American Elephants

Keep Voting Groups in Their Place — As Victims. by The Elephant's Child

Late last week, the Justice Department asked a federal court to stop 34 school districts in Louisiana from giving private-school vouchers  to minority children to help them escape failing public schools. Justice Department lawyers claim the voucher program appears “to impede the desegregation process” required by federal law. They didn’t come up with much in the way of evidence to support that claim. Is this a return to the 1950s? Or does fidelity to teacher’s unions trump the well-being of kids?

Louisiana’s state-wide program guarantees a voucher to students from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty level and who attend schools graded C or below. The point of the program is to let kids escape the segregation of failed schools. About 90% of the children who benefit from the program are black. Justice is more concerned with the skin colors of the school’s student body than with their failure to actually educate the kids.

If you can  follow the logic, it seems to run like this. During the 2012-2013 school year about 10% of voucher recipients came from 22 districts that remain under desegregation orders that are around 50 years old. In several of those 22 districts “the voucher recipients were in the racial minority at the public school they attended before receiving the voucher.” So Justice is claiming that the voucher program is illegal because minority kids made these failing schools more white by leaving those schools to go to better private schools.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when many schools were destroyed, Louisiana has become a leader in school reform. New Orleans has city-wide charter schools, and now vouchers for poor kids. According to the Wall Street Journal, sources in Louisiana think it’s about helping the teachers union to repeal the voucher law by any legal means. Justice accidentally gives this away by claiming “jurisdiction over Louisiana” even for vouchers for students in districts without desegregation orders.

In Washington D.C. it took a real fight to get this administration to agree to extend the Opportunity Scholarships program. Teachers unions are more important to the administration than poor black children.

The administration has insisted that efforts to reduce voter fraud by requiring photo I.D. to prove that voters are indeed who they claim to be — is somehow meant to keep black citizens from voting. Since photo I.D. is required to cash a check or open a bank account, to buy beer, to travel, or— especially to enter the Justice Department in Washington D.C. or most court houses — the attempt to portray the requirement as racist is absurd, but blacks are susceptible to that kind of propaganda, because blacks were once kept from voting, and it took strong civil rights laws to rectify the situation. But they were passed, and we have a black president, black senators, black cabinet members, and black justices. Those who are Republicans are called “Uncle Toms.”

Yet to listen to the speeches from the commemoration of the original March on Washington, our black citizens are increasingly victims of racism. We need new laws to keep black children in failing schools, to prevent anyone from asking to see a black person’s I.D. because that might be racist.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Oddly enough, the President of the United States, his Attorney General and the prosecutors were not interested in judging Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman by the content of their character, but did everything they could to see that unfortunate case was decided by the color of their skins,

Unemployment rates for Black Americans remain in double digits, and unemployment rates for black youth are double that. It would seem to be more important that our Black citizens remain victims — than that they be provided with opportunity.

Atom-Thin, Stronger Than Steel, A New Super-Material Ignites a Patent Rush by The Elephant's Child

Every time you think that all discoveries have been made, all economic progress is over — comes a wonder material: a substance 200 times stronger than steel yet as thin as a single atom — which has sent “companies and universities racing to understand, patent and profit from the skinnier, more glamorous cousin of ordinary pencil lead.”

The material is graphene, and to demonstrate its potential, Andrea Ferrari recently picked up a sheet of clear plastic, flexed it and then tapped invisible keys, triggering tinkly musical notes.

The keyboard made at Dr. Ferrari’s University of Cambridge lab was printed with a circuit of graphene, which is so pliable that scientists predict it will fulfill dreams of flexible phones and electronic newspapers that can fold into a pocket.

It is the thinnest material known. But it is exceedingly strong, light and flexible. It is exceptional at conducting electricity and heat, and at absorbing and emitting light.

Andre Geim, a Russian-born scientist at the University of Manchester in Britain, and Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for isolating graphene. Dr. Geim wanted thin graphite to study its electrical properties. A doctoral student suggested using cellophane tape.”They used the tape to peel off layers of graphite until they got to a layer so thin it was transparent. Not only did it not fall apart, it was strong, flexible and possessed astonishing electrical properties.”

It is still far too expensive for mass markets, it doesn’t lend itself in computer-chip circuitry and scientists are trying to find better ways to turn it into usable form. There are still lots of hurdles, but Graphene is a material like steel or plastic or silicon that can change society.

And the race has begun, as of May, there have been more than 9,000 patent applications for graphene. Companies like Apple, Saab, Lockheed Martin, Samsung, Nokia, BASF SE. The potential uses are as broad as filtering salt from seawater, flexible touch screens, anti-rust coatings, sports equipment like tennis racquets,  DNA sequencing devices, and distilling vodka. Everybody is trying to patent everything, so that you have the option of suing your competitors later and stopping them. Labs all over the world are hard at work, as is the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Dr Geim, the Nobel laureate, has said that “Graphene opened up a material world we didn’t even know existed.” Scientists are looking at scores of other two-dimensional materials with unusual properties.

The Wall Street Journal piece is here, it may be behind a paywall. Watch for news stories about this new wonder material as scientists learn more about its possibilities. Think also of the Alaska Gold Rush and the Oklahoma Land Rush, now we have a Patent Rush — this may be the real Twenty-First Century promise.

geim_postcard  geim novoselov_postcard
………….André Geim………………………………Konstantin Novoselov


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