Fix me in 45.

#FailureFactories

FloridaIn just eight years, Pinellas County School Board members turned five schools in the county’s black neighborhoods into some of the worst in Florida.

First they abandoned integration, leaving the schools overwhelmingly poor and black.

Then they broke promises of more money and resources.

Every year, they turn out a staggering number of children who don’t know the basics.

Eight in 10 fail reading, according to state standardized test scores. Nine in 10 fail math.

All of the schools operate within six square miles in one of Florida’s most affluent counties.

All of them were much better off a decade ago.

Failure Factories

If you eat food, you are being lied to every day.

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In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
Thomas Jefferson

Works Progress Administration

WPAIt was on this day in 1935 that Congress approved funding for President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, known as the WPA, a program designed to put unemployed Americans back to work. The WPA was run by Roosevelt’s right-hand man, Harry Hopkins, a former social worker and public health administrator. Hopkins was a firm believer in the benefits of good work, even though employment was more expensive for the government than giving direct handouts. He said, “Give a man a dole and you save his body and destroy his spirit; give him a job and pay him an assured wage, and you save both the body and the spirit.” A worker’s average salary was $41.57 per month. By the time the WPA was dissolved in 1943, it had employed more than 8.5 million people, working on 1.4 million projects.

The WPA’s main focus was on public works, especially infrastructure projects. The WPA was funded for eight years, and during that time workers built or repaired 650,000 miles of roads, 124,00 bridges, 8,000 parks, 39,000 schools, and 85,000 other public buildings. They also worked on airports, dams, sidewalks, swimming pools, sewers, utility plants, and playgrounds. They served more than a billion school lunches, operated 1,500 nursery schools, and sewed half a billion garments.

Most of the WPA workers were men — more than 85 percent. In an attempt to distribute jobs as broadly as possible, only the “head of household” of each family was allowed to work for the WPA. Of the women who were employed, many worked in sewing rooms, producing millions of clothes, diapers, quilts, toys, and other items, which were distributed to public institutions or needy families (sometimes right back to the women themselves). The women tried to make the items fashionable and unique so that the people who wore them wouldn’t be marked as welfare recipients.

Another branch of the WPA was its arts programs, collectively known as “Federal One,” which included the Federal Writers’ Project and the Federal Theater Project. At first, Harry Hopkins was criticized for including artists — some people argued that they never had steady jobs to begin with, so shouldn’t be considered unemployed. Hopkins responded: “Hell! They’ve got to eat just like other people.” Of more than 8 million people who worked for the WPA, only 40,000 were employed by Federal One, but the list included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Saul Bellow, Kenneth Rexroth, Arthur Miller, and Orson Welles.

Artists working for the Federal Art Project collectively created more than 18,000 sculptures and 100,000 paintings and murals. The “easel artists” — who worked in offices or studios, as opposed to mural artists — were required to clock in at 8 a.m. and back out at 4 p.m. if they wanted to receive their day’s pay. Jackson Pollock sometimes showed up in his pajamas in order to make the morning cutoff. But besides the strict hours, the “easel artists” were given a lot of leeway — they were unsupervised, and they were allowed to choose their subjects and styles, unlike the mural painters, who were usually instructed to paint American motifs. Mark Rothko was asked to submit an oil painting every four to six weeks, which would be given to a public building.

The flagship project for the Federal Writers’ Project was a series of state-by-state guidebooks, but writers also collected folklore, indexed newspapers, recorded slave narratives and other oral histories, and wrote essays about great American literature. John Steinbeck wrote of the WPA guidebook series: “It was compiled during the Depression by the best writers in America, who were, if that is possible, more depressed than any other group while maintaining their inalienable instinct for eating.” W.H. Auden wrote: “The Arts Project of WPA was, perhaps, one of the noblest and most absurd undertakings ever attempted by any state.”

from The Writer’s Almanac, with Garrison Keillor

Lord of the Files: How GitHub Tamed Free Software (And More)

Backblaze

backblazeI cannot say enough good things about backblaze. It’s an online backup service that costs less than what you probably pay for two Starbucks each month. If you own a computer and care at all about your files, I strongly urge you to use it.

Hopefully you are already taking advantage of the Time Machine functionality built into every Apple computer. (Just plug an external hard drive into your machine, tell the operating system to use it as a Time Machine drive, and forget about it.) That’s great, but unfortunately you almost certainly have your Time Machine drive sitting just a few inches away from your computer. So it’s great if you need to recover a file you accidentally deleted. But it’s worthless if your house burns to the ground.
Continue reading …

The Boy Who Played with Fusion

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When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.
Albert Einstein

Hemingway’s Advice on Writing, Ambition, the Art of Revision, and His Reading List of Essential Books for Aspiring Writers

Sweet Sixteen

balloonsAnd just like that: It’s been sixteen years since I started blogging on this site.

It seems like only yesterday that I wrote a post celebrating my fifteenth year, and the spaces between the years get smaller every day.

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If I had to live life over, I’d live over a saloon.
W.C. Fields

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Few misfortunes can befall a boy which bring worse consequences than to have a really affectionate mother.
William Somerset Maugham, (b) Jan. 25, 1874

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We shall strive for perfection. We shall not achieve it immediately — but we still shall strive. We may make mistakes — but they must never be mistakes which result from faintness of heart or abandonment of moral principle.

I remember that my old schoolmaster, Dr. Peabody, said, in days that seemed to us then to be secure and untroubled: “Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights—then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward; that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fourth Inaugural Address
Saturday, January 20, 1945

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A lottery is a taxation
upon all the fools in creation;
and heaven be praised,
it is easily raised,
for credulity’s always in fashion.
Henry Fielding, “The Lottery” – 1732

Never Forget

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
Today is the 125th anniversary of the massacre at Wounded Knee in South Dakota.

I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee as an assignment in high school and then I read it again on my own a few years after college. It’s heart-wrenching and awful, and certainly one of the most important pieces of American literature ever printed. If you haven’t ever read it, you should make it a priority.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

If you haven’t yet seen my wife’s superb version of this holiday classic, you’re letting the terrorists win.

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And if a beachhead of co-operation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.
John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961

To be clear, visiting any bar where a bloody dismemberment only warrants a temporary pause from the house band is a pretty bad idea

The 10 Most Valuable Star Wars Action Figures

Luke SkywalkerMy little sister and I had numbers 9, 8, 6, 4, 3, and 1 on this list. I actually still have these exact same Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, although mine are in nowhere-near mint condition. They are sitting in an original 1978 Millennium Falcon hanging from fishing line suspended from the ceiling of my son’s room right now. I also still have an original Cantina playset and a droid factory playset, and the memories of a few hundred hours of my sister and I re-enacting the films and inventing our own stories, with countless toys spread across the floors and couch and kitchen linoleum of the apartment while mom did the laundry and dreamed that one day we’d be able to afford a house.

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Anti-war books are as likely to stop war as anti-glacier books are to stop glaciers.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.