Monday, October 25, 2010

Smartphone tidal wave

For the vast majority of Americans who are perfectly happy with their "dumbphones," your days are numbered.

Check out this link that shows an LG smartphone running Google's Android 2.2 (Froyo) on T-Mobile going for $30 with a two-year commitment. (Sidenote: A Wall Street Journal poll shows far greater satisfaction with Android than with Apple's iPhone.)

If you thought you had a great cell-phone plan with your dumbphone, it's time to think again.

The move to a smartphone, and its corresponding increase in monthly fees to the tune of $30, means that your cell phone bills won't get cheaper, but far more expensive.

Also, the network will get so congested that your smartphone will act like a dumbphone.

This is one of the great under-reported stories in America. We have all these wonderful phones that can't do much on our existing networks.

In this bogus attempt to "let the market decide," we end up with the worst networks in the industrialized world.

South Korea, Japan and even China have better networks than we have in this country. And yes, we are way behind Europe as well.

It's funny that those who want to look hip by carrying around an iPhone, need to use a Verizon phone to actually make phone calls that don't drop in mid-sentence.

This is the problem in America. We have more hype than substance, more sizzle than steak.

But, it's something we can text each other about, when we're not driving.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Good riddance, Juan Williams

NPR finally got rid of an "earsore" in Juan Williams for his bigoted comments about Muslims.

The problem is that they should have done this years ago when he compromised journalistic ethics by working for Fox News.

Fox News is to news what the People's Daily is to freedom of the press.

Also, Fox News parent, News Corp., donates millions to Republican candidates.

Fair and balanced?

Not a chance.

There is no news on Fox, just commentary. That's fine, but journalism, and the word is stretched here to apply to commercial television, is more about reporting the news than bloviating about it.

Was it censorship as Williams claims? No. Can an entity that receives government funding fire someone for their opinions? Yes. Read this short piece at Salon for an explanation.

Williams' other main problem is that he's a bi-analyst. He swings both ways. On NPR, he'll give opinions that he thinks a liberal audience wants to hear and on Fox he says stuff that ultra-conservatives love.

In essence, has no moral compass. He has few principles that money can easily buy.

Finally, Williams is totally overrated as a political analyst.

When Ray Suarez left NPR's "Talk of the Nation" to work on the News Hour on PBS, Williams came in and he wasn't very good. He was no Ray Suarez, who is the best interviewer on radio or television.

Williams found out that words matter.

The sad thing is that he is whining all the way to the bank.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Oregon No. 6 for business

Oregon, in spite of raising income taxes on the rich, keeps getting noticed for being a good place for business. Last month, Bend ranked No. 7 in Forbes magazine for being one of the best small places to do business.

Now, Forbes ranks Oregon No. 6 out of the 50 states for being great for business and careers, moving up four spots after passing our tax hikes. Our neighbor to the north, which has no state income tax, ranks No. 5.

Check out this story, which contains a brilliant quote from a spokesman for Our Oregon, a non-profit group promoting "economic and tax fairness," who said that corporate interests always bad-mouth Oregon's business climate.

"They have an interest in creating and in spreading this false and toxic rumor that Oregon is bad for business," said Scott Moore. "Because by doing that they then lobby the legislature for even lower taxes on business."

So true.

That is why Chris Dudley has a chance at being Oregon's first Republican governor in 25 years. His sole platform is too cut capital gains taxes on the rich, which in turn will make life more miserable for the desperate and the destitute in this state.

Oh, and Dudley wants to privatize the sale of hard liquor. For some reason, Republicans have long considered the state control of hard liquor sales as one of the greatest attacks on our freedoms.

The freedom to be alcoholics.

Dudley and other Republicans running for office believe that government can't create jobs but say they are running for office to create jobs.


As I've noted before in other blog posts, Oregon's economy has always been weak because we have few direct connections to the federal trough aside from county timber payments which are always on the chopping block. We have no military bases and we have few defense contractors.

And yet, as the article points out, businesses are moving to, or expanding in, Oregon.

Intel announced this week that it'll expand its operations in Hillsboro, a Portland suburb, to the tune of $3.5 billion.

Vestas, the wind energy giant, is moving its world headquarters to Portland.

Hi-Tec shoes is moving its U.S. headquarters from California to Portland.

Oregon has always bent over for business and that is another reason why the economy has never been strong in this state. When business runs the government, they just raid the treasury and then turn around and say government is bloated and must lose weight. Huh?

Fat cats get really fat at government, and taxpayers', expense.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Newspapers back Kitzhaber

Twelve of the 14 "major" newspapers in Oregon are backing Democrat John Kitzhaber because these editors can see the obvious: Kitzhaber is qualified while his Republican opponent, Chris Dudley, is not.

The two newspapers that endorsed Dudley are The (Bend) Bulletin and The (Salem) Statesman Journal.

(The Bulletin further diminished whatever credibility it had left by being the only "major" paper endorsing Republican/Libertarian Jim Huffman over Ron Wyden for the U.S. Senate. Maybe the daily should be called Teabagging Times.)

It should be noted that the Statesman Journal is a Gannett newspaper and the publisher of The Bulletin is Gordon Black, a former, longtime Gannett henchman.

Gannett also publishes USA Today, which is known in the business as "Useless Today."

Of course, a newspaper endorsement is essentially meaningless these days, but 12 of 14?

The discerning dozen represent liberal areas, such as Portland and Eugene, and also conservative regions, such as Medford and Pendleton.

As usual, there is no story on television station endorsements because they rarely, if ever, make endorsements. Not they matter anyway. Besides, almost all campaign money is spent on television ads and no TV station would want to offend a potential advertiser and lose their business by endorsing one candidate over another.

Still, it's ridiculous that a non-entity like Dudley, a former NBA second-stringer, is the best the GOP has to offer against Kitzhaber, who is a former emergency room doctor, state representative, president of the state Senate and two-term governor.

But, it shows what a massive amount of money will do. Dudley has avoided all but one debate with Kitzhaber and it's obvious why: He may stand taller, but he is really short on any experience remotely connected to leadership.

Let's hope these newspapers are right and that Oregonians vote for the real thing instead of a poser like Dudley.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Falling home prices give Bend new ranking

Bend is always making some sort of top 10 list for either the fastest appreciating or fastest depreciating home prices.

Well, now rates Bend in the top 10 for to retire because of the cratering home prices.

In an article titled "10 Great Places to Retire in the U.S.," the writer says "Bend rank among both the 'top 10 four-season towns' and 'top 10 mountain towns.'"

Well, I'm not sure about this "four-season" status, but we are experiencing a beautiful fall right now with leaves turning brilliant colors of red, yellow and amber.

Spring usually passes in a blink between winter and summer and it's not worth planting tomatoes until June 1.

Cold temperatures are common from October into May, be we can have surprisingly mild Januarys. Still, last December we had temps as low as 17 degrees below zero, which was the coldest we've seen in our 26 years here. It does snow in Bend, but, a white Christmas is the exception and not the rule. We've had only one real snowy winter and that was 18 years ago.

Hot summer days are usually confined to July and August and the temperature rarely breaks 100 degrees.

Because we are a mountain/high desert town, cool nights are standard throughout the year. In fact, we can have 50-degree temperature swings in a single day.

But, the air is usually crisp and clean, except for those rare inversions that trap smoke from wood stoves in winter or when fire season blazes away in August.

The weather here does have great variety, though, sometimes all in one day.

The story also says Bend attracts "active retirees" and that is certainly true because of the skiing and hiking opportunities, not to mention fishing and hunting.

But, the real reason takes notice of Bend is the falling home prices. The median price dropped from around $400,000 in 2006 to around $200,000 today.

But, with stories like this one from it won't take long for Bend to attract more retirees, which will eventually push up the price of homes and then make Bend unaffordable and unattractive once again.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ducks No. 1 for first time ever

When a No. 1 team loses, as did Ohio State on Saturday, the No. 2 team usually moves up a spot, but you never know with polls.

What's shocking is that it is the Oregon Ducks who were No. 2, but are now No. 1 in both major polls, AP (writers) and USA Today (coaches). Later Sunday, the Ducks were ranked No. 1 in the Harris poll.

It's never happened before to a team from this state. It's a major milestone. The last time a new team (Virginia) reached No. 1 in the major polls was 20 years ago. It's a spot usually occupied by the major football powerhouses.

Oregon has arrived, but not all the way.

It has yet to play for the national championship and the first BCS poll, a confounding system using multiple computer models which determines who plays for the penultimate college game, puts Oregon second behind Oklahoma.

To play in the championship game, the Ducks would need to go undefeated and have all SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 teams have at least one loss. Otherwise, the Ducks don't have a chance.

But forget that now. There has never been a true national champion in college football because there has never been a playoff system to determine the best team.

The Ducks are No. 1, though, in the hearts and minds of most college observers. That's quite a turnaround from Oregon's mostly dismal past.

I moved to Oregon in 1984, a year after the 0-0 "Toilet Bowl" game between Oregon and Oregon State. Neither team was distinguishable from the other and both made the Bottom 10 poll for years.

To see the Ducks make the long, unsteady climb to this point is amazing.

Congratulations to all associated with the program, especially the long-suffering fans. Enjoy it while you can.

Because it could all end Thursday when lowly UCLA comes to Eugene for a night game. Hey, the Bruins dominated Texas, which just took down Nebraska.

Three years ago, Oregon was ranked No. 2 and then saw it all unravel in a Thursday night game against Arizona in Tucson when QB Dennis Dixon went down for the year.

Injuries could play another major role as the Ducks play USC a week after UCLA and those two teams always have recruiting classes rated much higher than Oregon has ever had. That means that UCLA and USC have bigger, faster, and perhaps better, players than Oregon does.

Here's hoping that Oregon escapes the injury bug this season although they had serious close calls with two key players when they whipped Washington State last week.

Being ranked No. 1 enlarges the target on your back and everyone wants to take their best shot at you. The Ducks will find out that holding on to that spot is even harder than making it to the top.

Go Ducks!

You're No. 1, at least for this week.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Direct anger at Wall Street, upper class

With unemployment at about 10 percent nationally, 15 percent here in Deschutes County, with foreclosures continuing at record levels despite the banks' inability to even read the paperwork and with the recovery looking more like recession 2.0, Wall Street firms will bestow a record $144 billion in bonuses on their employees.

Where is this money coming from?

This is one of the great conundrums of our time.

With teabaggers railing against government at all levels and with corporate media slamming government workers for their health and retirement benefits, the people most responsible for our economic collapse are laughing all the way to the bank, most likely a bank in Switzerland.

During these brutal economic times, corporate media focuses on the lower elements of our economy. We hear plenty of stories about how awful public education is in America and that this is due solely to the fact that most teachers belong to unions.


Instead of focusing attention on the rats on Wall Street, the corporate media picks on the 12 percent of Americans who belong to unions.

What about the other 88 percent of Americans who do not belong to unions?

Corporate media also tries to point out that the Supreme Court's ruling on election donations results in equal donations between unions and corporations.

That is false.

Currently, corporations are outspending unions 7 to 1.

What the media does so successfully is not point out these inequities, but to distort reality.

The media gets the middle class to fight with others in the middle class and also with those in the lower classes.

Meanwhile, the upper class is rewarding itself with $144 billion of money stolen form the middle and lower classes.

The upper class turns around and donates money to causes to further crush the middle and lower classes.

If teabaggers had any brains, they would be targeting Wall Streeters and their obscene bonuses rather than the government or unions.

But, the middle and lower classes are middle and lower classes precisely because they can't see that the upper class gets them to fight among themselves for the scraps they leave behind.

What the middle and lower classes should be doing, take note teabaggers, is divert their anger towards Wall Street and the upper class.

If they did, they wouldn't care if terrorists attacked lower Manhattan again.

In fact, they would be grateful.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ballots arrive this weekend; Kitzhaber leading?

A poll out this week shows John Kitzhaber with a 2-point lead over his Republican gubernatorial rival Chris Dudley.

The other good news is that the poll was from Rasmussen, which skews towards Republicans.

Also a report out this week shows that polls, in general, favor Republicans because those without land phone lines are not heard from.

And, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is no longer certain of a Republican takeover of the house.

All goods news to be sure, but Nov. 2 is still a daunting date for rational Americans to reject the teabagging wing of the Republican Party.

For Oregonians, though, our election starts this weekend when ballots arrive in the mailbox.

Naturally, most voters now wait until the end of the two-week voting period to get their ballots in.

So, as they say, voter early and often.

Last weekend in the mail, we got a 108-page booklet filled with the usual candidate profiles, arguments for and against seven statewide measures and not much insight.

That is how it is with democracy, we leave it all up to television ads to inform us about candidates and measures. Which means, of course, we know little about what we're voting on.

Yes, we are hip in Oregon, though, because we have a medical marijuana measure on the ballot. It could pass, if stoners vote. On one hand, it makes sense to legalize marijuana because the prohibition of it has failed as badly as it did for alcohol. Then again, do we need more "impaired" drivers? Do the problems of prohibition outweigh the problems of legalization? The answer could be "yes."

The big news for Oregon, though, is that the governor's office could house a Republican for the first time in a quarter-century. (The letter "R" behind a candidate's name in a statewide election stands for "Rejected.")

The reason is that Republicans in this state decided to nominate a nobody or "stealth" candidate to steal the election from the unsuspecting, but riled electorate.

Ex-NBA backup player Dudley has got a fortune to spend on TV advertising and he's doing it with largely effective hits on his opponent Kitzhaber, our former Democratic governor.

What could help Kitzhaber is that two other candidates in the voters' pamphlet represent the right-wing fringe in the Constitution and Libertarian parties. In this "Tea Party" era, many voters appear to align with the sentiments that these right-wing kooks espouse. These candidates could pull enough votes from Dudley to hand Kitzhaber a third term. I hope that is the case, because Dudley sure sounds like a dumb jock whenever he gives an unscripted answer.

The local daily paper is filled with rambling, incoherent "screeds" against Democrats, in general, and against Sen. Ron Wyden, in particular.

Wyden is one of the best senators this state has ever produced and he should win easily over Republican/Libertarian Jim Huffman, another neophyte like Dudley, who doesn't know his politics from a hole in the ground.

That can't be said for Chris Telfer, a former city councilor and now state senator, who is running for state treasurer. Telfer, though, smells like a RINO (Republican in Name Only) to the diehards, mainly because she is a former Democrat, who couldn't possibly agree with the extreme positions the GOP takes on social issues.

Telfer is your typical politician. She served on the city council and made decisions that benefited her property holdings in downtown Bend. Telfer wants to outsource government services to the private sector, which means she ultimately favors shipping these American jobs overseas. Telfer is bitterly hostile to anyone who may disagree with her and that makes her unfit for higher political office. She's already risen to her level of incompetence.

Deschutes County is reliably Republican, but Bend is slightly more blue than red, in terms of registration. Independents, those who lack much passion for politics, make up a third of our voters and will decide the House District 54 race.

Democrat Judy Stiegler won the seat in 2008 when the Obama tide swept through Bend. She was the first Democrat elected from these parts in two decades.

She's likely to lose her seat this time, though, because Republicans have again downplayed the extreme social positions of her GOP opponent Jason Conger, who has attracted the sizable Christian fundamentalist faction in Bend.

What could save Stiegler, whose husband lost his DA job in May, is that former city councilor/Realtor Mike Kozak is running as an Independent, with a capital "I."

Kozak could siphon votes away from Conger, but he's also likely to pull critical votes from Stiegler, who supported the statewide vote to raise taxes on the rich, which irked her rich Democratic base on the west side.

Still, Conger has less ties to Bend than Stiegler does and she has much more practical experience in legislating than he does. Here's hoping that Conger and Kozak split the misogynist vote and hand the victory to Stiegler.

Another state House Seat, the 53rd District, pits one of the more useless officeholders we've had over here, Republican Gene Whisnant, against an unknown named John Huddle, representing the Democratic and Independent parties. Whisnant should win easily, which is sad because he doesn't do anything but take up space better occupied by someone willing to put in the time to legislate. Whisnant whines about all the time he devotes to being a state representative and it's a plaint that falls on deaf ears during these high-unemployment times.

Finally, the Deschutes County supervisor's race pit a 25-year-old Democrat against a businessman from La Pine, the south county's teabagging turf.

Should Dallas Brown win, it would be a major shock in these parts because the letter "D" after your name in county-wide races stands for "Defeated."

The media and polls suggest a wipeout for the Democrats in November. Let's hope that Democrats wake up and prevent the complete corporate takeover of government.

Republicans run on a platform of less government as if this results in more private sector employment. It doesn't. GOP candidates run for government office by being against government.

If they don't like government, then don't run.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bend ends Reed Market Road fixes

Bend also scuttles all road improvements to the Murphy Road corridor.

In fact, the city has decided to forego all desperately needed road improvements so that all available money goes into Juniper Ridge.

The daily paper reports that the city and the state have reached an agreement on traffic problems at Cooley Road and Highway 97 that allows the city to continue developing its Juniper Ridge business park on Bend's north end.

The city, though, must cough up $30 million in phases and the city is $17 million in debt.

Do the math.

Also, the city continues to deplete its coffers while giving fee breaks to builders and developers. Better get out the calculator to total up the debts.

Of course, Bend had no intention of ever fixing Reed Market. They just held focus group meetings to come up with plans that will always remain mere plans. The city sends hapless engineers to neighborhood association meetings to explain the plans knowing full well there is no money to ever improve the roadway.

Same thing for Murphy Road. All talk, no action.

The city's solutions to these road crises is to approve more development in these areas.

Not much of a solution.

In fact, as the city sinks more money into Juniper Ridge it is making the rest of Bend less livable.

Bend tries to attract businesses by touting its livability. Well, city officials are killing the goose that laid the golden egg. (Actually, it's the park district that's gassing geese, but that's another story.)

The only saving grace to all of this is that the housing slump will continue here for quite some time. Also, businesses won't be moving to Juniper Ridge, but rather to China or India.

Meanwhile, drivers on Reed Market have to dodge potholes all along the route.

The city can't even patch potholes, meaning that it can't do much of anything for its citizens.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Oregon - where most schools are above average

Oregon released its report card on the state of public education across the state, and true to form, the more affluent the area, the better the schools did.

Conversely, the poorer areas in the state were below average. In Central Oregon, that meant schools in Madras, which has a large Hispanic population, and Warm Springs, which is an Indian reservation, failed to make the grade.

I think what results like this show is that schools reflect their communities.

Why is it always the school's fault if the community is faltering?

Because they have union teachers and, well, we all know what that means.

Actually, it means nothing.

Communities that have many low-income, single-parent households will always struggle in a variety of ways, including at their public schools.

Before education reform in Oregon got hot and heavy about 15 years ago, this state always ranked No. 1 in the country for highest average SAT score. After the legislature eliminated tenure and tiered the retirement system for new teachers, Oregon hasn't been No. 1 on the SAT, but rather No. 2 behind Washington state, or No. 3 behind Vermont.

There probably isn't any correlation between the two, but public schools in Oregon aren't failing their students or their communities.

In fact, it is communities that are failing their public schools.

During this Great Recession, as instructional days get cut, as teachers get laid off and as programs get slashed, it is amazing how well the schools are doing.

Also, enrollments at University of Oregon, Oregon State and at community colleges are at record highs. Yes, higher ed is a safe haven when there are no jobs around, but still this is a positive sign for education in the state.

The hand-wringers and union-bashers, though, will find a way to read something negative into a positive report on education in Oregon.

I'd say if you can't lend a hand, then get out of the way.

DMV driving Bend crazy

It makes sense, in the driving sense, that the new DMV location in southwest Bend is so far from most people who would ever use it.

I mean, it is called the Dept. of Motor Vehicles for this very reason: People should drive, and drive, to get there.

Actually, the DMV is already in southwest Bend, in the Shevlin Center, where it's been for about two decades.

Shevlin Center is owned by Brooks Resources the former lumber company that now makes a killing selling off, or managing, all that land it owns in Bend. Mike Hollern, the head of Brooks Resources, was able to get the DMV in Shevlin Center when few other private firms would pay the high price to move there. The DMV settled in Shevlin Center when Hollern was the chairman of the transportation commission that oversees the DMV. How convenient.

Well, the DMV's Shevlin Center lease expired and since we live in the anti-government era where cutting costs trumps all other concerns, the DMV found the best deal it could.

It just so happens that it is even more inconvenient than the current location.

The future DMV office will be in the Brookswood Meadow Plaza, about 3 miles southwest of the Shevlin Center, or about 100 feet from the city limits.

Understandably, the good folks who bought new homes in the adjacent RiverRim development are upset that the DMV, which they consider a huge traffic magnet, will turn their quiet subdivision into another Los Angeles, complete with illegal aliens lining up for fake driver's licenses to go with their voter registration in the Democratic Party.

The residents of RiverRim are so upset that they have boycotted the plaza, which has driven the plaza's coffee shop out of business. The plaza's other major tenant, Brookswood Market, could be the next to go.

Wouldn't that be ironic. RiverRim residents will have to drive 2 to 3 miles just to get a cup of coffee or a bag of groceries. Here's hoping they don't get in any accidents with drivers trying to find the damn DMV office.

Well, not to pour cold water on this gripping saga, I'll just throw some ice cubes at it. Mini-cubes.

This is what we want from government: Out of sight and cheaper, too.

As a letter writer to the local weekly noted, this is the price we pay for wanting less government and lower taxes.

It makes no sense for the DMV to be so far from the people it is supposed to serve, but then again, who really goes to the DMV anymore. Any business with the DMV is best done online.

Also, the DMV schedules seven driving exams a day, which isn't likely to greatly affect local residents of kids at Elk Meadow Elementary, a mere 1/4-mile away.

What really galls the good folks on Bend's southwest side is that the DMV didn't set up shop on the east side of town. If it had, there would be no controversy because no one cares about Bend's east side.

People move to places like RiverRim to get away from places like the DMV.

And people move to Bend to flee urban woes.

Unfortunately, you can run, but you can't hide.

Bend is still the middle of nowhere, but even nowhere has problems, too.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bend doesn't know its limitations

To paraphrase Dirty Harry, a city's got to know its limitations.

The city of Bend does not.

Bend wants to dramatically increase the size of the city limits, but the state, which approves such plans, says not so fast, punk.

Currently, Bend cannot offer sewer service to more than half of the households within the urban growth boundary.

Also, the city cannot handle the traffic generated within its limits right now. There are about $200 million in projects needed yesterday and, with the city $17 million in debt, it has no feasible plan in place to ever address these road problems.

And, not that anyone's noticing, but Bend needs between $17 million and $73 million in upgrades to its water system.

So, the question the state should ask: Why does Bend need to expand to almost double its size when it cannot provide basic services to the city as it is?

Well, city planners are adopting the builders' union mantra that a limited urban growth boundary increases the cost of land which, in turn, makes homes, and business expansion, less affordable.

Of course, home prices in Bend have been plummeting for more than two years now and further declines into next year are forecast. In fact, defaults are on another record pace this year.

The office and retail vacancy rate shows little sign of abating anytime soon.

With this backdrop, city planners should know that a drastic expansion of the city will not improve the situation, but likely make it much worse.

Bend's limitations are obvious. The city needs to accept them. It then needs to solve its shortcomings (water, sewer and roads) instead of extending these deficiencies further into the High Desert.

The state should continue to prevent Bend from destroying itself because city and business leaders here are incapable of doing so.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bend bike rack threatens car culture

Like the Chinese, people in Bend like to ride bicycles, even on roadways where cars, trucks and buses dodge them daily.

Unlike cars, though, there aren't many places to park bikes in Bend, unless you're in grade school.

Last month, the city made a major effort to rectify this problem. It took a single parking place downtown and converted it into a corral for 12 bicycles.

Naturally, the daily paper's editorialists considered this a crime against the auto's humanity.

Nevermind that a multi-level parking garage is 50 feet from this bicycle hitching post.

To lose one single parking space is but a slippery slope to forcing people to pedal Schwinn's, even when it's snowing outside. It could be considered a Communist plot by the same people opposed to fluoridated water.

It doesn't matter that the $13 million parking garage is mostly vacant throughout the week.

No, this $3,500 bike corral sacrificed the freedom of a downtown driver from parking in this spot.

Where are the protests?

We're losing more of our freedoms every day. Can't drive without strapping on a seat belt. Can't drive while texting. Now, can't park in front of Thump Coffee in downtown Bend.

And, if 12 more people ride bikes instead of drive cars, are we now going to take up another critical parking space to provide showers for sweaty cyclists?

While it is true that a bicycle costs less to purchase than a car, it's also true that a bike doesn't use any gas. This means we don't collect any gas taxes from bicycle riders, which means we won't have enough money to build more parking garages.

It's a vicious cycle.

Bicycles may not pollute the atmosphere or contribute to global warming or cause traffic jams.

They do, however, command a single bike rack in Bend, which is the beginning of the end, as we know it.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Johnny still can't read and he's now 55

Or maybe he's really 67.

I don't know, I never read the book "Why Johnny Can't Read," which centers on a 12-year-old boy who can't read. Thank god the book wasn't called "Why Johnny Can't Add."

That infamous book, though, came out 55 years ago, before my first birthday. How could I've read it?

But, every year since, education in America has been reformed from new math to old math, from phonics to whole language and back again, from Big Yellow Taxi to Magic School Bus. Not sure about that last one.

We're now in year 55 of the Education Reformation and the only thing that's been reformed is our tolerance for the monotony of this "reformation."

Is there a dead horse beaten as much as education?

I mean we've been hearing for decades about how terrible education is in America and still we have a ton of brilliant people graduating from top universities every single year. Most of the students come from public schools, many come from private schools and some come from the home-school route. More affluent areas produce higher achieving students and poor areas do not. It ain't rocket science. If fact, it's not science at all. It's just reality.

NBC hyped its focus on education this week and one of the pearls of wisdom that emerged came from Tom Brokaw when he said that the best teachers are the ones who care about their students. Wow, how insightful.

There is a new documentary out, "Waiting for Superman," that takes a tough look at the desperation of a handful of parents and their children as they try to get into charter schools.

For an education on that film, read Gail Collins column in the New York Times.

She aced it by pointing out that, by and large, charter schools have been a colossal failure. Yes, it does help to read facts instead of watching falsehoods on television.

Also, she notes that the documentary goes after the teachers' unions, which are considered the greatest hindrance to progress since the Dark Ages. However, the countries that supposedly have the highest educational achievement, such as Finland, also have the strongest unions.

Go figure. Apparently, the professional hand-wringers in this country haven't.

Well, to point out the obvious, a task normally handled by economists, I'll venture forth.

America is a diverse country in every way possible, from race to ethnicity to religion to obscene wealth to blighted inner cities. The countries considered to have better educational systems are, by and large, homogenous in every way that America is not. The job of teaching is tougher in America.

Also, it is our right as Americans to choose to be ignorant. It's not easy teaching evolution when the majority of Americans don't believe in it.

The popularity of television, video games and now You Tube, is in direct proportion to the decline of reading, and everything else.

I'm just saying.

Also, as a letter writer in Time magazine said in response to its cover story on education, we have a parenting problem in this country. So true, and it's been that way for a few years now.

Many years ago, we worked hard, as a community, to build up our local schools and create world-class colleges.

Now, that sense of community is gone. The University of California system has been in decline ever since voters said, "enough," 30 years ago. Yes, we want the best educational system, we just don't want to pay for it. Oregon has drastically reduced its support for higher education to the point that Oregon and Oregon State are quasi-private schools.

Fifty-five years ago, a high school diploma was a sign of achievement. Now, anything less than a graduate degree is considered underachieving.

We've come a long ways, baby. We've got a long ways to go. We won't get there if all we do is point fingers at each other instead of helping one another.

In this anti-tax, anti-government climate of "I've got mine and the hell with you," it'll be hard to do.