Homeless Man in the Backyard

homelessA homeless man was living in my backyard brush. Someone spotted him and the cops came and moved him along. The man was wearing khakis and used a camouflage tarp to keep out of sight. He’d set up camp and had been there several weeks.

The guy hadn’t bothered anyone, nor had he broken into nearby homes. He must possess impressive survival skills because the weather has been miserable–which is one reason why I hadn’t noticed him back there.

After he’d been reported, it still took the cops awhile to find him, he was that well concealed.

During a week that we saw yet another record for the Dow Industrials, there seems to be a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. Many cities are in collapse, education is a shambles in neighboring Bridgeport, Waterbury, Hartford and New Haven. One could say many of the have-nots are down to their last not.

My backyard homeless man may be anecdotal, but for millions, times are still tough, for some, much worse.

Philly Festival Benefit for Sierra Club


On a chilly Saturday I had the honor to play a half-hour set at the Philly benefit for the Sierra Club. Lots of great singer songwriters were on the bill during the day, some great bands played in the evening. I’ll post more details later in the week.


Study This!

I had no idea that Connecticut’s urban public school systems rank dead last in the country. The state’s performance is masked due to the many excellent schools in our mostly white suburban towns.

I may have the opportunity to help an educational reform group and so I’m doing research to get up to speed. There are many common misconceptions. Perhaps the worst of the lot: kids from bad neighborhoods can’t be expected to learn the way kids in towns like Westport do because their home life is messed up.

A variation of this myth: Teachers can’t be expected to deliver results when kids don’t get support at home.

Several Charter Schools in the inner city are proving both of these views wrong.

I visited one in Bridgeport and witnessed a remarkable environment for learning. Recent test scores outperformed neighboring Fairfield.

Contrary to what some believe, Charter schools do not skim the cream of a bad neighborhood, a lottery system determines students. These high performing urban kids face the same family and economic challenges that their public school counterparts do—the performance difference is due to the system, the teachers, the culture.

Another common misconception: Charter Schools are for-profit organizations. In Connecticut, Charter Schools must be not-for-profits.

Charter Schools are, however, proof points that kids at the bottom of the economic barrel can excel in school. Consider the possibilities for our communities and hiring organizations in the public and private sectors if the bulk of the next generation of urban children became scientists, software engineers, and teachers, instead of dropouts.

Public Schools can’t change overnight, but there is common ground and low hanging fruit—ideas, concepts, and approaches that are working in Charter urban schools that the Public system could adopt immediately without any loss of face or political power; for little money too.

But nobody trusts anybody and so these Charter schools operate like an island, cut off from the mainland. There are exceptions and some public schools are adopting elements of what is working in their Charter neighbors, but less than 2% of Connecticut’s students are in Charter schools. Kids need help now.

At the end of the day we all have to stay focused on what’s best for the children, easy to say, hard to do.

Trash talking does nobody any good this election

The day after the Arab protests and attacks at the US Embassies I overheard several guys in the locker room at my gym complaining about Obama’s weak response to the attacks.

“Those Arabs only listen to strength; you can’t apologize, talk or reason with them, they only respond to might.”

I know better than to talk politics or religion in such settings, but it was difficult to hold my tongue, these guys were spewing emotional feelings based on spurious facts.

Each day since the attacks we have learned new information about them. This is one reason why in election years, it’s considered bad form for candidates to publicly question a president’s response—rarely are all the facts available to the public.

But that hadn’t stopped Romney from commenting, or these guys in the locker room.

I couldn’t hold myself back. “Obama has been much more hawkish than many of his supporters wanted,” I said. “His foreign policy is so strong, Republicans didn’t even mention the war at their convention.”

One of the guys shook his head dismissively. “Obama wouldn’t even have gotten elected if he wasn’t a black man.”

The other guys said, “He’s not that smart.”

Then his buddy added, “He’s lazy too.”

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” I said. “You guys are making racists comments and you don’t even recognize it. You want to debate policy, fine, but these comments aren’t even worth responding too.”

“We’re not racists, we’re just talking the truth.”

Anger boiled up inside. I was disgusted knowing that it didn’t matter what I said, these guys would never change their view. I could have made a real scene, but there was no point. I packed up my bag and walked out.

We need healthy debate on the issues, but to say the president isn’t smart, or he’s lazy, that’s not debate, it’s what the extreme ends of both parties want to keep us focused on rather than the nuance of one party’s view of taxation, regulation and diplomacy versus the other.

It’s up to the moderates in both parties to make sure that those at the far right and left don’t hijack the country into paralysis with their innuendo and falsehoods.

Next time I see those jokers, I’m going to set them straight.

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