Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Social Websites Harm Children's Brains

Preminant neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield believes social websites (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, instant messaging, computer games, and fast-paced TV-shows) adversely impact the way children's brains get wired. Attention spans are shortened and the ability of future generations to communicate with one another (outside cyber-space) could be diminished.

Lady Greenfield based her comments on conversations she has had with teachers who experienced a dramatic change in the way students learn. I'm very intrigued by her observations as they tend to mirror my own experiences here at the community college level.

I've written a few blogs about critical skills and the desire expressed by employers to find more employees with these skills. Many industries are finding a decided lack of applicants who can think through a problem in a critical manner.

Several of the health faculty I work with confirm a similar phenomenon in their fields. Students are able to learn the material but more and more seem unable to apply the knowledge. Case in point; a health student takes a patients blood pressure and notices that it is high. The student then takes the blood pressure again in a few minutes, sees the patients blood pressure continues to rise, but is unable to tell the faculty what he or she is supposed to do next.

My theory is the students of today are grounded in cyber-space where immediate feedback occurs. If a young person is playing a video game and makes a mistake, the game ends and the student starts over again. If the young person is using a website of some kind and makes a mistake, there is an immediate error message posted telling them what they did wrong and how to correct it.

Many of today's youth are unable to operate outside the immediate feeback loops of cyberspace. They can operate only so far as they receive a stimulus. Many young people today are unable to make a decision in the absence of a stimulus.

I written the other day advocating support for teaching high school shop class. When you think about it, shop class covers resource management, analysis, critical thinking, problem solving, eye hand coordination, and job skills training. In addition, it gets students away from the iPods and cell phones long enough to experience the world minus feedback loops.

Lady Greenfield has the reknown and credentials needed to get this issue to the forefront. I wish her well in her efforts and hope that we can apply some of her work to our efforts here in the Cincinnati area.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Governor Strickland is revamping high school curriculums to include more critical thinking skills needed for jobs in the 21st Century.  The curriculum change seeks to increase critical thinking skills in high school graduates and decreasing the emphasis on such soft skills as media literacy.  

Once upon a time, a person with a high school diploma could go out and get a job after graduation.  As jobs have become more technically demanding, fewer jobs are available for those possessing only a high school education. The economic recession has created a glut of college graduates looking for work as jobs are lost.  They certainly posses critical thinking skills but if there are no jobs you can't get hired.

The elimination of media literacy or other soft skills is needed but I don't thinking creating a new series of critical thinking is the right approach.  If college graduates find themselves unemployed, the problem isn't the need for critical thinking skills but rather jobs.

Perhaps there is another way to look at the situation.  High school shop classes have become somewhat anachronistic, especially in light of the soft skill courses.  However, many of the great inventors of the 19th and 20th Century took shop.  Shop teaches students learn how to analyze a problem (critical thinking) and create a solution.  Working through a problem lead many inventors to create companies that produced jobs for the community.

Before going down the road of yet another trend, perhaps it would be better to look back at the past and apply those lessons to the problems of the 21st Century.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

State of the County

I had the privilege of being invited to attend Commissioner David Pepper’s first annual state of the county address. The Cincinnati Rotary Club hosted the event in the Hall of Mirrors (actually we were one floor above the Hall).

The event was well attended by elected by local elected officials, Rotarians as well as invited guests. After several perfunctory remarks by Rotary officers, Commissioner was introduced.

The commissioner (one of three in Hamilton County) spoke about his three points to revitalizing the economic situation of working, middle class families. His first point is revitalizing the economy.

Hamilton County is committed to helping families avoid foreclosure. Commissioner Pepper rightly points out that by avoiding situations that lead to families losing their homes, the demand for county services is reduced. Families and the county both win.

It takes jobs to keep families in the homes, not just measures to avoid foreclosures. The Commissioner talk about plan to create jobs with companies that currently exist as well as create incentives to attract new businesses to Cincinnati. The commissioner’s plan includes insuring a highly skilled workforce is in place to work for those new employers. Commissioner Pepper also spoke of the need to maintain a vital workforce by offering retraining to displaced workers.

By addressing families and creating jobs, the commissioner’s plan is on very solid ground. His second is focus is on public safety to further attract new prosperity to Cincinnati.

The Commissioner believes prisons should be first and foremost to keep the worst offenders off of the street. Hamilton County jails have a large populations of state felons that are either awaiting sentencing or that have not been transferred to state facilities. In short, the county ends up paying for state felons (and I assume the state does not reimburse the county for these inmates).

The county jails also houses a number of veterans and inmates with mental illness. The commissioner believes finding alternatives for these groups would be far more effective and cost-effective. The Enquirer already covered the veterans court; Commissioner Pepper wants a similar court for inmates with mental health problems.

Finally the commissioner proposed improved county infrastructure by emphasizing shared services. The commissioner said there is a strong desire amongst the 48 jurisdictions in Hamilton County to share services such as tax collection and code enforcement. Even more promising, several municipalities are exploring regional fire departments (something I’ve advocated both here as well as on Commissoner’s Peppers blog).

His final point was to emphasize and increase the professionalism and ethical standards of all county employees. I applaud the Commissioner for recognizing the need to have a workforce that is respects itself as well as being respected.

I like how Commissioner Pepper laid out his plans and followed with emails to the attendees. I look forward to see the changes he will help bring to Hamilton County.

The commissioner’s speech can be found here 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


The CincyVets group on LinkedIn has 48 members and we are trying to have our first luncheon next month at Cincinnati State. I also attended a meeting of Veterans Helping Veterans at the College. Veterans Helping Veterans is a student group for veterans attending the college. They are trying to raise funds to create a student loan program. Students using the GI Bill or VA benefits often experience a delay between when the benefit pays and when tuition is due. To help bridge the gap, the loan would allow students to borrow the money to pay for that term's tuition or to purchase the textbooks. Once the GI Bill or VA benefit pays, the student pays back the loan. This is an excellent opportunity for local veterans groups or business interested in supporting veterans to help out. If any of you are interested or know of a group that may be able to help, please let me know.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Senate Bill 22

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, State Sen Bill Seitz introduced Senate Bill 22 which would allow minor offenders to be sentenced to community programs and created sentencing alternatives to for parents convicted of failing to pay child support amongst other measures aimed at reduce the prison population.

Currently the state’s 32 prisons are operating at 132 percent of their designed capacity. The two state prisons in Warren County on Friday were holding inmates at 73 and 76 percent above their designed capacity, according the article.

Placing minor offenders in overcrowded prisons with other more violent offenders does nothing for the community. It costs money to maintain the prisons and prisoners, increasing population size means an associated increase in the money required to operate the prisons.

Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters feels Senate Bill 22 is entirely budget drive and does not take into consideration the safety of the community. The first part of his argument should come as no surprise, the economy is in full recession and tax revenues are falling off of the charts. However, I disagree with his second assumption. Community safety is already at risk with Queensgate closing and Hamilton County Sherrif’s Office laying off 155 employees and leaving another 65 positions unfilled.

Sentencing guidelines need to be adjusted to make room for the truly violent criminals to be incarcerated. Incarcerating a deadbeat parent with a hardened, violent offender only furthers the overcrowding problem and may lead the non-violent offender to turn to violence once they are released.

Mara Salvatrucha (MS) 13 was formed in the prisons of California and now has become one of the most notorious gangs in the United States. Exposing young convicts or non-violent offenders to prison has always struck me as counter-productive to having a safer community. The prison gangs will quickly recruit the young and defenseless into their gangs. Looking at different sentencing guidelines is one way of trying to reduce crime while also reducing demands on state and county budgets.

Veterans Helping Veterans

I’ve been meaning to do a post about Operation Troop Aid for several weeks. Mark Woods and I became acquainted through the Cincy Vets group on LinkedIn. Mark created Operation Troop Aid to become the “premier care package provider” for deployed service members. Mark is a retired Navy veteran and has worked using his connections with military concert coordinators to find performers who want to entertain the troops.

I served in OPERATION DESERT STORM and OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM and whenever a performer came over to give concert, it was a great moral booster for everyone. I used to wonder when I was growing up what the big deal was for Bob Hope to go around doing shows for the troops until I became on of those deployed troops myself. I encourage you all to check out Mark’s website at www.operationtroopaid.org.

When I first heard about LinkedIn, I really didn’t understand what a social networking website was about. Over the past two years it has helped me connect with other veterans and technical experts in the local area that I would not have otherwise met. The Cincy Vets group is trying to have its first meeting soon to try and generate new ideas to help other veterans in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area. If you are on LinkedIn and are veteran, I encourage you to join.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Traditional Spanish Desserts?

Many of the Cincinnati bloggers I've met write about my favorite subject, FOOD!  This comic is for them.

Monday, February 9, 2009


There was a show on PBS called Connections hosted by James Burke. In addition to being a historian, Burke possessed a very dry sense of humor. The show took a unique look at history and showed how different events built on one another over time. Burke’s approach was to avoid the typical linear approach to history and look more holistically at events and exploring some lesser-known connections.

I started thinking about “Connections” the other day while reading about additional lays offs for sheriff’s deputies. The deputies are the latest in a budget cuts resulting from the failing economy and diminishing tax revenues. The sheriff blames elected officials but the public blames the sheriff and elected officials. Neither view goes very far at looking at the causes.

Low tax revenues does not mean low taxes, in fact just the opposite tends to be the case. Ohio has one of the worst tax situations for businesses and explains in part why business chose to locate in other states. Governor Strickland has for some time correctly assessed that Ohio suffers from “brain-drain”, unfortunately he tends to see this as a educational issue and feels developing a state university system is the way to overcome brain-drain. I believe the real reason Ohio is losing “brains” is due to a lack of jobs to employ those brains. I read a few years ago that Ohio had fewer new home constructions in one year than Atlanta. High taxes create a disincentive for businesses, which in turn creates a disincentive for job creations. Fewer business and jobs means lower tax revenues.

High taxes are just one of the reasons that fewer businesses are in Ohio. As industries became deregulated, such as the airlines, larger businesses bought out smaller ones until only a handful of bloated companies are left. United, American and Delta are all that is left of the legacy carriers. They merged and bought out their competition and contrary to the predictions of market economics, newer airlines weren’t able to enter the market. A sort of monopoly was created and without new airlines entering the market, there was not incentive for the legacy carriers to maintain travel perks. There was little incentive to modernize and improve flights in advance of staggering fuel costs. Once crude oil prices skyrocketed, airlines had no choice but pass the cost on to the consumer.

The American auto industry became complacent and was unable to react even while losing $2,000 per every car produced. Now it looks as though Chrysler may not survive through the year even despite the federal bailout. Chrysler provides 80 percent of the cars that make up the Dollar Thrifty fleet. If Chrysler collapses, then Dollar Thrifty (not to mention all of the suppliers and dealers that depend on Chrysler) will fail. Many of these businesses are located in Ohio and the loss of jobs and tax revenues will be devastating.

Tax revenues in Ohio have been decreasing as a result of businesses leaving the state. As businesses leave the ability for the state to receive revenue from taxes decreases. The loss of business means a loss of jobs as well further reducing tax revenues. Job loss increases demand on public services that are funded through tax revenues. People without incomes are forced to turn to public assistance in the best case or crime in worst case. Increased crime rates places more demands on law enforcement and correctional facilities. The lack of tax revenues causes cuts to law enforcement and the closing of correctional facilities.

Going back to “Connections”, we need to make the connection of jobs to the safety and security of our communities. We need jobs and employers to pay taxes to generate the revenue need to fund our communities. Elected officials need to work with business in collaborative way to create communities that are safe and attractive to businesses. In turn, these businesses will create jobs to provide the tax revenues to provide for the safety and well being of the community.