80% European

I recently read a fascinating article about Neanderthals in my Discovery Magazine. Recent genetic breakthroughs have answered an old question. Did they interbreed with our ancestors? The answer is yes except for the sub Saharan Africans who never mingled with Europeans and Asians both of which carry from 2 to 4 percent Neanderthal DNA.

I’ve always found this possibility humorous because of the prejudice we have for the poor supposedly dimwitted and extinct homo sapien species. It would imply that we “superior” white Europeans are the descendants of the ancient cavemen while Africans carry none of those troglodyte genes. Maybe blacks should have adopted the “one drop” rule to keep their race from being corrupted with our European genes.

Of course its too late to save American blacks from this dire descent into genetic backwardness. White called the shots and, despite rhetoric opposing it, crossbred like crazy with blacks and even kept the offspring as slaves. So blacks were pretty well screwed in more ways than one.

This may not be all that awful however for those blacks who have some choice in sexual partners. Neanderthals may not have been all that backward. In fact the genes that slipped through the human population over the last 10,000 years since the last purebred Neanderthals likely left some survival value to the Cro Magnons carrying them. What’s more the attribution of the hauntingly beautiful cave paintings of France and Spain to Cro Magnons may be incorrect. Recent evidence points to this creative work having been done by Neanderthals. If so, then both black and white Americans can be pleased with this sliver of genetic inheritance. Especially if, as the first Discovery article posits: “…African Americans today may have up to 80 percent European DNA.”

White racism really does go just skin deep. It makes me wonder how many of today’s white southern descendants could pass the one drop rule. They should probably have their DNA tested to find out how much of Africa it contains. We already know they’ve got Neanderthal blood in them.

Schools as prisons

An easy solution will often prove to be a very hard one.

The Duluth School District is getting closer to locking students in their high schools during the day. I expect a lot of kids to give more consideration to staying home and going to school on the Internet. Other iffier students will fall through the cracks as the District bends over backwards to prevent them from smoking on neighboring lawns.

I don’t blame the neighbors for wanting peace and quiet but this will not be a kid-friendly decision.

157 million dollar bailout?

A couple weeks ago the Duluth paper published an update on appeals to the state from the Duluth Teachers pension planners to bail them out since they had run short of the funds necessary to pay for the pensions of retired teachers. In part this shortfall came from not reducing payments soon enough as the economy tanked a mistake that fell only on the shoulders of the pension board of directors. The story said that the state had decided to plug the hole to the tune of six million dollars. That almost got my hackles up but I couldn’t tell if the payment was a one time payment or not. I didn’t mind a one year cash infusion but I wondered if the state was planning to expend this money for many years into the future. I was too busy to call and ask what the situation was but I had planned to post my question on the blog.

Now I know the answer. It came in the DNT when it republished the St. Paul Pioneer Press’s editorial on the subject. The answer is yes. For each of the next 25 years or so the state has agreed to plug DFRTA’s hole to the tune of $6.3 million annually. That means that our retired teachers could get a $157 million windfall to cover the poor decisions of their pension plan. Other pension plans will be getting similar bail outs and we will just have to wait to see what happens to the mother of all public pensions in Minnesota, PERA, with a projected $16 billion shortfall.

“…the remedies should come with a loud note of caution for the public: Public-employee pension funds are under the influence of politicians who, as they apply the remedies, have the power to do favors and solve problems with somebody else’s money: ours.

The Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement, which also approved $6.3 million per year in state aid for the plan for Duluth teachers, got what amounts to a reality check in testimony from retired Rockridge Elementary Principal Tom Threinen. He told lawmakers the additional contribution costs for the district will result in the loss of at least five teaching positions and make it harder to reduce class sizes and increase offerings, as both the Duluth News Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.”

I’ve commented before about pension plans most recently on the red ink in Illinois. One of the faults with democratic elections is the emphasis they put on today at the expense of tomorrow. In the last two decades of the war declared on moderate “RINO” republicans the consequence is that sane fiscal voices like Congressman Jim Leach of Iowa and many others have been killed off in GOP primaries by simple minded, short term strategists who have opted to push “pure” ideologically driven and dreadfully impractical candidates. The vacuum this has left in the vital center of American politics has fallen to Democrats like President Obama. Its still a huge vacuum.

Its hard to give any credit to the current GOP minority in the legislature because there aren’t many centrists left. Their current leaders describe the remnants of the Republican side of the legislative aisle as the “grownups.” I wish.

Decisions like this one to bail out overly ambitious and unsustainable pensions give all such pension boards an incentive to game the system knowing that poor and incautious investing could be bailed out by taxpayers. Its simply not fair and its not sustainable.

Fairy tales #2

I couldn’t lambaste the Strib for inserting paid advertising as a news story because they published the story noted in the previous post in good faith. I can’t say the same about this blather from the Cook News-Herald which was sent to me a couple days ago. I didn’t see the paper but most of it appears to be glowing comments from Hermantown parents who toured JCI’s new schools in St. Louis County. According to my email corespondent it was on the Front page of the Cook News-Herald:

I’ll explain why this is so damnable immediately below.

New ISD 2142 South Ridge School draws ‘wows’ from Hermantown Delegation

ISD 2142, with its two brand new schools, North Woods and South Ridge, and its remodeled schools of Cherry, Northeast Range and Tower-Soudan, is drawing the attention of surrounding schools

On Friday, March 22, the South Ridge School had a large delegation from the Hermantown School District come to the school for a tour. Hermantown is in the beginning stages of working on a strategic plan for the future, so they wanted to see what the schools of the future are like. Johnson Controls, the firm that handled the construction for the new and remodeled schools, is working with Hermantown on their future facilities plan and set up the tour. Principal Kristi Berlin gave the tour to 30 board members, teachers, staff and citizens of the Hermantown School District who rode a school bus to the South Ridge School. Reports are they were noticeably impressed with the new South Ridge School. There were many “wows.” Is ISD 2142 becoming the leader in education for northern Minnesota? Continue reading

Fairy Tales #1

Two readers of the Minneapolis Star Tribune were quick to send me this story from last week. It is as one of them said a “fairy tale.”

I was sufficiently jaundiced that I called its author, Don Jacobson, just now to find out whether any of the people associated with the Red Plan’s building had given him any compensation for submitting it to the Strib. Mr. Jacobson wondered, what the implication of my question was. It was, of course, that the Red Plan’s movers and shakers were trying to buy good press. It turns out they weren’t. They were just very lucky to find a freelance journalist who wanted to write about green buildings and needed to do so quickly in journalism’s new economic model which has created unsalaried Freelancers who need to generate income quickly without the time to go out and interview both sides of a controversial story.

Dr. Dixon got some very good press indeed.

“…there are lessons to be learned from Duluth’s $300 million effort to build four new schools, rehabilitate seven others and close seven more. Two key players in one of the most ambitious facilities upgrades in Minnesota public schools’ history told members of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in Minneapolis on Tuesday that the public will support such renovations if they’re adequately explained.”

Had I been interviewed I would have pointed out some of the unfortunate costs of building the Red Plan’s green buildings, Among them:

1. Public furor that has made it impossible to pass subsequent operational levies.
2. A guarantee to rob the existing $5 million annual dollars from the school operations budget to pay banks for building bonds and the subsequent skyrocketing of class sizes from a little over 30 kids in high school classes to well over 40.
3. The reduction of class offerings.
4. The necessity to break past School Board promises not to increase local school levies most recently with a 12% increase last year.
5. The burgeoning cost of the Red Plan that rose by $60 million dollars from its first unveiling to the the present.
6. The exodus and continued absence of at least ten percent of the student population as the Red Plan Juggernaut proceeded.
7. The subsequent loss of hundreds of teachers and the undermining of the Teacher’s pension plan which must be financed by the labors of a shrinking pool of active teachers.
8. The absence of any audit to show whether the Red Plan schools have managed to save a cent’s worth of energy costs.

Among the story’s shortcomings

1. The false assertion (or assumption) that the Red Plan was only financed through laws for student safety and health.
2. That “polls showed most [residents of Duluth] supported the move.”
3. Dixon’s claim that Duluth ended up agreeing with the Red Plan because “…even the most conservative residents will agree that the costs are worth it if you can show them a return on investment over time.”

Considering that Dixon had to flea Duluth as the Red Plan went sour its ironic that the reporter should pass on an architect’s assertions that “its important to show skeptics that improved student performance and energy; cost savings are linked.” This never took place and no proof has yet been offered that the Red Plan will show such a result.

It remains to be seen whether student performance will be enhanced. The most recent test results show not positive connection to the the Red Plan. If anything they seem to hint at a regression.

Spitting on the Stripper

I haven’t written anything on the blog for ten days. Its not for want of subject matter. The depredations of Boston certainly call for comment but the last post is all I feel compelled to say on the subject. There’s been another story that has caused me deep reflection and its about a much more common crime. Its the news of a young girl named Audrie Pott who committed suicide after several friends raped her when she got drunk. I should add the perfunctory adjective “allegedly.” The details that have been in the news are still being sorted out but they remind me of people I know and have known. Continue reading


One of the top women finishers at Boston today used to run by my house every day in high school as she practiced for her cross country team. Kara Goucher came in sixth among the women contestants. Her efforts like those of all of the other competitors were overshadowed by the bombs which blew up killing those rooting the finishers on.

And yet the murderer/s who if caught will gain some long lasting infamy will never be of as much consequence as the many unknown bystanders who rushed to the aid of the victims. Others have put it much more eloquently for instance this person quoted on the Daily Dish.

Demographics # 2

Also on the Daily Dish was a graph that blew me away. A longer version of it from the World Bank can be found here.

This is another trend I’ve heard about. The flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico has been seizing up. It might be natural to think this is because of the hazards of crossing our newly heavily patrolled borders but that may be an illusion. For one thing the Mexican economy seems to be improving despite the the drug war.

More tellingly the birth rate hass changed drastically from my youth. when I was in high school Mexican women averaged close to 7 children. Today they are having just a little over 2 children.

If women suffering in the current GOP oriented free enterprise exalting, universal health care resistant, economy doesn’t make a difference then reduced paranoia about illegal immigration over diminishing numbers of illegals will. The GOP still has gun control to worry voters about but gays bashing doesn’t cut it so much anymore.

Demographics #1

I’d heard recently that American women’s longevity, which for so long exceeded men, was beginning to wane and men were catching up.

That is what this map suggests.

I found it on the Daily Dish with some interesting analysis.

What I noticed about the map is that the locals where women’s longevity is taking the greatest hit also seem to be the rural Red States that have been voting Republican. This raises lots of cause and affect questions for me.

The Duluth School Board is so desperate…

…that the made a rational spending decision!

To spend only a quarter of a million dollars clean up dollars on Congdon Elementary.

“Choosing everything on the list would have cost the district up to $850,000. The most expensive choices, a $200,000 retaining wall, $330,000 worth of exterior masonry repair and a $100,000 sand field, were nixed.”

I’d like to think its because its begun to dawn on them that at this point every cent they put into the Red Plan is a cent taken away from the classroom.

Not gloating

A friend keeps writing every time the Trib writes a positive story about things happening in the Duluth Schools or every time calamity seems to strike. Every story seems to her to be a plea from the Tribune for voters to pass a levy referendum next fall. I have few illusions that a levy will pass although I will vote for anything the District will offer.

I read stories like the one today and I’m torn between outrage and despair. Outrage that the District killed our golden goose and despair at the difficulties of bringing it back to life.

I once wrote that we didn’t know just how good we had it in our schools. I was on the Board after the Chamber of Commerce failed to support a levy referendum in 2001 and the Board was forced to make the seventh hour an optional seventh period called the “zero hour” that kids had to find their own way too. Now the Red Plan is about to bring an end even to what little remains of the zero hour.

No Say

I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t make the same connection that this reader did when she read the recent Headline “No say, Just pay”.

“I found the front-page headline, “No say, just pay,” for a story about how the Duluth school district pays special-education costs for students enrolled elsewhere, to be very humorous, ironic and hypocritical. Wasn’t that exactly what Independent School District 709 said to every taxpayer of the district with the Red Plan?

I am one of the many who voted with my feet; I now live in Hermantown. And I am not at all sad to be done with the Duluth school district.”