vendredi, juin 29, 2007

a chiropractic goldmine

I'm lucky enough to have a laptop. I schlep it back and forth to work and home because it's also my personal computer (I'm getting rid of my hulking desktop machine at home). And yes ... I'm considering using a wheelie bag because I don't think the laptop bag is good for my back.
Life’s Work: Your Briefcase Just Ran Over My Toe
June 28, 2007

DAN RAWLINGS — a sales executive, former football player and guy’s guy — loves his briefcase.

It’s the “color of coffee,” he says adoringly, and the photo he sent me of the case confirms the point. “Not dark brown, not black like everything else out there. Coffee.” His “workhorse” as he proudly calls it “can fit two laptops and 15 pounds of files.”

Then he adds: “I am secure in my masculinity. I don’t need to defend my bag to anyone.”

If Mr. Rawlings sounds just a tad defensive, it is because his beloved has ... wheels.

Not since women first laced clunky sneakers over pantyhose for the trek to work has an accessory brought out such strong feelings among the armies who drag pounds of papers between home and office. What one commuter sees as the answer to all aches and pains, the next one views as a hazard waiting to happen: what gets you through the subway station faster only gets in my way as I run for the train.

And then there are the aesthetics.

“Nerd-o-rama,” sniffed Mark Stevens, the chief executive of MSCO, a global marketing firm in Rye Brook, N.Y. “I would rather carry a baby grand on a broken back than swish around with a rolling bag. Dorothy Parker said, ‘Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses.’ That’s what women think of men with training wheels.”

“Chic,” responded a human resources executive named Karin, whose last name was lost in the din of Grand Central Terminal as she rolled briskly through. Commuters dodged her, but she insisted that she had never tripped anyone with her case. “I’m an expert wheeler,” she said.

Whatever you think of the wheeled briefcases, they are exploding in number. While no industrywide statistics exist, major manufacturers report a jump in demand. Tumi, the travel and accessories company, doubled its sales of the bags in 2006, compared with 2005. It added three rolling models to its line in the past few months, for a total of eight, including one designed to appeal to women.

“Rolling briefcases are one of those contradictory things,” said a Tumi spokeswoman who didn’t want her name attached to the words she said next. “They are hideous,” she said, adding, “our customers tell us they can’t live without them.”

There are lessons about the workplace, and about human vanity, in this love-hate relationship with a wheeled leather box. Its very existence is a measure of how work has changed.

That slim wisp of a briefcase that Robert Young’s character brought home from the office in “Father Knows Best”? Well, he didn’t carry a laptop. Or log a 70-hour week. Or lug around the 30 pounds that Mr. Rawlings, the executive vice president of sales and field operations for LogicalApps, shoves into his battered bag on an average day.

He certainly didn’t regularly fly to same-day meetings that might go until the next morning, requiring him to pack extra clothes in the coffee-colored bag to hedge his bets.

All that lugging — be it briefcase, messenger bag, pocketbook or backpack — takes a toll on the back. And the neck. And the shoulders. And even the wrists.

The American Medical Association warns that carrying more than 10 percent of your body weight can lead to injury, and the overnight appearance of low back pain led me to weigh my own workbag a few summers ago (back then, it was a satchel slung over one shoulder). It was about 25 pounds.

My choices were to either gain more than 100 pounds to reach the 10 percent threshold; to carry less, which seemed improbable; or to invest in some wheels, which I did. That switch (along with months of physical therapy for a herniated disc) stopped my back from hurting.

But wheeling my Targus case around makes me feel like a tourist. Or a grandma on her way home from the supermarket.

Those who are loath to wheel cite a few reasons. Rolling bags annoy other pedestrians. They are not worth the extra struggle on stairs. Not to mention that lifting a wheeled case — with the added weight of wheels and handle — onto a luggage rack is actually more of a strain on the back than lifting one without wheels.

But most freely admit that their choice is based not on practicality, but on ego.

“For sheer attractiveness — not a huge fan,” said Rachel Weingarten, whose book “Career and Corporate Cool” will be published by Wiley next month. She was on her way to a meeting, and was, she said via an e-mail message, “lugging an incredibly stunning (and very pricey) bag that will be filled with presentation materials, books and other goodies.”

“It looks incredible, and will impress my fashion-forward clients,” she continued, “but probably weighs more than my luggage does.”

Adults are not the only ones acting like status-conscious high schoolers. Actual high schoolers (and their younger siblings) are, too. When I suggested to my teenagers that they switch to backpacks with wheels, they looked at me as if I had suggested a return to Barney lunchboxes. And yet the American Occupational Therapy Association warns that 5,000 children each year are treated for injuries caused by overweight backpacks and that 60 percent of school-age children have experienced back pain because of what they carry.

The broader question, of course, is not how but why we are carrying all this stuff. What is in those cases, with and without wheels, that has to go back and forth from work to home nightly? Why did the state of California have to pass a law limiting the weight of student textbooks?

And why do preschoolers need Dora the Explorer backpacks anyway? What do they put inside? Their quarterly earnings reports?

Our overstuffed briefcases indicate either that we have too much work to do or that we find security in the possibility that if downtime strikes, we have work on hand to fill it.

“About half the time I actually do the work I bring home,” Denise Shade said as she and her wheels got off the 6:21 a.m. train at Grand Central from New Canaan, Conn. “The intent is there.” It reassures Ms. Shade, who is in charge of foreign exchange at KeyBank, to know that her work trails in her wake at all times.

Robert Lopata, a strategic marketing manager at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, is one who sees deeper meaning in the wheels that pass by him each working day (and which he adamantly refuses to use).

Uglier than those wheels, he said, are the “workplace demands and neurotic tendencies that make people think that they need to cart around that much stuff. Wasn’t the information revolution supposed to make briefcases and paper, for that matter, obsolete?

“The rolling briefcase,” Mr. Lopata continued, “is a symptom of a much bigger problem. Ever notice that the most efficient people are the ones with the least amount of stuff?

“We hate the guy with the rolling briefcase because either literally or metaphorically, we are that guy.”

thurgood marshall must be rolling over in his grave

Call me cynical. Call me a historian. Call me a realist.

In this country, separate has never meant equal, especially when it comes to issues of race and education.

I'm dismayed. I'm disgusted. But I'm not surprised. This conservative-dominated Supreme Court is starting to show its true colors. What's frustrating is that those are black and white, and not the many nuanced shades of gray that I still expect from learned justices entrusted with interpreting our most sacred possession — the Constitution.
Editorial: Resegregation Now
Published: June 29, 2007

The Supreme Court ruled 53 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated education is inherently unequal, and it ordered the nation’s schools to integrate. Yesterday, the court switched sides and told two cities that they cannot take modest steps to bring public school students of different races together. It was a sad day for the court and for the ideal of racial equality.

Since 1954, the Supreme Court has been the nation’s driving force for integration. Its orders required segregated buses and public buildings, parks and playgrounds to open up to all Americans. It wasn’t always easy: governors, senators and angry mobs talked of massive resistance. But the court never wavered, and in many of the most important cases it spoke unanimously.

Yesterday, the court’s radical new majority turned its back on that proud tradition in a 5-4 ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts. It has been some time since the court, which has grown more conservative by the year, did much to compel local governments to promote racial integration. But now it is moving in reverse, broadly ordering the public schools to become more segregated.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided the majority’s fifth vote, reined in the ruling somewhat by signing only part of the majority opinion and writing separately to underscore that some limited programs that take race into account are still acceptable. But it is unclear how much room his analysis will leave, in practice, for school districts to promote integration. His unwillingness to uphold Seattle’s and Louisville’s relatively modest plans is certainly a discouraging sign.

In an eloquent dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer explained just how sharp a break the decision is with history. The Supreme Court has often ordered schools to use race-conscious remedies, and it has unanimously held that deciding to make assignments based on race “to prepare students to live in a pluralistic society” is “within the broad discretionary powers of school authorities.”

Chief Justice Roberts, who assured the Senate at his confirmation hearings that he respected precedent, and Brown in particular, eagerly set these precedents aside. The right wing of the court also tossed aside two other principles they claim to hold dear. Their campaign for “federalism,” or scaling back federal power so states and localities have more authority, argued for upholding the Seattle and Louisville, Ky., programs. So did their supposed opposition to “judicial activism.” This decision is the height of activism: federal judges relying on the Constitution to tell elected local officials what to do.

The nation is getting more diverse, but by many measures public schools are becoming more segregated. More than one in six black children now attend schools that are 99 to 100 percent minority. This resegregation is likely to get appreciably worse as a result of the court’s ruling.

There should be no mistaking just how radical this decision is. In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said it was his “firm conviction that no Member of the Court that I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today’s decision.” He also noted the “cruel irony” of the court relying on Brown v. Board of Education while robbing that landmark ruling of much of its force and spirit. The citizens of Louisville and Seattle, and the rest of the nation, can ponder the majority’s kind words about Brown as they get to work today making their schools, and their cities, more segregated.

jeudi, juin 28, 2007

reason #2498 i never want to live in florida

Seeing a headline about a one-eyed gator attacking a golfer immediately made me think of my friend Jason.
One-eyed gator pulls golfer into pond
VENICE, Florida (AP) -- A man who lost his ball in a golf course pond nearly lost a limb when a nearly 11-foot alligator latched on to his arm and pulled him in the water, authorities said.

Bruce Burger, 50, was trying to retrieve his ball Monday from a pond on the sixth hole at the Lake Venice Golf Club.

The alligator latched on to Burger's right forearm and pulled him in the pond, said Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Burger used his left arm to beat the reptile until it freed him.

"I saw him reach down to get his ball and he yelled" for help, said Janet Pallo, who was playing the fifth hole and ran over to drive the man to the clubhouse.

Burger, from Lenoir City, Tennessee, was taken to a hospital but was not seriously injured, Morse said Tuesday.

It took seven Fish and Wildlife officers an hour to trap the one-eyed alligator, which measured 10 feet, 11 inches, Morse said.

The pond at the sixth hole has a "Beware of Alligator" sign.

"Unfortunately, that's part of Florida," course general manager Rod Parry said. "There's wildlife in these ponds."


That's the amount raised for the American Cancer Society by this past weekend's 2007 Relay for Life in La Jolla! Thanks to everyone who donated time, money, and possessions to this amazing fundraising effort.

I participated in the 24-hour event, along with Cass, Regina, Melissa B., Heather, Norma, Jeff, and others. It was powerful to walk in the survivor's lap and well worth the sleep deprivation and blisters! It was beautiful to see the track lit up with luminarae (?) in honor of those who are still fighting for their lives, for survivors, and for those who have lost their battles. More than anything, it was empowering to do my small part to raise funds and awareness for an organization that serves so many and that has been so helpful in my life. Thanks, ACS.

b to the onna to the roo

Whether you call it Bonnaroo, Dustaroo, Sweataroo, Drugaroo, or Greenaroo, the four-day festival in Manchester, TN was awesome. Leo, Ash, James, Mary, Sabine, and I had a great time with 90,000 people on a farm in the middle of nowhere.

Here's my summary of the weekend:
  1. I have never been a Tool fan. I get that it's good music, and that Maynard is a clever sonofabitch, and that 10,000,000 Tool fans can't be wrong. It's just not my aesthetic. But after seeing that show and all his crazy lasers and the energy that came out of that stage, I will seriously consider going to see them again if they're in town and I don't have to sell my firstborn into white slavery to afford a ticket. They were that good.
  2. I loved the Decemberists show in spite of the Degrassi Junior High crowd that talked through the whole fucking show. The whole fucking show.
  3. Gogol Bordello is a must-see if you are ever within 6 hours driving distance. Think Ukrainian folk music meets French punk meets crazy-with-an-eeeeeeeeeeee frontman who literally crowdsurfed on top of a ginormous bass drum while singing "think local, fuck global" for a good 5 minutes. Good times, man. Good times.
  4. Ash is a damn good masseuse. She tenderized my airplane-and-camping-sore back so well on Friday that I was very upset to have missed her on Saturday night for round two.
  5. It is possible to wash all parts of your body in privacy (if not comfort) with a Nalgene bottle, foaming Dial soap (big ups to Sabine for buying that instead of the regular soap), and a portapotty. I know because I did each day and was very glad that I did.
  6. I set foot in a Wal-MART for the first time in 6 years, because I had no other shopping choices. I'm proud to report these pertinent facts:
    • It was before 8 a.m.
    • We bought a case of Miller Lite (no glass at the festival + shopping at WalMART = no good beer choices) and
    • Two loaves of bread (we almost got wonder bread, but realized that that would mean eating wonder bread for the next three days and the joke just wasn't that funny)
    • Sunscreen (the TSA's 3 oz limit on liquids + the fact that we don't check luggage on the way anywhere + hot, sunny days in the forecast made this mandatory)
    • It was in Tennessee

    • (Yeah, that's all so surreal and effed up that no punchline is necessary.) Related redneck moment: I took a photo of a "no guns allowed" sticker on the way into the Chattanooga Airport as we were leaving. (No joke.)
  7. I can't stop smiling every time I think of Michael Franti's "How you feelin'?" set. If you haven't seen him and Spearhead live, then you don't know what good music is, period.
  8. Ash & co. got the best campsite ever. It was literally 4 minutes from our tent to the front gate. Amazing.
  9. If you go next year, bring a bandanna and coughdrops. The downside to no rain is that bonnaroo becomes dustaroo. Fun things to learn on NPR as you're driving to the festival on the Al Gore, Sr. Memorial Highway: Tennessee is experiencing the driest year on record -- they started keeping track 117 years ago. No wonder favorite son Al Jr. has got his knickers in a twist.
  10. I made it out of the state for the second time without going to a Waffle House. I'm still conflicted, as I feel I need to experience it to understand Bill Hicks' whole Waffle House/ waitress reading schtick.
Meanwhile, here's Leo's dispatch, if you haven't already seen it ...
tool fucking rocks. that's all i have to say. and maynard is my boyfriend. great show, smallish crowd because all the hardcore hippy jam band types high-tailed it to their campgrounds, lasers and prog metal, what more can you ask for? you want more? how about tom morello sitting in for a jam?

top two maynard quotes: "i smell patchouuuuuuuuliiiiii" right before the first song, and "i just took a shower... (pause) jealous?" in the middle of the set.

john paul jones is a total slut. he flew in for the superjam, then sat in with everyone and their mother. i'm pretty sure he was the "also special MF guest" at our campsite breakfast on saturday. seriously, i heard "ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the legendary john paul jones" at least three times, and i know i missed some. and yet wolfmother, which was almost embarrassingly zeppelin-like, did not feature him at all. hmmm...

my favorite find last year was balkan beatbox. because of them, i blew regina spektor off to go see gogol bordello saturday afternoon. i still think i might hate their music on CD, but live they are freakin' amazing. like BBB, their energy is off the charts. loudest crowd all weekend.

i still don't know how to describe the police show, mainly because it's kind of a jukebox kind of thing. they don't have any new music, they're not going to give you a crazy jam, they're too big to do covers... so you basically kinda go for the kick of seeing them up close, and to hear the songs you love performed live (sort of like putting money into a jukebox and listening to your favorite songs on it). plus, having never seen them live during their heyday, it's impossible to tell you how good they are compared to that. so i will make some observations:

- i had a great time, which must be said before i start nitpicking. sting and copeland are in great shape music-wise, obviously i expected that from stewart because i saw him last year with oysterhead, but sting surprised me. very little rust if any at all (again, it's hard to compare because i have no other data points). both way into it, relaxed, looking like they were having fun. andy summers did a very good job, but he looked like he was in labor out there, very serious, no interplay with the crowd at all, almost like he couldn't afford to let loose, but i asked happy and she told me he was a smug prick back in the day, too. : )

- as far as the setlist, again, they played all the songs they had to play, except for "don't stand so close to me." (WTF?) no surprises, which is kind of a letdown when you're in the middle of seeing so many bands all trying to impress you with weird out there stuff, but it's the way these shows go. what were they gonna do? no sting songs, either. that was not at all a surprise. it's probably written into the contract. : )

- very tight set, no jammy meanderings, no extended solos, just the standard 15 second guitar solos. never really saw stewart break out and go crazy, which was a little disappointing, but again, i don't think of the police as a jammy band. the songs were sparse, mostly faithful to the original arrangements, and very tight. it didn't look like a band that split up for 25 years and just reformed 5 months ago.

- andy summers has not aged gracefully. sting is in fantastic shape. at one point i asked happy how old he was, and without taking her eyes off the stage she just said "old enough." not even joking. then, at the end, stewart told us sting was going to get naked for us, then stripped him from the waist up and they played a few more songs. at one point the big screens showed a shot of him from the side... um... the ladies very much enjoyed that one (he was wearing tight trousers). ash: "oh, that's nice." these are things i figure you need to know. : )

- my main complaint (other than not playing "don't stand"): the show was scheduled for two hours, and they were on stage for an hour 40, and that includes everyone running off two separate times and coming back for encores. i mean, they're older, they've not been together for all that long this time around, so it's understandable, but the whole crowd was like, "excuse me?" seriously, we all thought there was more and hung around until they started breaking everything down. i think if they had done "don't stand" we probably would have figured that was it, but because such a big song is missing and the show is short, you think "ha ha, ok, you got us, come out for the last encore."

- they did NOT fly puffy in for "every breath you take." i mean, they're not even trying. : )

right now, i have no idea what i saw. i need to go back to my t-shirt and reminisce (this is why every year i get the shirt with all the bands on it). my top shows were tool, gogol bordello, and probably the police, but there was a lot of other stuff. wilco was great, but it was sunday late afternoon and i was fried. it was perfect music to just lay on the grass and collect yourself. i really liked it, and i'd have a hard time telling you how good they were ...

the other shows i saw (i pulled up the schedule online):

white stripes - very tight, great music, but after 45 minutes you get tired of the one song. especially if it's sunday at sundown, you're exhausted, and there's dust everywhere.

ben harper (special guests JPJ and ziggy) - brotha was tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. never seen before, and that's a damn shame. his cover of "dazed and confused" with JPJ was amazing. his cover of "get up, stand up" with ziggy was also very, very good. our group did not have a joint ready for "burn one down." i don't think we'll be allowed in next year. : )

lily allen - caught about 20 minutes to half an hour because of conflicts. great fun. she's like the female equivalent of The Streets last year, the token white british trash-talking poppy rapper, except she didn't hit on people's girlfriends during the show. the equivalent of streets' "don't you wish your boyfriend ate your p**** like me" was a song about men with short dicks. gotta love the brits. : )

michael franti and spearhead - typically upbeat, hopeful, "i'm not the same michael franti who wrote hole in a bucket and dream team" type stuff. loved it as always, and still i wish he'd remember the hip hop roots. it's not like i'm asking for "television, the drug of the nation" here, people. like some guy wrote in the bonnaroo saturday paper, it's not bonnaroo until you hear michael franti yell "how you feelin'?" you know, except for last year, when he didn't show. : P

girl talk-gov't mule-flaming lips-galactic - happy and i decided to meander during saturday's midnight to 3am slot to avoid falling asleep at any one show. girl talk: liked the music, but not for a concert. definitely worth checking out for home listening. mule: we listened to three songs and headed over to check out the lips, and we never made it back. probably my biggest regret all weekend, other than completely spacing out on tom morello's acoustic set (i forgot he was the nightwatchman). they had it going the fuck on. the lips: i didn't like them before bonnaroo, and i still don't see what the big deal is. got there, listened to yoshimi and one other song, and left to check out galactic. heard the vaseline song as we walked away. i guess it's just not my thing. i was also very tired during this whole meander. people raved about the show the next morning, but no one mentioned the music at all. it was all about wayne coming down from heaven on a spaceship in a bubble. galactic: they were awesome, but after 3-4 songs we were just ready for bed. heard them jamming alone, plus mr lif and chali 2na. apparently gift of gab, lyrics born, and a couple of other rappers were also there. probably JPJ as well. : P from the campsite, sasha and digweed sounded awesome (did i mention the sweet ass camp ash and them got for us?)

apparently, rodrigo and gabriela were a-mazing on thursday, just so you know. we got in friday morning. which reminds me: if we do this again next year, i am flying into chattanooga on wednesday and getting my proper rest. seriously, friday was a struggle.

panic - we only saw the first half hour or so, and then we were ready to get back to civilization. it was panic.

manu chao - this was good, i forget why we left a little early, but it wasn't for lack of a good time. it was much more high-energy than i was expecting, even the slower songs on the records they amped up into some sort of punky-ska frenzy (like "desaparecido" and such). definitely want to check out again.

the decemberists - oh my god, you will never believe who sarah is going out with, mike. nuh-huh. uh-huh! no way. yes! and she's totally letting him get to second base. what a slut. nuh-huh! uh-huh! you're not serious. i am too so serious! on and on and on. this year's winner of the radiohead memorial "i wonder how mad all the people around me would really get if i threw a beer at that fucking 13-year old." i think this was a great show. just not loud enough. nowhere near loud enough. definitely checking them out when they come to san diego. anyone who wears a full seersucker suit on stage with 95 degrees and 156% humidity has my undying admiration.

bob weir and ratdog - i left after the decemberists finished, walked over to where bob was, listened to three songs (including "come together") and high-tailed it back to where happy was saving a shady spot for the white stripes. it just was too hot and i was afraid of sunburn, i could feel my right arm heating up. i wanted to stay though. he was rocking. on my way back, i stopped at a portapotty, and there were these three kids in front of me, probably about 18-21, full-on hippie jam band gear on (the beard, the bandanna, the tie dye, everything), talking about the schedule, and one of them goes "so who's on now" and the girl says "bob wire... and... (looks at the schedule)... ratdog." most depressing bonnaroo moment so far. even worse than getting "sir'd" at sasha last year. and no, i didn't mispell weir, she said "wire."

franz ferdinand - happy went, i stayed at the main stage to watch the end of ben harper because he was just smoking (kinda like the oysterhead-death cab conundrum last year). aparently a good show.

damien rice - very mellow, i thought he was really good, but we were kinda at the back of the crowd and he was getting drowned out by fountains of wayne. those guys sounded like they were rocking.

kings of leon - the typical leo comment would be "i liked them better when they were called the black crowes," but you know what? they were awesome. they had speaker issues, a power outage, a freak rainstorm, and they still rocked. i actually think i like them better than the crowes. they are very similar though, down to the lead singer's voice and the fact that it's a family band. apparently, though, they seem to get along fine and no one's married to kate hudson.

wolfmother - i liked them better when they were called led zeppelin. still a good show, but the similarities were a little embarrassing. does it make sense if i say they're 97% zep and 3% europe? am i even allowed to say that?

DJ shadow - awwwwwwww yeah. next year, start on time, and skip the 15-minute speech at the beginning about how you're not in this for the money and neither are 90% of all bands. just get on stage, shout "lars ulrich is an a-hole" into the microphone, and start spinning. once he got started he was on.

pete yorn - a great way to start out our sunday. great afternoon show. i blew john butler off to go to this, because i've seen john 4 times in the past two years. did not regret this at all.

STS9 - typically solid STS9 show while we were there. spent most of the first half of this late night show enjoying the company of the other folks in our party. left early to check out shadow. i hear the ending was wild...

cold war kids - first show we went to friday. spent the first 20 minutes trying to make it past security at the gate, then either listened for a couple of songs, or maybe we just listened while we were at the gate and decided that was enough. unremarkable. we chose to leave early to stake out a good spot for...

brazillian girls - seriously, what are these guys on? and where are they from? the US? brazil? didn't the lead singer say she was german? her accent sounded german. spent the rest of the weekend trying to get their lyrics out of my head so i wouldn't be singing them at work today, especially the one that goes "p**** p**** p**** marijuana" over and over. ah, shit, there it goes again. happy and i skipped paolo nuttini to hear the end of their set and make it to the main stage in time for KOL. someday i may listen to paolo and regret that, but so far i'm happy with that decision.

history made: for the first time in six years, no les claypool in one form or another. : ( though apparently the movie theater tent (don't ask) was showing a movie of his he sent along.


Bonnaroo is an incredibly well choreographed event. The festival logistics boggle my mind. That the organizers added the extra challenge of making it a green festival re: their staging is admirable and in keeping with the roots of this hippie festival.
Bonnaroo's Good Vibrations
The country's biggest outdoor festival does its part to save the planet
By Kate Sheppard

Every June, 90,000 music and comedy lovers from all over the country take over a 700-acre farm in rural Tennessee, where they spend four days eating, drinking, sleeping and, of course, rocking out. Huge outdoor summer festivals are a fan's dream and an environmentalist's nightmare, but the organizers of Bonnaroo, the crown jewel of summer festivals, have worked tirelessly to make sure their event left as little impact on the planet as possible.

This was the sixth year for the concert, and each year the organizers have improved the event’s environmental impact, says Richard Goodstone, head of Superfly Productions, the group behind Bonnaroo.

"I think we've always been conscious in general of our impact at the festival, but certainly as the interest has raised nationally and internationally, it's become more of a priority for us," says Goodstone.

From the beginning, the festival has offered recycling and composting options through a partnership with Clean Vibes, a company dedicated to managing and reducing solid waste at outdoor events. In just five years, the partnership has successfully diverted 500 tons of recyclable or compostable waste from landfills, and in 2006 alone it recycled 56 percent of all the waste generated at the festival.

This year, the Superfly team members have taken it to a whole new level. They bought 30,000 gallons of ethanol that powered the generators of all of the non-music stages, and another stage was powered entirely by solar energy. This year they also used 10 electric golf carts so organizers and stars could get around with zero emissions, and they used a fuel cell to power one of the Wi-Fi towers, thanks to a partnership with the Southern Fuel Cell Coalition.

Superfly also planned to keep more than 250 tons of waste out of landfills by recycling and composting, and all the food and beverage vendors used 100-percent compostable wraps, plates, cups and cutlery. The concert shirts were printed on organic cotton, and all the programs were printed on 30-percent post-consumer recycled paper. Even the toilet paper was made from post-consumer recycled paper.

And for the places where Superfly couldn't reduce its impact directly, they bought carbon offsets with the help of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and Clif Bar. Clif Bar also helped fans purchase "Cool Tags," or renewable energy credits, in order to offset the emissions created getting to the concert.

Festival planners are also constantly on the lookout for new ways to green the festival. They recently purchased the land where the festival is held each year, and they plan to put in a permanent, renewable power source on site to provide all their energy needs. They also hope to add more electric golf carts to their fleet in the years to come.

For Goodstone and the rest of the folks at Superfly, minimizing the environmental impact is a top priority not just for the event itself, but also as a means to educate concert-goers and spread awareness to everyone involved.

"We've got an incredible platform to make a difference, and what we need right now are a lot of people making a difference, because of what a large issue global warming is," Goodstone says. "We want to be a leader, not just to be a leader, but so that other people can learn from us and say, 'Hey, we can do this. We can make a difference.' Hopefully that will be absorbed by our patrons and our artists."

Between the green goodness and the phenomenal lineup of artists —including the Police, Wilco, Damien Rice, Ziggy Marley and Demetri Martin — the festival was a crowd-pleaser.

vendredi, juin 15, 2007

off to 'roo

Leo and I are packing the car and leaving the Robinson complex in a few minutes. I'll be sans internet for several days, off enjoying amazing music in the middle of nowhere, Tennessee. (Actually, it's Manchester, if you need me to be more specific.)

lundi, juin 11, 2007

rock's oldest joke

3 DAYS 3 HOURS 12 MINUTES 55 SECONDS until Bonnaroo 2007! Hope it's as fun (and rain-free) as last year ...
Rock's Oldest Joke: Yelling 'Freebird!' In a Crowded Theater
It's a Request, a Rebuke, A Cry From the Heart, A Tribute to Skynyrd
March 17, 2005

One recent Tuesday night at New York's Bowery Ballroom, the Crimea had just finished its second song. The Welsh quintet's first song had gone over fairly well, the second less so, and singer/guitarist Davey MacManus looked out at the still-gathering crowd.

Then, from somewhere in the darkness came the cry, "Freebird!"

It made this night like so many other rock 'n' roll nights in America.

"Freebird" isn't the Crimea's song; it's from the 1973 debut album by legendary Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band's nine-minute march from ruminative piano to wailing guitar couldn't be less like the Crimea's jagged punk-pop. But it was requested nonetheless.

Somebody is always yelling out the title. "I don't know that I've ever seen a show where it hasn't happened," says Bill Davis of the veteran country-punk band Dash Rip Rock.

"It's just the most astonishing phenomenon," says Mike Doughty, the former front man of the "deep slacker jazz" band Soul Coughing, adding that "these kids, they can't be listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd."

Yelling "Freebird!" has been a rock cliché for years, guaranteed to elicit laughs from drunks and scorn from music fans who have long since tired of the joke. And it has spread beyond music, prompting the Chicago White Sox organist to add the song to her repertoire and inspiring a greeting card in which a drunk holding a lighter hollers "Freebird!" at wedding musicians.

Bands mostly just ignore the taunt. But one common retort is: "I've got your 'free bird' right here." That's accompanied by a middle finger. It's a strategy Dash Rip Rock's former bassist Ned Hickel used. According to fans' accounts of shows, so have Jewel and Hot Tuna's Jack Casady. Jewel declines to comment. Mr. Casady says that's "usually not my response to those kind of things."

Others have offered more than the bird. On a recent live album, Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock declares that "if this were the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and you were going to die in 20 minutes -- just long enough to play 'Freebird' -- we still wouldn't play it." Dash Rip Rock often plays "Stairway to Freebird," a mash-up of the Skynyrd epic and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" that Mr. Davis boasts lasts "less than two minutes. ... You're finished before people get mad."

A few years ago, Mr. Doughty started promoting the Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men" as the new "Freebird," asking audiences at his solo shows to call for the disco chestnut instead. Now, he says, he gets yells for both songs at every performance.

A harsh reaction to "Freebird" came from the late comedian Bill Hicks during a Chicago gig in the early 1990s. On a bootleg recording of the show, Mr. Hicks at first just sounds irked. "Please stop yelling that," he says. "It's not funny, it's not clever -- it's stupid."

The comic soon works himself into a rage, but the "Freebirds" keep coming. "Freebird," he finally says wearily, then intones: "And in the beginning there was the Word -- 'Freebird.' And 'Freebird' would be yelled throughout the centuries. 'Freebird,' the mantra of the moron."

How did this strange ritual begin? "Freebird" is hardly obscure -- it's a radio staple consistently voted one of rock's greatest songs. One version -- and an important piece of the explanation -- anchors Skynyrd's 1976 live album "One More From the Road." On the record, singer Ronnie Van Zant, who was killed along with two other bandmates in a 1977 plane crash, asks the crowd, "What song is it you want to hear?" That unleashes a deafening call for "Freebird," and Skynyrd obliges with a 14-minute rendition.

To understand the phenomenon, it also helps to be from Chicago. When asked why they continue to request "Freebird," Mr. Hicks's tormentors yell out "Kevin Matthews!"

Kevin Matthews is a Chicago radio personality who has exhorted his fans -- the KevHeads -- to yell "Freebird" for years, and claims to have originated the tradition in the late 1980s, when he says he hit upon it as a way to torment Florence Henderson of "Brady Bunch" fame, who was giving a concert. He figured somebody should yell something at her "to break up the monotony." The longtime Skynyrd fan settled on "Freebird," saying the epic song "just popped into my head."

Mr. Matthews says the call was heeded, inspiring him to go down the listings of coming area shows, looking for entertainers who deserved a "Freebird" and encouraging the KevHeads to make it happen.

But he bemoans the decline of "Freebird" etiquette. "It was never meant to be yelled at a cool concert -- it was meant to be yelled at someone really lame," he says. "If you're going to yell 'Freebird,' yell 'Freebird' at a Jim Nabors concert."

Still, Mr. Matthews treasures his trove of recorded "Freebird" moments -- such as baffled comedian Elayne Boosler wondering why the audience is shouting "reverb." And he argues that good bands simply acknowledge it and move on. "The people who are conceited, the so-called artists who get really offended by it, they deserve it," he says.

But did "Freebird" truly start with the KevHeads? Longtime Chicago Tribune music writer Greg Kot says he remembers the cry from the early 1980s. He suggests it originated as an in-joke among indie-rock fans "having their sneer at mainstream classic rock."

Other music veterans think it dates back to 1970s audiences' shouts for it and other guitar sagas, such as "Whipping Post," by the Allman Brothers Band, and "Smoke on the Water," by Deep Purple.

They may all be right: It's possible "Freebird" began as a rallying cry for Skynyrd Nation and a sincere request from guitar lovers, was made famous by the live cut, taken up by ironic clubgoers, given new life by Mr. Matthews, and eventually lost all meaning and became something people holler when there's a band onstage.

But as with many mysteries, the true origin may be unknowable -- cold comfort for bands still to be confronted with the inevitable cry from the darkness. For them, here's a strategy tried by a brave few: Call the audience's bluff. Phish liked to sing it a cappella. The Dandy Warhols play a slowed-down take singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor describes as sung "like T. Rex would if he were on a lot of pills." And Dash Rip Rock has performed the real song in order to surprise fans expecting the parody. For his part, Mr. Doughty suggests that musicians make a pact: Whenever anyone calls for "Freebird," play it in its entirety -- and if someone calls for it again, play it again.

"That would put a stop to 'Freebird,' I think," he says. "It would be a bad couple of years, but it might be worth it."

So what do the members of Skynyrd think of the tradition? Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie's brother and the band's singer since 1987, says "it's not an insult at all -- I think it's kind of cool. It's fun, and people are doing it in a fun way. That's what music's supposed to be about."

Besides, Mr. Van Zant has a confession: His wife persuaded him to see Cher in Jacksonville a couple of years ago, and he couldn't resist yelling "Freebird!" himself. "My wife is going, 'Stop! Stop!' " he recalls, laughing. "I embarrassed the hell out of her."

mercredi, juin 06, 2007

can get I get a collective ewww???!!!

Allison tipped me off about this today, with the fun news that my strawberry yogurt gets its pink color from crushed beetles. Mmmmm, beetles.

I don't object to using natural sources for dyes. I just want to know what I'm eating and to know how it affects the human body to eat something that nature never intended for us to injest, much less in mass, refined quantities.

I'm fine with white yogurt with strawberry flavor. I'm fine with cheddar that isn't bright orange (as my mother always says: The US is the only country where cheddar is bright orange — cow's don't produce orange milk, why should cheese look like carrots?). And I'm all in favor of food looking like food and not the color-enhanced version marketers are pushing.
What's in My Food?
By Pallavi Gogoi
Few people know that the food coloring listed as cochineal extract comes from female beetles. Food activists want to spread the word.

When you dig into a strawberry Yoplait yogurt, take a moment to contemplate where the beautiful pink color comes from. Strawberries? Think again. It comes from crushed bugs. Specifically, from the female cochineal beetles and their eggs. And it's not just yogurt. The bugs are also used to give red coloring to Hershey Good & Plenty candies, Tropicana grapefruit juice, and other common foods.

What Companies Do to Improve the Look & Taste of Your Food
You won't find "crushed bugs" on the list of ingredients for any of these foods, however. Companies have a bit of latitude in describing exactly what they put in our food. Many larger companies, such as General Mills, the manufacturer of Yoplait and Pepsi, the maker of Tropicana, identify the dye in their products as either carmine, or cochineal extract. Still, many companies simply list "artificial color" on their ingredients list without giving any details.

Food activists are trying to change disclosure requirements. The Food & Drug Administration has received numerous complaints over the issue and is now in the process of considering a proposal to require color additives like the cochineal extract to be disclosed on the labels of all foods that use them. "Hopefully we'll see something by the end of the year," says Michael Jacobson, executive director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food advocacy group in Washington, D. C.

ALLERGIC REACTIONS. Jacobson says that consumers want to know what they're eating. Some are allergic to bug extract; others are vegetarians. "The food product should indicate that it comes from insects so that vegetarians at least can avoid the product," he says.

Carmine may be the least of food activists' worries. It is known to cause allergic reactions in just a small percentage of the population. Food producers sometimes add much more dangerous chemical additives to make their products look attractive (see, 3/27/06, "Hershey: A Sweeter Bid").

Indeed, who would think that chicken, eggs, and salmon are often artificially enhanced to look more appetizing to consumers? The plump, juicy chicken sitting on the supermarket shelf is likely to have been fed canthaxanthin, a pigment added to chicken feed to enhance poultry's yellow color and make it look palatable. And egg-laying hens are also given a dye along with their feed, making egg yolks vary in color from light yellow all the way to bright orange.

IN THE PINK. Farmers can have their pick from a color chart that goes from the numbers 1 to 15, coinciding with colors from yellow to red. The yellow color comes from xanthophyll and carotenoids in the feed absorbed through the intestine, metabolized, and deposited in the egg yolk. In an article published last year, R. Scott Beyer, a poultry specialist from the Kansas State University, recommended different levels of xanthophylls, depending on what color of yolk is desired. He says 23 mg of xanthophyll per pound of feed results in a "medium orange" color.

The fresh, farm-raised salmon that shoppers buy also get their orange-red hue from eating the chemicals astaxanthin and canthaxanthin. Wild salmon are pink because they eat shrimp-like creatures called krill. But to achieve the same pink color, farmed salmon need chemicals, which are mixed with their feed. In the past couple of years, the European Union significantly reduced the level of such dyes that can be fed to salmon because of concerns that the dyes, at high levels, can affect people's eyesight.

Two years ago, in the U.S., Seattle law firm Smith & Lowney filed two class actions against grocers Kroger and Safeway in Washington and California, contending that they should disclose that their salmon are dyed pink. Both lawsuits got thrown out of court. However, Knoll Lowney, a partner at the law firm, says that the lawsuits raised enough public awareness that many grocers voluntarily use "color added" labels to their salmon.

Still, Lowney says that such dyes are totally unnecessary. "This is a growing problem because the food companies are using more artificial means to enhance the appearance of the product and make it appear like something that it is not," he says. A walk down the grocery aisle for processed food is an eye opener—the bacon and ham get their red tint from sodium ascorbate, an antioxidant and color stabilizer, and the Betty Crocker icing gets its bright white color not from natural cream and egg whites but from titanium dioxide, a mineral that is also used in house paints. Betty Crocker manufacturer General Mills didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

lundi, juin 04, 2007

hanging with bill richardson

Allison, Bill Richardson, and Happy

Allison, Ash, Leo, and I crashed the Young Dems party in San Diego a few weeks ago. We got the tickets from our colleague's wife, who happens to be in business with Ash. (Small freaking world — I didn't figure out the business connection until four weeks later.)

To be perfectly frank, we went to the party hoping to meet Obama. But Governor Bill Richardson gave his rousing "I am not a rock star" stump speech, mentioning all the right things, like being anti-war, pro-environment, pro-choice, pro-gay equality, pro-education, pro-health care, etc. He didn't mention that he's pro-second amendment, but I doubt that would've played very well with that crowd.

He's got the credentials and experience to be President, having spent 12 years in Congress, serving as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Secretary of the Department of Energy, and Governor of New Mexico. I think he's among the strongest of the mid-field candidates, but doubt that he's got enough name recognition to rise above the rock stars.

when should a kid start kindergarten?

I can't remember a time when I didn't know how to read. But I also can't remember my parents ever reading to me. I'm sure they did ... I just don't remember it.

To be fair, there are lots of things I don't remember about Spain and my early school years. I do remember getting bored and being taken out of the private Anglican school. And being put in the American school on base. I went from a second-grade curriculum to kindergarten (based on my age) and swapped math and reading for singing "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" and learning how to color inside the lines.

When we came to the US, I was put in first grade (again, based on my age and the fact that I'd just completed kindergarten) and was the only kid in my reading and math group that year (and the next two after that). My teachers had to do double and triple duty to teach the majority of the class, me/the advanced kids, and the slower students.

Then, when it came time to go from sixth to seventh grade, my dad and my sixth grade teacher Mr. Hubbard successfully argued for me to skip the seventh grade. My elementary and junior high principals both strenuously objected to promoting me to the eighth grade, citing concerns about my social development. I was fine (save the typical teenage "angst") and graduated high school a few months after turning 17.

In the end, I don't like arbitrary age cut-offs for when a child should start school. I think it boils down to your child and how socially, physically, emotionally, and mentally ready she is to start kindergarten. The other thing this article made me think about is how realistic it will be for me / my partner to work full-time while our kids are young and in full-on sponge learning / early development mode. I'm not sure how I'm gonna handle that ... but hey, I've got plenty of time to think about those things, right?
When Should a Kid Start Kindergarten?
By ELIZABETH WEIL | June 3, 2007
According to the apple-or-coin test, used in the Middle Ages, children should start school when they are mature enough for the delayed gratification and abstract reasoning involved in choosing money over fruit. In 15th- and 16th-century Germany, parents were told to send their children to school when the children started to act “rational.” And in contemporary America, children are deemed eligible to enter kindergarten according to an arbitrary date on the calendar known as the birthday cutoff — that is, when the state, or in some instances the school district, determines they are old enough. The birthday cutoffs span six months, from Indiana, where a child must turn 5 by July 1 of the year he enters kindergarten, to Connecticut, where he must turn 5 by Jan. 1 of his kindergarten year. Children can start school a year late, but in general they cannot start a year early. As a result, when the 22 kindergartners entered Jane Andersen’s class at the Glen Arden Elementary School near Asheville, N.C., one warm April morning, each brought with her or him a snack and a unique set of gifts and challenges, which included for some what’s referred to in education circles as “the gift of time.”

After the morning announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance, Andersen’s kindergartners sat down on a blue rug. Two, one boy and one girl, had been redshirted — the term, borrowed from sports, describes students held out for a year by their parents so that they will be older, or larger, or more mature, and thus better prepared to handle the increased pressures of kindergarten today. Six of Andersen’s pupils, on the other hand, were quite young, so young that they would not be enrolled in kindergarten at all if North Carolina succeeds in pushing back its birthday cutoff from Oct. 16 to Aug. 31.

Andersen is a willowy 11-year teaching veteran who offered up a lot of education in the first hour of class. First she read Leo Lionni’s classic children’s book “An Extraordinary Egg,” and directed a conversation about it. Next she guided the students through: writing a letter; singing a song; solving an addition problem; two more songs; and a math game involving counting by ones, fives and tens using coins. Finally, Andersen read them another Lionni book. Labor economists who study what’s called the accumulation of human capital — how we acquire the knowledge and skills that make us valuable members of society — have found that children learn vastly different amounts from the same classroom experiences and that those with certain advantages at the outset are able to learn more, more quickly, causing the gap between students to increase over time. Gaps in achievement have many causes, but a major one in any kindergarten room is age. Almost all kindergarten classrooms have children with birthdays that span 12 months. But because of redshirting, the oldest student in Andersen’s class is not just 12 but 15 months older than the youngest, a difference in age of 25 percent.

After rug time, Andersen’s kindergartners walked single-file to P.E. class, where the children sat on the curb alongside the parking circle, taking turns running laps for the Presidential Fitness Test. By far the fastest runner was the girl in class who had been redshirted. She strode confidently, with great form, while many of the smaller kids could barely run straight. One of the younger girls pointed out the best artist in the class, a freckly redhead. I’d already noted his beautiful penmanship. He had been redshirted as well.

States, too, are trying to embrace the advantages of redshirting. Since 1975, nearly half of all states have pushed back their birthday cutoffs and four — California, Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee — have active legislation in state assemblies to do so right now. (Arkansas passed legislation earlier this spring; New Jersey, which historically has let local districts establish their birthday cutoffs, has legislation pending to make Sept. 1 the cutoff throughout the state.) This is due, in part, to the accountability movement — the high-stakes testing now pervasive in the American educational system. In response to this testing, kindergartens across the country have become more demanding: if kids must be performing on standardized tests in third grade, then they must be prepping for those tests in second and first grades, and even at the end of kindergarten, or so the thinking goes. The testing also means that states, like students, now get report cards, and they want their children to do well, both because they want them to be educated and because they want them to stack up favorably against their peers.

Indeed, increasing the average age of the children in a kindergarten class is a cheap and easy way to get a small bump in test scores, because older children perform better, and states’ desires for relative advantage is written into their policy briefs. The California Performance Review, commissioned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, suggested moving California’s birthday cutoff three months earlier, to Sept. 1 from Dec. 2, noting that “38 states, including Florida and Texas, have kindergarten entry dates prior to California’s.” Maryland’s proposal to move its date mentioned that “the change . . . will align the ‘cutoff’ date with most of the other states in the country.”

All involved in increasing the age of kindergartners — parents, legislatures and some teachers — say they have the best interests of children in mind. “If I had just one goal with this piece of legislation it would be to not humiliate a child,” Dale Folwell, the Republican North Carolina state representative who sponsored the birthday-cutoff bill, told me. “Our kids are younger when they’re taking the SAT, and they’re applying to the same colleges as the kids from Florida and Georgia.” Fair enough — governors and state legislators have competitive impulses, too. Still, the question remains: Is it better for children to start kindergarten later? And even if it’s better for a given child, is it good for children in general? Time out of school may not be a gift to all kids. For some it may be a burden, a financial stress on their parents and a chance, before they ever reach a classroom, to fall even further behind.

Redshirting is not a new phenomenon — in fact, the percentage of redshirted children has held relatively steady since education scholars started tracking the practice in the 1980s. Studies by the National Center for Education Statistics in the 1990s show that delayed-entry children made up somewhere between 6 and 9 percent of all kindergartners; a new study is due out in six months. As states roll back birthday cutoffs, there are more older kindergartners in general — and more redshirted kindergartners who are even older than the oldest kindergartners in previous years. Recently, redshirting has become a particular concern, because in certain affluent communities the numbers of kindergartners coming to school a year later are three or four times the national average. “Do you know what the number is in my district?” Representative Folwell, from a middle-class part of Winston-Salem, N.C., asked me. “Twenty-six percent.” In one kindergarten I visited in Los Altos, Calif. — average home price, $1 million — about one-quarter of the kids had been electively held back as well. Fred Morrison, a developmental psychologist at the University of Michigan who has studied the impact of falling on one side or the other of the birthday cutoff, sees the endless “graying of kindergarten,” as it’s sometimes called, as coming from a parental obsession not with their children’s academic accomplishment but with their social maturity. “You couldn’t find a kid who skips a grade these days,” Morrison told me. “We used to revere individual accomplishment. Now we revere self-esteem, and the reverence has snowballed in unconscious ways — into parents always wanting their children to feel good, wanting everything to be pleasant.” So parents wait an extra year in the hope that when their children enter school their age or maturity will shield them from social and emotional hurt. Elizabeth Levett Fortier, a kindergarten teacher in the George Peabody Elementary School in San Francisco, notices the impact on her incoming students. “I’ve had children come into my classroom, and they’ve never even lost at Candy Land.”

For years, education scholars have pointed out that most studies have found that the benefits of being relatively older than one’s classmates disappear after the first few years of school. In a literature review published in 2002, Deborah Stipek, dean of the Stanford school of education, found studies in which children who are older than their classmates not only do not learn more per grade but also tend to have more behavior problems. However, more recent research by labor economists takes advantage of new, very large data sets and has produced different results. A few labor economists do concur with the education scholarship, but most have found that while absolute age (how many days a child has been alive) is not so important, relative age (how old that child is in comparison to his classmates) shapes performance long after those few months of maturity should have ceased to matter. The relative-age effect has been found in schools around the world and also in sports. In one study published in the June 2005 Journal of Sport Sciences, researchers from Leuven, Belgium, and Liverpool, England, found that a disproportionate number of World Cup soccer players are born in January, February and March, meaning they were old relative to peers on youth soccer teams.

Before the school year started, Andersen, who is 54, taped up on the wall behind her desk a poster of a dog holding a bouquet of 12 balloons. In each balloon Andersen wrote the name of a month; under each month, the birthdays of the children in her class. Like most teachers, she understands that the small fluctuations among birth dates aren’t nearly as important as the vast range in children’s experiences at preschool and at home. But one day as we sat in her classroom, Andersen told me, “Every year I have two or three young ones in that August-to-October range, and they just struggle a little.” She used to encourage parents to send their children to kindergarten as soon as they were eligible, but she is now a strong proponent of older kindergartners, after teaching one child with a birthday just a few days before the cutoff. “She was always a step behind. It wasn’t effort and it wasn’t ability. She worked hard, her mom worked with her and she still was behind.” Andersen followed the girl’s progress through second grade (after that, she moved to a different school) and noticed that she didn’t catch up. Other teachers at Glen Arden Elementary and elsewhere have noticed a similar phenomenon: not always, but too often, the little ones stay behind.

The parents of the redshirted girl in Andersen’s class told a similar story. Five years ago, their older daughter had just made the kindergarten birthday cutoff by a few days, and they enrolled her. “She’s now a struggling fourth grader: only by the skin of her teeth has she been able to pass each year,” the girl’s mother, Stephanie Gandert, told me. “I kick myself every year now that we sent her ahead.” By contrast, their current kindergartner is doing just fine. “I always tell parents, ‘If you can wait, wait.’ If my kindergartner were in first grade right now, she’d be in trouble, too.” (The parents of the redshirted boy in Andersen’s class declined to be interviewed for this article but may very well have held him back because he’s small — even though he’s now one of the oldest, he’s still one of the shortest.)

Kelly Bedard, a labor economist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, published a paper called “The Persistence of Early Childhood Maturity: International Evidence of Long-Run Age Effects” in The Quarterly Journal of Economics in November 2006 that looked at this phenomenon. “Obviously, when you’re 5, being a year older is a lot, and so we should expect kids who are the oldest in kindergarten to do better than the kids who are the youngest in kindergarten,” Bedard says. But what if relatively older kids keep doing better after the maturity gains of a few months should have ceased to matter? What if kids who are older relative to their classmates still have higher test scores in fourth grade, or eighth grade?

After crunching the math and science test scores for nearly a quarter-million students across 19 countries, Bedard found that relatively younger students perform 4 to 12 percentiles less well in third and fourth grade and 2 to 9 percentiles worse in seventh and eighth; and, as she notes, “by eighth grade it’s fairly safe to say we’re looking at long-term effects.” In British Columbia, she found that the relatively oldest students are about 10 percent more likely to be “university bound” than the relatively youngest ones. In the United States, she found that the relatively oldest students are 7.7 percent more likely to take the SAT or ACT, and are 11.6 percent more likely to enroll in four-year colleges or universities. (No one has yet published a study on age effects and SAT scores.) “One reason you could imagine age effects persist is that almost all of our education systems have ability-groupings built into them,” Bedard says. “Many claim they don’t, but they do. Everybody gets put into reading groups and math groups from very early ages.” Younger children are more likely to be assigned behind grade level, older children more likely to be assigned ahead. Younger children are more likely to receive diagnoses of attention-deficit disorder, too. “When I was in school the reading books all had colors,” Bedard told me. “They never said which was the high, the middle and the low, but everybody knew. Kids in the highest reading group one year are much more likely to be in the highest reading group the next. So you can imagine how that could propagate itself.”

Bedard found that different education systems produce varying age effects. For instance, Finland, whose students recently came out on top in an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study of math, reading and science skills, experiences smaller age effects; Finnish children also start school later, at age 7, and even then the first few years are largely devoted to social development and play. Denmark, too, produces little difference between relatively older and younger kids; the Danish education system prohibits differentiating by ability until students are 16. Those two exceptions notwithstanding, Bedard notes that she found age effects everywhere, from “the Japanese system of automatic promotion, to the accomplishment-oriented French system, to the supposedly more flexible skill-based program models used in Canada and the United States.”

The relative value of being older for one’s grade is a particularly open secret in those sectors of the American schooling system that treat education like a competitive sport. Many private-school birthday cutoffs are set earlier than public-school dates; and children, particularly boys, who make the cutoff but have summer and sometimes spring birthdays are often placed in junior kindergarten — also called “transitional kindergarten,” a sort of holding tank for kids too old for more preschool — or are encouraged to wait a year to apply. Erika O’Brien, a SoHo mother who has two redshirted children at Grace Church, a pre-K-through-8 private school in Manhattan, told me about a conversation she had with a friend whose daughter was placed in junior kindergarten because she had a summer birthday. “I told her that it’s really a great thing. Her daughter is going to have a better chance of being at the top of her class, she’ll more likely be a leader, she’ll have a better chance of succeeding at sports. She’s got nothing to worry about for the next nine years. Plus, if you’re making a financial investment in school, it’s a less risky investment.”

Robert Fulghum listed life lessons in his 1986 best seller “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Among them were:

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Wash your hands before you eat.

Take a nap every afternoon.


Were he to update the book to reflect the experience of today’s children, he’d need to call it “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Preschool,” as kindergarten has changed. The half day devoted to fair play and nice manners officially began its demise in 1983, when the National Commission on Excellence in Education published “A Nation at Risk,” warning that the country faced a “rising tide of mediocrity” unless we increased school achievement and expectations. No Child Left Behind, in 2002, exacerbated the trend, pushing phonics and pattern-recognition worksheets even further down the learning chain. As a result, many parents, legislatures and teachers find the current curriculum too challenging for many older 4- and young 5-year-olds, which makes sense, because it’s largely the same curriculum taught to first graders less than a generation ago. Andersen’s kindergartners are supposed to be able to not just read but also write two sentences by the time they graduate from her classroom. It’s no wonder that nationwide, teachers now report that 48 percent of incoming kindergartners have difficulty handling the demands of school.

Friedrich Froebel, the romantic motherless son who started the first kindergarten in Germany in 1840, would be horrified by what’s called kindergarten today. He conceived the early learning experience as a homage to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed that “reading is the plague of childhood. . . . Books are good only for learning to babble about what one does not know.” Letters and numbers were officially banned from Froebel’s kindergartens; the teaching materials consisted of handmade blocks and games that he referred to as “gifts.” By the late 1800s, kindergarten had jumped to the United States, with Boston transcendentalists like Elizabeth Peabody popularizing the concept. Fairly quickly, letters and numbers appeared on the wooden blocks, yet Peabody cautioned that a “genuine” kindergarten is “a company of children under 7 years old, who do not learn to read, write and cipher” and a “false” kindergarten is one that accommodates parents who want their children studying academics instead of just playing.

That the social skills and exploration of one’s immediate world have been squeezed out of kindergarten is less the result of a pedagogical shift than of the accountability movement and the literal-minded reverse-engineering process it has brought to the schools. Curriculum planners no longer ask, What does a 5-year-old need? Instead they ask, If a student is to pass reading and math tests in third grade, what does that student need to be doing in the prior grades? Whether kindergarten students actually need to be older is a question of readiness, a concept that itself raises the question: Ready for what? The skill set required to succeed in Fulgham’s kindergarten — openness, creativity — is well matched to the capabilities of most 5-year-olds but also substantially different from what Andersen’s students need. In early 2000, the National Center for Education Statistics assessed 22,000 kindergartners individually and found, in general, that yes, the older children are better prepared to start an academic kindergarten than the younger ones. The older kids are four times as likely to be reading, and two to three times as likely to be able to decipher two-digit numerals. Twice as many older kids have the advanced fine motor skills necessary for writing. The older kids also have important noncognitive advantages, like being more persistent and more socially adept. Nonetheless, child advocacy groups say it’s the schools’ responsibility to be ready for the children, no matter their age, not the children’s to be prepared for the advanced curriculum. In a report on kindergarten, the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education wrote, “Most of the questionable entry and placement practices that have emerged in recent years have their genesis in concerns over children’s capacities to cope with the increasingly inappropriate curriculum in kindergarten.”

Furthermore, as Elizabeth Graue, a former kindergarten teacher who now studies school-readiness and redshirting at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, points out, “Readiness is a relative issue.” Studies of early-childhood teachers show they always complain about the youngest students, no matter their absolute age. ‘In Illinois it will be the March-April-May kids; in California, it will be October-November-December,” Graue says. “It’s really natural as a teacher to gravitate toward the kids who are easy to teach, especially when there’s academic pressure and the younger kids are rolling around the floor and sticking pencils in their ears.”

But perhaps those kids with the pencils in their ears — at least the less-affluent ones — don’t need “the gift of time” but rather to be brought into the schools. Forty-two years after Lyndon Johnson inaugurated Head Start, access to quality early education still highly correlates with class; and one serious side effect of pushing back the cutoffs is that while well-off kids with delayed enrollment will spend another year in preschool, probably doing what kindergartners did a generation ago, less-well-off children may, as the literacy specialist Katie Eller put it, spend “another year watching TV in the basement with Grandma.” What’s more, given the socioeconomics of redshirting — and the luxury involved in delaying for a year the free day care that is public school — the oldest child in any given class is more likely to be well off and the youngest child is more likely to be poor. “You almost have a double advantage coming to the well-off kids,” says Samuel J. Meisels, president of Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development in Chicago. “From a public-policy point of view I find this very distressing.”

Nobody has exact numbers on what percentage of the children eligible for publicly financed preschool are actually enrolled — the individual programs are legion, and the eligibility requirements are complicated and varied — but the best guess from the National Institute for Early Education Research puts the proportion at only 25 percent. In California, for instance, 76 percent of publicly financed preschool programs have waiting lists, which include over 30,000 children. In Pennsylvania, 35 percent of children eligible for Head Start are not served. A few states do have universal preschool, and among Hillary Clinton’s first broad domestic policy proposals as a Democratic presidential candidate was to call for universal pre-kindergarten classes. But at the moment, free high-quality preschool for less-well-to-do children is spotty, and what exists often is aimed at extremely low-income parents, leaving out the children of the merely strapped working or lower-middle class. Nor, as a rule, do publicly financed programs take kids who are old enough to be eligible for kindergarten, meaning redshirting is not a realistic option for many.

One morning, when I was sitting in Elizabeth Levett Fortier’s kindergarten classroom in the Peabody School in San Francisco — among a group of students that included some children who had never been to preschool, some who were just learning English and some who were already reading — a father dropped by to discuss whether or not to enroll his fall-birthday daughter or give her one more year at her private preschool. Demographically speaking, any child with a father willing to call on a teacher to discuss if it’s best for that child to spend a third year at a $10,000-a-year preschool is going to be fine. Andersen told me, “I’ve had parents tell me that the preschool did not recommend sending their children on to kindergarten yet, but they had no choice,” as they couldn’t afford not to. In 49 out of 50 states, the average annual cost of day care for a 4-year-old in an urban area is more than the average annual public college tuition. A RAND Corporation position paper suggests policy makers may need to view “entrance-age policies and child-care polices as a package.”

Labor economists, too, make a strong case that resources should be directed at disadvantaged children as early as possible, both for the sake of improving each child’s life and because of economic return. Among the leaders in this field is James Heckman, a University of Chicago economist who won the Nobel in economic science in 2000. In many papers and lectures on poor kids, he now includes a simple graph that plots the return on investment in human capital across age. You can think of the accumulation of human capital much like the accumulation of financial capital in an account bearing compound interest: if you add your resources as soon as possible, they’ll be worth more down the line. Heckman’s graph looks like a skateboard quarter-pipe, sloping precipitously from a high point during the preschool years, when the return on investment in human capital is very high, down the ramp and into the flat line after a person is no longer in school, when the return on investment is minimal. According to Heckman’s analysis, if you have limited funds to spend it makes the most economic sense to spend them early. The implication is that if poor children aren’t in adequate preschool programs, rolling back the age of kindergarten is a bad idea economically, as it pushes farther down the ramp the point at which we start investing funds and thus how productive those funds will be.

Bedard and other economists cite Heckman’s theories of how people acquire skills to help explain the persistence of relative age on school performance. Heckman writes: “Skill begets skill; motivation begets motivation. Early failure begets later failure.” Reading experts know that it’s easier for a child to learn the meaning of a new word if he knows the meaning of a related word and that a good vocabulary at age 3 predicts a child’s reading well in third grade. Skills like persistence snowball, too. One can easily see how the skill-begets-skill, motivation-begets-motivation dynamic plays out in a kindergarten setting: a child who comes in with a good vocabulary listens to a story, learns more words, feels great about himself and has an even better vocabulary at the end of the day. Another child arrives with a poor vocabulary, listens to the story, has a hard time following, picks up fewer words, retreats into insecurity and leaves the classroom even further behind.

How to address the influence of age effects is unclear. After all, being on the older or younger side of one’s classmates is mostly the luck of the birthday draw, and no single birthday cutoff can prevent a 12-month gap in age. States could try to prevent parents from gaming the age effects by outlawing redshirting — specifically by closing the yearlong window that now exists in most states between the birthday cutoffs and compulsory schooling. But forcing families to enroll children in kindergarten as soon as they are eligible seems too authoritarian for America’s tastes. States could also decide to learn from Finland — start children in school at age 7 and devote the first year to play — but that would require a major reversal, making second grade the old kindergarten, instead of kindergarten the new first grade. States could also emulate Denmark, forbidding ability groupings until late in high school, but unless very serious efforts are made to close the achievement gap before children arrive at kindergarten, that seems unlikely, too.

Of course there’s also the reality that individual children will always mature at different rates, and back in Andersen’s classroom, on a Thursday when this year’s kindergartners stayed home and next year’s kindergartners came in for pre-enrollment assessments, the developmental differences between one future student and the next were readily apparent. To gauge kindergarten readiness, Andersen and another kindergarten teacher each sat the children down one by one for a 20-minute test. The teachers asked the children, among other things, to: skip; jump; walk backward; cut out a diamond on a dotted line; copy the word cat; draw a person; listen to a story; and answer simple vocabulary questions like what melts, what explodes and what flies. Some of the kids were dynamos. When asked to explain the person he had drawn, one boy said: “That’s Miss Maple. She’s my preschool teacher, and she’s crying because she’s going to miss me so much next year.” Another girl said at one point, “Oh, you want me to write the word cat?” Midmorning, however, a little boy who will not turn 5 until this summer arrived. His little feet dangled off the kindergarten chair, as his legs were not long enough to reach the floor. The teacher asked him to draw a person. To pass that portion of the test, his figure needed seven different body parts.

“Is that all he needs?” she asked a few minutes later.

The boy said, “Oh, I forgot the head.”

A minute later the boy submitted his drawing again. “Are you sure he doesn’t need anything else?” the teacher asked.

The boy stared at his work. “I forgot the legs. Those are important, aren’t they?”

The most difficult portion of the test for many of the children was a paper-folding exercise. “Watch how I fold my paper,” the teacher told the little boy. She first folded her 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper in half the long way, to create a narrow rectangle, and then she folded the rectangle in thirds, to make something close to a square.

“Can you do it?” she asked the boy.

He took the paper eagerly, but folded it in half the wrong way. Depending on the boy’s family’s finances, circumstances and mind-set, his parents may decide to hold him out a year so he’ll be one of the oldest and, presumably, most confident. Or they may decide to enroll him in school as planned. He may go to college or he may not. He may be a leader or a follower. Those things will ultimately depend more on the education level achieved by his mother, whether he lives in a two-parent household and the other assets and obstacles he brings with him to school each day. Still, the last thing any child needs is to be outmaneuvered by other kids’ parents as they cut to the back of the birthday line to manipulate age effects. Eventually, the boy put his head down on the table. His first fold had set a course, and even after trying gamely to fold the paper again in thirds, he couldn’t create the right shape.

Elizabeth Weil is a contributing writer for the magazine. Her most recent article was about lethal injection.

seulement les français

What would Jacques Cousteau say?
Eiffel Tower hosts scuba diving lessons
By JENNY BARCHFIELD, Associated Press Writer Fri Jun 1, 2:16 PM ET

PARIS - The weather was nippy and overcast and the water just chest-high, but a new scuba-diving pool in Paris has something Bali, Belize and other diving hotspots don't: a terrific view of the Eiffel Tower.

To promote the sport, scuba instructors began offering free lessons Friday — with wet-suits, scuba gear and even a biodegradable towel — at the foot of the French capital's famed landmark.

"Through the water you can see the monument. It's magnificent," said New Zealand tourist Adrian Carter, one of the first to try it.

He and a group of friends had planned to go up the 1,063-foot high Eiffel Tower, but opted for a dip instead.

"This is better than the Eiffel Tower," said Carter, a 28-year-old computer programmer, his hair dripping from the 30-minute dive — his first ever.

The lessons include a safety lecture and a how-to demonstration in which instructors share tips. One first-time diver did a double-take when his guide told him to spit into his goggles to help keep them from fogging up.

The above-ground pool is under the Tower, between its four legs. It's small, at 50 feet by 50 feet, about half the size of a basketball court. Just 4 feet deep, it's safe for beginners and children aged 8 and older, said the event's organizers, an umbrella group of scuba associations. To add a touch of realism, the bottom of the pool is studded with waterproof photos of fluorescent fish.

Though heated, the water temperature hovered Friday around a cool 71 degrees. That, combined with icy winds that whistled down the Champs de Mars, a grassy promenade leading to the Tower, dissuaded many would-be divers.

More people milled around the pool's perimeter — watching the instructors as they floated on their backs staring up at the tower's steel girders — than actually queuing up for a lesson.

This was not the first time the Eiffel Tower has become a sporting venue. Three winters ago, an ice-skating rink was installed on the lower of its three observation decks to draw Parisians to the monument that mostly attracts tourists.

Organizers of the 10-day diving event said they were angling for tourists and Parisians alike.

"We want to give as many people as possible a taste of scuba-diving," said Gerard Puig, the pool's manager and head of a diving company on France's Mediterranean coast.

He said organizers also hope the diving experience will focus attention on the environmental dangers threatening the ocean.

"Once you're underwater and face-to-face with all sorts of creatures, you can't remain insensitive to the destruction of the sea," he said.

Organizers expect up to 3,000 people to take the plunge before the lessons end June 10 — so long as the dismal weather improves.

Another first-time diver who took the plunge, English tourist Jonathan Doneley, said the experience was "awesome" despite the cold.

"I'm still shivering," he said through chattering teeth. "I'm going again tomorrow."
Via Monsieur Neige

dimanche, juin 03, 2007

karoshi, anyone?

A friend of mine works for a Japanese firm. He works more hours than anyone I know and is routinely summoned to conference calls and face-to-face meetings where he is berated for his performance from his Japanese overlords.

I suspect that he's also a prime candidate for karoshi (death from overwork).
Japanese Cop Stabs Self to Avoid Work
By CARL FREIRE 06.04.07, 1:24 AM ET
A Japanese policeman distraught by working long hours and weekends for two months stabbed himself in the stomach with a knife to get some time off, police said Monday.

The 44-year-old officer knifed himself at his home in northwestern Japan on May 23, but told police he had been attacked, prompting an attempted murder investigation, Ishikawa prefecture police said in a statement.

Investigators became suspicious of his story after they could not find evidence of anyone who matched the description the officer had given of the supposed attacker, a police spokesman said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

Suspicions also were raised because the officer had waited about an hour before reporting the alleged attack, the spokesman said. His wounds were not life-threatening.

The officer, whose name was not released by police, had been in charge of a disaster relief detail following a March 25 earthquake in the area that killed one person, injured more than 300 and damaged or destroyed more than 14,800 homes.

"He became very busy, he felt like he couldn't handle the work he had to do, and he felt the work was weighing him down," said the police spokesman.

The officer acknowledged he had stabbed himself following his May 31 release from the hospital, the spokesman said. The case is now being investigated as filing a false report, a misdemeanor.

Japanese workers often face long overtime hours and weekends with little or no compensation and frequently must make long commutes to work. Death from overwork, known as "karoshi," has steadily increased since the Health Ministry first recognized the phenomenon in 1987.

samedi, juin 02, 2007


"A good photograph is like a good hound dog, dumb, but eloquent."
Eugène Atget (1857‑1927), French photographer noted for his photographs documenting the architecture and street scenes of Paris.

vendredi, juin 01, 2007

additives and preservatives

I loved Scott's e-mail to me about my kid's food posting:
sodium benzoate is an essential element to every happy meal and one of the most prevalent preservatives in the American food industry


We couldn't make this stuff up if we tried.

I think that the Mark Twain look-alike who regularly pickets the spelling bee is hilarious.
Spelling Reformers Picket Bee, Say 'Enuf is Enuf'
Reform Movement No 'Frend' of the Spelling Bee

May 30, 2007

If it's true that no event has really arrived until sign-wielding protestors set up shop outside it, than the Scripps National Spelling Bee is officially a big deal. Today spelling-reform-movement protesters pushed pavement alongside the premier spell-down.

These spelling-reform activists have joined forces with the American Literacy Council and the London-based Simplified Spelling Society. They claim writers like Chaucer and Mark Twain, thinkers like Charles Darwin and Andrew Carnegie, and Nobel laureates among their ranks. And, put plainly, they encourage the use of simpler spelling through the elimination of the rogue vowels and consonants they say clutter the English language.

Under their edict, "through" becomes "thru," "have" becomes "hav," "you" becomes "u."

Anti-Establishment Spelling

"There are 4,000 common words you can't spell from the established rules," said Masha Bell, an English writer who traveled from across the pond to join the spelling-reform picket line outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, where the final rounds of the National Spelling Bee are taking place. She said her group's charge is to "make English spelling more consistent."

Toting a sign that read "Let's End the I in Friend," she explained the history of the spelling-reform cause. The silver-haired Bell traced inconsistencies in the English language back to the 15th century and William Tyndale, the first printer to translate the Bible into English.

Bell said that incorrect spellings and use of language in Tyndale's translation were taken as fact. People thought "it was in the Bible, so it was right."

History of Spelling Reform

When asked how, in a time of infinite communication options, how a group goes about changing a language, Bell was quick to underscore that the group's aims are to "change the spelling, not the language."

Dennis Baron, professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, described the history of the spelling-reform movement as "long, distinguished and totally ineffective."

Reformers take one of two approaches, he said. Either to create a new alphabet in which every written symbol stands for a sound or the path of the Simplified Spelling Society, which advocates for a new dictionary.

Either way, "we don't get any mechanisms for making this happen," Baron said. "Even if you think it's a good idea, how are you going to do it? There's no federal law you could put in place to get this going. There's no English language academy to oversee it."

Spelling Reform and the American President

Baron cites President Theodore Roosevelt's attempt at an executive order to simplify the spellings of 300 common words. Roosevelt, Baron said, "faced such violent opposition to his proposal that he had to drop the big stick and speak softly," retracting his order after a few months.

The Simplified Spellers use literacy statistics to forward their movement, but Baron said, "Spelling is disconnected from other literary activities. Good spellers aren't necessarily good writers, good writers aren't the best spellers. We don't know cognitively how spelling functions as a literacy ability. It doesn't seem to connect with reading and writing."

'Enuf is Enuf'

Niall Waldman, a self-proclaimed spelling reformist who traveled from Canada for the second time to join the protest group outside the Bee, carried a sign that read "Enuf is Enuf."

"Look at kids text messaging," Waldman said, "That's simplified spelling!"

Acknowledging that sentiment, Baron said the simplification of language "does happen naturally to some extent."

Citing "Nick at Nite," lite beer and various diet products, Baron said, "In fairly public displays, it's the phenomenon of advertising language or branding -- and people don't tend to object too strenuously to that.

While Waldman viewed the group's presence at the spelling bee as a way to bring attention to the cause and "not to decide how the change should take place," he thought the development of the English language might do well in the hands of the United Nations.

"Try to get the U.N. involved [so that] a fraction of the U.N. controls the way English is used," Waldman offered.

The Way Language Works

Baron countered.

"Languages sort of works by fits and starts -- you can't make rules because people don't listen to them," he said.

As an English professor, "people want me to tell them what's right and what's wrong, but if I do, they tell me I'm wrong or they refuse to do what I say. It's a curious situation in America where we want to be correct about our language, but we don't want anyone to tell us what to do."

Via Leo