meant in baseball parlance.)

Isn’t there a nucleus of a global consensus here? Don’t we have the outlines of an agreement on living wages, health protection, pensions? Except for Amerika?

Well, no. Because there’s a big piece unaccounted for: China. What, you say? But the ruling party there is the Communists.

So, those Kansans (in What’s the Matter with Kansas?(4)) who keep marching ever farther to the right, coloring themselves and more and more neighboring states red, and reaping for themselves nothing but more Walmart jobs, these people are ultimately being driven by the economic machine of the Chinese Communist Party.

(4) What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America -- by Thomas Frank, 2004 (Metropolitan Books).