Sunday, March 30, 2008

A visit to Berkeley

Published: March 30, 2008

ANYONE who thinks that Berkeley is just a hotbed of political radicalism is in for a surprise. College Avenue, the town’s main drag, is packed with more hipsters with BlackBerrys than hippies with beards. The city’s revamped shops can compete label-to-label with SoHo’s sophisticated boutiques, and its restaurants match its bigger neighbor across San Francisco Bay. But the spirit of 1969 hasn’t completely gone away. Walk down Telegraph Avenue and along one block you’ll find activists for Free Tibet, patchouli-scented advocates of homeopathic medicine, and crusty purple-haired free-love followers, still eager to convert you to their cause.

Friday, 5 p.m.
Old and new Berkeley, activists and high-tech workers, all head to Moe’s Books (2476 Telegraph Avenue; 510-849-2087; Founded in 1959 and piled high with used books, Moe’s is a reminder that Amazon can’t shut down all the little folks. You can wander its upper floors for hours, flipping through out-of-print tomes on everything from 1950s African history to kabbalah manuals. The store also has frequent in-store readings; check its Web site for coming dates.

8 p.m.
Berkeley’s food scene has blossomed well beyond student hangouts. Take, for example, the local favorite O Chamé (1830 Fourth Street; 510-841-8783). Its classy Japanese fusion fare is decidedly un-college-town, but the slightly beaten-up tables and unpretentious crowd make you feel like you’re eating in someone’s home. And dishes like onion pancakes, soba platters and grilled eel are as satisfying as Japanese comfort food gets. Reservations suggested. Dinner for two about $70.

10 p.m.
The Pacific Film Archive (2625 Durant Avenue; 510-642-0808;, at the Berkeley Art Museum, offers one of the most eclectic moviegoing experiences in the Bay Area. At the archive’s theater across the street from the museum, you might find a French New Wave festival, followed by a collection of shorts from West Africa. The archive is particularly strong on Japanese cinema — and grungy-looking grad students.

Saturday, 8 a.m.
This is California, so you’ll need to get up early to have prime walking paths to yourself. Wander through the main U.C. Berkeley campus, quiet at this time, and into the lush Berkeley hills overlooking the university. You’ll pass sprawling mansions that resemble Mexican estates, families walking tiny, manicured poodles, and students running off hangovers along the steep hills. It’s easy to get lost, so bring a map; Berkeley Path Wanderers Association ( offers one of the best. If you want a longer walk, try nearby Tilden Park, a 2,000-acre preserve that includes several peaks and numerous trails open for mountain biking. Or head to the University of California Botanical Garden (200 Centennial Drive; 510-643-2755;, which has more than 12,000 species of plants, including some rare flora.

It’s tough choosing from the many farmers’ markets in the Bay Area, but for the real deal, head to the Saturday Berkeley Farmers’ Market (Center Street at Martin Luther King Way; open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). The Berkeley market is run by actual farmers and has a workingman’s vibe. Afterward, stop by the Berkeley Bowl Marketplace (2020 Oregon Street; 510-843-6929; for a comparison. A veritable fruit-and-vegetable heaven, the Bowl offers a staggering array of peaches, apples and rows of heirloom tomatoes — pudgy, lumpy, flavorful. Grab a roasted chicken and fresh beet salad at the deli counter, and snack on it while arguing with the various activists who congregate outside the Bowl’s doors.

3:30 p.m.
Skip the Berkeley Art Museum, which has only a middling collection, and head instead to the East Bay Vivarium (1827-C Fifth Street; 510-841-1400;, perhaps the city’s strangest attraction. But don’t come with a fear of snakes: the massive gallery and store, which specializes in reptiles, amphibians and arachnids, is like a living nightmare. Strolling through the Vivarium, you’ll pass gargantuan boas and more scorpion species than you’d ever imagined.

5 p.m.
The best views on campus aren’t from the 10-story Evans Hall, but from Indian Rock Park. Wedged in a residential neighborhood along the city’s northeast, the park has large rock outcroppings that offer 360-degree views across Berkeley and Oakland, and over the Bay into San Francisco. For more spectacular sunset views, bring some rope and carabiners: the main outcropping, Indian Rock, is a practice site for rock climbers.

8 p.m.
International Boulevard in Oakland, 15 minutes south of Berkeley, certainly lives up to its name. In just a few blocks, you’ll pass Salvadoran wedding shops, taco trucks that could have driven from Mexico City, and vendors selling fresh pineapple covered in salt. There’s no end to the Mexican restaurants, but El Huarache Azteca (3842 International Boulevard; 510-533-2395) ranks among the most authentic. Specialties include moles, marinated cactus, tortas and even huitlacoche, a kind of mushroom that grows on ears of corn. A feast for two will come to less than $35.

11 p.m.
Blakes on Telegraph (2367 Telegraph Avenue; (510) 848-0886; was founded in 1940, when Berkeley was still known for jazz, not acid rock. The venerable nightclub is still kicking. And the live music performances are as eclectic as ever, with genres as diverse as punk and ska, to the jazz that got it all started. But first, make sure it’s not sorority or fraternity night, unless your idea of fun is watching college kids pound shots and scream at the top of their lungs.

Sunday 9 a.m.
Like many college towns, Berkeley consumes caffeine and alcohol with equal gusto, so rest assured, Cole Coffee (6255 College Avenue in Oakland; 510-985-1958; takes its java very seriously. Besides having one of the largest coffee selections in the Bay Area — you can order up to 25 different types — its baristas talk about the latest Italian roast or African blend as if it were a Sonoma red. A warning: their attitude sometimes crosses the line from knowledgeable to know-it-all.

11 a.m.

Fourth Street is not far from Telegraph, but it’s miles away in style. This trendy shopping district has become a chic, open-air mall with funky home décor, local art and designer fashions. Visit the Stained Glass Garden (1800 Fourth Street; 510-841-2200; for elegantly curved glassware, funky dangly jewelry that resembles Calder mobiles, and kaleidoscope-like lampshades, with many products made by local artisans. After blowing too much money, reward yourself again with a double scoop of chocolate ice cream at nearby Sketch (1809A Fourth Street; 510-665-5650; — ranked by many local foodies as the best dessert shop in the Bay Area.

The closest airport to Berkeley is Oakland, about 16 miles away. JetBlue flies nonstop from Kennedy Airport to Oakland, with fares starting at about $359 for travel in April, according to a recent online search. More flights are available to San Francisco International Airport, roughly 25 miles away. Public transportation in the Berkeley area is limited, so rent a car.
The Claremont Resort and Spa (41 Tunnel Road; 510-843-3000; is by far the fanciest hotel in the area. Built in 1915 in the manner of an English estate, the hotel has a full-service spa, a lap pool and 279 rooms starting at $189.
For a historical alternative, stay at the Berkeley City Club (2315 Durant Avnue, 510-848-7800;, a social club built in 1927 and designed by Julia Morgan, the same architect who built the Hearst Castle. Rooms start at $125.
Cheaper rates can be found at the Rose Garden Inn (2740 Telegraph Avenue; 510-549-2145;, housed in five buildings and decorated with every tchotchke imaginable. Rooms start at $129.
For coming campus activities to see (like concerts and speakers) or events to avoid (like parents’ weekend), visit U.C. Berkeley’s online calendar at For other activities, check The Daily Californian (, the university student paper, or The East Bay Express (, a free weekly.

The NYT oversimplification of the Macedonian issue

Today's editorial of the NYT (below) is indicative of the oversimplification by the US of international affairs, even by progressive forces.

The Republic Formerly Known As ...

Published: March 30, 2008

One thing about the Balkans, they have the most esoteric crises. NATO is holding its summit meeting next week, and wants to bring in three Balkan states — Albania, Croatia and Macedonia. But Greece, a NATO member since 1952, is threatening to veto Macedonia’s membership over its name.

The name “Macedonia,” is shared by the former Yugoslav republic and northern Greece. Viewed from outside, this seems hardly serious. But in the crowded Balkans, such spats invariably draw on centuries of carefully nurtured slights and myths — in this dispute, both sides have claimed Alexander the Great, the greatest of history’s Macedonians, dead for 2,331 years — and can quickly flare into conflicts.

From the moment Macedonia declared independence in 1991, the Greeks vehemently objected to the new state’s use of a name and symbols they regard as theirs. As a result, the United Nations provisionally designated the country as “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” or Fyrom. Athens has since normalized relations and many countries, including the United States, have abandoned the clumsy Fyrom in favor of Republic of Macedonia, which is what Macedonia calls itself.

A mediator for the United Nations, Matthew Nimitz, has proposed a bunch of what strike us as totally acceptable compromises, most recently Republic of Macedonia (Skopje). In any case, that’s not the point. NATO membership is supposed to encourage and cement democratic standards in these new European states. The alliance will have to keep working — vigilantly — with the new members to ensure that that happens. But it is too important a project for Greece to block because of a dispute over a name.

Tiny Macedonia poses no threat whatsoever to Greece under any name; on the contrary, its economy is highly dependent on substantial Greek investments. Bringing it into the NATO fold is good for Europe, good for the Balkans, good for Macedonia and good for Greece. The name is something Athens and Skopje can work out on the side.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

France's housing problem

It took six months for Liberation journalist Ondine Millot to get to the truth about the most sordid side of France's housing crisis.
Look through some property websites and you can see the advertisements: the phrase you are looking for is contre services - when a room in an apartment is offered, sometimes "free", in exchange for services.
Sometimes the service is perfectly innocent - cleaning the apartment or washing clothes, to defray some of the high cost of renting property.
But sometimes it is not: instead the requests are sexual, demeaning, bordering on the perverse. "Sex twice a month," is one blunt demand. Another asks for someone "open in spirit and elsewhere". "Flat in exchange for libertine services," goes another. (more...)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Drugs in Drinking Water

A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.
The concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose.
In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas — from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky. Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, the AP found. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public "doesn't know how to interpret the information" and might be unduly alarmed.

How do the drugs get into the water?
People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue. And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies — which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public — have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.

Members of the AP National Investigative Team reviewed hundreds of scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants and interviewed more than 230 officials, academics and scientists. They also surveyed the nation's 50 largest cities and a dozen other major water providers, as well as smaller community water providers in all 50 states. Here are some of the key test results obtained by the AP:
-Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.
-Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.
-Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water. -A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water.
-The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.
-Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.

The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP. The federal government doesn't require any testing and hasn't set safety limits for drugs in water. Of the 62 major water providers contacted, the drinking water for only 28 was tested. Among the 34 that haven't: Houston, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Phoenix, Boston and New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, which delivers water to 9 million people.
Some providers screen only for one or two pharmaceuticals, leaving open the possibility that others are present. The AP's investigation also indicates that watersheds, the natural sources of most of the nation's water supply, also are contaminated. Tests were conducted in the watersheds of 35 of the 62 major providers surveyed by the AP, and pharmaceuticals were detected in 28. Yet officials in six of those 28 metropolitan areas said they did not go on to test their drinking water — Fairfax, Va.; Montgomery County in Maryland; Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City; Santa Clara, Calif., and New York City.
The New York state health department and the USGS tested the source of the city's water, upstate. They found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anti-convulsants, a mood stabilizer and a tranquilizer. City water officials declined repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, they insisted that "New York City's drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations regarding drinking water quality in the watershed and the distribution system" — regulations that do not address trace pharmaceuticals.
In several cases, officials at municipal or regional water providers told the AP that pharmaceuticals had not been detected, but the AP obtained the results of tests conducted by independent researchers that showed otherwise. For example, water department officials in New Orleans said their water had not been tested for pharmaceuticals, but a Tulane University researcher and his students have published a study that found the pain reliever naproxen, the sex hormone estrone and the anti-cholesterol drug byproduct clofibric acid in treated drinking water. Of the 28 major metropolitan areas where tests were performed on drinking water supplies, only Albuquerque; Austin, Texas; and Virginia Beach, Va.; said tests were negative. The drinking water in Dallas has been tested, but officials are awaiting results. Arlington, Texas, acknowledged that traces of a pharmaceutical were detected in its drinking water but cited post-9/11 security concerns in refusing to identify the drug.
The AP also contacted 52 small water providers — one in each state, and two each in Missouri and Texas — that serve communities with populations around 25,000. All but one said their drinking water had not been screened for pharmaceuticals; officials in Emporia, Kan., refused to answer AP's questions, also citing post-9/11 issues. Rural consumers who draw water from their own wells aren't in the clear either, experts say.
The Stroud Water Research Center, in Avondale, Pa., has measured water samples from New York City's upstate watershed for caffeine, a common contaminant that scientists often look for as a possible signal for the presence of other pharmaceuticals. Though more caffeine was detected at suburban sites, researcher Anthony Aufdenkampe was struck by the relatively high levels even in less populated areas. He suspects it escapes from failed septic tanks, maybe with other drugs. "Septic systems are essentially small treatment plants that are essentially unmanaged and therefore tend to fail," Aufdenkampe said. Even users of bottled water and home filtration systems don't necessarily avoid exposure. Bottlers, some of which simply repackage tap water, do not typically treat or test for pharmaceuticals, according to the industry's main trade group. The same goes for the makers of home filtration systems. Contamination is not confined to the United States. More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams throughout the world. Studies have detected pharmaceuticals in waters throughout Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe — even in Swiss lakes and the North Sea. For example, in Canada, a study of 20 Ontario drinking water treatment plants by a national research institute found nine different drugs in water samples. Japanese health officials in December called for human health impact studies after detecting prescription drugs in drinking water at seven different sites.
In the United States, the problem isn't confined to surface waters. Pharmaceuticals also permeate aquifers deep underground, source of 40 percent of the nation's water supply. Federal scientists who drew water in 24 states from aquifers near contaminant sources such as landfills and animal feed lots found minuscule levels of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs. Perhaps it's because Americans have been taking drugs — and flushing them unmetabolized or unused — in growing amounts. Over the past five years, the number of U.S. prescriptions rose 12 percent to a record 3.7 billion, while nonprescription drug purchases held steady around 3.3 billion, according to IMS Health and The Nielsen Co.
"People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that's not the case," said EPA scientist Christian Daughton, one of the first to draw attention to the issue of pharmaceuticals in water in the United States. Some drugs, including widely used cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications, resist modern drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. Plus, the EPA says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals.
One technology, reverse osmosis, removes virtually all pharmaceutical contaminants but is very expensive for large-scale use and leaves several gallons of polluted water for every one that is made drinkable.
Another issue: There's evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic.
Human waste isn't the only source of contamination. Cattle, for example, are given ear implants that provide a slow release of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by some bodybuilders, which causes cattle to bulk up. But not all the trenbolone circulating in a steer is metabolized. A German study showed 10 percent of the steroid passed right through the animals. Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream. Male fathead minnows living in that downstream area had low testosterone levels and small heads.
Other veterinary drugs also play a role. Pets are now treated for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and even obesity — sometimes with the same drugs as humans. The inflation-adjusted value of veterinary drugs rose by 8 percent, to $5.2 billion, over the past five years, according to an analysis of data from the Animal Health Institute. Ask the pharmaceutical industry whether the contamination of water supplies is a problem, and officials will tell you no. "Based on what we now know, I would say we find there's little or no risk from pharmaceuticals in the environment to human health," said microbiologist Thomas White, a consultant for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. But at a conference last summer, Mary Buzby — director of environmental technology for drug maker Merck & Co. Inc. — said: "There's no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they're at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms."
Recent laboratory research has found that small amounts of medication have affected human embryonic kidney cells, human blood cells and human breast cancer cells. The cancer cells proliferated too quickly; the kidney cells grew too slowly; and the blood cells showed biological activity associated with inflammation. Also, pharmaceuticals in waterways are damaging wildlife across the nation and around the globe, research shows. Notably, male fish are being feminized, creating egg yolk proteins, a process usually restricted to females.
Pharmaceuticals also are affecting sentinel species at the foundation of the pyramid of life — such as earth worms in the wild and zooplankton in the laboratory, studies show.
Some scientists stress that the research is extremely limited, and there are too many unknowns. They say, though, that the documented health problems in wildlife are disconcerting. "It brings a question to people's minds that if the fish were affected ... might there be a potential problem for humans?" EPA research biologist Vickie Wilson told the AP. "It could be that the fish are just exquisitely sensitive because of their physiology or something. We haven't gotten far enough along."
With limited research funds, said Shane Snyder, research and development project manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a greater emphasis should be put on studying the effects of drugs in water. "I think it's a shame that so much money is going into monitoring to figure out if these things are out there, and so little is being spent on human health," said Snyder. "They need to just accept that these things are everywhere — every chemical and pharmaceutical could be there. It's time for the EPA to step up to the plate and make a statement about the need to study effects, both human and environmental."
To the degree that the EPA is focused on the issue, it appears to be looking at detection. Grumbles acknowledged that just late last year the agency developed three new methods to "detect and quantify pharmaceuticals" in wastewater. "We realize that we have a limited amount of data on the concentrations," he said. "We're going to be able to learn a lot more."
While Grumbles said the EPA had analyzed 287 pharmaceuticals for possible inclusion on a draft list of candidates for regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, he said only one, nitroglycerin, was on the list. Nitroglycerin can be used as a drug for heart problems, but the key reason it's being considered is its widespread use in making explosives. So much is unknown. Many independent scientists are skeptical that trace concentrations will ultimately prove to be harmful to humans. Confidence about human safety is based largely on studies that poison lab animals with much higher amounts. There's growing concern in the scientific community, meanwhile, that certain drugs — or combinations of drugs — may harm humans over decades because water, unlike most specific foods, is consumed in sizable amounts every day. Our bodies may shrug off a relatively big one-time dose, yet suffer from a smaller amount delivered continuously over a half century, perhaps subtly stirring allergies or nerve damage. Pregnant women, the elderly and the very ill might be more sensitive. Many concerns about chronic low-level exposure focus on certain drug classes: chemotherapy that can act as a powerful poison; hormones that can hamper reproduction or development; medicines for depression and epilepsy that can damage the brain or change behavior; antibiotics that can allow human germs to mutate into more dangerous forms; pain relievers and blood-pressure diuretics.
For several decades, federal environmental officials and nonprofit watchdog environmental groups have focused on regulated contaminants — pesticides, lead, PCBs — which are present in higher concentrations and clearly pose a health risk. However, some experts say medications may pose a unique danger because, unlike most pollutants, they were crafted to act on the human body. "These are chemicals that are designed to have very specific effects at very low concentrations. That's what pharmaceuticals do. So when they get out to the environment, it should not be a shock to people that they have effects," says zoologist John Sumpter at Brunel University in London, who has studied trace hormones, heart medicine and other drugs. And while drugs are tested to be safe for humans, the timeframe is usually over a matter of months, not a lifetime. Pharmaceuticals also can produce side effects and interact with other drugs at normal medical doses. That's why — aside from therapeutic doses of fluoride injected into potable water supplies — pharmaceuticals are prescribed to people who need them, not delivered to everyone in their drinking water.
"We know we are being exposed to other people's drugs through our drinking water, and that can't be good," says Dr. David Carpenter, who directs the Institute for Health and the Environment of the State University of New York at Albany.

(the full story)

Vatican Lists New Sinful Behavior

I didn't know that sins can be "updated":

A Vatican official has listed drugs, pollution, genetic manipulation and social and economic injustices as new areas of sinful behavior.
Sins increasingly manifest themselves as behavior that damages society as a whole, Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti said in an interview published Sunday by the Vatican's daily newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. (more...)

Game over for Musharraf?

The PPP and PML-N political parties, which won the highest and second highest number of seats respectively in February's elections, have signed an agreement to form the next national government.
The deal comes after weeks of protracted negotiations between the two sides over the last few weeks. It includes an agreement to restore to office the judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf when he imposed emergency rule in November 2007.
This could be the end of another dictator. (more...)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Homeschoolers' setback in California

(from the SFC).
A California appeals court ruling clamping down on homes schooling by parents without teaching credentials sent shock waves across the state this week, leaving an estimated 166,000 children as possible truants and their parents at risk of prosecution.
"At first, there was a sense of, 'No way,' " said homeschool parent Loren Mavromati, a resident of Redondo Beach (Los Angeles County) who is active with a homeschool association. "Then there was a little bit of fear. I think it has moved now into indignation."
The ruling arose from a child welfare dispute between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and Philip and Mary Long of Lynwood, who have been homeschooling their eight children. Mary Long is their teacher, but holds no teaching credential.
The parents said they also enrolled their children in Sunland Christian School, a private religious academy in Sylmar (Los Angeles County), which considers the Long children part of its independent study program and visits the home about four times a year.
The Second District Court of Appeal ruled that California law requires parents to send their children to full-time public or private schools or have them taught by credentialed tutors at home.
Some homeschoolers are affiliated with private or charter schools, like the Longs, but others fly under the radar completely. Many homeschooling families avoid truancy laws by registering with the state as a private school and then enroll only their own children.
Yet the appeals court said state law has been clear since at least 1953, when another appellate court rejected a challenge by homeschooling parents to California's compulsory education statutes. Those statutes require children ages 6 to 18 to attend a full-time day school, either public or private, or to be instructed by a tutor who holds a state credential for the child's grade level.
"California courts have held that ... parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children," Justice H. Walter Croskey said in the 3-0 ruling issued on Feb. 28. "Parents have a legal duty to see to their children's schooling under the provisions of these laws."
Parents can be criminally prosecuted for failing to comply, Croskey said.
"A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare," the judge wrote, quoting from a 1961 case on a similar issue.
The decision could also affect other kinds of homeschooled children, including those enrolled in independent study or distance learning through public charter schools - a setup similar to the one the Longs have, Dacus said.
The ruling was applauded by a director for the state's largest teachers union. "We're happy," said Lloyd Porter, who is on the California Teachers Association board of directors. "We always think students should be taught by credentialed teachers, no matter what the setting."
Parents say they choose homeschooling for a variety of reasons, from religious beliefs to disillusionment with the local public schools.
Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said the ruling would effectively ban homeschooling in the state.
"California is now on the path to being the only state to deny the vast majority of homeschooling parents their fundamental right to teach their own children at home," he said in a statement.
But Leslie Heimov, executive director of the Children's Law Center of Los Angeles, which represented the Longs' two children in the case, said the ruling did not change the law.
"They just affirmed that the current California law, which has been unchanged since the last time it was ruled on in the 1950s, is that children have to be educated in a public school, an accredited private school, or with an accredited tutor," she said. "If they want to send them to a private Christian school, they can, but they have to actually go to the school and be taught by teachers."
Heimov said her organization's chief concern was not the quality of the children's education, but their "being in a place daily where they would be observed by people who had a duty to ensure their ongoing safety."
The ruling: To view the ruling by the Second District Court of Appeal, go to

Monday, March 03, 2008

California State Supreme Court to rule on same-sex marriage

The California Supreme Court will hold a hearing on Tuesday on the constitutionality of the state law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
It shapes up as the most momentous case the court has heard in decades - comparable to the 1981 ruling that guaranteed Medi-Cal abortions for poor women, the 1972 ruling that briefly overturned the state's death penalty law, and the 1948 decision, that struck down California's ban on interracial marriage.

Supporters of same-sex marriage invoke the state's commitment to equality regardless of gender or sexual orientation, the needs of the children of gay and lesbian couples, the persistence of societal discrimination, and legal rights such as freedom of expression, association and privacy.
In defense of its law, the state cites a cultural tradition far older than statehood, the will of the people as expressed in a 2000 initiative, the steps California has already taken toward equal rights for gays and lesbians, and the power of lawmakers and voters to determine state policy.
Beyond those arguments, groups opposing same-sex marriage want the court to justify the state law on moral or scientific grounds, as an affirmation that limiting matrimony to a man and a woman is best for children and society.
The hearing can be watched here.

A ruling is due within 90 days. (more...)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The 30 fastest-growing occupations

The Boston Globe publishes today the list of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in the year 2016.

1. Network systems and data communications analyst
Projected increase in 2016: 53.4 percent
Number employed in 2006: 262,000
Median pay in 2006: $67,460

2. Personal and home care aides
Projected increase in 2016: 50.6 percent
Number employed in 2006: 767,000
Median pay in 2006: $18,180

3. Home health aides
Projected increase in 2016: 48.7 percent
Number employed in 2006: 787,000
Median pay in 2006: $20,100


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Game over for Netscape?

A web browser that gave many people their first experience of the web is set to disappear. Netscape Navigator, now owned by AOL, will no longer be supported after 1 March 2008, the company has said. (more...)