Brittle Skillet

Sparks of passion and items of interest.

Archive for July 2009

Sotomayor Wins Senate Judiciary Committee Vote

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By Jay Tamboli

What an exciting, historic success! Sonia Sotomayor is well on her way to taking her place on our country’s highest court as the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. With the Senate Judiciary Committee voting 13 to 6 in her favor, the expected outcome for next week’s full Senate vote is confirmation.

Despite the GOP’s efforts to distract focus with “look-over-here” tactics, the vote for she who can execute justice according to the rule of law without influence of her own biases and preferences has been firmly achieved. We’re moving forward, people!

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was the only Republican to vote today with the Democratic majority for Sotomayor. Who would have imagined? In reaction to the vote, he even went so far as to say, “America has changed for the better with her selection.”

Senator Graham, your choice and standout action to vote against the rest of your party reinforces hope that we are closer to the day when our leaders and representatives are playing less of the politics game and making decisions based more on America’s best interest. Thank you, Sir.

Photo by Jay Tamboli

© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.


Written by Julie Pierce

July 28, 2009 at 10:49 am

U.S. and China on Common Ground: Strategic and Economic Dialogue

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Once again, we see progress with the Obama Administration. In the area of foreign policy, today was a monumental day. In the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue was opened with its inaugural session.

In an op-ed piece published by the Wall Street Journal, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner explain the objectives of this historical dialogue. The collaborative connection between China and the U.S. is highlighted and emphasized as a significant venture for the global economy and the future of our world.

In a nutshell, there are three main modules of the larger area objectives:

  • Establishment of global economic recovery and sustainable global economic growth
  • Progress with the inseparable challenges of climate change, energy, and the environment
  • Achievement of globally favorable practices in the face of security and development challenges

Although this is an official dialogue opened between the U.S. and China, other nations will need to be engaged as these two work to discover viable solutions. Secretary Clinton and Secretary Geithner write, “few global problems can be solved by the U.S. or China alone. And few can be solved without the U.S. and China together.”

It will be interesting to watch the dialogue develop and unfold. How will these two nations work together? How will their coming together influence the rest of the world’s nations to unify toward global goals? Can we be as encouraged as to hope that human rights will be one of the details under “globally favorable practices in the face of security and development challenges”?

I take encouragement from a front-page article from China Daily. Despite the downplay by foreign press and various “experts,” some in China are seeing the dialogue as an important achievement.

I am optimistic for a progressive turn of events. There is light dawning at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Thank you, President Obama for carrying the torch.

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© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.

Written by Julie Pierce

July 27, 2009 at 6:59 pm

Obama’s “Race to the Top”: Public School Improvement

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By Annaliece Balensiefen, 7 years old

What’s happening in our schools today? What’s happening to our schools today? As our economy continues to struggle, one of our hardest hit public programs is education.

If I understand the numbers correctly, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has provided $117 billion for improvements in our education system. Add to that the launch on Friday, July 24, 2009 of the “Race to the Top” competition, the Obama administration seems to be doing a lot to make improvement to public education a real priority.

We can only hope that the incentives of “Race to the Top” will compellingly inspire real change in school districts across America. But how badly are states individually interested in gaining this funding opportunity? And what checks are in place to ensure that the achieved funds will be used effectively?

The four areas “Race to the Top” targets are:

  • The adoption of rigorous standards and assessments
  • The recruitment and retention of high quality teachers
  • A significant turnaround for low-performance schools
  • The establishment of data systems to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness

School districts and states need to be creative, innovative, and very realistic when addressing these four areas. The idea behind “Race to the Top” is magnificent in its natural use of competition to create best, most effective practices. Competition works this way in the business world. Can the competitive arena do the same for our failing schools?

The national spotlight now shines on state districts, and winners win for the whole state. This is huge, and hugely important.

Extraordinary examples of how improvements are already being made do exist. Most of the time, these scarce examples fly under the radar, but in Soledad O’Brien’s series Black in America produced and run on CNN, an shining example of success stands out. Steve Perry of Hartford, Connecticut is having a significant influence on kids in his community with his Capital Preparatory Magnet School. His approach is all about the details. In his opinion, it is the details that result in a better, brighter big picture.

The success of Capital Prep is in stark contrast to what is happening at most of America’s schools. Many school districts are having to cutback on educational support, and even the kids are noticing. For example, at a school in San Jose, California a student is concerned about the number of students he’ll have in his classroom next year.

I am hopeful that all governors, school boards, principals and teachers, and anyone else who can constructively get involved with public school improvements will look at what Steve Perry and other’s successful models have achieved. If we have good ideas, let’s submit them to representatives on local school boards and our local government. Now is the time for brainstorming all the possibilities. Our kids, our economy, and our future as a global contributor and competitor demand it.

Investments by State – Click a state to see where funds are allocated and paid out.

Drawing by Annaliece Balensiefen, 7 years old

© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.

Written by Julie Pierce

July 26, 2009 at 4:25 pm

The Good Critic: How To Critique

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By PresleyJesus

Everyone’s a critic all right. Sometimes that can be helpful, but most of the time it’s a drag. Especially when your a writer. Who are these people with their slicing comments and degrading suggestions? Why would someone actually say, “This sucks,” even if they don’t like it, or “Why don’t you just slit your wrists now?” It’s nothing but hurtful.

Writing is a process. It doesn’t always come out right the first time. That’s why we need feedback. It helps correct course and approach. But blatantly thrown rocks and knives do nothing but destroy us.

It’s not that we only want to hear the good things, but the difference between constructive criticism and a cruel blow is the difference between an improvement to a manuscript and a really crappy day, wherein we may want to slit our wrists.

So if you are ever asked for your opinion about someone’s writing, be thoughtful and truthful, but also be kind. There’s no need to say, “Well, my friend, you may want to stop with this writing fantasy of yours. Besides you don’t really have time for a hobby.”

Instead, why not suggest that you’re not the best critic for this job because the story is not generally the type you like. Or perhaps you could just smile and pick the one thing you did enjoy about it, like how cool the title is, or how well you like the font.

In her blog post from July 4, 2009, Anne R. Allen lays it out perfectly and offers great advice to writers everywhere, no matter what they write. Her suggestions of how to deal with a self-appointed critic are golden. Anne also tells us where to solicit a critique and where to avoid it. This is the good stuff.

Photo by PresleyJesus

© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.

Written by Julie Pierce

July 25, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Sotomayor: Latina of Clear Judgement

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Poster by Favianna Rodriguez,

I vote “Yes” for Sonia Sotomayor! Listening to her responses during the questioning process of her hearing, I was impressed by the way Sotomayor remained calm and thoughtful, collected and deliberate no matter how ridiculous or heated the questions and remarks of the various senators became. This woman is a consistent thinker and is very clear about the difference between the rule of law (the stick by which every judicial decision must be measured) and her personal preferences and opinions.

Aren’t these traits exactly what we want in a Supreme Court Justice? A person who is publicly aware (by self-declaration) of her biases and the contrast between those and the rule of law — how perfect! Her track record of case decisions reflects a clear difference between her rulings and her biases, specifically in cases involving race discrimination.

Despite this clarity, there are some who are still clinging to and expressing concerns about her personal preferences regarding race and immigration policies. Out of a endless list of cases, there is only one case in which Sotomayor ruled against the white plaintiff in a racial discrimination case. Her ruling, which was unanimously shared by the two other judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, was in line with and supported by federal law. Sotomayor ruled by following the law, not by following her personal preferences.

The fact that the GOP continues to gin up concern about her personal biases is just silly politics as usual. Her personal preferences are really not the issue here. How does she perform as a judge? That’s the question. The answer is perfectly satisfactory: she follows the rule of law without prejudice.

Sotomayor hearings: The complete transcript, Part 1

Sotomayor hearings: The complete transcript, Part 2

Poster by Favianna Rodriguez,

© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.

Written by Julie Pierce

July 25, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Teaching Our Kids Respect

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By g-hat

We must teach our kids respect. The state of our society depends on it. I’m not sure how or why, but our culture, in the main, seems to have left this lesson by the roadside.

Respect for authority and our elders and choices about what language is okay are important aspects of the bigger picture. But what I’m specifically targeting here is respect for self and respect for others. I believe that if these foundational aspects of respect are instilled from the very start, the other types of respect will fall into place.

I realize that I am making broad generalizations here, but these generalizations seem perfectly appropriate to the prevalent lack of these two types of respect within our larger American society today. CNN’s series Black in America offers great examples of how this segment of our population is addressing the challenge of respect in their own ways within the scope of their larger challenges to give their kids a fighting chance toward future success. But on the whole and across our communities at large, the opportunity and need for these lessons is greater than the response to them.

There is a group of people for whom the natural biological drive is to conquer and control the world around them, abusing resources, including people, to achieve their own pleasure or success. The self-selecting members of this Group A are usually, but not always, boys.

By contrast and in compliment, there is a second group of people for whom the natural biological drive is to nurture and support, accommodate and supply. The self-selecting members of this Group B are usually, but not always, girls. By nature, A and B are a perfect fit.

Specifically, and here I continue the broad generalizations, the lesson of society for the Group A member child is that he should make the world his own. Group A member children are taught that complying with parents or other authority is often a good strategy to ultimately get what they want and keep the waters calm. But ultimately, it is for the selfish execution of his own gain, not the cooperative gain, and it leads to the neglect of this child’s own inner moral checkpoints.

In general, members of Group B are taught to gain the positive attention and approval of others, to please others frequently at the cost of their own inner motivations. At some point in childhood, this lesson translates itself into the Group B member child turning these external motivators into internal motivators. This practice leads to the neglect of this child’s own inner voice and her inner moral checkpoints.

I am not suggesting that we deny nature, but rather work with it. The strengths and natural leaning of Group A members and Group B members are useful and good for the cooperative progress of community. However, the natural biological drives, instead of being enhanced by what our culture is currently teaching, should be consciously recognized as such, and then monitored and modified, redirected with intentional choice and an awareness of consequences.

Respect for others builds a foundation for compassion and deters against harming and exploiting others. Respect for self keeps our ears open to our own inner motivations and enables us to exercise a balance between nurturing and supporting others while nurturing and supporting ourselves. Both kinds of respect provide a mechanism of guidance from moral checkpoints that we, presumably, also learn along the way to adulthood. The first place a child of either group learns both kinds of respect is by watching the adults around him model it. Let’s all practice respect.

Resources that suggest how to teach and model respect:

Photo by g-hat

© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.

Written by Julie Pierce

July 24, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Phone and Crash: Driving While Distracted

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Updated Aug 27, 2009
Updated Aug 25, 2009
Updated Aug 13, 2009

I have a simple request for every human on our planet: no driving while distracted.

Is it really necessary to be talking on the phone or texting at the very same time you drive from here to there? If you must talk right now, if the conversation cannot wait till your vehicle has come to a complete stop (for the duration of the conversation), then pull over.

This is a matter of life and death. It’s as significant as drinking and driving. The severity of the situation is eloquently explained and supported in William Saletan’s article Driving While Interrogated on He includes quoted information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a never-released draft of proposed policy.

I realize it’s easier to suggest pulling over for a phone call than it is in actual practice — there isn’t always a safe and convenient place to pull over. But that’s only one of the suggestions that Saletan makes in his article. In fact, he provides four reasonably conceived solutions that could be effective with enforcement. Well, that’s my opinion. He’s not so sure himself.

Here in Seattle, we do have a not-so-effective hands-free law, which states that you must be using a hands-free technology when phoning while driving. The irritatingly amusing thing is that no one seems to have gotten the memo. It’s illegal to drive and hold the phone simultaneously, Seattlelites! Of course, the law makes talking into a handset while driving a secondary misdemeanor so you can’t be pulled over specifically for that.

Regardless of whether Slaten’s got the answers or not, we must think about the choices we make while driving. It’s not just how our choices have an impact on our immediate world — me, my passengers, and my vehicle — but everyone else on the road too. As with anything that takes our brain away from the task of driving, we are in a state of consciousness that endangers all the other citizens of the road, including the undecided squirrels and misguided armadillos.

Maureen Dowd, distinguished op-ed columnist for the New York Times, is with me and Saletan on this one! How about you?

Added Aug 13, 2009:
More coverage on driving while distracted from the Washington Post brings home the point even further. The fact that many states have laws against talking and texting while driving, and all of these laws are executable only as secondary offenses illustrates the lame jab at the situation taken by lawmakers. There is virtually no way to enforce these laws. And although the American public pays lip service to being irritated by drivers acting irresponsibly in this way, which one of us is driving without talking or texting all of the time?

View the quiz from the Washington Post, and then return here to share your thoughts about talking and texting while driving and related laws.

Added Aug 25, 2009:
A PSA presented in the U.K. leaves no doubts about the dangers. The link in the previous sentence takes you to an article about the PSA, in which you’ll find a link to the PSA itself. Be ware, the PSA is very graphic and disturbing, achieving the desired effect. Perhaps we need a strong message of the same ilk for our public here in the U.S. Without it, are we getting the message?

Added Aug 27, 2009:
John Cook of TechFlash shares another poll from PEMCO about texting while driving and considers whether it should be a primary offense.

Graphic by Mike “Dakinewavamon” Kline

© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.

Written by Julie Pierce

July 23, 2009 at 7:33 pm