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I Love LA

July 13, 2014 pm31 10:23 pm

Did I really say I didn’t like LA?  Almost. Look at #5: “I do not love this city”  And Fred Klonsky forgave me (Even if Jonathan doesn’t like LA. He’s a New Yorker and can be forgiven), but I vowed to do some repair work.

I guess mostly it was just a NY prejudgement. An idea that the Bay Area was good for transportation, and southern California was good for traffic. All kinds of movie stereotypes. Have you ever seen Annie Hall?

But how can I have an informed opinion after visiting for 4 days (stayed in Culver City) once in the late 80s, and 3 days (all AFT convention) this week? Well, I can’t.

And there’s already some good stuff I can mention. Two of my favorite movies are set in LA.  Chinatown, but I haven’t visited Chinatown. Chinatown holds up after over 40 years, as if it were made yesterday.

Better than that, Double Indemnity. You know, Fred MacMurray, from My Three Sons? An insurance salesman, lured into crime by a seductive Barbara Stanwyck? And betraying his close relationship with his boss, claims adjuster Edward G. Robinson? (doesn’t he usually play gangsters?) “Know why you couldn’t figure this one, Keyes? I’ll tell ya. ‘Cause the guy you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from ya.” “Closer than that, Walter”

So we found a livestream of Double Indemnity, and my cousin, who’s been in LA for a year and change, loved it. Because she leaves in the direction of Glendale (not there, just in the direction) and she recognized every corner, every address. Plus it’s, ya know, a good movie.

And then there’s Dodgers Stadium. We saw a game yesterday. Great game. Pitchers’ duel. 0-0 into the 9th, bases loaded, one out, sac fly to left to win it in the bottom of the inning. Love those games. And the shtick between innings was more middle America honky tonk than big city. Loved it. Running to second and back to first. Unpiling cups faster than Jose Uribe. Good wholesome shtick. And the views, and the moon. Yeah, it’s old and falling down a little. But it was no National League cookie cutter. Good sight lines, comfortable feel. Someone should tell the Dodgers fans not to come late and leave early (a couple in front of us left 0-0, bottom in the 9th, one on, no one out), but other than that, good place to watch baseball.

And there’s the ethnic food, which I haven’t figured out yet. And I’m about to leave. Maybe next time. Korean tacos? Really?

And then there’s Uber. An App to call special cabs. You can see how close they are, and get an ETA. And they bill your credit card without swiping anything or opening your wallet. And they are cheaper than regular cabs. Cool.

The only sightseeing I’ll get in is tomorrow, on the way to the airport, La Brea Tar Pits. And what’s Hammer?

So, honestly, I don’t love LA. At least not yet. But I’ll come back, and give it a real chance.


AFT 2014 Convention – Saturday

July 13, 2014 pm31 2:12 pm

1. Meet the Press

I spent yesterday mostly in my seat, front row, listening, writing, tweeting.  Odd experience. I tried to find out how to come to the AFT Convention as a non-delegate, a guest, an observer – and I ended up being a “Press” because I blog. But then it turns out I tweet… More yesterday in fact (40ish times) then in any previous month. There’s no depth to tweets, but some instant info. If you are curious: @jd2718x

The press area is two rows in front. There seemed to be more blogger-types than major publication reporters. And there were folks on the edge. In the morning I sat between 2 major reporter/blogger/writers – at least major in my world. Stephen Sawchuk (I should ask if he’s related to Terry) writes for EdWeek. And Jeff Bryant writes for the Education Opportunity Network (looked them up, seems like good guys).

I’m a little surprised by how few “Press” are sitting up front. Maybe there are more hiding in the hall?

2. Visitors

The convention was addressed by a bunch of outsiders. There were three California politicians (not as big as Friday’s Jerry Brown, but…) Tom Torlakson, Congressman Mark Takano, and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. Takano said he was a Democrat for Public Education. That’s a new group, counter to the anti-public education Democrats for Education Reform, but it’s the first time I’ve heard a politician say he was part of it. Later today Donna Brazile will address the convention specifically on DPE. Garcetti was an iffy speaker – he has a mixed record on education. At one point he flubbed as he tried to blur the lines in the war to preserve public education “We’re all reformers in the room, aren’t we?” he asked, followed by an awkward pause, and then a smattering of weak applause from one section in the hall.

We also had Christine Marinoni, new special advisor for the NYCDoE, and her wife, Cynthia Nixon. That’s the second time I’d seen Nixon live – first time was at Wit a year and half ago. In fact, Nixon read powerfully from a piece by Margaret Edson, Pulitzer Prize winner, and Wit’s playwright.

And then there was Asean Johnson. OK, the kid is photogenic. And a dynamic speaker. And he snuck in an anti-Common Core line. What’s not to like? Here’s a link to a youtube of his talk.

There is a program to “Reconnect McDowell” a poor county in West Virginia, near Logan and Mingo. It’s a hybrid economic/school program. And the AFT is quite involved. But the first outside speaker they brought was a lawyer – not a teacher, not from the county – another lawyer. That’s always a disappointment.

Zakiyah Ansari is always a strong speaker – nothing new here, since I’ve heard her numerous times in New York.

3. Resolutions

No great surprises in this department. A few interesting amendments. Steve Conn from Detroit amended the Immigration Reform reso to include a call to stop deporting children, and to adopt a national Dream Act. An attempt to add controls on handguns failed. And Susan Di Raimo, PSC-CUNY, and a friendly face at Lehman, amended the Reso to end the reliance on adjuncts, to include ending the exploitation of adjuncts. Good point.

I felt proud to have once been a PSC delegate 4 years ago, based on once again a strong intervention. At least 6 PSC speakers raised issues such as the legacy of slavery, the attacks on K-12 being paralleled in post-secondary education, and not accepting simple and wrong anti-worker explanations for the economic crisis. And the Chicago delegation also made its presence felt, even if dynamic President Karen Lewis was limited to a brief set of introductory remarks from the podium. She had a great line “There are thousands of Asean Johnson’s in the Chicago School System, and we are privileged to teach them.” Other CTU speakers were also strong (including on the dramatic decline in the number of Black educators).

Mulgrew spoke about the UFT contract. I’ve already written extensively on that. Here’s one link, but there must be a dozen.

4. Special Orders of Business

There was some action here.

  • Calling on Duncan to resign. On the agenda for today. I expect this to be sharply debated, and pass.
  • Support for striking British Columbia teachers. On the agenda for today.
  • A “Create Economic Opportunity, Reclaim the Promise of America” resolution, that was debated, amended, and passed as the last business item of Saturday.
  • And a “Fighting Back and Fighting Forward” reso for today, about developing a concerted national electoral and activist response, in alliance with others, against the continued anti-worker, anti-union onslaught.

5. Los Angeles

I said I don’t like the city, which wasn’t really fair, because I didn’t give it a much of a chance. And Fred Klonsky mentioned it, and ‘forgave’ me, but I’ll fix this so no forgiveness is necessary. More later….

6. Shifted home base from a northeast neighborhood to a shared hotel room near the conventions center. And saw a great Dodgers game.

7. The hot stuff – Common Core, Duncan – that’s today. Stay tuned.

AFT 2014 Convention – Friday

July 12, 2014 am31 11:21 am

So this is notes, not everything, because I didn’t see everything, not close.

1. The morning was a series of greetings, including The Rev. Dr. William Barber II (president of the North Carolina NAACP, and of Moral Monday fame), and California governor, Jerry Brown. Brown had an entertaining tangent – he misspoke two words on immigration, and then did a two minute clarification on what needs to be done – I’m assuming it was planned – but a bit funny for the audience.

2. Weingarten spoke long (not a surprise).Her writers had an organized message (we’ve been keeping the promises, we need to keep keeping them, and add a new one). She acknowledged opposition to Common Core, while continuing to support it (but criticizing testing, implementation, etc). She completely appropriated the term “badass” to the point that, when she asked Badass Teachers to stand up, only a small numbers of those present did. I’m assuming embarrassment kept others in their seats.

Weingarten’s writers have a voice problem. Her natural Rockland – big words, not all of them bungled, many of them used correctly – it’s not what you want for a long speech. But what to do? As she moved section to section, the voice, the register, they changed and shifted. A good speaker might pull it off, maybe to great effect. Here, many of us focused on the words, since the delivery jumped rapidly from awkward, to natural, and back again. Even the attempts at self-deprecation often seemed forced. And the audience seemed to cringe collectively at her “homey” moment.

3. Committee Meetings and Caucus Meetings. I am not a delegate, so am not assigned a committee. I am not a member of the Progressive Caucus (joining the UFT’s Unity with others), and do not attend their closed meetings. Which is to say, I missed much of the action.

A. There’s not a “Duncan Resign” resolution coming from the leadership to the floor. On the other hand, what will the AFT tops and UFT do if someone else brings one to the floor?  Earlier this year NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) replaced most of their top leadership – largely because the previous year that leadership, confronted with a “John King Resign” resolution, animated by anger and frustration, said no. The UFT stepped aside, and the President and all but one VP were replaced. And the UFT walked away unscathed. So now it’s national, the AFT, and the anger is aimed at Duncan, not King, and if there is a “Dump Duncan” reso from the floor, maybe that’s a big if, but if there’s one, wouldn’t the UFT do the same thing, step aside and let the anger be directed towards passing a resolution that really doesn’t mean much anyway? Duncan has two years left. And the AFT’s voice would be a late addition to a fairly loud chorus.

B. The AFT’s has a long history of taking pro-war positions, and only later modifying some of them (eg Viet Nam). When I was a delegate in 2010 in Seattle, the AFT pushed an Iran resolution that was clearly meant to encourage the hawks in DC. And this time? A Ukraine resolution. No real news, except that it barely squeaked out of committee – just a two vote margin.

C. Common Core. The Chicago Teachers Union resolution “Oppose the Common Core Standards” was defeated in committee. The AFT tops / UFT resolution “The Role of Standards in Public Education” was passed. These are counterposed.

The official resolution continues bad AFT policy from the past. In a section at the top, they laud the standards, in seven bullet points creating a slide show that looks like pure promotion (it would be interesting if this turns out to have been lifted). In another section at the top of the resolution, they say “some AFT members oppose and distrust…” Notice the weak argument, based on “some people.” But then in seven bullet points, they dwell on testing and implementation. This echoes a June 20 e-mail many of us received from Mulgrew: “Everyone recognizes that the Common Core, while the right direction for education, had a terrible rollout.”  No. Not everyone.

“The AFT” it reads “will continue to support the promise of CCSS…”  That’s the bottom line. And will support a shift away from “excessive testing” begging the question of which tests those are, and exactly how much high stakes testing and standardized testing the AFT is happy with.

There will be debate on the floor, but the UFT delegation votes in lockstep, regardless of how the individual members think, and thus the result is foregone.

Oh, that committee also rejected a resolution (California Federation of Teachers) to reject any more Bill Gates money. It’s hard to fathom how Ed Reform $$$ do not buy influence. In the Bronx, we know that Gates money broke up our schools, created a mess, and then disappeared. We live the aftermath every day.

4. AFT Peace and Justice Caucus had a fairly well-attended panel discussion in the evening (scheduled against a caucus meeting) on corporate school reform.

5. I’ve been staying with my cousin, and navigating LA with great difficulty. I do not love this city.

A Big Year

July 11, 2014 am31 11:50 am

For me, at least.

Turned 50.

Was on a full year sabbatical. Took courses. Math and Computer Science. Some were amazing. Also visited schools and classrooms (not part of what I promised to do, but something I wanted to do).

Traveled. Pittsburgh. Chattanooga. Boston. Buffalo. Morocco. Tallahassee. Tampa. Cuzco/Macchu Pichu/Lima. Cuba. Boca. And now LA. And soon Tucson. And maybe a little more before September.

Still managed to do a little union work. Attended DAs and High School Cttee meetings. Advised my chapter acting co-leaders. And co-chaired (with Kerry Dowling) the UFT Cttee on addressing Specialized HS admissions (organized by Academic HS VP Janella Hinds)

And about to finish my 30th year in New York. Almost a New Yorker. I should throw a party.

I didn’t write much about this during the course of the year, but now I’m ready.

I’ll start in the next few days with where I am now. LA. The AFT Convention.


Chancellor Fariña: Problems scurrying around Tweed

June 10, 2014 am30 10:42 am

One of the easiest ills to fix is all over Tweed:  lawyers who serve no good purpose.

I have been writing for months that things would improve under Fariña:  “Things under de Blasio/Fariña will get better for the schools, students, and teachers of NYC. They might get a whole lot better. They certainly won’t get worse.”  (here, and here, and again here).

But so far, very little improvement has filtered down to the schools.

It’s becoming frustrating.

Certainly our leaders downtown tell us that the new people at the top are completely different. They can work with them. But in the schools? What has changed?  And what Bloomberg evil has been undone?  We are bracing ourselves for reports on tenure and extensions of tenure. Maybe that is getting better? But that’s just being hopeful; I’ve heard no such thing.

Last week New Action, my caucus, introduced a resolution to undo the mess Bloomberg made out of school parking – in part we chose a lower priority item specifically because it would have immediate impact (well, September) IN THE SCHOOLS. And it something that the new administration can agree to outside of contract negotiations.

But one of the easiest problems to fix is all over Tweed:  lawyers who serve no useful purpose. There are hundreds of them. Like court-packing was intended, Bloomberg (and Klein/Black/Walcott) lawyer-packed Tweed to help overwhelm educators. Decisions got made, policy decided in an atmosphere that was dense with non-eduators, heavily anti-union and anti-public education. Their culture oozed all over the system, but especially in the dark corners of CFNs and 52 Chambers. Principals learned “to call legal” to decline teacher requests. Legal was associated with unfair discipline, unfair ratings, unfair hearings, etc, etc. Legal is enmeshed in school closings, in evaluation, in clogging arbitration. The lawyers are a reservoir of the evil that Bloomberg brought to the system.

Were all of them hired under Bloomberg? The vast majority, if not all. We did not need that number before, and we do not need them now. I don’t care if they are fired, if their positions are eliminated, or if the entire departments they run are shut down. The Accountability Office needs two people, not two hundred.

Francesco Portelos is calling a rally for today (June 10, 2014), 4:30, in front of Tweed, for a “house cleaning.”  A house cleaning is the right idea.

Fariña and de Blasio move slowly. I am not happy about that, but I get it. But by September it would be gravely disappointing if the number of J.D.s (not me!) at Tweed wasn’t seriously reduced. Two hundred heads and twelve hundred legs are way too many.

Prediction – UFT Contract Vote

June 3, 2014 pm30 4:48 pm

With the announcement just an hour and a quarter away – I’m sticking with last week’s prediction. “But if I had to guess I’d say this contract passes with an unenthusiastic 70% or so

I’ve heard about even more schools swinging “No” in the last few days. However, the relatively high turnout, which is a good thing for our union (over 72,000 votes cast, 72% of eligible), means more members who casually follow union news were involved. The “No” vote was concentrated in the more highly engaged members, who would have turned out no matter what.

We will know soon.

And if somehow this thing is rejected, we will need to start talking, fast, about what we want our negotiators to change. “Everything” is an easy answer, and won’t get a hearing. Last week I proposed two areas to be renegotiated:

  • Take our health care off the table
  • Leave out the language that treats ATRs differently than other teachers

and two ways to change how the vote was approached:

  • Don’t rush us. Give us the agreement in writing, and time to discuss it in our chapters.
  • Don’t sell it. Tell us what is good, and what is bad. We don’t want to buy a pig in a poke.

And if there is a yes vote (more likely), we will need to start identifying areas that members and chapter leaders need to be careful. An easy place to begin is with abusive administrators who insist that they can still call faculty conferences – and that members must attend.


Preserving NYC transit history through words

June 2, 2014 pm30 3:17 pm

A little off-beat. I found an interesting bit of transit history in a funny place.

First, when New Yorkers say “car fare” – they mean subway fare or bus fare. Why?  The “car” is left over from “street car” or trolley. Brooklyn’s trolleys, the whole city’s trolleys are long gone, but they have left a linguistic trace.

Next, when the Grand Boulevard and Concourse was constructed in the Bronx, it ran from 161st Street north to Mosholu Parkway. It was opened in 1909, completed in 1914. OK, so? There is a subway station at 149th Street and the Grand Concourse, opened in 1904. And on the lower platform (2 and 5 trains), the station wall gives up a little history – where an enamel sign is missing, the wall tiles spell out Mott Ave, the original name of the street. The name “Grand Concourse” – but not the broad boulevard with service roads – was extended south over the former extent of Mott Avenue.

So we have words in a phrase, and words on a wall, preserving bits of history. What did I find?

A bus ticket.

bx41 ticket

More specifically, a receipt for the Bx41 Select Bus Service. Pay in a machine on the street (I used my metro card), and out pops a paper ticket. You get on the bus, off the bus, without bothering with the driver or the farebox. You’ve already paid. (Every once in a while an inspector gets on and asks for your ticket. I assume the fine is pretty big for fare-cheating. This system is more common in Europe.)

Anyhow, what does the ticket say that interests me?  It says “Direction: S/W”

Why is that curious?  Because the Bx41 is a north-south route. Up Melrose and Webster. Down Webster and Melrose. Why didn’t my ticket say “south”?

Tickets say N/E and S/W because the old paper transfers used to be divided that way. And why were there only two kinds of transfers? Why not four: north, west, south, and east? Because they were color-coded, blue or orange, and the TA kept things simple by only using two colors (faded blue transfer, N/E, below).  When metro cards came in, and two fare zones were eliminated, paper transfers were phased out. I don’t know what year they completely disappeared, but it was a while ago. Probably between 1997 and 2003.

(Actually, there was a third color, pink, used for General Orders. The token clerks called those “block transfers” and so did we. Was it because they let you walk around the block? or because they were issued when the line was blocked?  And was the Franklin Shuttle paper transfer a different color?  I wish I’d saved some of those.)

And couldn’t they drop the S/W and N/E business, now that they are just printing the letters on a slip of white paper?

Car fare’s car fare, who cares how they print it.


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