Archive for July, 2007

Kicked to the Curb: The Unintended Consequences of the NCLB Act

In anticipation of our next fight club gathering I wanted to pass along an interesting blog posting on the negative unintended consequences of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act – like science instruction for 1st – 3rd grades reduced to 20 minutes at a “successful” school because they are so afraid of even the scent of a poor performance on standardized tests and the resulting budgetary drop kicks.

Check out the full article on (parent . thesis) over at c|net.

Also read about some interesting solutions from the Donor’s Choose website.  If you have an AMEX card – read how you can get involved for FREE!

When Kissing Won’t Do… Universal Spanks The Baby!

Thank god for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)!  A loving mother recently posted a 30-second video of her toddler dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”… to make a long story short… Universal threw a “temper tantrum” and sent YouTube a standard-issue Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice.  So YouTube took down the content.  Now to the good part… EFF has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the family to restore the video and asking for damages plus the kicker of injunctive relief restraining Universal from bring further copyright claims against the family!

Now what to do with these rabid copyright holders?  “Universal’s takedown notice doesn’t even pass the laugh test,” said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. “Copyright holders should be held accountable when they undermine non-infringing, fair uses like this video.”

Read the full article on  And make sure to see the video of the dancing baby for yourself.

Democracy or Mob Rule? Buy the t-shirt!

Mob RuleI

[The Mob by Mr Shev]

I recently read a NYT Magazine article about, the latest manifestation of Web 2.0.  Basically, you contribute a t-shirt design and users vote on which designs they like best.  Each month the winner gets $2,000 and the design gets printed on 1,500 t-shirts and sold on the site. 

Not surprisingly, there are trends and certain designers win consistently, such as Glenn Jones from New Zealand who has won 16 times.  I got a kick out of his designs for kids’ shirts such as Defending the Kingdom and Homework Evidence.  But, what does it mean that small number of designers win most often?  That good design is hard and only a few are good at it?  Or is there a herd mentality? 

What about Wikipedia and YouTube?  Is Web 2.0 delivering on the democratic promise of the Internet? 

Which leads me to two recommendations for Fight Club topics: The Average American and The Cult of the Amateur.  Apparently, the average American lives within 20 minutes of a Wal-Mart, believes in God, can name the three stooges but not the three branches of government.  Do we really want input from a broader cross section of America? Take the Average American Quiz and find out where you are on the continuum. 

“Consider the notion that the most typical American is an adult in a traditional nuclear family – a married man or woman living with an opposite-sex spouse and offspring under eighteen years old. Census 2000 showed that the nuclear family now represents fewer than a quarter of all U.S. homes. Families consisting of a working dad, stay-at-home mom, and offspring make up only 7 percent of U.S. homes.” 

In The Cult of the Amateur: How today’s Internet is killing our culture Andrew Keen argues that “what the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment.” In his view Web 2.0 is changing the cultural landscape and not for the better. By undermining mainstream media and intellectual property rights, he says, it is creating a world in which we will “live to see the bulk of our music coming from amateur garage bands, our movies and television from glorified YouTubes, and our news made up of hyperactive celebrity gossip, served up as mere dressing for advertising.” This is what happens, he suggests, “when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule.” 

But our friend Lawrence Lessig points out in his blog that “Keen is our generation’s greatest self-parodist. His book is not a criticism of the Internet. Like the article in Nature comparing Wikipedia and Britannica, the real argument of Keen’s book is that traditional media and publishing is just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Here’s a book — Keen’s — that has passed through all the rigor of modern American publishing, yet which is perhaps as reliable as your average blog post: No doubt interesting, sometimes well written, lots of times ridiculously over the top — but also riddled with errors. Keen’s obvious point is to show those with a blind faith in the traditional system that it can be just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Indeed, one might say even worse, since the Internet doesn’t primp itself with the pretense that its words are promised to be true.” 

What about Broken Spines?  Are we really contributing anything?  Or are we just amusing ourselves? 

Here’s a link to the NYT Magazine article:The Way We Were: Consumed; Mass Appeal (requires NYT subscription) July 8, 2007, SundayBy BOB WALKER (NYT); Magazine ABSTRACT – From Wikipedia to ”American Idol,” shifting control from experts to the masses has never been more popular. As an example of what this can mean for consumer companies, the herd of anti-expertise experts often points to, which has sold millions of dollars of T-shirts by not hiring star …  

Exerpt from Average American:John Q Public. Plain Jane. The Average Joe. We think we know the type, but have we ever actually met the person? To be the perfectly average American is harder than it might seem: You must live within three miles of a McDonald’s, and two miles of a public park; you must be better off financially than your parents, but earn no more than $75,000 a year; you must believe in God and the literal truth of the Bible, yet hold some views that traditional churches have deemed sacrilegious.  

Shift Happens

If I were to take our current bout subject, education, and make a mash-up with Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat, I very well might come up with this thought-provoking video. Of course, I didn’t come up with this; credit Karl Fisch, and The Fischbowl Blog, who originally compiled it to present to high school teachers thinking about the world our students are entering and wondering how best to help them prepare…

Besides the myriad thought-provoking blurbs in the video, here are some other interesting nuggets to consider (taken from the original presentation but cut from the above version):

  • In 2002 alone, Nintendo invested more then $140 million in R&D; by comparison, the U.S. Federal Government spent less than half as much on R&D in Education.
  • It’s estimated that a week’s worth of New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century.
  • The $100 laptop project (OLPC) is expecting to ship between 50 and 100 million a year to children in underdeveloped countries.

Feed me!

OK, who’s hungry? Who needs a daily dose of Broken Spines and an easy way to get it? Ever hear of an ‘RSS Feed’? Sure you have. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. In fact, ‘RSS’ actually stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication’. From

RSS is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines or podcasts. An RSS document, which is called a “feed”, “web feed”, or “channel”, contains either a summary of content from an associated web site or the full text. RSS makes it possible for people to keep up with their favorite web sites in an automated manner that’s easier than checking them manually.

RSS content can be read using software called a “feed reader” or an “aggregator.” The user subscribes to a feed by entering the feed’s link into the reader or by clicking an RSS icon in a browser that initiates the subscription process. The reader checks the user’s subscribed feeds regularly for new content, downloading any updates that it finds.

I use Google Reader as my aggregator and found it very easy to set up (as it integrates seamlessly with my iGoogle home page and Gmail); but a quick search will yield several other choices for aggregators. Whichever reader you choose should offer a simple ‘how-to’ for compiling your feeds, but it is basically as easy as saving bookmarks in your browser. A simple drag-and-drop of the RSS feed symbol, , into your aggregator is usually all it takes.

One word of advice: when setting your RSS feeds for Broken Spines, be sure to establish separate ones for both new posts and comments.

So, don’t go hungry! Set up your reader today!

EDIT: Per Steve’s comment, here’s a great vid to explain it…

Bad Mood Rising

Dow Jones Record High

As the Dow approaches 14,000 and hedge fund managers (the new robber barons?) rake in millions – consumer confidence continues to lag.  In his editorial Democrats Prosperity Problem, George Will writes that the economy is humming along due to tax cuts (96 quarters of growth in the last 102) but the economy is not what’s really bothering America.  A recent editorial by Froma Horrop eloquently describes what is ailing us:

And so Americans may be pardoned for not celebrating the economic indicators. A country that doesn’t pay its bills, that squanders its blood and prestige on military mistakes and that regards its working people as just another input in the global labor market doesn’t sound like a country with a promising future. Americans sense they are losing what made them great, and that’s why they’re in a rotten mood.

Goddamn right I’m in a bad mood.  I’m tired of our nation’s so-called leaders warning us about their “gut feeling” that terrorists may soon attack.  I’m sick of bald faced attempts to redirect our attention from vital issues: Even Republicans are now calling for a withdrawal from Iraq.  Turns out Alberto Gonzalez knew about FBI violations of civil liberties when he said there were none.  Bush commutes Lewis Libby’s sentence for obstructing justice in the CIA spy leak scandal thus making it OK to commit an act of treason against the United States and get away with it.  Dick Cheney is above the law.

I wish the election were tomorrow.

You’ve got to ask yourself a question…

… Do I feel lucky?

Well, do ya, punk?!

According to a voluntary poll taken at, 65% of punks DO feel lucky! Some responses considered luck in general, life-encompassing terms:

  • “Yes I am lucky. I feel that luck is a direct result from a positive perspective in general.”

While others were a bit more pragmatic:

  • “I have a home and a car and a job and a few bucks in my pocket. That probably makes me luckier than at least half the humans on this earth.”

Those not feeling lucky had some obvious reasons for it:

  • “Unfortunately, I’m not lucky at all. My dad has been without a job for forever it seems, causing too much stress in the household. I also had a f#@king tumor on my spine at 18 years old.”

And, as an interesting corollary, 60% of the respondents said that they “lean to the right.” Unfortunately, little can drawn from these general results as we don’t know how each person answered individually. But, at least we know that with this particular cross-section, the cup of luck is more than half-full.

You Don’t Know Dick

You have got to read “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency“, a four part report written by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker in the Washington Post. It’s a well written series that sheds some much needed light on the unprecedented power of this VP and the secretive ways with which he maneuvers.  Two interesting observations:

  1. “The irony with the Cheney crowd pushing the envelope on presidential power is that the president has now ended up with lesser powers than he would have had if they had made less extravagant, monarchical claims.”
  2. “The only person in Washington who cares less about his public image than David Addington is Dick Cheney,” said a former White House ally. “What both of them miss is that ….. in times of war, a prerequisite for success is people having confidence in their leadership. This is the great failure of the administration — a complete and total indifference to public opinion.”

 For Cheney and Addington, the constitution is like the three-legged pig that everybody loved so much they couldn’t eat him all at once.   Even a group of 50 Presidential Scholars embarrassed the president by presenting him with a hand written letter urging him to ban the use of torture. They wrote: “We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions, and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants.” Also check out Jon Stewart’s series “You Don’t Know Dick” clips available here.


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