Tuesday, February 28, 2017

‘What Do You Think Is the Most Important Problem Facing This Country Today?’ - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."


image (not from article) from

Since the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Gallup polling organization has asked Americans an open-­ended question: “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country

As Donald J. Trump prepares for his first major address to the nation on Tuesday, he has a unique set of issues to tackle. But there is not one singular issue that is dominating the American


[JB note:] Regrettably, am unable to copy in full this NYT article (with its many charts) for technical reasons beyond my understanding. The link is https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/27/us/politics/most-important-problem-gallup-polling-question.html.

The link provided the full article via Google search (rather than via the NYT website).

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Oscars - Sloppiness-as-a-sales-pitch? (a Facebook comment)

image from
Pardon my conspiratorial mind (blame it on spending a U.S. Foreign Service career in Cold-War/post-Cold War Eastern Europe) but I can't help but think that the "mistake"/screw-up at the Oscars ceremony (which I stopped watching after 30 minutes, out of sheer boredom) on who "really" won the "best-movie" nomination was carefully planned to "liven up" (i.e., keep the Tee-Vee audience suddenly electrified after a dull spectacle moving at dinosaur speed) -- and make the advertisers happy (hopping, speculating?) that the populace would stay glued to their minuscule/huge screens, take your size choice (not to speak of the next-day not-paid-for-media headlines brouhaha "follow-up" on "what went wrong with the stars").
I of course fully stand to be corrected.
But perhaps the "we screwed-up" event, if indeed "fake" (to cite the mot du jour), may signify a certain cultural shift in these, our dear United States of America -- that we Americans, instead of claiming (aiming for?) perfection, now glamorously revel in our inability to do/get "anything right."
Food for thought? Or just junk mind-food justification for watching yet another Tee-Vee "reality" show (press conference?) à la USA commander in chief?
Well, of course, in all fairness to Hollywood, I bet most Americans know (or should know?) the perfect line from Austria/Hungary-born genius Billy Wilder's Hollywood Marilyn Monroe film, Some Like it Hot: "Nobody's perfect."
And then we also have ever-popular M*A*S*H (Still aired on U.S. TV) ...
Although I feel somehow that these two meticulous works of artistic craftsmanship (Wilder/M*A*S*H) might not quite fit into the mood/mold (sloppiness-as-a-sales-pitch?) of our current USA mass entertainment era/error ...
On a positive note, the future does look bright for mad unemployed poets, a rapidly diminishing breed. :)
According to President Trump, much more money should be coming to the Pentagon, and doubtless its managers will be looking for any kind of creature to hire to "justify the budget."

Moscow-based observer Mark H. Teeter - Russia From Reel to Real

MOSCOW TV TONITE: Russia From Reel to Real
Настоящее – прошедшее. Временный комитет у руля революции/The Present Is the Past: The Provisional Committee at the Helm of the Revolution. (Documentary. Russia,2017)(Kultura,18:45)
--> Here we are at the 100th anniversary of the February Revolution, a critical series of events in modern Russian civ that was tenaciously misrepresented by Soviet historiography for most of the last century – which means that much of today’s TV audience still has little notion of what actually happened and what it meant. Kudos to Kultura for bringing a comprehensible vision of 1917 1.0 a step closer with this documentary, which combines critical images of the time (photographs, documents, newsreels, press) with critical analysis from our era (5 historians from various institutions).
How important is this Kultura beachhead on the shore of the actual Russian past? Probably half the people in your Metro car still think of “Ten Days That Shook the World” and “Lenin in October” as representations of what took place here 100 yrs ago. Yikes.

27 февраля 1917 года (по старому стилю) состоялось вооруженное восстание в Петрограде.…

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ivan and Porgy

Ivan and Porgy

By MARK SLONIM, New York Times (December 2, 1958) [JB - regrettably am unable to gain internet access to the original article.]

An Account by Truman Capote.

A year ago, in December, 1955, the cast of the American production "Porgy and Bess" and others associated with the company, including writers and journalists, a total of ninety-four persons (and two dogs), went to Russia to give performances in Leningrad and Moscow. In "The Muses Are Heard," Truman Capote, who had joined this enormous troupe, gives an amusing and slightly ironical reportage of the memorable trip. The title of the book comes from the Latin saying, "inter arma silent Musas." One of the Russian interpreters attached to the company by the Moscow Ministry of Culture kept repeating these words in all his speeches--and he made quite a few of them: "When the cannons are heard, the muses are silent; when the cannons are silent, the muses are heard." Apparently, the arrival of "Porgy and Bess" was interpreted by the Russians as the end of the cold war and of the cannon era; it is questionable whether Truman Capote attributed the same significance to his journey.

Before making the voice of the muses heard to the Russian audiences through "Summertime," "I've Got Plenty of Nothin'" or "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing," the Negro singers and dancers, stagehands and office workers and friends had to board the Blue Express in East Berlin and travel for three days and nights across the snow-covered fields of Poland and Russia. They endured all sorts of miseries and discomfort in the old-fashioned second-class sleepers, tried hard to understand the halting English of the Russians, and did not hide their disappointment when, instead of a feast in a truly Muscovite style, overflowing with vodka and caviar, they were offered watery broth, veal cutlets and yoghurt with raspberry soda in a shabby dining car.

Leningrad also proved to be rather baffling. The "de luxe" hotel assigned to the company has been built some fifty years ago; it had magnificent chandeliers and cracked bath tubs, and its restaurant looked like a cavern. Shopping was made impossible by the outrageous rate of exchange and high prices--a dish of ice cream, one dollar; a piece of chocolate, five fifty; and the language barrier made real communication with the natives hardly possible. Mr. Capote visited night clubs in the company of an obliging Russian who spoke English, but judged them dull, and their patrons prudish and poorly dressed. In general, the Americans found Russian parties lacking in gaiety, and on Christmas Eve Negro musicians revolutionized the hotel restaurant by showing what real hot jazz meant.

Mr. Capote did not see very much in Leningrad and he did not write a book on Russia. He simply reported his fragmentary impressions: he saw a man being beaten up in a public square, he met a crazy musician who knew a few words of English and kept repeating "help!," he went to a ballet and even committed the mistake of attributing to the Soviets what was the heritage of the nineteenth-century artistic past. He looked at the paintings in the Hermitage Gallery and at the exhibits of the anti-religious museum in the former Kazan Cathedral; he discovered that he was followed in the streets of the city by a man in dark glasses, probably for "protection," as some officials explained it to him. He watched some conditioned reflexes of government employees, who all said the same thing in identical terms. All these details, added one to another, in a kind of literary mosaic, do give a feeling of reality and do convey a flavor of Russian life.

The same method is used by Mr. Capote in his delightful character sketches. He speaks much less of Russia than of the members of the company; he notes down their conversations, their idiosyncrasies, their human frailties. The publicity-bent director, the flippant blonde secretary (Radcliffe '52), Mrs. Ira Gershwin studded with diamonds and deliberately optimistic, a couple of Negro actors determined to make front-page headlines by getting married in Moscow, the shabby and hungry lady as Russian interpreter--all these brittle and humorous portraits are vivid, precise and witty. They range from serious ones, such as that of Ambassador Bohlen and his wife, to outright grotesque, such as the caricature of the Russian Orlov who had fallen for the blonde secretary.

The little episodes of the company's life in Leningrad, of their rehearsals and their debut in the huge Palace of Culture which opened the "Porgy and Bess" triumphal career in the Soviet Union, are all bubbling with mischievous spirit and piquancy. "The Muses Are Heard" is not a chronicle or a diary or a travelogue. By no means is it a book on Russia of the sort hasty travelers offer us in every language. It is a record made by a brilliant writer in a casual, almost flippant manner--but with such freshness, with such light strokes and subtle innuendos, that the book reads like a highly enjoyable, charming story.

Mr. Slonim is author of "The Epic of Russian Literature" and other books."

Most colleges enroll students who aren’t prepared for higher education

pbs.org; via MA on Facebook

BY SARAH BUTRYMOWICZ, THE HECHINGER REPORT January 30, 2017 at 3:33 PM EST [Original article contains additional images and charts, as well as interesting comments from its readers.]

Image from entry, with caption: A lesson in a remedial English course at Baltimore City Community College, focused on teaching students how to combine sentences in a variety of ways to prepare them for writing in college-level classes. Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz

BALTIMORE — The vast majority of public two- and four-year colleges report enrolling students – more than half a million of them–who are not ready for college-level work, a Hechinger Report investigation of 44 states has found.

The numbers reveal a glaring gap in the nation’s education system: A high school diploma, no matter how recently earned, doesn’t guarantee that students are prepared for college courses. Higher education institutions across the country are forced to spend time, money and energy to solve this disconnect. They must determine who’s not ready for college and attempt to get those students up to speed as quickly as possible, or risk losing them altogether.

Most schools place students in what are called remedial courses in math or English before they can move on to a full load of college-level, credit-bearing courses – a process that is a financial drain on not only students, but also colleges and taxpayers, costing up to an estimated $7 billion a year.

Data from 911 two- and four-year colleges revealed that 96 percent of schools enrolled students who required remediation in the 2014-15 academic year, the most comprehensive recent numbers. At least 209 schools placed more than half of incoming students in at least one remedial course.

At least 569,751 students were enrolled in remedial classes that year. The true total is likely much higher because of inconsistencies in the way states track this data that may not capture adults returning to school or part-time students.

Some states report numbers for the entire student body, while others limit their data to incoming students. Some states also did not provide specific student enrollment numbers at all, did not report it for all their schools or did not have data from that year available. (Read more about the problems we had collecting this data here.)

The rates are “so high that there’s no question students are getting out of high school without the skills they need to succeed in college,” said Alex Mayer, a senior research associate at MRDC, an education and social policy research organization. “The other side of it is these students are not getting out of college, for the most part.”

Indeed, research has shown that students who enroll in these remedial courses often never even make it into the classes that will count toward a degree. A similarly wide-ranging 2012 report by Complete College America determined that nearly half of entering students at two-year schools and a fifth at four-year schools were placed in remedial classes in the fall of 2006. Nearly 40 percent of students at two-year schools and a quarter of those at four-year schools failed to complete their remedial classes, that report found.

Different states use different cutoff scores to determine who must take these classes, which makes remediation-rate comparisons difficult and, critics say, remedial placement somewhat arbitrary. But despite the difficulty of comparison, many states have strikingly high remediation rates in their public colleges and universities.

One of those is Maryland. At many public schools in the state, it’s uncommon for an incoming student not to be placed in remedial education. At Baltimore City Community College, for instance, in the fall of 2015, only 13 percent of students were deemed ready to start on college-level math and English courses right away, according to data provided by the school.

All BCCC students must take a test in math and English called the Accuplacer upon enrolling. The standardized test is one of two used by most higher education institutions to determine students’ readiness. (Some schools use high school GPA or scores on the SAT or ACT.)

At BCCC, and many other institutions, students are placed into one of three levels of remedial courses based on their test scores. (Starting in the summer of 2017, BCCC will only have two levels of remedial math.) A student at the bottom level in math might need help with basic arithmetic. A student who places into the lowest-level English course might still struggle with something as elementary as subject-verb agreement, said Melvin Brooks, associate dean of English, Humanities, Visual and Performing Arts at BCCC.

“Some of them are so deficient, to try to include them in a credit-bearing course without that foundation would be a disservice,” he said, adding that the professor and other students would also be held back by a classmate so ill equipped to keep up.

Carole Quine teaches the highest-level remedial English course at BCCC. It focuses predominantly on essay writing. On a Wednesday last fall, she started off her class with a now-routine exercise: diagramming a sentence. She then wrote two sentences on the board — “I attend BCCC” and “My brother attends Morgan” — and had students suggest different ways of combining them. (One student jokingly suggested, “I attend BCCC because my brother attends Morgan.”)

“The major reason you’re being taught all this is when you get into your English 101, you aren’t just writing the same kinds of sentences,” Quine told them.

Sitting in the back of the class, Gregory Scott Peterson took notes as Quine went over the difference between dependent and independent clauses.

Peterson graduated from high school in 2015 and enrolled at BCCC in the fall of 2016 through a program that will earn him a certificate in Information Technology followed by a six-month internship that should turn into a full-time job.

Peterson placed directly into Quine’s class, without needing the lower two levels of remediation. Still, he said, for the first few weeks he and many of his classmates were “on the struggle bus.”

He said that the class was “definitely a lot harder” than his high school English courses.

Remediation is sometimes assumed to be primarily driven by adults returning to college, who may have once understood the quadratic formula and mastered the five-paragraph essay but have forgotten them in the intervening years. The data collected by The Hechinger Report indicate, however, that the problem is widespread among students coming directly from high school as well.

In Nevada, for instance, 58 percent of the state’s recent high school graduates were placed in these courses in 2014. And more than half of Delaware’s recent public high school graduates who enrolled in its public colleges and universities needed remediation that year.

Maryland has reported similarly high remediation rates for its high school graduates. A study of the Baltimore City Public Schools class of 2011 found that 96 percent of the 354 students who immediately enrolled at BCCC needed remedial courses in math and 67 percent needed remedial courses in writing. At the Community College of Baltimore County, where 417 of the 2011 graduates ended up, 89 percent tested into remedial math classes and 49 percent into remedial writing. (Several four-year schools had lower rates, but these two colleges received over 60 percent of Baltimore graduates attending Maryland public institutions.)

Sonja Brookins Santelises, chief executive officer of Baltimore City Public Schools, is well aware of the gap between the knowledge needed to earn a diploma in the district and what college professors expect students to be able to do on day one. She served as chief academic officer for the district before going to the D.C.-based think tank Education Trust in 2013, where she studied this issue nationally. She returned to the Baltimore school district in the summer of 2016.

It’s “more like a chasm,” she said. “We’ve had too low a standard for too long.”

The district is working to increase dual-enrollment opportunities, through which high school students can enroll in college courses, as well as increase general exposure to higher education, Santelises said. It’s also trying to equip schools with the tools to deal with trauma in students’ lives and to better support teachers in raising standards to challenge students more in high school.

“If we’ve been giving kids worksheets with simplistic answers for years and then get upset when they can’t write a five-paragraph essay or recognize subject-verb agreement, that’s not the kids,” she said. “That’s us.”

Santelises said she thinks the district should be able to cut the remediation rate of Baltimore City graduates going to BCCC or the Community College of Baltimore County in half over the next four years.

To significantly decrease remediation rates takes time.

Hechinger’s analysis shows that remediation rates have been declining in most states over the last five years, yet often those drops have been small, even as states adopted new K-12 standards aimed at aligning high school graduation requirements and college-readiness standards. No one has completely bridged the gap, said David Steiner, executive director of the Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins University and a former commissioner of education for New York State.

“No state right now is close to equating its high school graduation standard with anything that would be meaningful as a college-career-starting standard,” he said. But, Steiner added, the problem is magnified in communities like Baltimore. “The fact also is that when you get concentrated high poverty, it’s extremely hard to educate the student out of that situation to college readiness.”

Indeed, many colleges with high remediation rates say that they have accepted that not all — often not even most — of their students will be completely ready when they come to campus.

“You have to work with what you get,” said Sandra Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County. “We get honors students and folks who can’t read at a fifth-grade level.”

In general, according to Hechinger’s data analysis, remediation rates are higher at community colleges, which are more likely to have open-door admissions policies. More than two-thirds of first-time students enrolling in Arkansas’ community colleges needed remedial courses in 2014, for instance. About 60 percent of those in Massachusetts and Tennessee did.

But even four-year schools, which are more likely to have some admissions criteria, were not immune. In the California State University system, which admitted about 72 percent of first-time freshman applicants in 2014, more than 40 percent of incoming freshman were deemed not ready for college-level work in at least one subject. Nearly a quarter of incoming students at Colorado’s and Montana’s four-year schools were placed in remedial courses and about 30 percent were in Arkansas.

The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith needed to remediate 36 percent of its students in 2014. Students who score a 19 or better on the ACT are automatically enrolled in college-level courses. Those who do worse are either enrolled directly in a remedial class or take additional tests to determine their placement.

If students’ scores are too low, they can be admitted as non-degree seeking students for up to 15 credit hours to earn a certificate or work toward improving their score on a placement exam.

Officials say it wouldn’t be practical for a school like Fort Smith to mandate that all incoming students be ready to go into college algebra or English 101.

“We’re not a terribly populous state. Not everyone is going to go to college and we’ve got a fair number of colleges,” said Michael Moore, vice president of academic affairs for the University of Arkansas system. “Your enrollment will be tiny and you won’t be able to afford the faculty.”

Many college administrators also make an ethical argument for enrolling students who need remediation: It’s the college’s job to help make up for circumstances that have left students unprepared, not to punish them.

“College education has such a transformative power,” Moore said. “To simply tell people you’re not going to college because you qualify for remedial education, I think, would be wrong. That sort of places the blame on the student.”

Instead, many schools across the country are focusing on getting students ready for college-level work as efficiently as possible.

Some colleges, including BCCC, are partnering with local school districts to push remediation into high schools. BCCC has also pared down some of its remedial courses from 16 weeks to 12 or eight. They’re experimenting with different open source materials to decrease the cost of remedial textbooks and remove that financial hurdle for students.

At Fort Smith, a math professor has created an online math program, in which remedial students can go through different lessons at their own pace. The school (and many others in the Arkansas system) has also developed a co-requisite program, in which students enroll directly in college-level courses, but have an extra hour per class built in for remediation.

It’s similar to a model developed by the Community College of Baltimore County, and now used by 254 schools across the country. In CCBC’s program, a professor teaches a session of college-level English 101 for an hour and fifteen minutes. Then, immediately afterward, students needing remediation (about half the class) spend an additional 75 minutes with the same instructor, honing in on problem areas. In 2014, nearly 40 percent of students in this program not only finished English 101, but went on to complete English 102, compared to fewer than 15 percent in traditional developmental courses, according to data from the college.

Programs and experiments like these take considerable time and energy — as well as more money than traditional remedial courses — for colleges to run. The Community College of Baltimore County program, for example, costs $78,000 a year for 54 credit hours; $35,000 of that is spent training faculty how to teach these courses, officials said. But CCBC President Kurtinitis says it’s worth it.

“It’s an expense we incur gladly,” she said. “It’s really an investment in retaining students who are now prepared at the college level.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about higher education.

Sarah Butrymowicz is data editor at the Hechinger Report, covering K-12 education across the country. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, as well as on Time.com and NBCNews.com.

Two Consonants Walk Into a Bar … --- Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."


Here's a New York Times column by Frank Bruni:

Two Consonants Walk Into a Bar …
Frank Bruni
The New York Times
FEB. 25, 2017

Credit Ben Wiseman

At this point the consonants are so tightly fused it’s as if they were always and inevitably so: L.G.B.T.

But just a decade ago, the T teetered. It wobbled.

It was eliminated from a federal bill to protect lesbians, gays and bisexuals from discrimination in employment. The 2007 legislation’s principal backers — including Barney Frank, an openly gay congressman — decided that pressing fellow lawmakers to cover transgender people as well was a bridge too far.

That bill failed anyway. But the tinkering reflected broader apprehensions. If not publicly then privately, many gays and lesbians wondered not only about the political costs of an alliance with transgender people but also whether the alliance made any real sense.

A few still wonder.

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the  National Center for Transgender Equality, told me that at a recent banquet for an L.G.B.T. health organization, a wealthy gay donor said to her: “Can you walk me through why we’re all one big community? I just don’t get it.”

I do, though I admit that it took me time and that I sometimes worried that we gay men and lesbians were steepening our climb toward the fullest possible acceptance by making the ascent arm in arm with transgender people.

But that’s how we’re doing it and how we should be, and it’s an important example of broader kinship winning out over narrower interests and of justice trumping pettiness.

Last week the Trump administration  rescinded  the Obama administration’s guidelines that public schools allow transgender students to use the bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, an issue that is scheduled to reach the Supreme Court next month.

That move stood in contrast to a decision weeks earlier not to mess with Obama’s edict barring federal contractors from discriminating against L.G.B.T. people, and it suggested a greater reluctance to be seen as an enemy of gay and lesbian rights than to side against transgender ones.

But to the overwhelming majority of L.G.B.T. advocates today, all of those rights are inextricably bound, regardless of whether lawmakers and voters support some more readily than others.

Although Congress is still resisting anti-discrimination legislation for L.G.B.T. people, I no longer hear advocates discuss whether the T is an obstacle or propose that it be left out.

Even Keisling’s banquet companion, she said, made clear that he wasn’t taking any particular exception to the big tent. He was just curious about how it assumed its shape.

The answer: fitfully. The road to a consonant cluster that’s now taken for granted — and that’s grown longer, with a Q or more added, depending on who’s doing the clustering — was a rocky one.

Go back to the 1960s and ’70s and the G was often so domineering that the L went its own, separate way. In fact much of a new ABC mini-series about the L.G.B.T. rights movement, “When We Rise,” which will be shown over four nights this coming week, focuses on that rift.

“The first four hours is the story of how gay men and lesbians weren’t working together — of the animosity between them,” Dustin Lance Black, the creator of the mini-series, told me. Not until the 1980s and the AIDS epidemic, he said, did they really unite.

And for a while, the B was a matter of controversy. Many gay men and lesbians suspected that people who called themselves bisexual were taking a timid, untruthful half-step out of the closet or were adventurers who’d return in short order to the heterosexual fold. So they sometimes resisted any explicit mention of bisexuals in the names of support and advocacy groups.

But that tension paled next to disagreements about the inclusion of transgender people, exemplified by yearly fights over whether to allow transgender women to attend the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

In a thoughtful, provocative essay in  in Salon  in 2007, the gay rights advocate John Aravosis defended the absence of any reference to transgender people in the federal anti-discrimination bill on the grounds that half a loaf was better than none.

He also wrote, with brave candor: “A lot of gays have been scratching their heads for 10 years trying to figure out what they have in common with transsexuals, or at the very least why transgendered people qualify as our siblings rather than our cousins.”

“I simply don’t get how I am just as closely related to a transsexual (who is often not gay) as I am to a lesbian (who is),” he added. “Is it wrong for me to simply ask why?”

No. I knew where he was coming from. A transgender person’s experience of anatomical features unaligned with his or her psyche and soul was as mysterious to me as it was to any straight person.

But I have an overlapping history and culture with transgender people. In more fearful times, we found comfort at the same bars, safety in the same neighborhoods and reassurance from one another’s deviations from the vaunted “norm.”

Over the last decade, I’ve listened — imperfectly but earnestly — to the life stories that transgender people have courageously volunteered, and I’ve come to a better understanding of how much more lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people share.

We all have firsthand experience of how unnecessarily rigid and tyrannical a society’s conceptions of manhood and womanhood can be. We all know the pain of falling outside those conceptions. We all appreciate the importance — in some cases, it’s a life-or-death matter — of freedom.

I can’t guess how much, if at all, the linkage of gay rights with transgender rights impedes the former today. Certainly any impact is diminished from 2007. I agree with Eric Marcus, the creator and host of the Making Gay History” podcast, who told me, “In the rawest tactical sense, it may cost a little, but in the moral realm, it’s worth it and right.”

Keisling drew the following connection between transgender and gay experiences and aspirations: “Being the gender you are is not the same as loving who you love, but they’re very close in terms of autonomy. And a lot of the work we’ve done together is about a mutual enemy.”

I’d add that no minority group can credibly and honorably exhort people to be high-minded while being low-minded itself.

I’ll give the last word to a 17-year-old, Gavin Grimm, the transgender student whose whose lawsuit against his Virginia school board will be heard by the Supreme Court next month. I asked him what, to his thinking, tied the T to the L, G and B.

“I guess I have as much in common with a gay or lesbian person as I have with anybody whose civil rights are under attack and up for debate, ” he said.

St. Augustine's beloved reform Mayor Nancy Shaver sworn in by Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince, December 1, 2014, as her daughter, an environmental scientist, holds the 1820 family Bible