Tina K. Russell

May 31, 2008

Callous disregard

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 7:30 pm

The Ethicist – Kicked Out of the Play Group – The Ethicist – Randy Cohen – NYTimes.com

I hope I’m not the only person who wrote in about this. Here’s what I wrote:

You miss an important point in “Kicked Out of the Play Group”: parents who shun vaccination put everyone’s children at risk. No vaccine is 100% effective, and not all children are old enough to be vaccinated. This is usually not a concern: if every child is vaccinated at the proper time, the disease cannot spread. However, every parent who decides not to vaccinate her child, for whatever reason, is removing a block from a precarious Jenga tower by making her child a vessel for preventable disease.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/21/us/21vaccine.html

Whether or not this is enough to remove a child from a play group is the parents’ own call. However, it is not simply a matter of parents being cruel to their children, though that is a grave moral concern. It is a matter of parents showing callous disregard for everyone else’s children as well.

Don’t be stupid. Vaccinate your kids, please.

May 22, 2008

Thank you, Ottawa

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:48 am

From the Ottawa Citizen:

Michael A. Gilbert • Sex-change funding
[M]ost of us have no problem living in our birth-designated sex, and from the moment the nurse declares, “It’s a girl!” or, “It’s a boy!” everything seems to follow quite naturally. What we don’t realize is that we are the lucky ones. We do not have to struggle to pretend to be a gender that that does not fit, that feels unnatural and artificial. We are not mired in despair at not having a body that matches our mind. We are fortunate. We are not transsexual.

It goes on to describe how sexual reassignment surgery has recently been put back on Ottawa’s universal healthcare plan, as it is for most Canadian provinces, and how a socially conservative demagogue is fighting it every step of the way.

I don’t know if you quite know how good it feels to have someone stand up for you like this, in this op-ed. It’s heartwarming, it makes it worth it to go on. Props for this fella for standing up for transsexuals, for the Ottawa Citizen for publishing it as a special feature, and for Canada for standing up for my people. I have got to marry a Canadian.

Seriously, the passage I quoted just sums it up better than anything I could have written. Please, read the article, if you would.

May 21, 2008

Credit where it’s due

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 9:29 pm

Office 2007 to gain native ODF support early next year

Well, that’s good.

May 19, 2008

Again with the farm bill

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:54 pm

A Disgraceful Farm Bill – New York Times

I’m sad that Congress has given a strong bipartisan mandate to continue our broken farm policy, long after we all learned how bad it’s been for America. I’m sick of huge subsidies to corn and soybeans that have made junk food easier to obtain than real food for most Americans, and contributed to the tragedy of what could be our first generation not to live as long as their parents. I wish Congress would think of us as their first priority, and what we eat the first priority of a farm bill. I’m sad that the Democrats have gotten behind this bloated mess and I’m sad that this is one area (like immigration) that Republicans have found it easy rather than difficult to get behind the President, and I don’t defend the President often.

Huh… it seems that Peter DeFazio, my Congressman, voted for it. Dammit! When I get a hold of that guy…

Earl Blumenauer, my Congressman when I lived in Portland, led the opposition against it. Also, Henry Waxman of California voted against it. I’ve heard about him. He sounds kind of cool.

Waaaah! Bernie Sanders voted for it in the Senate! Bernie, how could you?! (In fact, just two Democrats–though Sanders is an independent, remember–voted for it, and they’re both from Rhode Island. Weird.)

School and Unusual

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Tina Russell @ 12:52 pm

This article is about George Leonard, principal of Bedford Academy High School in Brooklyn, New York City.

A School Succeeds With Extra Study and Little Homework – New York Times
Mr. Leonard is a man of many solutions, many of them innovative, many of them, apparently, also effective. In New York City, only about 50 percent of students manage to graduate in four years. At Bedford Academy, 63 percent of the students qualify for free lunch, a majority are being raised by a single mother and another significant number are being raised by someone other than a parent. Yet close to 95 percent of students graduate, and virtually every one of those goes on to college.

Mr. Leonard does not achieve those results by stocking the school full of nothing but high-testing students, an option he has had since 2004, when thousands of students started applying for just over 100 slots at the school each year. To the contrary, he has committed to keeping a third of the entering slots open for students who previously tested in the city’s bottom half on statewide math and reading exams.

“I wanted to prove that no matter what the competency — special ed, regular ed — a child could still be successful,” said Mr. Leonard, dressed in French cuffs and suspenders, a wall full of college acceptance letters decorating his Bedford Academy office.

Ahhhh, thank you. I’m really sick of academic programs that focus exclusively on students that are doing well… students who don’t need the extra education. Maybe I’m just saying this because I’m bitter (I am), because I’m a gifted student but, because I have ADD, I’ve always struggled in my grades. I just wonder why all our extra effort and attention is always extended to those students at the top of their game, at the head of the class. Often the students that need more opportunities, that need to go to college, that need to stick with school are the students who have lost faith in education and are doing very poorly. We should be ringing our alarm bells and helping out those students, not wasting our energy fawning over students already doing well.

I imagine a reason given for this discrepancy is that we want to create incentives for students who do well: they’ll get into advanced classes, good colleges, etc. But, students who’ve done well have long since learned that education is its own reward, while students doing poorly, I would think, have lost hope in the system and are not going to take “more education” as an incentive. It’s time to stop thinking in terms of grand designs of getting into the best colleges and being at the top of your class and graduating with a stellar résumé, and start thinking about the here and now, the nuts and bolts of learning for its own sake.

Yeah, I’m also bitter because I’m an introvert, and never racked up a billion extracurricular activities to put on my college application. Sue me.

Mr. Leonard first made a name as an educator in the late ’80s, when he took a group of typical elementary students enrolled in an after-school science program in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and decided he could teach them to pass the Regents exam in biology, which is normally given in the ninth grade. He succeeded, and then repeated the experiment in later years. That convinced him that there was no reason for any disciplined high schooler to achieve less. “Whatever a student’s competency, it couldn’t be less than the third graders I taught,” he said.

This shows an important point: often, the best way to motivate your students to do well is to raise your expectations of them, not lower them. If you show students that basic respect, they’re much more likely to reciprocate it.

Hooray for California!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:09 am

Congratulations to the California Supreme Court, for recognizing all Americans’ right to marry.

California Court Affirms Right to Gay Marriage – New York Times
The California Supreme Court, striking down two state laws that had limited marriages to unions between a man and a woman, ruled Thursday that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

The court’s 4-to-3 decision, drawing on a ruling six decades ago that struck down the state’s ban on interracial marriage, would make California only the second state, after Massachusetts, to allow same-sex marriages.

I especially like this part:

The court left open the possibility that the Legislature could use a term other than “marriage” to denote state-sanctioned unions so long as that term was used across the board — for both opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

That’s the best response to calls for “why not have same-sex marriage, but just call it something other than ‘marriage’?” Well, how would you like it if I told you that you couldn’t call your marriage a “marriage,” and said you should just use a different word? So, thanks to the court for making such a rule go across the board: if we call marriage for gay people something different, we’ll have to call marriage for straight people the same thing, at least legally.

What excellent news. This is the best day ever.

Pax Microsoftus

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:59 am

Microsoft Joins Effort for Laptops for Children – New York Times
After a years-long dispute, Microsoft and the computing and education project One Laptop Per Child said Thursday that they had reached an agreement to offer Windows on the organization’s computers.

“I think some people, including Walter, became much too fundamental about open source,” Mr. Negroponte said.

In an e-mail message, Mr. Bender wrote that he left the project because he decided his efforts to develop and support the Sugar open-source learning software “would have more impact from outside of O.L.P.C. than from within.”

Outside the constraints of working on a single hardware platform, like the XO laptop, his work, he wrote, should “lead to a broader base, more options, and a better set of tools for children.”

This really bothers me. I think a lot of us felt that Linux was one of the organization’s ends for legitimate reasons. I’m sure Microsoft is entirely legitimate in wanting to offer its operating system at a steep discount to developing countries, but I know that Steve Ballmer is grinning with dollar signs in his eyes at the prospect of raising the entire world on Windows and not merely the “developed” part of it.

The whole idea of this simply offering “choice” is a red herring. The whole problem of Windows is that it does not allow choice. By promoting Windows use in developing countries, they’re doing legitimate promotion of a product. However, they also want the entire country’s infrastructure, training, and education based on an operating system that you cannot easily switch away from and has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, towards any kind of interoperability. Microsoft wants you to believe that their operating system monopoly is a “natural monopoly,” that interoperability is easily achieved only by one standard OS lingua franca. This is dubious when Windows requires a proprietary end-to-end chain of OS components in order to function, and Microsoft has fought open standards for information interchange, such as OpenDocument, every step of the way. “Linux,” meanwhile, refers only to a software kernel and a set of standards that anyone can use to develop an operating system.

So, yeah, I’ve always supported OLPC because, besides the primary goal of bringing educational tools to all the world’s children, I’ve always appreciated OLPC’s bulwark against Microsoft’s quest to ensure that the rest of the world is squirming in the grip of its bloated, malformed, insecure OS. It’s not fair competition, it’s leveraging a monopoly position, and I’ll start believing that Windows offers “choice” when Microsoft fully documents the Windows API, promises to stop making vague software patent threats towards independent competitors (or sow slanderous FUD campaigns aimed at potential Linux customers), works toward supporting other filesystems on Windows (on Ubuntu, I can do anything I want to my Windows partition, but Windows won’t give my Ubuntu partition the time of day), makes the Windows installer stop eating the user’s bootloader (thus preventing competing OSes from loading), implement OpenDocument in good faith in their Office products and quit trying to lock users into a monopoly, stops promising to media companies that they will be able to have control over users’ computers that the users themselves do not have, and make its software work with competing OSes rathing than making them do all the work, then maybe I’ll believe that Microsoft believes in genuine choice. As far as I’m concerned, though, Linux was always a means and an end for One Laptop Per Child and I don’t want to see Microsoft covering the developing world in its proprietary blanket and then jacking up the prices as soon as the countries develop. With Linux, the user is in control, and can switch to other operating systems as soon as he or she wants… in fact, Linux works hard to play nicely with Windows, through support of dual-booting in installers and bootloaders, projects like Samba for fileservers, and support for binary Office formats in office programs. With Linux, you learn expertise that you can take anywhere. On Linux, you can choose the OS you want because all the components are indentifiable and interchangeable. Windows asks you for an unbroken string of Microsoft purchases to ensure compatibility, and I don’t want them to spread that poison abroad, or see OLPC abetting that.

And I’m not even a Richard Stallman purist or anything like that. I happen to find his views as of late repulsive. I simply believe that Windows fails the test of a sustainable operating system, that it will probably be dead or dying in ten years, and I don’t want a new generation of children around the globe have their skillsets fixed in one company’s OS the way it is here. Sure, Microsoft is giving away the OS for cheap, but what about when they decide to stop doing that? What about when you need support or maintenance? Sorry, because Windows is closed-source, there’s only one company that can do any of that. There’s no community around enhancing Windows or making it better. Windows’s outdated programming model has made it slow, bloated, and insecure. It’s not because Microsoft is a bad company, it’s because their model of an OS produced entirely on one corporate campus, with no outside input, is an aging dinosaur with no place in modern computing. The sad collapse of Vista shows just how incapable Microsoft is at polishing their own product through iteration, and with its closed-source model, if Microsoft does not act on security glitches or outdated technology, you are well and truly screwed.

Linux, by its very philosophy, encourages users to take control and make the OS their own. It’s easy to program on a Linux machine because highlighted text editors, compilers, interpreters, and often introductory learning material are all right there. You usually get an office suite and high-quality graphics software for free just for entry. I can’t tell you just how empowering it was to try Ubuntu and find just how much of it was rooted in an implicit trust of me and giving me the tools to make stuff, to make my own world, to impose my will on my computer. After years and years of using Windows, which seemed to have a mind of its own and would always try to guess what I want (“it looks like you’re…”) this empowerment was nothing short of a revelation. After years of falling behind in the world of computer science, my childhood excitement for computers withered away by years of cryptic error messages and unhelpful OS design, I was finally back on the cutting edge. It’s the feeling that’s lasted all the way until now, one that sparks upward with each six-month Ubuntu release, each right on time, faster, more efficient, and filled with more features and programs than before. I want to spread that feeling to children all over the world, I want to show them that they are in control, I want to give them an OS that gives them the power rather than selling it to them piece by piece.

I have no problem with commercial software, I’m just upset at the tendency for vendors like Microsoft to convince people through intimidation that if they’re not using Windows, they’re being left behind. To the contrary, if you’re using Windows, you’re spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars just to get to the level of basic functionality present in your average Linux distribution’s default setup. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that most people don’t percieve Windows as an individual purchase, they merely recieve it with their computers, paid for half by a “Microsoft tax” on each computer purchase (about $50), and half by subsidization through “bloatware,” the aggravating trial software that your computer is installed with, slowing it down and bombarding you with intrusive ad messages.

Linux is simply an OS, a family of OSes, developed in good faith. That’s why I want to spread it to the world, and why I wish it were still OLPC’s exclusive platform. This is for entirely pragmatic reasons, okay? I couldn’t care less about Stallman’s rants about how evil proprietary software is or whatever. I simply think Microsoft is acting in bad faith in the moment, and we should get kids started on an OS that provides choice rather than one that restricts it, and one that will teach the valuable IT skills–yes, Linux is the lingua franca of computer science, and that’s great because Linux is an OS that gives you freedom, is developed to standards, and lets you switch whenever you like–rather than the ones everybody already has.

Okay? Sheesh.

May 18, 2008

The Splurge is Working

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:36 pm

Gates Says New Arms Must Play Role Now – New York Times

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned the military and its contractors on Tuesday that expensive new conventional weapons must prove their value to current conflicts, marked by insurgency and terrorism, if they are to be included in further Pentagon budgets.

Those comments are certain to alarm advocates of the newest generations of high-tech and high-cost weapons programs, in particular the Future Combat Systems program and the F-22, the Air Force’s advanced warplane. Both have come under scrutiny of Pentagon budget officers questioning whether either will be required for missions similar to the current operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Future Combat Systems, an Army initiative entailing a vast combat-gear overhaul whose total cost could exceed $200 billion, “must continue to demonstrate its value for the types of irregular challenges we will face,” as well as for the full-blown land warfare for which it was designed, Mr. Gates said.

About freaking time. I’ve been really sick of us spending bajillions of dollars to get the most advanced warplanes and destroyers to fight imaginary Soviet squadrons. We’ve had the firepower advantage for a long time, and we’re still losing. A smart war policy stops blowing the taxpayer money on high-tech toys.

…Okay, I should be clear that I’m not dismissing military technology projects in general as “high-tech toys.” I’m talking about advanced warplanes being developed to fight people who use shoulder-mounted grenades. We develop weapons of war as though we were still in an arms race with the Soviet Union, when the people we’re fighting today are using improvised weapons in an assymetrical fight. The kind of tech that seems to be helping in Iraq is the kind of tech that allows troops to communicate and coordinate effectively, given the many hats an Army captain must wear, of commander, confidant, spokesman, diplomat, and all-around crisis manager, in order to hold and secure an area. We have a technology advantage, but the enemy has found ways to leverage our brute force against us. When our resources are stretched to the limit, and political will at home to continue this fight is fading fast, we need to work hard to make every last dollar count. That means not sending the fanciest new bombers into a fight for the ideological soul of the Arab world.

Oh, yes, I’m a pacifist, I don’t like war. But, anyone can appreciate a well-fought war from afar. I’ll be facing its very real consequences soon enough.

Day 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:25 pm

This is great.

Clinton Questions Obama’s Ability To Greet World Leaders | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source

CHARLESTON, WV—Hillary Clinton once again attacked Barack Obama on the issue of experience Tuesday, this time questioning the Illinois senator’s ability to effectively smile, make appropriate eye contact, and offer sufficiently delicious finger foods when welcoming visiting world leaders. “My opponent has never greeted foreign dignitaries such as the Japanese Minister of Forestry and Fisheries, as I had the opportunity to do when I was first lady,” Clinton said, adding that she has an extensive background in both double-clasped hand shakes and idle small talk with political luminaries from several nations. “Do the American people really want a president who doesn’t know when it’s appropriate to gesture toward a chair, indicating where a head of state should be seated?” At a previous speech in Indianapolis, Clinton had challenged Obama’s ability to create a health-care reform initiative that would ultimately fail and hand Congress over to the Republicans in an electoral landslide, as she did in 1993.

May 17, 2008

Microcosms

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:28 pm

Rich School, Poor School: The Gulf Is Wide – New York Times

To the Editor:

“Bids for Botox? Auctions Go Deep to Aid Schools” (front page, May 3) reports on the growing use of private fund-raising organized by parents for their children’s public schools.

Parents at the “highly coveted” Public School 41 have the contacts, financial resources and time to organize such affairs, raising hundreds of thousands of (presumably tax-deductible) dollars for computers, foreign language classes, teaching assistants and so on.

But what about the schools in poorer areas of the city, those with mainly minority students? There’s little possibility of such supplements there.

And so the already huge disparities in children’s education by race and class get intensified and reproduced.

One answer would be for P.S. 41 to share, on a 50-50 basis, its opulence with other, more needy public schools.

Chester Hartman
Washington, May 5, 2008

The writer is director of research for the Poverty & Race Research Action Council.

The problem with this idea is twofold. First, this would create a troubling disincentive for needy public schools to organize their own gala auctions or other fund-raising drives, the kind they’d need to sustain themselves. (This is a trouble with all forms of welfare, which is not to say it’s never necessary.) Second, it would sap the energy from the fund-raisers themselves, with donors of auction items, organizers, and attendees angry that their money is going outside their own school district.

That’s not to say the problem isn’t real, though. A better idea, I think, might be for the schools in the area to share the auction items, rather than the proceeds from the auction, so that they each can have their own auctions and the auctions in the poorer areas would have items of no less quality than the auctions in the more affluent areas. It’s absolutely true that a needy school probably doesn’t have the same resources to do the kind of gala fundraiser that a school with all its needs met can do easily. I wonder if it would be better, though, to share those resources–in setting up the auction–rather than the proceeds from the auction.

By the way, most “welfare” situations are like this. Any system of welfare is imperfect, but like any imperfect system, it might be there to solve a real problem. Any attempt to replace or improve the system must be predicated on solving the problem more effectively, rather than using the system’s imperfections as an excuse to ignore the problem. You can do this with school auctions, you can do this with baseball, you can do this with real poverty. People on welfare, in general, want to get off, and the extent to which we help them get off, for good, is a measure of our worth as a society. Of course, this requires long-term investment, in housing, in healthcare, in education, in the people themselves. Welfare’s a tricky minefield, but if you focus on helping in earnest the people affected by poverty, you can get through it just fine.

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