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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Keeping Abreast of the Female Breast

"The reasons why the breasts of women are on the chest, whereas other animals more often have them elsewhere, are of three kinds:

First, the chest is a noble, notable and chaste place and thus they 
can be decently shown. 

Secondly, warmed by the heart, they return their warmth to it so that this organ strengthens itself. 

The third reason applies only to big breasts which, by covering the chest,warm, cover and strengthen the stomach.”

--Henri de Mondeville, the “Father of French Surgery,” 
in a letter to the King of France in the 14th century

Big breasts make strong stomachs? I don't know about this claim, but in what may be some of the only good news since the 14th century (at least to many adoring males), female breasts are getting bigger. In the Fifties, the average American woman wore a B-cup. The average-sized breast for women now is a C cup and lingerie stores sell sizes from H to KK.

And the cup runneth over! Bravissimo, a lingerie label for larger sized breasts, estimates at least 60 per cent of women wearing a C-cup should be wearing a D-cup – or larger. And it says the average British bra size is closer to a 34E than the 36C we are led to believe.

It seems society loves beautiful breasts, yet, until now, we have had a problem taking them seriously. Breasts – boobs, air bags, boulders, hooters – often lend themselves to embarrassment and goofiness. And, without a doubt, aesthetically lovely mammary assets can turn grown men into babbling idiots. Big breasts draw immediate attention and untold affection.

But, why are breasts getting bigger? And, is this growth a good thing?

Award-winning science writer Florence Williams attempts to answer these questions. Her research confirms that breasts are, indeed, bigger than ever. In her comprehensive “environmental history” of the only human body part without its own medical specialty, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History (2012), Williams reveals that breasts are very complicated tissues.What is the most versatile organ in the female body can also kill. Breasts are made up of fat and estrogen receptors -- so they "soak up pollution like a pair of soft sponges," Williams writes.

Florence claims she acquired an added interest with her subject after seeing scientific reports about industrial pollutants showing up in breast milk. She says she was breastfeeding at the time, and she did a piece for The New York Times Magazine in which she tested her own breast milk.

Florence says, “I FedExed a sample of my breast milk to a lab in Germany, and it came back with some slightly higher than above-average U.S. levels for flame retardants. But American levels in general, I learned, are 10 to 100 times higher than anywhere else in the world. The experience brought home to me, in this very dramatic way, how our bodies respond to environmental change. Our bodies are permeable in ways that we just don’t think about, or haven’t been taught to think about in the age of modern medicine.”

Of course, one expected finding was that, as a natural consequence of people being fatter than ever, breast size is increasing. This is not a revelation. What is astounding is that with this increase in size comes an increase in breast disease.

Williams says she discovered that a breast’s permeability makes it such an evolutionary powerhouse (lots and lots of estrogen receptors help human puberty occur at the optimal time; nutrient-rich breast milk makes for giant brains) – but that same permeability is also, partially, what causes one in eight women to develop breast cancer.

The author writes that “the day you (a woman) was born, your boobs took one look at you and were like, 'Oh, no. No. Absolutely not. Hey, does anyone know where I can get some poison?'” And, Williams' study found that “poison” is everywhere. Breasts, it turns out, are a particularly fine mirror of industrial lives. They accumulate more toxins than other organs, and process them differently.

(Florence Williams. Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History. 2012)

Breasts are largely made up of fatty tissue, and chemicals love to accumulate in this fatty tissue. Here’s a partial list of those sources of chemicals from Williams: “paint thinners, dry-cleaning fluids, wood preservatives, toilet deodorizers, cosmetic additives, gasoline by-products, rocket fuel, termite poisons, fungicides, and flame-retardants."

The chemicals contain lots of bad PBDE levels (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) and octa-203 and penta-47 and dioxin and “lobule type 4” and other such enemies. She says one of the worst health concerns are flame retardants, and they are everywhere now: they are so bio-available that they are largely unavoidable.

The largest source of flame retardants in the human body is dust in homes. Many of the things in homes are filled with flame retardants, from upholstered furnishings to carpet padding to thermoplastics, like the casings of TV sets and computers.

(Lindy West. “Your Breasts Are Trying To Kill You.” Slate Book Review. May 5, 2012)

Then, it makes sense that Williams finds unsettling concerns about breast feeding. She concurs that “babies are cannibals and your breasts may be sexists.” Why? A male baby requires almost 1,000 megajoules of energy in his first year of life. “That is the equivalent,” Williams writes, “of one thousand light trucks moving one hundred miles per hour.”

And, as naturally follows, that energy comes from breast milk. That little dude sucks it right out of a woman “like the world’s chubbiest and least stealthy vampire.” Which, of course, is exactly how it’s supposed to be, but it’s not surprising that so many women are leery of breast-feeding with its chemical concerns.

It is a wide-held belief that breasts self-adjust for feeding boy or girl babies. Williams finds: “Milk for girls is thin but abundant, while boy milk is fattier and scarcer – the theory being that girls then must stick closer to their mothers for frequent feedings, thus absorbing their social roles, while boys are easily sated and have time to play and explore.”

Another expert, Dr Marilyn Glenville, a nutritionist specializing in women’s health and hormones, looks at the causes for increase in breast size and cites estrogen. Glenvillle says: “It’s clear that we’re not just talking about fat, but increased levels of breast tissue, too. So we have to look at what stimulates breast tissue growth – and that’s estrogen, the female sex hormone. Estrogen is what changes our body shape during puberty.”

The link between increased estrogen levels and bigger breasts is so clear that there are even “breast-enhancing” supplements on the market such as Perfect C Breast Enhancer capsules -- containing ingredients such as fennel seed and fenugreek, which are said to have estrogenic properties.

Dr Glenville reports: “It makes sense to look at the ways in which our exposure to all types of estrogen – the hormone our own bodies produce and estrogenic chemicals we come into contact with – has changed over the years.”

And, it turns out girls today reach puberty earlier than ever before, and are going on to have fewer children and breastfeeding for less time. As a result, women have far more periods than their ancestors had and they are exposed to more monthly surges of estrogen, which stimulates ovulation.

Researchers from the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Program, established by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science and published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found (2013) the respective ages at the onset of breast development varied by race, body mass index (obesity), and geographic location.

Breast development began in white, non-Hispanic girls, at a median age of 9.7 years, earlier than previously reported. Black girls continue to experience breast development earlier than white girls, at a median age of 8.8 years. The median age for Hispanic girls in the study was 9.3 years, and 9.7 years for Asian girls.

(Frank M. Biro, Louise C. Greenspan, Maida P. Galvez, Susan M. Pinney, 
Susan Teitelbaum, Gayle C. Windham, Julianna Deardorff, Robert L. Herrick, 
Paul A. Succop, Robert A. Hiatt, Lawrence H. Kushi, and Mary S. Wolff. 
"Onset of Breast Development in a Longitudinal Cohort." Pediatrics, November 2013)

In addition, today’s young women were born to the first generation of women on the contraceptive Pill. Early versions of the Pill contained far higher dosages of synthetic estrogen than they do today, and little is known about the long-term impact of this increased hormone exposure on future generations.

HRT also tops up depleting estrogen levels in menopausal women, who, like women on the Pill, often go up a cup-size or two when they begin a course of treatment. But it’s not just women on the Pill or HRT whose estrogen levels, and cup-size, might have increased as a result.

In 2002, research published by the Environment Agency showed that an ‘exquisitely potent’ form of estrogen -- which is believed to have entered the rivers through the urine of Pill and HRT-users — was responsible for changing the sex of half of all the male fish in British lowland rivers, and could be contaminating the water supply.

Now, it has been suggested that the influence of these xenoestrogens (literally “foreign estrogens”) could be responsible for the rapid decline in male sperm count and fertility. “We can’t assume these pollutants have no effect on us,” says Dr Glenville. “There are many questions still to be answered, but if xenoestrogens are potentially responsible for declining male fertility, they are potentially affecting women, too — and the proof could be in our bras.”

(Hannah Catsman. “Are Hormones in the Environment 
Making Women’s Breasts Larger?” Greer Prophet. February 06, 2011)

Here are a couple of other interesting theories on breast growth:
  • The introduction of intensive dairy farming methods to maximize production means that about two-thirds of the milk consumed comes from pregnant cows. To ensure that a dairy cow has a steady supply of milk, she is almost constantly pregnant. But taking milk from a pregnant cow, especially during the last few weeks of her pregnancy, raises questions about the high levels of estrogen and other hormones in milk and how they might affect those who consume milk every day.

  • Modern people also live more sedentary lifestyles these days, which may mean they metabolize these hormones less quickly. The cumulative effect of this may be a build-up of estrogen, which, over a long period, could alter natural body shape. It’s something we should take notice of.It’s possible that increased alcohol intake impairs the liver’s ability to help people metabolize and excrete excess hormones.

    As breast size continues to increase, huge, new concerns pile up. In the 1970s, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States was just under 10 percent (or about 1 in 10). Based on current incident rates, the National Cancer Center reports 12.4 percent of women born in the United States today will develop breast cancer at some time during their lives.

    (Florence Williams. “The wonder of breasts.” The Guardian. June 15, 2012) 

Breast Trivia

All mammals have mammary glands, but no other mammal has breasts as we do, sprouting at puberty and remaining regardless of our reproductive status.

A woman who has her first child before 20 has about half the lifetime risk of breast cancer as a non-mother or a mother who has her first child after 30.

Bernadino Ramazzini, a Renaissance-era doctor, was the first to notice that breast cancer was more common among nuns, which led to the link with nulliparity (never bearing a child).

A women's breasts are not fully developed until the third trimester of her pregnancy, when her mammary glands finally mature.

Breasts are the second most common site of tumors in the human body, next to the skin.

Human breast milk naturally contains many of the same cannabinoids found in marijuana, which are actually extremely vital for proper human development.

Nude Torso by Joaquin Torres-Garcia.

Friday, December 19, 2014

New Chapter for Cuban/American Relations

When should nations turn the page and enter a new chapter in foreign relations? I guess no answer is totally correct if the two countries have had a long history of aggression; however, the passage of time can also serve to heal old wounds and make leaders consider small steps to reconciliation. As thoughts of bitterness and revenge based on past actions slowly soften, old enemies often find mutual benefits in renewing friendships.

Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to President Obama and to Cuba's President Raul Castro urging them to resolve American hostage Alan Gross's case and to address Cuba's interest in the release of three Cuban agents who'd been jailed in the United States for over 15 years.

Obama has agreed, and along with this exchange, the President hopes to make history by easing restrictions on Cuba while beginning to normalize relations between the two countries. Through these bold changes, the United States and Cuba intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people and, as the President said, “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”

Despite the understandable American distrust of the long-established Communist regime just off the coast of Florida, the President is addressing an issue that has been troubling foreign policy for more than 50 years. The old, hard line is now an outdated, archaic strategy. According to Obama, it now serves “to isolate the island, preventing the most basic travel and commerce that Americans can enjoy anyplace else.”

The President continued to explain his rationale of appeasement: “And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions. And it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.”

As Obama says it is increasing clear that “neither the American nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that's rooted in events that took place before most of us were born” even though the actions were prudent at the time. 

Obama explains recent, renewed relationships with other Communist states ...

“Consider that for more than 35 years, we've had relations with China. A far larger country also governed by a Communist party. Nearly two decades ago, we re-established relations with Vietnam where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation. That's why when I came into office, I promised to re-examine our Cuba policy.”

Isn't cautiously establishing relations the ideal solution to long, rigid policies that serve little purpose, and isn't this the answer to reducing the odds of future direct conflict with Cuba? How often armed aggression and policies of hatred are questioned when compromise and new relations promise to offer better answers. Here is an opportunity for real change that can empower all human beings to live with dignity and self-determination in the 21st century.

The normalization between the two nations offers an approach to the end of the legacy of both colonization and communism through friendly relations. It does require we Americans to rise above the terrible memory of the past -- the tyranny of missile bases, drug cartels, dictators, and sham elections.

As the President says, “A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together. Not to maintain power, not to secure vested interests, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens.”

To fulfill our promise of being the cradle of peace and hope, America is bound to make changes and bound to offer forgiveness. This does not mean people opposed to ending restrictions must agree with the new policy or stop providing much-needed insight into Western relationships they have learned from hard experience. Cuban-Americans have every right to be bitter about the Castro dictatorship.

And, granted, we all are aware that human rights violations still occur within countries with which we now have open diplomatic relations. To oppose inhumane treatment of people anywhere is very important. Many Cubans have left their homeland because of terrible conditions there, and they have established new citizenship and new dreams in America. We must continue to oppose tyranny and injustice anywhere in the world. Yet, at the same time, we cannot be true humanitarians by closing our hearts and minds to those in nations that require change.

Instead, new policies forged by the President are tools to provide positive and lasting transformation in Cuba. A people freed from chaos to enjoy important, simple necessities will be very grateful for such liberties. These can be the first steps to seeking complete freedom in their homeland.

President Obama says, “We are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social and economic activities. In that spirit, we should not allow US sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens which we seek to help.”

Of course, in typical Fox News fashion, columnist Mike Gonzalez warns us of the Obama's proposal...

“Not only does President Obama’s action fail to advance freedom in Cuba, it throws a lifeline to Cuba’s dictators, whose current supplier of funds, Venezuela, is on the ropes because of plunging oil prices. It surrenders to the demands for normalization that the Castros have been making for decades.” 

Gonzalez is a native of Cuba and an American citizen. He is now a senior fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for International Studies He escaped the Castro regime at age 12. A brave, spirited patriot, Gonzalez is a man whose views should be respected.

I understand that Mike Gonzalez believes our rigid policy toward Cuba for the last half a century is deeply rooted in the beatings and in the imprisonment that Cuban dissidents receive to this day and that he understands the Cuban government's bold affront to our values. He is speaking with wisdom and personal knowledge.

Still, I believe President Obama is attempting to initiate changes that offer the populace of Cuba a much-needed opportunity to become a new nation as it breathes the warm winds of freedom. If the countries do work together, the President's efforts will bring fruitful outcomes as they are given the required effort and compromise.

"The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion." 

--Albert Camus

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reds Kitty Burke: First Female Batter In Major League Baseball

 Kitty Burke

Do you think Mo'ne Davis, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the first girl who pitched a shutout in the Little League World Series will be the first female Major League player? I'm a big fan, and I wish Mo'ne all the luck in the world. Keep an eye on this young lady and her baseball future.

But, did you know a woman in 1935 has already batted in a Major League game?

Well, sort of ...

In a night game at Crosley Field in Cincinnait on July 31, 1935, Kitty Burke, a local nightclub blues singer, began heckling the opposing players. That night the Cincinnati Reds were playing the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Night baseball was brand new. In fact, the first night game in Major League history had just occurred at Crosley two months earlier on May 25.

The field held 26,000 people, but the game on July 31 had been grossly oversold. As a result, more than 10,000 fans had been herded like cattle onto the field to watch from a roped-off area in foul territory that stretched from behind home plate and down the foul lines to the outfield fences.

Ms. Burke happened to be one of those very vocal fans standing within ten feet of home plate. The scene was described as "a carnival atmosphere." And, the story is just beginning for Kitty.

The Narrative

Kitty Burke, described as "a pretty young blonde in red" said she was so mad she couldn't see straight. Burke described her disgust, " What burned me was Ducky Wucky Medwick."

Kitty didn't like the the "brash" player. It seems that Medwick had scored to give the Cardinals a two-run lead over the Reds. Being an avid fan, Burke tells the account of her heated actions.

Kitty began to heckle Ducky.

"Yeah, Medwick, you can`t hit anything!" Burke yelled.

"Yeah, you can`t hit anything yourself," Medwick yelled back.

“Well, you can’t hit a lick!” Kitty shouted at him. “You couldn’t even hit the ball with an ironing board!”

Medwick fired back, “You couldn’t hit if you were swinging an elephant!”

The heckling continued until the bottom of the eighth.

Then, Kitty, still fuming mad over Medwick’s last retort, decided to take action. “Hey, babe!” she hollered at Babe Herman, who was in the on-deck circle, “Lend me your bat!”

“Go ahead,” Herman said.

So, wearing a dress and heels, Burke strode to the on-deck circle where she was able to grab Herman's bat. In fact, Herman recalled: "This blonde says to me, 'Babe, give me your bat.'" Babe gave it to her and she strode to the batter's box.

The crowd roared with laughter. Among the spectators was Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Neither he nor plate umpire Bill Stewart tried to stop the determined woman.

After taking a few practice swings, Kitty was ready to hit. Unsure what to do, pitcher Paul (Daffy) Dean just stood on the mound. He was reluctant to throw her a pitch until Burke yelled, “Hey, you hick. Throw me a pitch!” and asked him why he didn't go home and milk the cows.

By then, the crowd was in hysterics and shouting at Dean to throw the ball. Finally, Stewart yelled, “Play ball!”

Rather than fire a fastball, Dean lobbed the ball underhanded. Burke swung and hit a slow dribbler back to Dean. He fielded her tap and ran to first himself to tag the bag and record the out.

Kitty said later (of Dean's putout): "If he wanted me, he'd have to chase me."

Burke ran back into the cheering crowd and into baseball history.

St. Louis manager Frank Frisch then made a half-hearted argument that Cincinnati should be charged with an out. Of course, that suggestion was soon laughed away.

After the contest, which the Reds won 4-3 in ten innings, Babe Herman told reporters, “That’s the first time a broad ever pinch-hit for me.”

 (Eddie Deezen. "The Woman Who Batted During a Major League 
Baseball Game" todayifoundout. Vacca Foeda Media 2012)

(Harold Seymour. Baseball: The People's Game. 1991) 

("The Stories of Jackie and Kitty. The Ledger. April 28, 2002)

The Legacy

In what may have been a publicity stunt, Kitty Burke had become the first woman to bat in a Major League game. As you might suspect, the umpires did not count this as an official at bat or an out, as she was not on the Reds' roster.

Allegedly, the Reds later gave her a uniform which she used while performing her act. A team journal, Day by Day in Cincinnati Reds History, reported Kitty parlayed her at-bat into an act that she took on the Burlesque circuit, billing herself as the only woman to ever bat in an official Major League Game, let alone in high heels and a dress.

Babe Herman was getting ready to hit. He recalled: "This blonde says to me, 'Babe, give me your bat.' " Babe gave it to her and she strode to the batter's box. The umpire yelled "Play ball" but the Cardinals pitcher was reluctant until Kitty called him a "hick" and asked him why he didn't go home and milk the cows. The pitch was easy and Miss Burke hit it toward first base and she took off for 1st. The pitcher got the ball and was waiting for her on 1st. Kitty headed back to the stands saying later, "If he wanted me, he'd have to chase me." The out did not count despite a Cardinals protest and Babe took his regular at bat. - See more at:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Third Grade Diversity: A Lesson in Adult Behavior

"Diversity: the art of thinking independently together."  

--Malcolm Forbes

The most amazing strength of the United States of America is the diversity of our people. This became so evident to me the other evening as I attended my granddaughter's third grade Christmas program. The children in the program presented the audience one beautiful pose after another within the frame of the grade school stage, each scene representing diverse, distinct children working together in loving harmony.

This fact struck me like a bolt straight out of the azure lid: with caring direction and sincere, mutual cooperation, these children, numbering well over one hundred, presented a delightful work of art, an honest treasure of united spirits. With their voices, their movements, and the smiles on their sweet faces, these kids accomplished the common goal of presenting a memorable performance. And, to boot, they did it with love.

Why should these wonderful, uncommon kids soon face the cold reality of a world so judgmental and so quick to condemn all instances of nonconformity? Damn, I railed at that idea as I realized the challenges each of them would eventually face as they left the loving care provided by their school and by their classmates.

Soon, colors like white, black, brown, and yellow would become a part of their assumed identity. Soon, something known as sexual preference would enter their lives. Soon, economic differences like poverty and affluence would descend up them. Soon, differing societal expectations would force them to make decisions about cliques and friends and "who is bad or good."

I sat there and thought about it. Couldn't togetherness last forever? Why couldn't people -- ages nine to ninety-nine -- just continue to reap the love and acceptance I had just witnessed at grade school?

And, guess what? I don't really know why we adore the vast diversity of our friends as youngsters only to draw dividing lines and choose sides as wildly discerning, subjective adults. America finds its bound strength in diversity, and it continues to thrive when people from every background work together. Perhaps, we need to act more like third graders in a Christmas play.

From its conception, America has been considered the world's melting pot, a mixture of every type of culture and person. No group, no matter how long established, can rightfully call itself more “American” than another. And, the strong fusion of cultures here is so unique and so exceptional that citizens can be just as proud of their original cultural heritage as they are to be Americans. We are our best when we respect all with guarantees of freedom, equality, and liberty ... and diversity.

Freedom, respect, equality -- these are not just symbolic words in the United States. Instead, they represent our vital responsibilities to all of our "classmates," who are our American citizens for life.
America, itself, must act as a stage where intensely different cultures not only coexist peacefully, but also thrive symbiotically and create an undivided nation. 

European, African, Asian, Latin American, Native American, and Middle Eastern -- all cultures form important fabrics in the quilt of the United States of America. Why should adults dispute this and quarrel among themselves about who should possess the bounties of this nation?

Over the next 40 years we must be more open to immigration. Even more than most of our chief global rivals, the United States will be reshaped and re-energized by an increasing racial and ethnic diversity

These demographic changes will affect America's relations with the rest of the world. The United States likely will remain militarily pre-eminent, but the future United States will function as a unique "multiracial" superpower with deep familial and cultural ties to the rest of the world.

Between 2000 and 2050, the vast majority of America's net population growth will continue to come from racial minorities, particularly Asians and Hispanics, as well as a growing mixed-race population.

In 2010, Joel Kotkin, executive editor of, said ...

"By the middle of the 21st century, America will have no clear 'majority' race. Today 30 percent of the U.S. population is nonwhite; in 2050 it may be nearly 50 percent. Latino and Asian populations are expected to triple. Today, because of high Latino birthrates, one in five American children under the age of 5 is Hispanic; increasingly most Hispanic growth will come from the children of those born in America."

(Joel Kotkin. "America in 2050 -- Strength in Diversity." March 16, 2010)

And, it is perfectly clear that during this holiday season, it is incumbent on all of us to extend love, like the love of the children I saw perform onstage, to everyone seeking freedom. We have the right to protest wrongdoings and inconsistencies; however, we must realize we still represent the cradle of liberty and equality to the rest of the world.

When we deny the dreamers entry to this country or when we deny equal rights to anyone because we judge this nation to be more "ours" than "theirs," we squeeze life out of diversity, the muscle of our great nation. In other words, we kill what makes us strong.

Understanding diversity is basic to humans, and we can successfully maintain this love if we, as a species, encourage diverse acceptance from childhood to the grave. No alternative exists.

"When consciousness begins to add diversity to its intensity, its value is no longer absolute and inexpressible. The felt variations in its tone are attached to the observed movement of its objects; in these objects its values are embedded. A world loaded with dramatic values may thus arise in imagination; terrible and delightful presences may chase one another across the void; life will be a kind of music made by all the senses together. Many animals probably have this kind of experience."

--George Santayana

Cut the Arts In Ohio Public Schools and Cut Important Needs

Funding cuts in state budgets have forced public schools all across America to slash their arts programs.

Oscar Perez of the Associated Press reported the following:

"According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 95 percent of school-aged children are attending schools that have cut funding since the recession. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods that faced budget cuts were able to make up for their losses through private donations, while schools in impoverished neighborhoods have not."

(Tyleah Hawkins. "Will less art and music in the classroom really help 
students soar academically?" The Washington Post. February 28, 2012)
As you might expect, schools serving children from low-income families are the first casualties of budget cuts in hard-pressed school districts struggling to meet other demands of the academic curriculum.

Senior Director Narric Rome of Federal Affairs and Arts Education at Americans for the Arts, a national organization that promotes the arts, explains ...

“The cuts that have been occurring for the past couple of decades ... however, with this recession, many arts advocates such as myself do not have a clue when some programs will be brought back. The entire system is very unstable; teachers are laid off one school year and brought back the next, or most times not brought back at all. If we are lucky enough to bring these programs back, they won’t be for a couple of years. Which means some students who are in school during these difficult economic times will completely miss out on the benefits of arts education.”

Are arts education programs that beneficial to students? Let's see what a new study from the National Endowment reports.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in this report titled “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 2009-10” ...

“Low-income students who had arts-rich experiences in high schools were more than three times as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students without those experiences. The study also reports that low-income high school students who earned few or no arts credits were five times more likely not to graduate from high school than low-income students who earned many arts credits.”

The arts have also proven to be a form of inspiration and expression for at-risk students. Sandra Ruppert, Director of the Arts Education Partnership, said, “This is especially true for under-served students who benefit most significantly from arts learning but are the least likely to receive a high-quality arts education.” 

According to a study titled “The Role of the Fine and Performing Arts in High School Dropout Prevention,” by the Center for Music Research at Florida State University, the following holds true:

“Students at risk of not successfully completing their high school educations cite their participation in the arts as reasons for staying in school. Factors related to the arts that positively affected the motivation of these students included a supportive environment that promotes constructive acceptance of criticism and one where it is safe to take risks.”

It is evident that arts education gives children an outlet for expressing themselves and channeling negative emotion into something positive. But, how does the arts address the current, increased attention to student performance on high-stakes testing in basic core subjects? Read on.

Research has also shown that arts education helps improve standardized test scores.

A study done by The College Board, a nonprofit association that works to make sure all students in the American educational system are college-ready, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 91 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1070 among students in arts educations compared to 979 for students without arts education.) 

There is a misconception about the cognitive value of the arts. For the most part, people think about the arts as things that are affective and expressive, but not academic and cognitive. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Research shows arts education helps close the achievement gap and improves academic skills essential for reading and language development. The arts also help motivate students to learn.

The Washington Post reports that receiving constructive feedback is one of the 10 skills children learn from the arts. Through the arts, children learn feedback is an important part of learning and not something people should be offended by.

“In art, you are constantly getting critiqued by your peers, and you learn to take everything with a grain of salt, and you learn how to take other people’s advice to improve your work, even though you want to think that your idea is best,” said Galveston, Texas, high school senior Courtney Patterson.

Other skills on the Washington Post’s list include collaboration, dedication, perseverance and problem solving.

(Haley Davis. "Public school cuts cause decrescendo in college arts."
 The Baylor Lariat. December 05, 2013)

And, What About Ohio?
The issue of funding in Ohio is causing schools to be forced to choose between cutting specialists instead of being able to provide a comprehensive set of programs and services to all children. In the last four years, Ohio has not only cut state funding but also changed the way property taxes are calculated causing a decrease in local funds, too. 
Then, of course, you also have to realize school funds are being diverted to charter schools and via vouchers at an ever-increasing rate. 
Following more than two hours of debate on December 09, 2014, the state school board voted 14-5 to approve a resolution of intent to eliminate state minimum staffing requirements for “educational service personnel,” putting those decisions in the hands of each local school board.

The decision will do away with a state requirement that schools have certain numbers of art, music and physical-education teachers, counselors, librarians, nurses, social workers and visiting teachers. The decades-old, 5 of 8 rule mandates that schools have at least five of those eight positions for every 1,000 students.

The rule will now go through a legislative review process and return to the board for final approval in March.
The change was sought by school administrators and superintendents. Supporters say it is outdated and eliminating staffing requirements will give local districts more flexibility and control.

Critics say it will encourage cash-strapped schools to eliminate teachers and staff in areas not deemed essential to state standardized tests.

“Our state constitution makes the state responsible for educating our youth and thus the state should not shirk its obligation,” said A.J. Wagner, a board member from Dayton who opposed the resolution. Wagner continued ...

“We all know the rich schools are going to be fine. They are going to continue to hire those that they need. Poor schools that don’t have the money are the ones that are going to have to eliminate the nurses, social workers and the very people that are essential to making sure those students who are poor get a good education.” 

(Catherine Candisky. "State Board of Education votes to eliminate some 
staffing requirements." The Columbus Dispatch. December 09, 2014) 
The Ohio Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said the new wording beat what was originally proposed but expressed disappointment that the "5 of 8" ratios were removed from state operating standards.
The State giveth and the State taketh away. And, State education seems to be forever offering the most to those with the most money and influence. Inequality in quality offerings from State education should be impermissible. 
Does Ohio realize many of its poorest schools produce its most talented expressionists -- musicians, artists, dancers, writers? These students discover the joy of the arts while very young; they continue to excel and to improve as they build skills that help them employ wonderful artistic careers.

The enrichment value of the arts for public school students is immeasurable. The study of the arts contributes to expertise in so many other professions, and it is also so vital in the personal lives of nearly everyone. The psychological and health benefits alone are tremendous aids to living a happy existence.
God help us so that Ohio legislators do not severely weaken strong arts education programs, especially those in poor public schools. How difficult is it to see that the arts are extremely beneficial to all students? Providing interesting, engaging, enjoyable arts education can make all the difference to in-need school districts where in-need students love humanistic subjects. 

"The heart of my Art
And the heart of a child
Are extremely fond of each other.
They love each other deeply;
They need each other constantly;
They are interdependent, sleeplessly."
- -Sri Chinmoy

Friday, December 12, 2014

Running Mouths About Layoffs At City Hall: Allen vs. Johnson

"Rumors are like ripples in a cornfield. They are ephemeral, 
but they do indicate which way the wind is blowing."

--Susan J. Palmer, Aliens Adored

Portsmouth City Council is engaging in another entertaining round of "He Said; She Said." The participants are City Manager Derek Allen, First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson, and an unnamed female department head. See if you can figure out what way "the wind is blowing."

Just who told what "unfounded rumor" 
to whom about layoffs at City Hall? 

I don't know, but the Daily Times reports ...

“There are employees in this building who are obviously worried about their jobs,” Allen said. “and I have no idea why a councilman would come in on November 25 and tell a department head I threw her under the bus thinking that would not cause animosity between the department head and the city manager, which it did. I explained to her why I made the comment and why I said what I said. Then, today, not an hour ago, she was in my office because apparently you (First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson) told her we are going to lay her off in May.”

Allen then motioned toward several city employees who were in attendance.

“Are we going to lay them off too?” he asked Johnson.

Johnson then responded - “Are you looking at me? I didn’t say that.”

(Frank Lewis. "Allen confronts council over statements."  
Portsmouth Daily Times. December 09. 2014)

Allen then suggested getting the unidentified department head together with Johnson and to ask her what was said to her, Allen explained he didn't need damaged relationships between him and department officials. He believes this breach is a Charter violation. However, he did consider the possibility that the employee was being dishonest. He stated, "I don't know." Allen said he was at a loss for words as to what is going on in the city.

Allen went on to say - “I don’t know why you feel the need to make department heads feel as though they’re going to lose their jobs. If you didn’t say that then obviously I need to talk to her and reprimand her because she came to me and said that. She went home. She was going to be here at this meeting. If council is going to let people go, let’s just do it now.”

And so, the drama continues ...

Let's ask ourselves several questions about the City Manager's allegations. Here are some lingering questions:

* Who is the female department head so upset about the possibility of losing her job?

* Is she telling the truth about the rumor of her layoff?

* Who, if not Councilman Johnson, informed her about losing her position?

* Why is someone (many) trying to create ugly, in-fighting animosity?

* Who, if anyone, is City Council considering "letting go"? 

* Will there be reprimands and continued ill will?

There are more questions to answer about the future of city employees and their sources of information than there are bricks falling from rundown structures in downtown Portsmouth. The speculative cast of characters involved is so intriguing that reportedly all council members woke up when the latest flurry of fur flew in the Second Street chambers.

What will happen next at City Hall? I guess further investigation will tell. Nothing much is "apparent" in public, so citizens of Portsmouth are left to wonder about the facts. That is nothing new at Council meetings where speculation is a customary pastime.

But, of course, there is not much newsworthy information echoing in those hallowed halls anyway except maybe the "scary" proposition of drug testing to acquire a Drug-Free Workplace incentive. Oh well, that's another story better left to future posts.

This entire session at City Hall is best summed up in the words of City Manager Allen: "I don't know." It seems no one really knows the bottom line of much of anything anymore concerning city government. Still, that doesn't keep Council from babbling and projecting blame.

I taught high school for many years, and often when a fight occurred it was said by one of the participants that he or she had heard a rumor that his or her opponent "had been running their mouth." Of course, "mouth running" was considered by most juveniles to be reason enough to fight even if the initiator of the confrontation was acting upon hearsay alone.

I am curious about infighting at city hall. Why so there much? Who is angry? What part of the disagreements represent political posturing? And, of course, who is just "running their mouth"?

Them there is fighting words in these here parts. I mean, If I heard someone was runnin' their mouth about me, I would have to hit first and ask questions later. What would you do?

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. 
That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

--Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Portsmouth, Ohio: More Taxes To Fight Mismanagement?

Referring to the oft-quoted words of Benjamin Franklin -- "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes" -- Will Rogers, renowned American humorist said, "The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets."

Here, many believe Rogers' quip may be aptly revised by omitting the word Congress and inserting the words Portsmouth City Council.

The strategy of revenue is clear: When in doubt, increase taxes.

With the significant loss of state funding since 2009, said to be a total of $1,405,000 per year to the city’s budget, Council is asking voters to again raise the city income tax level. The city plans to ask voters to increase the income tax by 0.5 percent and to place that proposal on the May 5, 2015 ballot.

The Daily Times reports ...

"At Monday’s Portsmouth City Council meeting, City Manager Derek Allen said most recently the Local Government funding had been reduced to $635,000. City Auditor Trent Williams said it had been cut slightly in the past, but in the last couple of years it had been cut by 50 percent. 

"Allen has factored in $650,000 in Local Government funds in the budgets for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, saying he had no reason to believe there would be further cuts. But he also said all local governments should have seen it coming and planned accordingly.

“'In the community I came from, we saw this coming and we prepared ourselves,' Allen said. 'We pretended we didn’t even get that anymore and if they took it away we’re okay because we put millage on to replace it. What I’m saying is - if the governor takes the $635,000 away we (Portsmouth) aren’t prepared and that would be devastating to us.'”

(Frank Lewis. "City to ask for tax increase." Portsmouth Daily Times. December 10, 2014)

The proposed ordinance reads, in part:

“The city should expect the state legislature to eliminate the remaining $635,000 in Local Government Funds, and Whereas: The city’s General Fund is expected to be in deficit for the foreseeable future without either significant cuts to services and numbers of employees or additional revenues, and Whereas: The City Manager has already identified twelve positions to be eliminated should the city not obtain additional revenues, and Whereas: The City Charter requires minimum staffing for the Fire and Police departments, and the Ohio Revised Code requires certain financial support for the Municipal Court, thus any cuts to staff must be made in basic services provided to maintain basic aspects of city services, and Whereas: The city shall be unable to compete for jobs, improve its infrastructure, provide for basic community services or support the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership should the city’s current financial picture be not improved.”

The taxes are to be levied against net profits of all businesses, professions or other activities conducted by residents of the City of Portsmouth; on all salaries, wages, commissions, and other personal service compensation earned by residents of the City of Portsmouth; on all salaries, wages, commissions, and other personal service compensations earned by residents of the City of Portsmouth; and on all salaries, wages, commissions and other personal service compensation earned by non-residents of the City of Portsmouth for work done or services performed or rendered in the City of Portsmouth.

The proposed ordinance is so crammed with "whereas -es" and threats of "cut services" that one might think city residents are presently living on the brink of disaster, and they just might be in serious trouble considering the official speculation of black and red figures in the budget. It does seem as if projected woes of deficits and lack of funds spell a guarded and sad future for our small town.

A population of a little over 20,000 people puts Portsmouth in the company of other "thriving metropolises" such as Arnold City, Missouri (20,808); Farragut Town, Tennessee (20,676); Bethany, Oregon (20,646); and Havelock City, North Carolina (20,735). And, all of this "tax talk" makes me wonder how the rest of small town operations in the United States do business. Should Portsmouth take some notes?

Added speed traps, double permissive taxes on auto license fees, and tighter regulations on work permits aside ... "Money! More money! and Even more money!" cries from Council fill the air. 'Tis the season. Fa la la la la, la la la la ...
"Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please do put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny (half penny) will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!"
This holiday, perhaps it behooves us all to remember the words of First Ward City Councilman Kevin W. Johnson, speaking to members of the Scioto County Health Coalition on November 14 of this year. Johnson said Portsmouth City Manager Derek Allen continues to find things in the city that “are absolutely broken.”

“'I hate to say it but that reflects years of mismanagement, ignoring situations; ignoring problems; ignoring their employee input or employee nothing,' Johnson said. 'I hate to say it that way but it’s just the way, if you don’t have management, employees tend to, "hey, I’m not doing anything." He’s facing some major issues. A lot of them come down to financial issues. We simply cannot afford to pay for what needs to be done.'”

(Frank Lewis. "Johnson: city suffered from mismanagement."  
Portsmouth Daily Times. November 19, 2014)

So, P-town folks, if your pocketbook is tight this Christmas, just force it open and gladly toss in your last few precious coins to insure that more of our town doesn't crumble under the weight of mismanagement, indifference, and oblivious ignorance.

It is evident, at least to some, we all should be glad we live in the town where Southern Hospitality begins and more taxes are a certainty. You can't say Old Ben, City Manager Allen, and Councilman Johnson didn't warn you.

"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses 
be departed from, the ends will change.” 

 --Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol