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March 2013
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May 2013

CMP: Controlled Flight Into Terrain

 The Tribune Company’s eight regional newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant are now worth $623 million... less than the $1 billion my former employer CMP was worth in 1999. This is probably more a comment on the horrible decline of daily newspapers. Of course, a lot of that billion-dollar value of CMP has been destroyed by UBM  in the 14 years since. Now we know how long it takes to run a billion-dollar company into the ground. Controlled flight into terrain, I think they call it in aviation.

Education Issue: Common Core Standards (CCS)

Finally, an education reform proposal which I can support. The fact that the Angry Old White Guys Party (sorry, the Republican Party) opposes them, confirms my opinion that they are a very good idea indeed. Forty-eight of  50 states have adopted them, or are on their way. Of course, since English and Math are the only subjects that matter, so there is no Common Core Standard for Social Studies, and likely won't be one for several years. As a Social Studies (history) teacher, I resent that, but I can learn to live with it. In the meantime, while a Social Studies standard is developed, we can live with the thin gruel of supporting the English standards: read more non-fiction texts and write more.

Will Common Core raise our standing on international tests. as the governors who back the standards hope? Maybe, but I doubt it. Will CCS improve education? Almost certainly. The goal is to get away from multiple choice assessment and move towards essay tests for English, and tests which actually demonstrate proficiency in math. Harder to grade, but more meaningful tests. Another goal is to move from standards that are drowning in specifics to skills-based standards. We should not be encouraging our students to memorize random facts--that's what Google and Wikipedia are for. Instead, we should be teaching them how to find the facts they need, how to reason with them, and how to internalize them, either verbally or in writing.

Take the California standards. The preface was great: a handful of big themes about history students should understand. But once you get past the opening paragraph, the standard is basically a few hundred facts all students should know about US and World history. And that's what the annual high-stakes STAR test is designed to check out, so that's the standard we teach to. Since history is unimportant, it is only tested once every three years. That's right, during the first week of May, my 8th grade students will be tested on their ability to retain specific facts they learned in 6th grade. The result is that we have to rush through U.S. History to 1914 by the first week of May, and spend a week reviewing sixth and seventh grade social studies. Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it. Those who read it two years ago are doomed to forget it.

My take on Common Core Standards is that they will be difficult, costly and time-consuming to implement, but that if we stay the course and don't devolve into rote testing of rote learning (which is where we are now), we have the opportunity to educate our students in the actual skills they will need in the 21st century, rather than those of the 19th. I am not optimistic. I am sure when California released the "guiding principles" for its standards years ago, everyone applauded. Alas, there is a long slippery slope between, "understanding that geography and culture affect politics and government," and "be able to understand John Q. Adams 1824 Fourth of July Address." Perhaps, this time, we will not take the easy way out. Some things are difficult to quantify; education may be one of them. Unless you think taking multiple-choice tests is an important life skill, you must favor change. And with the exception of  the education system itself, in 40 years as a journalist and teacher, no editor or principle has judged me on my multiple choice test-taking abilities. I think the same will hold true for our students.

On the other hand, multiple guess is cheap and easy. Have no doubt, the American motto is not "E Pluribus Unum" it is "cheap and easy."

Political Briefs

  • How U.S. Cities can protect themselves against bombing attacks
  • On Miranda
    While they are at it, the justices should also severely limit the so-called public safety exception to the ironclad rule that a Miranda warning must be given to any person subjected to custodial interrogation. The limitation should be along the lines of limiting the exception to an immediate threat and only for the limited amount of time (not to exceed a few minutes) necessary to determine either that there is no public danger or for the person in custody to provide the information if the person chooses to do so and fails to assert Miranda rights on his own. It would be the height of folly (and unacceptable to many) if after law enforcement officials stated on international television that there was no remaining threat the failure to provide a Miranda warning to a person suspected of criminal conduct were to go entirely free because someone (e.g., the FBI Director, the Attorney General, and the President after being harassed by two U.S. Senators and many television commentators) decided to allow questioning of the suspect without providing a Miranda warning. Also: Protecting Your Rights And Your Family's Rights
  • Scalia's dubious ethics continue


4 stars out of 5
If a movie surprises me once, well, I'm surprised. If it surprises me twice, I am amazed. I can't remember the last time a movie surprised me three times; I suppose the word is flabbergasted. This movie surprised me three times. If you are tired of predicting every plot twist in a film, this film is for you. It helps if you like (or can at least tolerate) Tom Cruise, as he is in every scene. Morgan Freeman, in a cameo as a commando leader, comes close to stealing the film, but what do you expect from America's narrator. Cruise plays a post-apocalyptic drone repairman working near the destroyed New York City in 2077. His house is amazing--based, no doubt, on some actual home in LA. I normally don't succumb to real estate porn, but this place had me watching the set as much as the actors whenever it was on screen. Who are the good guys? The bad guys? What's on the flight recorder? What about those pesky black and white memories? I was well and truly impressed, and think you will be too.

An Atypical Week

This week, I did things I do weekly, monthly and quarterly. For those of you trying to make sense of my life (and really, why bother), I thought I'd run it down for you. This is a review if you've been paying really close attention.

Of course, every weekday begins with a half-day teaching 8th grade US History (Columbus to World War I).

I drove about 20 miles south (as I do weekly) to the dress rehearsal of the Danville Community Band. We call it the dress rehearsal, but we are really using the term to mean "final rehearsal before the concert." If it was really dress, the men would be in tuxes and the women in black dresses. I have been this 80-piece brass band's announcer since its founding in the fall of 2001. I have been playing tenor sax with the band since August 2005 (eight years this fall!). I love it. It is an important two-hour part of every week between Labor Day and the first of June. I wanted to play the sax ever since I heard Fred MacMurray plan one in a movie.

I attend St. Stephen's church in Orinda. They have morning prayer five days a week. Attendance is usually light; once in a while it is only the celebrant. Once a month, on the first Wednesday, the Rector celebrates morning prayer, then invites the half-dozen or so attendees to breakfast at Chow's in Lafayette. So, I went this Wednesday (as I do monthly) for the fellowship, even though the rector is on an 8-week sabbatical. We still had a lovely time at breakfast. I am also trying to go once a month to the Tuesday morning prayer, which is Rite I (old-fashioned language; it's an Episocpal thing). Fr. Larry has asked me to consider running one day a week or morning prayer, and once I retire (if ever), I might well do so.

Normally on Thursday, I put in an hour with my trainer Barry (he specializes in old farts), but this week my daughters invited me to join them in SF, at the Comet Club, to hear Jason, a classmate of theirs on his way to being a standup comedian. He delivered a very funny, succinct set. We left after his set, but he was the best of the three we listened to. What a joy! Here's a man who once cat-sat for us, clearly developing an amazing skill set.

If my wife and I want to bicycle again this year, we need a trailer hitch on the Prius, which we went and got on Saturday. You shouldn't tow a trailer with a Prius, but the car and is frame can stand a bike rack. We used to use a strap-on rack, until one of our bikes fell off on the freeway. Since then, we've looked to sturdier racks, that attach to trailer hitches.

In the morning, breakfast with Rich, a man I worked with at the Associated Press in Boston. We only see each other once every few years, but it is always a solid-gold joy. He is fun and funny. We ate at Table 24 in Orinda's Theater Square. It was the first time I had been there for breakfast. The fried egg sandwich was to die for.

Then, one of the Danville Band's four regular gigs each year: an afternoon concert at the Blackhawk Automotive Museum, a division of the Smithsonian. A nearly full house, and the announcing was, if I say so myself, little short of amazing, with music to match. I look natty in my tux. We show up at noon, and play from 2-4. Very worthwhile. I am a big hit with the blue rinse crowd.

Political Briefs

  • Turning Foreign Techniques And Operatives Inward
    "One reason no federal court has ever ruled on the unconstitutionality of Disney World's violation of voting rights is that no one so far has challenged it. It is as though a crucial sector of the New York metropolitan area—Wall Street, for instance—were exempted from democracy as well as taxation, government regulation and the rule of law, and no one so much as protested. Sound familiar?
  • Bagpipes for Homeland Security

Gates Tweet, InformationWEEK folds, Dan Grobstein File

A friend of mine at San Jose State had his program tweeted by (wait for it...) Bill Gates!
Great idea: @SJSU offering “battery university” for this fast growing & critical industry.

Sic transit gloria mundi. Daniel Dern reports on the successor to my old employer, CMP.
Layoffs Begin at UBM's Tech Group - B2B @

In late March FOLIO: reported that the print editions of InformationWeek and CRN, housed in UBM's Tech Group, were to be shut down as part of the company's ongoing efforts to shift its strategic focus on events and  digital. The layoffs predicted in that story have begun today, say several sources...

Update: According a release, UBM Tech will stop producing print publications as of July 1, 2013. InformationWeek will continue online. Test and Measurment World and Advanced Trading will be shut down and the group will also close four smaller events.

One of my friends was laid off a few months short of his 20th anniversary with CMP/UBM. So now we know how long it takes to drive a billion-dollar company into the ground: 14 years.

Dan Grobstein File