Smaller is better – for learning

smallschoolWho really thinks that large factory size schools where principals and teachers carry walkie-talkies to manage the place are better than small schools with fewer students in each class room?

If you’ve ever taught a class, or attended one, you know you can give or get more attention in a smaller class, and it’s hard for any son or daughter to get lost or hide from the teacher’s attention when the class is smaller.

We all know what drives the super-sized school is the uncontrolled residential development that, these days, burdens all manner of resources including whether our aquifers can continue to supply enough water for all the wells that will be necessary to serve the residential deluge as yet unbuilt.

We have folk, mostly elected, who rattle the budgetary sabre, threatening to close the small legacy schools, running them down, slandering them – in my opinion.

It’s a test of political wills, to see if the political class can cauterize the right-minded impulse of communities and parents who prefer that small schools educate our young.

What’s the proof that small schools are better? Continue reading

America has a heart!

marriagestickfiguresWhen a friend wants something you don’t understand, you respect your friend’s choice.

It may not be true of everything but, when it comes to personal relations, we really should err on the side of support and approval for a friend.

If we can’t support and approve, we should at least be tolerant of another’s choices even when our personal religious belief contradicts our friend’s choice.

Same sex marriage has been in dispute a long time, and is often rightly compared with the offensive intolerance once legally visited upon mixed racial couples.

The federal and state courts have almost uniformly found any state prohibition of same sex marriage to reflect a private moral view that advances no legitimate government interest, and that violates an individual’s constitutional right to marry regardless of gender.

I expected that the Supreme Court would leave this constitutional issue to the states and the lower federal courts unless there was a split in the lower federal court decisions.  Justice Ruth Baden Ginsburg seemed to be saying the same thing at a public forum when she commented that the three federal appeal courts considering the question were in agreement.

The Supreme Court foreshadowed its disapproval of any gay marriage ban when it threw out a federal law that refused benefits to same sex couples.

On October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court therefore found somewhat unsurprisingly no reason to give a hearing to lower court decisions in agreement — that the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the right to same sex partners to marry.

The U.S. Supreme Court, by refusing to hear cert petitions from several “agreeable” federal circuits, thus affirmed the lower court decisions, legalizing same sex marriages in Virginia (Rainer v. Bostic, McQuiqq v. Bostic, Schaefer v. Bostic), Wisconsin (Walker v. Way), Indiana (Bogan v. Baskin), Utah (Herbert v. Kitchen) and Oklahoma (Smith v. Bishop).

The Supreme Court’s tacit approval of these appellate court holdings likely means states in those same federal circuits will approve same sex marriage – and that includes Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

On Friday, October 10, 2014, sure enough, a North Carolina federal judge, Max O. Cogburn, Jr., from Asheville, did just that; he struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional, even though the ban had been approved by the voters in 2012.  Judge Cogburn said: “This issue before this court is neither a political issue nor a moral issue.  It’s a legal issue.”  Sheriff Deputies, Chad Biggs, 35, and Chris Creech, 46, were among the first wed after Judge Cogburn’s ruling.

On Friday, October 10, 2014, the Supreme Court denied a stay to a federal appeals court decision that granted freedom to same sex couples to marry in Idaho.  Idaho officials in favor of the ban argued to the high court, a little too much in the court’s face, if you ask this litigator, that, if they meant to signal approval by the Supreme Court of gay marriage, they should deny the stay.  The Supreme Court denied the stay.

In Leesburg, Virginia, where we make our law offices, Carla Rhoads and Cindy Losasso, a couple for 16 years, got their marriage license and reportedly were the first gay marriage in Loudoun County.

America has found the heart to approve same sex couples and – here in Virginia – we can now truly say – “Virginia is for lovers!” – for all lovers.

Lock that digital back door

banksafeIt’s time to lock that digital back door to your private information to defend against the government’s unrestricted intrusion on what was once presumed to be the safe and easy bit and byte beltway that we call the Internet.

You may not think to lock the doors to your country home until there’s a burglary or home invasion in your neighborhood.

We enjoyed that open country door freedom on the Internet until the sobering disclosures more than a year ago by former CIA computer specialist, Edward Snowden.

Snowden has since made it crystal clear that, if you’re not encrypting what your communicating, your information is likely flowing by the petabyte into NSA’s multi-million dollar data-devouring Super Cray Computer, once called “the Black Widow.”

Since the disclosures, the President, the NSA, and the Congress have lacked the resolve to discourage the government’s uninhibited surveillance of us, its citizens. Continue reading

Is intolerance a disability?

Diana Flannery on stage with “A Place To Be.”

Diana Flannery on stage with “A Place To Be.”

“I know I have a learning disability,” said Diana Flannery, my daughter.

“I have to organize my thoughts before I speak,” said Diana, “So I stutter.  Sometimes I don’t.”

“I think fine but I hear some people say, and I can hear them say it, that I’m stupid.  I don’t know what to think of people like that.”

“I know I’m in good company, others deal with disabilities, and many help.”

The Good Book says to remove the obstruction from your own eye before judging another.  After all, who among us is perfect, physically or otherwise?  Yet intolerance abounds.

Is intolerance a moral disability? Continue reading

Teaching Johnny to think

Virginia has its own standards of learning so it’s really hard to compare how we match up with everyone else in the United States and around the world.

But even by Virginia’s standards of learning (the SOLs), reading scores are down.  Every fourth child reportedly failed to pass the grade-level reading test, and the statistical results were worse among elementary and middle school students.  About 3 out of 10 students didn’t pass the state math exam either.  If you lack reading skills, and are challenged by math, how are you able to think very well?

Some may say it’s an improvement that we have state-wide standards.  But it’s not acceptable that we have a balkanized set of conflicting and variable nationwide standards.

We compete in an ever shrinking world.  Our internet preeminence is up against stiff competition from Chinese tech companies Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, and Alibaba’s US IPO was described recently as “a wake-up call for U.S. tech.”  It should also be a “wake-up call” for educators, parents and students.

Our standard of living depends on our ability to export goods and services, and really to out-think our competitors.

We need a standard by which we can agree what Johnny knows about “the three Rs,” to be able to compare him with everyone else, and to devise an educational strategy to redress whatever lack of proficiency Johnny may suffer in Reading or Math.  Continue reading

America – a fortress of intolerance?

No one is originally from the United States – except for the endangered population of Native Americans that have survived this nation’s repeated efforts to wipe them out.

Everyone who is here today came from someplace else, fleeing hostile governments, uninhabitable lands, or drawn here because of a belief in the promise of America.

When I was a kid, one of my heroes was Igor Sikorsky, an engineering genius who made flying machines and, because he was inspired by DaVinci’s hand-drawing of a machine lifted by a rotating disk, set upon the task of creating the helicopter.  Igor came to America from Russia because he had to flee the Bolsheviks.

Albert Einstein had to flee Europe because he was Jewish and met some resistance to becoming an American Citizen.  We remember this brilliant physicist, ensconced at Princeton, partly concealed beneath an unruly mane of whitening hair.  But there were those who weren’t sure he should be a citizen.

The Flannerys came from County Mayo to New York for reasons since obscured by the passing generations.  My maternal grandmother left Ireland for the United States at 6 years of age.  These immigrants from the sod met with some resistance because they were both Irish and Roman Catholic. Continue reading

Family Values

Paul Huber – joking around

Paul Huber – joking around

We don’t always appreciate the filaments of family and friends that favor us in life.  We may not assess the significance of our connectedness, what we truly mean to each other, even when we finally lose one of our family to death.  There are so many insignificant distractions from what really matters in life.  But no one missed what mattered about Paul Huber.

Paul was born on October 4, 1951 and a few minutes later, his Mom, Carolyn, gave birth to his twin brother, David.

Paul and David were not identical twins, nor were they rivals, nor was Paul or David into being known as “a twin.”  “I’m my own person,” Paul said. David said, “He was the cool guy.  I was the nerd.”

Dad, Robert Huber, was a serious journalist and a copy editor for the Washington Post and an editor for the Philadelphia Enquirer.

Roberta, the middle child, said, Paul learned to play “his first electric guitar” as a kid when Dad took the family to Tokyo for work, in the 60s, living there for three years, while Dad was an editor for the Stars and Stripes.

The family moved to the country, to Loudoun County, when Dad said, “I want some fresh air and peace and quiet.” Continue reading

The enlargement of liberty – our progress

Thomas Jefferson: "All men are created equal"

Thomas Jefferson: “All men are created equal”

When Thomas Jefferson penned the words in our Declaration of Independence in 1776 that “all Men are created equal,” he stated what the Continental Congress believed to be the proper condition of men in the colonies in relation to the offenses suffered under Great Britain.

Unfortunately, all men were not treated as “equals” within the several colonies either.

Even after our federal constitution with its Bill of Rights, slaves and women enjoyed no rights, unalienable or otherwise.  They were property.

The Declaration was an unfulfilled promise of equality.

A former U.S. Senator said: “The enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any western society.” Continue reading

On the beheading

maskedJihadiAn American Journalist, James Foley, was beheaded by a Jihadi terrorist.

Beforehand, the masked executioner wrote:

“… You and your citizens will pay the price of your bombings! The first of which being the blood of the American citizen, James Foley! He will be executed as a DIRECT result of your transgressions toward us!”

As gruesome an act as this was against an innocent non-combatant journalist, killing innocents in other ways has become a modern war stratagem.

Warring nation states kill innocents from opposing nation-states to break the public’s will, to force the policy question, “Is military action really worth it?”

The “great” civilization of Rome beheaded Cicero at Mark Antony’s direction for what Cicero wrote against Antony.

Now, we have Jihadi cutting off a journalists head for all to see – inviting citizens of the offended nation to be a voyeur at another man’s brutal death.

This public execution contrasts with the killing of thousands of anonymous innocent men, women and children, who are blown to bits by bombs or shot to death.

How much of our anger at this execution therefore is about having been forced to acknowledge that even our nation is engaged in this psycho drama, killing innocents, to build body counts, that become win loss body tallies, so we may win the war of religions, get to seize oil reserves, or gain market dominion, hegemony or territory, all the time, quite unconcerned about whether we’re also killing innocents or uniformed combatants? Continue reading

Let’s re-examine the police function post 9/11

Militarized Police in Ferguson, MO confront an unarmed citizen

Militarized Police in Ferguson, MO confront an unarmed citizen

Ever since 9-11, the federal government has dehumanized its citizens by compromising individual and collective liberties.

The federal government has fostered indiscriminate surveillance, encouraged citizens to inform on their neighbors, relied on questionable snitches, profiled racial and religious types, increased security screenings at public buildings and events, conducted harassing investigations, but the worst of it may be — how the federal government has re-shaped our local law enforcement offices.

Our Congress and federal government have channeled supplies of battle-tested military weapons from Afghanistan and Iraq and Southeast Asia to local police forces across the nation, provided flash-bang grenades, machine guns, ammunition magazines, camouflage, night vision equipment, silencers, armored cars, mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs), even aircraft, bullet proof vests, and this has changed the rules of engagement for our local police from the traditional domestic police function that used to serve civilian neighborhoods to a military force you’d expect to find on a battlefield.

This militarization of our local police forces is most shamefully on display in Ferguson, Missouri.  Continue reading