Thursday, April 30, 2009

The 'poor choice' of Virginia Foxx

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is making North Carolina famous, for uttering wacko things in Congress.

In March Foxx (right) opposed the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act, fuming that “We are teaching our people to go to work for the government. What a shame! Shame on us.” Don't forget: Foxx has worked for government agencies all her career, at UNC Chapel Hill, Appalachian State University, Mayland Community College, the N.C. Senate and now Congress.

Her latest: She said the killing of Matthew Shepard, a gay man beaten and left for dead in Wyoming in 1998, is being used as a “hoax” to push legislation to expand the definition of hate crimes to those motivated by sexual orientation.

Foxx said that “the Matthew Shepard Bill is named after a very unfortunate incident that happened where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn’t because he was gay. The bill was named for him, the hate crimes bill was named for him, but it’s really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.”

One of the two men tried and convicted of killing Shepard cited a “gay panic” defense: He was uncontrollable because of a homosexual advance.

Foxx later said she had used “a poor choice of words” and made a mistake believing some news accounts that speculated the motivation for the killing was drug use. Shepard's death, she said, was “nothing less than a tragedy and those responsible … deserved the punishment they received.”

Her explanation suggests Foxx is less concerned about the killings of gay citizens and more concerned about limiting the ability of authorities to consider a victim’s sexual orientation as a motive. It raises this question: did voters in her congressional district also make "a poor choice"?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Facebook will make you dumb!

Well, that's not exactly what a new study found. But it did connect some dots between the use of Facebook and academic performance, and some folks are paying attention to the results.

According to the study by doctoral candidate Aryn Karpinski of Ohio State University and her co-author Adam Duberstein of Ohio Dominican University, college students who use the 200 million-member social network have significantly lower grade-point averages (GPAs) than those who do not.

This week, Time magazine reported on the study, which was a relatively small, exploratory study with just 219 undergraduate and graduate students surveyed. It found that Facebook users in the study had GPAs between 3.0 to 3.5 for users while non-users in the study had GPAs between 3.5 to 4.0. Also in the study, Facebook users said they averaged one to five hours a week studying, while non-users said they studied 11 to 15 hours per week.

Karpinski said she wasn't suggesting in the study that Facebook directly causes lower grades, only that there's some relationship between the two factors. "Maybe [Facebook users] are just prone to distraction. Maybe they are just procrastinators," she told TIME.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why waterboard suspects 266 times?

Apparently, it's not to hear what they say they know. It's to get them to say what you want to hear. McClatchy's D.C. web site reports that the info the Bush administration wanted from their suspects was the link between Al-Qaida and Saddam, a link which would justify the Iraq war:

"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there." . . . "There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.

Read the whole McClatchy story here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

'Blind justice' doesn't mean blind to ethics rules

The saying, “Justice is blind,” refers to treating people equally under the law. It shouldn't mean being blind to the state's Code of Judicial Conduct. So we're glad to hear the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission is looking into the behavior of Mecklenburg District Court Judge Bill Belk. Judge Belk, elected in November, appears simply to be ignoring part of the code with which he disagrees: The ban on judges sitting on corporate boards of directors.

Belk is a director for Charlotte-based Sonic Automotive, and he has known since at least December that the judicial code forbids it. Yet he still hasn't resigned from Sonic – or from the bench.

In addition, according to charges from the commission, Belk was threatening and abusive toward Chief District Judge Lisa Bell, calling her a “political hack” and a “media hound” and telling her “you leave me the hell alone” during a confrontation in February after Bell refused him permission to take time off to go to a Sonic board meeting.

Belk – grandson of the founder of the Belk department store company – has a law degree and license but has never had a law practice. He apparently ran for judge because he got angry over his divorce (his wife was awarded more than half their joint estate) and how he was treated. His lack of experience is troubling. Further, the description of his confrontation with Judge Lisa Bell reflects a lack of an appropriate judicial temperament.

A judge who flouts ethics rules because he doesn't like them has no place in our state's judicial system. Neither does a judge who yells insults at the chief district court judge because she is respecting the state's judicial ethics code. Judge Belk needs to decide whether he'd rather serve Sonic or serve the public. He can't do both.

And down with irony, while we're at it

While taking a quick run up to the library Wednesday afternoon, I was pleased to see many anti-tax, anti-government spending Tea Party protesters get off the much-maligned CATS light rail train at the Stonewall station, just a convenient hop from the Observer building, where their demonstration began.
-- Kevin Siers

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Vindication for Obama (update: and the banks?)

Now if only the banks will do their bit . . . .

From the White House Press Office

For Immediate Release

April 8, 2009

Readout on President Obama’s Phone Call to Congratulate UNC Basketball Coach Roy Williams:

Last night, aboard Air Force One, President Obama called University of North Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams to congratulate him on his team’s victory over Michigan State in the NCAA National Championship basketball game in Detroit. Listed below is a read-out on the phone call from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

“The President offered Coach Williams his congratulations and thanked him and his team for vindicating him in front of the entire country. The President told him he’d done a great job and asked the Coach to tell the players how proud he was of them and that he looked forward to seeing them at the White House soon.”

Update - 10:40 am -- Maybe the banks have started already.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wake wants to give teachers planning hour

Wake County schools, the state's largest school system, will shake up school starts and ending times systemwide next year - if its school board agrees. Officials are proposing to release school early once a week, and they're doing it to give teachers more planning time and to facilitate discussion among teachers on classroom strategies.

In Raleigh's News & Observer this week, school system spokesman Greg Thomas said:
"The more heads you get together, the better you are. This is standard for the private sector."

It may be, but some critics are panning the idea, noting that it would increase childcare costs for some families. To dismiss an hour earlier one day a week, the system would have to add an extra 10 minutes to each school day to meet the minimum 1,000 hours of instructional time the state requires each year.

"There is a financial impact," said Robin Woodlief, a working mother of two eastern Wake County school students. "It will make child care costs increase and especially hurt low income families." Woodlief suggests a return to study halls overseen by teacher assistants if teachers need more planning time.

But the plan resonated with PTA president at Knightdale High School Tami Sakiewicz.
"If they're doing this in response for teachers needing more planning time and they've asked for this, then it really needs to be looked at and considered because we need to do what the teachers need," said Sakiewicz.

In the face of so many complaints, at least some school board members say it may be wise to delay implementing the scheduling changes to another year. "Maybe we don't need to start it now because of the budget," said Rosa Gill, chairwoman of the school board. "We can say that it's not the right time." The board is also scheduled to vote on the idea next week.

What do you think about early release days for teachers to plan and strategize?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

No fooling! It's Women's Advocacy Day

Today was April Fools' Day but it didn't jinx women across North Carolina who turned out for the annual Women's Advocacy Day, sponsored by NC Women United. Female state lawmakers including Mecklenburg Rep. Tricia Cotham used the day to push for issues important to women. That includes support for passage of the School Violence Prevention Act, the domestic violence and prevention act, and the Healthy Youth Act, a two-track system for sexuality education.

This is the 20th observance of Women's Advocacy Day. Notes state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange: "Women and their families have made great strides in North Carolina over the last decades but we've still got a long way to go. Full equality will not be achieved until we fully address issues like access to healthcare, economic security, civic participation, and violence against women."

North Carolina hasn't always been quick to embrace women's issues. The first petition in 1897 to the North Carolina General Assembly to give women voting rightsf was referred to the legislature's committee on insane asylums. And in 1977, the General Assembly declined to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.