Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Americans not going it alone

During an economic downturn like our current one, it would seem logical if self-employment trended upward. The notion is that losing a job might provide the spark that someone needs to finally start that business they’ve only dreamed about, or outlined on a cocktail napkin, now sitting in their desk drawer.

In Canada, self employment numbers have been rising for several months. The June statistics show another increase in those seeking their own path to re-employment. The numbers show gains in self-employment of 37,000 in June, while the number of employees in the private sector decreased by 39,000. Since October, self-employment has grown by 1.5%, whereas the number of employees has declined by 3.3% in the private sector and 1.4% in the public sector.

On the other hand, Americans seem to be recoiling from entrepreneurship, and self-employment, at least according to an article written by Scott Shane, in the New York Times.

[Source: Created from data contained in the OECD Factbook 2009. U.S. self-employment rate, 1990-2007.]

We hear so much about Americans and their entreprenurial spriit. Why the sudden lack of courage when it comes to starting down a new path?

One reason Shane posits is the increase in healthcare costs. According to the article, a result of these spiraling expenses is the “inability of new companies to offer health insurance to their employees. The Kauffman Firm Survey, which tracks a sample of new businesses drawn from the 2004 cohort of U.S. start-ups, reports that only 29.5 percent of new employer firms and only 12 percent of all start-ups provide health insurance to their full-time employees.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Charter schools: Why not in Maine?

[I have posted this as a question. I have no "skin in the game" regarding charter schools. I no longer have any children in public school. I regularly see the results of public schools, however, in building training programs for people that didn't acquire the requisite skills when they were in school. This isn't meant to be a slam against educators. I do believe, however that Maine parents should have as much choice in educating their children, as possible.

In 2004, I wrote a lengthy article on schools, and detailed the charter school option, asking similar questions. Five years later, Maine still is one of a handful of U.S. states without charter schools. I remain curious about why this is.--JB]

Charter schools: Why not in Maine?

Maine is one of only ten states that don't permit charter schools. Why is this?

Given that Maine currently is facing an $80 million dollar budget shortfall, with major cuts looming, potentially in education, could charter schools be an option for public education in Maine? Currently, there is a $4.4 billion federal pot of money targeted at education reform. States which limit or prohibit charter schools may be excluded from sharing such funds.

On May 28, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “States will hurt their chance to compete for millions of federal stimulus dollars if they fail to embrace innovations like charter schools.” (Libby Quaid, Associated Press, “Duncan: States could lose out on stimulus cash,” 5/28/09)

Charter schools are voluntary public schools, open to all children without admissions tests. They must be non-religious, and as small non-profit public organizations they are allowed increased flexibility in their operations in return for increased accountability for their students’ academic performance.

Many of these new charter schools, often small public schools, operate on a five-year charter issued by their authorizing agency, a local school board or a Maine university, which monitors and assesses their performance according to specific criteria.

The charter school model encourages innovation and responsiveness to children’s needs. It provides parents with increased choice, particularly if they feel that a public school, conventional or charter, is not meeting their child’s needs. It allows them an option of choosing another public school and the funds will follow that child - but only if charter schools as an option--in Maine, they are not.

Here are ten things you should know about charter schools:

Charter schools are:

  • publicly funded, and are not vouchers for private schools.
  • open to all students.
  • pioneers and innovators in public education.
  • meeting parents' needs.
  • appealing places to work for teachers.
  • committed to improving public education.
  • operated by an exciting array of non-profit groups.
  • playing an important part in school reform.
  • demonstrating a record of student achievement.

[list courtesy of the US Charter Schools website]

If interested in knowing more about charter schools, and efforts in Maine to provide that choice for parents, here is a link to the Maine Association for Charter Schools website.

Here's a good example of the problems that occur when students don't receive a quality high school education.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summer movies at MIFF

Like most Mainers, I’m growing tired of waking up each morning to forecasts of rain, and one day of sun out of seven. While it’s a truism that “a little rain must fall,” I think 25 out of the last 37 (or some approximation) is enough!

If it must rain, and Maine’s coastline and sun isn’t an option, then maybe it’s time to focus on movies.

Waterville is set to commence hosting the 12th annual Maine Independent Film Festival (MIFF), which begins Friday, July 10. This yearly film festival has become a Mecca for Maine’s movie lovers, as well as people who travel up to the Mid-Maine area just to take in some or all of the ten days of independent and international cinema.

MIFF is hosted at two unique Waterville venues. The historic Waterville Opera House is a 940 seat theater, built at the turn of the 20th century. If you’ve never visited, you’ll be impressed by its beautiful gold-leaf proscenium, as well as amenities geared to your comfort, like air conditioning, and modern projection equipment to enhance your viewing pleasure. The Opera House will be hosting films and events throughout the festival, including both Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

[Waterville City Hall, circa 1902, home of the city's historic Opera House]

The Railroad Square Cinema, a haven to Mainers who love intelligent, cutting-edge cinema fare, will also be a prime venue for many of the 100 films that will be showing over the 10 days of the festival.

Every year, Waterville becomes Movietown, USA, with its rich variety and diversity of films, as well as Q&A sessions with key figures in the independent film industry. Prior special guests read like veritable who’s who of Hollywood, including John Turturro (2008), Bud Cort (2007), Walter Hill (2006) Ed Harris (2004), and Sissy Spacek (2001).

This year, MIFF will present a Lifetime Achievement Award to Arthur Penn, best known as the director of the iconic Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Penn also has been nominated for both Tony and Oscar awards for masterpieces like Alice’s Restaurant (1970) and The Miracle Worker (1962).

This year’s opening night features the much talked about movie with a Maine gridiron flavor, award-winning filmmaker, Kirk Wolfinger’s The Rivals. This “Friday Night Lights set in Maine” features the epic high school football playoff battle between two very different Maine communities—the gritty mill town of Rumford, pitted against affluent southern coastal burb of Cape Elizabeth.

While this is an all American story, featuring Friday night high school football, a staple of many Maine communities, it’s also a film about Maine and by Mainers. Every cameraman, soundman, the edit team, as well as the mixing for the sound, was done by people living in Maine.

Another highlight at this year’s MIFF is the scheduled unveiling of the highly-anticipated romantic comedy, (500) Days of Summer, which garnered a 2009 Sundance selection.
I saw a preview last weekend and this seems like a winner.

MIFF is a project of the Maine Film Center and is made possible in part by generous support of Bangor Savings Bank, Colby College, and Maine Public Broadcasting.

FMI about the festival, contact Festival Directors Ken Eisen at (207)872-5111, or Shannon Haines at (207)680-2055.

I’m forced to miss the opening weekend to attend a wedding, but I plan to hit one of the weeknights next week, and take in a day’s worth next weekend, on Saturday. I encourage others to visit downtown Waterville.

Additional information about the city can be found at the Waterville Main Street website, as well as the Mid-Maine Chamber’s site. If you want to experience a unique dining treat that you won’t find anywhere else in the Pine Tree State, check out the authentic Southern cuisine of the Freedom CafĂ©. Check their website for the nights they're open for business.

You can also read my take on last year's MIFF, here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The lost art of reading

With others reading less and engaging more with social media, my early summer experience has been just the opposite. During my non-work hours, I’m trying to limit my time with technology and pursue old-fashioned activities like writing and reading. In fact, my current book of choice is close to 1,000 pages, with an additional 96 pages of endnotes. I've blogged a bit about the community read taking place that I've decided to participate in, over at my personal blog devoted to my writing/publishing interests.

Summer has more often than not been a time when I’ve tried to engage with books. From my youth, when the season was about reading books and getting my summer reading card punched at my local library in Lisbon Falls, to a couple of summers of unemployment/under-employment where I made use of my time to pour through some weighty works (Lewis Mumford’s Culture of Cities, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion to name just two). Even full-time work hasn’t made reading impossible, as I read David James Duncan’s sprawling novel, The Brothers K, last July, over a long weekend at Shagg Pond, all 741 pages of it.

I recall former governor Angus King, a few years ago promoting turning off the television for a week, saying that “readers are leaders.” Sadly, I’ve found far too many supposed leaders lacking on the reading front.

Technology is great, and has its place, but there is still a place in my opinion, for communication that exceeds 140 characters.