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Firefly Watch Update

Firefly Watch Update | In and About the News | Scoop.it

Greetings,

The sixth year of Firefly Watch has officially begun! The first fireflies of the year were spotted in South Carolina on March 12. You can download the First and Last Sightings Chart to estimate when you might expect to see them in your neighborhood.

Here in the Northeast, we won't see any fireflies for about six more weeks, at least not the summer variety. Even so, we still have firefly activity here. In late March I noticed the winter fireflies, Ellychnia corrusca, beginning to emerge from hibernation and moving about on their hibernating trees. To learn more about winter fireflies, read our February featured research paper , "Notes on the Life History and Mating Behavior of Ellychnia corrusca." 

Speaking of the winter firefly, remember to report only those fireflies that you see flashing. Our study does not include daytime fireflies like the winter firefly, or larval fireflies. It is very important to report as accurately as possible. If you have any doubts at all about what you are seeing, it is better to report no fireflies. 

Don Salvatore
Firefly Watch
fireflywatch@mos.org 

Firefly Watch | My Field Journal | View and Explore Data Click here to edit the title

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It's almost time up here in New England! I hope they are back soon.

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The Life and Death of an Urban School

The Life and Death of an Urban School | In and About the News | Scoop.it
Why was Jamaica High School closed down?

 

The Jamaica High School building last year and, at right, in 1981.CREDITILLUSTRATION BY OLIVER MUNDAY; PHOTOGRAPHS BY VIC DELUCIA / THE NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX; JACKSON KRULE (TOP-LEFT)

 

The Jamaica High School building last year and, at right, in 1981.CREDITILLUSTRATION BY OLIVER MUNDAY; PHOTOGRAPHS BY VIC DELUCIA / THE NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX; JACKSON KRULE (TOP-LEFT)

Jamaica High School, in Queens, was once the largest high school in the United States. For most of its history, it occupied a majestic Georgian Revival building on Gothic Drive, designed in the nineteen-twenties by William H. Gompert, who had begun his career at McKim, Mead & White. With east and west wings, granite columns, and an elaborate bell tower, the building looked like a state capitol that had been dropped into the middle of a residential neighborhood; it sat on the crest of a hill so imposing that planners would have been guilty of pretense had it housed anything other than a public institution.

One evening in June of last year, Jamaica students wearing red and blue gowns gathered with their families and teachers and with members of the school staff at Antun’s, a catering hall in Queens Village, for the senior-class commencement ceremony. Accompanying the festivities was the traditional graduation boilerplate—about life transitions and rising to new challenges—but it carried a particular significance on this occasion, because it was as applicable to the faculty and the staff, some of whom had been at the school for nearly three decades, as it was to the students. After a hundred and twenty-two years, Jamaica High School was closing; the class of 2014, which had just twenty-four members, would be the last.

 

The New York City Department of Education had announced the closure three years earlier, citing persistent violence and a graduation rate of around fifty per cent. Accordingly, the department had begun to “co-locate” four newly created “small schools” in the old building. Advocates argue that small schools can best resolve many of the ills associated with urban education, but the reorganization produced a logistical problem. The schools tended to operate like siblings competing for bathroom time. Access to the building’s communal spaces was at a premium. Unable to secure the auditorium for a graduating class of two dozen, Jamaica High School found itself, both figuratively and literally, pushed out.

Underscoring the indignities that attended the school’s last days was a difficult irony: for much of its time, Jamaica was a gemstone of the city’s public-education system. In 1981, the schools chancellor, Frank Macchiarola, decided to take on the additional role of an interim high-school principal, in order to better appreciate the daily demands of school administration. He chose Jamaica, and was roundly criticized for picking such an easy school to lead. Four years later, the U.S. Department of Education named it one of the most outstanding public secondary schools in the nation. Alumni include Stephen Jay Gould, Attorney General John Mitchell, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Walter O’Malley, Paul Bowles, and three winners of the Pulitzer Prize: Gunther Schuller, Art Buchwald, and Alan Dugan. Bob Beamon, who set a world record for the long jump in the 1968 Olympics, graduated with the class of ’65. The school’s closure felt less like the shuttering of a perennial emblem of stagnation than like the erasure of a once great institution that had somehow ceased to be so.

Jamaica had become an institution of the type that has vexed city policymakers and educators: one charged with serving a majority-minority student body, most of whose members qualified as poor, and whose record was defined by chronic underachievement and academic failure. Even so, word of the school’s closure angered students and their families, the community, and alumni. I was among them—I graduated with the class of ’87—and for me, as for many former students, the school was a figment of recollection, frozen in its academic glory. George Vecsey, the former Times sports columnist and a member of the class of ’56, accused Joel Klein, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s schools chancellor, of “cooking the books,” to make schools slated for closure appear worse than they were, and compared the Department of Education’s closure policies to the nihilism of Pol Pot. Vecsey later apologized for having slighted the suffering of Cambodia, but he held to his contention that Klein ruled by dictatorial fiat. He wrote, in a blog, “The city destroyed a piece of history because of its own failure.”

There are two broadly competing narratives about school closure. The one commonly told by teachers, students, and many parents at underperforming schools centers on a lack of financial and material resources, which insures that the schools will be unable to meet even minimum standards. Strongly connected to this version is a belief that closure functions as a kind of veiled union-busting: shutting a school allows reformers to sidestep contracts and remove long-term teachers.

Reformers view closure as a necessary corrective to what they see as bloated bureaucracies, inept teachers, and unaccountable unions. They argue that urban schools are often too large to give students the attention they need. In 2000, the Gates Foundation began funding education reform, with an emphasis on reducing school size. Nine years later, in an annual newsletter, the foundation reported that its efforts had not met with significant success, particularly with schools “that did not take radical steps to change the culture, such as allowing the principal to pick the team of teachers or change the curriculum.” The foundation also said that it “had less success trying to change an existing school than helping to create a new school.” The reform movement nationwide increasingly saw closure and the creation of new institutions—as opposed to funding and reorganizing existing schools—as the way forward.

 

During the nineteen-forties, in a series of landmark tests conducted around the country, the psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark demonstrated that black children associated virtue and intelligence with whiteness, and had correspondingly internalized racist stereotypes of inferiority. Robert Carter, an attorney with the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund, heard of the Clarks’ work and brought it to the attention of Thurgood Marshall, who was then the legal fund’s director-counsel. Marshall made the Clarks’ findings central to the argument for school desegregation in the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education. The decision made Kenneth Clark famous (while largely overlooking his wife’s role in structuring the experiment). Clark, who had grown up in Harlem and was a professor at the City College of New York, then turned his attention to the city government, which, he charged, had fostered segregation in the schools.

Arthur Levitt, then the president of the New York City Board of Education, responded that the schools merely reflected residential patterns: children who attended overwhelmingly black schools lived in overwhelmingly black neighborhoods. A Commission on Integration was set up to examine the issue, with Clark as one of the commissioners, and Levitt as co-chair, and it issued recommendations, which were never quite translated into policy. (Clark resigned, but continued to push for integration throughout his career.) In 1959, the Board of Education experimented by sending four hundred students from overcrowded black schools in Brooklyn to under-attended white schools in the Ridgewood and Glendale sections of Queens. The move was met with rancorous opposition and a brief boycott that anticipated the riotous response to busing in the seventies.

In 1949, John Ward, an African-American student whose family had migrated to New York from Virginia after the Second World War, enrolled at the school. Ward’s father was a bus mechanic, and his mother worked as a domestic; between them, they earned enough to buy a home in Jamaica. Ward recalls the area as a place where Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, African-Americans, and Jews lived in peaceful proximity. His house was not far from the grocery store that Mario Cuomo’s parents owned, and Ward, who played baseball as a boy, remembers the future governor from games in the neighborhood sandlots. The area had not yet entirely shaken its rural roots. “There were still people farming there,” Ward told me. “I remember seeing people butcher hogs on Linden Boulevard in the forties and fifties.”

Ward wanted to be a teacher, but Woodrow Wilson, the high school that most blacks in the area attended, was a vocational trade school. So he applied to Jamaica, which had acquired a reputation as one of the city’s strongest academic high schools. Ward initially found the rigor daunting. “My first semester, I failed about three major classes,” he told me. “My father said, ‘If you’re not going to work at school, you’ll have to get a job.’ ” Ward studied hard and spent an extra semester earning enough academic credits to apply to college. He played baseball well enough to be selected for the All-City team in 1954, his senior year. “I don’t really recall there being much racial tension,” he said of the school. “The blacks mostly hung out with other black students, but, being an athlete, I interacted with a lot more of the white students.” For a few years in the fifties, Jamaica’s integrated athletics teams, with their winning records, were a point of pride for the school. In 1954, Ward was elected the school’s first black class president.

 

 

He was accepted at Morgan State University, a historically black institution in Baltimore, but his family couldn’t afford the tuition, so he played D-League baseball for a few years, then applied to the New York City police academy, and, in 1960, became one of the first black members of the motorcycle corps. Of the more than three hundred graduates in Ward’s police-academy class, fewer than two dozen were African-American. In 1974, he was promoted to a plainclothes unit working out of the 114th Precinct. “Out of sixteen guys, I was the black on the street-crimes unit,” he told me. His career on the force was, at least demographically, a replay of his experiences at Jamaica, and Ward later credited the school with giving him not only an excellent education but also the skills that allowed him to navigate primarily white environments. “Jamaica being integrated in the fifties was something unusual,” he told me. “But it was also a place where I felt I belonged.”

South Jamaica’s black population continued to grow in the fifties and sixties, though not all of it was as economically stable as Ward’s family. In 1947, when the Olympian Bob Beamon was still a baby, his mother died, and he was eventually sent to live with a guardian in a rough part of the neighborhood. After a troubled childhood and a brush with juvenile court, which resulted in his being sent to a remedial, “600” school, Beamon became convinced that if he could get into Jamaica he could turn his life around. Four decades later, in a memoir, “The Man Who Could Fly,” he wrote of the school in nearly ecclesiastical terms:

Mr. Louis Schuker, the principal at Jamaica High, had a long talk with me and Coach Ellis. He said the odds of a 600 school student making it in a regular school environment were next to zero. His admonition to me was reminiscent of the one given by the judge who had sentenced me to the 600 school.

“Beamon, any trouble out of you and you are out of here,” Mr. Schuker said. “Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir,” I answered firmly and clearly. I knew that I wasn’t going anywhere but Jamaica High. This was where I wanted to be. This was where I belonged.

It’s easy to wax idealist about the happy spaces of one’s childhood, but in Beamon’s case the assessment can’t be so easily dismissed. He traced his desire to compete in the Olympics to a visit that the track-and-field star Wilma Rudolph, a triple gold medalist in the 1960 Games, paid to Jamaica during his sophomore year. The school was a place where someone like him, who grew up poor in a crime-plagued neighborhood, stood a chance of encountering someone like Rudolph.

Beamon and Ward could have been case studies for Kenneth Clark’s advocacy of integration. Political salesmanship warranted that advocates speak of integration as a removal of racial strictures and a kind of democratic communion, but, at its core, it was meant to achieve a redistribution of wealth or, at least, of opportunity. If advantage tended to accrue in places inhabited by whites, integrationists like Clark hoped that by placing black students in physical proximity to whites the benefits would be spread around.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 insured that race could not be used explicitly to prohibit access to public institutions, but there was a big difference in the public’s mind between outlawing discrimination and engineering racial diversity. By 1974, when the Supreme Court ruled, in Milliken v. Bradley, that school districts could not be compelled to participate in busing programs, the push for integration had already begun to lose momentum. School districts across the country fell back on voluntary integration programs. (A 2007 Supreme Court ruling greatly weakened the ability to do even that.)

 

Meanwhile, successive tides of immigration in the seventies and eighties transformed Queens into the most ethnically diverse county in the United States. Greek enclaves in Astoria saw an influx of Brazilians, Colombians, Bangladeshis, Chinese, Guyanese, Koreans, Ecuadorans, Romanians, Indians, Filipinos, Albanians, and Bosnians, in addition to Lebanese, Egyptians, Tunisians, Yemeni, and Moroccans. The working-class white areas along Jamaica Avenue became home to Haitian, Jamaican, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Indian, and Pakistani populations. A South Asian community took root south and east of the school. Jamaica High School did not become “integrated” as a consequence of the implementation of a particular set of policy prerogatives. Rather, the school was something more uncommon and more notable: an institution whose diversity simply reflected the entirety of its surrounding communities.

My family moved to Queens about twenty years after John Ward’s did, as part of a nascent civil-rights-era black middle class. By 1967, my father, who was an electrician, was earning enough to buy a home. He and my mother left a tenement in Harlem for a yellow two-story house in Hollis, far enough into Queens that people referred to Manhattan as “the city.” The nearest subway stop was a twenty-minute bus ride away. My father considered the move a validation of his decision, at the age of seventeen, to leave his native Georgia and head north.

My mother, who had left Alabama for New York as a teen-ager, and took jobs in the city as a domestic and a hotel telephone operator, now no longer needed to work, and she enrolled in night classes, studying for a B.A. at Queens College. Her American-history class was taught by Herb Sollinger, an adjunct professor who was also a full-time social-studies teacher at Jamaica High School. Tall and fortyish, Sollinger was a brilliant, quirky figure who wore red socks every day and had an encyclopedic grasp of world affairs. My mother, who deeply resented how limited her educational opportunities had been in Alabama, decided that my sister, who was about to start her freshman year, should attend the high school where Sollinger taught. Hollis was not in the district, so my mother filed a less than accurate change-of-address form with the Board of Education, and, the following year, my sister enrolled at Jamaica. Three years later, my older brother did, too.

The narrative of individual ascent in America often elides the many frail contingencies that make success possible. In the late seventies, my father found it increasingly difficult to compete with larger electrical contractors. Then, in 1981, my oldest brother—who had served in Vietnam, had come home addicted to heroin, and had been clean for several years—died, one of the earliest victims of AIDS. My father’s business collapsed amid the grief that followed. The contingencies piled up. We moved from the yellow house into a second-floor apartment on a dead-end street in Bricktown, a forgettable stretch of South Jamaica alongside the Long Island Rail Road. That part of Liberty Avenue, the northern boundary of the neighborhood, was home to automotive yards, laundromats, bodegas, and a significant number of bad reputations. Bob Beamon recalled seeing, as a boy, one teen-ager stab another to death there. But Bricktown was zoned for Jamaica High School, and I enrolled as a freshman.

Up to that point, I’d been the type of student who is frequently urged to “apply yourself,” but, in a fit of geekdom my freshman year, I developed an obsession with physics—specifically, quarks. A classmate and I started staying behind after science class to discuss subatomic particles with Mr. DeFelice, a wry, mostly gray-haired man who spoke in deliberate cadences that crescendoed at the end of each sentence. He began assigning us additional reading, and eventually recommended us for the honors science track. His affirmation of our potential, coming amid the normal adolescent anxieties and a host of socioeconomic ones, still stands out in my memory.

 

The school was by then a far more polyglot institution than it had been when Ward or Beamon attended. I played right field on a baseball team that included a Jewish third baseman, a Dominican pitcher, a shortstop from Colombia, and an Indian utility outfielder. We took the field looking as if team tryouts had been held at the Census Bureau. Jamaica remained academically rigorous, and was initiating an impressive array of programs designed to prepare students for careers in science and engineering, business and medicine. It was during my sophomore year, when Eileen Petruzillo was principal, that the Department of Education cited the school for its excellence.

“This one’s just like being at a real theatre.”BUY THE PRINT »

In my senior year, the father of my friend Sherman Brown encouraged me and a classmate, Mark Mason, to apply to his alma mater, Howard University. Sherman played first base on the baseball team and lived in Jamaica Estates. His father owned a travel agency. His mother, who held a doctorate in psychology, was the first person I’d ever met with a Ph.D. Mark was the senior-class president and, like me, the first in his family for whom going directly from high school to college was a possibility. Sherman, Mark, and I wound up as roommates at Howard. My four closest black friends at Jamaica, including Sherman and Mark, earned master’s degrees, and two of them were later awarded doctorates. Mark, now a chief financial officer at Citigroup, summarized Jamaica’s impact: “We came from neighborhoods where very few people went to college, but went to school with a set of people almost certain to go to college, and the school had a bigger influence.”

 

My high-school years had coincided with a train of racially charged events in the city: the death of Eleanor Bumpurs, a sixty-six-year-old woman who was shot in her apartment by a police officer; the death, from injuries sustained in police custody, of the graffiti artist Michael Stewart; the arrest of Bernhard Goetz, in the shooting of four young black men who he claimed had attempted to mug him in the subway; and the death of Michael Griffith, in Howard Beach, Queens. Griffith’s death brought a roiling racial subcurrent to the surface: he was fatally struck by a car as he fled onto a highway to escape a mob of whites who were chasing him. Adults in my neighborhood who had grown up in the South called Griffith’s death a lynching, and warned me to stay out of white working-class enclaves like Howard Beach. Three days after Griffith’s death, I saw a group of black teen-agers attack a white teen-ager on Hillside Avenue, and rage through the streets shouting “Howard Beach! Howard Beach!” Yet neither I nor any of the teachers and alumni I spoke to recall those tensions as being particularly prominent at Jamaica. The school continued to represent an educational idyll. But it could not stand entirely outside the times.

Students usually gathered in the first-floor auditorium before the start of classes, but, on the morning of Wednesday, November 5, 1986, Principal Petruzillo announced over the P.A. system that the auditorium was off limits, owing to a construction emergency. Her story held up for just as long as it took for the police and ambulances to arrive. Earlier that morning, Gregory Evelyn, an almost fragilely small sixteen-year-old junior, with whom I had taken swimming class, had shot a sophomore named Stanley Pacheco, following what was said to have been a dispute over a girl. Leo Greenfest, a gym teacher certified in first aid, tended to Pacheco, but the bullet had severed his spinal cord, and left him paralyzed below the neck. Evelyn ran out of the building and was arrested at his home a short time later.

School shootings were not yet recognized as a common feature of American life, which meant that the incident generated an enormous amount of news coverage, and also that there were no established safety or emotional-health protocols with which to respond to it. The shooting and its aftermath hung over us the rest of the school year; for the graduating students, they remained a set of emotional ellipses never quite resolved. Outside the school, the shooting came to be seen as a vector of ill tidings, definitive evidence of an institution in decline. But to the teachers who returned the following year, and the years after, the shooting was a tragedy that presaged the coming violence in American schools more than it spoke to any particular trouble at Jamaica. On the morning of the shooting, Susan Sutera, a gym teacher, was leading a combined class with Leo Greenfest. She continued to teach at the school until the year before it closed. “The shooting was a crazy, tragic day,” she told me. “But, terrible as it was, it didn’t really define Jamaica as a dangerous place. It was something that we recognized we had to move on from.”

As late as 1998, Jamaica held a respectable standing among the city’s large high schools. Though it was no longer the élite institution of earlier years, more than seventy-five per cent of the students graduated on time. But, by 2009, the graduation rate had tumbled to thirty-nine per cent. A confluence of events brought about the decline. In that period, talented students in northern Queens were given the option of attending two other high schools, both based on college campuses. In 1995, Townsend Harris, a magnet high school on Parsons Boulevard, moved onto the campus of Queens College. With roughly half the number of students as Jamaica, Townsend Harris had graduation rates that fluctuated between ninety-nine and a hundred per cent. During the eighties and nineties, Jamaica allowed students to enroll in courses at York College, a liberal-arts institution about a mile south of the high school. In 2002, York became the location of Queens High School for the Sciences, which granted admission based solely on standardized-test scores.

 

In 2004, in the name of greater choice, the Bloomberg administration revised the districting rules to allow students to attend any high school in the city. Given the realities of residential segregation, and of school quality as a determinant of real-estate values, there was something almost radical in that idea. It’s even possible to see the Bloomberg plan as a long-awaited response to Arthur Levitt’s claim, in 1954, that the problem in New York was not segregated schools but segregated neighborhoods. But it also meant that students whose parents—owing to language difficulties or work demands, immigration status or a generalized fear of bureaucratic authority—could not or would not pursue other educational options for their children found themselves relegated to increasingly unappealing schools.

 

 

Joel Klein, who as chancellor closed seventy-four schools, disputes the notion that institutions like Jamaica failed owing to a lack of resources. Nor does he believe that size is the only issue. “Where there were thriving large schools, we didn’t try to replace them,” he told me. The real problem was that the schools had “started getting many kids who were low-performing and entering high school a couple of years behind.” The solution was to create “a much more intimate and personalized setting for them”—a phrase at odds with the disruption and the discord that often greet the end of a long-established community institution.

Jamaica’s demise became part of the litany of resentments voiced by opponents of school closure across the country. Rahm Emmanuel’s shuttering of nearly fifty schools in Chicago angered black voters and became a major issue in the city’s recent mayoral election. In 2010, Adrian Fenty, the mayor of Washington, D.C., was dispatched in an election that was also a referendum on his schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, who had closed two dozen schools. Yet that reaction raises another confounding question: Why do communities most in need of strong schools oppose shutting down institutions that are failing them? In demanding that a school remain open, are alumni hewing closer to nostalgia than to current reality? Or is the conversation about school closure really a proxy for something more subtle, complex, and intractable?

The impulse to reform public schools in the United States has existed nearly as long as the impulse to build them. The tides of immigrants arriving at the turn of the twentieth century, and the nativist hostilities that greeted them, imbued educators with an assimilationist mission. At mid-century, schools were instilled with Cold War anxiety; the subtext of films like “Blackboard Jungle” and “Rebel Without a Cause” was not only the perils of dissolute youth but also the dangers posed by families and schools that were seen as failing to meet the Soviet challenge. In the civil-rights era, American classrooms were called on to propagate racial equality in the broader society. But no mission completely displaced the one that preceded it, so that, by the end of the century, we expected public education to assimilate students, equalize them, and prepare them to compete globally.

The history of Jamaica High School roughly correlates with the evolving demands placed on public education in New York City. The school was founded in 1892, and, five years later, moved into a small building on Hillside Avenue, with an enrollment of eighty students. Rural Queens County was formally incorporated as a borough of the city in 1898. During the next fifteen years, the Queensboro Bridge opened and the Long Island Rail Road’s Jamaica station was expanded, becoming the largest in the system. Commuting presented a novel alternative to life in the uncorralled bedlam of Manhattan; Queens was transformed into a kind of suburb within the city, and the population boomed. Schools citywide struggled to keep up with the demands created by both immigration and population redistribution. In “The Great School Wars,” a history of public education in the city, Diane Ravitch writes, “In the early twentieth century the public school was transformed into a vast, underfinanced, bureaucratic social-work agency, expected to take on single-handedly the responsibilities which had formerly been discharged by family, community and employer. . . . The idea took hold that the public school was uniquely responsible for the Americanization and assimilation of the largest foreign immigration in the nation’s history.” Jamaica’s population reflected the demographic tides in Queens; its classrooms were laboratories for the shaping of better Americans.

In 1925, construction began on the new building, the school’s last home, on Gothic Drive. Jamaica took its name from the Jameco, or Yameca, Indians, who once inhabited the area where Kennedy Airport now stands. The name meant “beaver,” and the animal, a symbol of industriousness, was chosen as the school mascot. (When I enrolled, students were grumbling that it was time for a new mascot—particularly the cheerleaders, whose sweaters were emblazoned with the word.) The grand structure, completed in 1927, accommodated thirty-four hundred students.

Over the years, the walls of the east wing became an evolving exhibit of the school’s history, adorned with photographs of generations of students, faculty, and staff. Those from the first decades showed stern-faced young men in football uniforms; genial, avuncular-looking teachers in suits; and earnest Second World War-era teen-agers, many of them from the growing Greek, Italian, and Jewish neighborhoods to the north and the west of the school. Though racially homogeneous, the student body drew from a cross-section of economic backgrounds. Kids from middle-class Flushing and Kew Gardens sat with students from working-class areas south of the school and others from more affluent enclaves, like Jamaica Estates. By 1950, the No. 7 subway line had attracted families to the formerly sparse expanses of northern Queens, and the school’s enrollment grew to forty-six hundred.

 

Yearbooks from the fifties show only a few dozen Latino and black students. In 1948, the Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive housing covenants, and a handful of African-American celebrities, including Jackie Robinson, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Roy Campanella, bought homes in the exclusive Addisleigh Park section of Queens. (Fame provided only partial insulation from racial resentment; in 1952, a cross was burned near the homes of Robinson and Campanella.) Still, eighty-five per cent of the new housing developments in the borough were closed to blacks. Today, the name South Jamaica includes any number of mostly black neighborhoods south of Liberty Avenue, but at that time it was a well-defined sliver of real estate between the more middle-class areas of St. Albans and Ozone Park. It was where most of the African-American population, including the students enrolled at the high school, lived.

 

The New York City Department of Education had announced the closure three years earlier, citing persistent violence and a graduation rate of around fifty per cent. Accordingly, the department had begun to “co-locate” four newly created “small schools” in the old building. Advocates argue that small schools can best resolve many of the ills associated with urban education, but the reorganization produced a logistical problem. The schools tended to operate like siblings competing for bathroom time. Access to the building’s communal spaces was at a premium. Unable to secure the auditorium for a graduating class of two dozen, Jamaica High School found itself, both figuratively and literally, pushed out.

Underscoring the indignities that attended the school’s last days was a difficult irony: for much of its time, Jamaica was a gemstone of the city’s public-education system. In 1981, the schools chancellor, Frank Macchiarola, decided to take on the additional role of an interim high-school principal, in order to better appreciate the daily demands of school administration. He chose Jamaica, and was roundly criticized for picking such an easy school to lead. Four years later, the U.S. Department of Education named it one of the most outstanding public secondary schools in the nation. Alumni include Stephen Jay Gould, Attorney General John Mitchell, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Walter O’Malley, Paul Bowles, and three winners of the Pulitzer Prize: Gunther Schuller, Art Buchwald, and Alan Dugan. Bob Beamon, who set a world record for the long jump in the 1968 Olympics, graduated with the class of ’65. The school’s closure felt less like the shuttering of a perennial emblem of stagnation than like the erasure of a once great institution that had somehow ceased to be so.

Jamaica had become an institution of the type that has vexed city policymakers and educators: one charged with serving a majority-minority student body, most of whose members qualified as poor, and whose record was defined by chronic underachievement and academic failure. Even so, word of the school’s closure angered students and their families, the community, and alumni. I was among them—I graduated with the class of ’87—and for me, as for many former students, the school was a figment of recollection, frozen in its academic glory. George Vecsey, the former Times sports columnist and a member of the class of ’56, accused Joel Klein, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s schools chancellor, of “cooking the books,” to make schools slated for closure appear worse than they were, and compared the Department of Education’s closure policies to the nihilism of Pol Pot. Vecsey later apologized for having slighted the suffering of Cambodia, but he held to his contention that Klein ruled by dictatorial fiat. He wrote, in a blog, “The city destroyed a piece of history because of its own failure.”

There are two broadly competing narratives about school closure. The one commonly told by teachers, students, and many parents at underperforming schools centers on a lack of financial and material resources, which insures that the schools will be unable to meet even minimum standards. Strongly connected to this version is a belief that closure functions as a kind of veiled union-busting: shutting a school allows reformers to sidestep contracts and remove long-term teachers.

Reformers view closure as a necessary corrective to what they see as bloated bureaucracies, inept teachers, and unaccountable unions. They argue that urban schools are often too large to give students the attention they need. In 2000, the Gates Foundation began funding education reform, with an emphasis on reducing school size. Nine years later, in an annual newsletter, the foundation reported that its efforts had not met with significant success, particularly with schools “that did not take radical steps to change the culture, such as allowing the principal to pick the team of teachers or change the curriculum.” The foundation also said that it “had less success trying to change an existing school than helping to create a new school.” The reform movement nationwide increasingly saw closure and the creation of new institutions—as opposed to funding and reorganizing existing schools—as the way forward.

 

 

 

Joel Klein, who as chancellor closed seventy-four schools, disputes the notion that institutions like Jamaica failed owing to a lack of resources. Nor does he believe that size is the only issue. “Where there were thriving large schools, we didn’t try to replace them,” he told me. The real problem was that the schools had “started getting many kids who were low-performing and entering high school a couple of years behind.” The solution was to create “a much more intimate and personalized setting for them”—a phrase at odds with the disruption and the discord that often greet the end of a long-established community institution.

Jamaica’s demise became part of the litany of resentments voiced by opponents of school closure across the country. Rahm Emmanuel’s shuttering of nearly fifty schools in Chicago angered black voters and became a major issue in the city’s recent mayoral election. In 2010, Adrian Fenty, the mayor of Washington, D.C., was dispatched in an election that was also a referendum on his schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, who had closed two dozen schools. Yet that reaction raises another confounding question: Why do communities most in need of strong schools oppose shutting down institutions that are failing them? In demanding that a school remain open, are alumni hewing closer to nostalgia than to current reality? Or is the conversation about school closure really a proxy for something more subtle, complex, and intractable?

The impulse to reform public schools in the United States has existed nearly as long as the impulse to build them. The tides of immigrants arriving at the turn of the twentieth century, and the nativist hostilities that greeted them, imbued educators with an assimilationist mission. At mid-century, schools were instilled with Cold War anxiety; the subtext of films like “Blackboard Jungle” and “Rebel Without a Cause” was not only the perils of dissolute youth but also the dangers posed by families and schools that were seen as failing to meet the Soviet challenge. In the civil-rights era, American classrooms were called on to propagate racial equality in the broader society. But no mission completely displaced the one that preceded it, so that, by the end of the century, we expected public education to assimilate students, equalize them, and prepare them to compete globally.

The history of Jamaica High School roughly correlates with the evolving demands placed on public education in New York City. The school was founded in 1892, and, five years later, moved into a small building on Hillside Avenue, with an enrollment of eighty students. Rural Queens County was formally incorporated as a borough of the city in 1898. During the next fifteen years, the Queensboro Bridge opened and the Long Island Rail Road’s Jamaica station was expanded, becoming the largest in the system. Commuting presented a novel alternative to life in the uncorralled bedlam of Manhattan; Queens was transformed into a kind of suburb within the city, and the population boomed. Schools citywide struggled to keep up with the demands created by both immigration and population redistribution. In “The Great School Wars,” a history of public education in the city, Diane Ravitch writes, “In the early twentieth century the public school was transformed into a vast, underfinanced, bureaucratic social-work agency, expected to take on single-handedly the responsibilities which had formerly been discharged by family, community and employer. . . . The idea took hold that the public school was uniquely responsible for the Americanization and assimilation of the largest foreign immigration in the nation’s history.” Jamaica’s population reflected the demographic tides in Queens; its classrooms were laboratories for the shaping of better Americans.

In 1925, construction began on the new building, the school’s last home, on Gothic Drive. Jamaica took its name from the Jameco, or Yameca, Indians, who once inhabited the area where Kennedy Airport now stands. The name meant “beaver,” and the animal, a symbol of industriousness, was chosen as the school mascot. (When I enrolled, students were grumbling that it was time for a new mascot—particularly the cheerleaders, whose sweaters were emblazoned with the word.) The grand structure, completed in 1927, accommodated thirty-four hundred students.

Over the years, the walls of the east wing became an evolving exhibit of the school’s history, adorned with photographs of generations of students, faculty, and staff. Those from the first decades showed stern-faced young men in football uniforms; genial, avuncular-looking teachers in suits; and earnest Second World War-era teen-agers, many of them from the growing Greek, Italian, and Jewish neighborhoods to the north and the west of the school. Though racially homogeneous, the student body drew from a cross-section of economic backgrounds. Kids from middle-class Flushing and Kew Gardens sat with students from working-class areas south of the school and others from more affluent enclaves, like Jamaica Estates. By 1950, the No. 7 subway line had attracted families to the formerly sparse expanses of northern Queens, and the school’s enrollment grew to forty-six hundred.

 

Yearbooks from the fifties show only a few dozen Latino and black students. In 1948, the Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive housing covenants, and a handful of African-American celebrities, including Jackie Robinson, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Roy Campanella, bought homes in the exclusive Addisleigh Park section of Queens. (Fame provided only partial insulation from racial resentment; in 1952, a cross was burned near the homes of Robinson and Campanella.) Still, eighty-five per cent of the new housing developments in the borough were closed to blacks. Today, the name South Jamaica includes any number of mostly black neighborhoods south of Liberty Avenue, but at that time it was a well-defined sliver of real estate between the more middle-class areas of St. Albans and Ozone Park. It was where most of the African-American population, including the students enrolled at the high school, lived.

 

The New York City Department of Education had announced the closure three years earlier, citing persistent violence and a graduation rate of around fifty per cent. Accordingly, the department had begun to “co-locate” four newly created “small schools” in the old building. Advocates argue that small schools can best resolve many of the ills associated with urban education, but the reorganization produced a logistical problem. The schools tended to operate like siblings competing for bathroom time. Access to the building’s communal spaces was at a premium. Unable to secure the auditorium for a graduating class of two dozen, Jamaica High School found itself, both figuratively and literally, pushed out.

Underscoring the indignities that attended the school’s last days was a difficult irony: for much of its time, Jamaica was a gemstone of the city’s public-education system. In 1981, the schools chancellor, Frank Macchiarola, decided to take on the additional role of an interim high-school principal, in order to better appreciate the daily demands of school administration. He chose Jamaica, and was roundly criticized for picking such an easy school to lead. Four years later, the U.S. Department of Education named it one of the most outstanding public secondary schools in the nation. Alumni include Stephen Jay Gould, Attorney General John Mitchell, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Walter O’Malley, Paul Bowles, and three winners of the Pulitzer Prize: Gunther Schuller, Art Buchwald, and Alan Dugan. Bob Beamon, who set a world record for the long jump in the 1968 Olympics, graduated with the class of ’65. The school’s closure felt less like the shuttering of a perennial emblem of stagnation than like the erasure of a once great institution that had somehow ceased to be so.

Jamaica had become an institution of the type that has vexed city policymakers and educators: one charged with serving a majority-minority student body, most of whose members qualified as poor, and whose record was defined by chronic underachievement and academic failure. Even so, word of the school’s closure angered students and their families, the community, and alumni. I was among them—I graduated with the class of ’87—and for me, as for many former students, the school was a figment of recollection, frozen in its academic glory. George Vecsey, the former Times sports columnist and a member of the class of ’56, accused Joel Klein, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s schools chancellor, of “cooking the books,” to make schools slated for closure appear worse than they were, and compared the Department of Education’s closure policies to the nihilism of Pol Pot. Vecsey later apologized for having slighted the suffering of Cambodia, but he held to his contention that Klein ruled by dictatorial fiat. He wrote, in a blog, “The city destroyed a piece of history because of its own failure.”

There are two broadly competing narratives about school closure. The one commonly told by teachers, students, and many parents at underperforming schools centers on a lack of financial and material resources, which insures that the schools will be unable to meet even minimum standards. Strongly connected to this version is a belief that closure functions as a kind of veiled union-busting: shutting a school allows reformers to sidestep contracts and remove long-term teachers.

Reformers view closure as a necessary corrective to what they see as bloated bureaucracies, inept teachers, and unaccountable unions. They argue that urban schools are often too large to give students the attention they need. In 2000, the Gates Foundation began funding education reform, with an emphasis on reducing school size. Nine years later, in an annual newsletter, the foundation reported that its efforts had not met with significant success, particularly with schools “that did not take radical steps to change the culture, such as allowing the principal to pick the team of teachers or change the curriculum.” The foundation also said that it “had less success trying to change an existing school than helping to create a new school.” The reform movement nationwide increasingly saw closure and the creation of new institutions—as opposed to funding and reorganizing existing schools—as the way forward.

 

 

 

Joel Klein, who as chancellor closed seventy-four schools, disputes the notion that institutions like Jamaica failed owing to a lack of resources. Nor does he believe that size is the only issue. “Where there were thriving large schools, we didn’t try to replace them,” he told me. The real problem was that the schools had “started getting many kids who were low-performing and entering high school a couple of years behind.” The solution was to create “a much more intimate and personalized setting for them”—a phrase at odds with the disruption and the discord that often greet the end of a long-established community institution.

Jamaica’s demise became part of the litany of resentments voiced by opponents of school closure across the country. Rahm Emmanuel’s shuttering of nearly fifty schools in Chicago angered black voters and became a major issue in the city’s recent mayoral election. In 2010, Adrian Fenty, the mayor of Washington, D.C., was dispatched in an election that was also a referendum on his schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, who had closed two dozen schools. Yet that reaction raises another confounding question: Why do communities most in need of strong schools oppose shutting down institutions that are failing them? In demanding that a school remain open, are alumni hewing closer to nostalgia than to current reality? Or is the conversation about school closure really a proxy for something more subtle, complex, and intractable?

The impulse to reform public schools in the United States has existed nearly as long as the impulse to build them. The tides of immigrants arriving at the turn of the twentieth century, and the nativist hostilities that greeted them, imbued educators with an assimilationist mission. At mid-century, schools were instilled with Cold War anxiety; the subtext of films like “Blackboard Jungle” and “Rebel Without a Cause” was not only the perils of dissolute youth but also the dangers posed by families and schools that were seen as failing to meet the Soviet challenge. In the civil-rights era, American classrooms were called on to propagate racial equality in the broader society. But no mission completely displaced the one that preceded it, so that, by the end of the century, we expected public education to assimilate students, equalize them, and prepare them to compete globally.

The history of Jamaica High School roughly correlates with the evolving demands placed on public education in New York City. The school was founded in 1892, and, five years later, moved into a small building on Hillside Avenue, with an enrollment of eighty students. Rural Queens County was formally incorporated as a borough of the city in 1898. During the next fifteen years, the Queensboro Bridge opened and the Long Island Rail Road’s Jamaica station was expanded, becoming the largest in the system. Commuting presented a novel alternative to life in the uncorralled bedlam of Manhattan; Queens was transformed into a kind of suburb within the city, and the population boomed. Schools citywide struggled to keep up with the demands created by both immigration and population redistribution. In “The Great School Wars,” a history of public education in the city, Diane Ravitch writes, “In the early twentieth century the public school was transformed into a vast, underfinanced, bureaucratic social-work agency, expected to take on single-handedly the responsibilities which had formerly been discharged by family, community and employer. . . . The idea took hold that the public school was uniquely responsible for the Americanization and assimilation of the largest foreign immigration in the nation’s history.” Jamaica’s population reflected the demographic tides in Queens; its classrooms were laboratories for the shaping of better Americans.

In 1925, construction began on the new building, the school’s last home, on Gothic Drive. Jamaica took its name from the Jameco, or Yameca, Indians, who once inhabited the area where Kennedy Airport now stands. The name meant “beaver,” and the animal, a symbol of industriousness, was chosen as the school mascot. (When I enrolled, students were grumbling that it was time for a new mascot—particularly the cheerleaders, whose sweaters were emblazoned with the word.) The grand structure, completed in 1927, accommodated thirty-four hundred students.

Over the years, the walls of the east wing became an evolving exhibit of the school’s history, adorned with photographs of generations of students, faculty, and staff. Those from the first decades showed stern-faced young men in football uniforms; genial, avuncular-looking teachers in suits; and earnest Second World War-era teen-agers, many of them from the growing Greek, Italian, and Jewish neighborhoods to the north and the west of the school. Though racially homogeneous, the student body drew from a cross-section of economic backgrounds. Kids from middle-class Flushing and Kew Gardens sat with students from working-class areas south of the school and others from more affluent enclaves, like Jamaica Estates. By 1950, the No. 7 subway line had attracted families to the formerly sparse expanses of northern Queens, and the school’s enrollment grew to forty-six hundred.

 

Yearbooks from the fifties show only a few dozen Latino and black students. In 1948, the Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive housing covenants, and a handful of African-American celebrities, including Jackie Robinson, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Roy Campanella, bought homes in the exclusive Addisleigh Park section of Queens. (Fame provided only partial insulation from racial resentment; in 1952, a cross was burned near the homes of Robinson and Campanella.) Still, eighty-five per cent of the new housing developments in the borough were closed to blacks. Today, the name South Jamaica includes any number of mostly black neighborhoods south of Liberty Avenue, but at that time it was a well-defined sliver of real estate between the more middle-class areas of St. Albans and Ozone Park. It was where most of the African-American population, including the students enrolled at the high school, lived.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

I attended Jamaica High School, graduating in 1963. Those were probably that last peak years of the school. It had issues of racial non-integration. Kids ran with kids like themselves, more of less divided down the lines of ethnicity and race. But there was little active hostility between the groups and a surprising about of cross- pollination (and dating) went on, too. The school was far from perfect, but there was a cadre of talented and dedicated teachers who made themselves available to those who wanted to learn, or who need help. 

 

Was it a model for the future? There were standardized tests -- Regents exams -- but these were based on what we learned in school, not on some bureaucrats notion of what we should "know." Most of us came out better than we went in. And that's saying a lot, especially these days.

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Richard III remains return to city

Richard III remains return to city | In and About the News | Scoop.it

King Richard III's remains have arrived at Leicester Cathedral ahead of his reburial. His funeral cortege entered the city at the historic Bow Bridge after touring landmarks in the county.

Cannons were fired in a salute to the king at Bosworth, where he died in 1485. His coffin will be on public view at the cathedral from 09:00 GMT on Monday. He will finally be reinterred during a ceremony on Thursday. Richard's skeleton was found in 2012, in an old friary beneath a car park.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

For those of you who like to follow archaeology and history, here's the Richard III update.

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​Net neutrality becomes the law of the land | ZDNet

​Net neutrality becomes the law of the land | ZDNet | In and About the News | Scoop.it

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted today to accept FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal that the Commission "use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open Internet protections." Or, to put it in plain English, your ISP must provide equal broadband access to you or any site -- Amazon, Netflix, etc. -- without slowing down or speeding up sites for additional fees.

 

As expected, the vote to treat ISPs as common carriers passed by a party line vote of three Democrats over the two Republicans. Under this regulation, broadband Internet services will be governed by Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Mobile broadband vendors, such as 4G providers AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless will also be regulated as common carriers based on Title III of the Communications Act. It should also be noted that since Wheeler made his proposal, the FCC has redefined broadband as delivering at least 25-Megabits per second (Mbps).

 

The Republicans claimed that the FCC was over-reaching its authority by putting in a secret Obama plan for net neutrality. Wheeler dismissed this as nonsense in his final speech. He summed up, "This is the FCC using all the tools in our toolbox to protect innovators and consumers; to ban paid prioritization, the so called fast lane. [This] will not divide the Internet into haves and have-nots."

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

This is something which affects all of us. It appears we finally have a victory. Let's hope this is the last we hear of it!

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Explainer: How Democrats and Republicans ‘switched sides’ on civil rights

Explainer: How Democrats and Republicans ‘switched sides’ on civil rights | In and About the News | Scoop.it
Or, how the "Party of Lincoln" became the preferred party of racists everywhere.

 

I just about lost my damn mind this morning after coming across this piece from the National Review about how Barry Goldwater totally wasn’t all that racist or anything.

 

As a history nerd, this weird thing the Republicans are doing now where they are trying to pretend that they are the true heirs of the civil rights movement is starting to drive me up the wall. Like, f’reals, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King would not freaking be conservative Republicans today. For that matter, neither would Susan B. Anthony. It’s absolutely absurd. It doesn’t even sort of make sense because at all times throughout all history, all civil rights issues are progressive issues regardless of party alignment.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

This is flippant and funny, but it is a not half bad summary of American politics for the past hundred years. Give or take a lie or two. And it adds some much needed perspective to the lies we hear on the radio, see on television, and read on the Internet.

 

It's always a good thing to add a little truth to an ongoing debate, though considering the incivility, name-calling, mud-slinging, and general bad manners and ill intent of participants on both side, but in particular the "right" side ... one can only wonder if Truth and Facts actually have any role to play in this ongoing melodrama we call politics.

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Salk, Sabin and the Race Against Polio

Salk, Sabin and the Race Against Polio | In and About the News | Scoop.it
As polio ravaged patients worldwide, two gifted American researchers developed distinct vaccines against it. Then the question was: Which one to use?
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The 'Internet Slowdown' Is Coming: Tech Giants to Protest FCC's Net Neutrality Proposal

The 'Internet Slowdown' Is Coming: Tech Giants to Protest FCC's Net Neutrality Proposal | In and About the News | Scoop.it
Etsy, Kickstarter are holding a day of action on September 10 as the deadline approaches for public comments on the proposed 'fast lane' rules.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

This is a fight we cannot afford to lose. No matter how little of the technology you understand, we all use it. Cell phones, Netflix and other WiFi television connectors, our computers, Kindles ... so much of our lives depends on fast, dependable Internet connections. 

 

If we lose this fight, we will be looking back on these days as those glorious days when we were all equal on the net ... because we won't be any longer.

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Sid Caesar the Curtain Closes on a Comedy Giant

Sid Caesar the Curtain Closes on a Comedy Giant | In and About the News | Scoop.it
Sid Caesar is dead at 91 and the curtain has softly closed on a comedy giant. Although giant is perhaps not a large enough term to refer to a legendary figure who, through his live comedy programs,...
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Truly one the greatest of the greats. I remember "The Show of Shows" when I was a kid. From that show came more giants -- Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen -- to name a few. 

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The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review | In and About the News | Scoop.it

MY BACKGROUND

 

I currently own 4 Olympus micro 4/3 cameras, 2 E-PL1s, an E-P3 and an E-PM2. I also own 7 Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3 lenses. I’ve shot more than 20,000 frames with my Olympus cameras, so I know these cameras well. I’ve also used the newest Olympus Pen, the E-P5, during a week and half evaluation.

 

I’m also a Canon DSLR shooter. I started with the Rebel XT 7 years ago and have upgrade over time to the 20D, 7D and currently own the full frame 6D. While I shoot a variety of subjects, I’m most excited about urban landscapes and street photography, especially in the evening and night. For this reason, I’m usually drawn to fast shooting cameras that have great low light (high ISO) performance.

 

THE 4/3 FORMAT

 

Before micro 4/3, there was an older format called 4/3. Olympus and Panasonic also shared the original 4/3 standard. This standard was for DSLRs with traditional lenses and a flipping mirror. The goal was to create DSLRs smaller than Canon and Nikon by using a smaller sensor.

 

The 4/3 DSLRs were in fact smaller but it ultimately didn’t make a big difference — Canon and Nikon continued to dominate sales. Back then the smaller 4/3 sensor didn’t perform as well in low light, which was the main knock against the format. Also the mirror assembly still added considerable bulk so the 4/3 cameras were not “radically” smaller than the bigger APS-C sized DSLRs.

 

Ultimately, Olympus and Panasonic regrouped to form the now popular micro 4/3 standard. They took out the flipping mirror and further shrank the lenses and, in the process, started the mirrorless interchangeable lens movement.

 

The jewels in the old 4/3 system are the highly regarded Olympus lenses. Olympus DSLRs focused faster than the original mirrorless offerings and while Olympus released an adapter to use 4/3 lenses on micro 4/3 cameras, they didn’t work as quickly. The 2010 release of the E-5 was the last time Olympus updated their DSLR. Since then, 4/3 lens fans had no modern, high performance cameras to use their glass. This changed with the release of the OM-D E-M1.

 

BRINGING THE FAMILY BACK TOGETHER

 

With the release of the OM-D E-M1, Olympus combined the best of the micro 4/3 world with the best of the 4/3 lens world. Though the E-M1 is not an SLR, it has phase detect and contrast detect focusing which allows the older 4/3 lenses to focus quickly. Reports on the web indicate that while some 4/3 lenses don’t focus as fast as on the E-5 DSLR, the E-M1 is significantly faster than previous micro 4/3 cameras. Robin Wong in Malaysia reports that the focus speed with the 4/3 lenses are more than enough and it is a very usable system. It appears that 4/3 lens focusing speed is lens dependent. A reader indicates that SWD lenses focuses even faster. I didn’t have any 4/3 lenses to test but reports on the web indicate positive results indeed.

 

In one bold stroke, Olympus managed to up its mirrorless focusing capability while supporting the older, loyal Olympus 4/3 owners. It’s a move that brought back the two side of the Olympus household under one roof.

 

CHALLENGING THE DSLR

 

While the original 4/3 DSLR never did challenge the Canon / Nikon duopoly, the new mirrorless E-M1 has put together a package that has compelling advantages over the old fashioned DSLR. Imagine a camera that is as fast as a DSLR, with equal image quality, with superior video in a small package.

 

It took several years of refinement and ultimately a new Sony 16MP sensor, but the micro 4/3 system currently has the same image quality as an APS-C DSLR. When I tested the Olympus E-PM2 against my Canon 7D, I found the low light image quality to be equal to or superior on the Olympus. Even the newest Canon 70D, which is better than the 7D, appears to be in the same ball park as the E-M1. Looking at the DPReview results, it appears that the Olympus JPEG engine still does better than Canon, pulling out sharp details. High ISO performance seems about the same for JPEG and the new 70D might be a tad better than the E-PM2 in RAW.

 

At 10 frames per second in continuous focusing mode, the E-M1 is the first micro 4/3 camera that I would recommend for sports. The latest generation of Olympus Pens are quick for normal shooting — it has one of the fastest contrast detect focusing systems. But when it comes to fast action sports, like soccer, the contrast detect can’t keep up. The E-M1 uses phase detect focusing to assist the contrast detect focusing when set in continuous mode with the micro 4/3 lens (on 4/3 lenses, I’m told it uses phase detect full-time) which makes all the difference. I was able to continuously focus more reliably than with my Canon 7D, which by the way, only shoots at 8 frames per second. DSLRs still have the sports advantage in certain ways, which I will explain below however, this is a major step for mirrorless sports photography.

 

One of the knocks against the DSLR is the size of the camera and even worse, the size of the lenses. Since the E-M1 uses the slightly smaller micro 4/3 sensor, the body and the lenses are noticeably compact. Even though this latest OM-D has the beefiest body so far for an Olympus micro 4/3 camera, it is still a lot smaller than a comparable DSLR. Here is a photograph I took at Precision Camera that compares a Canon 70D with the 24 – 70mm f2.8 vs the Olympus E-M1 with the very similar 24 – 80mm equivalent (Note: technically the Canon 24- 70mm lens on a 70D has a 38mm – 112mm equivalent). Notice a difference?

 

A GROUND BREAKING LENS

 

Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 The impact of Olympus’ new lens, the 12 – 40mm f2.8, is hard to overstated. This is the first PRO micro 4/3 lens from Olympus. It has a metal exterior, it’s weather proof and it’s fast. f2.8 is typically what pros like to use. The large aperture and a usable 24 – 80mm equivalent range makes this a do all lens. This type of lens is popular with wedding photographers and photojournalists where fast action and changing light conditions makes it indispensable.

But imagine all this capability in a size not much bigger than a typical DSLR kit lens. That’s what you can get with micro 4/3, a constant 2.8 zoom in a small package. With Canon, for example, their 24 -70mm f2.8 is nearly 3/4″ larger in diameter and over an inch longer. It weighs more than double, coming in at a hefty 1.77 pounds. The Canon lens also runs about $2,300 which is $1,300 more than the Olympus.

 

Unique to the Olympus lens is a feature where you can pull back on the focus ring, which automatically switches the E-M1 into manual focus mode. Between the focus peaking and digital zoom, this maybe the easiest way to manually focus, at least on a digital camera. This manual focus interface is also available on the Olympus 12mm f2 and the 17mm f1.8. The 12mm and 17mm don’t do automatic focus peaking or digital zoom when the focus ring is pulled backed, however. Unlike the 12-40mm zoom, you need to program a function button to bring up the manual focus aids.

 

UNBEATABLE PACKAGE

 

Separately, the E-M1 and 12-40mm lens are excellent in their own way. But together, as a package, the two complement each other perfectly. They’re an unbeatable pair. Of course the E-M1 can be used with any micro 4/3 lens. Conversely, the 12-40mm can be used on any micro 4/3 body. This lens needs the beefy grip of the E-M1 to be comfortable. While the lens is small in DSLR terms, it is one of the bigger micro 4/3 lenses. Perhaps adding the optional grips on the OM-D E-M5 will also do the trick but on a smaller camera like the E-P3 or even the smaller E-PM2, the lens is too heavy.

 

Mated together, you get a total package that is significantly smaller than the DSLR equivalents. Remember, a smaller sensor may reduce the body size somewhat but it really has benefits in shrinking the lens size. I carried around this high performance, weather sealed, f2.8 zoom camera all day with no strain. It fits in my small Domke bag and it didn’t tire me out. Try that with your DSLR.

 

LENS OPTIONS

 

The E-M1 and 12-40mm combo may be the first setup that handles 95% of my needs. That includes my serious photography as well as family vacation snapshots and videos. Action in low light maybe the only time I’ll need a second lens with a big aperture. I like to use the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. Other choices may include both the Olympus 12mm f2 and the 17mm f1.8, both really good lenses. Finally, the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 is a very popular and compact alternative.

 

A serious portrait shooter, which I am not, may also want to consider a wide aperture portrait lens to decrease the depth of field. The Olympus 45mm f1.8 is a low-cost and highly rated lens. The Olympus 75mm f1.8 is considered by some to be the highest quality micro 4/3 lens.

 

THE ERGONOMICS

 

Olympus E-M1 Details Olympus E-M1 Details The E-M1 is unlike any previous Olympus micro 4/3 camera. The actual size, in person, seems smaller than expected. It doesn’t look “toy like”, which is the reaction I had when I first saw the E-M5. In actual use, it feels more like a DSLR than the typical mirrorless camera, albeit a very small DLSR. It feels very different from the Olympus Pens that I’ve come to know very well.

On first use, I found the camera heavy. It fit well in hand and all the controls are easy to reach — many accessible single-handed. I can change the two control dials with just my right hand which is not possible, for example, with my Canons. I may opt to use my left hand for added stability, but it wasn’t required to change the primary controls.

 

There is enough direct access buttons on this thing that I rarely need to go into the menus or super control panel. And all the buttons are well place and easily accessible. Between the weight, build and control, it’s a totally different experience than using an Olympus Pen. Compared to this camera, my otherwise excellent E-PM2 feels like a plastic point and shoot. In less than a week, I got used to the weight. It became the new normal. My Pens felt tiny but the DSLRs still seemed a size or two larger.

 

While the control accessibly of the E-M1 is superior to my Canon 6D, I prefer the larger grip of the Canon for heavier lenses. The 12-40mm works fine on the E-M1 but with heavier lenses (like the legacy 4/3 lenses), I think you should attach the optional HLD-7 Camera grip. The E-M1 is a lot shorter than the DSLR so the grip does not extend down to the pinky, even with my smaller hands. The optional battery grip will add needed support for heavier lenses.

 

The menu system seems very similar to the other Olympus micro 4/3 cameras however there are some changes. I noticed, for example, the menu options around bracketing and HDR have changed somewhat. There are probably other small differences but I didn’t do a comprehensive check. I like all the options and customizability of the Olympus menus but I know some find it overwhelming. The good news is with all the external, physical controls, you will rarely need to visit the menus.

 

THE DESIGN

 

Olympus E-M1 Details Olympus E-M1 Details Olympus E-M1 Details Unlike the other Olympus models, this camera only comes in black. The dark, angular shape with its sharp creases is in direct contrast to the smooth and rounded shapes of DSLRs. It also has a very different aesthetic from the Pen line. While the smaller Pens are cute, retro or in the case of the E-P5, upscale. The E-M1 looks like a purposeful photographic tool and its smaller than DLSR size still makes it accessible and non-threatening. It strikes a good balance. While there is a similarity to the old, film Olympus SLR, to me the design doesn’t look retro, It looks modern and high tech.

There is enough heft and size, especially with the 12-40mm lens, to come across as a premium product. However, unlike the two toned, Olympus E-P5, it does not look luxurious. The E-M1 is more functional than decorative. My 14-year-old son describes it as cool but not Pro. Meaning, a big DSLR with a large white lens looks more professional and impressive. So if you are getting this camera to impress people, it may not be the ideal choice. But it doesn’t look like a budget plastic DSLR either — you can tell it is something special. This thing has a solid all metal build with nice rubbery grips. The only section that feels a bit lacking is the SD Card door located on the grip, by the palm. It doesn’t seem cheap, I just don’t know how solid it will be after years of use. For the record my Canon 6D also has a similarly placed SD card door, of which I have the same concerns.

 

Not looking like a typical DSLR but with DSLR performance is why I like the camera. It’s certainly not as stealthy as an Olympus Pen, but I don’t think it will attract attention like a Pro DSLR either. Purely on looks, I prefer the two toned E-P5. It has just the right amount of sparkle and it seemed like a “civilized” travel and street camera. Performance and flexibility wise, the E-M1 is clearly superior. You can shoot sports, take it into country for landscapes (in all kinds of nasty weather) and do almost everything in between. In that sense, E-M1 is Olympus’ most versatile camera.

 

Where the E-M1 is clearly superior over the E-P5 is with the integrated EVF (Electronic View Finder). I didn’t like that add-on EVF on the E-P5, one of the few things I complained about in an otherwise fine camera. On the E-P5, the EVF is an afterthought. It doesn’t integrate into the design and, for me, get’s in the way. The E-M1 EVF, I believe, has the same technical specifications but it is full incorporated into the body. (Note: A reader reports that the E-M1 EVF has slight improvements over the VF-4 EVF that optionally comes with the E-P5. It has less lag and automated brightness, adjusting to ambient light) It looks good, design wise, and is less fragile. I don’t typically use EVFs, but on the E-M1 I used it more than usual. Perhaps I used the EVF more because, conceptually for me, the E-M1 handles and feels like a DSLR. The Pen cameras, on the other hand, work more like point and shoots.

 

The EVF quality is the best yet. It is the closest so far to the feel of an optical view finder. It smooth, with great color and it doesn’t get overly bright in dark scenes. It’s the first EVF I don’t mind using, though I still find it comfortable and more flexible using the flip LCD up screen.

 

I know there’s a lot of people who like the Olympus E-M5 but I never warmed up to that camera. The ergonomics, such as the button placement didn’t work for me. Also, it just looked a bit “toy like” because of its small size. It looks like a retro SLR but not sized like one, which is where the disconnect for me happens, I think. The E-M1 just looks right. It still seems smaller than expected but not to any extreme. There is a balance to it that the E-M5 doesn’t have unless you add the optional grips.

 

IMAGE QUALITY

 

There are many aspects to image quality, of course. There is color, dynamic range, contrast, noise levels and sharpness to name a few. Color is probably the most important for me and usually the most visible. The Olympus color, which I really like, is a key reason I use the system. Beyond that, I tend to look at noise levels particularly for high ISOs. I shoot a lot in dark conditions and having great high ISO performance is important. Certainly, I would like better dynamic range but for my serious urban landscapes I often use HDR which increase the apparent dynamic range. This, I find, is a great equalizer between systems.

 

I rarely do serious ISO tests. I generally look at the results from normal shooting and see what looks acceptable to me. I view the photograph on my 27″ Apple Thunderbolt display so that the image fills the display (not at 100%). If I can’t see any noise or general harshness, I deem the image as acceptable for my purposes. While I may do retouching at 100%, I don’t pixel peep at 100% once I know the limits of a camera.

 

Compared to other Olympus cameras

For Olympus Pens I’m usually satisfied with the images up to ISO 3200. Keep in mind that noise levels vary by color and exposure so ISO 3200 is a general rule of thumb. The EM-1 uses a new 16MP sensor. I’ve head reports that it might be better at higher ISOs than the previous E-M5 sensor. I decided to run some quick tests to see if I can detect a difference.

 

I shot the Texas State Capitol on tripod with both the E-M1 with the 12-40mm attached and the E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm attached. Both cameras were set to f8 and at 14mm (28mm equivalent). I was testing noise levels, not sharpness so I decided not to use the same lens. I shot 3 photos at -2 stops, 0 and +2 stops exposure compensation. I did this at ISO 200, 1600, 3200, 4000, 5000 and 6400. By varying the exposure compensation, I can judge noise levels with both over and under exposed photographs. I also shot both cameras with RAW + JPEG but did the analysis with JPEG since I don’t have a RAW converter for the E-M1.

 

My results? In this simple test, the two cameras did about the same. I did not see a noticeable improvement with the E-M1. This is in contrast to Ming Thein’s results where he was getting about 1/2 or so stop better noise performance. Ming is a professional photographer out of Malaysia and I certainly trust his analysis. Keep in mind that noise characteristics change with exposure and color. So even if we are both testing noise performance, our results may vary depending on the subject. Also, Ming was using an OM-D E-M5 and I was using a Pen E-PM2. My understanding is that both cameras use the same sensor and processor but a quick check over at DXO Mark reveals something interesting. According to their tests the E-PM2 does a tad better at high ISO. Could that account for the difference?

 

That’s not to say I didn’t see any differences. For my state Capitol scene, things looked about the same until ISO 1600. At 3200 and above, I noticed that the E-M1 processed JPEGs differently from the E-PM2. The JPEG noise reduction on the E-M1 seems lighter creating a more detailed but slightly noisier images. I am splitting hairs though, pixel peeping at 100%. At full size on the 27″ monitor, its hard to make out the differences.

 

That said for the “normal” non-test scenes I shot, I was getting decent, usable image as ISO 4000 and 5000. Even ISO 6400 was okay in terms of noise. Remember that these are JPEGs so the camera adds noise reduction. I usually use RAW where noise is a bigger factor unless I add additional noise reduction. The advantage of RAW is that I can post process the image with more latitude, pulling out details from shadows or bringing back some detail in over exposed areas. I can also manipulate color more in RAW without the image falling apart.

 

So your mileage will vary. I wouldn’t expect radically better high ISO results with the E-M1 over the current generation micro 4/3s. But this camera’s strength lie in other areas. I’ve also noticed more noise in some over exposed images with the E-M1, which I create when shooting HDR brackets. I don’t see it all the time and it may be related to the way JPEGs are processed. The net effect is that I’ve created a noisier than usual HDR image, the one of the State Capitol displayed above. I needed to apply extra noise reduction via software to get it down to acceptable levels. I would need to run more tests to determine if this was a fluke or a real issue. The image above used the photos I shot at ISO 200. And in case you are wondering, the white specs you see on the pavement are not noise but light reflecting off the pavement.

 

Compared to DSLRs

The current generation micro 4/3 are surprisingly competitive, image quality wise, with DSLRs with APS-C sensors. The larger APS-C sensors should give it a distinct advantage but in actual usage there seems to be very little difference. I am more familiar with Canon than Nikon so I will talk about the former. I’ve been shooting with micro 4/3 for a while and I was surprised to discover that my small Olympus E-PM2 matched or exceeded the low light performance of the Canon 7D. I’ve talked a lot about this. Basically, Canon have not improved their APS-C sensor for over 3 years. In that time, smaller sensored cameras, like micro 4/3 caught up. Recently Canon released the 70D. This is first Canon APS-C DSLR that noticeably improves low light performance. I would estimate that 70D is about a 1/3 to 2/3 stop better in RAW performance than the E-M1 (that’s assuming the E-M1 RAW performance is similar to the E-PM2). If you compare JPEG performance, it appears that the superior Olympus JPEG engine still matches Canon’s results.

 

For full frame DSLRs, it’s a very different story. High ISO performance on full frame is clearly better than micro 4/3. The physics of a grossly larger sensor is hard to beat. On my Canon 6D, for example, I get nearly 2 stops better high ISO performance. So ISO 10,000 on my Canon 6D is about on par with ISO 3200 on micro 4/3.

 

Olympus does have one tangible benefit though. The E-M1 has a very sophisticated 5 axis in-body image stabilizer. This allows you to take clear shots at lower ISOs by reducing your shutter speed. This technique will not help with fast action but for scenes with little or no movement, you can reduce your shutter speed greatly. Couple this with some large aperture prime lenses and you can easily best APS-C sensored DSLRs. And you can almost close the gap on full frame cameras too depending on the circumstance.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

See the rest of the story -- comparisons, photos, analysis, summaries on ATMTX PHOTO BLOG at:  http://blog.atmtxphoto.com/2013/10/06/the-olympus-om-d-e-m1-review/

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JUST DIE ALREADY

JUST DIE ALREADY | In and About the News | Scoop.it

 

That’s the message. The ACA doesn’t affect me directly since I’m already on Medicare — except the out-of-pocket costs of Medicare have been going up each year. Higher deductibles and premiums, less coverage for the money and the doughnut hole in prescription coverage just keeps going and going and going. They are nibbling away at the coverage. Slowly and surely.Ever since I turned 65, it’s been a rapid downhill slide into worse medical care. As long as was on MassHealth, the Massachusetts version of “Obama Care,” I was fine. I got medication for cheap or free and if I was sick, they took care of me. Thank God I had cancer while I was still covered under MassHealth!The day I turned 65, they tossed me off of MassHealth. Did I get richer or healthier? Nope. The Great Minds who designed the system decreed when you hit 65, you don’t need money. You can automatically live on about 1/3 the amount you used to need. Apparent the benevolent folks who hold our mortgage and bills knock 2/3 off our payments because they know we are getting old and definitely poor.In your dreams.

I knew it was going to happen but I’d been trying not to think about it. I knew because it happened to my husband when he turned 65. Bang, no more MassHealth. You’re on your own, buster. Garry has fewer major health issues than I do, a situation that is not guaranteed to last forever but so far, so good.

Me, on the other hand … well. I’m just about to hit the second anniversary of the two tumors which cost me both breasts  – the definition of a bi-lateral mastectomy and essentially, I’m getting no care at all, not even checkups. I had cancer twice – simultaneously. Those two-for-one sales are a killer.

My insurer has too few oncologists, so essentially I have no care. I hope for the best and don’t think on it much. Usually. Except at night, when I’m trying to fall asleep. Then, I wonder what’s really going on in my body. It is not the kind of thinking  conducive to relaxation and rest.

I have evolved into a cardiac disaster area. I need a new mitral valve and other things. Turns out that my Medicare Advantage Plan (an oxymoron if ever I heard one) charges $50 per day co-pay for cardiac rehab. Since there is no way we can come up with that money, I can’t afford cardiac rehab. With all the deductibles, I’m not even sure I can afford the surgery itself … and I’m not sure they’ll perform it if I can’t do the rehab. I’m trying real hard to find something funny here and not doing such a great job.

I’ve been considering using Magical Thinking as a medical alternative. Magical Thinking is holistic medicine for the hopelessly deluded. Rather than medication and surgery. I pretend I’m fine and kaboom — I’m fine. Problem eliminated. Magical thinking is cheap, efficient and much less stressful than actually dealing with the problem.

Okay, back to earth. I’m getting a message from the ether and the message, ladies and gentleman is (wait for it) … “Just die already.”

If I could afford $220 per month more, I could get a policy without deductibles. Ironically, that’s exactly what it costs me monthly to keep the house heated. On the budget plan. Could I skip heating and trade up for better medical insurance? But this is New England. It gets cold.

Or, for an additional $200 per month (which we don’t have) — plus the cost of Medicare — I could get a Medigap policy that would cover everything Medicare doesn’t cover. I’d need a prescription plan separately and no plan covers that big doughnut hole in the middle of prescription coverage. Kind of a moot point since I don’t have the money. Hell, we have more month than money now. More? From where? Our generous government entitlements?

If I don’t take care of the bad valves, I will die. If I delay too long, the chances of the surgery working well become increasingly poor. I can’t afford the surgery, not really … and the alternative is?

The message comes through loud and clear. I’ve outlived my usefulness. Just die already.

With the shut down of the government by those opposed to the ACA (let’s call them “Republicans” and be done with the niceties), with the GOP apparently believing “Just die already” is a reasonable message to send to me and lots of other people, I have to wonder how I wound up here. We worked hard our whole lives. We deserve better than this. I try not to be whiney about it, but it hurts to find oneself discarded, marginalized, back against the wall with the wolves closing in.

How did the United States become this ugly, mean-spirited country that would rather close down than offer medical care to its poor, its children, its senior citizens? How did we come to this? Who are we, anyhow?

I know. I get it. Just die already.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

And that's the way it really is for so many of us. It's not theory. It's not funny. It's not political. It's life and death for real. Maybe you want to rethink your position.

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Transcript of the Constitution of the United States - Official Text

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

For those who have never read the Constitution -- and for we who may need a refresher (it being a long time since school days), here is a link to a transcript of the Constitution by which ALL Americans are all sworn to abide.

 

Regardless of party. Regardless of whether or not we like the President. We are a nation of laws, not extortion. 

 

We are all supposed to care about this country. We can disagree, but holding the government to get your way is wrong. Unethical, immoral and unpatriotic. Maybe worse.

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Sharla Shults's curator insight, October 2, 2013 11:29 PM

Also visit Awakenings for information on the signing of The Constiturion of the United States and check your knowledge behind We the People: http://awakenings2012.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-us-constitution.html

Brian Bertram's curator insight, April 9, 2014 12:40 PM

This is the actual text of the constitution. It represents what the laws of our country are based on. Currently it has been around longer than any other constitution in history.  It was created by the founding fathers. They did such a great job hundreds of years ago that other countries now a days base their constitutions on it.  That is very impressive since at the time no other government in the world was like the one that the founding fathers created.

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The Science Behind Foliage | Your Great Outdoors

The Science Behind Foliage | Your Great Outdoors | In and About the News | Scoop.it

The science behind the beauty of the season, from the Mass Audubon Society. One of my favorite organizations. They do good work to help preserve our natural world.


Via JMS1kiddz
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I always wondered. Now, I know.

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JMS1kiddz's comment, September 25, 2013 10:54 AM
This is relevent as Spring is here, if you take an interest in nature you'll enjoy this article. It dicusses the science behind the leaves changing colour when the season's change. Interesting.
- Katherine Jones
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Criminals and Gun Violence - SUNDAY NIGHT BLOG, Richard Paschall

Criminals and Gun Violence - SUNDAY NIGHT BLOG, Richard Paschall | In and About the News | Scoop.it

Despite news stories that would suggest the opposite, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy are fond of pointing out that the city has endured less shootings than in recent years.  If that is truly the case, then the shootings in past years was under reported by local media.  You can believe that they are all over it now.  Local news in most big cities follow the mantra, “If it bleeds, it leads,” and shootings have become the lead stories all too often in the Windy City and around America.  Chicago has become the topic of national newscasts and unfortunate late night talk show jokes.

Mayor Emanuel and his predecessor, long time mayor Rich Daley, have worked hard to get guns off the streets and out of the hands of criminals.  They worked to restrict gun sales, limit concealed carry and ban guns at certain locations.  In light of gun violence, it seems logical that city leaders would lead the charge to get guns out of the hands of the type of people who would shoot up a city park.  Unfortunately their efforts have met the fight to let criminals have their guns.  “Who would be against the efforts of our elected officials to make the city streets safer?” you may ask.  Is it just the gangs?  Are the gangs using their drug profits to oppose the city in court?  Is it the Mafia and their high-priced attorneys?  Is it some Tea Party extremist?  No, it is none of those although the last might be close.  It is the National Rifle Association that is working hard to let criminals have guns and keep violence on main street America.  They have money.  They have lawyers and they like taking Chicago to court.

Yes, one of the roadblocks to taking guns away from criminals is the NRA.  They will now point to recent shootings as proof that we can not have gun control.  They will again try to force feed us the argument that gun control will mean that only criminals will have guns  and we will all be at their mercy, as if we are not now.  The NRA will use their usual scare tactics to defend their extreme position that actually allows criminals to get more and more guns.  They will then attempt to sell us on the idea that all of those guns in the hands of criminals means we can not have gun control laws.  Somehow they seem to think that arming the bad guys is proof that the good guys should not have to face any sort of restrictions on buying guns.  If you think this philosophy is a bit twisted, you are right (or perhaps I meant left).

The “slippery slope” argument is at the top of the NRA’s philosophy about gun control laws.  They seem to think that if there are any restrictions to buying guns, soon there will be more and more restrictions to follow and eventually  all the good guys will have to give up their guns to the federal, state and local governments.  It does not matter that this argument make no sense and the Second Amendment will protect them.  They continue to fight the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago through misleading pronouncements and court challenges.  Consider the common sense ideas of the state and city along with the extremist, Wild West position of the NRA.

Attempts at restricting private sale or transfer of guns to criminals have been challenged.  Reporting lost or stolen guns has been challenged.  Restricting concealed carry in certain public places has been challenged.  The NRA has won a battle against the State of Illinois in Moore v. Madigan.  That would be Lisa Madigan, Attorney General for the State of Illinois.  They claimed that the State efforts to enforce its laws left people “defenseless” outside their own homes.  They also backed McDonald v. Chicago in a fight against Chicago hand guns laws.  Their direct fight in NRA v. Chicago was later consolidated with the McDonald case.  While the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the Chicago law, the fight went to the Supreme Court where the much of the Chicago ordinance was struck down, leaving the city to attempt a less restrictive ban in 2010.

The State of Illinois was forced in July to adopt a concealed weapons laws, which angered city officials.  The law forced changes on the City of Chicago.  City officials, however, refuse to roll over to the wishes of the NRA.  They are now attempting to ban guns in bars and restaurants that sell alcohol.  They feel guns and booze don’t mix.  They expect the NRA to back the Dodge City mentality and challenge them in court.  Apparently, there should be no checking of hand guns at the door, but Marshal Dillon is not around to toss the bad guys in jail like an episode of Gunsmoke so this may not go well.  Perhaps all disputes will be settled by a duel in the street rather than shooting up Chicago saloons.

If Al Capone were still alive he would be proud of the efforts of the NRA to let Capone and Frank Nitti keep guns on the streets of Chicago.  As for Eliot Ness, the NRA would keep him and the Untouchables busy in court with challenges over any attempts to enforce the law, even common sense laws.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Despite all the palaver that the availability of guns does not affect crime levels, this is so obviously ridiculous and self-serving by gun enthusiasts that it really isn't worth arguing. I think everyone who hunts, competes in shooting sports and has some kind of genuine reason to own a weapon should be allowed to do so. I also think that all guns should be better regulated, insured, and kept track of.  Heres an opinion worth reading.

 

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Victor Davis Hanson - The Israeli Spring

Victor Davis Hanson - The Israeli Spring | In and About the News | Scoop.it

srael could be forgiven for having a siege mentality — given that at any moment, old frontline enemies Syria and Egypt might spill their violence over common borders.

The Arab Spring has thrown Israel’s once-predictable adversaries into the chaotic state of a Sudan or Somalia. The old understandings between Jerusalem and the Assad and Mubarak kleptocracies seem in limbo.

Yet these tragic Arab revolutions swirling around Israel are paradoxically aiding it, both strategically and politically — well beyond just the erosion of conventional Arab military strength.

In terms of realpolitik, anti-Israeli authoritarians are fighting to the death against anti-Israeli insurgents and terrorists. Each is doing more damage to the other than Israel ever could — and in an unprecedented, grotesque fashion. Who now is gassing Arab innocents? Shooting Arab civilians in the streets? Rounding up and executing Arab civilians? Blowing up Arab houses? Answer: either Arab dictators or radical Islamists.

The old nexus of radical Islamic terror of the last three decades is unraveling. With a wink and a nod, Arab dictatorships routinely subsidized Islamic terrorists to divert popular anger away from their own failures to the West or Israel. In the deal, terrorists got money and sanctuary. The Arab Street blamed others for their own government-inflicted miseries. And thieving authoritarians posed as Islam’s popular champions.

But now, terrorists have turned on their dictator sponsors. And even the most ardent Middle East conspiracy theorists are having troubling blaming the United States and Israel.

Secretary of State John Kerry is still beating last century’s dead horse of a “comprehensive Middle East peace.” But does Kerry’s calcified diplomacy really assume that a peace agreement involving Israel would stop the ethnic cleansing of Egypt’s Coptic Christians? Does Israel have anything to do with Assad’s alleged gassing of his own people?

There are other losers as well. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to turn a once-secular Turkish democracy into a neo-Ottoman Islamist sultanate, with grand dreams of eastern-Mediterranean hegemony. His selling point to former Ottoman Arab subjects was often a virulent anti-Semitism. Suddenly, Turkey became one of Israel’s worst enemies and the Obama administration’s best friends.

Yet if Erdogan has charmed President Obama, he has alienated almost everyone in the Middle East. Islamists such as former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi felt that Erdogan was a fickle and opportunistic conniver. The Gulf monarchies believed that he was a troublemaker who wanted to supplant their influence. Neither the Europeans nor the Russians trust him. The result is that Erdogan’s loud anti-Israeli foreign policy is increasingly irrelevant.

The oil-rich sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf once funded terrorists on the West Bank, but they are now fueling the secular military in Egypt. In Syria they are searching to find some third alternative to Assad’s Alawite regime and its al-Qaeda enemies. For the moment, oddly, the Middle East foreign policy of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other oil monarchies dovetails with Israel’s: Predictable Sunni-Arab nationalism is preferable to one-vote, one-time Islamist radicals.

Israel no doubt prefers that the Arab world liberalize and embrace constitutional government. Yet the current bloodletting lends credence to Israel’s ancient complaints that it never had a constitutional or lawful partner in peace negotiations.

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt dictatorship is gone. His radical Muslim Brotherhood successors were worse and are also gone. The military dictatorship that followed both is no more legitimate than either. In these cycles of revolution, the one common denominator is an absence of constitutional government.

In Syria, there never was a moderate middle. Take your pick between the murderous Shiite-backed Assad dictatorship or radical Sunni Islamists. In Libya, the choice degenerated to Moammar Qaddafi’s unhinged dictatorship or the tribal militias that overthrew it. Let us hope that one day westernized moderate democracy might prevail. But that moment seems a long way off.

What do the Egyptian military, the French in Mali, Americans at home, the Russians, the Gulf monarchies, persecuted Middle Eastern Christians, and the reformers of the Arab Spring all have in common? Like Israel, they are all fighting Islamic-inspired fanaticism. And most of them, like Israel, are opposed to the idea of a nuclear Iran.

In comparison with the ruined economies of the Arab Spring — tourism shattered, exports nonexistent, and billions of dollars in infrastructure lost through unending violence — Israel is an atoll of prosperity and stability. Factor in its recent huge gas and oil finds in the eastern Mediterranean, and it may soon become another Kuwait or Qatar, but with a real economy beyond its booming petroleum exports.

Israel had nothing to do with either the Arab Spring or its failure. The irony is that surviving embarrassed Arab regimes now share the same concerns with the Israelis. In short, the more violent and chaotic the Middle East becomes, the more secure and exceptional Israel appears.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His new book, The Savior Generals, is just out from Bloomsbury Books. You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc

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Marilyn Baker's Obituary on The Daily Times

Marilyn Baker's Obituary on The Daily Times | In and About the News | Scoop.it
Read the Obituary and view the Guest Book, leave condolences or send flowers. | Marilyn J. Baker Salisbury-Marilyn Jean Baker died Saturday, May 30, 2015, at Coastal Hospice at the Lake in Salisbury, Maryland, at the age of 83. Marilyn Jean Orlebeke was born August 31, 1931
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Marilyn was my friend. She was smart, funny, patient, and the only person I ever knew who didn't just say she was a Christian, but really was, body and soul. I loved our breakfasts together, though they got increasingly rare as both of us were impeded by ailing bodies. We kept in touch as well as we could, visiting Marilyn and John in their home, going out to dinner with them. 

 

She was deeply compassionate, involved in not just talking about fixing what is wrong with the world, but actually doing as much as she was able. It was a dark day when she and John left the Valley. I will never have another friend like Marilyn. In so many ways, she was the me I wished I was. Be at peace Marilyn, my friends. I will never forget you.

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NASA Admits That Winters are Going to Get Colder…Much Colder -

NASA Admits That Winters are Going to Get Colder…Much Colder - | In and About the News | Scoop.it
The Maunder Minimum (also known as the prolonged sunspot minimum) is the name used for the period roughly spanning 1645 to 1715 when sunspots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time. Like the Dalton Minimum and Spörer Minimum, the Maunder Minimum coincided with a period of lower-than-average global temperatures. During one 30-year period within the Maunder Minimum, astronomers observed … … Continue reading →
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Looking out my window, I can easily believe this is true.

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Obama To Disband the Marine Corps

You didn't know this, did you?

On a flight home I sat in between two individuals,  a Marine and boxing promoter. The boxing guy was an older gentleman, and told interesting stories, such as meeting Don King. Both men were very pleasant and that helped make time pass on the flight. We were all combat veterans and all Southerners, so we had a lot in common. Then the discussion, inevitably, turned to politics.

The older guy turned to the Marine and said "You know Obama is getting rid of the Marine Corps, right?"

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

I'm not sure if this is a new rule or it should be a corollary to the Murphy's Law which states "Anything that sounds too good to be true is probably untrue."  This law, simply stated, is "If it sounds unbelievable, don't believe it."

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Ferguson isn’t about black rage against cops. It’s white rage against progress.

Ferguson isn’t about black rage against cops. It’s white rage against progress. | In and About the News | Scoop.it
The underlying anger that goes unnoticed.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

I don't feel I know enough about the evidence or what really happened to say anything about this on my own. This, on the other hand, raises some important points that seem to get ignored most of the time. It's not a long article and I think it's worth reading.

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Mr. Big

Mr. Big | In and About the News | Scoop.it

On the evening of March 3, 2013, a young paleontologist named Nizar Ibrahim was sitting in a street-front café in Erfoud, Morocco, watching the daylight fade and feeling his hopes fade with it. Along with two colleagues, Ibrahim had come to Erfoud three days earlier to track down a man who could solve a mystery that had obsessed Ibrahim since he was a child. The man Ibrahim was looking for was afouilleur—a local fossil hunter who sells his wares to shops and dealers. Among the most valued of the finds are dinosaur bones from the Kem Kem beds, a 150-mile-long escarpment harboring deposits dating from the middle of the Cretaceous period, 100 to 94 million years ago. After searching for days among the excavation sites near the village of El Begaa, the three scientists had resorted to wandering the streets of the town in hopes of running into the man. Finally, weary and depressed, they had retired to a café to drink mint tea and commiserate. “Everything I’d dreamed of seemed to be draining away,” Ibrahim remembers.

Ibrahim’s dreams were inextricably entangled with those of another paleontologist who had ventured into the desert a century earlier. Between 1910 and 1914 Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach, a Bavarian aristocrat, and his team made several lengthy expeditions into the Egyptian Sahara, at the eastern edge of the ancient riverine system of which the Kem Kem forms the western boundary. Despite illness, desert hardships, and the gathering upheaval of World War I, Stromer found some 45 different taxa of dinosaurs, crocodiles, turtles, and fish. Among his finds were two partial skeletons of a remarkable new dinosaur, a gigantic predator with yard-long jaws bristling with interlocking conical teeth. Its most extraordinary feature, however, was the six-foot sail-like structure that it sported on its back, supported by distinctive struts, or spines. Stromer named the animal Spinosaurus aegyptiacus.

Stromer’s discoveries, prominently displayed in the Bavarian State Collection for Paleontology and Geology in central Munich, made him famous. During World War II he tried desperately to have his collection removed from Munich, out of range of Allied bombers. But the museum director, an ardent Nazi who disliked Stromer for his outspoken criticism of the Nazi regime, refused. In April 1944 the museum and nearly all of Stromer’s fossils were destroyed in an Allied air raid. All that was left ofSpinosaurus were field notes, drawings, and sepia-toned photographs. Stromer’s name gradually faded from the academic literature.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

I've always been fascinated by dinosaurs. This is a fantastic find. I thought maybe you would find it fascinating too.

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The toll of the anti-vaccination movement, in one devastating graphic

The toll of the anti-vaccination movement, in one devastating graphic | In and About the News | Scoop.it
Aaron Carroll today offers a graphic depiction of the toll of the anti- vaccination movement. (H/t: Kevin Drum .) It comes from a Council on Foreign Relations interactive map of "vaccine-preventable outbreaks" worldwide 2008-2014.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Definitely worth reading. This confirms the opinion I already held, that public health trumps private fears, especially when those fears are not based on science but on mythology.

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It's Worse Than You Think: or why you should care about poverty, jobs and income inequality

It's Worse Than You Think: or why you should care about poverty, jobs and income inequality | In and About the News | Scoop.it
[Row of Unemployed from Flickr Commons] I'm afraid. Truly. I'm afraid of where we're headed. We live in a world where the basic storyline goes something like this: we are born, we get educated, we ...
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Upsetting and important information we should read. Even if we don't want to. Maybe especially if we don't want to.

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9 Cursed Treasures

9 Cursed Treasures | In and About the News | Scoop.it
Some of the world's most famous treasures are also famously cursed. Do you think you'd like to find one of these? Think again...

Via Kenneth Weene, Sharla Shults
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Don't you just loved famously cursed treasures? It's the stuff of creepy movies and crime noels.

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Kenneth Weene's curator insight, September 16, 2013 10:36 AM

Great legends of treasures and curses.

Sharla Shults's curator insight, September 17, 2013 7:27 PM

Tales of buried treasure and curses following along have always tempted the pallet of fascination. If you knew a treasure carried with it a curse, would you still go hunting for it? Many people do and many die but are those deaths truly results of the curse or simply coincidental? You decide...

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If Other People Took On A "Government Shut-Down" Approach... THE BYRONIC MAN

If Other People Took On A "Government Shut-Down" Approach... THE BYRONIC MAN | In and About the News | Scoop.it

“You have cancer, which is horrible.  The treatment is chemotherapy which should help but I think there should be something better, so I’ve decided to let you die.  I will be charging you for the treatment, though.”

“I realize we lost the big game, but we really wanted to win, so we’ve locked the gates of the stadium, and no one is allowed to go home until you change the scoreboard and give us the game ball.”

“I can see you spent a lot of time setting the menu and preparing Thanksgiving dinner, but I think the way turkeys are raised is inhumane, so I’ve set fire to the house.”

“Well, the brake pads are thin, your radiator hose is cracked, and this timing belt has had it.  I can fix it all, and would be happy to, but I also noticed that the door latch is sticking, and I just hate doors, so I’ve put your car in the back lot until the door falls off.”

“I am aware that I voted for you, but that was on the assumption that you had the ethics and intellectual ability to put the good of the people you serve ahead of childish games, feeble-minded combatism, and partisan posturing, so I will be voting for someone else in the next election.”

Oh, wait.  That last one makes sense, doesn’t it.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Well put, my friend. Horrible but funny.

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All I Ask Is For All I Ask

All I Ask Is For All I Ask | In and About the News | Scoop.it

All I ask are moments of peace where I can stop and be in the moment.

All I ask is to be grateful for the things I have.

All I ask is for motivational images that don’t actually connect to the motivation.

All I ask is to be trusted and worthy of trust.

All I ask is to have the courage to try new things, and to be immediately better at them than everyone else.

All I ask is to be liked by people I can’t stand.

All I ask is the ability to orgasm at will.

All I ask is that my friends be less successful than me.

All I ask is to remain at my physical peak with little effort on my part.

All I ask is that “little effort” mean “no effort.”

All I ask is that the things I purchase never break or get worn out.

All I ask is that for one month a year (October?  May?) the schools be devoted to teaching good things about me.

All I ask is that, when I have a conflict with someone, they acknowledge that it’s them, not me.

No offense.

All I ask is for a state to be named after me.

All I ask is that it not be North Dakota or Florida.

All I ask is that the world’s population be reduced by 4 billion without anyone suffering.

All I ask is for a God who has the exact same opinions I do.

All I ask is to be able to make things explode with my mind.

And, really… is that so much?

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

What he said. Like that.

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Smithsonian Finds E-readers Makes Reading Easier for Those with Dyslexia

Smithsonian Finds E-readers Makes Reading Easier for Those with Dyslexia | In and About the News | Scoop.it

"As e-readers grow in popularity as convenient alternatives to traditional books, researchers at the Smithsonian have found that convenience may not be their only benefit. The team discovered that when e-readers are set up to display only a few words per line, some people with dyslexia can read more easily, quickly and with greater comprehension."


Via Beth Dichter
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

I think as time goes on, there will be more discoveries like this!

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Heather MacDonald's curator insight, September 23, 2013 11:20 AM

I love these kinds of advances.  For those of us who know of people who've struggled with language learning challenges this is a great discovery. Language leaning problems create way too many other personal and social problems for children who then grow to be adults with problems unless they are diagnosed and helped.

Way to go Smithsonian researchers!

Sharla Shults's curator insight, October 2, 2013 5:41 PM

The wonders of modern technology never cease!

LS5043-2014's curator insight, November 6, 2014 6:34 PM

Important evidence re: usefulness of e-readers to underserved library populations.

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What's new in Windows 8.1 (New apps, Improved snap and more!)(Full Windows 8 vs 8.1 changelog)

Windows 8.1 will be released soon (Oct. 17), with many improvements over Windows 8. In this video I will show you what has changed since Windows 8. If you tr...

Via Tiaan Jonker
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

The few people I know who actually bought Windows 8 or RT are not happy campers. I hope this really does make it a real usable system because otherwise, my next computer is not going to be Windows based ... and that's a problem, given that all my software IS Windows based.

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Chris Gulledge's curator insight, September 9, 2013 1:24 AM

Can't wait for this release. The features shown in this video make Windows 8 more useable.

Marilyn Armstrong's comment, September 9, 2013 9:13 AM
I sincerely hope this improves the usability of both Win8 and RT because it's pretty bad so far.