Friday, March 26, 2010

Arne Duncan -- Some pigs are more equal than others

Hmmm, when the US Education Secretary Arne Duncan was running the Chicago schools, his office kept a secret list of special admissions requests to get students in to the elite public Chicago college prep high schools. Admissions to these schools was supposed to be based on test scores, but Chicago political insiders were hoping a special request from Duncan's office would assist their special kids.
The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan's tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley's office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Non-connected parents, such as those who sought spots for their special-needs child or who were new to the city, also appear on the log. But the politically connected make up about three-quarters of those making requests in the documents obtained by the Tribune.

Many of the politicians named on Pickens' log acknowledged that they made calls on students' behalf because this is how the system works in Chicago. They weighed in on behalf of relatives, friends and campaign workers.

"…Whenever anybody asked me — whether it was a relative, a distant relative, a next-door neighbor or the guy across the street — I would write letters," said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., 27th, who has ended the practice. "Sometimes the kids get in; sometimes they don't.

Here's how it worked for fromer Senator Carol Mosely Braun, who lives in Hyde Park in Chicago and now has a private law practice there:
In 2008, former U.S. Sen. Braun sought help for two students, though she said Monday she does not recall placing a call to Duncan's office. Pickens said she called him, seeking help getting a student into Whitney Young Magnet High School, and he asked Principal Joyce Kenner to call the former senator back.

Braun said she called Kenner to inquire after one child's mother told her the student's application had been "lost in a computer glitch." Braun said Kenner told her: "I'll take care of it."

The child got into Whitney Young, despite a below-average admission score. The Tribune is not naming any students involved because they are minors and it is unlikely they knew about efforts being made on their behalf.

"This process is not pure, and everyone knows it," Braun said. "The process is a disaster, and quite frankly, I don't have a problem making a call. If the process were not as convoluted as it is, parents wouldn't be asking for help."

While Duncan says he did not "intercede" for anyone, Duncan does admit he forwarded on the request for special consideration to the principals of the elite schools.

Current top Duncan aide Peter Cunningham also confirmed that Duncan talked to the inspector general, but he insisted by e-mail that Duncan "did not lobby or intercede for anyone.''

"In an effort to be responsive, we would log these calls, get the information and forward it to principals, but it was entirely a principal's discretion to respond to the requests," Cunningham said.

As the New York Times reported on this story:

According to The Chicago Tribune, about three-quarters of those in the log had political connections. The log noted “AD” as the person requesting help for 10 students, and as a co-requester about 40 times, according to The Tribune. Mr. Duncan’s mother and wife also appeared to have requested help for students.

“The fact that his name might be next to some of these names doesn’t mean he was trying to get the kid in a school,” Mr. Cunningham said. “He was only asking after someone said, ‘Hi, Arne, is there any way to get into this school?’ ”

Mr. Cunningham said he did not believe principals would have felt any special pressure because Mr. Duncan was the source of the inquiry. “We were always very clear with them that it was up to the principal to make the decision,” he said.

But the Chicago Sun Times isn't buying that excuse. As they write in today's editorial:

Chicago parents have long suspected that a shadow admissions system gave the elite an alternate way to go after a seat at the city's highly coveted college-prep high schools.
Turns out they were right.

The latest bit of evidence is this week's revelation that former Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan's office kept a list of aldermen, businessmen and others in positions of power who called his office to appeal admissions denials at test-based public high schools. The flood of calls suggests these folks knew the regular route wasn't the only route.

It appears that most kids were ultimately rejected, and some regular Chicagoans were on the list too -- looking for a safer school for their kid, for example. Duncan's associates defend the list, saying CPS was just organizing the crush of calls they got and that they demanded no favors for the callers. They simply passed the information to principals, without any recommendation.

But in real life, everyone knows a call from the CEO's office isn't received like any old call.

Seems like a good time for the Obama administration to drum up a lot of media attention to violent rhetoric about the Health Care bill.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Social Justice means not having to respect free speech rights of others

I was appalled this morning as I was reading an article in the San Francisco Chronicle to find that the President of the UC (University of California) Students Association appeared before the UC Regents and defended the Irvine Eleven for shouting down the Israeli Ambassador as he tried to deliver a lecture on the UC Irvine campus.

Calling it an intolerable attack on free speech, Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake told the regents that "a great university depends on the free exchange of ideas. This is non-negotiable."

Yet, one by one the students disagreed.

Victor Sánchez, president of the UC Students Association, called the attempt to silence Oren "a social justice issue."

Here's a video of the disruptions. You might think, "Do I have to watch the whole thing?" Well, no, but it really does go on and on, interruption after interruption.

I was glad to see the reporter, Nanette Asimov, put a social justice issue in quotation marks. Who determines what is a social justice issue and when the social justice issue trumps free speech?

I had previously been moved almost to tears as I read the article in the Wall Street Journal in which we learned that Sergei Brin had been the motivating factor behind Google's refusal to participate in China's effort to silence dissidents.

Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin pushed the Internet giant to take the risky step of abandoning its China-based search engine as that country’s efforts to censor the Web and suppress dissidents smacked of the “totalitarianism” of his youth in the Soviet Union.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Brin, who came to the U.S. from Russia at the age of 6 in 1979, said the compromises to do business in the world’s largest Internet market had become too great. Finally, a cyberattack that the company traced to Chinese hackers, which stole some of Google’s proprietary computer code and attempted to spy on Chinese activists’ emails, was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

China has “made great strides against poverty and whatnot,” Mr. Brin said. “But nevertheless, in some aspects of their policy, particularly with respect to censorship, with respect to surveillance of dissidents, I see the same earmarks of totalitarianism, and I find that personally quite troubling.”

I am sure that the Chinese officials view their behavior as socially just and the efforts of the dissidents as efforts to undermine the social justice institutionalized by them.

Then I started reading through the blogs I follow and found Greg Griffith at Stand Firm had posted an article on some gay activists in Boston trying to silence an ex-gay meeting in a church.

Tuesday afternoon, April 28, several major homosexual activist figures, including a prominent state employee, led a screaming demonstration to terrorize a downtown Boston church while it was holding a peaceful ex-gay religious training event inside. Using a bullhorn, they illegally trampled through an adjoining Revolutionary War-era cemetery in order to be directly outside the church's windows. Despite numerous apparent violations of the law, the Boston Police talked with them but refused to make any arrests.

Greg directed as to watch the video at "2:10 when activist Chris Mason holds up a bullhorn to a window with its siren at full blast." But the whole video is instructive as to the tactics of this gay group in Massachusetts.

I am connecting these three, what may seem as disparate, events because to me they show the movements towards and against totalitarianism occurring now in our country. I feel angry at the Irvine Eleven for their behavior but even more so at the UC Student Association President for excusing their behavior because he agrees with their cause. I so admire Sergei Brin for getting Google to stand up to the Chinese government for attempting to silence dissent. And I see the behavior of the gays in Boston as coming from the same place as the Irvine Eleven.

They think that since their cause is just, their tactics are acceptable -- Social justice by any means necessary. But if we lose our rights, like free speech, to implement "social justice", their is no guarantee that future leaders will agree with what is social justice. And those future leaders will not have to give those who see an alternative vision of social justice the free speech to articulate it.

This way leads to totalitarianism. And then won't these "useful idiots" with their utopian ideals of "social justice" be the next to go?

Anyway, that's what I was thinking as I read the news today.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nigeria: 162 People to be Prosecuted for March 7 Massacre

Reuters is reporting that 162 people face prosecution, of which 41 face the death penalty, for the March 7 massacre of about 500 Christians, mostly women and children, in the villages of Dogo Nahawa, Rasat and Jeji near the city of Jos:

"Forty-one of the suspects are to be charged with terrorism and culpable homicide, which are punishable by death," police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said.

The remaining detainees would be charged with unlawful possession of firearms, rioting and "mischief by fire" for the burning of buildings during the attacks.

Fierce competition for control of fertile farmlands between Christian and animist indigenous groups and Muslim settlers from the north have repeatedly triggered unrest in central Nigeria's "Middle Belt" over the past decade.

The "Muslim settlers from the north" are Fulani nomadic cattle herders. Those attacked were Berom.

For more context, see these posts on the 2008 riots in Jos:
Media Reporting on Muslim Violence in Jos
Christian Leaders Believe Jos Riots Were Coordinated and Planned

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Evidence "Reefer Madness" was right?

A study published this month in the Archives of General Psychiatry concludes that "early cannabis use is associated with psychosis-related outcomes in young adults".
Compared with those who had never used cannabis, young adults who had 6 or more years since first use of cannabis (ie, who commenced use when around 15 years or younger) were twice as likely to develop a nonaffective psychosis and were 4 times as likely to have high scores on the PDI.
(Note: PDI refers to the Peters et al Delusions Inventory)

This study used sibling pairs to reduce the likelihood that unmeasured genetic and environmental factors explained the findings, a criticism that had been made of previous studies which also found a link between marijuana use and psuychosis.The seven previous studies finding this effect and referenced by the study are:

1. Andréasson S, Allebeck P, Engstrom A, Rydberg U. Cannabis and schizophrenia: a longitudinal study of Swedish conscripts. Lancet. 1987;2(8574):1483-1486.

2. Zammit S, Allebeck P, Andreasson S, Lundberg I, Lewis G. Self reported cannabis use as a risk factor for schizophrenia in Swedish conscripts of 1969: historical cohort study. BMJ. 2002;325(7374):1199.

3. van Os J, Bak M, Hanssen M, Bijl RV, de Graaf R, Verdoux H. Cannabis use and psychosis: a longitudinal population-based study. Am J Epidemiol. 2002;156(4):319-327.

4. Henquet C, Krabbendam L, Spauwen J, Kaplan C, Lieb R, Wittchen HU, van Os J. Prospective cohort study of cannabis use, predisposition for psychosis, and psychotic symptoms in young people. BMJ. 2005;330(7481):11.

5. Weiser M, Reichenberg A, Rabinowitz J, Kaplan Z, Caspi A, Yasvizky R, Mark M, Knobler HY, Nahon D, Davidson M. Self-reported drug abuse in male adolescents with behavioral disturbances, and follow-up for future schizophrenia. Biol Psychiatry. 2003;54(6):655-660.

6. Arseneault L, Cannon M, Poulton R, Murray R, Caspi A, Moffitt TE. Cannabis use in adolescence and risk for adult psychosis: longitudinal prospective study. BMJ. 2002;325(7374):1212-1213.

7. Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ, Swain-Campbell NR. Cannabis dependence and psychotic symptoms in young people. Psychol Med. 2003;33(1):15-21.

The popular culture seems to have embraced the idea that making an association between marijuana use and psychosis is ludicrous, as exemplified by the ridiculing of the 1930's film Reefer Madness. But now it seems contemporary medical studies confirm that film's eponymous claim.

Monday, March 15, 2010

San Francisco: Assaults on gays may have been Islam inspired

The San Francisco police have three Muslim men in custody for a string of assaults targeting gay men along a stretch of 16th Street near Guerrero in the Mission district of San Francisco. The district attorney's office says prosecutors have evidence the men, Shafiq Hashemi, Sayed Bassam, and Mohammad Habibzada, may have committed the alleged acts because they believe homosexuality is against their religion. Both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Associated Press reports on this omit the religion angle, but the local KTVU story has it at the end:

Authorities: New Charges Planned In BB Gun Hate Crime Case
Posted: 11:21 am PST March 12,2010

SAN FRANCISCO -- Three Hayward men accused of targeting a San Francisco man they thought was gay with a BB gun were taken into custody in a courtroom Friday after a vide tape emerged showing 11 more victims, authorities said.

The San Francisco District Attorney's Office has not filed an amended complaint against the men -- Shafiq Hashemi, 21, Sayed Bassam, 21, and Mohammad Habibzada, 24 -- but said there were plans to do so based on evidence from a videotape allegedly found with the men that appears to show 11 additional victims.

All three men were arrested the night of the Feb. 26 incident and appeared in court Friday.

They had been out of custody after posting $50,000 bail last week, but prosecutor Victor Hwang today asked Judge Bruce Chan to raise their bail to $450,000 apiece.

Defense attorneys for the men did not contest the bail hike and the men were handcuffed and led off to jail. Arraignment and plea entry was again postponed until April 8.

Defense attorneys declined to comment about the case to reporters.

In the initial case, a 27-year-old San Francisco man had just come out of a bar at 16th and Guerrero streets in the Mission District at about 10 p.m. when he was shot once in the cheek, police said.

The man, who was not seriously injured, called police and told them he had been shot from a nearby car, which then drove off. While officers were interviewing him outside the bar, the suspect car drove by again and police pulled it over.

Inside they allegedly found the three men with a "rifle-style" BB gun and a video camera, which investigators later discovered had recorded the shooting, according to police.

At the time of the arrest, "The suspects did make a confession, basically stating that they came to San Francisco to target gay people," police spokesman Officer Samson Chan said.

According to district attorney's office spokesman Brian Buckelew, 11 more unnamed male victims were shot at along the same stretch of 16th street that evening. None of the additional victims have come forward to police.

Anyone who may have been a victim is asked to contact the Police Department's hate crimes unit at (415) 553-1133.

Prosecutors have charged all three men with assault with a deadly weapon, negligent discharge of a firearm, hate crimes and attempted mayhem, a charge relating to the possibility of a disabling or disfiguring injury.

According to Buckelew, the men are Muslim and prosecutors have evidence they may have committed the alleged acts because they believe homosexuality is against their religion.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Muslims: Love the People, Hate Their God

Here are two people with very different backgrounds making what I perceive to be similar points about Islam and the Muslim people.

In the Wall Street Journal today, we have a piece quoting Mosab Hasan Yiusef, the son of a Hamas leader, arguing that:
"At the end of the day a traditional Muslim is doing the will of a fanatic, fundamentalist, terrorist God. I know this is harsh to say. Most governments avoid this subject. They don't want to admit this is an ideological war."

"The problem is not in Muslims," he continues. "The problem is with their God. They need to be liberated from their God. He is their biggest enemy. It has been 1,400 years they have been lied to."

Then we have this very brief (55 seconds) in which Geert Wilders explains his concerns with Islam:

Many intellectuals argue that there are many understandings of the Quran and not one Islam. But both these men see the violence in Islam as essential to it, as the way God is portrayed in the Quran.