Saturday, April 19, 2014

Graduation Speakers

I get tired of stories of graduation speakers who get "disinvited" because some group of whiners decides that person isn't "worthy" enough to speak to them.  In other words, they disagree with something that person did or said, they pitch a fit, and then they get the (usually a) university to disinvite that person and choose someone else.

On my CNN phone app this morning I saw an article about Michelle Obama's planning to address high school graduates on the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling.  Oddly enough I can't find that article after the briefest of searches on CNN's web site, but I found it on FoxNews.  It's from the AP, though, so it should satisfy lefties:
If expanding the guest list to include Michelle Obama at graduation for high school students in the Kansas capital city means fewer seats for friends and family, some students and their parents would prefer the first lady not attend.

A furor over what the Topeka school district considers an honor has erupted after plans were announced for Obama to address a combined graduation ceremony for five area high schools next month an 8,000-seat arena. For some, it was the prospect of a tight limit on the number of seats allotted to each graduate. For others, it was the notion that Obama's speech, tied to the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlawing segregation in schools, would overshadow the student's big day.

"I'm a single mother who has raised him for 18 years by myself," said Tina Hernandez, parent of Topeka High School senior Dauby Knight. "I've told him education is the only way out. This is one of the biggest days of their lives. They've taken the glory and shine from the children and put on Mrs. Obama. She doesn't know our kids."
I view this as a legitimate concern of parents.  Graduation is about parents and their kids and their families; if having a certain speaker detracts too much from that, then that speaker should be cut.

In addition to the reduction in seats, can you imagine the other issues involved?  For example, having to arrive hours early just to get through labyrinthine security?  Parking and traffic?  What about anti-Obama protesters outside your kid's graduation?

No, this isn't the place for Michelle Obama.  It's reasonable that she should make a speech honoring the anniversary of Brown, but this is not the best venue in which to give that speech.  And before some whiny leftie throws out that I'm just anti-Obama and that's why I'm against her speech, let me share a little bit of my own history.

During my three underclass years at West Point, President Reagan never addressed a graduation.  I think we had Vice President Bush twice, but not President Reagan.  We thought for sure it was our turn.  The date and time of our graduation had been planned for years, and with that all the flight, train, and hotel reservations and days off work for the families and friends of over 1000 graduates.  President Reagan couldn't make our scheduled graduation date, though, but could if we rescheduled graduation for a few days later.  It was put up to us to decide, and we voted overwhelmingly to keep graduation when it was.  We got the retiring Army Chief of Staff as a speaker instead. 

Our families came first.  That's what graduation is for.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Spring Break Is Almost Over

A friend and I went up to the Gold Country today.  I didn't take any pictures at Empire Mine State Park but did get a couple in Grass Valley and Nevada City:
click to enlarge
 Old-school movie house in Grass Valley


Art deco in tiny Nevada City.  I love the "Pac-man font"!




Spring has definitely arrived in Nevada City.

More art deco Pac-man.  I'll bet these buildings were Depression-era public works projects.

Nevada City's own little version of San Francisco's Painted Ladies....

Thursday, April 17, 2014

How Ineffective Is This President?

His frequent "pivots" to jobs and/or the economy are proof that his "pivots" haven't worked:

He's as effective as Ross is here:

"I don't think it's gonna pivot anymore."  "You think?"

The Fundamental Division In US Politics

In a 2006 interview, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said the Constitution is “basically about” one word — “democracy” — that appears in neither that document nor the Declaration of Independence. Democracy is America’s way of allocating political power. The Constitution, however, was adopted to confine that power in order to “secure the blessings of” that which simultaneously justifies and limits democratic government — natural liberty.

The fundamental division in U.S. politics is between those who take their bearings from the individual’s right to a capacious, indeed indefinite, realm of freedom, and those whose fundamental value is the right of the majority to have its way in making rules about which specified liberties shall be respected. 
George Will is a pretty bright guy.
The argument is between conservatives who say U.S. politics is basically about a condition, liberty, and progressives who say it is about a process, democracy. Progressives, who consider democracy the source of liberty, reverse the Founders’ premise, which was: Liberty preexists governments, which, the Declaration says, are legitimate when “instituted” to “secure” natural rights. 

Creativity

It's not that I think creativity is overrated--it's vitally important.  However, except in some forms of art, creativity without any knowledge is kind of a waste, don't you think?

I don't know if the author of the tweet below intended to be ironic or not, but I found the comment not only funny but deep.  The idea on the thread was to come up with the plotline for education-related movies, here's one that made me laugh:
"The world's scientists are debilitated by disease; laypeople race against time to cure them using only creativity."
When it's important we care about genuine content knowledge, don't we?

Blame The School?

I have this conversation with students sometimes:  is it the school that compels you to take 4 AP classes at the same time?  Is it the school that schedules so many non-academic activities?  Is it the school that has you compete in multiple sports?

I have no doubt it's the school, backed up by the parents, that tells you that you must go to college.  But the school only provides opportunities for pressure, for the most part it's others who apply that pressure.

That's why I get fired up when people talk about the school when kids kill themselves:
His death is one of six apparent suicides at Fairfax’s W.T. Woodson High School during the past three years, including another student found dead the next day. The toll has left the school community reeling and prompted an urgent question: Why would so many teens from a single suburban school take their lives?
I don't think it's the school.  I think it's the community.
“There is too much stress in my life from school and the environment it creates, expectations for sports, expectations from my friends and expectations from my family,” Jack wrote. He ended with a simple: “Goodbye.”
School is the focus of a teenager's life.  Perhaps we need to clarify what is meant by "the school".  When I use that term, in general I'm referring to the adults who run it as opposed to the students who inhabit it.  Jack's list above indicates to me that school was a nexus for expectations from everybody in his life, not just the adults at his school.
Many wonder if there is a common thread. A number of parents and students said they worry about the fierce competition for limited spots in the state’s prestigious public university system.
This college arms race has got to stop.  We, the adults at school as well as the adults in the community, have got to stop insinuating, or even saying outright, that if you don't get into such-and-such a university, or any university at all, you won't be successful in life.  We've got to stop this masquerade of "college and career prep" wherein everyone has to go to some type of college, and some have to go to a Tier 1 school or be left behind.  That last one falls firmly on "the school's" shoulders

Kids get involved in that arms race because of adults.  Adults can look around all day and try to figure out why kids are killing themselves, but in this community it seems clear to me that the answer lies in the mirror.

Hat tip to Joanne Jacobs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Welcome, Visitors!

It's interesting to check the Statcounter sometimes and see where visitors are coming from.  Consider these two:
click to enlarge

At first I thought, could these two places be any more different?  Then I realized they both involve "goofy".

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, I'll be here all week!  Be sure to tip your waiters and  waitresses.

The SAT and Intelligence

Having a high enough SAT score from "back in the day" can get you into Mensa, so the smart people have some faith in the SAT as an intelligence test.  There's plenty of evidence that such faith is merited:
The College Board—the standardized testing behemoth that develops and administers the SAT and other tests—has redesigned its flagship product again. Beginning in spring 2016, the writing section will be optional, the reading section will no longer test “obscure” vocabulary words, and the math section will put more emphasis on solving problems with real-world relevance. Overall, as the College Board explains on its website, “The redesigned SAT will more closely reflect the real work of college and career, where a flexible command of evidence—whether found in text or graphic [sic]—is more important than ever.”

A number of pressures may be behind this redesign. Perhaps it’s competition from the ACT, or fear that unless the SAT is made to seem more relevant, more colleges will go the way of Wake Forest, Brandeis, and Sarah Lawrence and join the “test optional admissions movement,” which already boasts several hundred members. Or maybe it’s the wave of bad press that standardized testing, in general, has received over the past few years.

Critics of standardized testing are grabbing this opportunity to take their best shot at the SAT. They make two main arguments. The first is simply that a person’s SAT score is essentially meaningless—that it says nothing about whether that person will go on to succeed in college. Leon Botstein, president of Bard College and longtime standardized testing critic, wrote in Time that the SAT “needs to be abandoned and replaced"...

Along the same lines, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in The New Yorker that “the SAT measures those skills—and really only those skills—necessary for the SATs.”

But this argument is wrong. The SAT does predict success in college—not perfectly, but relatively well, especially given that it takes just a few hours to administer. And, unlike a “complex portrait” of a student’s life, it can be scored in an objective way. (In a recent New York Times op-ed, the University of New Hampshire psychologist John D. Mayer aptly described the SAT’s validity as an “astonishing achievement.”) In a study published in Psychological Science, University of Minnesota researchers Paul Sackett, Nathan Kuncel, and their colleagues investigated the relationship between SAT scores and college grades in a very large sample: nearly 150,000 students from 110 colleges and universities. SAT scores predicted first-year college GPA about as well as high school grades did, and the best prediction was achieved by considering both factors. Botstein, Boylan, and Kolbert are either unaware of this directly relevant, easily accessible, and widely disseminated empirical evidence, or they have decided to ignore it and base their claims on intuition and anecdote—or perhaps on their beliefs about the way the world should be rather than the way it is.

Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just first-year college GPA that SAT scores predict. In a four-year study that started with nearly 3,000 college students, a team of Michigan State University researchers led by Neal Schmitt found that test score (SAT or ACT—whichever the student took) correlated strongly with cumulative GPA at the end of the fourth year. If the students were ranked on both their test scores and cumulative GPAs, those who had test scores in the top half (above the 50th percentile, or median) would have had a roughly two-thirds chance of having a cumulative GPA in the top half. By contrast, students with bottom-half SAT scores would be only one-third likely to make it to the top half in GPA.

Test scores also predicted whether the students graduated: A student who scored in the 95th percentile on the SAT or ACT was about 60 percent more likely to graduate than a student who scored in the 50th percentile. Similarly impressive evidence supports the validity of the SAT’s graduate school counterparts: the Graduate Record Examinations, the Law School Admissions Test, and the Graduate Management Admission Test. A 2007 Science article summed up the evidence succinctly: “Standardized admissions tests have positive and useful relationships with subsequent student accomplishments.”

SAT scores even predict success beyond the college years...

The second popular anti-SAT argument is that, if the test measures anything at all, it’s not cognitive skill but socioeconomic status...It’s true that economic background correlates with SAT scores. Kids from well-off families tend to do better on the SAT. However, the correlation is far from perfect. In the University of Minnesota study of nearly 150,000 students, the correlation between socioeconomic status, or SES, and SAT was not trivial but not huge. (A perfect correlation has a value of 1; this one was .25.) What this means is that there are plenty of low-income students who get good scores on the SAT; there are even likely to be low-income students among those who achieve a perfect score on the SAT.
A correlation of .25 is very small.
What this all means is that the SAT measures something—some stable characteristic of high school students other than their parents’ income—that translates into success in college. And what could that characteristic be? General intelligence.
As the SAT is changed from an intelligence test to more of an achievement test, its primary usefulness is diluted.

There's plenty more in the article, including much about IQ and intelligence, and I encourage you to go read the whole thing.  Very interesting.

'Murica

I have a foreign exchange student who is just great to have in class.  He's very bright, very interesting, and fun to be around.

Several months ago I suggested that if he truly wanted to experience America, he should shoot some firearms.  Today we went to the range :-)  He was a pretty good shot on the .22 rifle we took--but what was cool was that the guy on the range next to us let him fire off a few shots on a 9mm pistol and a .357 Magnum!

Afterwards we went to Marie Calendar's and had some apple pie.  We did not, however, contrary to my previous plans, sing God Bless America.  I still think he had an American experience today.

If his host doesn't take him, perhaps some weekend I'll take him to the Gold Discovery Site at Coloma.  It's California in a way that San Francisco and Hollywood and surfing are not.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's One Thing To Think About It, It's Another To Do It

We've probably all had that thought; sometimes, some people just need a butt-kicking.  And while that atavistic thought is no doubt normal, most of us are smart enough not to act on it:
Florida’s St. Lucie County School Board officially fired veteran teacher Dru Dehart after their investigation found that she encouraged six 8th grade students to beat up 7th grader Radravious Williams, WPTV NewsChannel 5 reports...

Darrisaw (the boy's mother) added, "[Dehart’s] remarks was, 'I got my eighth grade boys on you. You're not so tough now"...

WPEC CBS 12 spoke to Radravious’ parents about the board’s decision. “Through the entire situation and even when I got the news, I wasn’t, it’s no congratulations on ether side, because she's suffering and my son is still suffering," said Latasha Darrisaw. “As a person, as any parent, you want some kind of apology. But I guess we’ll get that whenever she’s ready.”

You Think Martin Bashir or Keith Olbermann Are Nice People?

I guess it's possible, but I don't see any stories like these about them.  Then again, they don't allow conservatives on MSNBC:
In the fall of 2013, I gave a TED talk on what I learned as a progressive, on-air talking head at Fox News, where I worked for two years before leaving and joining my current home, CNN. After all, one of the most frequent questions I was asked during my time at Fox was how I did it, how I was a fox in the henhouse – or a hen in the Fox house, if you will.

The questions came mostly from fellow liberals who had not watched much Fox News but had seen the most outlandish clips of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity that had made it to "The Daily Show" or YouTube. They perhaps imagined that walking down the hallway outside makeup, Mr. O'Reilly might yell then, too, instead of just saying hello. That's a funny notion, but it couldn't be further from the truth.
 
My time at Fox News was marked by meeting and working with some of the kindest, smartest, and most talented people I've had the pleasure of meeting in life. As I said in my TED talk, Sean Hannity is one of the sweetest people you'll ever meet – and even now that I've parted ways with Fox, he remains a good friend and mentor.

For a radical progressive who once harbored negative stereotypes about folks on the right, it was a turning point for me to meet people such as Mr. Hannity, Karl Rove, Monica Crowley, Sarah Palin, and so many others, and see that – though we certainly disagree profoundly on political issues – they're personable and kind and human. Just like me.

I'm In A Profession of Idiots

Anyone want to defend the role of the school, the cops, or the courts in this one?  Misplaced faith in these fields does untold damage to our nation:
Here comes another story highlighting the danger of schools "outsourcing" their disciplinary problems to law enforcement. As we've stated before, this does nothing more than turn routine misconduct into criminal behavior, which is a great way to derail a student's future.

A Pennsylvania teen, who claimed to have been bullied constantly (and ignored by school administration), made an audio recording of his tormentors using a school-supplied iPad. He brought this to the school's attention, which duly responded by calling the cops… to have him arrested for violating Pennsylvania's wiretapping law...

The judge said that bullying victims should first bring the problem to their parents -- which this student did. Next, she says the parents should let the school administrators know -- which she did. Finally, she says, let the school handle it -- which it did. And now, the student faces her -- having followed all the proper steps -- charged with disorderly conduct. And yet, despite this, she asserts that the system works and, indeed, has always worked in regards to this particular school. Logical fallacy piled on top of logical fallacy until a bullied kid is charged with a crime while his recorded tormentors remain unpunished.

The judge refused to believe that any one these esteemed administrators could have screwed up, failing to believe that they, too, are human and as prone to failure as anyone else. If they've never screwed up in the fast, all future misdeeds are forgiven (and forgotten) in advance. This is the sort of rationale that should never be deployed by a supposedly impartial overseer like a judge, because it's just as wrong as assuming every authority figure involved here is an irredeemable monster.

Maybe the future holds better outcomes, but for right now, everyone involved had a chance to stop this from reaching this illogical conclusion, but no one -- from the administrators to their legal team to local law enforcement to the presiding judge -- was interested in reining this in. In the end, it looks as though an innate desire to punish someone was satisfied every step of the way.
Is it really illegal in Pennsylvania to record people in public? Do people have an "expectation of privacy" in the open areas of school?  Are you "wiretapping" in Pennsylvania if you set up a camera on a street corner?

Why I'm Not An Isolationist

There's a streak in the Republican Party, one that rears its ugly head every few years, and that streak is isolationism.  Closing your eyes and pulling the blankets over your head might be effective for a four-year-old who wants to hide from monsters, but it's not very effective in a world where headlines like this are run:

Washington drives the world to war

Washington has lost Crimea. Instead of admitting that its plan for grabbing Ukraine has gone amiss, Washington is unable to admit a mistake and, therefore, is pushing the crisis to more dangerous levels. Russia, China, and Iran are in the way of Washington's hegemony and are targeted for attack. The attack on Russia is mounting.
The 80's called and they want their foreign policy back?  What an idiot.

There are bad guys in the world.  Pretending they don't exist, and pretending you can reason with them, is not a valid foreign policy.

If this is what a "reset" looks like, I'd hate to see continued failure!  Perhaps now would be a good time for some of that "flexibility" that President Obama talked about with Medvedev.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Why I'm Not A Socialist

Socialism helps only those in power, who walk on whomever they can and must in order to stay in power:
A fascinating article by Francis Wilkinson appeared in Bloomberg View last week (h/t Instapundit). Wilkinson detailed the fact that income inequality between whites and blacks is worse in leftist cities...

Now to someone like me — a former liberal who became a conservative, in part, because I saw the devastation wrought on poor black neighborhoods by leftist policies — this is no surprise, not even all that interesting. What I did find riveting though were the desperate attempts by presumably left-leaning social scientists to explain the discrepancy away.

See, leftists think when government gives money to people, it’s a form of charity. It’s not. Charity ennobles the willing giver and creates responsibility in the receiver. When government confiscates one man’s wealth to give it to another, that’s a subsidy. Subsidy increases the thing subsidized. Always. Every time. Everywhere. Subsidize poverty, you get more poverty. Subsidize illegitimacy, you get more illegitimacy. Subsidize black victimhood, guess what? More black victimhood.

Blacks are poorer in leftist cities because of leftism. End of story.

Calling It What It Is--The Silliness of "Micro-Aggressions"

If there's anything left of the puerile concept of "micro-aggressions" after this author has had his say, I'd be extremely surprised:
Most of the students represent the .01% of American society. They can enjoy their four- to five-year hiatus from the American rat race, either due to wealthy parents or to charity in the forms of grants that allow them to pay the $60,000 per year plus in room, board, and tuition. Again, most Americans either do not have such money or access to such money to afford the quarter-million-dollar “under attack” Dartmouth experience.

President Hanlon apparently felt the students’ pain of what they had called “micro-aggressions,” or the day-to-day psychodramatic angst that these young elites feel that are their own versions of the world of the Wal-Mart checker, the roofer in Delano who nails in 105 degree August heat, or the tractor driver who has disked half-mile long rows day in and day out on the farm. If you have never done such things, and you have $60,000 a year to spend on Dartmouth, then I suppose you could conceivably dream up a micro-aggression of being tortured to read woman for womyn, or having to use either the boys’ or girls’ bathroom...

But why do very liberal universities do very illiberal things like raise their costs consistently above the rate of inflation, for which, in similar circumstances, food markets or gas stations would be chastised? And why do very liberal professors over the last three decades insist on teaching fewer classes for more money, in a world where nurses do not serve fewer patients for greater salaries? And why do universities in general depend on graduate teachers, part-time lecturers and adjunct faculty to teach many courses that are identical to those taught by full, tenured faculty at rates of compensation three times higher — in an exploitative way that Target or Costco would be fined for? And why, if students are suffering from such micro-aggressions, do they have dorms and student unions and recreation centers that have metamorphosized from the motel like conditions of the past into Club Med resorts, with indoor pools, rock-climbing walls, and Starbucks latte bars?

The point is that the Dartmouth students themselves are creations of the very exploitation they project onto others. They and their faculties enjoy privileges undreamed up by 99.9% of the population. DeVry and Phoenix trade schools cannot afford to offer Dartmouth-like race, class, and gender courses to contextualize their accounting, computer programming and nursing programs because none of their students have the cash for such psychodramatic indulgences. Our aggrieved .01% can play act that they are embattled, precisely because free market capitalism gave them those dramatic opportunities in a way unknown in Mexico or the Congo. (all boldface mine--Darren)
Remember, these are the very people who wail about so-called social justice.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

I Tell My Students This All The Time

Unless they go to Stanford, it doesn't matter as much where they go to college as how well they do in college and what they can do with what they've learned.  Some, though, just can't "risk" falling behind in the university arms race:
This month, high school seniors across America are receiving college decision letters of acceptance and rejection. Many of these students, and their parents, will think that where they go to college will significantly affect their employment future.

They think wrong. Today, whether you go to college retains some importance in your employment options. But where you go to college is of almost no importance. Whether your degree, for example, is from UCLA or from less prestigious Sonoma State matters far less than your academic performance and the skills you can show employers.

Research on the impact of college selection has focused on comparing the earnings of graduates of different colleges. In 1999, economists Alan Krueger and Stacy Berg Dale published a widely-read study that compared the earnings of graduates of elite colleges with those of “moderately selective” schools. The latter group was composed of persons who had been admitted to an elite college but chose to attend another school.

The economists found that the earnings of the two groups 20 years after graduation differed little or not at all. In a larger follow up study, released in 2011 and covering 19,000 college graduates, the economists reached a similar conclusion: Whether you went to University of Penn or Penn State, Williams College or Miami University of Ohio, job outcomes were unaffected in terms of earnings.

Eagle Ceremony

Last Friday my son's JROTC unit had their annual military ball.  My son is the 2nd from the right (their left, our right) in this video of the Eagle Ceremony, and also carried the US colors during the retirement of the colors.

Yes, I'm a proud father.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

First Day of Spring Break...

...and I wake up with a headache.  Just can't get going today.  What a waste!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Want To See A Heartwarming Story?

Watch the video here.

The Real-World Benefit of Geekitude

Do you need to change your passwords?  Choose some that no one would guess!
Among the peskier things about personal computing is the never-ending call to create passwords. One for email, one for Facebook, one to download Dayton Ward's newest e-book from Amazon. To that end, we'd like to recommend 10 Star Trek-based passwords, some of which you'd need the M5 Computer itself to break.
I have "themes" I use for different types of sites.  For example, email sites might be movie names, and commerce sites might be lakes.  I also know a few states and their years of admission to the Union, so that makes for another good theme.  Easy to remember and long and varied enough to be secure!

I Hope She's Right

Megan McArdle says single-payer healthcare isn't on the horizon here in the US:
Of the plans that states have hatched for the Affordable Care Act, none has been bolder than that of Vermont, which wants to implement a single-payer health-care system, along the lines of what you might find in Britain or Canada. One government-operated system will cover all 620,000 of Vermont’s citizens. The hope is that such a system will allow Vermont to get costs down closer to Canada’s, as well as improve health by coordinating care and ensuring universal coverage.

Just two small issues need to be resolved before the state gets to all systems go: First, it needs the federal government to grant waivers allowing Vermont to divert Medicaid and other health-care funding into the single-payer system. And second, Vermont needs to find some way to pay for it.

Although Act 48 required Vermont to create a single-payer system by 2017, the state hasn’t drafted a bill spelling out how to raise the additional $1.6 billion a year (based on the state's estimate) the system needs. The state collected only $2.7 billion in tax revenue in fiscal year 2012, so that's a vexingly large sum to scrape together...

So this is going to be expensive. So expensive that I doubt Vermont is actually going to go forward with it.

This should be instructive for those who hope -- or fear -- that Obamacare has all been an elaborate preliminary to a nationwide single-payer system. It isn’t. The politics are impossible, and even if they weren’t, the financing would be unthinkable.
It's not like we haven't before spent money we don't have, though.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Open House

Normally I can't stand Open House.  I understand Back To School Night in September, but not Open House in April--at least, not for high school, I don't.  I get the elementary school purpose of it, but it's not any fun for so many of us in high school.  But it's in our contract, we've gotta do it, ugh.

This year our math department tried something a little different.  Instead of each of us being in our classrooms, we set up a couple tables outside our department chair's room.  Each of us brought something as an example of the work our students do--I brought a bowl of M&M's and a description of my statistics class' Chi-Square Goodness of Fit Project.  I hooked up my 70" flatscreen tv  (yeah I do!!!) out there next to our tables and our department chair, for example, had a looping slideshow of his students working on their "indirect measurement lab" outside (using indirect measurement to determine the height of the flagpole, for instance).

All the math teachers were in one place.  We could see what each other was doing, it freed us up individually to go see what other departments were doing (I was amazed at some of the ceramics work a couple of my students had done)--and if a parent had a question about which class their student should take next year, well, here are the teachers right here who can tell you about your options because they teach those classes!

I haven't found a teacher yet who didn't prefer it to being caged in our classrooms.  It actually made the evening tolerable.