The Riff - January 2011

The Hook Up: Relationship Advice For the Gases

| Mon Jan. 31, 2011 7:59 PM EST

Have you been wondering how to help a girlfriend who has a gas problem or what to do when your partner treats you like her child? Look no further than my latest AfterEllen advice column. Excerpt:

I don’t know how to put this delicately, so I’ll just say it: My girlfriend has a gas problem. Her diet is great (she’s a chef even!) and she’s not like obnoxious about it or anything. She leaves the room when she can, but man, sometimes it smells so foul that I want to fumigate her entire gastrointestinal tract. I know in the long run, this is not a big deal, but it’s still gross and I don’t really know how to deal with it! Help! — Bean There, Done That

Anna says: Finally, a serious question! Happy New Year to me. I will help your wind-breaker transform into the beautiful firework that Katy Perry intended us all to be, minus the explosions I guess. So maybe one of those sparklers or ashy snake things.

According to The Mayo Clinic, which has devoted several web pages to the topic, but is probably useless for Trivial Pursuit nights, the leading cause of gas is bad digestion. The big dietary offenders are: beans, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, radishes, peanuts, raw apples, dairy and foods heavy in preservatives. So if she’s eating any of those with regularity, tell her to drop that faster than a straight-to-DVD Olsen Twins movie. Another biggie is soy, which is heavily processed and hence harder for us to digest. As someone who has dated my fair share of vegans, I can personally attest to the havoc that tofu has wreaked on the conjugal bed! Less common, but no less poignant, causes for gas involve eating too quickly, drinking from a straw, and listening to too much Taylor Swift....

Read the rest at AfterEllen

Advertise on MotherJones.com

In Egypt and Beyond, Democracy Through...Soccer?

| Mon Jan. 31, 2011 7:20 PM EST

At Sports Illustrated, Dave Zirin analyzes the role of Egypt's "most organized, militant" soccer clubs in organizing opposition to the Mubarak government. He quotes Egyptian  blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, who told Al-Jazeera that the clubs "have played a more significant role than any political group on the ground at this moment." Explains Zirin:

The critical role of Egypt's soccer clubs may surprise us, but only if we don't know the history that soccer clubs have played in the country. For more than a century, the clubs have been a place where cheering and anti-government organizing have walked together in comfort. Egypt's most prominent team, Al Ahly,  started its club in 1907 as a place to organize national resistance against British colonial rule. The word Al Ahly translated into English means "the national," to mark their unapologetically political stance against colonialism. Al Ahly has always been the team with the most political fans. It's also a team that's allowed its players to make political statements on the pitch even though this is in direct violation of FIFA dictates. It's no coincidence that  it was Al Ahly's star player Mohamed Aboutrika, aka "the Smiling Assassin," who in 2008 famously raised his jersey revealing the T-shirt, which read  "Sympathize with Gaza."

Soccer fans are notorious troublemakers. Egyptians are prime offenders: In 2009 things got ugly after a heated match against nearby Algeria. Here are some other examples of the sport's political side in the region:

Gang of Four Finds Its Rare Essence

| Mon Jan. 31, 2011 7:45 AM EST

Circa 1979, on the recommendation of a nerdy record-store clerk, I bought a rust-colored LP called Entertainment!, the debut full-length from the British group Gang of Four. I was immediately intrigued. Led by the songwriting core of singer Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill, the foursome had created a sound that stood apart, even at a time of great experimentation in rock and roll. It sounded neither like the punk rock that preceded it, nor the synth-driven music emerging with bands like Devo, the B-52s, and dozens more.

Gang of Four's songs were dark, stark, and spare, the lyrics deadpan, the beats martial yet funky, the guitar lines jagged as the obliteration of a beer bottle (as Kurt Vonnegut might put it) with a ball-peen hammer. King's politics-infused-yet-metaphorical lyrics evoked images of a Western culture run amok. The band's lone love song was an anti-love song, the distortion-laden "(Love Like) Anthrax." Even the cynical album title was a perfect companion for youthful alienation. It rarely left my turntable.

Happy Fred Korematsu Day

| Sun Jan. 30, 2011 1:00 PM EST

Mother Jones' guest blogger Angilee Shah is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist who writes about globalization and politics. You can read more of her work at www.angileeshah.com.

This weekend, American civil rights activists celebrate a new icon: Fred Korematsu, the Japanese-American who resisted placement in a World War II-era internment camp. It's the first holiday in the US commemorating an Asian-American—and it's proof to some judges and civil rights activists that a new generation of Asian-American leaders can't be far behind.

Korematsu's story is an instructive one for civil rights advocates.

During World War II, fear loomed in the lives of Japanese-Americans. The United States government moved more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans and immigrants from the Pacific coast to internment camps inland. Korematsu, who refused to go, was arrested and convicted for his defiance. His conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1944. Although the exclusion order was rescinded in 1945, it wasn't until the 1980s, when Korematsu reopened his case, that the courts overturned his conviction. In 1988, the United States declared Japanese American internment unjust and paid retribution to its victims and their heirs. Until his death in 2005, Korematsu himself advocated on behalf of prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay and Middle-Eastern Americans persecuted after 9/11.

Retired California judge Lillian Lim, widely considered the first female Filipino-American judge in the US, recalls the impact Korematsu's story had on her in law school. "It shows the vulnerability of people who are in minority communities," she remembers. "But it also shows how people can win vindication—even if it takes forty years." Legal rights advocate Karin Wang says that much of the Asian-American activism that began in the 70s and 80s was built on the Korematsu experience and spurred by traumatic events. The brutal 1982 murder of a Chinese-American by two Detroit auto workers in 1982 led to the creation of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center where Wang serves as vice president of programs. Four years ago, after entering semi-retirement, Lim began a campaign to teach more people about Korematsu's journey.

Last year, CA Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared January 30 to be Fred Korematsu Day. The holiday is widely considered to be the first time American public schools anywhere will officially commemorate an Asian-American icon. For civil rights activists, the recognition is a reminder to continue engaging in politics. 

A less reactionary type of political engagement is hard won, however. Janelle Wong, associate professor of Political Science at the University of Southern California, says that Asian Americans vote at the lowest rates of any minority groups in the United States.

"The biggest challenge for Asian-American voting is meeting the eligibility requirements of becoming citizens and becoming registered," Wong says. Almost 80 percent of Asian-American adults are immigrants and many live in Democratic states, giving political parties little incentive to calibrate their campaigns and registration drives. A diversity of cultures and languages also makes it challenging to engage politically with Asian-American communities.

But Wong argues that ignoring these communities is a short-sighted strategy. 2007 Census data shows that 14.9 million Americans now identify as Asian or partly Asian—a 25 percent increase from 2000. At this rate of growth, Asian Americans will make up 10 percent of the US population by 2060, according to projections by the 2008 National Asian American Survey. The 2008 survey also shows that the Asian-American vote is up for grabs; more than 50 percent are nonpartisan and identify with neither Democrats nor Republicans.

"Parties work to win the next election, but it might be wiser to lay the ground work," Wong says. "They should go after even non-citizens now to build long-term engagement."

Lim concurs. "The next big thing is when it's not a big thing that we have an Asian-American as a governor or a US Senator. I don't doubt that one day we'll have a president who is Asian-American."

Closing the Achievement Gap, One 'A' at a Time

| Fri Jan. 28, 2011 3:00 PM EST

Editors' Note: This education dispatch is part of an ongoing series reported from Mission High School, where education writer Kristina Rizga is embedded for the year. Click here to see all of MoJo's recent education coverage, or follow Kristina's writing on Twitter or with this RSS Feed.

[Previous Mission High dispatch: When a kid suddenly pulls up his shirt to show you scars from a gang-related stabbing, what do you say?]

Early Friday morning Darrell* cracks open the classroom door for a second time here at Mission High. Darrell's nervous. He's been making progress and getting steady B's lately in Robert Roth's Honors History class, but today there's an hour and a half long history test. He's arranged to spend extra time with Mr. Roth this morning reviewing the material.

"Hi Darrell! I'm ready for you," says Roth, who hasn't yet had breakfast or coffee. Darrell nods and takes off his music headphones as he enters the room. Dressed in a Mission High T-shirt, he towers over his teacher. He takes his usual spot in the back of the class, gets his notebook out of the backpack, and looks for the right page.

"OK, what's the Monroe Doctrine?" Roth begins. "The US policy in early 19th century that established, hmm ... Latin America as its sphere of influence," Darrell responds in a calm voice. "That's exactly right!" Roth responds and smiles at Darrell. They keep going. "Who was Lili'uokalani?" asks Roth. "The Queen of Hawaii that was overthrown at the end of 19th century," Darrell replies. "You are going to ace this test!" Roth tells Darrell after an intense 15-minute drill.

The bell goes off and about 26 students shuffle into class. They pass by a white dry-erase board where Roth has written in large, blue letters: "There will be an essay. I didn't want it, but an evil spirit took control of me and made me do it!" As students take their seats, I realize that this is the most racially integrated class I've seen so far at Mission High.

As students take their seats, I realize that this is the most racially integrated class I've seen so far at Mission High.

Mikesha, a young student I met in Mr. Hankle's class last year, comes in with tears in her eyes. Roth puts his hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong?" he asks. "Do you want to go to the Wellness Center?" Mikesha wipes tears from her eyes. "No. I'm here today to take the test," she says. Roth walks Mikesha to her desk.

"Any last-minute review questions?" Roth asks, as he passes out the tests. "Why was the crushing of the Philippines so brutal?" one student asks. "Great question! Anyone in the class wants to tackle that?" Roth asks. Many hands go up. "Remember: don't summarize, analyze," Roth reminds students, as the testing clock starts ticking. Students hunch over their papers; quiet scribbling takes over the room for a while.

Then the ear-piercing screech of an ambulance siren invades the room. A student next to me calmly stretches his wrists. A young man gets out of his chair, stretches out his slender frame, and walks over to the electric pencil sharpener. The sound of the pencil sharpener blocks out the siren, for a moment.

Vana has a question and raises her hand. Roth walks over and they talk in a low voice for a while. Jaime is scribbling something on the back of his classmate's chair. Roth spots him and walks over to him next. "Test taking is a tenuous process. Students can get stuck on little concepts or the spelling of a complicated word. If you completely disengage, they trip and fall, and many don't get up," Roth whispers into my ear. "I just have to work hard not to intervene too much. Not to mess it up."

"Test taking is a tenuous process. Students can get stuck on little concepts or the spelling of a complicated word. If you completely disengage, they trip and fall, and many don't get up."

Another ambulance flies down the street. Mikesha drums her pink-colored nails against the wooden desk, then lowers her head and keeps writing.

Vana finishes first, and proudly walks over to Roth with her test. "Congratulations," he says, as he staples the pages together. Vana is standing at the front, behind Roth's desk, quietly dancing and beaming at the other students.

The bell rings an end to this hour-and-a-half-long test. Some students get up and hand their tests to Vana to staple. The sound of quiet scribbling speeds up. "Mr. Roth, how do you spell Guantanamo?" Mikesha asks. Roth writes it on the board. A student gets out of his desk and jumps around in a quiet celebratory dance. "Mr. Roth, you need to make this test shorter next time," he says as he drops off his test.

"Will you have to grade these all weekend?" Vana asks. Roth responds. "I know! That's what I'm freaking out about right now," he says.

Twenty minutes past the bell, there are two students still left in the class scribbling furiously, occasionall shaking out their wrists. Roth takes a third bite from his morning bagel. "Mr. Roth! I wrote two pages for an essay and now I don't have time to conclude," Marco says, looking stressed out. "I often worry that I don't know enough, and so I write as much as possible to make up for that," he explains. "That's interesting," Roth says, as he make a note of that at the back of Marco's test. "That's OK. Let's talk about that soon."

Marco leaves class with his right hand raised in a salute. Darrell is the last student left in the room. "Can I have another piece of paper?" he asks Roth. "Darrell is going for the world record this time!" Roth tells me. "I think I'll do pretty well on this one," Darrell says, with a deadpan look on his face, and keeps writing.

*All student names are changed. P.S. Darrell got an A- on this test.

Education Roundup: More Segregation, Science Fails, and the State of the Union

| Fri Jan. 28, 2011 3:00 PM EST

[UPDATEBlackAmericaWeb.com reports that Kelley Williams-Bolar will get to keep her public school assistant job, despite having two felonies on her record. Meanwhile, bloggers are asking whether Williams-Bolar is the "Rosa Parks" of education and a Change.org petition is demanding that Gov. John Kasich pardon her. What did Kelley do? Read on.] 

  • Would you lie to get your kids into a better school? Ohio mom Kelley Williams-Bolar did, and was jailed for nine days for using a false address to send her two daughters to a better school. Colorlines and HuffPo sum up the racist undertones of Kelley's case, and the public outrage that's resulted.
  • Also sparking some outrage is McCaskey East High School in Pennsylvania, which since mid-December, has segregated students by race and gender to boost academic results, according to Education News. The separation occurs for six minutes each day and 20 minutes twice a month and, it only applies to black students.
  • Those nationally-lauded New York City charter schools are spending more than public schools, receiving $10,000 per student from private donors, but they’re not getting better performance results, according to a study by the National Education Policy Center.
  • Hey, here's one reason why US students aren't learning science at internationally competitive rates: only 28 percent teachers in the US teach evolutionary biology in their classrooms, MoJo's Julia Whitty reported.
  • In his State of the Union speech this week, Obama devoted eight minutes to education, more than doubling the amount of air time US schools received last year. The US Department of Education's transcript of those minutes are here. Education Week analyzed what the edu-proposals Obama mentioned actually mean, while Eduflack's Patrick Riccards called the speech a "Chinese menu of education issues" that left average folks still scratching their heads about what to do to improve education. And author, blogger, and educator Diane Ravitch called out Obama’s plan to replace No Child Left Behind with a Race to the Top approach. Both programs, Ravitch says, miss the mark by focusing solely on reading and math test scores to evaluate what students know.
  • The president definitely got it right when he said, "The quality of our math and science lag behind many nations." On Tuesday, the Nation's Report Card on science dropped, and while 29 percent of white high school seniors scored below national basic proficiency, 71 percent of black students fell short. The reason? Check out The Hechinger Report's excellent investigation on the need for science education reforms. Here's a taste: No Child Left Behind left science behind by threatening to withhold funding from schools if only math and reading scores didn't improve. Also, US students are taught to memorize facts while international students learn foundational concepts.

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Zaire Paige and Others Who Roughed Their Way to Hollywood

| Thu Jan. 27, 2011 4:00 AM EST

In Hollywood, it takes a gangster to play a gangster. Zaire Paige, the 21-year-old who recently scored a role alongside Richard Gere and Don Cheadle in the new-release Brooklyn's Finest, hung out with Crips members during his adolescent days in Brownsville—New York City's "most murderous" neighborhood. Paige auditioned for the role in 2008 at the urging of a friend who was hired to consult on the film's "street authenticity," as the Village Voice reports. Director Antoine Fuqua was sold immediately. "He is a kid who obviously comes from a violent world...He just fit the bill," Fuqua later said of Paige. "He had no fear in his eyes."

Bryan Fischer, Basketball Analyst

| Wed Jan. 26, 2011 2:00 PM EST

American Family Association issues director Bryan Fischer is what we in the blogging business like to call a "generalist." In just the last year, he's called for the public stoning of a killer whale, labeled grizzly bears an existential threat to America, warned that the Congressional Medal of Honor has been "feminized," and suggested that all Muslims be deported. Take any topic, no matter how remote, and Fischer will manage to find a hidden message of impending doom.

Now, in what amounts to a stay of execution for America's wildlife, Fischer has broken his lengthy silence on the subject of Utah high school girls basketball. Last week, Christian Heritage Academy edged West Ridge (a school for at-risk youth), 108-3, prompting some folks to suggest, somewhat delicately, that a 105-point victory might be a little much. Bryan Fischer is not one of those people, and he has dedicated an entire column to making his case.

As Fischer explained, "If it's a choice between grizzlies and humans, the grizzlies have got to go" running up the score is the Christian thing to do. "[I]t's an insult to an opponent not to give your best effort just because you're sitting on a huge lead. Your opponents deserve the respect of facing the best you have to offer, and it's up to them to rise to the challenge." Christian Heritage, Fischer says, "should be praised not condemned."

So there you go: Bryan Fischer has weighed in. And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming about how anti-discrimination laws turn housing complexes into "hunting grounds" for gay people.

Compton's "Parent-Trigger" Update: Read the Compton School District's Letter to Parents

| Tue Jan. 25, 2011 10:33 PM EST

Last night, I asked Parent Revolution to send me a copy of the letter that the Compton Unified School District mailed out to parents of students at McKinley Elementary School. Compton Unified printed the letters on Wednesday, Jan. 19th, and sent them to parents who requested that this chronically low-performing school be turned into a charter:

"As part of the District's responsibility to evaluate the Petition, we ask that you come to McKinley Elementary School on January 26 or 27, 2011, between the hours of 7:30am-9am or 3pm-6pm (on either date) to sign a form verifying your signature on the Petition. Please make sure to bring photo identification (such as a California driver's license) as you will be asked to show identification before being provided a signature verification form."

(See full letter below.)

Why such extremely narrow window of time? The Compton District officials know that most Compton residents are low-income parents, often working two jobs. Do they open their mail every day? I don't. Will parents be able to get time off from work on such short notice? I can't. Not to mention that the district requests that all parents come with photo IDs, which will surely be an issue for some undocumented parents in this predominantly Latino school.

Then the letter says that the signatures of no-shows will be disqualified.

This gives me serious pause. I've been working with the San Francisco Unified District since November, where I report on a high school with test scores similar to McKinley's, and I haven't seen anything like this in SF.

To be fair: Parent Revolution doesn't seem like a fair player in this political fight either. The signature gathering process was done under the radar; Louis Freedberg over at California Watch rightfully calls it a "stealth campaign." The district, the school, and even McKinley's PTA didn't know anything about it in advance. As state PTA president Jo Loss told California Watch, the Parent Revolution's petition gave parents only one option: to turn this school into a charter, even though the law provides three other choices.

If nothing else, it's hard to shake the feeling that the Compton District's extremely narrow window for verifying signatures of this most controversial and important petition in education reform was unprofessional at best, deliberate at worst. Ron Suazo, Compton School District spokesperson, didn't want to comment on the phone when I called this morning. He told me he'll email me the official response by the district explaining their rationale later today. I'll post it as soon as it comes in, but it's 6:30 pm PST and so far, nothing.

[Update on Jan. 27: Good news for parents who signed the petition, after two days of calling and emailing by MoJo, the Compton Unified sent in a statement from Acting Superintendent Karen Frison:

"We understand McKinley parents/guardians may not be able to attend our signature verification process, so we will offer a make-up date the following week, and we will also contact them if they have been unable to meet with us. The district is open to developing other ways for them to participate in an effort to accommodate their work schedules. The signature verification process is designed to protect the voice of McKinley's families, regardless of their position on the parent trigger law."]

Read the Compton Unified School District letter to parents:

Compton's "Parent Trigger" Education Fight Heats Up

| Mon Jan. 24, 2011 4:27 PM EST

Looks like the "parent-trigger law" debate is heating up between Compton' pro-charter parents and the Compton Unified School District.

If you haven't been following the news out of Compton, last month I blogged about how parents of kids attending LA's public McKinley Elementary School are trying something new: Shutting down the chronically struggling institution and demanding that it be replaced by a charter school. And yes, they can do that—thanks to a new parental option called the "parent-trigger" law, which allows parents to force big changes at the state's lowest-performing schools, if they can gather signatures from 51 percent of the parents whose kids attend a failing school. McKinley parents and advocates gathered the signatures they needed, but now Compton Unified wants them verified. Last month, there were some reports of alleged intimidation tactics while these signatures where gathered.

A press release I received says that McKinley parents are meeting right now to decide their next steps:

"Every parent who wants change at McKinley must now show up at the school on either Wednesday or Thursday of next week, endure a mysterious five-minute interview with district employees, and declare their support in this interview for change. In addition, they must present photo identification at this interview, a requirement that even supersedes the requirements to participate in state and federal elections in California and would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on a community of people of color and immigrants. ... Any parent who is unable or unwilling to complete this process for any reason—such as being sick or unable to get out of work on such short notice—will no longer be able to count towards the 61% of parents who have demanded change under the Parent Trigger law, regardless of whether they have already met the legal requirements to do so under the Parent Trigger and the State Board."

LA Weekly reporter Patrick Range McDonald has been following this case, and will post an update when he returns from the meeting. Here's what he blogged before he ran off to the press conference:

"President Barack Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan backed the Parent Trigger effort in Compton, but as things have gotten more and more tense, the feds have been publicly missing in action .... despite the fact that Compton parents have filed complaints with the feds.

Governor Jerry Brown has also been nowhere to be found, although Compton Unified officials are undertaking questionable tactics that could undermine a state law. California Attorney General Kamala Harris has been absent, too.

Since state and federal politicians seem unwilling to ensure that Compton Unified authorities abide by the law, maybe former President Jimmy Carter, who's been known to observe democratic elections in various parts of the world, needs to come into town and play sheriff."