Sustainable in the South Bay: Silicon Valley’s Top 10 Restaurants

My fiancé (Kate) is attending Georgetown Med in the fall and we just hit the road for Washington, DC.  I’ve enjoyed eight awesome years in the Bay Area and feel fortunate to have gone to college, worked, and occasionally dominated adult league softball and basketball with so many amazing people.

Several awesome years in the Bay will put a smile on your face.

Several awesome years in the Bay have put smiles on our faces.

While we are extremely excited to check out the Capitol, we will undoubtedly feel some nostalgia for the West Coast.  Significantly less than our friends but more than the Trader Joe’s within walking distance of our soon-to-be-former apartment, I will miss the South Bay’s humidity-free weather.  Though I’ll still be able to vote with my dollars for Chipotle in DC, I’ll also mourn the socially-, environmentally-, and health-conscious meat and seafood options I’ll be leaving behind.  As a tribute to the delicious and reasonably ethical protein I’ve sampled south of San Francisco, from the grill-it-yourself round steak at the famous Mountain View Farmers’ Market to the bacon-wrapped, tempura fried hot dog at Calafia Cafe in Palo Alto, I have decided to rank what I consider to be the top ten restaurants serving sustainable meat and/or fish in Silicon Valley.

Completo

(from the Calafia menu)

Although eating sustainably is indisputably healthier than any other dietary approach, completely sustainable food is rare.  Raising plants and animals in complex, environmentally and socially responsible ecosystems on their natural diets and without the use of hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics can be difficult to do and even harder to scale.  The Global Animal Partnership, an organization that runs a tiered rating system for ethical, health-conscious meat production, has identified only 14 producers that run truly “animal centered” farms or ranches.  It’s also tough to identify sustainable meat when companies make vague, mostly unverifiable commitments to sustainability in an effort to capitalize on the growing market for real (unprocessed) food.  Each restaurant on this list, however, makes a convincing effort to move us towards the ideal – while some do so more informatively than others, most offer specific information about their suppliers.  Every listed business also provides a tasty, enjoyable dining experience.

The order of my list, therefore, relies on a weighted ranking algorithm similar to the one Kate and I used to choose Georgetown over other schools.  I first determined the criteria that mattered most to me, in order: sustainability, taste, selection, service, and atmosphere.  I then ranked the restaurants in each category (ties allowed) and applied the algorithm to determine overall rankings.  If you’re a math nerd like me and want further details, I’ve included the full methodology and scoring breakdown at the bottom of this post.

Honorable Mention: Country Gourmet
1314 South Mary Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94087
408-744-9446

Country Gourmet

Sustainability Rank: 10
Taste Rank: 10
Selection Rank: 8
Service Rank: 10
Atmosphere Rank: 11

The only order-at-the-counter restaurant on this list, Country Gourmet provides unlimited focaccia bread and the opportunity to hang out with the more mature patrons who take advantage of the restaurant’s special deals for senior citizens.  I’ve enjoyed specials from Niman Ranch in the past; though the staff doesn’t always know the origin of specific menu items and you’ll have to ask to be sure, they “purchase local, wild, free-range and organic products when available.”

10. Park Place
10050 South De Anza Boulevard, Cupertino, CA 94015
408-873-1000

ParkPlace

Sustainability Rank: 10
Taste Rank: 10
Selection Rank: 8
Service Rank: 4
Atmosphere Rank: 10

The salads aren’t incredible, but the flatbreads at Park Place are cheesy, crispy, and delightful.  Patrons can dine at a normal table or kick back on the couch-like seating outside.  As stated on their menu, “Park Place supports farms, ranches, and fisheries that are guided by principles of sustainability.”  However, you will still have to ask your waiter if you want more information about the source of a given menu item.

9. Vino Locale
431 Kipling Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301
650-328-0450

VinoLocale

Sustainability Rank: 3
Taste Rank: 1
Selection Rank: 11
Service Rank: 11
Atmosphere Rank: 3

Vino Locale takes the “slow food” movement very seriously and literally – prepare to wait a while to get your meal.  When it comes, it will be worth it.  If you’re there on a weekday, their bacon-wrapped dates are amazing.  The weekend menu is constantly changing, partially to keep the dishes as seasonal, local, and organic as possible, and though there aren’t many choices, you can be sure that each one will taste fantastic (I ate the best shrimp of my life at Vino Locale a few years ago).  Romantics will love the outside seating area and the live music that often accompanies the meal.

8. Tigelleria
76 East Campbell Avenue, Campbell, CA 95008
408-884-3808

Tigelleria

Sustainability Rank: 7
Taste Rank: 7
Selection Rank: 1
Service Rank: 4
Atmosphere Rank: 3

With pasta made in-house and an extensive array of appetizers and entrees for carnivores and vegetarians alike, Tigelleria is a perfect destination for a date in downtown Campbell.  Significant others have been known to enjoy the pocketed pita-like bread, accompanied with three unique spreads, that arrives while you peruse your dinner options.  A member of Slow Food USA, Tigelleria Organic Restaurant lives up to its full name by offering several 100% organic dishes, and while the Tigelleria menu doesn’t describe the sustainability of every dish, servers happily relay this information to interested diners.  The spighe al cinghiale (wild boar ravioli) and fettucine al pesto are superb.

7. Village Bistro
378 Santana Row #1035, San Jose, CA 95128
408-248-9091

VillageBistro

Sustainability Rank: 3
Taste Rank: 8
Selection Rank: 3
Service Rank: 4
Atmosphere Rank: 3

Featuring the second best bread of any restaurant on this list, Village Bistro recently revamped their menu and sadly discontinued two phenomenal dishes, the crab tostada and “forbidden” Thai curry.  I feel confident that the menu’s newcomers will similarly please those who eat there, however; Village Bistro’s wild caught seafood has been consistently better than that served at Lark Creek Blue (its sustainable neighbor that narrowly missed this list).  Village Bistro also serves a wicked weekend brunch.  The chicken, lamb, and most of the produce is sourced locally.

6. The Basin
14572 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, CA 95070
408-867-1906

The Basin

Sustainability Rank: 7
Taste Rank: 1
Selection Rank: 7
Service Rank: 1
Atmosphere Rank: 3

Only a dearth of vegetarian options and incomplete information about its meat sourcing keeps The Basin below the higher-ranked restaurants on this list.  While pricier than at other dinner destinations, the meals, particularly those that include mushrooms and/or fish, typically merit the cost.  The Basin’s enclosed patio – with perfectly-balanced temperature control and a tree that runs through the middle of the room – offers the benefits of outdoor eating without any of the drawbacks.

5. Bumble
145 1st Street, Los Altos, CA 94022
650-383-5340

Bumble

Sustainability Rank: 1
Taste Rank: 8
Selection Rank: 8
Service Rank: 4
Atmosphere Rank: 1

One of the most unique restaurants in the area, Bumble attracts families with young children like Ryan Gosling attracts everyone who can see.  They’ve got the highest staff-to-customer ratio I’ve ever observed, a playroom where they’ll entertain your kids for $5-$10 per half hour, and a heated adult patio for people unable to enjoy the magnification of the inquisitive young faces that peer through the domes in the playroom’s aquarium.  The construction across the street makes outdoor seating less agreeable for older folk, but it doesn’t deter the toddlers who have both staked claim to the sandbox and ordered fish-shaped bento boxes that may or may not include the restaurant’s delicious pretzel crusted chicken.  Bumble chooses their suppliers carefully – everything except their cured meats are local, and even their salami and prosciutto come from a Portland supplier that emphasizes sustainable production – and the taste of their dishes reflects the high quality of their ingredients.

4. Casa de Cobre
14560 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, CA 95070
408-867-1639

Casa de Cobre

Sustainability Rank: 7
Taste Rank: 1
Selection Rank: 3
Service Rank: 1
Atmosphere Rank: 3

The Basin’s sister restaurant, Casa de Cobre’s slightly more casual feel in no way detracts from it’s equally strong cuisine.  I was not a fan of my first foray into eating cactus and their guacamole, while good, isn’t the best in the area (see below), but the pozole (an older special), fish tacos, duck carnitas, and roasted wild mushroom side are incredible.  Like Tigelleria and The Basin, Casa de Cobre provides information about the sourcing for many of their menu items and commits to full sustainability “whenever possible.”

3. Zona Rosa
1411 The Alameda, San Jose, CA 95126
408-275-1411

Zona Rosa

Sustainability Rank: 3
Taste Rank: 1
Selection Rank: 3
Service Rank: 4
Atmosphere Rank: 9

Next to a tattoo parlor and within walking distance of San Jose Unified’s District Office, this small, family-owned, and easy-to-miss gem serves some of the best and most interesting Mexican food in the area.  It’s a little small, but the staff is uber-friendly and the food inspired.  Ever considered eating guacamole with bacon and pistachios?  You should – it’s delicious.  If you’re an avocado aficionado, the fried wedges will knock your socks off.  Lunchtime guests should also try the double-decker carnitas club.  And don’t forget about the callos (scallop tacos).  All the meat is from Niman Ranch and the seafood is wild-caught.

2. Calafia Cafe
855 El Camino Real #130, Palo Alto, CA 94301
650-322-9200

Calafia

Sustainability Rank: 3
Taste Rank: 1
Selection Rank: 1
Service Rank: 4
Atmosphere Rank: 1

Calafia’s “plant-eaters” half of the menu trumps every other restaurant on the list in vegetarian-friendliness.  Their meat is awesome as well.  Not only is the aforementioned “Completo” every bit as good as it sounds, but the pork belly buns, chicken drumettes, brussels sprout and potato pizza, and tempura fried vegetables are also all dishes for the ages.  For brunch, fans of ground meat will swoon over the David Chang burger, while diners who prefer a more traditional breakfast will find the potatoes hashed to perfection.  The origin of every ingredient is stated explicitly on the menu. Originally started by Google chef Charlie Ayers, Calafia proudly embraces its technological roots through the electronic gadgets that grace most tables.  Use them to order or to (among other fun applications) challenge your significant other to some couples trivia.

1. Mayfield Bakery & Cafe
855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94301
650-853-9200

Mayfield

Sustainability Rank: 1
Taste Rank: 1
Selection Rank: 3
Service Rank: 1
Atmosphere Rank: 3

I developed my algorithm before knowing which restaurant would come out on top, but Mayfield Bakery & Cafe (located right next door to Calafia Cafe) seems like an appropriate choice for first place for three reasons: my future father-in-law declared the ribs the best he’s ever had, the restaurant sources all of its meat from local California farms (the company that owns Mayfield even sources some of the food from their own ranch), and our waiter gave us two free, gigantic bags of assorted bread to take home after I asked for more to eat several times during our first visit (clearly an effective marketing tactic; we’ve been back countless times since).  The kale salad is awesome and every entree I’ve eaten has been mouthwatering.  Their chocolate chip cookies also make a delicious dessert.

That concludes the list, though fellow math enthusiasts and those who wish to debate the ratings in the comments will of course want to see both the methodology and the more detailed results:

Weights: sustainability (x5), taste (x4), selection (x3), service (x2), atmosphere (x1)

Methodology: Unweighted scores are determined in reverse order of rankings.  Since I ranked eleven restaurants, a restaurant in sole possession of first place in a given category would receive 11 points, the second place restaurant would receive 10 points, the third place restaurant 9 points, and so on and so forth (if two restaurants were tied for fourth place, they would receive 7.5 points each, the average of what sole occupants of 4th and 5th place would have received).  Weighted scores are then computed by multiplying the category weights by the unweighted scores, and each overall score is the sum of the restaurant’s weighted scores in every category.

Rankings:

Sustainability

Taste

Selection

Service

Atmosphere

Bumble

1

8

8

4

1

Calafia Cafe

3

1

1

4

1

Casa de Cobre

7

1

3

1

3

Country Gourmet

10

10

8

10

11

Mayfield Bakery & Cafe

1

1

3

1

3

Park Place

10

10

8

4

10

The Basin

7

1

7

1

3

Tigelleria

7

7

1

4

3

Village Bistro

3

8

3

4

3

Vino Locale

3

1

11

11

3

Zona Rosa

3

1

3

4

9

 

Unweighted Scores:

Sustainability

Taste

Selection

Service

Atmosphere

Bumble

10.5

3.5

3

5.5

10.5

Calafia Cafe

7.5

8.5

10.5

5.5

10.5

Casa de Cobre

4

8.5

7.5

10

6.5

Country Gourmet

1.5

1.5

3

2

1

Mayfield Bakery & Cafe

10.5

8.5

7.5

10

6.5

Park Place

1.5

1.5

3

5.5

2

The Basin

4

8.5

5

10

6.5

Tigelleria

4

5

10.5

5.5

6.5

Village Bistro

7.5

3.5

7.5

5.5

6.5

Vino Locale

7.5

8.5

1

1

6.5

Zona Rosa

7

8.5

7.5

5.5

3

 

Weighted Scores:

Sustainability

Taste

Selection

Service

Atmosphere

Overall Score

Bumble

52.5

14

9

11

10.5

97

Calafia Cafe

37.5

34

31.5

11

10.5

124.5

Casa de Cobre

20

34

22.5

20

6.5

103

Country Gourmet

7.5

6

9

4

1

27.5

Mayfield Bakery & Cafe

52.5

34

22.5

20

6.5

135.5

Park Place

7.5

6

9

11

2

35.5

The Basin

20

34

15

20

6.5

95.5

Tigelleria

20

20

31.5

11

6.5

89

Village Bistro

37.5

14

22.5

11

6.5

91.5

Vino Locale

37.5

34

3

2

6.5

83

Zona Rosa

35

34

22.5

11

3

105.5

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Vergara v. California Panel Discussion with Leadership for Educational Equity

Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE), Teach For America’s (TFA’s) partner organization that focuses on alumni leadership development, held an online panel for members interested in learning more about Vergara v. California on June 26.  I was excited to receive an invitation to speak on the panel – I enjoyed talking to LEE members about how teachers unions benefit low-income students at an earlier event and appreciate LEE’s recent efforts to include organized labor in their work.  LEE received over 100 RSVPs from TFA corps members and alumni who tuned in to hear our discussion of the case.LEE Vergara Panelists 2jpgUSC Professor of Education & Policy Katharine Strunk, Georgetown Professor of Law Eloise Pasachoff, and former Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights for the US Department of Education Russlyn Ali joined me for an engaging hour-long session.  Each of the panelists had ample time to make opening and closing remarks and to respond to each other’s points.  You can listen to the full audio for yourself below, but I also wanted to summarize two points I made at the end of the session:

1) It’s important to read the full text of education research articles because the findings are frequently misconstrued.  As I mentioned during my initial remarks, there’s a pretty strong research basis behind the idea that teachers are the most important in-school factor related to student success (though it’s important to remember that in-school factors, taken together, seem to account for only about 20% of student achievement results).  Nobody disagrees that teacher quality varies, either – it’s clear that low-income students sometimes have teachers who aren’t as high-quality as we would like.  Additionally, there’s broad consensus that improving teacher quality and addressing inequities between low-income and high-income schools are both important objectives.  The research does not suggest, however (and the plaintiffs did not show at trial), that there is a causal link between teacher employment law and either teacher quality issues or inequities between low-income and high-income schools.  There’s plenty of rhetoric about how employment law causes inequity but no actual evidence supporting that claim.  The other panelists and I unfortunately didn’t have enough time to engage in substantive conversations about the validity of the research we discussed, but I hope we have the opportunity to do so in the future.

2) Most union members and most people working within reform organizations have the same goals and should be working together.  We should therefore consider our rhetoric carefully.  Instead of insinuating that the unions who defend teacher employment law care more about protecting bad teachers than helping students, reformers could ask unions how more sensible reforms could make sure the execution of the laws aligns with the ethical, student-oriented theory.  Reformers could then signal their support for organized labor and work with unions to address the real root causes of teacher quality issues and inequities between schools.  The other panelists indicated their belief in reasonable due process protections, improved teacher evaluation and support, and equitable school funding, and kids would benefit if reformers and unions united behind these causes and pursued them with the same vigor with which some have jumped on the Vergara bandwagon.

You can hear more of my thoughts beginning about 22 minutes and 30 seconds into the clip, though I’d encourage you to listen to the whole thing if you have the time.  I’d also love to discuss the case more in the comments with anyone interested.  Hope you enjoy the panel!

Note: An earlier version of this post called LEE “Teach For America’s alumni organization.”  The reference has been changed to reflect that, while LEE focuses on leadership development for TFA alumni, they are an independent organization.

Update (7/19/14): The following sentence was modified to clarify that addressing teacher quality issues and addressing inequities between low-income and high-income schools are distinct tasks: “Additionally, there’s broad consensus that improving teacher quality and addressing inequities between low-income and high-income schools are both important objectives.”  The original sentence read: “Additionally, there’s broad consensus that improving teacher quality and addressing inequities between low-income and high-income schools is important.”

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The Tactful Hypocrite

The World Cup, and more specifically its international organizing body, FIFA, has come under immense scrutiny leading up to its 2014 iteration in Brazil. Most criticisms of the situation are aimed at the host country’s inability to provide adequate hospitals, schools, and shelter to its citizens while FIFA, a tax exempt non-profit organization that is expected to rake in $4 billion plunders what it can from its host nations. The tournament’s conclusion will see FIFA leave the host country with a projected $15 billion tab but with beautiful new stadiums that history has shown have little utility once the games have been completed. All this while the vast majority of Brazilians live in an underdeveloped nation where, according to Pew Research they cite their most pressing concerns are crime, government corruption, and healthcare.

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I’ve seen City of God. I know how this ends, and it isn’t good.

Late night comedian John Oliver had an especially poignant if not sardonic (let’s just say I did reputably on the SATs) take on FIFA. I won’t rehash any more of it, but in the end he remarks that he will still watch the games because ultimately he is passionate about the product/sport. Like a drug dealer that knows he’s got the best product around, FIFA essentially has free reign to charge whatever it wants to obtain the largest profit (see: Qatar). It can make ridiculous demands as countries bid for the prestige and exclusivity that comes with being a World Cup host. That irony isn’t lost on me, in which citizens protesting this “coveted” honor have their elected government sending out its own soldiers to protect, well not the nation’s but someone’s interest.

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I am not a huge soccer fan but I will watch some of the World Cup. I image that there are a lot of people that aren’t happy with how FIFA conducts its business but will keep their eyes glued to the TV regardless. After all, it is the most widely viewed sporting event in the world by a large margin so this is the biggest game out there in terms of advertising revenue. I fear that if the Philadelphia Phillies were found to be using sweat shop labor to make their frog lawn accessories I still don’t think I could let myself root for another team—some sacrifices are non-negotiable. But why is this and what is the conscientious sports fan to do? Should I swear not to purchase any products I see advertised during the World Cup for a year? Or should it be two? Maybe I should just agree to only buy the competitor’s products (hello RC Cola, Powerade and Hydrox!) for a time. If I truly wanted to stay away from companies that promote suffering in the world be it directly or indirectly, I’d be a) spending a lot of time doing research and b) lead a much more bland lifestyle. If I don’t wish to separate myself from all companies that promote harm, at what point do I say, “I’m okay with the level of public harm that is caused by Target, but I won’t dare touch any Nike products”?

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What John Oliver doesn’t quite approach but hints at during his monologue is a real problem for those who wish to promote the greater good. For many people to watch the World Cup and turn a blind eye is as easy as can be. For some, like the Danish reporter who got paid to be in Brazil to cover the tournament, he could no longer cover the sport while stomaching the idea of the destruction that FIFA and the government are causing to line the pockets of the few. FIFA is a prime example of a dilemma presented to the public in which an entity that controls a popular and addictive product could be performing a net disservice to the world. Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, has become the corrupt, sycophantic face of much of the ire. There have been calls on him to not seek re-election as FIFA President, but Sepp, being the consummate professional, has no plans to step down or cease his attempt at being elected for a 5th term. And why should he? FIFA has been widely criticized for its vast—and quite honestly, impressive—displays of alleged corruption for years but people keep coming back in record numbers to watch the sport they love. Changing heads of this often-called mob-run organization will do little to change its destructive ways. If anything, FIFA will find less overt ways to extract money and resources from nations, and perhaps they will skim a little less of the top, but no doubt they will still leave poor nations worse off than before they arrived. This will subdue calls for the abolition of FIFA for a long enough time until people forget about the destruction in their wake.

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Of course FIFA is not the only party at fault, as politicians from the host country use the initial World Cup excitement as a platform on which to seek re-election or push through less than popular agendas. For countries like South Africa and Brazil (and perhaps Qatar in 2022), being awarded the World Cup is a signal to the rest of the world that your country is an official player in geopolitics. Never mind the crumbling infrastructure, protests, and mass strikes, Brazil as a part of the BRIC economies was on its way to playing with the big boys as far as world leaders believe, but now, almost as importantly, it is cemented in the minds of the international public too.

How can I criticize these entities’ clear apathy towards the treatment of the poorer citizens of their host country, even find ways to profit off of it, yet participate in the excitement and pageantry that this spectacle has become? Justifying watching the games at a bar is just one way. Telling myself that I’m not tuning in on my own TV and ratings companies have no way of tracking that I am indeed contributing as one out of those hundreds of millions of viewers. That doesn’t sound so bad actually. I could also justify that not wearing a few pieces of Nike clothing won’t shut the sweatshop down so it couldn’t be all that bad. If everyone thought this way then of course activism wouldn’t accomplish much and corporate interests would consistently triumph.

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Being aware of a cause, although perhaps not actively engaging in protests, writing letters to politicians, or boycotting their sources of funds holds value as well. As Malcolm Gladwell outlined in The Tipping Point, prior to blood doping becoming popular among bicyclists at the turn of the century, there was a time when many honest riders held off on cheating until they believed that they were no longer in the majority of being a clean athlete, or that they felt their chances of winning were too compromised not to cheat. This point from inaction to action (aptly termed the tipping point) can send a shockwave through a movement and can facilitate its growth exponentially. In his example, when the tipping point for doping was reached, a large number of bicyclists suddenly began to dope even though they were initially morally against or ambiguous towards it. There are personal decisions that I can make to try to speed up this point of no return for causes, but being preachy or a wet blanket at jovial events isn’t really as fun as it sounds. Oh I see you’re drinking a cold, refreshing Coke. Did you know Coke is alleged to be involved in murder and torture of union-affiliated employees over the past several decades in Guatemalan and Colombian bottling plants? See, moralizing kinda sucks for everyone involved. On the flip side, going to bed without a roof over your head and with an empty stomach in a dangerous favela also seems pretty sucky.

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Perhaps the salt in the wound for the poor and those that take advantage of the public works is that soccer is their game. One of the biggest reasons that soccer is so prevalent throughout the world is because a ball can be easily stitched together with all kinds of materials, it can be played nearly on any type of ground surface, and it is a fundamentally simple sport to pick up and play with virtually no learning curve. This is not ice hockey that FIFA is “forcing” countries to take on massive amounts of debt and build stadiums for. They aren’t erecting coliseums for polo. Soccer is their game that is getting marketed, re-branded, and sold back to the people for an exorbitant cost. It would somehow be more appropriate if FIFA was displaying games that didn’t interest the very people it screws.

Even in a country like the U.S. that has many adequate facilities already in place to be able to support a large, multi-city “mega-event” such as the World Cup, it doesn’t necessarily make economic sense to become a host. According to economics professor Dr. Dennis Coates in World Cup Economics, on whether the U.S. should seek the World Cup in 2022:

“A study of the 1994 World Cup hosted by the United States found substantial lost output, with the final result showing that the pre-World Cup predictions were up to $13 billion off-target. The existing evidence of negative economic impact from other World Cups, combined with the self-interested motivation of the Bid Committee members and the lack of disclosure of the economic impact study all point to the conclusion that the US taxpayers are better off saying no to an expensive and secretive World Cup bid.”

This dilemma has no easy solution. The name of the game is deciding how much time/effort/money to put towards some causes while justifying to yourself that you don’t have enough time/effort/money to put into other causes. Do you go for the bigger national or international causes because they can help more people, or do you support the smaller or local ones because your contribution can have a greater impact? It’s a balancing act that I haven’t even come close to mastering. Perhaps you’d enjoy stretching yourself thin and just support every cause you believe in, while noble, that route isn’t for everybody. Even if boycotting the World Cup was shown to effectively change FIFA policies how many people have the will power to do so? When sympathizing with those being taken advantage of, it’s a tough decision that often gets overlooked. Everyone has that point that no matter how much you love a team or a product, when the company behind the brand does things that outweigh your personal satisfaction with that product, action needs to be taken. How thoroughly do we really want to investigate companies whose products we utilize? For soccer fans like Oliver it’s a cut and dry decision to watch the games, but more needs to be discussed about the struggle to find your own tipping point.

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Informed Student Advocates Pursue Reforms that, Unlike Vergara v. California, Actually Address Inequity

Judge Rolf Treu just ruled in favor of Students Matter in Vergara v. California, deeming teacher permanent status (commonly called “tenure”), due process protections for teachers with permanent status, and seniority-based layoffs unconstitutional.  Treu’s opinion unfortunately reflects a misunderstanding of education research and teacher employment law’s effects.  His decision also erodes labor protections without increasing the likelihood of an excellent education for students in low-income communities.

Reformer excitement about the ruling demonstrates how successfully the plaintiffs have conflated teacher employment law with the existence of ineffective teachers.  Informed advocates for low-income students and communities, on the other hand, are deeply disappointed because both ethical considerations and a thorough analysis of the case indicate the error in Treu’s findings.

The California Teachers Association (CTA) plans to appeal the decision and higher courts will hopefully see through the plaintiffs’ weak case.  No matter the appeal’s outcome, Treu’s opinion raises two issues considerably more significant for low-income students than teacher dismissal and layoff procedures:

1) Teacher evaluation and support practices: Treu wrote that 18+ months of employment is not “nearly enough time for an informed decision to be made regarding the decision of tenure,” arguing that administrator fear of permanent status deprives “teachers of an adequate opportunity to establish their competence.”  He wants “to have the tenure decision made after” California teachers finish BTSA, an induction program teachers must complete to clear their credentials, and he suggests a timeline of three to five years.

Treu is correct that some ineffective teachers are currently retained and some good teachers are currently dismissed under California’s system, but he’s wrong about the primary reason why.  Instead, inadequate approaches to teacher evaluation and a lack of quality teacher support have long hindered the development and retention of excellent teachers.  Nearly two years is far longer than a supervisor should need to evaluate teacher performance and potential for growth if evaluation systems provide frequent opportunities for meaningful feedback and support about specific teacher practices.

Unions and many reform organizations actually agree about the goals of teacher evaluation.  The New Teacher Project (TNTP), for example, believes that “the core purpose of evaluation must be maximizing teacher growth and effectiveness, not just documenting poor performance as a prelude to dismissal.”  Similarly, CTA believes that “the purpose of an effective teacher development and evaluation system is to inform, instruct and improve teaching and learning; to provide educators with meaningful feedback on areas of strength and where improvement is needed; and to ensure fair and evidence-based employment decisions.”  Though reformer support for the use of standardized test score results as a percentage of teacher evaluations may decrease teaching quality and detract from student learning, TNTP and CTA also agree about many areas in which evaluation practices need improvement: the training administrators receive on how to give meaningful feedback, the quality of professional growth plans and professional development opportunities, and the frequency and length of classroom observations.

Extending new teachers’ probationary periods indefinitely will not address the underlying causes of the problem Treu identifies.  In fact, the argument that two years isn’t “nearly enough time” implicitly grants license for administrative incompetence and practices that inadequately address new teachers’ professional needs.  Education stakeholders committed to developing and identifying great new teachers should instead pour their time, money, and energy into aligning evaluation and support systems with their goals.  San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) and the San Jose Teachers Association (SJTA), for example, have invested in administrator training, evaluative consulting teachers with content-area teaching expertise, evaluation documents that more accurately define effective teaching and require narrative feedback, a Teacher Quality Panel consisting of both teacher and administrator members, and non-evaluative instructional coaching support.

2) School funding: Treu’s ruling erroneously considers Vergara v. California part of a historical record of education-related court cases including Brown v. Board of Education, Serrano v. Priest, and Butt v. California.  These three cases, unlike Vergara, dealt with undebatable and direct inequities in access to educational opportunity for low-income and minority students: segregated schools (Brown), inequitable access to school funding (Serrano), and inequitable access to a full school year (Butt).  Treu fails to note that, despite the Serrano case and the advent of California’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), major inequities in education funding persist in California today.

In 2012-2013, for example, SJUSD received approximately $9,000 per pupil in revenue.  During the same year, Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) received about 60% more money per pupil, approximately $14,500.  While California guarantees a certain amount of annual funding called a “revenue limit” to every school district in the state, some districts, like PAUSD, bring in property tax revenues that exceed the revenue limit.  These “basic aid” districts keep their excess property tax revenue and often pass parcel taxes that further increase the funding discrepancy between lower-income districts and their higher-income basic aid counterparts.

More funding is not a panacea for low-income schools – how districts spend their money determines its return – but research is clear that funding matters a great deal.  Politicians who cut education-related spending for poor communities often cite a 33-year-old study by Eric Hanushek to oppose equitable school funding, yet even Hanushek himself cautiously supports it.  Asked in a 2006 interview if “it’s a good idea to give very high-poverty districts more funding per pupil than an average district,” Hanushek responded: “I think so. I think you have to provide extra resources and help for kids who start at a lower point because of their backgrounds.”  It’s impossible to support educational equity and justify the funding discrepancy between SJUSD and PAUSD.

One of the most important provisions of the LCFF – the supplemental funding it provides to districts that serve high numbers of English language learners, students from low-income families, and students from foster homes – moves California in the right direction.  However, basic aid districts that have long been able to afford better resources for students will continue to exist.  Based on the case history Treu cites, one could construct a very strong case that the existence of basic aid districts violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the California Constitution.  Advocates for low-income students could also make an indirect equal protection case about Proposition 13’s effect on school funding disparities.  Unlike Vergara v. California, these cases could continue the tradition of Brown, Serrano, and Butt by remedying a clear instance of educational inequity.

Treu’s ruling also invites an analysis of the definition of appropriate due process.  The judge asserts that “[t]here is no question that teachers should be afforded reasonable due process when their dismissals are sought,” but he claims that current protections for teachers with permanent status constitute “uber due process.”  Treu proposes replacing teacher dismissal law with the rights guaranteed by the decision in Skelly v. State Personnel Board; because of Skelly, permanent employees facing dismissal must receive “notice of the proposed action, the reasons therefor, a copy of the charges and materials upon which the action is based, and the right to respond, either orally or in writing, to the authority initially imposing discipline.”

In essence, Skelly rights ensure that employers treat permanent employees with some semblance of courtesy and respect.  While Treu asserts that due process considerations are “entirely legitimate,” however, he forgets to mention that probationary teachers do not have Skelly rights; in California, probationary teachers can be non-reelected (fired) without cause.  Treu’s argument is completely contradictory given current law – he simultaneously contends that he believes in the concept of due process and that districts should be able to deprive people of it for three to five years.

Labor organizations support Skelly’s basic protections for all employees because of the extensive history of inappropriate employer practices and a belief in treating people fairly.  Due process protections should also include a requirement that administrators adequately support permanent teachers before attempting to dismiss them.  A support-first mindset is not only the most ethical approach, but it’s also important because, as Jack Schneider explains, “you don’t put…effective teacher[s] in every classroom by holding…sword[s] over their heads.  You do it by putting tools in their hands.”  Advocates for workers rights support streamlined dismissal processes for employees who are unwilling or unable to improve; the defendants in Vergara just know that society and schools benefit when employers are required to treat their employees like human beings.

Judge Treu accurately identifies a few key issues in his decision: administrators may struggle to identify quality teaching in fewer than two years, layoffs may deprive schools and students of stellar teachers, and teacher employment law may fail to grant teachers an appropriate amount of due process.  Unfortunately, Vergara v. California neither improves teacher evaluation and support practices nor rectifies the funding inequities that lead to layoffs and resource cutbacks in districts that serve low-income students.  The decision also ignores the complete lack of due process afforded to probationary teachers and fails to deliver a thoughtful recommendation about how to empower teachers to grow professionally.  Informed, honest student advocates who care more about “providing each child…with a basically equal opportunity to receive a quality education” than about destroying organized labor should therefore hope that an appeals court will reverse Treu’s decision.  In the meantime, they should begin work on reforms more likely to improve opportunities for low-income students.

Note: A version of this post appeared on The Huffington Post on June 13.

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Filed under Education, Labor

Political “Pragmatism” Undermines Progressive Goals

The Working Families Party (WFP) bills itself as “New York’s liveliest and most progressive political party.” Founded in 1998, the WFP sought to use fusion voting and community organizing to “hold politicians accountable” to an admirable set of progressive principles including but not limited to “full public financing of elections…community control and equitable funding of our schools …a guaranteed minimum income for all adults[, a] universal ‘social wage’ to include such basic benefits as health care, child care, vacation time, and lifelong access to education and training …[and a] progressive tax system based on the ability to pay.” For many years, the WFP successfully propelled progressive politicians like Bill de Blasio into elected office.

Unfortunately, however, WFP leaders have lost sight of the party’s original intentions. Despite vocal opposition from many members, the WFP voted on Saturday, May 31 to back Andrew Cuomo in his bid for reelection as New York’s governor. While Cuomo secured the endorsement by promising to support, among other things, a minimum wage hike, public funds for campaigns, and the Democratic Party’s attempt to win control of the state Senate, his actions as a first-term governor demonstrate his unwillingness to actually pursue a progressive economic agenda. He deserves some credit for driving New York’s recent gay rights and gun control legislation, but there’s a reason big business and Republicans love Cuomo: he has worked to dismantle the estate tax and pass massive additional tax cuts, significantly undermined de Blasio’s progressive education initiatives and opposed de Blasio’s proposal to raise New York City’s minimum wage, killed efforts to publicly finance elections, tried to lift a moratorium on fracking, and consistently trampled on other progressive values.

The WFP, in large part, has itself to blame for Cuomo’s anti-poor economic policy agenda – the WFP gave Cuomo its endorsement during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign despite Cuomo’s explicitly pro-corporate platform. The WFP’s endorsement then and decision to stick with Cuomo now illustrate how a misguided concept of political pragmatism, endemic in Left-leaning circles, makes progressive policy considerably less likely in the long run.

The WFP’s endorsement was driven in part by the belief that Zephyr Teachout, the WFP’s alternative candidate, would be extremely unlikely to win in a three-way election that included Cuomo and Rob Astorino, the Republican candidate. Similar concerns about candidate “electability” surface frequently during each Presidential election; pundits and party operatives insist that votes for third party candidates are wasted. Yet psychological research and poll data indicate that liberal voters routinely underestimate the number of other voters who share their policy preferences. Fewer voters care about electability than the media would have us believe and most Americans want the distribution of wealth in the United States to mirror the significantly more equitable distribution in Sweden. As evidenced by Seattle’s recent election of socialist city councilmember Kshama Sawant, claims about who is and isn’t electable are self-fulfilling prophecies; third party candidates have a chance to win when we base our votes on candidate policy instead of our perception of candidate viability. Historical data suggests that a progressive third-party candidate could be particularly viable in the case of New York’s 2014 gubernatorial election.

Perhaps even more troubling is the message the endorsement sends to Cuomo and other politicians. Cuomo has spent the past three-and-a-half years actively undermining most of the WFP’s espoused principles; by granting Cuomo its support anyway, the WFP has given Cuomo license to ignore its legislative priorities during his second term.

As Glenn Greenwald wrote in 2011, “telling politicians that you will do everything possible to work for their re-election no matter how much they scorn you, ignore your political priorities, and trample on your political values is a guaranteed ticket to irrelevance and impotence. Any [politician] motivated by a desire to maintain power rather than by ideology or principle” (a description that sadly fits most politicians) “will ignore those who behave this way every time and instead care only about those whose support is conditional.” Greenwald’s argument applies just as appropriately to Cuomo and the WFP today as it did to Barack Obama and progressive Democrats three-and-a-half years ago. Like Left-wing Democratic support did for Obama in 2012, the WFP’s endorsement, as Salon’s Blake Zeff notes, will allow Cuomo “to make a mockery of the party’s entire priorities list and then waltz to re-election” in 2014.

When we continue to support Democrats who undermine progressive causes, we enable their behavior (comic from http://americanextremists.thecomicseries.com/comics/522).

The Working Families Party’s support for Cuomo mirrors progressive support for Obama in 2012 (comic from http://americanextremists.thecomicseries.com/comics/522)

Which is more important: the difference between mainstream Democrats (like Obama and Cuomo) and mainstream Republicans (like Mitt Romney and Astorino), or sending the message, loud and clear, that the failure to enact progressive policy will hurt politicians at the ballot box? Progressives who argue for a lesser-of-two-evils approach to electoral politics aren’t necessarily wrong – there’s probably enough of a difference (though not as much as most people think) between members of the two major political parties to impact some people’s lives. However, our essentially unconditional support for Democrats-by-name-only deprives us of the opportunity for meaningful challenges to American plutocracy in the long run. Until we draw a line in the sand and punish Democratic politicians who cross it, we’ll continue to get Cuomo- and Obama-style Democrats who actively exacerbate income inequality and further disadvantage people unlucky enough to be born poor.

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Filed under Labor, US Government

Feb 17 – Mar 1: Azienda Agricola Mauro Iob, Vetralla

After staying with Bridget in Tuscany, my next stop was in the province of Viterbo, in the small medieval town of Vetralla, littered with waterfalls and caves. When I arrived, Rita had trouble finding me at the train station, but I’m not sure why, as there are several obvious reasons why I’d be not so difficult to spot.

the directions that I never used

the directions that I never used

Rita and Mauro are probably some of the nicest people I know; it’s surprising how at home you can feel while moving into the home of a random middle-aged couple in central Italy.

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Their daughter and her friend arrived that night for an excellent welcome dinner. And when I go to bed after the first night, I find these two quotes carved into my room wall:

ogni uomo doverebbe conoscere i propri limiti
(every man should know the proper limits)… but I ask limits for what, set by who, and how?

la vita ti chiede ciò che sei in grado di affrontare
(life asks only what you can bear)

Rita was also a huge fan of Siddartha by Hermann Hesse (of which my attempt to read in Italian was an utter failure), while Mauro likes Per Una Vita Migliore Ovvero il Libro della Autosufficienza (the English translation that is used is ‘The Guide to Self-sufficiency’) by John Seymour,

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…so from these alone, we had some interesting springboards for conversation — not to mention the vertiginous times where we had entirely too much wine and dipped into slippery squabbles, about the unintended byproducts of cheap labor, or how Italy is becoming the ape of America in some way through adoption of ‘gym culture’.

The work

Their main business is an agritourismo, doubling as a small hotel and a farm, and they hold courses on beekeeping for children.

Spring was not yet arrived, so the work was very preparatory in nature: clearing the garden, hauling manure, which is mainly why they keep the donkeys — which we mostly put in the asparagus garden, which is more fun than you might think. Before hauling, you have to make sure it’s not too damp or else it’s too heavy, but you also don’t want it to dry out — so it’s a delicate balance. But you collect it in one place and let it rot down for about 1-2 months, to let all the bacteria and germs do their thing. Hauling manure downhill is not easy, and as the maggots and beetle larvae multiply, the load can get quite heavy and intimate. (I’ve learned quite a lot about manure at this point, but I’ll save it for my time in Cherni Kamuk, Bulgaria) I bet the donkeys don’t know or care what we do with their manure. While I slave to haul their dung, they lazily graze by the wayside, and the dog chases them occasionally, playing, ducking.

There is also fencing to keep the donkeys out of the asparagus garden, not because they eat the asparagus, but because they trample over them. Generally, they eat grasses (but trees and bushes, if they are desperate) they can see or reach, and whenever we come near them, they expect us to have a handful of grass or hazelnuts. They wait for about 2 minutes, then if they get nothing, walk away. In the summer, during the day, they stay in nearby caves for shade, and feed at night, as Italian summers can be very hot and dry.

The donkeys were actually one of my favorite parts; watching them graze is quite peaceful. I think they already know how to live in the present without being taught. But I doubt such a thing can be taught, but only realized — in the same way that poets don’t live their experiences, but are merely swept up by them, buoyed up onto the crashing waves of surrealism. I try not to transform or meddle with the experience, but surrender myself to it.

they're easy to love

they’re easy to love

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We dig up the weeds — ‘waste not, want not’, we feed them to the donkeys instead of discarding them — which are unwanted plants in the garden, but it wasn’t for vegetables or herbs, but so we could plant specific flowers that Mauro wanted for the bees, of which one of my favorites was rosemary.

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up close and personal

up close and personal

 

spring sent us an early gift

spring sent us an early gift: cherry blossom

As soon as I get my hands in the dirt, I feel so much life. Spiders, worms, millipedes, ants, bees, aphids, everything else, there is so much life all around us, that we never see. As soon as we are truly aware of life, the reaper smirks with eyes twinkling: dying leaves signal autumn; clothes were plants once, as was paper. Every time we eat, a life is being extinguished so another life can continue. Aren’t plants alive, too, vegetarians? Life lives on life. We are all murderers or conspirators with murderers — either way, we roam at large.

Worker bees can only sting once, and die shortly afterwards. The male honeybee dies as soon as he mates with the queen: his mission is finished! I mean, aren’t insects are the most varied and probably most important species on earth? So many things that crawl have been doused with bad press: spiders, cockroaches, flies, and other “pests”. Many agricultural pests are just nature’s way of dealing with overgrown monocultures. Insects should be allowed to write opinion pieces in our papers if we truly had “freedom of the press” — But then again, their views are written all over the earth, only in a language that we neither understand nor respect.

 

***

There are many types of honey in Italy listed here (le miele da castagne is chestnut honey, spicy and pungent) being the most expensive, and the type of honey is whatever flower the bees are pollinating. Most honey in American stores is clover honey or miele millefiori (multi-flower honey), the latter meaning that the keepers don’t care which flowers the bees are visiting. Funnily enough, what the flower smells like is totally unrelated, and sometimes completely opposite, to what the honey tastes like. Mauro likes to tell of this one flower that everyone was raving about, but when they tasted the honey the bees made from it, it was awful.

Also, the worker bees generally make more honey than they themselves need, and we just take the surplus. The other part of the work, which was really time-consuming but worth it, was shelling hazelnuts to make butter, which is the base ingredient for gnutella (but I doubt gnutella in the store uses real hazelnuts). We made massive amounts of delicious butter, and the oil naturally rises to the top, so you know it’s the real thing.

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As a parting gift, they gave me a jar of honey and butter, which I am (unsuccessfully) trying to send home, along with the oil I got from my very first farm in Monteleone Sabino.

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They also use their honey, instead of cane sugar, to make jams, which is healthier and tastier. Sugar is added more for preservation than sweetening, because without added sugar, most marmalades won’t last past a few days, as the fruit ferments quickly. And most fruits are cooked and then sugar is added, and both of these processes harm the intrinsic vitamins – so the less sugar you can add, the better.

i basically drunk half of this

i basically drunk half of this

Luckily, these hazelnut trees were on the land when he purchased it, so all he has to do is pick them. The “first come, first serve” harvest is in September, and you have to wait for the nuts to drop from the tree and race to get them, before the squirrels do — and squirrels wake up at 4-5am.

***
Rita and Mauro have agreed to speak only in Italian with me from now on, which is great, because I feel like there is no true cultural exchange without making an attempt to learn the language. Which is why I despise common tourism, because it makes no attempt to actually talk to a person, or suggest that you might have a conversation with a local beyond how to greet and ask for things, but merely insists on teaching you “standard phrases” so you can “get around” and get exactly what information that you need. Yes, the locals may be pleased that you can say basic things, but you cannot actually engage any further with a person unless they speak a little of your language. And since the whole ‘civilized world’ is on the fast track to English fluency… motivation is not widespread among Americans to learn another language.

I like to help my hosts improve their English; obviously they express themselves much better in Italian. I see them suffer and grasp for words in English, and I picture myself doing the same thing in Italian, and the epiphany comes: either they stumble and fall, sometimes succeeding, while trying to speak my native language, or I do the same while trying to speak theirs (invalid in cases where one person is fluent in both languages). The least I can do is meet them halfway, and we can split the embarrassment evenly.

 

What’s most disturbing about this is how we judge intelligence by articulation and pronunciation: if someone doesn’t enunciate correctly or spell words right, we count them uneducated and look askance at them in amusement or pity — and conversely, if someone articulates very well, they are assumed smarter. (Because if you sound smart, you are halfway there. Appearances appear to be more important, so they are.) And sometimes, however wrong and absurd, this is the first thought I have if this person stumbles over basic things in my language, as the ancient Greeks thought that every foreigner was somehow subhuman. The Greek barbaros, from which barbarian was derived, literally means ‘foreign’, which essentially means anyone with different speech and customs. Although now, we take the word to mean primitive and uncivilized, which are very loaded concepts — that ultimately are relative, and objectively, mean nothing, in and of themselves. — And Montaigne’s references are pointed (Book I, Ch. IX, “Of Liars”)–

An ancient father says “that a dog we know is better company than a man whose language we do not understand.”

Ut externus alieno pene non sit hominis vice.

["As a foreigner cannot be said to supply us the place of a man."
—Pliny, Nat. Hist. vii. I]

No matter where we go in the world, if we speak the language, we are automatically more human to the local people than someone who doesn’t.

I think language is the first way people identify with others, “OK, this person is one of us.” — or for immigrants who speak the language — “This person is trying to be like me, like us. Let me help them assimilate.” — and perhaps all other ways (race, class, sex, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality) we have used to limit and divide ourselves are only as influential as the words that buttress them. — Word choice, and the subtler use(s) of silence, is the most important choice, the bane of our existence, but Solomon was more poetic, for,

“death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” Proverbs 18:21

…and how do we know if there is any truth in the words we choose, or even how and why we choose them?

“Words lie in our way! — Wherever primitive mankind set up a word, they believed they had made a discovery. How different the truth is! — they had touched on a problem, and by supposing they had solved it they had created a hindrance to its solution. — Now with every piece of knowledge, one has to stumble over dead, petrified words, and one will sooner break a leg than a word.” The Dawn, Nietzsche, s. 47

or from the spacey and ethereal view, a wee Wilde, from The Portrait of Dorian Gray,

“Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?”

Language is the original philosophical problem, to which all others succumb, but which all happy religions must overcome.

***
Wine consumption here is so indulgent (I hear, there are some 350 varieties of grapes in Italy): we have at least a bottle or two with every meal, because, — well, why not? Mauro claims it’s because he’s from Trentino (a northern region of Italy) where they drink in much larger quantities, and Rita is from Umbria — Every time, Mauro takes a 5-10 minute break from working to roll some tobacco, he occasionally drinks a glass of wine also — it seems to prepare his palate for the ensuing never-ending Italian meal? :-)
And we have the typical vino, formaggio, salumi con il pranzo e qualche volta la cena se non siamo troppo pieno

i did gain a few kilos, but I needed them, some would say.

i did gain a few kilos, but I needed them, some would say.

And we actually get some massive (decent) boxed wine for 10 euros that’s fairly excellent, beside which is some home-brewed hazelnut liqeur.

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And we even listened to opera or (squabbling about Italian politics), and Mauro mentioned once when it was in German instead of Italian. So picture listening to opera while gorging yourself on wine, cheese and oil, then entering a half-serious debate on whether opera should really be sung in languages other than Italian, then realizing you are drunk and need to take a nap… but there is donkey manure to be shoveled later that day!

Olive oil and wine are considered ‘high-brow’ things in the US, which just shows there really is no true culture for either in the states. (Mauro is an official olive oil taster, so we had had some excessively detailed conversations about oil.) In the US, to be a wine connoisseur is deemed a plea for sophistication. If you care excessively about olive oil, you are so rare and so faux-European, that you can probably can afford to care. It’s funny to me how America looks up to Europe (esp. France and Italy) in terms of food and wine. Even so, at all the ‘serious’ culinary schools in America, French cuisine has yet to be dethroned from her lofty, contemptuous stance. And because of the way the US looks up to these countries, in our quest to produce olive oil and wine, we are merely trying to imitate the best oils in Italy and the best of French and Italian wines — just as many artists and writers can be obsequious disciples of their greatest influences. What a pity that so many seek mastery by imitating previous masters, when true mastery lies in the honest and unbridled attempt at originality. ‘But’, we think to ourselves, ‘tis better to be a copy of a renowned original, than to be an original.’ — And the whole world approves by honoring our pursuit only of what posterity has deemed great. Because others are more likely to recognize and praise the copy of a famous iconoclast, than someone who is unique on their own terms, in spite of the dominant prejudices of their time. It is not so difficult to be original, as to avoid imitating past originals. An acute historical sense is both rare and costly: if you are too filled up with your education and what you have been taught to know and cherish, then how can you give to your contemporaries what is really you? A refined and cautious ignorance has its uses. ‘Tis better to peek, sigh, and glance at what is commonly revered in history — and not try to surpass them, but merely seek to be different — but beware that the world only respects certain flavors of ambition.

Is a path that can be followed worth following? Can we only go farthest when we don’t know where we are going? The competitive urge often defeats its very purpose: we want to conquer this one game in this one field, and forget that there are a thousand fields, each with a thousand games, right over there. We want to be better by setting other’s achievements as our goal, surpassing them, and then looking around at the world and saying, “Hey, look at me! I beat them!”, while it has always been more admirable to simply differ — to stop comparing oneself to past, present, or future greats. How can I have peace until I stop comparing myself to others? Money, status, prestige is only one type of rat race — there are a million others (re: the so-called ‘hipster’ culture) in which people are doing nothing but comparing themselves [to death] with others on the same path. Every ladder of comparison has infinite rungs, each of an infinite length…

And some rainbows have pots of dung at the end, not gold, and maggots churning, no leprechauns.

***

After morning work, we stop for a 1 hour lunch at 12 or 1, and afterwards take a 1 hour riposo (literally: repose) in the Italian style (Spain is apparently well-known for its afternoon siestas, where the shops close and everyone naps — or does whatever they want except work — after lunch). There are whole towns that essentially “go to sleep” in the afternoon here, especially in the summer.

Isn’t it obvious you definitely shouldn’t go back to work right after eating? — for digestive reasons, and also because meals should never be rushed for stress purposes (it’s not like we have to guard our food from predators or vultures) — but that is what most do in America. Whether you are on the clock or on salary, to take “too long” of a lunch break consistently may get you fired — you may be seen as lazy and unproductive, abusing the system, etc. I’m not saying that Americans should have a 5-course meal like Italians and the French, but just that we enjoy our food, slowly, succulently, whenever we eat. Gratitude never rushes: some African proverb says, “A man in a hurry is already dead”. I joke here that if I had wine with lunch every day in the US, eyebrows would be raised, suspicions of borderline alcoholism would be in the air. And even so, my American brain is having trouble adjusting… wait? you mean we just nap in the middle of the day, every day, no matter what? Even if we didn’t work that hard in the morning, we still deserve a bottle of wine for lunch, then an hour’s rest? And don’t confuse siesta with a “power nap”, those hideous progenies of time management. Why can’t a siesta be an end in itself? Why must a rest be a means for more work? I think vacations and retreats have that function: if some people didn’t need to rejuvenate to go back to work, they wouldn’t even go on vacations, because they only see time off as a means to perform better at work. Leisure should be an end in itself; I think we, especially Americans, work entirely too hard — I once confused someone by saying, “my most idle moments have also been my happiest” — and forgot to add that ennui is the mother of art,

Quiet fruitfulness. The born aristocrats of the spirit are not overeager; their creations blossom and fall from the trees on a quiet autumn evening, being neither rashly desired, not hastened on, nor supplanted by new things. The wish to create incessantly is vulgar, betraying jealousy, envy, and ambition. If one is some­thing, one does not actually need to do anything–and neverthe­less does a great deal. There is a type higher than the “produc­tive” man. Human All-Too-Human I, Nietzsche, s. 210

***
They let me borrow a bike, to roam through the meandering Viterbese countryside

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….

We say bon appetito: they share a kiss before every meal, and Rita always sits on the right of Mauro… so it’s essential that I don’t accidentally sit on his right, or else he’ll go in to kiss me, simply out of habit. [I should have tested this theory]

Mauro left home when he was 18, he told his parents he wanted to travel alone, without them, and they were vaguely offended and horrified: but one night, he planned a trip to travel with his parents, but later that night packed his bags, snuck out alone, left for the south of italy, and his parents called the police, and they said something like “Well, he is 18, there is nothing we can do, he is his own man now”… So he came back after spending the whole summer hitchhiking in Italy, penniless — and being a young traveler, strangers invited him back to their homes and was curious to know who he was and his story. (You can’t make this stuff up)

Mauro hates cell phones, hates being connected all the time, and is OK with people waiting for him at the landline if he is not available at the moment. He thinks people work too much to buy things they don’t need or things they think they need because everyone else has them (and he counts a cell phone among those superfluous things). Living is only as difficult as we make it and we probably don’t need to work as hard as we do. – And the concept of merit in the work we do is vastly overrated: to deny the role of chance is hubris; pride and gratitude divorced when Lucifer fell. One could almost say that people can be less grateful for things they feel they deserve, in the case of relationships and friendships especially — because they feel they are entitled to them. The concept of debt has always ran rampant in friendship and love, for,

If our friends do us a favor, we think that because they are called friends they owe it to us, and it never occurs to us that they do not owe us their friendship. – Vauvenargues

.. and what is this “You are entitled to your opinion”? This actually gives others license to defend their opinions with little to no argument, for few defend what they feel they are entitled to — why should they?

We work hard and so think we deserve only good outcomes, so because we expect to be duly compensated, we forget that chance is often a more powerful force than merit… so are we more likely to be grateful if we give credit to chance instead of merit? Is believing “I deserve this” incompatible with humility? The earth is indifferent to my wishes, as it is towards those of the human race — so, why should the human race be any less indifferent towards me, and the things I deem worthy in this life?

***

But anyway, they read ‘Il Fatto Quotidiano’ (the everyday facts), one of the few independent newspapers in Italy, that is not supported by public funds, which of course means that it can say whatever it wants, while the other newspapers are beholden to the opinions of public officials, the shareholders of this thing we call ‘the world’ — or are ‘we, the people’ the shareholders? Not quite sure how this whole capitalism thing is supposed to work.

Funnily, another part of the cultural exchange is watching American romantic comedies dubbed in Italian — foreign films and tv shows are always dubbed in Italy — with English subtitles (if the film happens to have them).

awful

awful

I would never have watched “P.S. I Love You” or “A Cry of the Heart (or whatever it was called)” in the US. The reach of American pop culture is, unfortunately, very far. But I learned vast amounts of vocabulary like un stronzo, “a piece of shit”, and “ti voglio bene”, which is how to say “I love you” to family or relatives, as “te amo” is usually reserved for romantic situations only.

**

Lastly, Rita made some awesome food, which I would be remiss to talk about.

We had two types of very tasty octopus, with fennel, oregano, and red pepper.

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and of course, pasta

and of course, pasta

Slow-roasted artichokes with potatoes, rosemary, olive oil and parsley, and cauliflower baked with gorgonzola (or pecorino, I forget?)

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cauliflower with pecorino is kinda like a really good macaroni and cheese

cauliflower with pecorino is kinda like a really good macaroni and cheese

Rita’s brother came down from Umbria (we talked and listened to blues and soul for a bit), bringing some prosecco.

prosecco, the Italian champagne, or Champagne is the Italian prosecco, they joke here, as the Franks rage

prosecco, the Italian champagne, or Champagne is the Italian prosecco, they joke here, as the French rage

They trade some of their honey for good homemade sausage; also, we get a nice cut of pork to butcher up ourselves.

a successful barter

a successful barter

 

fresh, organic ribs (and flanks below)

fresh, organic ribs (and flanks below)

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And last, but not least, Mauro understood and appreciated my addiction to olive oil, so I could indulge myself freely :-O

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The Problem with Outcome-Oriented Evaluations

Imagine I observe two poker players playing two tournaments each. During their first tournaments, Player A makes $1200 and Player B loses $800. During her second tournament, Player A pockets another $1000. Player B, on the other hand, loses $1100 more during her second tournament. Would it be a good decision for me to sit down at a table and model my play after Player A?

For many people the answer to this question – no – is counterintuitive. I watched Player A and Player B play two tournaments each and their results were very different – haven’t I seen enough to conclude that Player A is the better poker player? Yet poker involves a considerable amount of luck and there are numerous possible short- and longer-term outcomes for skilled and unskilled players. As Nate Silver writes in The Signal and the Noise, I could monitor each player’s winnings during a year of their full-time play and still not know whether either of them was any good at poker. It would be fully plausible for a “very good limit hold ‘em player” to “have lost $35,000” during that time. Instead of focusing on the desired outcome of their play – making money – I should mimic the player who uses strategies that will, over time, increase the likelihood of future winnings. As Silver writes,

When we play poker, we control our decision-making process but not how the cards come down. If you correctly detect an opponent’s bluff, but he gets a lucky card and wins the hand anyway, you should be pleased rather than angry, because you played the hand as well as you could. The irony is that by being less focused on your results, you may achieve better ones.

As Silver recommends for poker and Teach For America recommends to corps members, we should always focus on our “locus of control.” For example, I have frequently criticized Barack Obama for his approach to the Affordable Care Act. While I am unhappy that the health care bill did not include a public option, I couldn’t blame Obama if he had actually tried to pass such a bill and failed because of an obstinate Congress. My critique lies instead with the President’s deceptive work against a more progressive bill – while politicians don’t always control policy outcomes, they do control their actions. As another example, college applicants should not judge their success on whether or not colleges accept them. They should evaluate themselves on what they control – the work they put into high school and their applications. Likewise, great football coaches recognize that they should judge their teams not on their won-loss records, but on each player’s successful execution of assigned responsibilities. Smart decisions and strong performance do not always beget good results; the more factors in-between our actions and the desired outcome, the less predictive power the outcome can give us.

Most education reformers and policymakers, unfortunately, still fail to recognize this basic tenet of probabilistic reasoning, a fact underscored in recent conversations between Jack Schneider (a current professor and one of the best high school teachers I’ve ever had) and Michelle Rhee. We implement teacher and school accountability metrics that focus heavily on student outcomes without realizing that this approach is invalid. As the American Statistical Association’s (ASA’s) recent statement on value-added modeling (VAM) clearly states, “teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in [student] test scores” and “[e]ffects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.” Paul Bruno astutely notes that the ASA’s statement is an indictment of the way VAM is used, not the idea of VAM itself, yet little correlation currently exists between VAM results and effective teaching. As I’ve mentioned before, research on both student and teacher incentives suggests that rewards and consequences based on outcomes don’t work. When we use student outcome data to assign credit or blame to educators, we may close good schools, demoralize and dismiss good teachers, and ultimately undermine the likelihood of achieving the student outcomes we want.

Better policy would focus on school and teacher inputs. For example, we should agree on a set of clear and specific best teaching practices (with the caveat that they’d have to be sufficiently flexible to allow for different teaching styles) on which to base teacher evaluations. Similarly, college counselors should provide college applicants with guidance about the components of good applications. Football coaches should likewise focus on their players’ decision-making and execution of blocking, tackling, route-running, and other techniques.

When we evaluate schools on student outcomes, we reward (and punish) them for factors they don’t directly control.  A more intelligent and fair approach would evaluate the actions schools take in pursuit of better student outcomes, not the outcomes themselves.

When we evaluate schools on student outcomes, we reward (and punish) them for factors they don’t directly control. A more intelligent and fair approach would evaluate the actions schools take in pursuit of better student outcomes, not the outcomes themselves.

Outcomes are incredibly important to monitor and consider when selecting effective inputs, of course. Mathematicians use outcomes in a process called Bayesian analysis to constantly update our assessments of whether or not our strategies are working. If we observe little correlation between successful implementation of our identified best teaching practices and student growth for five consecutive years, for instance, we may want to revisit our definition of best practices. A college counselor whose top students are consistently rejected from Ivy League schools should begin to reconsider the advice he gives his students on their applications. Relatedly, if a football team suffers through losing season after losing season despite players’ successful completion of their assigned responsibilities, the team should probably overhaul its strategy.

The current use of student outcome data to make high-stakes decisions in education, however, flies in the face of these principles. Until we shift our measures of school and teacher performance from student outputs to school and teacher inputs, we will unfortunately continue to make bad policy decisions that simultaneously alienate educators and undermine the very outcomes we are trying to achieve.

Update: A version of this piece appeared in Valerie Strauss’s column in The Washington Post on Sunday, May 25.

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Teachers Unions: What We Do and How Students Benefit

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recognized the Northwestern University football team’s right to unionize in February and the players just held a unionization vote. Quarterback Kain Colter began the program’s union movement primarily to address player safety, but supporters of the team’s efforts believe unionization will improve college athletes’ experiences across the board. Northwestern management, however, opposes granting a collective voice to their underlings; the university tried to convince players not to unionize and has appealed the NLRB’s ruling. The NCAA, meanwhile, has begun a fear-mongering campaign to obfuscate the plethora of issues with the way it conducts business, issues that a union can help the players address.

If that story sounds familiar, it’s because the NCAA’s behavior in this case resembles that of wealthy interests in most other industries. Misinformation about union purpose and impact abounds in education especially; prominent education reformers have successfully hoodwinked large swaths of the intelligent public into believing that teachers unions undermine student interests. I am often taken aback by the inaccurate, negative comments about teachers unions I still hear from otherwise well-meaning members of charter school networks, education advocacy groups, and Teach For America (TFA).

I am encouraged, however, by the initial efforts taken by TFA and Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) staff in the Bay Area to debunk member misconceptions about teachers unions. A few weeks ago, LEE invited me to speak to a group of current corps members, alumni, and LEE and TFA staff at an event called “Unions Matter.” During the event, I described the difference between social justice unionism and industrial unionism and laid out five important roles that unions play:

1) The traditional union role – Most people are familiar with this category of union activity; it covers salary, benefits, working conditions, and grievances. Anti-labor interests often denigrate teachers unions that focus on this “industrial” role, arguing that it has little to do with student interests, but they’re wrong for three primary reasons. First, there’s an extremely high correlation between good working conditions for teachers and good learning conditions for students. Unions that advocate for adequate classroom resources, a sustainable work day, and functioning air conditioning systems do so as much for their students as for their members. Second, the families of many students in low-income communities benefit significantly from the strength of the organized labor movement. The ability of unions to collectively bargain for fair wages and benefits is essential for the well-being of low-wage workers who are frequently exploited by their employers. Third, people mimic what we do more than what we say. If we want teachers to inspire their students to take collective action and advocate for themselves, district leadership needs to model that approach with teachers.

2) Collective voice – Unions provide a forum for educators to band together, prioritize action items, and communicate with management about those items. For example, the San Jose Teachers Association (SJTA) has helped teachers identify professional development and resource needs during the rollout of the Common Core State Standards, and San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) has worked hard to respond to teachers’ collectively expressed requests. When district leadership unintentionally overlooks the impact initiatives have on students’ classroom experience, union members can use their collective voice and collaborate with administration to quickly resolve problems. Unions also foster a sense of community among members, connecting teachers across the district and thus building school and district culture.

3) Community and family outreach – SJTA helps coordinate teachers during Read Across America, sponsors little league baseball teams, works with parents from community service organizations like Sacred Heart, partners with Vision to Learn to bring eye doctors and prescription eye glasses to students who might not otherwise have them, and awards scholarships to aspiring teachers in our high schools. Unions can, should, and often do engage parents and advocate for students and public education at community events.

4) Political advocacy – School boards, other elected officials, and ballot initiatives matter significantly for students, and unions work hard to elect candidates and pass propositions that will positively impact kids’ lives. Without the efforts of the California Teachers Association and local California teachers associations in 2012, Proposition 30 would likely have failed, an outcome that would have resulted in a significantly shorter school year, increased class sizes, layoffs, a reduction in extracurricular programs, and/or a reduction in elective offerings in most California schools. SJTA also helped put two excellent SJUSD school board members in office in 2012. In addition to education-specific issues, teachers unions can advocate for a broader set of social justice policies that make a difference in our students’ lives; that purpose explains why SJTA joined the South Bay Labor Council in supporting San Jose’s minimum wage increase in 2012 and why we consider endorsements for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and the San Jose City Council.

5) Education reform – Though typical uses of the phrase “ed reform” conjure anti-labor images, teachers unions can and often do drive smart, ethical modifications to education policy that improve opportunities for teacher satisfaction and student learning. SJTA and SJUSD recently co-developed a new teacher evaluation system (see Article 16000 of our contract) that, though not yet fully implemented, uses multiple measures of effectiveness to help teachers of all skill levels grow professionally, requires multiple evaluators for both formal and informal observations, and grants joint control of the process to teachers and administrators. We are hoping California will grant our request to either shorten or lengthen permanent status timelines when doing so is in the joint interests of students, teachers, and the school. Our contract also allows for new teacher leadership pathways (although we currently lack the funding necessary to implement our Model Teacher and Master Teacher Leader positions). We co-developed several other teacher-empowering, student-centered policy decisions with our school district and other unions can and often try to do so as well.

The current and former teachers I talked to at the LEE event were, as most teachers I encounter from both TFA and other programs are, thoughtful, intelligent, and passionate about improving the lives of low-income kids. They astutely noted that they don’t see all of these roles pursued by their unions all the time and wondered how SJTA became so proactive. Their question is a great one, and while I haven’t been involved in SJTA long enough to see the process unfold firsthand, I believe I can lend some insight.

Throughout history, labor-management relationships have typically involved some combination of management withholding information, misappropriating money, imposing unreasonable working conditions, and lying to the media about the effects of negotiations and employee objectives (the NCAA is currently engaged in all of this behavior in its attempt to prevent the Northwestern football team’s attempt to unionize). It’s important to note that, anytime one perceives intransigence from a teachers union, that intransigence is typically in response to irresponsible and/or unethical behavior from the school district. The district and union have a joint obligation to behave responsibly, but unions are the less powerful entity in the union-district relationship and the onus is therefore more on districts to create the conditions – transparency, openness to union ideas, respect for union membership, and a willingness to work together – under which a union can adopt the social justice approach described above. SJTA can function as we do in large part because SJUSD has demonstrated its commitment to honest, collaborative negotiations and messaging. Most seemingly obstinate union positions, on the other hand, arise in response to corrupt and/or incompetent management decision-making processes.

That said, unions must also work proactively to define themselves as social justice organizations. I believe establishing a positive mission statement (SJTA’s is to “empower teachers to educate, inspire, and change lives through public education”) can go a long way. We should try to develop contract structures, like salary formulas (see Appendix A of our contract), that enable us to spend a smaller percentage of collective bargaining time on salary and benefits. We must also consider innovative ideas that have a compelling rationale and research base behind them.

It’s important to remember that members of teachers unions work directly with students every day – we are students’ most credible advocates. We care deeply about educational equity and the learning that takes place in our classrooms. Education reformers who are likewise passionate about helping students succeed will therefore stop bashing unions and start working with us to develop the intelligent, ethical policies that can benefit students most.

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Free Speech: More a Means than an End

Mozilla’s selection of Brendan Eich for CEO on March 24 prompted widespread outrage because of a $1,000 donation he made to the Prop 8 campaign in 2008. Though the tech world had long condemned Eich’s donation to the since-overturned anti-gay marriage ballot initiative, his promotion reinvigorated the criticism that eventually pressured him to resign.

Conor Friedersdorf, Andrew Sullivan, and a whole host of other journalists and bloggers typically supportive of gay rights have recently denounced Eich’s “forced resignation.” Other members of the business community protest the anti-Eich movement because the idea that “one’s politics is one’s own business [has] been the rule in American business for a very long time.” Friedersdorf worries that calls for Eich’s resignation will have “a chilling effect on political speech and civic participation.” Sullivan goes even farther and writes, “When people’s lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance.”

Some of these commentators’ concerns are understandable, but their arguments paint an inaccurate picture of the effects of Prop 8, confuse the distinction between private and public views, and mistakenly equate two very different types of political speech and behavior.

Friedersdorf asserts that “no one had any reason to worry that Eich…would do anything that would negatively affect gay Mozilla employees,” while Sullivan contends, “There is not a scintilla of evidence that [Eich] has ever discriminated against a single gay person at Mozilla.” Both writers cite Eich’s vaguely-worded inclusivity commitments as evidence for their claims without recognizing that the entire complaint against Eich is based on his direct contribution to legalized discrimination against gay people in California. By way of his donation in support of Prop 8, he has already “negatively affect[ed]” every “single gay person at Mozilla.” Given Eich’s refusal to denounce the apartheid system of marriage he helped enact into law, it would be illogical to expect him to behave differently in the future.

Relatedly, commentators have bought Eich’s argument that his beliefs are personal and private. While the gay community would be significantly better off were that argument valid, it’s unfortunately completely false. Beliefs become public when they take the form of activism, votes, and donations that lead to laws that have consequences for other people. There’s nothing at all private about a $1,000 donation to a campaign that helped deny gay people equal application of the law for over four years.

Most alarming to Friedersdorf and Sullivan is their perception of the free speech implications of Mozilla’s behavior. Friedersdorf writes that Eich’s resignation sends the message “that if you want to get ahead at Mozilla, you best say nothing about any controversial political issue.” Sullivan similarly opines that “[w]hat we have here is a social pressure to keep your beliefs deeply private for fear of retribution. We are enforcing another sort of closet on others.” In addition to Sullivan’s erroneous (and offensive) suggestion that there’s an equivalence “between the oppression faced by the queer community and [the] intolerance [Prop 8 supporters] feel as ‘out’ bigots,” both writers also use a problematic analogy. Sullivan compares Mozilla’s behavior to “a socially conservative private entity fir[ing] someone because they discovered he had donated against Prop 8” and Friedersdorf similarly writes:

There is very likely hypocrisy at work too. Does anyone doubt that had a business fired a CEO six years ago for making a political donation against Prop 8, liberals silent during this controversy (or supportive of the resignation) would’ve argued that contributions have nothing to do with a CEO’s ability to do his job? They’d have called that firing an illiberal outrage, but today they’re averse to vocally disagreeing with allies.

For free speech purists, Friedersdorf and Sullivan make a good point. If all speech is considered equal and free speech is the most important end for us to consider, the type of reasoning used to oust Eich would be analogous to the reasoning used to fire a CEO who campaigned against Prop 8. However, the Supreme Court has long held that other considerations matter more than free speech in certain circumstances. While Sullivan is right that we should be able to “live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree,” there is a major difference between legitimate, intellectually honest disagreements and speech, activism, votes, and/or donations that oppress people. The right to speak freely applies differently to the different sides of the gay marriage debate for the same reason that it’s inaccurate to call Aamer Rahman a reverse racist: the power dynamic matters a great deal. Free speech is more important as a means to protect the powerless from being silenced and oppressed than it is as an end in and of itself. Arguments like Friedersdorf’s and Sullivan’s have been used in the past to justify a neo-Nazi intimidation march through a town inhabited by Holocaust survivors; completely free speech is the wrong cause to defend when it undermines a more important purpose.

Protecting the powerless is probably harder to legislate and enforce than free speech purity. Regardless, our priorities are severely warped when we consider Brendan Eich’s right to a discriminatory political donation ahead of gay individuals’ right to equal benefit of the law.

Update: A version of this article ran on The Left Hook on Wednesday, April 9.

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Lessons About Gay Rights and Business from Arizona Bill’s Veto

On Wednesday, February 26, Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed S.B. 1062, a bill that would have helped Arizona businesses deny service to gay customers on religious grounds.  Brewer’s veto and the political controversy surrounding the bill illustrated several important developments in the gay rights movement.

First, US society is finally beginning to condemn religious opposition to gay rights; most of us now recognize that people who oppose gay equality, for any reason, are bigoted.  Though S.B. 1062 lacked explicit references to sexual orientation, most of the bill’s opponents correctly recognized it as an attempt to sanction discrimination against the LGBT population.  And while proponents of such discrimination continue to lie about their anti-gay animus and S.B. 1062’s impact, their influence on public perception is dwindling.  A recent poll conducted jointly by ABC News and The Washington Post found both that only 28% of Americans support the discrimination allowed by S.B. 1062 and that only 34% of Americans still oppose same-sex marriage.  Gay rights have “transformed from being a fringe, politically toxic position just a few years ago to a virtual piety that must be affirmed in decent company. This demonstrates why [defeatism is misguided]: even the most ossified biases and entrenched institutional injustices can be subverted.”

Second, the Republican Party platform is no longer uniformly anti-gay.  Not only did Brewer veto the bill, but John McCain and Mitt Romney also spoke out against S.B. 1062.  Mainstream Republican politicians at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) “skirted around gay issues during the three-day gathering outside Washington, D.C” and focused on other issues instead.  Republican Party operatives seem to understand that opposition to gay rights is becoming more and more politically disadvantageous.

Third, Brewer’s veto indicates the potential impact of voting with our dollars.  The Hispanic National Bar Association, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association, the NFL, and a plethora of large businesses including Apple, American Airlines, and Intel began to voice opposition to S.B. 1062 as pressure mounted from customers, clients, fans, and nonprofits.  Brewer’s anti-gay history suggests she only vetoed the bill because of the intense economic pressure to do so.

These developments are cause for optimism about the future for LGBT rights.  I bet a friend seven years ago that gay marriage will be legal in all fifty states by the end of 2023, and I am currently feeling pretty good about my chances.  However, proponents of gay rights must avoid calling business interests our “greatest ally in [the] LGBT equality pursuit.”

As Jon Stewart noted recently on The Daily Show, S.B. 1062 was “morally repugnant” and should have been vetoed based on ethical criteria alone.  Yet few opponents of the bill made ethics their central argument against it; critics of S.B. 1062 instead focused more on its economic impact.  That business interest has begun to align with the interests of the LGBT community is positive, but as Jeffrey Toobin mentioned in a recent piece for The New Yorker, that alignment only achieves the desired outcome “[w]hen, as with expressing opposition to S.B. 1062, it costs business nothing.”

In other words, it’s easy for businesses and politicians to support gay equality and non-discrimination because doing so furthers their economic and political self-interest.  Gay rights have become an issue that, like big philanthropy, “allows [politicians and business leaders] to preen as…great liberal champion[s] to…left-leaning voters, all while…simultaneously press[ing] an anti-union, economically conservative agenda that moneyed interests support.”  We should certainly celebrate the success of the gay rights movement, but we must simultaneously be careful not to enable what David Sirota calls “a bait and switch whereby social issues are increasingly used to perpetuate the economic status quo.”

So before we extol the virtues of the NFL for its opposition to S.B. 1062, let’s remember that the league and its owners routinely rob taxpayers.  Let’s remember, before we get too excited about Jan Brewer, that she supports racial profiling.  And let’s remember, before we pat the Arizona Chamber of Commerce on the back for defending the rights of the underprivileged, that the organization frequently lies about the impact of minimum wage laws.  Instead, let’s honor the success of the gay rights movement by calling its support what it is – the only ethical choice a business can make.  Let’s simultaneously demand that politicians and business leaders elevate ethics over greed in every other policy arena.

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