"Death of Common Sense"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Saturday, December 22, 2007
It seems that the news media has missed the passing of a legend that has guided us so well for so many years. I thought it might do our elected officials from town government to the state and federal government to the White House, to be made aware of his passing.
Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm, life isn't always fair, and maybe it was my fault. Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge). His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place.
Reports of a 6-year old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student only worsened his condition. Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do to in disciplining their unruly children. It declined even further when schools were to get parental consent to administer aspirin, sun lotion or a sticking plaster to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.
Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband; churches became businesses and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault. Common Sense was preceded in death by this parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason. He is survived by this three step-brothers, I Know My Rights, Someone Else Is To Blame and I'm a Victim.
Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.
JOHN H. BECKWITH
THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
"I Publius: The story illuminates my town"
By Alan Chartock
Saturday, December 22, 2007
GREAT BARRINGTON, Massachusetts
In the matter of holiday (or Christmas) lights in the town of Great Barrington: This one really is tough for me. I fully understand that, in asking for the holiday lights to be turned off at 10 p.m., the Selectmen were doing their best to try to point out our conspicuous consumption of electricity and the effect that it has had on global warming in this country and around the world.
As most people now know, the infamous Bill O'Reilly has seized upon this as an act of perfidy and has ranted about the foolishness of the Great Barrington board. (He's a fine one to talk about other people's mistakes.)
As a result, this newspaper has reported in a front page story that a ton of letters are coming at the town fathers and mother, letting them have it for grinching up the holidays. I am really torn on this one. I do not think there is a more ill-informed, red meat, mob-baiting jerk than Bill O'Reilly, nor would I want to support this mouthpiece of the right-wing Murdoch operation.
I obviously resent his calling Ron Dlugosz a "pinhead." Anyone who looks at this substantial selectman knows that he could hardly be called a pinhead. But I just have to say that the stringing of a few simple strands of lights across the main street of Great Barrington is a tradition that means a lot to many people.
This might be the wrong place to make the environmental point. If the Selectmen had wanted to go green, it might have been better to change the kind of bulbs that were used or to find some other way to show that they cared about the people's enjoyment as well as the important conservation issue.
Telling the folks who want to put lights up that they can do so, but that they have to be turned off after 10 p.m., goes along with the myth that they roll up the sidewalks in town at night. They don't, right?
Look at it this way: We taxpayers are spending a lot of money, yet some quite serious and often life-threatening situations have not been rectified, even when the fix is fairly simple.
Take the sidewalk opposite the Mahaiwe Theatre when you come through the tunnel that leads from the railroad station parking lot. It is now — and has been for years — a swimming pool in the summer and an ice skating rink in the winter. If someone, especially an older person attending a show at the Mahaiwe, were to slip and fall, it would be a real tragedy. I would much rather see the board give that some attention.
In the matter of the war in Iraq: I have said from the beginning of this tragic war that people in this country are not unhappy about the war because it is immoral and disgraceful but because we are losing.
Now the powerful public relations machine of the Bush White House is perpetuating the myth that we are, in fact, turning the corner and winning. Remember that, when we walked into this "big muddy," a huge percentage of the American people went for it hook, line and sinker, while just a few of us were screaming into the wind.
Now there are signs that the blood lust of the people is on the rise and that the president's popularity is going up, too.
P.T. Barnum would be proud of George and his minions.
In the matter of who can speak at town meetings and to the Board of Selectmen: So this Egremont couple who are second-home owners want to speak. The rule is that you have to be a permanent resident to speak. Now they pay a lot of taxes to the town. They are part of the mix that makes up the town.
Second-home owners help defray everyone's load. They pay taxes, but they often do not use expensive town services such as schools. On the face of it, they should be allowed to speak. What if someone from the next town wants to speak?
An example. I drive to work on Route 41 from Great Barrington to West Stockbridge and thence on to Route 102 to the New York state extension. When it snows, the Great Barrington section of Route 41 is usually clean and free of snow but when you get to the West Stockbridge part of the road, it often is covered with snow.
How come? If I want, I will be allowed to come before the town and speak, even though I am a Great Barrington resident. I have a lot of respect for the West Stockbridge approach to all of this. Under their rules, I can get an answer to my question even if I am a pain in their collective neck.
"MCAS is ruining public schools"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Friday, December 28, 2007
Three cheers for Ed Udel and his op-ed column "MCAS Emperor has No Clothes" of Dec. 20. I hope it inspires teachers to talk more openly about this absurd high stakes test.
MCAS was crammed down the throats of schools by the business community and disingenuous politicians — including Sen. Kennedy — whose claim was kids were not getting a good education in public schools anymore and therefore America was losing jobs. What a hoax! America has been losing jobs because these same wealthy corporations have been sending the jobs to other countries where workers receive criminally low wages. The fancy word is globalization. Our current crop of politicians mouth the same tripe about testing and excellence and accountability and requirements, while at the same time refusing to raise the needed revenue to run the schools properly. Cutting funding for the schools, or relying on school districts to want to improve themselves, does not benefit public education, irrespective of the Department of Education's virulent dogma.
I've been teaching for 23 years, not always in public schools. Still, I can say with great confidence that most teachers do not think MCAS has improved education here in Massachusetts. In fact, most would say the contrary. Shame on the Massachusetts Teachers Association for having not fought against the perpetration of this MCAS farce 15 years ago when Education Reform first suggested this type of testing.
As the older teachers leave and the younger ones start careers (at a dangerously low rate by the way), MCAS will most likely ingrain itself more deeply into our educational psyche, and tear away the vestiges of a pretty good educational system that existed prior to the Hobson's choice of Education Reform and No Child Left Behind. We really should be asking what were and are the true intentions of the teach-to-the test crowd? I think it has more to do with purposely leaving poorer children behind rather than not. I think it has more to do with ruining public schools rather than repairing them, and I think it has more to do with keeping struggling schools districts in distress rather than rescuing them.
Yet in a nation that crows about freedom and independence, to challenge the notion of designing school curricula around a packaged test, one risks nearly being branded a dangerous heathen — now that's a lesson we should be teaching our kids, right!
"MCAS brings data, accountability"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Friday, December 28, 2007
I read "MCAS emperor has no clothes" (op-ed, Dec. 20) with a bit of sympathy and a healthy dose of skepticism. Its author poses a lot of leading questions and follows through with precious few solutions. He fails to recognize that the call for MCAS and its ilk did not rise in a vacuum, but in response to the increasing underperformance of American students.
MCAS is exactly what we were told it was from the time of its inception: an accountability tool. Although MCAS and the like are not necessarily the solution to an ailing educational system, they are the first attempt to enforce the notion that it is not enough that teachers teach, but that students must also learn.
In spite of its many shortcomings, MCAS is quite effective at telling us what students are learning and not learning. Colorful PowerPoints and graphs aside, it is still up to teachers and administrators to determine why students are not learning and then to plan how to help them learn better.
For example, a recent analysis of the performance of some of our students on one of last year's content area exams reveals that a lack of sufficient vocabulary negatively impacted their performance on the test.
This provides valuable information on effectiveness of past instruction and, quite appropriately, will inform curricular decisions for the future. If this is a case of the tail wagging the dog, so be it.
Furthermore, indications of instructional strengths provide the impetus for educators district- and even state-wide to discuss most effective practices.
Collaboration, as Deputy Superintendent Eberwein pointed out at a recent School Committee meeting, is taking place at unprecedented levels. Moreover, accountability measures have provided many teachers the necessary incentive to teach mindfully and reflectively. MCAS can but does not have to extract a pedagogical price. It can just as easily be an asset as teachers begin to share data-supported instructional practices that actually work.
MCAS is definitely not the final answer. Rather, it represents the beginning of a trend toward data-driven education. Unlike Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, data-driven instruction is not a new age fad. (Talk about an emperor with no clothes!) Effective teaching requires teachers to be aware all the way through the instructional process of what students know — collectively and individually — and how well they know it. Only then can effective group and individualized instruction be offered.
Good teachers use data from all kinds of assessment — not just MCAS — to make ongoing changes in curriculum and instruction. These are not knee-jerk reactions as charged by Mr. Udel, but informed and well-reasoned adjustments. The alternative is teaching blindly, with disregard — either willful or ignorant — toward student learning.
Neither do good teachers neglect the formulation of thoughtful sequential and cumulative curriculum as charged by Mr. Udel. At Allendale Elementary School, Principal Williams has organized teams that span all grade levels to look at data and standards. Teachers at all grade levels have become aware of the expectations at all other levels and plan accordingly. This would seem to be very sound practice, indeed.
Surely there are better measures of student achievement than MCAS. While the emperor may not be entirely without clothes, he is certainly in need of a good tailor. There will likely come a day when MCAS will be abandoned because of its many weaknesses, but only to be replaced by something better. Data and accountability are here to stay, and rightly so.
The writer is a Grade 5 teacher at Allendale Elementary School.
"Good jeer, gifts from Pol Santa: Above all, a very merry Christmas"
By Wayne Woodlief, Tuesday, December 25, 2007, bostonherald.com, Columnists
Hitch up the sleigh, elves. Time to move out with those gifts for the pols, naughty or nice, who have made 2007 such a kick to cover.
With thanks to elves Todd Domke and Michael Goldman, here’s what Santa has to put under their trees:
Mitt Romney: A cryin’ towel to help him wipe away his tears. Not one, not two, but three weepings as of late? Hmmm. Makes you wonder if people told some focus group that the nearly-perfect Romney needed to look more human.
Mike Huckabee: A gilt-bound copy of the Mormons’ Book of Moroni so the former Arkansas gov can tell Satan apart from Jesus the next time he muses about Mormon beliefs. And another turned cheek from Mitt. (Slim chance of that).
Rudy Giuliani: A flak jacket to ward off all the revelations hurled at him by the New York media and the aggressive questioning by Tim Russert on “Meet the Press.” Or for that matter, from mild-mannered Katie Couric when she asked Giuliani on CBS News if he thought a candidate should be judged on fidelity to his spouse as a test of fidelity to the country. Giuliani answered that he wasn’t perfect; that he’d “made some mistakes” in that area, but that he “learned from my mistakes,” before committing them again and learning more. Just call him a serial student.
John McCain: A surprise endorsement from his partner in immigration reform, our own Ted Kennedy. Nah, that wouldn’t help him much in South Carolina.
Barack Obama. A squeegee to clean off all the mud the Clinton campaign has been hurling his way. It was bad enough for New Hampshire biggie Bill Sheehan to raise the questions he said Republicans might pose about Obama’s youthful drug use, but did Bill Clinton have to pile on by claiming Obama was not prepared to be president?
Hillary Clinton: A press corps that would focus more on her proposals and her experience and a lot less on her looks. And a muzzle for Bill. He’s a tremendous asset, the best natural politician I’ve ever seen. But he sometimes misspeaks (i.e., his amnesia on exactly when he came to oppose the Iraq war) and anonymous staffers on the campaign have been leaking that Bill is getting too intense, raising too much fault with their work.
John Edwards: A $4 haircut so the former senator’s too-slick coiffure can instead look as hacked-up as most of the rest of us.
Vice President Cheney: A combat paintball contest to give him a “war” he might be able to manage and make his friends safe from his shotgun.
President Bush: A Nancy Pelosi voodoo doll, with a set of pins. But will he know how to use ’em?
Deval Patrick: A pair of furry dice for the governor’s Caddy. He can hang ’em on his rear-view mirror as a reminder to passing motorists that he wants to make the good times roll in Massachusetts.
Treasurer Tim Cahill: A safe house to hide all those “Tim for governor” bumper stickers that some folks believe he is stashing for 2010. Guess Deval doesn’t wow the state’s treasurer anymore.
Attorney General Martha Coakley: A Wonder Woman costume for when she goes mano-a-mano with the housing mortgage industry. The big boys better watch out for Martha.
House Speaker Sal DiMasi: Enough empathy for Gov. Patrick so that Sal says “yes” to at least one of the guv’s major proposals.
Mayor Tom Menino: A shelf named after him in the Boston Public Library, one stacked with books on mangled language. Surely the next chief librarian will recognize the mayor’s needs.
And, at the suggestion of the Wizard of Oz:
Actor and ex-senator Fred Thompson: Some heart for the campaign.
Democratic second-tier presidential candidates Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson: Courage (and resources) to carry on after Iowa.
Duncan Hunter: A brain so he’ll drop out of the presidential race like Tom Tancredo did.
And to all of you, Merry Christmas and a grand New Year.
"Court clears city in bias case"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Saturday, December 29, 2007
PITTSFIELD — A Berkshire Superior Court jury has cleared Pittsfield of discrimination charges that were filed six years ago by a former employee of a job training program.
Deborah Phillips of West Stockbridge claimed that Pittsfield, then Mayor Gerald S. Doyle Jr., the Berkshire Training and Employment Program and two of that firm's employees had violated state discrimination laws when it placed her on administrative leave in September 1999. At the time, Phillips was receiving workers' compensation benefits for injuries received in a work-related car accident, according to court papers.
Phillips was hired by BTEP as its young parents' case coordinator in 1990. The support service, located on North Street, is listed in Phillips' complaint as an "unclassified department" within the city of Pittsfield. It is now known as BerkshireWorks.
According to documents on file in Superior Court, the jury found that both the city of Pittsfield and the Berkshire Training and Employment Program did not discharge Phillips because she was receiving workers' compensation benefits. Because the jury found against Phillips on both those claims, it was not required to award her financial compensation for the wages and benefits lost when she was discharged.
The charges against Doyle, who served as Pittsfield's mayor from 1997 to 2001, were dismissed by Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ford before the case was presented to the jury, ruling that Phillips had failed to present sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges.
Ford, however, denied a similar motion filed by Pittsfield's attorneys, Patricia M. Rapinchuk and Jeffrey J. Trapani of Springfield, asking that the charges against the city be dismissed.
According to court papers, Phillips was injured in an auto accident on March 10, 1999, while traveling to a work-related meeting near Boston. The accident left her handicapped within the limits of the state's handicapped discrimination law, her complaint states.
Phillips filed a claim for workers' compensation on March 12, 1999, and received benefits until Sept. 13, 1999. While receiving those benefits, Phillips claimed that Doyle informed her that she would be placed on administrative leave when her workers' compensation benefits were terminated. No reasons were given for her being placed on leave, according to the complaint.
Before she was injured, Doyle and BTEP's executive director, Michael Herrick, and human resources manager, Daniel Collins, had decided to reorganize the job training center, which resulted in the elimination of her position and termination of employment, according to the complaint.
Phillips claimed that her termination violated the Berkshire Training and Employment Program's policy manual. In April 1999, the firm hired a "less qualified" individual to replace her and failed to follow the procedures in the policy manual while doing so, according to the complaint.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Eight wishes for '08"
January 1, 2008
IT'S TABULA RASA time, when the year is fresh with possibility. Soon enough, all the bright hopes and determined resolutions will be jaded and worn, so we take this day to close our eyes and hope for the best. Surveying our world on the birth of a new year, we find eight candles to wish upon.
1. We wish for a presidential campaign debate that informs, inspires, and motivates. Naive? Maybe not. With the exception of the immigration issue, which has been cheaply exploited to rile up nativist passions, the primary campaign has so far been reasonably civilized. Perhaps the candidates are just holding their fire until the fall, but we hope the eventual nominees are wise enough to know that voters have had quite enough, thank you, of the scapegoating, sliming, simplistic campaigns of the past.
2. We hope that everyone gets to vote and all votes are properly counted. Seven years and billions of dollars after the 2000 election fiasco, the nation can be guardedly optimistic that the most egregious flaws in the way votes are cast and counted are at last being addressed. Without falling for wild conspiracy theories, however, it's clear that too many states still have unreliable systems. Electronic voting machines that crash or won't start; insufficient and untrained poll workers; long lines; voters turned away or forced to cast provisional ballots; mistrust of election officials because of party affiliation - these were all still evident in last year's midterm elections. There is no excuse for them persisting into 2008. The bare minimum: Every voting machine in every county in America should leave a paper trail.
3. We wish that Governor Patrick and the state's legislative leaders stop feuding and start fixing what ails Massachusetts. That means increasing revenues the state needs just to maintain the status quo, much less achieve the ambitious advances in early childhood education, biotechnology development, and capital improvements Patrick has on his own wish list. We think destination casinos are a reasonable way to recapture revenue currently leaking to other states, but if there is no appetite for that, legislative leaders need to offer an alternative. Increase the gasoline tax, close the corporate loopholes Patrick has identified, pressure cities and towns to adopt efficiencies in health and pension benefits, or reorder priorities to eliminate spending elsewhere. Anything less is irresponsible government.
4. On New Year's, revelers often toast to good health, so we wish for the success of the state's landmark experiment with universal healthcare. The biggest threat to that success is cost: of the care provided, and of the insurance plans offered. Some 300,000 (and rising) newly insured residents must be able to afford their premiums, so the healthcare plans need to keep their premiums low. This in turn means that the state's first-rate healthcare providers need to show restraint in their annual rate increases. Finally, the state needs to come up with sufficient cash to subsidize the mandatory plans for those of modest means (see wish number 3).
5. We hope for a soft landing to the nation's economic woes. This means the banks, Wall Street, and federal officials need to take responsibility for what they allowed to happen: a mortgage loan crisis that threatens the solvency of perhaps 2 million homeowners, with resounding ripple effects washing through the whole economy. Relaxing interest rates may help avoid a debilitating credit squeeze and avoid recession. Just as important is keeping homeowners who were lured through deceptive or greedy practices into unsustainable mortgages from falling into ruin. That is the best way for consumer spending and confidence overall to be restored. The alternative is a sickening downward spiral of default and despair.
6. We wish for an end to violence. The conflagrations in Pakistan and Iraq are just the most vivid and immediate examples. Desolating, senseless violence continues unabated from Darfur to Dorchester. Tribal, ethnic, religious, or gang hatreds can be blamed for much of the killing. But the conditions that allow these hatreds to breed are similar everywhere: dead-end lives of poverty, ignorance, and powerlessness. This is the pragmatic reason to support public expenditures - on everything from foreign aid to preschool education to microcredit to addiction counseling - that are often derided as soft-hearted charity. Without justice, there is rarely peace.
7. We hope mankind makes peace with the Earth. The blue planet is under assault, not just from the climate change provoked by global warming, but from extractions of resources that extend the sere reach of deserts; from the wanton dumping of toxics into the water and air; and from a world population that is growing more slowly but still aggravates disease and environmental degradation. The United States has lagged, not led, the world in finding ways to repair the damage. A good step on that path would be for Congress to pass, and President Bush to sign, a strong bill establishing a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. But overall, we wish for a reckoning by the richest nation on Earth with its ponderous, overdue debt.
8. We hope transparency and civic engagement make a comeback. The last seven years have featured the most secretive government since J. Edgar Hoover plotted against John Lennon. Under the convenient cloak of national security, the administration has sealed presidential records, authorized warrantless wiretapping, muzzled dissent, manipulated government websites, classified or reclassified an unprecedented number of documents, and presided over record-breaking denials and backlogs of Freedom of Information Act requests. It's a waiting game in which the forces of censorship and secrecy hope the citizens will wear out first. This won't happen if the bonds between Americans and a vigilant free press are strengthened. We hope that's not too much to wish for.
"Another year, and nothing learned"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Thursday, January 03, 2008
The year 2007 ended in a cloud of despair and confusion for me. Let me explain.
During the famous Nuremberg trials (1945-46), Germany's Hermann Goering openly testified, "Of course, people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to a greater danger."
Hitler made good use of Goering's insights when he unleashed the dogs of war upon the world by telling the German people they were being attacked by poor little Poland, of all places.
While there can be no doubt that, on September 11, 2001, we were attacked, there is equally no doubt that Iraq was not involved. Nevertheless, like Hitler in indicting Poland, which, by the way, met Hitler's tanks with heroic but sadly futile cavalry charges, Bush took advantage of the weakest of possible opponents and misinformed the American public that Saddam Hussein had not only been involved, but had weapons of mass destruction which he intended to use against us. Following the Nazi playbook to the letter, those who objected were denounced as pacifists, lacking patriotism and, thereby, exposing our country to a greater danger.
What is it about the human mind that allows it to absorb such nonsense to the point where we are willing to send our kids off to be maimed or killed, all the while devastating our nation's treasure? What is it about us that, at the end of World War II, allowed the "Stars and Stripe's" cartoonist, Bill Mauldin, the insight needed to create a cartoon in 1945 that depicted his famous combat duo, Willy and Joe, this time discharged and wearing "civvies," visiting a wounded comrade in a veteran's hospital. Their buddy, legs in casts suspended in the air by cables, asks his visitors, "How's things outside, boys? Am I still a war hero or a drain on th' taxpayer?" (Bill Mauldin's Army. Page 383).
Why do I ask about Mauldin's "insight?" It ought to be obvious. Things haven't changed. After Vietnam, it was Agent Orange. After the Gulf War it was depleted uranium. We are still treating our veterans no differently than if they were no better than drains on the taxpayers.
What's our problem? Has our system of education failed us so completely that we can no longer reason things out or are we just plain stupid? I'm depressed because I fear the latter is the fact. After all is said and done, year after year, generation after generation, we fall for the same old crap.
ROBERT W. ALLARDYCE
THE BOSTON GLOBE: Op-Ed: "PIERCED"
"Worth a Gamble: A little leniency for this criminal could go a long way."
By Charles P. Pierce, January 6, 2008
Dear John O'Brien:
As the state's probation commissioner, you have a pretty full plate there, I realize. For all I know, you make a half-dozen calls on various miscreants every half-hour, and if any of the calls goes wrong, somebody running for president will gladly toss you under the bus. But I think the case of this Timothy Elliott guy is an easy one - a win-win, as it were. Elliott, as you know, is the paroled bank robber down in Hyannis who won a million bucks in a lottery scratch game back in November. Now, Elliott is not even the most vicious hoodlum to wind up with his mitts around some lottery boodle. That title goes to the still-at-large Whitey Bulger, who somehow ended up with a share of a Mass Millions jackpot. Elliott at least won his money fair and square. Of course, as a condition of his probation, Elliott was ordered not to gamble. At all. He was not allowed to buy lottery tickets or even eat in a restaurant where people were playing keno. Considering the omnipresence of keno boards these days - I believe there's one below decks on Old Ironsides - this was a considerable hardship.
So he scratched a ticket? That just makes him another guy at the counter who forces us to wait 45 minutes to buy a banana. But now that he's won, you should wield your influence creatively. After all, if a guy knows he's got $1 million coming in at $35,000 after taxes every year, he'd have real motivation not to rob banks as often as he used to. This could be a new approach to the problem of criminal recidivism. Give all the crooks free money. Just don't let the Legislature hear about it. You know how they are.
Charles P. Pierce
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"The battle over skin shocks"
January 19, 2008
ON WEDNESDAY, desperate parents begged lawmakers at a State House hearing not to interfere with the work of the controversial Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton. They had reason to be concerned.
Some state lawmakers take a dim view of skin shock treatments at the center, a view that may not be in the best interest of the school's autistic, retarded, and emotionally disturbed students. Even a new bill trumpeted as a compromise by sponsors could undermine treatment programs that many parents view as the best hope against self-destructive and violent behavior by their children. The state Department of Mental Retardation is better qualified than lawmakers to set limits on treatment methods at the center - or decide whether it should operate at all.
The situation is tense. Senator Brian Joyce of Milton, a cosponsor of the bill, is passionate in his belief that the center is not only hurting patients but also manipulating their parents' emotions. Joyce, who can barely disguise his contempt for the center's founder, Matthew Israel, says it is the Legislature's "moral obligation to stop the wholesale application of this so-called aversive therapy." Israel says the bill is just another in a long line of overboard attempts to close his center, which administers brief skin shocks to deter violent behavior by some patients who don't respond to traditional therapies.
The public has reason to be confused about a center that has been embroiled in complex legal battles dating back decades. But the proposed legislation only makes matters worse. It might seem reasonable to pass a law that limits skin shock treatment to cases involving "a clear risk of injury to self or others." But the bill would also bar shocks to treat "minor behavior problems, even if said behaviors are identified as antecedents to targeted challenging behaviors." So, if a disturbed patient is known to rub his head vigorously for several seconds before biting or gouging himself, the shock could not be administered during the "antecedent" behavior, but only at the onset of the actual attack. The whole point of aversive therapy is to discourage the attack before it begins.
Both the patients and public will be best served if the Department of Mental Retardation, which certifies the Rotenberg Center, concentrates fully on the competence of the center to administer the treatment, instead of the treatment itself. There are plenty of reasons to scrutinize the center closely, not the least of which is the questionable quality and training of the workers who administer the shocks. Rotenberg staffers made a mind-blowing error of judgment in August when they shocked two emotionally disturbed students on the phoned-in order of a former patient posing as a medical supervisor. And Rotenberg top officials followed that up with a gross error in judgment, or worse, when they destroyed videotapes of the incident despite a warning not to do so by a state investigator who had viewed the tapes.
If the Rotenberg Center can't do its job consistently and ethically, then DMR should shut it down. But the Legislature shouldn't foreclose the option of skin shock treatment as a last resort for desperate patients.
"Atheism wilts before truth, logic"
The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed By Dan Valenti
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Peter Albertson's toothless gumming of the belief in God ("Glass House on Atheism," Eagle, Jan. 9) regurgitates a clichéd refrain of past ills of the Catholic Church disguised as argumentation. His blubbering invites stifled laughter at best. At worst, I wouldn't care to say.
To a stunning degree, Albertson spits misleading summaries of Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope), Pope Benedict's second encyclical, and Marxist idealism as imperfectly expressed in human history. We can only wonder: Are these shards of ignorance the product of design or are they themselves ignorance getting on too intimate terms with itself, a kind of inbred rhetorical incest?
The author fails to offer compelling evidence that the "no God" argument is worthy of being taken seriously. This has always been atheism's great polemic weakness. Having to argue the existence of an alleged non-existence, it must deny God by referring to God. The poor atheist must accept this on faith and hope others will do the same.
It's easy to show how atheism unravels as an exercise in logic. On the basis of his own lack of experience, and discounting the overwhelming evidence of historical human experience, the atheist deductively concludes there is no God then advances that faulty major premise as an article of faith, one that dooms subsequent reasoning. However valid, the argument cannot be true.
Truth, however, is the atheist's first victim. Instead of the wondrous presence of the universe and everything in it, which by moral certainty we know exists, the nonbeliever presents life as an empty, uncaused desert populated by a human species that, as Albertson admits, is prone to savagery.
It is true; people can be cruel. Human flaws are among spirituality's greatest concerns. But people are also good, the encouragement of which is among spirituality's greatest works. For every institutional inquisition, there are innumerable deeds of mercy performed by ordinary people of good heart each and every day. The truth is, dear Peter, your empty desert — that world without God — exists only in the indolent imagination of those who "believe" in the reality of their illusions. The rest of us prefer our confrontation with life to be more pragmatic, more honest, and more open.
Here's the biggest laugh. You piously tell us you "do not proselytize. I do not recall ever trying to convince someone to join me in (my) belief. I have private feelings and opinions about religion and atheism, but I never visit them on other people." Say what? Does it strike you as a wee bit disingenuous to spill your "privacy" in the pages of the region's only daily newspaper, to tens of thousands of readers?
Your citation of "a billion non-believers in the world" implies how your "religion" is growing. Of course atheism is growing, but not because adherents find the message captivating. Rather, they embrace your position because it avoids the duty of finding out firsthand about God, a lifetime effort that finds no place in an Instant Age where attention spans die on the keyboards of high tech. In the era of surfing the net on a computer while text messaging on a phone while listening to an iPod while watching TV, the capacity for sustained awareness and focus spirituality presumes has little chance.
There's no such thing as honest atheism. Those who openly declare God doesn't exist stand indicted by their own pointing fingers. They accuse deists of a position unsupported by reason and logic, yet they unreasonably and illogically embrace an irrational assertion they have no way of proving.
Atheists, as it turns out, believe things much more fantastic and absurd than those they mock. Neither Pope Benedict nor Karl Marx would subscribe to that kind of intellectual sloppiness.
So here's the deal, Pete. Are you ready to put up or shut up? I'm challenging you to a debate. We need a soapbox in a beer hall, two barstools, and two wireless microphones — no notes or cheat sheets allowed. We bill it, "Funeral for an Atheist," ask a donation for admittance, split the proceeds among the charities of our choosing, and have fun doing it. You game?
Pete, the gap between believer and non-believer fills but a tiny space. It's the one-character space between the word "atheist" and the phrase "a theist." I say you are someone who believes in God but who lacks the conceptual framework, the attitude, the curiosity, the logic, the intellectual rigor, the language, the intestinal fortitude, and the honesty to express it. An atheist is like a man in a room who has closed the curtains to block the sun. He concludes there is no light. Within his dark room, the conclusion seems reasonable. Yet the sun shines, and he must define himself by its rays.
Writer Dan Valenti's latest book is "Under a Grapefruit Sun." He writes about religion and spirituality for www.thedivinemercy.org and www.marian.org. He is a long-time faculty member of the English Department at Berkshire Community College.
"Valenti rant lacked logic, civility"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
The journey that each of us undertakes to find our place in the world and to seek out some sort of meaning to our existence leads down innumerable paths, perhaps as many paths as there are people. Some do indeed find their way toward spirituality, but many do not. For Dan Valenti ("Atheism wilts before truth, logic," op-ed, Jan. 19) to suggest that those who make a sincere and introspective effort to find meaning and arrive at the conclusion that God could not exist are lacking in, among other things, "curiosity, logic, intellectual rigor . . . intestinal fortitude, and the honesty to express it," is as mean-spirited as it is grossly misguided.
What was the purpose of that column? Certainly not to persuade or inform as it contains no coherent explanation as to why God's existence is without question. If it was meant as a legitimate criticism it instantly failed to do so in the first paragraph with phrases like "toothless gumming" and "blubbering," and continued downhill from there with little or no restraint. Instead we have no more than a rant; invective slanted toward anger rather than fact.
It seems to me that skepticism about God's accountability, intentions and
very existence is quite natural and surfaces regularly with any thoughtful person, believer or not. Shouldn't religion be open to the same scrutiny (and critique when necessary) as any other subject? Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Victor Stenger each have written extensively on that theme, one that does not lend itself to sound-bytes and requires all of those valuable assets such as curiosity, logic, etc . . .and there is no dishonesty whatsoever in coming to a different conclusion than Mr. Valenti.
The value from this type of discussion comes from an even-handed and informative dialogue. Mr. Valenti's opinion piece was far from it. The only things that "wilted" in that article were objective thought and civility.
"Senators ask why men left off tipster reward: Flight instructors alerted officials to Moussaoui"
By Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press, January 26, 2008
WASHINGTON - The two senators who honored flight instructors for alerting authorities to Zacarias Moussaoui before the Sept. 11 attacks are asking why the men were left off a $5 million government reward given to another tipster.
Clarence Prevost, 69, got the payout Thursday, when he was honored in a private ceremony as part of the State Department's "Rewards for Justice" program, which mainly seeks information about perpetrators or planners of terrorist acts against US interests and citizens abroad.
But two of Prevost's former colleagues at the Pan Am International Flight Academy outside Minneapolis are questioning the reward, especially after a 2005 Senate resolution commended their "bravery" and "heroism" for alerting the FBI about a month before the attacks.
The Minnesota senators who sponsored that resolution, Republican Norm Coleman and now retired Democrat Mark Dayton, want answers from the State Department.
"There is no question that both Tim Nelson and Hugh Sims are American heroes," Coleman said in a statement yesterday, adding that any honor given by the government should go to those two men as well. "I have contacted the State Department to determine why these heroic men were not recognized for their roles, and see what can be done to ensure they receive the credit they are due."
In a telephone interview yesterday from Minneapolis, Dayton said: "I don't know what Mr. Prevost did, but I know what the other two did, and if there's an award, it ought to be equitably distributed. This is typical of this administration. They do something in secret and don't discuss it. An explanation is warranted."
Dayton's successor in the Senate, Democrat Amy Klobuchar, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday, asking why Prevost was selected while Nelson and Sims were not.
"Without diminishing the contributions of Mr. Prevost in any way, I believe it is clear that Mr. Nelson and Mr. Sims played a critical role in this case and are equally deserving of recognition," Klobuchar wrote.
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters yesterday that the Rewards for Justice program is based on nominations, and the recipient would have been nominated by a US law enforcement agency.
He said he didn't know if others were nominated for this award.
"If there's some reason to reexamine this issue, or facts that haven't come to light, I'm sure the appropriate people involved will do so," he added.
The State Department hasn't identified the recipient, in keeping with the policy of the program. But two Bush administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk publicly about the matter, said the reward went to Prevost.
A US official told the Associated Press that the FBI nominated him for the award.
The agency "considered the relevant information about the three before making their recommendation about the reward for one individual," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Prevost, a former Navy pilot who goes by the nickname Clancy, became a key witness at Moussaoui's trial, at which he was convicted as a Sept. 11 conspirator.
News of the reward came as a surprise to Nelson and Sims.
"It was never done for the reward, but when you give $5 million to a person who didn't call the FBI and didn't put his job on the line, are they rewarding someone for calling the FBI or for testifying?" asked Nelson, 47, of St. Paul, Minn. "And the only reason he was testifying was because he was the instructor."
"Airport boondoggle needs airing out"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Like a lot of honest Americans, I recently sat down and started to work on my 1040 when, out of the clear blue sky, unscrupulous thoughts started running through my head. Who would know the difference if I listed eight dependents instead of two? Why not write down 10,000 in charitable contributions instead of three? And, maybe I'll accidentally forget to list that paltry amount of interest I earned last year. Wow, think of what I could do with all that extra cash I'd get back! Sounds good, might even go unnoticed for a few years: but as we all know, sooner or later the ax would fall and I would be called in for an audit. My attempt to legitimize those inflated figures would be in vain, and eventually the truth would rise to the surface and I would be held accountable for my misdeeds. The IRS doesn't fool around — and they've gotten pretty good at spotting dubious accounting.
Now, from the scenario above, substitute Harriman West Airport (HW) for me, and substitute an application for federal grant money for the 1040. How long can this airport improvement charade continue? I can hardly believe that numbers such as 44,000 operations (takeoffs/landings) per year (120 per day) are still being thrown around as if they were believable. Twice in the past few weeks, I have seen this figure referred to: once in an Army Corps of Engineers Public Notice, and once in an article published in this very newspaper. Sadly, such a statement is laughable to anyone familiar with HW, or to borrow a phrase from Bill Clinton; it certainly has "fairy tale" qualities.
The history of this project has been plagued with misinformation, deception, doubt, and suspicion from the time it was introduced by the airport's consultants several years back. To many it always appeared to be overkill. Six and a half million dollars for a project that could easily accomplish what it's intended to do (improve airport safety) for a fraction of that amount. Local officials who signed off on permits admit that they felt hoodwinked because the broad scope of the project was concealed by the segmented manner in which it was presented. The next phase will cause even more damage to an already disturbed aquifer system by trucking some 15,000 cubic yards of fill into unprotected wetlands, which when combined with additional tree cutting will almost certainly compound an already aggravated flooding problem in the area.
There's not enough room on this page to get into all of the flagrant discrepancies surrounding this project. A lot of things just don't add up, never did. The only things adding up are the millions of taxpayer dollars already, and yet, to be spent. Things just move stealthily along and no one seems to be watching the store. I think it's about time to do something that should have been done a long time ago before another dollar is allocated or shovelful of dirt moved. As a private citizen concerned about wasteful spending and numerical obfuscation, I would like to see a complete, in depth and thorough, fact-finding investigation into this boondoggle starting with the application process all the way to the present.
Sorry I have to go. I need to find a pencil with a large eraser and get back to the 1040, after all, honesty is the best policy.
R. P. BERGMANN
"GE wins, and democracy loses"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Friday, February 01, 2008
Not only does corporate news make decisions on based on the number of viewers who may watch a particular news item, as a letter to the editor on Jan. 17 suggests, corporate news also keeps newsworthy stories off the air when its profits are threatened. NBC, which is owned by GE, and its dealings with former Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, is illustrative of this point.
MSNBC held a Democratic debate in Las Vegas on Jan. 16 and the top four Democratic candidates were selected to participate. Initially Kucinich was not in the top four when MSNBC announced its criteria but Bill Richardson dropped out of the race making Kucinich number four. Initially a Nevada judge ordered NBC to include Kucinich but NBC appealed the ruling and actively fought to keep him off the stage, thereby changing the criteria after it was set.
GE owns NBC, sells electrical power generating equipment, security technology for power plants, aviation and surveillance as well as components that are used by defense giant Raytheon. Kucinich voted 100 percent against war funding for Iraq, was the first Democrat to put forward a plan to leave Iraq and voted against the war. Clinton and Obama would leave a strategic presence in Iraq should either of them become president. GE is a large manufacturer of nuclear power plants and nuclear power was part of the debate. Kucinich was the only democratic candidate who wanted to phase out nuclear power.
Voting for a president is the most important opportunity a citizen has to take part in our democracy. We have the right to consider all the views of candidates on important policy issues in order to make informed decisions about the future of our country. Media companies are granted licenses by the FCC to operate in the public interest not to interfere in the democratic process.
NBC violated the Federal Communications Act by excluding Kucinich from the debate in Nevada on Jan. 16. The dynamics of the debate became more business friendly to GE as a result. Journalism is protected under the Constitution to act as a check and balance against abuses of the government but it is not protected against the abuses of large corporations who own media companies. In the Democratic debate in Las Vegas, GE won and democracy lost.
"A burning issue?"
The North Adams Transcript - Letters
Thursday, June 19, 2008
To the Editor:
The laws in Massachusetts that govern the use of consumer fireworks are out of date and out of touch with the demands and rights of the Massachusetts citizens.
The time has come for Massachusetts to be brought into the mainstream of American life and for the state Legislature to allow its citizens to enjoy the celebration of freedom with consumer fireworks.
The spirit of the Massachusetts signers of the Declaration of Independence -- John Adams, John Hancock, Elbridge Gerry, Samuel Adams and Robert Treat Paine -- should rise once again and break the chains of anti-fireworks servitude in the Bay State.
The imperative for the Legislature to "protect" its citizens from the dangers of consumer fireworks is long gone. The consumer fireworks today are the safest ever, and the injuries associated with the use of consumer fireworks is at an all-time low. There simply is no longer any need for the antiquated laws in this state that prevent citizens from enjoying the family celebrations associated with a home fireworks display.
The fireworks-related injuries in American have dropped dramatically, and the use of consumer fireworks has gone up several fold. From 1992 to 2006, the actual number of fireworks-related injuries has dropped over 26 percent, while during the same period, use of fireworks measured by imports from China has increased from 87.1 million pounds to 278.2 million pounds, or almost 220 percent. Based on injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks used, injuries have dropped an amazing 76 percent since 1992. This is based on information published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Massachusetts is now one of only five states that totally outlaws the use of all consumer fireworks.
President John Adams predicted in 1776 in a letter to his wife, Abigail, that Independence Day "ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade ... bonfires and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of this continent to the other, from this day forward forevermore.
Fireworks provide the citizens of this state and this nation a means to celebrate their freedoms. Countless Americans, past and present, have fought for this freedom, but in Massachusetts, they are still not able to celebrate this cherished right to celebrate Independence Day as John Adams predicted it ought to be celebrated.
Celebrating Independence Day in the United States without fireworks would be like celebrating Thanksgiving without turkeys or New Year's without the ball dropping. Traditions are passed down within families, nations and cultures. The tradition of celebrating Independence Day and freedom with fireworks is ingrained in the very soul of our country. There is nothing more strongly associated with the tradition of Independence Day than fireworks.
Write to your state legislators and let them know that you want the right to celebrate your freedom with fireworks in the spirit of John Adams.
Please enjoy the Independence Day holiday with your family and celebrate safely.
William A. Weimer
June 17, 2008
The writer is vice president of Phantom Fireworks.
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
- I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at email@example.com
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