12:45 pm - Fri, Jul 27, 2012
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The Olympics as The Hunger Games

How the London Games mirror the dystopian novel, and what it means about America.
by Stephen Kurczy

It’s a spectacle of grueling physical exertion held years apart, mostly for the amusement of wealthier nations with the spare cash/time/manpower to host/watch/sponsor the wildly expensive event. The games will be hailed as a great moment for human civilization, a moment when states stop bickering/fighting/warring and instead give athletic representatives the honor of battling in an arena. Unsurprisingly, strong states will boast the strongest contestants, and weak states will lose miserably.

Although sometimes an underdog manages, through grit/steel/luck, to win it all.

Sounds something like the 2012 London Summer Olympics is about to kick off, but I’m referring to the Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins’s dystopian trilogy may be fantasy, but its similarities with Olympiad XXX are hardly fantastical, which, as you watch tonight’s opening ceremonies, may become eerie to the point of disturbing.

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5:47 am - Wed, Jul 11, 2012

Mitt Romney’s a Regular Old Guy: Empathy, Part IV

Vote for me, I’m normal!
by Ben Hoffman

Of all the strange and absurd moments from the Republican primary debates, perhaps the most underrated came during the January 7th debate in New Hampshire, when ABC moderator George Stephanopoulos ended the night with a classic George Stephanopoulos (read: non-pertinent) question: if the candidates were not running for president, what would they be doing instead on that Saturday night?

Rick Perry said he’d be at the shooting range (obviously). Newt Gingrich said he’d be watching “the college championship basketball game,” followed by Newt Gingrich being corrected that he actually meant the championship football game. Rick Santorum one-upped Newt by saying he’d be watching the championship game with his family (because, you know, family values), followed by Mitt Romney, who said, “I’m afraid it’s football. I love it.”

Don’t we all. These answers make sense when you consider that the First Rule of Politics is that every single normal American male loves sports and guns and that The Second Rule of Politics is that all presidential candidates must pretend at all times to be normal American males. Which, of course, they are not. As they so adroitly proved with their answers, since the college football championship game was not until Monday, January 9th (to say nothing of the basketball championship, which fell on April 2nd).

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5:54 pm - Tue, Jul 10, 2012
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On Race in Education, Part 3: The Long-Term Effect

The link between race and the criminal justice system.

by Rachael Warecki

“We incarcerate those we don’t educate.”

–Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education, New York University

“About a third of African American men are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, and about 12% of African American men in their 20s and 30s are incarcerated.”

–Pamela Oliver, Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin

Over the past two columns, I’ve discussed the different ways that issues of race and power can influence a student’s education, but the long-term effect of systematic segregation and denigration is ultimately what’s at stake for students of color or from low socio-economic backgrounds or both. Education reformers and researchers Lisa Delpit and Jonathan Kozol both argue, independently, that school segregation removes students’ abilities to successfully interact with cultures of power.

But the starkest effect is the one that was echoed and re-echoed during my Teach For America training: some states, including California, the state I in which I taught, use early-grade reading scores to predict the number of future prisoners they’ll need to hold. Basically, the state stops pouring money into these students’ education and starts pouring it into the possibility of their incarceration.

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11:58 am
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On Race in Education, Part 2: Segregation and Expectations

What happens when school districts are essentially segregated?

by Rachael Warecki

Editor’s note: This essay is the second in a series of several articles on issues of race in education. Read the first part here.

“I simply never see white children.”

Jonathan Kozol, education reformer, on his visits to public school districts in The Shame of the Nation[1]

On April 18, 2012, district officials on the Los Angeles Board of Education took several steps backward in closing the academic achievement gap in LA public schools. In 2004—the year I graduated from high school—the board adopted a plan in which all public school students would be required to take and pass college-prep classes in order to graduate. Now, while the board wants to maintain this requirement, it also wants to reduce the number of credits students need to graduate from 230 to 170, in order to combat students who’d potentially drop out when faced with the more rigorous schedule.

If the Los Angeles Unified School District was less sprawling, or less quick to jump the gun on reform tactics, then perhaps this decision would be less important in the grand scheme of American education. But LAUSD is the second-largest school district in the nation, and what goes on here is often hailed as a template for other urban districts around the country. I’ve mentioned before that LAUSD’s eagerness to test a rapid succession of educational theories without sticking with them for the long haul to see if they actually work has potentially ruined generations of students. It’s hard to imagine that lowering academic expectations will prepare this current crop of students for life after high school.

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5:47 am
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Dudes, shut up. Ladies, you were saying?

The shocking reality of our male-dominated media.

by Stephen Kurczy

We can probably agree that it’d be shallow/narrow/limiting if you were to get all of your news from one publication. So why do you rely on getting most of your news from one sex?

Simple answer: Because you don’t have a choice. Men dominate the world of news reporting and op-eds. Last year, women wrote 35 percent of all articles in The Atlantic, 26 percent in The New Yorker, 17 percent in Harpers, and 12.5 percent in the New York Review of Books. Among all op-eds published between September and December, women wrote 24 percent in The Los Angeles Times, 22 percent in the New York Times, and 19 percent in the Washington Post.

Your news is being written largely by men. Men are telling you how to understand your world and makes sense of your life.

What to do? Should you, as a reader, merely accept the situation and read on? Should you seek out women writers to balance your input? Should you only read female authors on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday to balance out your input? As an editor, say of an upstart online literary magazine called Construction, should you be morally motivated to help narrow the gender gap and make sure that all your political coverage isn’t solely from, say, four dudes?

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5:54 pm - Mon, Jul 9, 2012

A Delightful Experience!

The many things you will see floating down Flint River (and other Craigslist gems).

by Laura Morton

Editor’s note: Once a week, Laura Morton will comb Craigslist and offer commentary on its most preposterous ads.

Who You Gonna Call? … Craigslist!

you will loose

Here’s the truth of it: there is a lot of crazy shit in this world.

It’s not as simple as when we were younger and if you had a problem, you knew to go to your parents, your teachers, your neighbors, or a nice police officer, but things are not so simple and innocent anymore.

Thankfully, we have another option …

the thumb craigslist > community > general community

Has anyone else had their child unjustly taken from them in Tuscola? (Tuscola County)

Have you or know someone else who has had their children unjustly taken from them in Tuscola County? Have you also been threatened by the court that you will loose all rights if you go to the media? You are not alone, please contact me. For the sake of all children, this has to stop!

I think it’s all well and good to post messages about children who’ve been unjustly taken, or whatever the case may be, but—just to be logical here, for a sec—if you can’t call the media, why can you post on a public site open to any person who happens upon it?

I’m just saying.

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11:51 am
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Race in Education, Part I: Racial-Academic Identity

On being white at a non-white school.

by Rachael Warecki

Editor’s note: This essay is the first in a series of several articles on issues of race in education. This article discusses the author’s experience of being a white student at a predominantly non-white high school.

We can’t talk about the academic achievement gap without talking about issues of race and class. Educational researchers and theorists, such as Lisa Delpit, Jonathan Kozol, Sonia Nieto, and Angela Valenzuela, have written extensively about the way racism and classism continues to pervade our school system. We’ve also come to see the devastating societal consequences that institutionalized racism and classism have wreaked: Pedro Noguera, who’s studied education for the last 30 years and written award-winning books on race in education, makes no bones about linking the astronomical incarceration rate among young African American males to the fact that, as a society, we’ve neglected the education of those same young men.

I could write an entire research paper about the way students of color have been allowed to slip through the educational cracks because the hegemonic system hasn’t thought hard enough about how to engage students of color in culturally relevant ways. In fact, I have: my master’s thesis explored the use of critical pedagogy in the classroom and examined how teachers utilized culturally relevant lessons to engage students of color in critical societal analysis. But I don’t want to bore you with pages upon pages of dry academic prose, and two years of studying graduate-level educational theory doesn’t necessarily supply me—a young white woman—with the credentials to talk about such an intensely personal subject. I cannot speak for my students and their experiences; it would be wrong of me, as a “privileged” person, to tell stories that don’t belong to me. But I can, as a starting point, speak to my own formation of my racial identity, which began in high school and looked fairly different from the typical white identity formation processes described by Joseph Ponterotto (1988, 2006), Gary Howard (1999), and other psychologists and education researchers.

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9:13 am

The Best of Delaney and Bonnie

The influences of the forgotten duo.

by Richard Fulco

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the husband and wife duo Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett created a vibrant blend of soul, blues, country, and gospel, but their music was often marginalized by the attention paid to members of their backing band that includedEric Clapton, Dave Mason, and George Harrison.

After signing to Stax Records in 1969, Delaney and Bonnie, with the assistance of Booker T. & the MG’s and Isaac Hayes, recorded their debut album, Home. Though a critical success, the album was a commercial failure and they were dropped from their label.

They recorded their follow-up album, Accept No Substitute, for Elektra Records. Their backing band included keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Keltner. Again, the album was a commercial failure, but the couple earned the appreciation of fellow musicians.

After his stint with Blind Faith, Eric Clapton joined Delaney and Bonnie; Clapton’s friends—Dave Mason and George Harrison—would occasionally join him in support of Delaney and Bonnie.

In 1970, the group briefly joined up with John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band and toured Europe, but when Clapton left to record a solo record and Radle and Keltner joined Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour, Delaney and Bonnie were forced to cancel their tour. The duo recorded a couple of more records, but when their marriage fell apart, so did their musical partnership.

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5:50 am

The 1789 Election: United We Stood

When political partisanship played no role in U.S. politics.

by Ian Cheney

Author’s note: I’ll be away for most of the month of July. As such, I will not be able to follow the presidential race, to say nothing of writing about it. Therefore, before I left, I sent my editors a series of four columns. This series will take a brief look at each of the first four elections in presidential history. I have two goals with these columns. First, I’d like to chart the rise of presidential partisanship, from its nonexistence in 1789, to its conception in 1792, to its birth in 1796, and finally to its maturation in 1800. Second and similarly, I’d also like to show that partisan vitriol is nothing new; there was just as much in 1800 as there is in 2012. Without further ado, Part I of the four-part series.

“I have no ambition to govern men; no passionwhich would lead me to delight to ride in a storm.”

—Thomas Jefferson, 1796

Presidential candidates don’t say that anymore. At least, not in an election year. But Thomas Jefferson did.

How times have changed. In 1796, as the fledgling United States careened toward its first competitive presidential election, a presumptive nominee like Thomas Jefferson said he had “no ambition to govern”—an improbable sentiment in modern politics. Yet, Jefferson’s apathy epitomized early U.S. presidential candidates. As of 1796, when Jefferson delivered that quote, candidates were not yet desirous of that new title: “President of the United States of America.”[1] Indeed, maybe “candidates” is not even the best way to describe the contenders for that presidential seat.

Their passive disposition, of course, eventually evolved.[2] By 1800, Jefferson openly competed for the position of chief executive. Within a few decades, we’d see campaigning. Now candidates openly vie for the presidency, dedicating increasing time and treasure toward securing the office, as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney show us every day.

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7:27 pm - Sun, Jul 8, 2012

Top 5 R.E.M. Albums

And a plea for the band to get back together.

by Richard Fulco

In 1976, Saturday Night Live’sproducer, Lorne Michaels, made a plea to The Beatles:

The National Broadcasting Company has authorized me to offer you this check to be on our show … a certified check for $3,000. (Holds up check.) Here it is, right here. A check made out to you, the Beatles, for $3,000. All you have to do is sing three Beatles songs. ”She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.” That’s $1,000 right there. You know the words—it’ll be easy. ”Like I said, this is made out to the Beatles—you divide it up any way you want. If you want to give less to Ringo, that’s up to you—I’d rather not get involved… . You have agents—you know where I can be reached. Just think about it, okay? Thank you.

Riffraf would like to make a similar plea to another influential band—R.E.M. And we can do so much better than Lorne Michaels’s $3,000. We’re prepared to go as high as $4,000 for an R.E.M. reunion. Here it goes …

Dear R.E.M.,

We know that it’s only been six months since your retirement, but we really miss you guys. Yeah, you haven’t made a really good album since New Adventures in Hi-Fi, but that doesn’t matter to us. This world needs great bands, and we just hate to see the great ones go away so gracefully. Couldn’t you just milk it for another thirty one years? You’re still relatively young men. What do you say?

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