Back to School

All of the grandkids are back in school, and, from everything I know, they are getting good educations. That’s good news, but the same can’t be said for all students. Let’s first talk about the costs.Total expenditures for public and secondary schools in the U.S. were $620 billion in 2012-2013, or $12,296 per public school student. About 90% of that cost was for school operations, 8% was on expenditures for property and maintenance, and the remainder was on school debt interest. The staggering fact is that the average school operation cost per student for twelve years of primary through secondary education is over $130,000. I’m guessing the only reason we don’t often hear about this is that the students don’t have to incur student debt to pay for it. The money is wrung out of taxpayers and the costs become invisible.

Are students becoming educated? I suppose the answer could be, “sometimes.” Almost two thirds of high school graduates in Colorado in 2014-2015 were judged to be academically ready to succeed in college level curriculum. Of course that’s one way of glossing over the fact that 35.4% would require remedial education before they could attend actual college classes. In case you’re counting, that’s an increase of a bit more than one percent compared to the previous year. I don’t recall any measure of education that indicates improvement. I do recall year after year of campaigns asking for more money to be spent. The campaigns often result in approval of increases in spending, but seldom show improvements in student performance. I wonder when we’re going to stop putting up with this?

No One Wants to Look Like a Nazi

Today’s expression isn’t verbal, it’s a gesture. I ran across this in a Smithsonianmag piece:

“[America’s salute to the flag originally required you to] raise your right hand, flip your palm down, point it toward the flag in a salute and recite the words. These instructions might seem unthinkable today for obvious reasons—they’re reminiscent of rows of Nazis saluting their Fuhrer. But believe it or not, they date from the beginning of the Pledge itself.

The stiff-armed salute came from the 1890s along with the words to the US Pledge as part of an effort to heal the wounds of the Civil War with a shared ritual in schools, and to assimilate immigrant children. But when Nazi’s adopted the same gesture, in 1942 Americans dumped their 50-year tradition (along with other symbols ruined by Nazis.) The US Flag Code was adopted because every American needed instruction in the new salute, though it can’t be enforced as a law.

The Pledge, by the way, was originally

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands—one nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all.” Francis Bellamy reportedly wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in two hours.

Congress added words including “under God” in 1954 to distinguish the United States from “godless Communism.” So both the words and gesture of the Pledge were modified in response to America’s enemies. I could accept going back to the original words, but I must admit my skin crawls at the original gesture.

WIPP One Step Closer to Reopening

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico is the nation’s only underground nuclear waste facility. It was shut down in February 2014 when an inappropriately packed container of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory ruptured and workers were unable to properly use their emergency oxygen supplies. An article by Maddy Hayden says the Department of Energy (DOE) has approved a new Documented Safety Analysis, which took a year and 100,000 man hours to create. Federal officials predict that there is an 80 percent chance approval of that document will allow the facility to reopen in December. Perhaps the prediction should be viewed skeptically. The DOE had predicted the facility would be reopened in March when they “…knew it had only a 1 percent chance of meeting that March 2016 deadline.”

The costs for the reopening the facility are staggering. “The Energy Department initially estimated it would cost $242 million to restore WIPP for limited waste disposal and an additional $77 million to install a new ventilation system critical to providing clean air to workers.” “The delays led to an additional $61.4 million in operating costs at WIPP.”

To Call a Spade a Spade

There are recent allegations this is a racist term, but the origin is from ancient times and has nothing to do with race. Charles E. Funk in his book, “A Hog on Ice & Other Curious Expressions,” explains that the Greek works for spade, boat, and bowl are quite similar. The original expression was likely “to call a boat a boat,” which was intended to say, just as with the current version, “…to call a thing by its right name to avoid euphemism or beating around the bush.” To lend credibility to that theory of the origin, Erasmus said in the sixteenth century, “…to call a fig a fig and a boat a boat.”

Judge Approves Rocky Flats Settlement

U.S. District Judge John L. Kane has given preliminary approval to the $375 million settlement between nearby residents of the Rocky Flats Plant and the plant operators, Rockwell International Corp. and the Dow Chemical Company. “The allocation for the $375 million settlement, according to the Kane’s order, is 81.5 percent for residential properties, 15.3 percent for vacant land and 3.2 percent for commercial properties. Up to 40 percent of the total — or $150 million — could be awarded as fees to the attorneys in the case.”

There are 13,000 to 15,000 households that may be eligible for payments. There is a website where people can check to see whether their property is in the area involved and make them eligible for payments. There is a map showing the area involved. The property has to have been owned by the claimant or their family members on June 7, 1989, the day the FBI raided the plant “…to look for environmental crimes.”

I’m not going to celebrate this, because I believe it to be a miscarriage of justice. A previous ruling by a three judge panel found that no actual damage had occurred. This ruling is apparently based on a “nuisance law.” The total amount of $375million for the plant creating a “nuisance” seems to me to be extremely excessive considering the huge economic boost the plant gave to the area over decades of operation, which of course involves the area of the settlement.

Bird Brain

This will be a bit of a departure from the norm, since the focus won’t be on the origin of the expression, which was and is used to describe someone who is foolish and scatterbrained. Scientists have made another important contribution to knowledge by studying birds and learned that birds aren’t all that foolish or scatterbrained. “An international consortium of 29 neuroscientists has proposed a drastic renaming of the structures of the bird brain to correctly portray birds as more comparable to mammals in their cognitive ability. The scientists assert that the century-old traditional nomenclature is outdated and does not reflect new molecular, genetic and behavioral studies that reveal the brainpower of birds.” Their studies (how did they get the money to do these studies?) have found birds have all sorts of “cognitive abilities.”

Thanks scientists, for setting us straight! However, I’m guessing if someone does something foolish and/or scatterbrained, they will likely still be called “birdbrain.”

Out of Thin Air

I heard this expression during the broadcast of a baseball game during which a team was described to have “manufactured a run out of thin air.” Apparently that is an unusual use of the expression, which has more commonly been used to describe magic tricks that appear to make things appear or disappear without a trace or explanation. The has the best explanation for the use by the baseball announcer, saying it means “…out of nowhere, out of nothing…” It gives the example of “You just made that excuse up out of thin air.” According to the Phrase Finder Shakespeare started the overall use of the expression in 1604 by having a character describe how something would “…vanish into air…”