My 2014 South Napa Earthquake

South Napa EarthquakeI suppose I should say something about the earthquake we had here over the weekend. It is now more or less officially known as the 2014 South Napa earthquake. That’s about 30 miles away from me. And it happened early Sunday morning.

At first, I didn’t think much of it. I woke up and thought, “Oh, we’re having an earthquake.” Then I went back to sleep. You see: I’m a California boy and we may be wimps about many (in my case “most”) things, but earthquakes are officially No Big Deal. But the moment I fell back asleep, I was awakened again. That got my attention. So I sat up and threw my legs over the side of the bed. But the motion was such that I fell over. And then it stopped.

There was a moment of calm and then the electricity went out. It stayed out for about two hours. Other than having some trouble sleeping because of my computer crash, there really wasn’t much of an effect on my life. I thought it sucked that I could not immediately go to the United States Geological Survey website and see how big a quake it was, but that was it. Such was the minutia of this quake on my life.

In the morning, I was surprised that the earthquake was only 6.0 magnitude. It felt bigger than than 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which was of magitude 6.9. But I was a whole lot closer to the epicenter of this so that’s probably why it felt stronger—because it was, for me. But I figured the 6.0 magnitude wouldn’t cause much damage. I was surprised and sad that it did.

A couple hundred people were injured in the quake—a couple of them quite seriously. There was one death, but it seems to have been coincidental. And the damage has been estimated to be about a billion dollars worth—a lot for sleepy little Napa.

It speaks well of California building codes that the damage was as limited as it was. I can well image the effect of such an earthquake in other parts of the country, or in very poor countries. According to Wikipedia, earthquakes in this range can result in up to 25,000 fatalities, although this quake was at the bottom of the range. But even here, there would have doubtless been a lot more injuries if this had happened 12 hours earlier or later.

We Californians keep waiting for The Big One—something like the 9.2 magnitude 1964 Alaska earthquake. But there may be good news. The drought in California is so bad, that by the time that quake comes, California may be a ghost state.

For a good visual overview of the quake damage, see my local NPR/PBS affiliate KQED, South Napa Earthquake Photos.

The “Black on Black Crime” Dodge

Ta-Nehisi CoatesThe notion that violence within the black community is “background noise” is not supported by the historical recordor by Google. I have said this before. It’s almost as if Stop The Violence never happened, or The Interruptors never happened, or Kendrick Lamar never happened. The call issued by Erica Ford at the end of this Do The Right Thing retrospective is so common as to be ritual. It is not “black on black crime” that is background noise in America, but the pleas of black people…

The pattern is the transmutation of black protest into moral hectoring of black people. Don Imus profanely insults a group of black women. But the real problem is gangsta rap. Trayvon Martin is killed. This becomes a conversation about how black men are bad fathers. Jonathan Martin is bullied mercilessly. This proves that black people have an unfortunate sense of irony.

The politics of respectability are, at their root, the politics of changing the subject—the last resort for those who can not bear the agony of looking their country in the eye. The policy of America has been, for most of its history, white supremacy. The high rates of violence in black neighborhoods do not exist outside of these facts—they evidence them.

This history presents us with a suite of hard choices. We do not like hard choices. Here’s a better idea: Let’s all get together and talk about how Mike Brown would still be alive if Beyonce would make more wholesome music, followed by a national forum on how the charge of “acting white” contributes to mass incarceration. We can conclude with a keynote lecture on “Kids Today” and a shrug.

—Ta-Nehisi Coates
Black People Are Not Ignoring “Black on Black” Crime

What Is the Goal of Education Reform?

Could Someone Help Me OutImagine the day when all the teachers unions have been neutered and all the bad teachers have been fired and only highly effective teachers are left. In other words, imagine the utopia that the so called education reform movement is working so hard for. Then ask yourself a question, “How are we going to get good teachers to work at schools that serve low income children?” Certainly we won’t pay them more—at least by default—because that goes against the very idea of how we fund education where more money is spent on richer kids. We also aren’t likely to see such teachers getting the “good teacher” bonuses. They will be teaching with less and worse infrastructure to kids with parents who do not have as much ability to help at home. So why would a teacher work with low income children except out of a sense of altruism?

This is a really important question for the education reform movement. Obviously, there are solutions to this problem. We could, for example, provide financial incentives to teachers to work in low income areas. But that would require a policy change. We could provide more funding for schools serving low income children. But that would require a policy change. We could start providing financial incentives to low income families. But, again, that would require a policy change. Any and all of these could be priorities for the education reform movement right now. But they aren’t.

My point here is that the main policy goal of the education reform movement doesn’t seem to lead us anywhere with regard to the better education of our kids. I’ll fully admit: it seems to be doing a hell of a job decreasing worker rights. But the best you can say about the stated goals of education reform is that it will get rid of a small percentage of teachers who are incompetent and whip some other teachers into shape. This isn’t something that is going to revolutionize teaching, much less help the students who need the most help.

What I fear will happen is that after the “reformers” are done stripping away teacher rights, all the money (and therefore enthusiasm) will go away. Then we’ll be left with pretty much the same system we have now—except, of course, teaching will be an even less appealing job for exactly the kind of people we would want teaching. This kind of shortsighted and simplistic approach to problems is very common here in America.

Remember after 9/11 how suddenly flying was a much bigger pain without us being any safer? Remember how the changes that were made were the ones that were easiest for government and business? Remember how difficult changes like separate compartments for pilots were not done, because they just weren’t easy and would cost money? Well, that’s education reform. Whenever I get into an argument about education reform, I always hear the same thing, “Well at least they are doing something!” It is more correct to say, “At most they doing something.” And that something doesn’t seem to have much to do with improving education.

In the end, we will have a mediocre education system, just like we do now. It might be slightly better, but I think it will likely be slightly worse. And we’ll have the same choices that we have now if we are serious about reforming our educational system. But then, like now, we avoid those hard things. Because we aren’t very serious about reform. And the people subsidizing “reform” aren’t interested in it at all.

See Also

Alfie Kohn and Real Education Reform
Problems with Standards-Based Education
Liberal Education Reform Push Conservative Ends

Image edited from one displayed on Hemlock on the Rocks.

Hail to the Washington Racists

Washington RedskinsYesterday, Ken over at All Things Democrat had an interesting suggestion, A Proposal on the Washington Football Team Name. The name? The Washington Racists. Personally, I’ve been thinking of them as the Washington Genocides. (Interestingly, I am not the only person to think of this.) But Ken backs up his idea.

Back in May, Ken wrote another article, Dan Snyder & Roger Goodell Are Not Racists But George Marshall Was. This is in reference to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell statement, “The intent of the team’s name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image.” Saying it doesn’t make it so. George Marshall was the guy who bought what had been the Boston Braves and changed the name. He also made the coach dress up in a headdress and war paint for games. And, of course, Marshall fought against the integration of football.

What is most interesting, however, is that the Washington fight song honored the native peoples with the following lyrics right out F Troop, but without the respect:

Hail to the Redskins!
Hail, victory!
Braves on the warpath!
Fight for Old D.C.!
Scalp ’em, swamp ‘um
We will take ‘um big score
Read ‘um, weep ‘um, touchdown
We want heap more

Fight on, fight on, till you have won
Sons of Washington
Rah! Rah! Rah!

These were the lyrics that were used into the 1980s. F Troop was canceled in 1967, and it is far more evolved in its presentation of native peoples, even if Chief Wild Eagle was played by an Italian:

Ken makes an excellent point, “It is beyond laughable when league officials and Washington team management and fans claim the name is a sign of respect, and honorific of American Indians.” But it still comes back to the same point: it doesn’t even matter if Dan Snyder thinks he is honoring Native Americans: they don’t think so. It’s like if someone calls you “meathead” all the time. You tell them to stop. They respond, “But I only say it out of respect for you!” Well, if they really respected you, they would respect your opinion that you don’t like to be called “meathead.” The “redskins” name is racist and I figure Dan Snyder is more racist than most people too. But he doesn’t have to admit that. All he has to admit to is that the name is rude.

As for the name, The Washington Racists is growing on me. I’ve reworked the fight song:

Hail to the Racist!
Hail to genocide!
We signed some treaties
Soon they’ll know we lied!
Rob ’em, kill ’em
Whip them till they’re raw
It doesn’t matter
We’re above the law!
Kill and lie and cheat, till we have won
Sons of Washington
Rah! Rah! Rah!

It’s catchy. I think the Washington Racists could really catch on.

Forever Recession on Purpose

Forever Recession

I found this graph in an article this morning by Brad DeLong, In Which I Go Around, Over and Over Again, in Circles as I Try to Understand What Is Going on in Europe. What is displayed in the graph is GDP for the European Union. You see that it grew very predictably from 2000 to 2008 and then the crisis hit and the recession started. But then the economy started to recover very consistently (although anemically) from 2009 to 2011. And then it just died.

Everyone understands the recession. But why, after a short period of recovery has the economy stagnated? In a word: austerity. It has somehow become God given knowledge that governments should raise taxes and cut spending. This will supposedly create a strong economy because… Well, the truth is that no one can really say anymore. They used to have the work of Alberto Alesina, but that’s been shown to have been wrong.

Also this morning, Paul Krugman quoted the German government spokesman Georg Streiter saying, “We continue to work for stronger growth and employment and our government still believes there is no contradiction between consolidation and growth.” By “consolidation” he means austerity. You would think that the graph above would prove that there most definitely is a contradiction. But don’t expect those in charge in Europe (especially in Germany) to admit that. As I say a lot around here: bad economies are great for the rich.

DeLong’s article included an extended quote from Eurointelligence, in which they talk about how German newspapers are obsessed with the French budget defict:

Frankfurter Allgemeine and other German newspapers hardly mention any of this—they cover the overshooting French deficit obsessively. The paper’s Paris correspondent has an outraged editorial, which fails to mention that the French economy outperformed the German economy in Q2 (and for the period since the beginning of the Eurozone as well)…

What’s going on in Europe now is one of the cases that students in the future will look back on and say, “What were they thinking?!” People will look at graphs like the one above and rightly wonder how those who were pushing for austerity could have missed such an obvious problem. Of course, the point is that those in power don’t care; they have bigger fish to fry. And the German papers aren’t publishing graphs like that or even talking about the issue. And when they do talk about bad economic times, German nationalism tends to rear its ugly head with the people thinking it is all about those morally bankrupt countries in the south who over-borrowed. (And who, exactly, were the bankers who over-lent? The Germans. Not that the bad economy has anything to do with such old “sins” at this point.)

DeLong presented another graph that looks at the change in 10-year bond rates compared to five years ago for the US and Germany. They are right in line with each other up to the beginning of 2013. But then they uncouple in a big way with the bond rate decrease in Germany over twice what it has been in the US. This is going in the opposite direct that it should be going. But it is a great opportunity for Germany: it could spend some money. But it is insisting on austerity all around. The idea is that all of Europe will save its way to prosperity. But that isn’t how it works.

The “tighten our belts” argument always sounds reasonable. But in a macroeconomic sense, it doesn’t work if everyone is cutting back at the same time because everyone’s expenditures is everyone’s income. So austerity only makes sense in the context of the already rich and what is good for them. Meanwhile, there is widespread suffering in Europe. And it will apparently only abate when the rest of the world is doing really well economically. That will allow Europe to recover via exports. But that could take ten years. And what’s really sad is that if and when that happens, the power elite will proclaim, “See! Austerity and growth are compatible!”

Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea TanningOn this day in 1910, the great surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning was born. Sadly, she is probably better known as Max Ernst’s wife than as a painter. But her work is amazing. And she was basically a self-taught artist, which is remarkable given the classical aspects of her work. Before she was recognized for her serious work, she supported herself as a commercial artist in New York.

I called her work surreal, but that’s only because that is what she is best known for. Her later work is more abstract. I can see the the surrealism in it, but probably just because I know her earlier work. It is supremely confident and beautiful. She was also a poet and short story writer. You can read more about that and see an example of her later work in, With Our Souls in Our Laps.

Tanning only died two years ago at the age of 101. You can check out a number of her works at, ArtOdyssey. Here is one of my favorite of her paintings:

Surreal Painting - Dorothea Tanning

Happy birthday Dorothea Tanning!