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Thursday, August 25

One Day

"That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day."
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Tuesday, August 23

Blue Lagoon

Tο πλοίο θα σαλπάρει το βραδάκι
Πάρε το μετρό για Πειραιά
Μέσα στο γλυκό καλοκαιράκι
να πάμε κρουαζιέρα στα νησιά

Στο κύμα θ' αρμενίζει το βαπόρι
τ' αγέρι θα μάς παίρνει τα μαλλιά
Θα γίνουμε στον έρωτα μαστόροι
κι οι σκέψεις θα πετάξουν σαν πουλιά

Α, α, κρουαζιέρα θα σε πάω
A, α, γιατί σε νοιάζομαι και σ' αγαπάω
A, α, Mύκονο και Σαντορίνη
A, α, σαν ερωτευμένοι πιγκουίνοι

Άσε τον παλιόκοσμο να σκούζει
σε πλαζ, εστιατόρια, πανσιόν
Εμείς με σλίπιγκ μπαγκ και με καρπούζι
θα κάνουμε το γύρο τον νησιών

Γυμνοί θα κολυμπάμε στ' ακρογιάλια
Τον ήλιο θ' αντικρίζουμε ανφάς
Θα σ' έχω σαν κινέζικη βεντάλια
και στο γραφείο δε θα ξαναπάς

Sunday, May 1

For-Profits vs Non-Profits

The debate on whether all healthcare institutions should be non-profit evokes many complex and topical issues. What needs to be examined is whether non-profit hospitals are inherently better than for-profit hospitals, and whether there is enough evidence-based data to support policies dictating ownership.

Not only have the business models of both ownership styles become more and more similar, there has also been a growing number of switches in ownership status between for-profits and nonprofits. The direction of the switches doesn’t suggest a preference for either ownership style. Research suggests that it is not a difference in objectives that dictates these decisions, but rather a strategic analysis of the environment in which the organization operates.

While nonprofits are hailed for their charity work, it is actually a byproduct of their exclusion from paying taxes. Many studies show that often nonprofits do not provide charity comparable to their tax savings, and that for-profits actually give back more in the form by being subjected to taxes. For-profits’ societal contribution occurs within the strict rules of the US tax code, while non-profits operate under more arbitrary conditions which has exposed them to many suits.

Another advantage that for-profits have is the ability to raise more capital through private investors and the stock market. As a result, many nonprofits that have found themselves in financial troubles have been rescued by financially healthier for-profit organizations.

Heleni Smith Dailymotion

Heleni Smith - Etsy
Heleni Smith – Status Updates
Heleni Smith – Travelling
Heleni Smith – Tribute

Monday, April 18

Evolution of Medicaid

Medicaid has faced many obstacles since its 1965 enactment. As a program that was originally viewed as a “lousy program for poor people,” it has managed to not only survive for over 4 decades, but it has become an instrumental part of Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in providing coverage for the uninsured. The program’s resilience lays in the way it is financed and the way it is implemented.

While Medicaid costs $350 billion a year, the financial burden is divided among the states and the federal government. Each state has a special agreement with the federal government on what percentage of the Medicaid bill each pays. The federal government pays from 50% to 80%, depending on the state. The poorer a state is, the more the federal government contributes. This severely lessens the financial burden states face when making Medicaid decisions. This also allows for states and the federal government to spend more when the economy is good, and to cut back when the economy slows down.

Medicaid is administered by the states. This allows for various Medicaid programs across the United States that are tailored to a state’s idiosyncrasies. This flexibility has allowed for structural creativity on a state level, thus avoiding many of the hurdles faced with federal run programs. Its beneficiaries have grown beyond the nation’s poor due to the ambiguous eligibility boundaries set by the federal government. Each state has an autonomy that allows it to turn Medicaid into whatever the state’s population needs.

While the first two decades of Medicaid proved tumultuous, with various disagreements on eligibility caps, during the mid 80’s and 90’s it experienced a rapid growth thus moving it from a program for poor people into a program for low wage and low middle class people. This was mostly due to various state mandates to increase eligibility caps. Also, Medicaid started expanding its coverage of pregnant woman in an effort to deal with the rising problems of infant mortality and high risk pregnancies. This gave Medicaid great political capital, thus making it hard for republicans to legislatively act out on their oppositions to the program’s expansion.

Clinton’s presidency also greatly advanced Medicaid through the enactment of the SCHIP programs. These programs were meant to provide insurance to children and gave states $40 billion to spend in 10 years. Clinton gave the states the option of creating new plans or expanding through Medicaid. This gave Medicaid even more leverage, thus adding to its resilience. By the end of the 1990’s, Medicaid and SCHIP spending accounted for 16% of the nation’s healthcare bill.

Another reason Medicaid has done so well is that it has had a more seamless transition into managed care than Medicare did. This is greatly attributed to the fact that Medicaid is an amalgamation of federal rules and state specific policies, thus allowing for states to more efficiently negotiate with managed care plans.

Medicaid is now facing pressure to lower costs and increase eligibility criteria. It can deal with these pressures by raising eligibility to cover most children through family coverage. It can also raise eligibility while lowering costs by allowing uninsured individuals to buy into Medicaid. If their income disqualifies them from automatic enrollment, they could pay a premium in order to receive its benefits. This would increase eligibility without adding on extra costs, and could potentially generate enough revenue to make Medicaid as a whole more affordable.
Heleni Smith – Last Fm
Heleni Smith – Paper
Heleni Smith – Health Updates
Heleni Smith – Cavafis Tribute
Heleni Smith – Cavafis Tribute 2
Heleni Smith – Good Reads

Monday, April 11

Poetry Corner by Heleni Smith

Thursday, April 7

Heleni Smith Lensmaster

Heleni Smith – Lensmaster

Heleni Smith – Cruise Food

Pictures of the amazing food we had on our last family cruise.

Government Shutdown

Heleni Smith – Related Articles

Check out the following interesting article on the impending government shutdown:

Monday, April 4

Budget Proposals by Heleni Smith

Heleni Smith – Budget Proposals

Republican Representative Paul Ryan, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, is set to reveal his 2012 budget proposal this upcoming week. The proposal’s anticipated $4 trillion cuts on federal spending include dramatic changes to both Medicare and Medicaid. The Medicare changes would affect everyone bellow the age of 55 by converting the program into a premium support system. This means that by the time the aforementioned individuals reach the age of 65, Medicare will no longer exist in its current form. Participants would have to choose a private insurance coverage for which the government would pay the first $15,000 of premiums. Poorer or less healthy individuals would receive more money. Ryan claims that Medicare is unsustainable in its current form and that these changes are necessary. Opponents to Ryan’s proposal argue that health costs will rise at a higher rate than the proposed government subsidies, thus leaving many elderly with inadequate coverage. As far as Medicaid, Ryan is proposing that the program turn into a block grant program in order to rein in state spending.

Wednesday, March 30

ACOs Continued by Heleni Smith

Heleni Smith Writings
Heleni Smith Blog

As a Public Health graduate student, I’m often asked to elaborate on ACOs. While the catchy acronym has graced many newspaper titles, the public is still hazy on what an ACO would actually accomplish. The best analogy for an ACO comes from Harold Miller, president and CEO of the Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement and executive director of the Center for Healthcare Quality & Payment Reform in Pittsburgh. He compares healthcare and ACOs to SONY and television sets. When someone decides to buy a new tv, they buy the entire product in one place. ACOs will attempt to do the same with healthcare. Instead of going to different institutions for various medical needs, patients will be able rely on a one-stop-shop. This will incentivize all stake holders partaking in healthcare to cooperate and reduce costs. This will also tackle the redundancy often observed through unnecessary repetition of exams. ACOs will be launched for Medicare beneficiaries as well as private insurance beneficiaries in January of 2012. Proponents of the creation of ACOs point to the fact that it will lead to cost reduction in Medicare which is a big driver behind the current deficit. While the fee-for-service system will still be in place, savings-sharing incentives will encourage cost reduction and quality improvement.

Monday, March 28

ACOs by Heleni Smith

Heleni Smith Writings
Heleni Smith Blog

ACOs have been generating alot of media buzz in the last few months, although the concept is still a bit foggy to many people. Here is a brief explanation of what an ACO is:
An Accountable Care Organization (ACO) is an entity created in order to tackle healthcare quality and rising costs issues. The main purpose of their creation is to simultaneously address payment methods and delivery reform. ACOs are generally a local entity comprised of at least physicians (primary and specialists) and hospitals that are responsible for the full spectrum of care for specific beneficiaries. ACOs provide financial incentives such as shared savings and bonuses for meeting certain predetermined quality measurements.

Wednesday, March 16

Health Insurance Brokers Update by Heleni Smith

Healthcare reform has many stakeholders beyond government and providers. Case in point-health insurance brokers. Insurance brokers are becoming more vocal about the possible ramifications that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act might have on them and are taking their trepidations to congress and state legislatures. Their main concern revolves around maintaining their commissions as well as guaranteeing a position in the new healthcare landscape. There is debate around the effect insurance brokers have on overall premiums. Brokers are hoping to play an integral part in the creation of health insurance exchanges which will take effect in 2014. States seem to be divided on this issue. Iowa and Minnesota have both introduced bills that safeguard the future of brokers, while Maryland and the District of Columbia are drafting bills that would negate the use of brokers. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners is lobbying legislation on the national level that would exclude brokers’ commissions from the new 20% cap on health insurance administrative cap.

Heleni Smith Health Insurance Brokers Update

Monday, March 14

ERISA and Health Reform by Heleni Smith

ERISA and Health Reform by Heleni Smith

While the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was enacted in order to protect employee benefits, it has unwittingly hindered patient rights by restricting the legislation states can enact in relation to employer sponsored health plans. This becomes an even more critical side effect with the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Should Congress amend ERISA in order to allow for states to freely experiment with health care reform?


ERISA was enacted in 1974 in order to protect pension plans and create a national set of standards for the administration of employee benefit plans. The uniformity of pension plans would eliminate the legislative variation between states, thus protecting employers and employees. ERISA’s authority over health benefits has been ambiguous, mostly because of Section 514 which includes the preemption clause and the deemer clause.

Due to this ambiguity, many state initiatives have been either stalled or completely derailed because of an ERISA challenge. Examples of this include Maryland’s “Fair Share Act” and California’s “Health Care Security and Cost Reduction Act”. With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enactment, addressing the ERISA preemption problem becomes an even more critical issue in order to allow states to experiment with new programs. Steps need to be taken to either amend ERISA or have the Courts produce a comprehensive ruling.

Continue at...
ERISA and Health Reform by Heleni Smith

Cruise Food!

Thinking about taking a cruise? The food alone is worth it. Check out the photo album of the culinary highlights of my last cruise.

Heleni Smith Cruise

Heleni Smith Public Health Corner

Public Health Corner Heleni Smith

Sunday, March 13

Updates on Health Reform Suits by Heleni Smith

Updates on Health Reform Suits by Heleni Smith
Public Health Blog by Heleni Smith

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has agreed to hasten the appeal on the Florida ruling regarding the health reform bill. The Justice Department commented that the expedition of the appeal is warranted due to the nature of the ruling and the fact that it involved twenty-six states. The federal government will have to file its papers by April 4th, while the state of Florida has until May 4th.

Saturday, March 12

So many articles, so little time by Heleni Smith

Surfing the net has become part of our daily routine, but how much of that browsing leads us to topics we are actually interested in? Here are a couple of sites I use that allow you to customize your tastes and then deliver articles based on your ratings.

Health Articles and Posts Found by Heleni Smith

Interesting Posts found on Reddit by Heleni Smith

Cooking Basics by Heleni Smith

Cooking Basics by Heleni Smith

Cooking by Heleni Smith

Check out my blog with tips for beginner cooks. From pasta to stuffed pepper recipes!

Bon appetit!

Friday, March 11

Heleni Smith Page

Heleni Smith Wordpress Page
Heleni Smith

Check out my new webpage on wordpress and You can make one for yourself too!

Heleni Smith on Huffington Post

Heleni Smith on Huffington Post

Join the scintillating discussion on the Huffington Poost website. Real people talking about real issues!

Check out travel pictures by Heleni Smith

Heleni Smith Flickr

Here is a preview from my backpacking trip through Europe. 15 countries in 2 months. Thanks!

Health Law Waivers by Heleni Smith

Bio for the blog entry’s writer Heleni Smith

Waivers by Heleni Smith

House Republican Mike Rogers from Michigan introduced a bill that would allow individuals to request waivers from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requirements. Currently, similar waivers exist for employers and unions. Companies that have already received waivers include McDonald’s. The waivers would also apply to the health insurance mandate which is set to take effect in 2014.

Wednesday, March 9

Block Grants by Heleni Smith

Block Grants by Heleni Smith

A popular item on the republican agenda is turning Medicaid into a block grant program. While this is generating a lot of discussion, it is not the first time the issue has been addressed. President Ronald Regan and President George W. Bush both tried to implement the same changes. What exactly is a block grant program? Let’s begin with a few clarifications. Medicaid is an entitlement program-if an individual meets the eligibility criteria then he or she is guaranteed a spot in the program. It is currently administered by the states and financed by both federal and state government. The government has agreed to co-finance Medicaid as long as states cover specific groups of people, for example children. Switching to block grant financing would restrict the states’ ability to rack up the bill. The federal government would provide annual lump sums, and it would be up to the states to allocate them efficiently. Extra costs would then be the sole responsibility of the states. The democratic opposition fears that such a switch would lead to Medicaid being unable to maintain its current number of enrollees, let alone add more as the health reform bill suggests. If put to a vote, block grants would likely make it through the House, but fail to make it through the Senate.

Tuesday, March 8

Mandate Struggles by Heleni Smith

Heleni Smith Public Health Corner

Heleni Smith Blogspot

The current lawsuits brought against the health reform law are attacking the constitutionality of one of its provisions-the individual mandate. The mandate states that by in 2014, every individual will have to purchase health insurance or be subjected to a monetary penalty. The law also lacks a severability clause; if one part of the bill gets struck down as unconstitutional then the entire bill cannot stand. Congress argued that it had the power to impose the mandate due to the commerce clause which allows it to regulate commerce between states. Under this clause, Congress expressed that it had the power to impose a penalty on uninsured individuals because their inactivity was jeopardizing the health insurance industry. Advocates of the unconstitutionality of the mandate argue that Congress cannot impose penalties on inactivity. While some argue that a penalty is just a another form of taxation-which Congress has the authority to levy-others believe that taxes and penalties are very different. While this seems to be boiling down to semantics, it will be eventually resolved in the Supreme Court.

Monday, March 7

Medicaid Struggles by Heleni Smith

Heleni Smith Blogspot

Heleni Smith Public Health Corner

State budgets are struggling to support their increasing Medicaid bill. Medicaid is an interesting program in that it is administered by the states and funded by both state and federal government. This allows for flexibility in how Medicaid is administered as well as fine-tuning to an individual state’s idiosyncrasies. Various approaches are being taken to address the issue ranging from tightening eligibility requirements to turning Medicaid into a block grant program. These approaches are being met with mixed reviews. For example, Arizona health providers argue that decreasing eligibility will lead to an influx of patients in the emergency room while republican supporters argue that while there will be some negative impact, it will be outweighed by the savings.

Health Reform Update by Heleni Smith

Florida Judge fast-tracks appeal

The Florida federal judge who ruled that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional is trying to speed up the process by ordering that any requests for an expedited appeal be filled with seven days. While the judge had stated that his ruling should be viewed as an injunction, the implementation of the law did not seize. Instead, the Obama administration requested that he clarify his original ruling. The judge responded this past Thursday with a 20 page order requesting that the administration goes ahead with the appeal. Appeals from other similar cases are currently pending appeal.

Organ Donation by Heleni Smith

Interesting article written by a death row inmate on organ donation. Such a shame to see so many potentially viable organs go to waste.

Public Health Corner: by Heleni Smith

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act addresses a multitude of health issues ranging from pay for performance initiatives to the creation of health insurance exchanges. For the latest updates on the health reform saga, please visit my Public Health Corner tumblr page for updates on health reform. Brought to you by a public health graduate student. Thanks!

Heleni Smith: Postcards from Paris

Heleni Smith - Postcards From Paris

When Americans arrive in France, jet lag is not the only obstacle they have to overcome. There is a certain stigma that accompanies their passports known as the American stereotype.

When I decided to study abroad in Paris, I knew I would inevitably come across situations in which my nationality would be counted as a fault. I just hoped I wouldn't spend more time trying to improve the American image than I would trying to improve my French.

Many French people think of Americans as materialistic and culturally void, according to Julian Cruz, a 22-year-old French student. "They have a reputation of focusing on image instead of substance," he said.

Harsh as this may sound, the stereotype seems to feed off the mainstream television shows and movies that make their way across the Atlantic and paint the picture of what an American is on their screens.

"When I think of California, I think built and tanned. When I think of New York, I think Sex and the City," said Cruz. "When I think of Florida, I think of sex, drugs and cosmetic surgery, because of Nip/Tuck."

Julien Debrulle, a 23-year-old French student, believes the stereotype portrays Americans as being uninformed and rich, but with bad taste.

"They seem to know more about celebrities than they do about the world," she said.
When it comes to culture, Debrulle said, the term "American" implies lower quality.
"French people say they'll go see an American movie when they don't want to think," she said.

Dotti Sinnott, an American student studying in Paris, believes the image works both ways.

"Before I came here, people were warning me that the French aren't going to like me because I am American," Sinnott said. She believes that it is part of their culture not to be very open and welcoming at first, and that is the impression American tourists leave with.

"Once you've lived here and gotten to know them, you realize they are not really like that - they warm up," she said.

So, is this a case of one impression feeding another and turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy? Just as all Americans are not uneducated, fat and loud, the French are not all beret-wearing, baguette-eating snobs.

Neither Cruz nor Debrulle would apply the stereotype to Americans they have actually met, they said. In the same way, I have only experienced cold shoulders and dirty looks in routine and impersonal interactions, such as crowded metros and grocery lines.

When traveling to a foreign country, Americans should keep in mind that their actions formulate their image. Even though there are many negative qualities that accompany the stereotype right now, Americans should not go on the defense. Instead, they should see it as an opportunity and a challenge to improve their image around the world.

As I walk past the crowded Starbucks every morning, or discuss the latest episode of Lost with French classmates, I realize that American culture isn't being shunned - it is being turned into a guilty pleasure. The stereotype may exist, but it can be shaped and eventually reversed by interactions between the two nationalities - which, despite their differences, have a lot of common ground where the gap can be bridged.

Heleni Smith

For all the people that are interested in doing a semester abroad, here is an article I wrote about my experience in Paris. Additionally, here is a good website where students from abroad have been sharing their experiences. Please feel free to post about your studying abroad experiences! Thank you!

Thursday, November 11

Many thanks to the French and American students!

We appreciate your participation and we wish you
 the best of luck!

Monday, November 1

BLOG 8: Our last blog! A historic or political figure!

I am sure you all have a political or historic figure that has affected your thinking or your life or your community and society. Please share him/her with us!
A good link for historic figures is here
Henry VIII

Monday, October 25

BLOG 7: PACKS (Pacte civil de solidarité)

More and more people are becoming skeptical of the institution of marriage. The high divorce rates on the one hand, (55% in Sweden, 45% in the US, 38% in France), increasing numbers of single parenthood on the other (in 2007, in the US 40% of babies were born to single moms), financial stress that complicates the rearing of children, infidelity becoming  more common (20% of men and 15% of women under 35 reported cheating), the no-fault divorce making the process easy and cheap, all have contributed to a fear of tying the knot, here, in the UK, and in Korea.

Well, is there an alternative besides cohabitation? The answer is coming from France in a package called PACKS (Pacte civil de solidarité).  As you have probably guessed, it is a civil union. The law was enacted to allow gay couples have some of the benefits of a marriage but it soon attracted the heterosexual population as well. The contents of the legislation allow the two partners to become contractants and organize their common life. They do it by registering a common declaration to the court in which they state their address in France or abroad. The contractants agree to mutual help while they are jointly responsible for debts occurred because of household expenses. They are eligible for tax benefits after three years while the tenant’s lease may transfer to the other partner if one leaves or dies. Also health benefits are transferable to the partner.

How do you dissolve it? Simply by filing  a common statement, or after a three month delay at the request of one partner. No lawyers involved, no legal fees, no lengthy processes.

How popular is it? The number has grown from 6,000 in 1999, to 140,000 in 2008. It is a half solution to marriage, it offers some of the benefits and removes the costs of a long term commitment.

 What is your opinion on the new form of union? 

Monday, October 18

BLOG 6: Your future: optimism vs. pessimism

In December 2008, in the midst of the deepest recession ever, the Financial Times conducted an optimism-pessimism survey in the U.S. , Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. In the European countries the majority (over 60%) were pessimistic about their personal economic future. In the U.S., most were still optimistic. Regarding the economic prospects of their countries, 83% of the French were pessimistic, followed by 70% the British. However in the US the pessimism rate over national economics reached a 52%.

I have always wondered if the numbers were correct. Are Americans more optimistic than Europeans? Although we are in no position to take the answers of our French and American group and generalize, still it is interesting to know what you think and feel.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about your future and why?

Photo from

Monday, October 11


Are our daily lives similar? Or do we differ dramatically? Please choose a typical day and write a detailed diary. Don't just include your appointments but all the little things that you experience, like, dislike and have to resolve as the day unfolds. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.

Monday, October 4

BLOG 4: llegal Immigration: Amnesty or deportation?

Illegal immigration continues to be a controversial and divisive topic, not only in the United States, but throughout the world. The debate over how to deal with the problem has focused on either legalization or deportation. The supporters of legalization point to the fact that borders are almost impossible to patrol due to their size and the existence of alternative routes whereas the native citizens embrace illegal immigration when it suits their needs. If you haven’t employed an illegal, probably you know someone who has. Furthermore they assert that amnesty is the right path. For who among us will condone the forceful separation of parents and children? Finally they point to the fact that immigrants, when they become legal, they contribute to our taxes.

The other side insists that illegal immigrants draw on the welfare system while they have broken the law and they should be deported. Of course that may happen only after they get arrested. Which may be a challenge given that in the US we have close to 11 million illegals and in France from 200,000-400,000.

What do you think the policy should be in your country? Legalization/Amnesty or deportation?.

Please answer by Sunday October 10.

Sunday, September 26

Blog 3: State-funded programs in both countries.

Please visit the site "The welfare state" ( and give us your thoughts on an aspect of the "Social Protection" system that your country employs. For example, how do you feel about your social security or pensions program? Are they too generous or should they be limited? How about welfare services? Are they adequate,  less than adequate or abused? What about your health system? Are you satisfied or dissatisfied? Are you happy with the public education system or would you like to see changes? Or you may discuss whatever topic  falls under the umbrella of "state-funded" program.

Please remember that this week's discussion will end next Sunday evening (October 3).

Have a great week!

Monday, September 13

Blogs 1 and 2: Hello Grenoble and Tampa

Hello everyone!

We are all excited with this trans-Atlantic project and we look forward to hearing from all of you.
You can start the week by describing your impressions of ech other's countries! It's alright if you haven't been there yet... I am sure you still have some ideas...correct and incorrect! :))

This week we post our perceptions/ideas of the other country and next week we ask each other more specific questions for clarifications.

Monday, June 28

Exchange with French students : mutual impressions about each otherʼs cultures

Hi everyone !

I'm François Chappuis, I teach English in France, more precisely in Grenoble, a lovely city ringed by mountains (the Alps).

In my school, we are about 300 students, they are specialised in different fields such as industrial design, industrial maintenance, automatism, electrotechnics... They also attend more conventional courses like maths, physics, history, geography, French, English....Their age range from 15 to 25. When (if!) they passed their examinations, they either look for a job or carry on their studies (BA, MA, engineering school...)

Here is my school website : (sorry this is not a blingual website...yet !)

With Professor Athena Smith, we set a project whose description is this:

The blog will serve the forum for an exchange on mutual impressions about each otherʼs cultures that hopefully will lead to an intercultural understanding, possible creation of friendships and an exchange visit in the future. Each week, you are expected to answer the question posted by either professor in no less than 200 words and comment on another studentʼs answer in no less than 50 words. The programme is divided into 6 weeks of which you will be informed in due time. The programme will start mid-September.

I'm (and especially my students) looking forward to exchanging views on each other's cultures!'

François Chappuis

Tuesday, April 20


Photo found at
Thank you everyone for your posts! You spiced up the course!
As we are approaching the end of the semester, I wish all of you the best of luck.

And congratulations to jtannebe who managed to be the first one to post on most blogs... :)

Sunday, April 11

Our last blog! Prostitution in the US, Netherlands and Sweden.

The debate on whether prostitution is a victimless crime and whether it should be regulated or legalized has raged on for decades. One side asserts that prostitutes inflict harm on themselves and therefore the crime is victimless. The other side protests that they may also inflict harm on the client through STD. Well, the first side points, the client does know the danger before going, doesn’t he? And what about when the client transmits the STD? Yes, but, the second side reloads, society does suffer through the acceptance of loose morals… What morals are we talking about, the first side snaps, when we have legalized pornography? And how can a free society legislate the sexual behavior between consenting adults? We should legislate, the second side retorts, because money is changing hands… Men are buying women... "Not women" the first side answers, merely their services.... and so on and so on and so on….

Most of the debate however is based on ideological approaches to a sensitive matter while cherry picking the statistics that suit the particular ideology. This is why it is useful to not only look at some facts but also some alternative models in the western world. In the US the evidence demonstrates that prostitution is rarely a career choice. The majority of those working as prostitutes are street youth who more frequently report histories of childhood abuse, particularly sexual abuse. More than 50% have been forced into the sex trade. Sexual and physical violence are common, while the risks for AIDSand the probability for mental disorders are very high. Street prostitutes are also more likely to be abusers of crack cocaine, and heavily identify with street life. Girls typically become prostitutes at age 13 or 14 with close to 90% of them wanting to escape the work. The mortality rate for prostitutes is 200 times that of women of similar age and race.

The grim statistics seem to support the argument against legalization. Not so fast, the legalization side protests, because –as they claim- legalization will bring down the violence against prostitutes. Plus, what is the point of criminalizing the oldest profession on earth since men will always seek out their services?

This is where the war against prostitution resembles the war on drugs. They both have concentrated on the supply side having ignored the huge demand side that keeps the supply going. How do you deal with that?

So here are some alternative models. In the Netherlands prostitution involving Dutch or other EU citizens is a legal occupation, and most prostitutes work in brothels or sex clubs that require a permit. The reason why the legalization applies to EU citizens is the trafficking problem many countries face, with kidnapped or lured girls from Easter Europe or Asia brought into the country as sex slaves and forced to work underground.

The Swedes have moved away from total legalization and concentrated on battling the demand side. According to the "Sex Purchase Act" passed in 1999 it is illegal to buy sexual services. The law punishes the client only but not the prostitute as the act is considered  a form of violence and exploitation against women. The client may be punished by fines or up to six months in prison, plus the humiliation of public exposure. Although accurate statistics can not be found, some estimate the number of prostitutes in Sweden to have dropped by 40%. Traffickers avoid Sweden since the clients are hesitant and according to Nicholas Krstof the bottom line is that if you want to rape a 13-year-old girl imported from Eastern Europe, you’ll have a much easier time in Amsterdam than in Stockholm.

Three different models on a multi-dimensional social problem. Your thoughts?

Saturday, April 3


It was three years ago almost to the day that French public opinion was deeply divided over the trial of  Dr. Laurence Tramois, a 35 year-old physician, who with the assistance of Nurse Chantal Chanel gave a lethal injection to the 65-year-old Paulette Druais, a terminally ill cancer patient. Dr Tramois said that she decided to resort to a lethal injection after Druais had told her that she did not want to die "in filth” and after Druais's family had backed her decision. However hospital managers had taken the pair to court as euthanasia is illegal in France. More than 2,000 health professionals signed a petition to support the doctor and the nurse, while they also called for the legalization of euthanasia. The court found the doctor guilty but gave her only a one-year suspended jail term while the nurse was acquitted. The debate over euthanasia still rages in France. They point to Belgium and Netherlands that have legalized euthanasia. Supporters demand the right to a dignified death. Opponents point to the sanctity of life. Supporters retort back by pointing to the abuse of the medical technology to prolong death. Opponents point to the potential of abuse. Supporters emphasize the safeguards that both Belgium and Netherlands have adopted. The Dutch Euthanasia Act states that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are not punishable if the informed patient request it, if the suffering is unbearable and hopeless, if the alternatives have been explained to the patient and if the doctor reports the request to a review committee. Opponents point to the rise in the number of cases, that reached 2,500 in 2009.

The fervor of the division is such that one would believe that euthanasia is a recent social ethical dilemma. Not so. In ancient Greece and Rome, before the coming of Christianity, attitudes toward infanticide,  euthanasia, and suicide were permissive. During the pre-medieval Christian era, medical ethics accepted euthanasia, while during the Middle Ages the Church tapered the practice off and treated any form of suicide or “self murder” as deeply sinful. In the 18th century, during Enlightenment, scholars attacked the church's authoritative teaching on all matters, including euthanasia and suicide, but the matter was treated with gross indifference. In the US, during the 19th century, when morphine was isolated, Samuel Williams, began to advocate the use of analgesics not only to alleviate terminal pain, but to intentionally terminate one’s life. In 1938, Charles Potter founded the National Society for the Legalization of Euthanasia and in the 1970s, the debate made it to the Senate floor, focusing on 'the brutal irony of medical miracles,' which prolonged the dying process only to diminish patient dignity and quality of life. In the 1990s, the US Congress passed the Patient Self-Determination Act, requiring hospitals that receive federal funds to tell patients that they have a right to demand or refuse treatment.

Fast forward to March 2010 and the debate resurfaces in the UK. Early in the year, Kay Gilderdale was cleared of attempted murder for helping her 31-year-old daughter, Lynn, to commit suicide following years of suffering from the chronic fatigue syndrome ME. At the same time Frances Inglis, who killed her 22-year-old son by heroin injection believing he was left in a "living hell" after severe brain damage in a road accident, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to a minimum of nine years in jail. The main difference between the two cases was that in the Gilderdale case the daughter’s wish was clearly demonstrated, while in the Inglis case, the son, being in a vegetative state, could not express any wish. Two months later, the famous author, Sir Terry Pratchett, called for the establishment of euthanasia tribunals to give sufferers from incurable diseases the right to medical help to end their lives. Sir Pratchett became an advocate after he was diagnosed with an early form of Alzheimer’s. "It is not nice and I do not wish to be there for the endgame… If granny walks up to the tribunal and bangs her walking stick on the table and says 'Look, I've really had enough, I hate this bloody disease, and I'd like to die thank you very much young man', I don't see why anyone should stand in her way… The tribunal would be acting for the good of society as well as that of the applicant – and ensure they are of sound and informed mind, firm in their purpose, suffering from a life-threatening and incurable disease and not under the influence of a third party.”

The newspapers smelled blood and ran their polls. In February 2010, of more than 1,000 people interviewed for BBC, 73% believed friends or relatives should be able to assist the suicide of a terminally ill loved one. A YouGov poll of 2,053 people for the Telegraph showed 80% saying that relatives should not be prosecuted, and 75% backing a change in the law.

Would you back such a measure?

Sunday, March 21

Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

One of the most controversial topics has been the move to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy regarding the military service of gays and bisexual persons. Adoption of the DADT followed a long history of banning gays from the military. For a good part of the 20th century gays were discharged as “undesirables” once their orientation became known. However if they had committed homosexual acts while in service the discharge usually became “dishonorable.”

Then we had the brutal murder of the gay U.S. Navy petty officer Allen R. Schindler, Jr. Schindler had often reported anti-gay harassment to his chain of command citing comments from shipmates such as "There's a faggot on this ship and he should die". While en route to Japan, Schindler made a personal prank announcement "2-Q-T-2-B-S-T-R-8” (too cute to be straight) on secured lines and was put on restrictive leave. Once in Nagasaki, Terry M. Helvey, a member of the ship's weather department, stomped Schindler to death in a toilet, crushing his head, breaking his ribs and cutting off his penis. The brutality of the murder prompted President Clinton to adopt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” under which a gay person may serve as long as he does not reveal his sexual orientation. What happens however if others find out? You were still discharged. The bottom line was that gays were undesirable in the US military. Since 1994, 13,500 service members have been fired under the DADT policy.

Fast-forward to 2009, in the midst of the war on terror. Stephen Benjamin wrote a column in the NYT reporting on the lack of qualified translators (from Arabic to English) in the Armed Forces. He stated that cables went untranslated on Sept. 10, 2001, a crucial date in our history. And in 2007, the American Embassy in Baghdad had nearly 1,000 personnel, but only a handful of fluent Arabic speakers. In March of that year, Benjamin, who had graduated in the top 10% of the Defense Language Institute, was let go after his sexual orientation was revealed. He was not the first. In 2006, a decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was also dismissed from the U.S. Army under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Although the number of those competent gay translators who were fired is not fully disclosed, one thing remains indisputable. The military is spending millions in training new translators, hoping that they will all turn out to be heterosexual.

Recently the DADT policy has come under attack. The arguments from both sides are interesting. Those supporting the DADT policy say that the situation is not that black or white. They point to certain elements of significant risk. When you are called to defend your country while living and rooming in close quarters with others, overall effectiveness depends on mutual trust and uncomplicated camaraderie that should not be disturbed. Moreover, allowing gays in the military, -the pro DADT side asserts- may encourage enlistment of gays that hope to find partners easier, something that might provoke even higher levels of homophobia among heterosexuals. Furthermore, when people are sent into combat, we make sure that men and women do not fight next to each other in order to avoid complicating emotional situations. When we allow gays to serve, we endanger the overall effectiveness, if indeed there is a sexual/emotional bond between the soldiers.

Those who support the repeal of DADT counter-assert that many emergency occupations require their members to live in close proximity (emergency services, oil rig workers) and gays are not barred from those. They also add that opposition to gays in the military is based on the problems caused by homophobia, which is perpetuated by the ban. Once gays are allowed to serve and demonstrate their effectiveness, the homophobia will diminish. Finally, they claim, emotional bonds (both heterosexual and homosexual) may strengthen moral and not weaken it.

Both sides continue to exchange heated arguments as we speak. Needless to say no argument from either side can be upheld or dismissed by scientific research on the matter. The Congress is called to make a decision to repeal DADT or maintain it. The verdict is still out.

How would you advise them on the matter?

Sunday, March 14

Price-tag partnerships

Last summer an ad in the personal section of Craiglist was posted by a young Neworker, “spectacularly beautiful” according to her own assessment, who was looking for a husband in the half a million yearly salary range. She confessed that she was through with potential husbands making a quarter of million as they could not help her move to Central Park West. An investor banker answered that he thought about the offer but decided to pass it since her beauty would be fading with time, unlike his wealth, making her a "depreciating asset" as he succinctly put it.

If you think that the lady on the Craiglist is an exception, I am afraid you are wrong. A survey by Prince & Associates revealed that two-thirds of women and half of the men were "very" or "extremely" willing to marry for money. On average men and women said they would marry for $1.5 million. The going rate was $1.1 million for women in their 30s, and $2.2 million for women in their 40s, while men set the bar lower. Men in their 20s wanted $1 million and men in their 40s $1.4 million. Furthermore, among the women in their 20s who said they would marry for money, 71% also added that they expected to get divorced. Among men in their 40s, the rate was 27%.

Do you think we are moving towards price-tag partnerships? What aspects in the other person might convince you to proceed with a long-term commitment?

Sunday, March 7

Internet-based exams

Schooling and exams have come a long way. When I was a high school student in Greece, memorization was the key to success. It did not matter if you did not understand it. As long as you could recite, you could pass with flying colors. I suffered my first serious cultural shock when I came to the US for my university studies and the grade was not just based on the old classical closed book exams but also on research papers. Room to breathe I had thought. And as I found out, lots to learn as well when you are involved in your own research.

Fast-forward in the 21st century and we have new learning assessment debates. My Balkan country of origin is still hooked on memorization. In the US high schools teachers have started open book exams and internet based exams if the course matter is appropriate. Last spring, Danish high school students were allowed for the first time to use internet during finals (watch this short video). According the Danish officials, if the internet is such a great part of daily life, it should be incorporated in the classroom and in examinations. Sanne Yde Schmidt, project director at Greve, said: “If we're going to be a modern school and teach them things that are relevant for them in modern life, we have to teach them how to use the internet.” The Minister for education Bertel Haarder, added: “Our exams have to reflect daily life in the classroom and daily life in the classroom has to reflect life in society. The internet is indispensible, including in the exam situation. I’m sure that is would be a matter of very few years when most European countries will be on the same line.”

How about cheating? Emailing the questions to other students is not possible because messaging and emailing have been disabled. Other forms of cheating are not considered serious threats as the students are under the pressure of time and they are also trusted to demonstrate integrity and dignity.

Some teachers do not appear willing to shift away from the old closed-book exam. This is the only way that tests studying they say. Some have shifted to open-notes exams, believing that students who are forced to write, also learn. Allowing internet use, other add, tests your ability to analyze and synthesize information. And they emphasize that testing should be a learning experience as well.

Think back into your high school experience and your college days. What types of assessments (exams, research papers, blogging, presentations, debates) enabled you to retain the knowledge the longest and assist you in developing critical thinking? Which combination of assessments would you suggest if you were a professor? Please take the poll on the right so we can have an aggregate picture!

Sunday, February 28

Parental Consent for Abortion

The US has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrialized world. As you can see in the charts, the differences are stark. Yes, we do need more education and yes we do need more parental guidance. But if the teen decides to get an abortion, should she need parental consent as she is underage? Such consent is mandatory in 24 US. Most of the statutes apply to girls younger than 18 and provide for a court bypass procedure in case the girl is not able to involve her parents. Also most statutes include exceptions for medical emergencies.

On the one hand, supporters of the “required consent” camp, say that abortion is a form of medical procedure and as such parental consent should be required. The same way that parental consent is required for ear piercing, tattoos and appendectomies. Moreover, parents have the right to know what’s going on with their children’s lives. And others add that there is always the possibility that when parents find out, may offer support and long term help and thus avert the abortion.

Not so, the opponents of the measure assert. Parental consent is not legally required to have a baby. Why should it be different with the decision not to have one? And although parents may have the right to know what’s going on with their kids’ lives, what happens when the girl chooses abortion and the parents oppose it? Whose will should prevail? And don’t we make things worse –they ask- when we postpone the abortion by requiring an extra legal process to take place?

For the requirements in every state, you may go here You will see that some states have chosen a mid-solution. They require “parent notification.” If you are under 18, you have to tell your parents but you don’t need their consent.

What are your thoughts on the parental consent requirement?

Sunday, February 21

Unwanted Fatherhood

Yes, abortion is a controversial matter but mostly because the sides fight over the rights of the fetus. There is a minority however that tries to campaign for the rights of the father. Why, they ask, the woman may have a say over the future of her pregnancy and a man may not? So far, court decisions have sided against paternal involvement in the decision process. In 1978, in the UK, William Paton attempted to stop his separated wife from having an abortion but the judge ruled against him. He took the case to the European Court of Human Rights which also ruled in favor of the wife. Similarly, in 1989, Jean-Guy Tremblay in Canada, tried to stop his girlfriend from having an abortion. The Supreme Court of the country ruled that there was no precedent for a man’s right to protect a potential progeny. And so on and so on.

Here comes a 25-year old programmer from Michigan, who says that if men are not allowed to protect a potential progeny, they should not have to pay child support either if the pregnancy occurred against the men’s will. The young programmer says that his former girlfriend assured him she could have no children and knew he did not want any. When she got pregnant, he offered to pay for the abortion or give up the baby for adoption. The girlfriend instead sued him for a $500 per month child support payment. And as you can guess, she won.

Think about it. Women have all the rights not to become parents. They may choose to abort, or give up the baby for adoption, or simply leave the baby at a hospital. The law is explicit that women are entitled to avoid unwanted parenthood. Why aren’t men protected similarly? Indeed the National Center for Men has drafted a proposition called “Roe v. Wade for men” which gives men the right, when faced with unwanted parenthood, to resort to a “financial abortion”. If the pregnancy occurred against their will, and if it is early in pregnancy, then, they would like to have the right to be released from any future financial responsibilities. "When it comes to reproduction in America today, women have rights and men merely have responsibilities" (Glenn Sacks, 2008, quoted here.)

It’s only fair the National Center for Men says.

What do you say? (Don’t debate the abortion issue please. The question focuses on men’s rights.)

Sunday, February 14

Individual vs. the group

Although close to 14% of school districts have reported having a uniforms policy, the idea has been hotly debated. On the one hand, supporters claim that it bridges some differences between poor and more affluent students. Also they point to the lack of worrying over what to wear, something that promotes efficiency and boosts a unitary school spirit. School administrators finally spend less time on enforcing a dress code. On the other hand, opponents point to the cost of purchasing a uniform which may impose an extra burden on parents (although a donation program is alleviating the burden).But most importantly they lament over the loss of individualism and the reign of group mentality.

Not so, protest the supporters. They point to other countries, like Japan, where the majority of schools have enforced a uniform policy and the debate is almost non-existent. They also refer to the case of the snowboarder Kazuhiro Kokubo in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Play the video and look at the way the young athlete on the left wears his clothes. In the end of the video he is apologizing as his appearance caused uproar back in Japan. The Ski Association of Japan stated that “It is not the way the Japanese delegation should dress themselves while taxpayers' money is spent on them" and debated whether to kick Kokubo out of the Games altogether. You see, the idea that one should be punished for offending the group is not difficult to swallow. The Japanese Olympic Committee however decided to only ban him from participating in the opening ceremonies and allow him to compete later in his event.

Consequently, the supporters assert, adherence to group rules becomes more important if taxpayers are paying for it. Therefore, school uniforms, are fair game.

How do you feel about it? Would you go along or oppose it?

Sunday, February 7

Vote on the 2011 federal budget

As the debate for universal health coverage inflamed moods and while half truths were thrown back and forth from all sides, one argument that struck me as peculiar was “I am not paying for your health care.” It did take me aback for a moment because it came from a seventy-year old man. Whose health care the tax payer is financing to a serious extent at least. Let us not forget that 80% of our budget in 2008 was financed by the tax payer and the rest by borrowing. Which will have to be paid back by the future tax payers. Everything is traced back to our pockets in other words.

Allocation of tax money has been hottly debated across countries. In some, the electorate acts on a collective sentiment of shared responsibilities and rights. In others, the electorate has chosen a more individualistic approach. For example, visitors to northern European countries are struck by the extent of social benefits. And the level of taxation of course. They even have universal child care as decades ago the Swedish government realized that if it were to capitalize fully on the female part of their labor market, they had better offer a sound solution to the babysitting problem. (The centers BTW open at 6:30, stay open for 12 hours and accept children older than one year of age.) Their social benefits include secure pensions, universal everything… decent housing for the elderly and significant unemployment benefits.How much tax do they pay? Higher than ours. For a family with one wage-earner and two children, only Iceland and Ireland have a lower income tax burden than the U.S, whereas Sweden, Turkey, France and Poland impose the greatest tax burdens on families. It is my understanding however that property tax has not been co assessed so the US tax rates are probably higher.

 But before you jump condemning those darn “socialist” countries, remember one basic thing that many politicians forget when they blast at them. The electorate in these countries voted in such a system. Blasting their system is equal to insulting millions of Europeans and Canadians for thinking differently. And as we learned, ethnocentrism usually spreads blindness…

So, we have two different worlds, two different systems. The electorate in the US is reluctant towards a stronger safety net and they still debate the use of their tax dollars. However, much of the debating is missing focus since we lack concrete proposals on where to economize from. Fighting fraud and waste is good rhetoric but it won’t get you far since no bureaucratic system is immune to these ills. Suggesting certain cuts from a certain sector and reallocating them to another (even the one that pays back our debt) seems far more constructive. So here is the proposed budget for 2011.

How would you re-split the pie? And why? To have again a total picture please vote on the right which sector you think should face most of the cuts. Then vote again which sector the saved monies should go to.

Who knows? Maybe your representatives are reading us! :)

Sunday, January 31

Medical Marijuana

Certain states have legalized the medical use of marijuana while some others are expected to pass similar measures. As arguments for or against are flying to and fro, today, in Oakland, a new 15,000 s.f. warehouse called iGrow opens up to sell all you will need for medicinal marijuana cultivation. The managers have hired a doctor on site to provide you with the necessary cannabis card and whatever you need to grow the stuff (except for the seeds of course). On site technicians will happily demonstrate how you can set up a “farm house” in your home, how to proceed with the hydroponic cultivation, advise on the nutrients you will need and assist with weekly maintenance. The cost may rise to $1000 for an eight-plant system, and if you use half of the harvest you may sell the rest to a dispensary for a maximum of $12,000. Today’s opening will attract national media attention while three City Council members are expected to attend along with the leaders of the cannabis industry in the region.

Oakland residents voted last summer to regulate and tax “cannabis businesses” and have allowed the operation of four licensed dispensaries. That was hardly a “revolutionary act” within the realm of world history. Marijuana’s legitimate use goes back thousands of years. In 2737 BC the Chinese Emperor Shen Neng prescribed the plant for treating gout, rheumatism and poor memory. Various Hindu sects used it a stress-relief medication. Ancient physicians in Asia, Middle East and Africa distributed it for all sorts of ailments. In late 18th century America marijuana was prescribed for incontinence and sexually transmitted diseases. But in the early 20th century, with 2-5% of the American population addicted to morphine contained in medications like “The People's Healing Liniment for Man or Beast" the Food and Drug Administration was created to regulate marijuana use through the medical establishment. What we call today “medical use” in other words.

In 1914, the Harrison Act imposed a heavy tax on non-medical uses of the drug and punished anyone who obtained it without paying the tax. In 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act criminalized non-medical use while the 1950 Boggs Act and Narcotics Control Act established mandatory sentences for marijuana possessors and distributors. As times relaxed, in 1996 California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana and since then a number of states adopted similar measures. The arguments from both sides are serious. Critics point to the underground marijuana industry (in LA alone it is estimated that 1000 illegal shops are in operation), while supporters point to the plant’s qualities as a safe pain reliever, especially in severe illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS. Critics counter-attack by disputing the medical benefits when they are contrasted with possible health risks and consider the drug as “gate opener” to more potent narcotics. Supporters point to the lack of strong data that could support the latter argument and point to the prison population (the largest in the world), a quarter of which is imprisoned for drug-related crimes (In 2000 for example half of the convictions for possession led to a prison or jail term, while two-thirds of the trafficking convictions did).

Fast forward and back to Oakland. Watch the video Marijuana Superstore Opens. Would you support a similar measure for Florida? Post your opinion and then take a poll on the right so we can have an overall reflection of the students' attitude.

Sunday, January 24


More and more people are becoming skeptical of the institution of marriage. The high divorce rates on the one hand, (55% in Sweden, 45% in the US, 38% in France), increasing numbers of single parenthood on the other (in 2007, in the US 40% of babies were born to single moms), financial stress that complicates the rearing of children, infidelity becoming  more common (20% of men and 15% of women under 35 reported cheating), the no-fault divorce making the process easy and cheap, all have contributed to a fear of tying the knot, here, in the UK, and in Korea.

Well, is there an alternative besides cohabitation? The answer is coming from France in a package called PACKS (Pacte civil de solidarité).  As you have probably guessed, it is a civil union. The law was enacted to allow gay couples have some of the benefits of a marriage but it soon attracted the heterosexual population as well. The contents of the legislation allow the two partners to become contractants and organize their common life. They do it by registering a common declaration to the court in which they state their address in France or abroad. The contractants agree to mutual help while they are jointly responsible for debts occurred because of household expenses. They are eligible for tax benefits after three years while the tenant’s lease may transfer to the other partner if one leaves or dies. Also health benefits are transferable to the partner.

How do you dissolve it? Simply by filing  a common statement, or after a three month delay at the request of one partner. No lawyers involved, no legal fees, no lengthy processes.

How popular is it? The number has grown from 6,000 in 1999, to 140,000 in 2008. It is a half solution to marriage, it offers some of the benefits and removes the costs of a long term commitment.

 Do you see it coming to the US?

Sunday, January 17

Dropping out

Kids all over the country are entering high schools in greater numbers than ever. The free public secondary education has encouraged everyone to attend, study, and shift towards a more prosperous future. Fifteen year olds with radiating faces squeeze on the benches outside the cafeterias obsessed with sports, cars and stuff…. Average kids. Many from middle class or working class background, not excelling but not failing either, are defined by their common optimism and liveliness. Two years later, you visit these high schools again and only a couple of them are on that bench. The rest have melted away by a common fate, that seems to trap mostly boys.

Jay Green (Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates )reported that in 2003, nationally 72% of girls graduated compared with 65% of boys while the gap is larger in minority students. The graduation rate for Black female students exceeded that of their male counterparts by eleven percentage points, while the difference for Hispanics was nine percentage points. When it comes to college, 57% of students are women and the ratio is expected to rise to 75% in 2020 ( here is the whole article).

The consequences are dire. According to The Consequences of Dropping Out of High School male dropouts of all races were 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers of a similar age who had graduated from a four-year college or university. In 2008 the unemployment rate for the nation’s high school drop outs reached a staggering 54%. In other words only 46% were employed. The employment rate for high school graduates was 68%, 79% for young adults who had completed 1-3 years of post-secondary schooling, and 87% for college graduates. And since the drop-out phenomenon afflicts more males than females, the consequences are more severe for boys. According to the same report, their mean cumulative earnings from ages 18-64 have seriously declined, along with their marriage rates, home ownership rates, and their tax contributions (this is where it becomes your problem as well). At the same time, the imprisonment rates rose. Young high school dropouts were 63 times more likely to end up in jail than young college graduates. In 2009 according to the NYT, on any given day, one in 10 young male high school dropouts is incarcerated, compared to one in 35 young male high school graduates.

In the first chapter we discussed the power of society in shaping individual behavior, a process not that obvious to the untrained eye. Some students voiced their opposition to the concept, pointing to the power of individual will to shape fate. But again, is it possible that this power is socially encouraged or discouraged? A philosophical labyrinth many would say… depending on the situation others would add…and everyone would have a point. A good one as a matter of fact. However, we have to try and gain an insight. Surveys may reveal some common characteristics and provide the macro level of analysis but the insiders’ assessments are our zoom lens. You have probably observed kids (mostly boys) in high school drop out. How do you explain this phenomenon?

Friday, January 1


"Advice is seldom welcome, and those who need it the most, like it the least."

Sunday, November 1

Autumn thoughts

I stare at them trying to guess the future. Their future.
I like the cocky confidence, the cheerful humility, the moments of intense concentration and awe despite the constant texting.
The way they change their names from Cody to Fabulous and then Fabio. The optimism when faced with depressing challenges. Amanda’s bravery. Jimmy’s ascent from the projects. Stan’s regression. Pat’s jokes about her teen pregnancy while acing. And Jenny, who explained that “youth is wasted on the young” before dropping out.
I stare at them and I reflect on my past of hesitations and silence.
And of good luck.
So glad I found you.

Sunday, April 12

Our last blog: Thoughts on gratitude.

Some have jokingly recommended that we celebrate Thanksgiving daily in order to improve our health. No pills, no diets, no exercises. Just a long-term positive emotion can be the key to long-term health, as old philosophy and recent research seem to suggest. The ancient philosopher Epicurus considered gratitude a chief prerequisite to happiness, the same way that ingratitude was the chief path to misery. The wise man believed that those who have the power to bury unhappy memories are able to reach happiness. Fools, on the other hand, recall the past just to regret it. They torture themselves with recollection of past mistakes.

Recently psychologists and mental health professionals have been assessing the relationship between gratitude and happiness. It looks like that eternally grateful people score higher on indicators of health, as they seem to be taking better care of themselves. Gratitude also fights stress, a leading cause of illness and responsible for 90% of doctor’s visits. Furthermore, grateful people are more optimistic and optimism seems to boost the immune system. The impact is even more significant on those whose immune system has been compromised or those who are preparing for a stressful event like taking an exam or undergoing surgery. And finally, gratitude appears to lessen the pain of a tragic loss as the sense of belonging may increase and somewhat compensate for the loss.

It may not be easy to feel gratitude, many will retort. Look at the poor in India and their low levels of satisfaction. Correct, but what about the low levels of satisfaction among the very affluent in the developed countries? In October 2008 I listened to David Whyte, a poet and corporate consultant speak of the toxic mentality of CEOs who were miserable because they were making $2-5 million a year and not $6-10.

Well, who appears to be happy then? Mostly, middle class folks. Especially those who rose from poverty.

How can we cultivate a culture of gratitude? It has been suggested that we keep a journal. We write down a list of blessings and ask to what extent we take those for granted. Keep a record of past problematic situations and how we dealt with them. Through resolving these situations, did we benefit by learning something? Keep a record of places you visited and carried a message for you. Keep the memory alive by posting it on a blog. Look for the good side of people and focus on that. Did someone do something for you? Thank them silently if you have not already done this in person. Or simply, as you go to bed, make a few mental entries of things you are grateful for.

I'll give you four entries of mine.
I am grateful for the students who showed resilience, fought the odds and are in school. They are my role-models.
I am grateful I visited Omaha Beach in Normandy. I was reminded of the precious gift of freedom, which was handed to my generation on a silver platter. (I wrote about this trip here)
I am grateful I did not have an accident today.
I am grateful you took the time to write on this blog and allowed me to get to know you a bit better. I thank you.

Back to you. Do you think that keeping a "gratitude journal" makes any sense or is gratitude an overated feeling? If you were to make a few mental entries of things you are grateful for, what would they be?

Sunday, April 5

Affirmative action to close the gender gap?

We seem to be approaching an enrollment ratio of 58% females to 42% males. However, as more men drop out during college than women, around graduation time the ratio will be a disturbing 60 to 40.The gap is even evident in our high schools as more girls graduate and more boys drop out.

"So what?" many girls wonder. Well, it does matter. As we tend to marry within our group, most people seek out partners with a similar educational background. And although men are more likely to date a woman with less education, women do not appear to be willing to lower the bar. So in ten years from now, where will the husbands come from? Another country maybe? International dating sites? What about the future organizations depending on educated personnel? How badly will be men outnumbered?

Many institutions simply ignore the disparity. Administrators are not likely to admit that the gap is a problem. For example, Stephen Farmer, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of North Carolina, where the males constitute 41% of the college’s populations, said: “We really have made no attempt to balance the class. We are gender blind in applications." Are other administrators trying to address the situation through some sort of affirmative action? Many say it would be politically incorrect. Also illegal, as Sarah Karnasiewicz reported in the article “The campus crusade for guys.” In 1999, a woman filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the University of Georgia in Athens, after it was revealed that the school had attempted to balance gender on campus by awarding preference to male applicants. The university responded that it was trying to reverse male flight from campus before it "became something bad." The judge however did not agree and ruled that "the desire to 'help out' men who are not earning baccalaureate degrees in the same numbers as women ... [was] far from persuasive."

This is how it works with public institutions. But when it comes to private ones, the law is fuzzy and the needs of the institutions serious. If they tolerate a 70/30 ratio how attractive will the college be to prospective students? Nancy Gibbs cited (TIME, 2008, April 3) a U.S. News & World Report according to which the admissions rate of men at the College of William and Mary was 12% higher than that of women--because "even women who enroll ... expect to see men on campus. It's not the College of Mary and Mary; it's the College of William and Mary."

So there you have it. Affirmative action to close the gender gap is translated into turning down female applicants with better qualifications than males. Some consider it a necessary reaction of a society addressing disparities. Others are fiercely opposing it. Your thoughts?