Author Archive: Alefa_Zegota

Anyone who can blame one thing for a complicated mess…

…is using a scapegoat.

It’s obvious to be cautious of anyone saying the answers are simpler than they are.

It reminds me of the end of Waiting for Superman, which I consider one of the most one-dimensional, simplistic movies I’ve seen, and one of the most offensive, poorly made pieces of propaganda. (That’s not to impugn propaganda as a genre; I’m just saying that as propaganda, it was particularly bad.)

Anyway, the epigraph to the film:

The problem is complicated. The solution is simple.

It’s always stunning to me that people 100 years ago managed to suss out the same deceptions, although it shouldn’t be, especially when it comes from one of history’s great wits:

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.

                                                    – H.L. Mencken

pedagogy of propaganda

The inefficiency of government is a convenient lie to push when it means private-sector inefficiency can evade scrutiny.

Fortunately, the Newark schools project is getting some scrutiny — but I think even the fantastic pieces by Bob Braun and Joan Whitlow are only the tip of the iceberg.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall when it comes to the “efficiency” of spending the first million dollars of the FaceBooker deal in Newark. We’re getting private foundations to improve the public schools by polling the public about data the public won’t be able to see until the results of the private experiment have been put into place.

If gathering information for PENewark is all about getting input from the public, will information about the collection of that data also be on view for the public?

Especially when their deep investigation only entails a 0-3 scale of the following elementary concepts:

-Local public schools encourage parents to participate and contribute ideas on what it takes to improve education.

-How much influence do parents, volunteers, caregivers, and community members have over public education?

-I know how well schools in my neighborhood are performing.

-How well do you think the schools are performing in your neighborhood? (*Shouldn’t this be conditional based on the question before it…?)

-From which of the following sources are you able to learn information about public education issues? tv, print, radio, community organizations, internet, elected officials, family and friends

-Tell us your ideas!

I have more questions than I do ideas. For starters, do any of these questions matter? There’s no value judgment on community input, incidentally, meaning they’re asking questions with no actual direction.

Upon poking around a little further, I also found the sole blog entry, by a parent — although you always have to wonder whether it’s a parent or a PR agency (based on the contact found here)

As a parent, I jumped at the opportunity to share my thoughts. My hope is that every other resident throughout our city will do the same. As parents and community members, we know best what our schools offer and what needs to be fixed.

I think a followup blog post written by “this parent” about her specific ideas as “someone who knows best” would be a lot more interesting than one just about the fact that she does have the winning ideas. (And please be more interesting than referring me to Waiting for Superman.)

Obviously there will be scrutiny, but will there be enough? Will there be enough access to even ask the right questions? When you click on the links at the bottom of the press release announcing the “Newark Education Opportunity” it takes you to sites that don’t exist (the 2009-2013 strategic plan), back to the originating page, or to a website that’s a storefront to give money to PENewark

It gives a clear answer, all right: you will not find any answers — only ways to give money.

Of course, the best thing I’ve ever read about the issue (Diane Ravitch’s brilliant NY Review of Books piece) doesn’t claim to have the answers, but it has a lot more answers than people who do claim to have one. It’s about poverty, not about teachers.

However, everyone involved in the charter-schools-as-panacea charade is fantastic at teaching one subject: misinformation.

A check that’s got stuff written on it

Rosi said it best:

This was a referendum on Christie’s short months in office, and it didn’t break his way. And that’s damn gratifying.

It’s especially gratifying to contrast it with the national media’s hollow assertions last year about What Christie’s Election Meant for America. Even with the country’s honeymoon with our governor and our state’s Tea Party invasion (why couldn’t it be the British Invasion instead?), New Jersey has shown that its requirements in a leader and individual needs are hardly monolithic.

continue below the fold

The Rip Van Winkle Effect on What The Election Means

I spent election night in my traditional fashion: planning to stay up to watch the returns but actually falling asleep and waking up to a new political chessboard. The only thing that comes close to the experience is waking up to discover you have a snow day (or, after thinking that you might, don’t).

I feel like it’s cheating, but there’s something nice about having that extra time (ie now, in the middle of the night) to process what just happened.

more below the fold

“Car sideswipes Hudson-Bergen Light Rail train in Weehawken”

A North Bergen woman driving a Volkswagen Beetle sideswiped as Hudson-Bergen Light Rail train in Weehawken on Friday morning, according to NJ Transit spokesman Dan Stessel.

I feel like this is an allegory of the interplay between the automobile and public transportation in our state. (Especially in North Bergen, where the driver was from.)

So let’s hope this is the only rail catastrophe today involving North Bergen.

The wealth distribution of nations

promoted by Rosi

Articles like these give me more insight on ones like these when I’m totally baffled by the beliefs of my neighbors.

I think we have a national epidemic of narcissism that gives people the illusion that by voting for people like Scott Siprelle, they will have his privileges that make government unnecessary.

I feel like it has to be more complex than ignorance. And then I read something like this:

The researchers then asked people what, in an ideal world, they would like the nation’s wealth distribution to be.

Ariely and Norton found that Americans think they live in a far more equal country than they in fact do. On average, those surveyed estimated that the wealthiest 20percent of Americans own 59 percent of the nation’s wealth; in reality the top quintile owns around 84 percent. The respondents further estimated that the poorest 20 percent own 3.7 percent, when in reality they own 0.1percent.

And when asked to give their ideal distribution, they described, on average, a nation where the wealth distribution looks not like the U.S. but like Sweden, only more so-the wealthiest quintile would control just 32 percent of the wealth, the poorest just over 10 percent. “People dramatically underestimated the extent of wealth inequality in the U.S.,” says Ariely. “And they wanted it to be even more equal.”

I don’t say ignorance as a judgment or negative quality. I say it as a simple lack of information about reality, and a false belief in something empirically wrong.

It’s as if people have empathy for the rich because they admire them for gaming the system. So, people equate the enterprising spirit of a venture capitalist with their own ambitions, and rationalize that a billionaire like Sipprelle understands them better because of it. Is it about not being able to give up dreams of eventually being fabulously wealthy? It’s not like there’s a choice between “accept government services and taxes, or don’t pay taxes and save enough from that to be a billionaire.”

The New Yorker article about Harry Reid was one of the most brilliant, fascinating things I’ve read in a while, and I thought to myself, “It’s a shame that only ‘east-coast elites’ read The New Yorker,” because if people had real, unvarnished information about the politicians who have their interests in mind, they might realize why it’s such a mistake to vote for people who seek to enter government so they can dismantle government.

I’m shocked (shocked!) to find holders of multiple offices in this establishment

promoted from the diaries by Rosi

I remember when I first moved to New Jersey and was shocked that former disgraced-politician Sharpe James was not only a legendarily corrupt mayor, but also a state senator. In that kind of environment, how wouldn’t corruption follow close behind?

What shocked me maybe more was that holding two offices didn’t strike many others as seemingly unusual.

I worked in the quaint legislature of my home state, which has only a 3-month session to ensure a body composed of citizens. My home state was scandalized, for example, when a legislator who practiced law outside of the session passed telecommunications legislation that may have been construed as favorable to a client he represented.

I had thought then that Sharpe James was an anomaly. But as it turns out, 1/3 of the NJ legislature is an anomaly.

My question is, how haven’t people been decrying this longer, and more vocally? Is it because there’s so much power concentrated within a municipality that people feel the leaders who best understand local issues will best present them in the legislatures? Is it because of machine politics and power held in the hands of the few? Is it because, in a state with so much diversity, private enterprise, and wealth, politics is seen as a career specialization rather than a public service, since people with money can make most of their own decisions? Is it out of cynicism of thinking politics is corrupt anyway? It’s something I’ve never really been able to wrap my head around, so I’m just guessing, really.  

The more I learn about New Jersey politics, the less I understand it.

I love this quote from the star-ledger story:

Oliver, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed. In a statement, Oliver said she opposes Christie’s proposal.

“Devoted public servants like teachers, police officers and firefighters have as much a right in our democracy to serve in public office as everyone else,” Oliver said. “I will not support legislation that restricts their ability to add to the diversity of thought so vital to a strong democracy.”

Interesting that she mentions teachers, police officers and fire fighters: a coalition of straw men. Legislation hasn’t even been proposed, and I’d be pretty surprised if it barred non-policy public servants from serving in the legislature.

Had she said, “Devoted public servants like career politicians, political bosses and local enforcers have as much a right to serve in public office as everyone else” — well, it’s easier to argue with the points that are actually up for debate.

the hypocrisy of “dispassionate” budget cuts

promoted by Rosi

I randomly found something interesting. I stumbled onto a New York Times article about Xanadu, and here’s what our governor had to say about spending money to supplement billion-dollar projects three months ago:

With the Xanadu entertainment and shopping complex three years behind schedule and in need of an estimated $875 million to open, Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday that it was time for the state to help resuscitate the project.

So using state money to save a private, unnecessary entertainment complex funded by billionaires is more important than supplementing federal funds already appropriated to add a lifeline to a failing train fleet?

more below the fold

Why I love Frank Lautenberg (and hate bogus posturing)

promoted by Rosi

I got a little too worked up in the excitement of Haiku Day, which inspired this tribute to Frank Lautenberg:

Lautenberg Station

looms over the meadowlands.

The man knows transit.

(and how.)

I wrote that before even seeing the news about Lautenberg’s brokering to keep the ARC on track (as highlighted in Blue Jersey’s morning roundup).

I sometimes forget that even elected officials who serve as my personal stand-ins for Mr. Smith still have to meet the baseline requirement of anyone who hopes to succeed in politics: a sense of cunning when the situation calls for it. It’s rare, though, to see flexing of a god-given gift for calculation in pursuit of something meaningful. Usually it’s to win one battle in a long, bitter war.

I’m glad Lautenberg essentially said, “We’re getting this done one way or another, it’s a mistake to throw away billions of dollars for a once-in-a-generation opportunity for something so urgently needed, and if the public funds are obstructed, we’ll see what the private sector can do.”

find out more below the fold!