Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rosie's Pub and Restaurant

Last night I headed down to one of my favorite places for a drink in Bloomington-Normal --- Rosie's in downtown Bloomington. They have for sale my favorite beer in a bottle, Dead Guy Ale, and the rich combination of dark woodwork and maroon walls and ceiling make it the perfect place for personal reflection and brooding. I was introduced to Rosie's by a friend who was born and raised here but now lives in a neighboring state. Ever since, I've been going back many a Friday when digestion of the week's events is in order.

By the way, I almost forgot to mention that the restaurant at Rosie's is also superb. I love the bar, but I have to say that the restaurant is also my favorite in town.

Friday, May 29, 2009

An environmental reflection on my train ride to Chicago

In a few weeks I'm going by train to Chicago to attend the Chicago Blues Festival. I love taking the train for the ride itself, especially when the ride is short (like a few hours or so, not the 2 day trip across the country I sometimes take). But another reason I want to take the train is that, as mass transport, it cuts down on our carbon emissions. Like many people, I believe that we need to begin examining how we can best conserve resources, stop polluting, and get away from the car as the primary means of transport.

So, in getting my Chicago trip arranged, I happily booked my ride via Amtrak, and in doing so, was surprised to see on Amtrak's website a suggestion that my contribution to global carbon emissions be offset by a contribution to the CarbonFund. I checked out the CarbonFund website and initially thought that its goal was worthwhile; it offered a means to contribute individually to environmental projects while connecting that contribution to one's current carbon use.

But my lingering questions and doubts evolved to be outright skepticism.

First, will carbon offsetting help reduce carbon emissions? Or conversely, will carbon offsetting promote carbon emissions by making us feel good about traveling again. It reminds me of my childhood when I would go to Reconciliation, the Catholic Church's offering of absolution for sins committed. Except now, for liberals and leftists traveling, we seek absolution for environmental sins yet to be committed. I suspect that we're trying to avoid the pain of real resource conservation, perhaps wanting to eat our cake and have it too.

The other problem is, being based on the market, it is open to manipulation by the polluting companies. An article in Business Week (3/26/2007) gives details of how companies profited by the carbon-offsetting outfit, Terrapass, by taking credit and getting paid for clean-up projects that were either happening anyway or mandated by the government.

I need to look more into this issue. I always felt that the environment was a collective problem that required a collective solution, even if as individuals we can do our part. At the very least, whether or not I decide to offset my Chicago trip, I need to resist the logic of feel-good environmentalism and face squarely my love of travel and how (and if) that can be done with sustainability in mind.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Compassionate parenting blog

An old friend of mine from the U. of Arizona, from back in my rowdy Students Against Sweatshops days, has a very interesting blog called Compassionate Parenting. I read a few entries and immediately felt its childrearing philosophy and thoughtful strategies to be useful for my classroom teaching. It makes very an interesting read and is definitely worth a return visit.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What's up with health care?

Now that Obama's originally bad health care proposals are threatening to get worse, caused by the health insurance industry's pressure upon Congress to water down the "public option" alternative, I've set out to collect articles on the topic as a resource for myself and my friends.
The presidential candidates' health plans - Milton Fisk (11/08)
The health care cave-in - Robert Reich (5/09)
The retreat from reform - Alan Maass and Helen Redmond (5/09)

Know of any other good articles? I'm currently looking for detailed information on Obama's "public option" insurance plan, a government-run plan available for people to choose as an alternative to private insurance. If this proposal doesn't end up getting watered down by the health insurance industry, I'm still concerned that health insurance would be tied to employment. With that system, I would not have an individual choice to choose the public option, since my employers pay for my health care and it would be up to them to choose. (In some cases, the union can decide.) Is this a a concern? Where is there information on this?

Subscribe to the Slantagraph?

Last couple of weeks I've been trying to decide if I should renew my subscription to the local paper, the Slantagraph. (A friend of mine, who grew up here, said the Slantagraph is what its detractors call it. Not many people know what a pantagraph refers to anyway!) It's definitely slanted, heavily to the right, with its selective choice of headlines, articles, syndicated columns and editorial pieces. Some days I've vowed to stop supporting it. I have gotten some important local news from it, but that too doesn't happen often.

I imagine some would say that the local paper just represents the views of the town. However, even though the 13,000-plus State Farm professionals make this on balance a conservative county, the working people and middle-class professionals at the 2 universities easily provide a significant left counterweight.

To subscribe or not to subscribe. The slantagraph does provide some local humor from time to time. Frequently you get the pleasure of reading the lunatic ramblings of wingnuts.

Deborah Meier on charter schools

This Democracy Now! video from 5/21/09, featuring Deborah Meier on education, is a fairly good counterpoint to Obama's atrocious pro-NCLB/pro-charter school education plan. What's missing from the analysis, however, is that charter schools are designed to attack teacher unions and whatever democratic accountability exists within the present public school system.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Military-industrial complex schools

An article at Socialist Viewpoint, titled No School Left Unsold, tells the story of how Obama's new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, used No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as Chicago's superintendent to attack unionized public schools, and in one instance, promote the opening of a naval school.

Arne Duncan's embrace of NCLB and the reconstituting of Chicago schools is well-known. But this military school story is uncanny, since the school I worked at in St. Paul - Cleveland Jr. High - suffered a similar fate due to NCLB. To make a long story short, Cleveland Jr. was taken over by the Farnsworth Aerospace School to become a NASA school. (At the time I called Farnsworth the military-industrial complex school, and that perception was amplified by its insanely tyrannical principal.)

We knew before that NCLB promoted military interests by mandating that students' information be given to military recruiters unless students opted out. And many suspected that NCLB promoted corporate interests by privatization and the interjection of corporate curricula. But I wonder if there is a trend of NCLB promoting military schools nationwide. Is the miltiary-industrial wing of corporate America the biggest beneficiary of NCLB?

Background on NCLB:
Susan Ohanian Speaks Out
My article - Education and the 2008 Election

Sunday, May 24, 2009

cap and trade

I first heard about cap and trade at this 2007 Labor and Sustainability Conference in Minneapolis where Jack Rasmus argued against it. According to Rasmus, market-based cap and trade did nothing to bring down carbon emission in Europe. Moreover, in creating a cap and trade market, we are potentially subjecting ourselves to even more market bubbles and busts. Many on the left argue instead for carbon taxes and heavy public investment in green infrastructure.

This debate on Democracy Now! (5/22/09) reveals, I believe, the problems with cap and trade.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Founders' Grove

We're in the process of buying a house in the Founders' Grove neighborhood of Bloomington, Illinois, and I wanted to take this opportunity to kick off my blog entries on areas and sites in the Bloomington-Normal area.

Founders' Grove is my favorite neighborhood in Bloomington-Normal, with its beautiful old houses, and tree-lined streets and blooming flowers. Its location is perfect for somebody trying to ditch the car and take up biking and walking. Half mile from a grocery store, half-mile from the Constitution Trail (which shoots straight north to ISU), less than a mile to downtown Bloomington. And for me currently, it's 4 blocks from where I work! Click on some of the links to see pictures of the neighborhood.

Articles on Founders Grove:
TC style (February 28, 2008)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dexter withdrawal

I'm having a Dexter withdrawal! In the last few months of this year, I've watched the first three seasons of this Showtime TV series, and having seen them all, I miss my nightly excursion to the dark underside of sunny Miami. The show is definitely out of the mainstream, and somewhat disturbing, to the extent that I had to ask myself if I wanted to admit publicly that I'm a fan. But the ethical issues explored, and its black humor, make it very captivating.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

BNCPJ protesting the Afpak and Iraq occupations

Bloomington-Normal Citizens for Peace and Justice (BNCPJ) at the monthly anti-war rally at the Bloomington Post Office, May 19, 2009.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Environmental destruction under Obama

A blogger friend of mine, Carl, pointed out the astounding juxtaposition of these news stories on Democracy Now (5/18/09). Taken separately and together, it wasn't a good day for the environment.

General Electric Begins Dredging Hudson River
General Electric has begun dredging for PCBs in the Hudson River, twenty-five years after the contamination was deemed a federal Superfund site. GE discharged as much as 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson before PCBs were banned in 1977. The contaminated sediment will be transported by train to a hazardous waste site in Andrews, Texas, near the New Mexico border. The Sierra Club in Texas has opposed the plan. Neil Carman said, “All they’re doing is relocating toxic waste. They’re moving a problem from one location to another [and] creating problems for future generations to solve.” While GE is paying to clean up the river, the company is still challenging the constitutionality of the Superfund law in federal court.

Obama Taps GE Attorney to be Nation’s Top Environmental Litigator Meanwhile, President Obama has tapped a top attorney at General Electric to be the nation’s top environmental litigator. If confirmed, Ignacia Moreno would lead the Justice Department’s efforts to enforce environmental laws and defend federal regulations in lawsuits. Her selection has concerned many environmental groups. Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch said, “It seems as if she has spent maybe more time defending polluters than prosecuting them.”

Obama Administration OKs New Mountaintop Removal Permits
In other environmental news, the Obama administration has given the green light for forty-two more mountaintop removal permits, dealing a victory for the coal industry. Mountaintop mining involves blowing off the tops of mountains to get at the coal underneath. (Democracy Now! 5/18/09)

On the issue of the Ignacio Moreno pick for top environmental litigator, the New York Times (5/15/09) has a good story and also reports the concerns held by the environmental groups.

Obama's decision on the mountaintop removal permits should be seen in light of a campaign speech made in Lexington, Kentucky on August 27, 2007. The following report of that speech is published on Barack Obama's website:

He said the country also needs a forward-thinking energy policy, and he alluded to his disapproval of the coal mining process of mountaintop removal.

"We're tearing up the Appalachian Mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuels," he said, sparking loud applause.

One view is that Obama is facing pressure from the polluting industries and capitulating. The industry is powerful, no doubt, but I tend to think that Obama is and was a corporate politician and acting accordingly.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Word cloud of my blog

My blog's word cloud produced by Wordle.


American Leftist, a blogger with very incisive commentary, has a good account of the recent Obama capitulations, ending with the most recent on Guantanamo which will allow Bush policy of military tribunals but on U.S. soil.

It always seemed a toss-up which was more evil of the twin capitalist parties - the "evil" or the "lesser-evil". At least when the "evil" Republicans are in office, people are more likely to protest, and in some cases, stop their policies.

Summer plans 2009

13 days until summer! I'm actually starting to get my summer plans thought out a little early this year. Besides writing my capstone paper for work and other projects, I'm planning on attending a few festivals and visiting friends. My plan so far:
June 12-14: Chicago Blues Festival
July 22-26: One Day in July (Minneapolis, MN)
August 15-16: Sweet Corn Blues Festival (Normal, Illinois)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Support the wildwood workers

Today I attended the Latinos United for Change (Latinos Unidos para Cambio - L.U.C.) meeting in which Wildwood workers told their incredible story. The owner of Wildwood Industries here in Bloomington, a guy named Gary Wilder, used the money owed to workers to pay back bank creditors as he ran his company into the ground. How messed up this company was is clear from this article on a sourcing industry website, ttnet. Some workers are owed a week's pay, others are owed money for 3 or 4 weeks. Now he is being investigated by the feds. This Pantagraph article discusses the situation, saying nonchalantly that workers can apply to the state for their back pay (without mentioning that this avenue, still to be tried by the workers, was due to L.U.C. pressure).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bucky Halker

I headed over to Illinois Wesleyan University tonight and heard Bucky Halker sing labor songs and talk about their historical significance. The music was great, and just as good was the analysis and commentary by Halker himself, Mike Matejka of the Bloomington-Normal Trades and Labor Assembly, and others. It was a great event in a very stately campus library, but I'd also love to listen to Halker's labor tunes in a bar relaxing with a cold one!

I wonder if Halker would be interested in performing at the One Day in July street festival in Minneapolis/St. Paul this summer?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

One day in July

I've noticed that there is going to be a One Day in July street festival this summer in Minneapolis! I went to this festival the last time it was held 5 years ago and loved it! If you haven't heard of it, it commemorates the 1934 Minneapolis truckers strike that helped precipitate the labor organizing wave of the 1930s and led to Minneapolis being a union town. Its title refers to a bloody confrontation when the business-backed Citizens Alliance attacked strikers and killed two of them. Without the heroism of these unionists, there would be no "American dream." My friend posted a draft flyer she made for the event (the one posted here on the left is from 2004), and there is also a website (as of now, there is no content on the website).

I wanted to visit Minneapolis this summer, so maybe I'll plan my trip around the festival!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Heading to my brain health class

Tonight I have my class on brain health at the local community college. When registering for the class last month, I suspected that my classmates would be at least over 55 and I was right. (Most of my friends are over 55, so that of course wouldn't stop me!) The purpose of the class is not only to learn about the brain but also develop a plan that will keep the brain healthy in old age. If, at this point, you're asking if I'm now worried about Alzheimer's, the answer is no, at least not now. But according to the doctors leading the class, maintaining one's brain health should start early, as early as 35. I suppose 37 is the perfect age for taking the class!

All kidding aside, I did take the class for the info on brain neuroplasticity, the relatively new finding in neurology that says that the brain continues to produce new stem cells for the rest of our lives. These new theories refute the old story told to us in school when we were young - that the brain has a fixed number of cells that can only decrease in number (and decrease even faster with alcohol consumption). I have to say that neuroplasticity was the most promising news coming out of science in a long time! In taking the class, I have learned a good deal of info. I was surprised, for instance, just how beneficial exercise and meditation are for brain cell growth.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Chicago's Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators

I'm so excited for this weekend! If I'm not too burned out by a week of work, I'm going to Chicago to attend a fundraiser by the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE)! This group of unionists really gives me hope. It is one of a very few teacher organizations consistently fighting the misguided policies of NCLB and doing so among rank-and-file members and the community.

Here is tone of their work as presented at a recent Labor Notes workshop in Chicago, taken from CORE's website:

Ms. Lewis [from Caucus of Rank and File Educators] gave an overview of the shape of education in Chicago and how it inspired a small group of Chicago Teachers Union activists to work together to change the Union from within. She described how CORE has become a group of educators who are doing the things the Union leadership should be doing, but in their free time for no additional pay. CORE has been collecting data and doing research on such items as: Huberman’s attack on pensions, CPS payroll, and proper staffing of schools.

She then described our January 10th meeting where CORE drew 500 people in a blizzard to talk about school closings. This event led to the formation of the GEM coalition that became a force of positive change in Chicago school reform. The actions of the groups around school closings saved six schools from being closed, phased-out, consolidated, or turned-around over the 2009-2010 school year.

After Ms. Lewis’ presentation, Joe Sexauer described how his “New Leadership Slate” within Teamsters Local 743 was similar to CORE in how they would pick fights that they felt the Union should be engaging in every year. He described a corrupt local leadership that would stop at nothing to win elections and retain power. The local leadership was not fighting for members, but working to maintain the status quo and collect big paychecks.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The evolution of altruism?

I'm rereading this fascinating book called Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Altruism. One of its authors, Elliott Sober, was the professor of my Philosophy 101 class I took at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The complexity of the debate makes it impossible to go into detail here, but the general premise is that the field of evolutionary biology mistakenly dismissed the possibility of altruism's evolution by means of group level selection. According to Sober and Wilson, evolution not only selects the fittest traits at the level of the gene and individual organism, but at the group level as well. They argue that altruism could only be favored by group level evolution. Both gene and individual level evolution disfavor altruism and would not allow it to persist in nature.

My new blog

I'm starting up my old blog but with a new name! I left some of the pictures up from Left Bank Blogger, for the memories of my friends and activities in Minneapolis/St. Paul, but deleted all outdated written content. I wanted a new blog, with new content. After seeing my friends' blog recently - ericaaaaa and Fly by Night - I was inspired by the possibilities. And there is so many more tools and gadgets than when I was blogging back in 2005 and 2006. See you in the blogosphere!