Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sherwood, Tennessee

My old friend John Lynch has produced (and narrates) a short film on the history of his hometown, Sherwood, Tennessee.

He asked me to record some banjo music for the sound track, which I did.  And we can all thank him for the tasteful way in which he put it well into the background.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Time is relative

Louisiana Governor Booby Bobby Jindal, interviewed on NBC's Today show this morning, told Matt Lauer that President Obama is "our most liberal president in modern times."

Really?  So for Jindal, presumably, "modern times" includes only this millennium?  We have to write off Bill Clinton, who was far more liberal than Obama?  What about Jimmy Carter?  What about Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson? Hell, on some if not most measures, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was more liberal than Obama.  All these presidents except FDR served after the end of World War II.

I was born during World War II.  Does this mean that I was born in pre-modern times, but I now live in modern times?

Jindal really is spectacularly stupid.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I eat, I digest, I poop; therefore I am a gastroenterologist

The Jamaica Gleaner has an online article today with the headline A Waste of Time to Teach Patois- Seaga.  In the article, former Prime Minister Edward Seaga tells the Gleaner that: would be a waste of the country's educational resources to teach Patois in schools.
"There is no standard way of spelling a particular word in Patois," Seaga said. "If you want people to be able to talk to one another in Jamaica and outside of Jamaica, it does not make any sense."
Also in the article, the current Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, chimes in:
According to Golding, teaching Patois would be akin to saying, "We have failed to impart our accepted language of English, so we are giving up. This one can't work, so let us find another one that can work."
Here is what bothers me about this: neither of these people is a linguist. What they know about language as an object of study they picked up in their years in language arts and English literature and composition classes.  But despite this, they are perfectly willing to challenge real linguist Hubert Devonish, a professor of linguistics at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and others, who are in favor of bringing Jamaican Creole (Patois) into the schools as an enhancement to early education and especially early literacy.  Just back in January many people concerned about this issue met in Jamaica to convene a Caribbean Language Policy Conference that addressed these and other issue pertaining to the ecology of "standard," creole, and other languages in schools, government, the work place, etc.

But because they can talk, Seaga and Golding get to disagree authoritatively with linguists.  It's as if because I eat, digest, and poop, I am qualified to lecture on gastroenterology.

When do we get to charge these people with practicing linguistics without a license?

Friday, April 1, 2011

The view from Wisconsin (2)

Here is the rest of my friend Jim Oakley's writing (to date!) on the assault on teachers and other working people taking place in Wisconsin and around the country.
Greetings, all --

I have waited a while before compiling this follow-up to my commentary, "Which Side Are You On?"  Now it's time.  I have gotten lots of feedback  --almost all complimentary-- by word-of-mouth, phone, email, etc.  I appreciate all of it.  Some people sent articles or referred me to links, some of which I will share now.

One article expressed a contrasting viewpoint, titled "A Union Education".  It comes from the Wall Street corporate perspective, echoing the effort to divide public and private workers, misreading the Wisconsin situation, and blaming public workers for increased state and local spending.  Someone like Robert Reich or Paul Krugman could probably take it apart point by point.  It gives you an idea what we are up against.  As the friend who sent it to me said, it is "food for thought for ALL of us."  Here's the link:

Another friend sent a link for an article about a teacher in Maine that is really great.  Here it is:

My commentary was published in the Ashland Daily Press  (  There have been no on-line or in-print comments there as yet.

But there were several comments when it appeared in the Ashland Current (, including a correction.  Apparently the Lincoln Day dinner only cost $25.  I wish I had verified the cost. (Good thing I am not a journalist.)  But one of the comments read: "The cost of the meal isn't really that important."  Or as one of our slogans goes, "It's not about the money."

Another link that was sent to me gives a pretty good summary of our Wisconsin situation:, by someone called TheBadgerMom.

One more link that I will share is a New York Times column by a UW-Madison prof, Bill Cronon, who is now being harassed by some Republican state legislators:

Also from James Fallows, on the harassment of Cronon:

Now, just a few additional comments of my own:

1)  Some folks seem to think that unions have outlived their usefulness, and now we can have all the good stuff without collective bargaining.  This seems naive at best.

2)  I continue to notice a certain disdain for educators, for other public employees, and for education in general.  Compared to other societies, we do not value education.  Our culture values sports, but not physical education.  It values entertainment and competition more than cooperation and science.

3)  Some of what comes from the Tea Party types sounds almost socialist.  Apparently if one earns a living as a public employee, that money is not his/her own.  It's communal taxpayer money.  Sure, the governmental entity collects taxes and uses some of those taxes to pay for services which the employees provide, but they earn that money.

4)  We have a growing disparity between the very, very rich and the rest of us.  Call it class war, if you must, but the inequities are growing, and the attacks on unions and on medicaid recipients are scapegoating, not budget balancing.

5)  The governor and his allies are changing the rules in the middle of the game --without consulting the other players.  Public workers and local governments, school boards and teacher unions, are made of people who have learned to work together, respecting each other's roles in the system --a system that was not broken.  Everyone realizes that economic times are rough.   But where is the shared sacrifice?  Are the corporate bigwigs doing their part or just getting theirs?

6)  Finally, we need to step back and look at this in perspective.  We are not Japan or Libya or Haiti.  And in many ways we have been forced into a distraction that diverts us from issues that ought to have more of our concern:  the environment and climate change, global economic concerns, health care, real improvements in our education system, war and peace.

Please vote on April 5.


The view from Wisconsin (1)

Jim Oakley is a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served with me in the Eastern Caribbean in the early 1970s.  Jim and I got to know each other in 1971 while rooming with a wonderful Barbadian family during our training before we were sent off to teach Spanish in different parts of Grenada.  Since then Jim has been teaching Spanish in the Wisconsin public school system.  Jim is, naturally, heavily invested in what's been going on in Wisconsin, and he has written about it. Below is part 1 of his thoughts and observations; Part 2 will follow shortly.

Which Side Are You On?

By Jim Oakley

I was proud to be part of two big demonstrations of democracy recently, one
in Madison and one in Washburn (aka "Madison North").

On Saturday, February 26, in Madison, we marched for workers' rights and
for other changes in the "budget repair bill." It showed Wisconsin at its
best. As one of the chants went, "This is what democracy looks like!" I
had never before been part of such a large group of people. It was
peaceful, organized, civil, and positive. And unlike the view of State
Senator Glenn Grothman (whom I know well, having previously lived in his
district), not a single "slob," union boss," or "thug" in sight.

Crowd estimates varied from 70,000 to 100,000. I do not know how one
estimates crowd numbers, especially in this case since people were moving
around all the streets and sidewalks adjacent to the capitol, plus they
were inside the building and on some of the nearby streets. And some folks
were leaving the area as others were arriving. I heard there was a Tea
Party counter-demonstration in the area. I did not see them, but I hear
they also were peaceful and civil.

I am dismayed at the intransigence of our governor. If he has his way
Wisconsin is in a race to the bottom --in education, health, environment,
and human rights. As one of the signs said, "If you think education is
expensive, watch what stupid will cost!" I cannot imagine any previous
governor --including Republicans Dreyfus, Thompson, and Knowles-- acting in
such a dictatorial manner as Mr. Walker. The politics of division and "us
versus them" are not worthy of Wisconsin.

The 2,000-plus people gathered in Washburn on March 12 displayed a similar
sense of community, determination and respect. They greeted Governor
Walker and others attending the Republican dinner at the Steak Pit
restaurant with a strong message of people power. There was not a single
untoward incident, for which we can be grateful to the local and guest
police, the organizers of the rally, and everyone who volunteered and
pitched in to do what needed to be done.

I have been trying to reconcile two apparently contradictory notions in my
mind. One is the concept of compromise, including the common good and the
politics of inclusion. The other is expressed in the old union song "Which
side are you on?" which was sung both in Madison and Washburn.

Our society values both concepts, but in our political system, the latter
is currently dominant, and the politics of division is rampant. Our
governor and his enablers seem bent on destroying the Wisconsin we know and
love. I wish I could say --as I have in the past over other contentious
issues-- "Oh, I'm sure they mean well." Nope. They seem to see value in
dividing different groups of public workers against each other, and trying
to pit public employees against private workers. I don't think it's working.

Basically he has declared war on public unions --and thus on the middle
class. It is clearly a "war of choice". As a teacher, I feel personally
attacked every time a union is attacked. My grandmother worked in rural
Iowa almost a hundred years ago. She was dismissed from her teaching job
as soon as she married. Years later when she was in her 90s it rankled her
still. In the 1960s and 70s my mother served on the school board in Beaver
Dam, Wisconsin. When she began, women teachers were paid less than men,
single men were paid less than married men, and no teacher had collective
bargaining. By the time she left the school board they did.

No institution is perfect -- no union, no political party, no church, no
family-- but they all have valid roles to play in civil society, and I
believe that in the marketplace of ideas the common good should rise to the
top, no matter who has more money.

There are many types of rights, and of course the Bill of Rights of our
Constitution is where the most essential ones are enshrined. There are also
basic rights promoted by the United Nations --including the right to form
unions. But of course, governments can grant and take away rights. That
any rights exist is because at some point people banded together and fought
for them; it never has been automatic. But the general trend in most
societies has been toward greater rights, not fewer, and toward respectful
inclusion and cooperation.

The price of rights is eternal vigilance. That is why the latest
initiatives of our current governor have struck a nerve. Wisconsin has
enjoyed fifty years of labor peace. The collective bargaining process has
been a major factor in the quality of life we enjoy in Wisconsin. Our
education system continually ranks in the top ten states. I do not believe
in worshiping test scores, and we are not perfect, but we regularly
outperform the so-called "right-to-work" states.

People deserve more rights, not fewer. If public employees enjoy benefits
gained through collective bargaining, so also should all other workers.
Public workers deserve strong unions. So do workers in Mexican sweatshops
and Chinese Wallmart suppliers.

I consider myself a person of faith. And people of faith often agree to
disagree respectfully. As I was watching the people on the streets of
Washburn and the cars arriving for the dinner at the Steak Pit, I asked
myself a few WWJD questions, which now I will ask you:

Would Jesus have marched in support of teachers and other public workers?
Or would He caucus with the Tea Party folks?

Would He pay $200 for a Lincoln Day dinner with the Pharisees? Or would He
help cook for the volunteers who kept the rally safe for everyone?

For that matter, what would Lincoln do? Of course he was not perfect. Even
FDR has been quoted as not favoring collective bargaining for public
employees. But given a choice between oligarchs and their minions on one
side and public servants on the other, where would Lincoln or Roosevelt
(Teddy or Franklin) come down?

Which brings me back to that old union song, "Which side are you on?" While
there is still room for compromise and still hope for the common good, the
governor has forced us to choose. When we have our regular elections, and
possible recall elections, you decide: Which side are you on?

By the way, "Which Side Are You On?" is a union song written by Florence Reece.  You can hear her sing it here, probably recorded in the 1940s.

Florida "lawmakers" seek to end tenure in the state colleges

This is a comment I just posted on Valencia Community College Computer Science professor Lisa Macon's blog devoted to discussing the attempt by the Florida legislature to end the tenure system in the state colleges:
... I don't think that the central concern of these folks is either cost-cutting or "bad teachers." I think the heart of the matter is that they hate education at all levels, but especially higher ed. This is where students are supposed to learn to observe the world around them and make critical, rational analyses of that world on the basis of evidence. The right-wing goons know that they were elected precisely because we have not done this as well as we should have, and they also know that if we ever do teach people to think critically they will never be elected to anything again. So, they want to destroy this aspect of higher higher education and turn everything into training colleges turning out good, compliant carbon-units for predatory capitalism. If they are successful with the state colleges, they will come for us in the universities next (they've already begun, actually).

The view from my office window