Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Importance of being a Bug

Agriculture or man’s ability to domesticate and modify plants and animals to suit our large-scale nutritional needs is an age-old science. There is the good – planting, raising and harvesting life sustaining crops like cereals, and livestock animals like beef, swine, and poultry. There is the bad – mass farming, corporate farming, the increased use of medicines, pesticides, and herbicides in order to maximize harvest (to feed a growing population). And there is the ugly – communicable diseases spread on livestock facilities, veal, and the cancerous side-effects of some medicines, pesticides, and herbicides.

No simple problems means no simple solutions can be offered.

But bugs have always been a special thing in Agriculture.

The good – many insects are essential for pollinating crops. Honey bees are our friend. That’s why the mystery of the declining bee population is so scary. Yeah, we see farmers on trackers planting rows of corn, wheat, rice, and such, but those seeds are produced in a lab. No, those seeds are made the old-fashioned way –boom chicka boom boom – pollination in the great wide outdoors. Bees, flies, wasps, and butterflies visit the flowers of these plants. (Yes, they have flowers. That fuzzy, hairy stuff that sticks from the top of the plants in the summer – those are flowers.) Insects visit them to collect nectar and spread pollen around. And that’s sex for plants. The seeds are made. At harvest time the plants are collected and so are the seeds. In a more natural agriculture system, farmers let the seeds drop and re-plant themselves. Others harvest it and replant it. Classic example: Corn kernels – those are corn seeds. Farmers save some ears of corn and plant them the next year.

The bad – many insects devour and destroy crops. Japanese Beetles are not our friend. They are responsible for over $450 million of damage to crops and trees every year! But thanks to good old-fashioned scientific inquiry, we’re learning more about their natural habits, in particular their mating habits. As we learn more about them we can tackle this problem without doing more harm than good.
The ugly - not knowing how insects play a role in your food security can be dangerous. With climate change, rising gas prices and flooding in the midwest, you will be well-advised to keep an eye on the markets (the supermarkets, farmer's markets, and the stock exchange markets) all are on the fringe of recession. Information is very empowering, you might want to consider cutting back on expensive foods, taking advantage of sales, buy more of your foods locally, and stock pile basics like rice, canned corn and beans, flour, sugar, and coffee.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Science Vocab: Nanotechnology

Simply put it is tiny technology – very tiny, in the nanoscale. Basically it is tiny machines and even computers at the molecular level.

A recent paper in Science explains how bacteria with flagella (those little whips, think to the might Euglena from your Biology class, or one better, sperm) move and stop.

The flagella attaches to the base of the bacteria and is engaged by a clutch device. Yes, just like your stick shift car. To stop the bacteria releases a protein that disengages the clutch from the engine and that’s how bacteria stop moving.

No talk of the exact applications, but my creative mind is racing – medicine delivery, micro-mechanics, etc. Read the complete story. Microscopic "Clutch" Puts Flagellum in Neutral.
Nanotechnology and Biotechnology, the umbrella field, are exciting and promising field of life sciences, engineering, physics, and medicine rolled all into one. And Biotechnology is perhaps the fastest growing science-related job field. And technicians are needed to move research and innovation along. Though typically, science professionals possess higher degrees, many technical work levels don’t require college degrees. Lots of career and job growth...
However, a post-secondary education is needed, usually at the associate' or community college level, and the pay potential is great. Here are great career opportunities, but a firm foundation in science and math is needed in order to take advantage of these opportunities.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Back to our regularly scheduled program - SCIENCE

I was poking around and realized I haven't presented much heavy science lately. I've been bent on socioeconomics and class matters lately that I haven't been presenting a balanced show.

I've mulled around alot of ideas in my head and thought, "what the heck, I might as well share them with you."

Very early on, I thought about presenting regular features like:

Tasty Bits:
Up your Vocab quick definitions/explanations of oft-intimidating science words and jargon.
The idea would be to breakdown barriers and encourage more science-related conversation among Black Bloggers and Black Blog Readers.
Example - Mitosis, sample size, experimental group, controlled variables.
labels would include: scientific processes, science literacy
My concern is that it could get a little too much like a science class and put people to sleep. Humor helps, but that doesn't always go over well in printed media.
Frequency - once a week, twice a month, once a month???

Spotlight on Minority Scientists:
Just what the title implies. I've done this a few times - Black History Month and Women's History Month got a lot of play. I could step this up to a more routine feature - once a month.
labels would include: diversity, STEM, African-Americans

Hot Topics:
I've been mulling over this once ALOT. I've got a few in progress essays about genetically modified food crops, and other topics like Stem cells, Global Warming, Race & Society are on my desk. I've tipped-toed around it - e.g. the Sewer Study posts 1 and 2.
labels would include: hot topic
But I want to give such topics their due presentation. My beef is that the news and even blog commentators give the science short shrift. Part of the reason has to do with science illiteracy in this nation. I think another big problem is the overwhelming tendency for Black Blog Commentators to be emotionally reactive while being simultaneously horribly under-informed. As a scientist, this one burns me a new one and is the very reason why I blog. But the accuracy of the information is too important to just give soundbites -- I become guilty of the very thing I accuse others of.
Maybe I'll do these as topics rear their heads.

Science and the public:
Discussing how science benefits society and ways to share science with the public, specifically under-served audiences. I've also thought about sharing science-related podcasts in an effort to get my readers (and target demographic) familiar with these science information gems.
This topic, too deserves more than a few passing lines.
chewing on it...
The podcast part I could do more regularly - once a week....give you something to come back for???

Science Education
Sounds alot like the aforementioned topic. But would include entries about why good science (and math) education matter - especially for children of color.
I dabble at this too.

Well, thanks for being patient and allowing me to procrastinate EVEN more. Now, to become disciplined enough to do it. I don't want to abandon topics related to class and socioeconomics. Is that a hot topic or something else??

I'm still not sure how to proceed.
Looking forward to your feedback.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Read all instructions before proceeding.

I've always been conflicted about the fine line between going one's own path and taking the advice & guidance of others. So, when I encounter mildly defiant, ambitious, tenacious, and calculating youth I ususally give them some leeway. I don't tolerate disrespect or rudeness, so as long as they don't cross any of major social boundaries, I'll give them the time to figure out problems and solutions...I let them handle it their way. I'll try to engage them in Socratic conversation to get them to think about things in a new way and sometimes try to get to them to see what I see or have learned. It works sometimes.

I'm all about people becoming independent, discerning critical thinkers. BUT.....
But what's with not following plain-old-simple directions? Paradox.
The last thing I want is for kids, especially urban kids, to become little drones simply doing rote tasks. That doesn't yield much in the way of long-term success.

I think about the follow before leading speech. Understand the system, first. Then you can improvise. At least know where, how, and why you have diverted from the path. It's just damn irritating. When someone doesn't do things the right way it causes so much extra work and lost time for others...and thinking back to class issues - it results in many individuals being eliminated from opportunities because they are judged as not comprehending or not caring to comprehend the system or whatever. But the consequences can be quite heavy, especially in the workplace. "A hard head makes a soft behind." This is age-old adage warning against disobedience and stubborness. As a child I could be hard-headed at times. But I was a passive-aggressive. So I often did what I was told but did it at a low pace or took my time getting around to. (I only pushed this "slowness" so far. I also learned that a passive-aggressive attitude makes a soft behind, too.)

It's something I had to deal with when I was teaching at Fair Eastside and at the jobhouse.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hello, My name is Snarky

I smile with pride with my ability to use my vocabulary to saying cutting remarks about people in their company but that go over their heads. It usually takes a moment (or days) for them to realize that I zinged them. Now, considering I use this blog to explore matters of classism, this is another way to distinguish and reinforce class roles. However, my favorite prey are those so-called Black Middle Class Sheep of which I have a mixed opinion on. I don't doubt alot of my unkind judgements rest on what might be characterized as my own demons -- coming from a working class (poor) background now mingling with these self-appointed VIPs.

But let me rant for a minute. I am often disappointed with how unread and unsophisticated they are. I mean they don't shit about shit -- but they sure look snazzy. And has anyone else been held hostage while they spout off their resumes? I try to remain stoic and professional, but I want to just stop them in their tracks and say "I'm not impressed with you. So, how 'bout them Celtics?" They're vocabularies are fair but not expansive, they think wearing a suit means they are an expert in every subject they witnessed on TV, their travels consists mainly of road trips to Chicago and Atlanta or to the Superbowl or NBA All-Star Game (tickets to game not included) and all of the clubbing and partying a 20 & 30 something can handle. Many don't have passports, don't speak a foreign language or have friends from other cultures. I mean, how does one consider himself so 'cosmopolitan' with such a lack of experiences?

I've always been a smart ass, a sassy mouth, sardonic. I often spoke words that were judged as disrespectful, rude or speaking over someone's head -- even as a very young child. I probably was punished more for my remarks than my mischievous actions. So imagine how amused I was to discover that Sarcasm is Seen as an Evolutionary Crucial Skill. How 'bout them apples?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reinforcing Class Roles in Public Education

I was reading one of my listed Blogs - Education and Class - and responded to an article about Teaching Working Class Kids. The part that caught my eye was how "real "to do keep it when teaching kids. The fact is there are barriers out there that get in the way of working class and poor students, but as Eduwonkette pointed out we can’t tell kids, “Forget it. The deck is stacked against you. Give up.” But if we simply tell them, “Work hard. Be nice” . We teach compliance with a system structured to favor some over others. How, then, to navigate this chasm that is also called the “achievement gap?”

Here is my response.

Working hard and being nice is good, but not enough. At least by middle school age (definitely high school) kids begin to see the class differences - school district a vs b or kids in college track classes vs vo-tech classes. They may not be able to describe it, but they recognize it and begin to respond (rebel). The most clever kids realized it, called it what it was and was able to manuever. I think I was that kind of kid. I hate unfairness, but I accept it is real, confront it when possible, and exploit the technicalities in my favor if fairness fails.

I always favored telling students what was real — giving them the playbook to how successful people do it. The challenge is that parents and most other adults in many working-class kids lives tell them the be nice, make good grades speech. So even if a teacher does give the youth the real deal, the message is overwhelmed by the more common, but vague messages from home.

Many of these kids rarely get detailed explanations or descriptions of what to do or how to do things in life or what is expected of them in adulthood. I noticed the exact opposite among my better-off friends in middle and high school. Their parents gave them specific suggestions or instructions about what to expect from life & what they expected of them.

I sometimes thinks it’s these details - or lack thereof - that lay the foundation for some kids taking off after high school & some just hanging around the neighborhood hoping for a break.

Jazzy at Because I Said so has some interesting words related to this subjectreat M
The Great American Equalizer

Friday, June 13, 2008

Goodbye to Tim Russert

I must be a really big super nerd. I was taken aback by the sudden death of NBC Journalist Tim Russert. I like him on Meet the Press. I've been watching it since I was a toddler. No kidding. There was no cable in my neighborhood in the early eighties, so the 5 TV stations we now call "Local TV" was it. And Sunday morning was the worst. So NBC's Meet the Press - at 9 am, was on the set.

I've always thought of him as fair but tough. I liked his presentation and vetting style. The Presidential Debates just won't be the same to me without him moderating.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Intellectualism as a Class Factor

Intellectual interests, pursuits, and expertise are also class factors. I’ll admit my snobbishness is intellectually based. My reasons why aren’t well-organized, but I think it is because I view education and intellectualism as egalitarian pursuits. You don’t have to come from a particular family or social class to be well-read and up on current events. You don’t have to come from a long line of scholars or artists to become one yourself or to help others become scholars or artists. It is a free and open. So, why aren’t more people pursuing art and scholarship? Why don't “hard-working (white) Americans” or “folks from the hood” appreciate scholarly pursuits?

Where is the American Intelligentsia? First, I’ll define the word. It describes the scientific, literary, artistic and other intellectual members of society. The term is Russian in origin and used around the time of the Bolshevik Revolution and Lenin during which time the critical, thinking members of society were hunted down. Sometimes, I feel like that is happening today – in this nation. The wave and devotion to anti-intellectualism and carnal pursuits leaves me slack-jawed. Not to mention the angry response to Presidential Candidate Barack Obama & his wife and their Ivy League Educations. (Let’s be clear – Hillary and George W and John Kerry and most Presidential candidates have Ivy League or Posh college & law school educations. What makes the Obamas so uppity?)
And I feel like the Black Community has a heaping extra dose of this herd-stupidity. Kids, especially young men, are chastised for doing well in school. Crack smoking. This aversion to education or even informal scholarly pursuits just seems to make class differences (and exclusions) within our demographic more pronounced. And despite some economic levying, my patience with “financially well-off” blacks but who are as un-read and un-discerning as my sweet-hearted, but “country-as-a-dozen-of- eggs” Delta Mississippi relatives makes me want to cull the Black middle class herd.

So, where is the African-American Intelligentsia? I found his New York Times Article -Magazine for the Black Intelligentsia produced by Law Professor Randall Kennedy.

An excerpt:

There was, for example, a long polemic blasting Harvard Law School for what its author saw as a stress on "white cultural norms" at the expense of "subordinate communities."
"It was clear for a long time that if you went to a bookstore or a newsstand, you wouldn't find a black American equivalent of a Commentary Magazine or a Tikkun," Professor Kennedy said during an interview at Harvard. The reference was to magazines, one generally conservative and the other liberal, that focus on Jewish issues. "That was a real weakness for the African-American intelligentsia, which hasn't had much of an institutional base," he said.

This article was published in 1991! I was in high school that year! And even then there was talk of pounding white cultural norms in the ground – so this stuff we’re - or rather Obama is -dealing with isn’t new.

Professor Randall Kennedy’s comment about there being NO institutional base for Black Intellectualism or Intelligentsia was very true. Considering I’d never heard of this magazine - Reconstruction - until now, and it didn’t last too long, proves it didn’t become an institutional base either. So many concerned Black citizens and Black intellectuals have been put out over the prevailing imagery (and hi-jacking) of Black American culture by BET and other Ghetto-isms, maybe this is the intra-community publicity war worth taking on. Build up the Black Intelligentsia! (?) Can we do that without becoming evil snobbish tyrants against our less educated brethren? I don’t know.
But in the meantime, does the internet, specifically, the AfroSpear, provide that fertile soil for such an institutional movement to spring forth?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

World Environment Day

Happy World Environment Day ! World Environment Day, commemorated each year on 5 June, is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action.

This year's slogan for 2008 is Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy. Recognizing that climate change is becoming the defining issue of our era, the UNEP (United Nations Environment Progam) is asking countries, companies and communities to focus on greenhouse gas emissions and how to reduce them. The World Environment Day will highlight resources and initiatives that promote low carbon economies and life-styles, such as improved energy efficiency, alternative energy sources, forest conservation and eco-friendly consumption.

Like my other UN-related entries, I'm learning alot about the UN and their programs.

I bring these things to my readers, because I find them worthy of sharing. I find among my real life associates and my colleagues in the AfroSpear, such global and environmental topics are rarely discussed.

Be Informed. Go Green!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Class-culture shock

At the jobhouse, I got a front-row seat to what I call Class-culture shock. Looking at class as a cultural influence, I noticed some surprise and often awkward reactions of my people when they were placed in "different" cultural settings. In the case of my job it meant placing them in a professional setting - 1) a white collar work environment where people were valued for their knowledge and expertise in a subject as opposed to completing assigned tasks over a period of time; 2) most of the people were white, which I later learned made them TERRIBLY uncomfortable; 3) interacting with people with college degrees - even educated Black people made them antsy after a while.

When individuals are placed in a social or public settings so very different than that of their primary culture (and they haven’t been prepared for it) it is not uncommon for them to 1) feel uncomfortable, 2) remain quiet or give little to no response to others, and 3) respond inappropriately or “act out”.

With my employees I was able to assemble a whole list of behaviors that they would engage in after about 30 minutes into a professional meeting or similar setting.

I called it the “Things That Seem Like No Big Deal To You, But They Really Are” List.

1. Repeatedly needing to be reminded that a meeting has started or re-convened.
This includes returning to a meeting after scheduled breaks or disappearing altogether for huge chunks of time. I lost a lot of meeting time searching for them and corralling them back.

2. Being reminded multiple times to interact with other participants. Sequestering self from others and not interacting with unfamiliar colleagues. They would push back chairs or hide in corners - just uncharacteristically shy. They weren't the paying-attention-quiet, but the I-don't really-want-to-be-here-quiet.

3. Doing other things during a program or meeting – all the time. For example, texting, talking on cell phone, leaving to talk on cell phone, loud fumbling and moving around, grunting and other complaining noises.

4. Not being observed being studious, including sleeping/dosing off. Being observed doing trivial things more often. This one happened all of the time - especially at Board Meetings.

5. Verbal and non-verbal signs of complaint and dissatisfaction, including signs of hostility and using foul language are especially taboo.

6. Slow or no response to direct instruction.

It was no secret that the Program was treated like a big Ghetto Joke by many of the outside partner Agencies. I explained to my employees that demonstrating any of these behaviors makes one appear not serious. If you’re not behaving seriously, then others won’t take you seriously. And that's exactly what happened. They employees weren't taken seriously and neither was the program. That's one of the reasons why I left the job.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Culture as a factor in Classism

I’ve come to accept that class issues are also about culture influences. And confronting classism means putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. We seem to be able to do that more easily for other “culture identities” but less so with class as a culture identity.

Defining Culture

Culture is a tangle of word. I think of culture as the air we breathe or water we swim in that sets our mind-meters to what is normal or the usual ways of doing things or reacting to things, etc. I remember moving to different region of the States and was amazed how “fish out of water” I felt. It wasn’t until then that I appreciated regional influences of my enculturation. I was put off my people’s reaction (or lack) of reaction to me when I walked into a room, to notice men not holding doors open for women…That kind of thing. So I realized that being Black wasn’t the end-all-be-all to my identity or cultural influences. I had been influenced by several unnoticed variables. And it wasn’t until I was removed from my “fish bowl” could notice that the pH had changed and I wasn’t responding well to it. Cultural influences can include:
· Race or ethnic heritage
· Regional or neighborhood affiliations
· Family traditions
· Social group affiliations and traditions (including church, social clubs, union halls, etc.)
· Age or generation – the older vs younger generation run-ins that ALWAYS exists and becoming increasingly more common among Black Civil Rights Organizations
· Gender, reproductive status, and/or marital status (Men vs. Women, Married Women vs. single women, parents vs non-parents)
· Education or work level/title or economic status -- which smacks dead-on class issues. I list these together because they are all involved in the CLASSISM mix.

Whether intentioned or not, people cluster together according to these differences. Clustering and socializing is one thing. But once one segment has some control or influence (or gains privileges then we have a CLASS struggle. These things start happening on the school yard and by high school the lunch room is pit of classism. Identifying it is one thing, an important thing. Confronting it is still a big matter.