In Vermont, a solution goes in search of a problem

south burlington scoreboard

In a nation of perpetually aggrieved there is diminishing room for reason.

Consider the “controversy” taking place in South Burlington, Vt.

For more than 50 years the South Burlington High School has used the “Rebels” as its nickname, said to be in recognition of the city’s secession from Burlington many years before.

However, now there is a movement to do away with the moniker because “rebel” is said to be associated with the racist policies of the Confederacy, a former teacher at the school told the Burlington Free Press.

“It was unintentional, I’m sure, but it’s still connected to that,” said Bob Walsh, who taught at the school for 18 years. “I think it’s time for us to recognize the fact that this symbol is inappropriate and it’s time to change.”

Walsh’s comments came during an August school board meeting. He was the only member of the public to speak against the school’s nickname.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, board chairwoman, said when she grew up in the area and participated in events against South Burlington High, she never recalled any reference to the Rebels being affiliated with the Confederacy.

Julie Beatty, another school board member and a South Burlington High alum, said she never associated the “Rebels” nickname with the Confederacy during her time as a student, and said she doesn’t think students today associate it with the Confederate States of America.

The board decided to gather more public opinion before making a decision. Young said the topic will be open for public comment at the next board meeting, which will be held tomorrow.

What Walsh and others who advocate a break with the name “Rebels” seem to overlook is that not only did South Burlington split from Burlington, but Vermont itself was established by many individuals who were considered “rebels.”

Vermont was founded by Ethan Allen, Thomas Chittenden and others who sought independence from New York, seeing themselves “as a distinct region outside the legitimate jurisdiction of New York,” according to historian Christian Fritz.

Although Vermonters fought the British during the American Revolution, they didn’t join the fledgling United States at the outset of war, as both New York and New Hampshire wanted the territory for themselves.

Instead, in 1777, Vermonters declared independence, wrote their own constitution and formed the Republic of Vermont, which lasted until 1791, when the state was admitted to the Union as the 14th state.

And, of course, rebellion was the dominant theme in the founding of the United States of America, with the Founding Fathers undoubtedly being seen as “rebels” by Great Britain.

(Top: Scoreboard at South Burlington (Vt.) High School, with nickname “Rebels” evident.)

Geneticists say they’re closer to solving mystery of the Basques

freedom to choose the basque language

To say that the Basque are enigmatic is a bit of an understatement.

Theirs is the only Western European tongue that does not belong to the Indo-European family of languages. Written Basque features an extraordinary number of x’s and relatively few vowels.

There is a legend that says the Devil tried to learn Basque by listening behind the door of a Basque farmhouse. After seven years, he mastered but two words: “Yes, Ma’am.”

In addition to the language, the genetic makeup of the Basque has also puzzled researchers.

Now, it appears a team of geneticists have made progress in solving the mystery behind the Basques, who reside in northern Spain and southern France.

A study in PNAS journal suggests they descended from early farmers who mixed with local hunters before becoming isolated for as much as five millennia, according to the BBC.

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Local schools: If it’s inconvenient, then it’s not worth doing


Summer reading lists have been around for eons, it would seem. Until this year, that is, at least in my neck of the woods.

When my girls, who are going into the 10th, ninth, ninth and seventh grades, finished school last May they told me they didn’t have any required summer reading. Seeing how each of them independently told me the same story, and there was no information about summer reading on their respective schools’ websites, I was forced to accept this as truth.

However, as each had been given reading lists since at least the third grade previously, I found the change perplexing.

I told them, though, that they would be reading at least one book that I would pick out for them. My girls have varying levels of interest in reading: One is an avid bookworm and is never without something to peruse; another is a social butterfly and, while an excellent writer, would rather do just about anything than sit down and read.

The four start school tomorrow and over the summer between them managed to read 18 books. This, however, is not broken down evenly. One of my twins read nine books, including The Scarlet Letter, which I picked out for her. The youngest read six books, including Little Women, which was my choice. The oldest read two books – All Things Bright and Beautiful and Animal Farm – the first of which I chose because of her love of animals, and the second she chose because she thought it was about a farm (I didn’t disabuse her of that notion when she showed it to me initally). My other twin managed to get through one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, which I chose for her.

Obviously I would have preferred for the latter two to have spent more time reading and less time playing on their cell phones, but they only live with me part of the time so I’m glad they accomplished what they did.

What I found rather discouraging was the reason their schools didn’t assign reading lists, which I learned only this past weekend.

My three older girls were told at the end of last year that students weren’t being assigned summer reading “because kids won’t do it.” This was verified by another student who attends a different area school.

As an aside, my children are fortunate enough to attend classes in one of the best public school districts in South Carolina.

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The analogy was a bad one, not unlike a illogical comparison


The above seems plausible enough. I was once in high school and undoubtedly penned a number of bad analogies, though I also recall having considerable difficulty differentiating analogies, metaphors and similes from one another.

While most of my analogies were sports-related – “the sound his head made as it bounced off the pavement was a sharp thwack, resembling the tone of a Nolan Ryan fastball being fouled off by Reggie Jackson” – and many were substandard, they probably weren’t as cringe-worthy as the above.

But, of course, the Internet being the Internet, it turns out that the above analogies weren’t written by high school students but by readers of the Washington Post.

In July 1995 the Post ran a contest asking for outrageously bad analogies, according to the blog Socratic Mama. Readers were asked to write the most hideous prose they could imagine. The above is a selection of those submissions.

It wasn’t long before a sample of these were being gleefully passed around the web, attributed to high school students.

I suppose because nearly all of us were high school students at one time, and most of us have struggled with analogies – at least in practice if not theory – the idea that teens could come up with the above seems utterly plausible.

After all, high school students struggle with analogies in much the same way that a thirsty, yet dignified souse struggles not to break into a trot when he hears a beer truck has overturned just up the road.

To see the Post’s collection of reader-inspired bad analogies, click here.

Alphabetical rankings: The United States’ national shame

US ranking

As if Americans – beset by murder, mayhem and political strife – haven’t had enough bad news lately, there’s this staggering bit of misfortune:

Of 196 countries in existence today, the United States ranks 182nd in the world alphabetically.

This, despite the fact that the US has an abundance of natural resources, top-notch health care, one of the highest literacy rates in the world and is one of the longest-existing modern democracies.

Now, we Americans could stand around and play the blame game, but the simple fact is we should all be embarrassed. Ponder this: There are but 13 countries the US ranks ahead alphabetically, and they include such political basket cases as Uzbekistan and Yemen.

Consider those nations that have outpaced us in the ABCs: Cuba, El Salvador, Guinea-Bissau and even Kyrgyzstan, where citizens struggle daily to even spell their country correctly.

Sadly, even after years of conflict in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the US is still classified behind both of those nations alphabetically, despite pouring billions of dollars into military efforts.

As has been noted, it’s time for Americans to take a long, sobering look at this country, and how it ended up all the way down at No. 182.

If we’re ever going to remedy this deplorable situation, we have to act now. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for future generations. As always, think of the children!

(HT: Clickhole)

Beware of those who divide the masses for fun and profit


One sometimes wonders whether certain elements of society would opt to plunge mankind into the Apocalypse rather than have it experience peace and goodwill, as long as the former enabled them to bolster their bottom line by another handful of shekels.

Case in point: media coverage of several church fires in the South over the past few days seems determined to either outright assert or strongly infer white racists are targeting black houses of worship following the dreadful killings on June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

A few recent headlines:

Seventh Black Church Burns In South Since Charleston Church Shooting” – CBS News.

Feds Investigate String of Fires at Black Churches in South” – Time magazine.

Seventh Black Church Goes Up in Flames Following Charleston Massacre” – People magazine.

Fires at Black Churches in the South Raise Hate-Crime Fears” – NBC News.

After Charleston, Black Churches Targeted By Arsonists Across The South” – Think Progress.

This, when the story often can’t even back up the rhetoric.

In the first example above, CBS News pointed out in its lead paragraph that the most recent church fire was not arson, despite a headline that might lead some to believe malicious intent was involved.

“A federal law enforcement source says a fire that destroyed a black church in South Carolina was not the work of an arsonist,” the CBS report begins, referring to a fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, SC, about an hour north of Charleston.

While the story adds that the fire is still under investigation, it states that the fire was not intentionally set and was not arson.

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Deep debate cast aside for quick decisions based on ‘perception’

FILE -- The Confederate battle flag flies near the South Carolina State Capitol building in Columbia in this file framegrab.

Over the past few days it has been stated repeatedly that the Confederate flag should be removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds because it’s a racist symbol – no matter what its advocates claim – because “perception is reality.”

Certainly the Confederate battle flag was misappropriated in the 1950s and ‘60s by groups opposed to the Civil Rights movement. That these groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, also made ample use of the Stars and Stripes, seems to be of small concern to those who would like to see the Confederate flag placed in a museum.

While there’s plenty of room for debate about the role of the Confederate flag in public life, if the basis for one’s arguments includes “perception is reality,” then one is starting from a position of weakness.

History has shown that the idea that perception can be both erroneous and damaging.

Black Codes and Jim Crow laws were enforced in part because blacks were perceived by many as being inferior to whites. Most ex-slaves, thanks to law and/or custom, had never been taught to read or write. They were therefore perceived as being less intelligent than whites, even though the playing field was never close to being level.

This perception continues to hold currency even today among some, who mistakenly believe that blacks as a group don’t have the capacity to keep pace with whites and some other ethnic groups, while overlooking the fact that in many areas where African-Americans make up a significant percentage of the population substandard schooling and a history of state indifference to education are the real culprits.

Along those same lines, blacks were perceived well into the 20th century as lacking the educational skills necessary for college. At the time of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, only about 10,000 American blacks – one in 1,000 – were college educated, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. Today, more than 4.5 million blacks hold a four-year college degree.

Consider also that blacks who volunteered or were drafted into the US military were discriminated against for many decades because of the perception that they were suited only for “heavy lifting” rather than positions that relied on brainpower.

At the outset of the Civil War, neither free blacks nor escaped slaves were allowed to enlist in the Union Army. The prevailing view among Union officers was that the black man lacked mental ability, discipline and courage, and could never be trained to fight like the white soldier. It would take the better part of two years before white military leaders, desperate for troops, consented to the use of black soldiers, enabling this error to be disproved.

Up into World War I, black troops were often given thankless tasks that white soldiers sought to avoid and racial segregation in the US military remained in place until after World War II.

During the latter conflict, the Navy assigned most who did enlist to mess duty and the Marines barred blacks entirely until 1942. The military as a whole held to the “perception” that blacks weren’t as good at “soldiering” as whites.

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