Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Generation of Functional and Cultural Illiterates...and a brief quiz...

About 7 years ago, I was a teaching economics to a class of 100 at Keene State College. In order to make a point about ratios, I asked the class, "for instance, how many states are there in the United States?," expecting this would be an easy example that the students could follow. To my utter disbelief, I could not elicit a single correct answer.

"48!....51!....52!" they alternatively called out. When one student answered, "48...no, wait, 49 since they added Puerto Rico!" I gave up.

Had this been an isolated case of weirdness, I could deal with it. But later, at a class at Greenfield Community College, I performed a simple long division problem on the board to explain per capita GDP. After some silence, a student asked, "what's that?" When I explained I was doing long division, she looked perplexed. I explained it further, and she said, "Oh. I've never seen that before." Others had not heard of the words 'litigation' or 'borne.' The majority of each class is unable to calculate the percent change in a statistic. Meanwhile, the overwhelming number of teachers at all levels in Massachusetts complain about the state-administered MCAS exams.

Leading me to wonder..."What in HELL are they doing in public schools these days?"

These kinds of interactions with my college students encouraged me to give a cultural literacy exam to every one of my macroeconomics classes (This is not just some morbid investigation of mine, but an appropriate part of our studies once we start looking at the educational reform movements of the 80s and 90s.) The inability of students to perform basic math without a calculator, or to recall basic historic facts, or to apply well-known literature metaphors to every-day situations, is both terrifying and astounding. In years of giving a 100+ question exam...no one has ever gotten more than one-third correct.

And these are today's voters...and the future leaders of our businesses, technology, and government agencies.

And so, I present below an excerpt of 20 of the questions on that exam. I invite you to try your own hand at them...the answers are all at the end of this post. They range from music and the arts to sports, literature, history, math and science.

In the meantime, I would be remiss if I didn't thank my parents, who highly valued education; the Baldwin (NY) School District where I was educated; and the NY State Regents exams, which help to ensure that we were functionally and culturally literate before we graduated.


1) In music, what does the notation fortissimo mean?

2) At a corporate board meeting, someone says, "well, we've crossed the Rubicon." What does that mean?

3) What is 30% of 90?

4) What is the origin of the phrase, "the handwriting on the wall?"

5) How many years is the term of a United States Congressman?

6) Where is Prague?

7) Who were the Boers?

8) What is Wounded Knee noted for?

9) What was the Balfour Declaration?

10) Define Xylem and Phloem.

11) Who is Bob Fossey?

12) What are the three 'jewels' of the Triple Crown?

13) What European nation founded the first colony in present-day New York City?

14) The US Constitution states that no one may "be deprived of life, liberty, or..." WHAT? without "due process of law."

15) Who wrote, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."

16) What characterizes an "Isosceles Triangle?"

17) How many regular-season games does a major league baseball team play?

18) What was the Maginot Line?

19) What is the opposite side of a ship from 'portside?'

20) What is the chemical symbol for Iron?


1) Loudest
2) We can't go back (or, we've burned our bridges)
3) 27
4) The Book of Daniel in the Bible
5) 2 years
6) Czech Republic
7) The Dutch settlers of South Africa who instituted the apartheid system
8) The Massacre of unarmed Sioux (Lakota) Indian men, women, and children by the U.S. Calvary, which effectively ended the Plains Indian Wars.
9) The British Declaration establishing and carving the State of Israel out of the British Protectorate of Trans-Jordan in 1948.
10)The structures that transport nutrients and water throughout plants
11) America's most successful choreographer of musical theater
12) The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.
13) The Netherlands (Holland)
14) Property (NOT 'the pursuit of happiness.' That's in the Declaration of Independence)
15) Robert Frost
16) It has two sides of equal length
17) 162
18) A military line of forts with fixed cannons, built to protect France from Germany. During WWII, Germany simply went around them.
19) Starboard
20) Fe

So...How did you do? ;-)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hoy, todos somos Chilenos!

An incredible testament to the resiliency and faith of the human spirit.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Carl Paladino, New Yorks Clown Candidate

Once upon a time, New York State elected some of the most well-known Republicans in the country: Theodore Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, and in NYC, Mayors John Lindsay and Fiorello Laguardia. Love 'em or hate 'em, it was a competitive party. Today, of New York's 11.6 million registered voters, only 25% remain as registered Republicans. In the September 14 primary, Carl Paladino took won the Republican primary for Governor...more an indication of the nutjobs that are left in what remains of the NY Republican Party than any indication of actual statewide support.

Mr. Paladino has been running a campaign hot on anger and rhetoric, touring the state with his pitbull to show how 'tough' he is. And recently, he opened his mouth and showed yet again what a lunatic he is.

Pandering to a group of Orthodox Hassidim, he read from a prepared statement and stated that children should not be made to think that being gay is a "valid or successful option." He reiterated that he didn't want children exposed to gays. He opposed the 'gay agenda' (What would that be? Paying their mortgage? Shopping for groceries? Getting their kids to school on time?)

This, from a man who seeks to be Governor of a State where a young gay man just jumped off the George Washington Bridge to escape humiliation as a gay man. This, from a man who seeks to be the Governor of a state where a man was just brutally beaten, cut, whipped, burned on his nipples and genitals, and sodomized with a baseball bat by a gang of 8 in an abandoned building in the Bronx.

This, from the man who would seek to govern a state that is home to Broadway and Musical Theater. Nope, no successful homosexuals in these parts. Nope. No success at all evidenced by Ed Koch, Anderson Cooper, Montgomery Clift, Sam Shepard, Ellen DeGeneres, Eton John, Ian McKellan, Nathan Lane, Barry Manilow, Sir Cameron MacKintosh, or a cavalcade of gay powerhouses in the Arts.

Of course, today Paladino is backtracking a little, saying that he would be willing to hire gays. How benevolent. I guess he has to say that, because Art Finkelstein, who was the polling and strategic mastermind behind Republican Al D'Amato's successful Senate campaign and a host of Nassau County Republican campaigns, and who continues to work for GOP candidates around the country - is gay.

I have watched in amazement as I have followed Paldino's eccentric, anger-filled campaign...until I found out who one of his key strategists is.

Roger Stone. Ah. Or should I say, "Jason Ranier."

I was personally acquainted with Roger. He ran for President of the Young Republican National Federation in the late 70's, when I was intimately involved in that organization. Roger was a pro-Nixon fanatic, who took on the alias "Jason Ranier" to conduct his filthy campaign maneuvers. To stop a primary victory against Nixon by Rep Peter McCloskey (R-CA), he went to New Hampshire, created a fake organization called the "Young Socialist Alliance," and then donated money to McCloskey from the organization. He then turned around and wrote a letter to the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader describing the contribution, enclosing a receipt from the McCloskey campaign. The publication of the "Socialist-McCloskey" alliance effectively ended McCloskey's chances in New Hampshire.

Thus began a life of political operations that used lies, mud-slinging, spying, hate, and division to win elections at any cost. And here he turns up again, as Paladino's puppeteer.

In the meantime, Paladino bounces erratically from tirade to tirade, lashing out at all enemies real and imagined, and gays are his latest target. Never mind that people are committing suicide, and being killed and tortured in his own state because of inflammatory rhetoric and ferment whipped up by ravings such as his (Early in the campaign he promised to 'bring a baseball bat to Albany,' and he didn't mean he wanted to play ball....)

In an election year when Republicans expect to make gains in many places, New York Republicans had better take a long hard look at who they are. They once were a competitive party in a diverse, strong Empire State.

They are now a vestige and a laughingstock, and have left millions of ex-Republicans with no place to go.

Want to help respond to Paladino's nonsense? Contact Freedom To Marry, and help them purchase ad time with the NY media: Click on the title of this post, or go to:


Friday, October 08, 2010

In Remembrance: Matthew Shepard, 1976-1998

12 years ago this weekend Matthew Shepard was laying in a hospital, hooked onto life support after being tied to a fence.

He had been beaten, pistol whipped and lit on fire. His skull was fractured and his brain stem crushed. There were a dozen lacerations on his face. He was singled out for being gay, by two men who followed him from a gay bar.

He was murdered for being gay.

Matthew was left, tied to the fence post for 18 hours in near freezing weather before being discovered.

The bicyclist that found him thought that he was actually a scarecrow.

At his funeral, the Westboro Baptist Church protested, carrying signs that read "Matt Shepard Rots in Hell."

Video: "Scarecrow"

"Scarecrow", by Melissa Etheridge

Showers of your crimson blood
Seep into a nation calling up a flood
Of narrow minds who legislate
Thinly veiled intolerance
Bigotry and hate

But they tortured and burned you
They beat you and they tied you
They left you cold and breathing
For love they crucified you

I can't forget hard as I try
This silhouette against the sky

Scarecrow crying
Waiting to die wondering why
Scarecrow trying
Angels will hold carry your soul away

This was our brother
This was our son
This shepherd young and mild
This unassuming one
We all gasp this can't happen here
We're all much too civilized
Where can these monsters hide

But they are knocking on our front door
They're rocking in our cradles
They're preaching in our churches
And eating at our tables

I search my soul
My heart and in my mind
To try and find forgiveness
This is someone child
With pain unreconciled
Filled up with father's hate
Mother's neglect
I can forgive But I will not forget

Scarecrow crying
Waiting to die wondering why
Scarecrow trying
Rising above all in the name of love

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Friday, October 01, 2010

10 Dead Gay Teens: Bullying is a symptom; the Problem is Hate.

In the spring of 1972, I was a gawky twelve year old with big hair and polyester flood pants in eighth grade. I can remember sitting in the front row in English class, waiting for class to start. A few seats behind me sat a popular but sharp-tongued classmate I'll call "Jane," who had just taken up knitting (which was actually rather out of character for her, because it really wasn't considered "cool.") Jane was knitting on her desk in plain view of the rambunctious class.

A few rows away sat Jane's best friend, "Alice," who was watching curiously as Jane maneuvered the needles. Suddenly, loud enough for everyone in the class to stop and notice, Alice yelled out,

"Jane, you're knitting?! You're a bigger fag than Simmons!"

In mock horror, Jane retorted,

"I am NOT!!!"

The class broke into uproarious laughter. I sat still, turning red, staring at my desk. Again.

Even my teacher laughed.

Ah, school memories. I'd like to say that this was a one-time event, and an aberration in an otherwise warm, safe environment. But it wasn't. Two years earlier the school Principal had called half a dozen kids on the carpet for chasing me home after school every day, and waiting outside the school doors for the chance to beat me up. I was called "faggot" more than a hundred times before I ever knew what it even meant.

But once I found out what that meant, I 'knew' that I couldn't be one of those people. Those people were weird. Sinful abominations. Perverts. Unworthy of mention in polite society. Disease-Carriers. Pedophiles. At least that was the message that came through loud and clear.

I learned new routes home from school to avoid getting roughed up. Eventually I headed out on my own and got married as I was supposed to. But in spite of living an apparently straight adult life, I never stopped struggling and wondering, and dealing with my personal, ill defined frustrations. It took me until I reached my 40's to come to terms with myself.

But I was one of the lucky ones. I was blessed with an ornery fighting spirit, like my dad, that wouldn't let me throw in the towel. Recently, we have learned of others not so fortunate:

Asher Brown, 13, of Cypress, Texas, who shot himself in the head after being constantly bullied, accused of being gay, and on whom mock sex acts were performed in gym class.

Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, California, who hanged himself after repeated taunts for being gay.

Justin Aaberg, 15, of Anoka, Minnesota, who tried unsuccessfully to kill himself in January, but succeeded in June, after constant anti-gay harassment at school. School officials had decided not to intervene in the bullying because they were wary of 'conservative protests.'

Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, Indiana, who hung himself after enduring sexuality-based taunts for years.

Tyler Clementi, 18, of Ridgewood, New Jersey, who threw himself off the George Washington Bridge after being outed on the web after being secretly videotaped engaged in sex with another male.

Raymond Chase, 19, of Monticello, New York, who hung himself in his dorm room at Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island, where a majority of gay students have reported harassment.

Caleb Nolt, 14, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, who died yesterday after taking his own life. Schoolmates claim there is a long history of his being bullied for being gay at high school.

Eric Mohat, 17, of Mentor, Ohio, who was involved in theater and music, and was called "gay," "fag," "queer" and "homo" often in front of his class and teachers in class. When one bully said publicly in class, "Why don't you go home and shoot yourself, no one will miss you" - - he did.

Carl Walker-Hoover, 11 (YES, read that again - ELEVEN), of Springfield, Massachusetts, who hung himself after repeated gay taunting.

Cody Barker, 17, of Shiocton, WI, who had just started advocating for himself with the schools LGBT community.

How can anyone read this list of young people and not want to scream, or cry, or pound one's fist in anger? This is INTOLERABLE.

No doubt, there will be calls for anti-bullying programs. And let me be clear, I support anti-bullying programs.

But bullying is not the core cause of this rash of suicides among young gay men. Hatred is.

When Bishop Eddie "On The Down-Low" Long calls for Homosexuals to be executed, as he did in the 1990s (it's on tape, folks), he sends a message to society that gays are worthless criminals (who are only good enough to be 'used' on the side).

When "ex-gay" ministries and pseudo-psychologists insist that if you pray and try hard enough, you can 'change,' they send the message that gays are simply lost or damned or lazy.

When neither our Democratic Commander-in-Chief nor Senate Republicans have the collective cojones to suspend the Military's Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy, they send a message that gays are expendable.

When the so-called National Association for Marriage, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Association insist that Marriage Equality will lead to legal incest and bestiality, they send a message that being gay is a dirty, scandalous, perverted existence.

When Politicians pander to social conservatives and use gays as a 'wedge issue' at the ballot box; when elected officials like Eugene Delgaudio of Virginia claims that wounded soldiers will come down with AIDS if they are in contact with gay soldiers, they send the message that gays are to be loathed, feared, and quarantined.

And when young people in our society hear adults repeating over and over that gays are worthless, expendable, dirty, scandalous, perverted and loathsome...they bully them.

And when young gays hear those same things, and struggle with taunts and hatred every day....

They kill themselves.

Yes, bullying must stop.

But more importantly, the hatred from Pulpits, and Government offices, and self-serving hate-mongering organizations MUST STOP.

And it WILL stop - but ONLY when ALL Americans join and DEMAND that it stop.