Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Where Are The Readers From?

Scroll to the bottom of the page to see a new feature I've added to the blog (thanks for pointing that out to me, Greg!). I've never gotten around to a site counter, but this is kinda cool.

I'll keep this post at the top of the heap until the end of the month.

Update: I've obviously now added a site counter.

Great Firewall of China

Right on the Left Coast: not banned in China!

Teacher Killed By Adherents to Religion of Peace

Islamabad - Suspected Islamic militants captured and beheaded a schoolteacher in Pakistan's Afghan border area for allegedly spying for the United States, said an official on Wednesday.

I guess he wasn't a member of the union.

Usman, in his 30s, was a teacher at an Islamic school in nearby North Waziristan and was known to have spoken out against militants in the area.

Nope, definitely not a union member.

Principal Deals Meth Out Of His Office

But hey, at least he wasn't selling it to the students, right?


Whites to One Rally, Blacks to Another, Etc--At School

When I learned about this via Joanne Jacobs (see blogroll at left), I jokingly sent Joanne's post to my principal and vice principal. My VP responded first: "Are you sure this is real? It seems a bit unbelievable." So I sent him the actual news article linked above. My principal replied later, saying, "I don't think we'll be going there."

But don't you love the greeting to the students at the white students' rally? "What up, white people?" You've got to be kidding me.

I understand the principal's rationale for doing what she did. I really do. But when you consider how people are likely to respond, it's not a choice I'd have made--and I've made some pretty interesting choices before!

Carnival of Education

This week's midway is now open!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Teacher Tries To Buy Pot From A Cop

One of my students sent me the following story, out of Kentucky:

A middle school teacher trying to buy pot was arrested after she sent text messages to state trooper instead of a dealer, police said.

Trooper Trevor Pervine was at dinner with his wife and parents celebrating a birthday when his phone started buzzing with messages about a marijuana purchase.

At first, Pervine thought the messages were from friends playing a joke, Kentucky State Police spokesman Barry Meadows said. But a couple of phone calls put that idea to rest, and Pervine responded to set up a meeting, Meadows said.

Authorities say Ann Greenfield, 34, arrived at the meeting point and found Pervine and other law enforcement officers waiting for her.

"She learned her lesson. Program your dealers into your phone," Meadows said.

Yes, because that's the lesson we're supposed to take away from this story.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Another Inconvenient Truth

Most of the light bulbs in my house are compact fluorescent bulbs. I own an electric weedeater and, at a cost approaching $200, just purchased an electric lawn mower. I'm looking into a solar system on my roof, although the cost may be prohibitive. In November, when I was looking at new cars, I gave serious consideration to a hybrid Ford Escape.

I'm all about reasonable conservation measures. I'm all about renewable energy, specifically solar, and nuclear. I believe these things not because of any fear of so-called global warming, but because there's no reason to pollute the environment if we can reasonably avoid doing so.

So what say you to this?

Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home.

The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average.

Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.

Gore’s extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore’s mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year.

Conservation is just for us peons. We should listen to our betters.

Hat tip to Instapundit (see blogroll at left).

Update, 2/27/07:

Al Gore responds to the item on his utility bill, by stressing his carbon-neutral approach...

Capt. Ed is unimpressed with Gore's response: "Purchasing offsets only means that Gore doesn't want to make the same kind of sacrifices that he's asking other families to make. He's using a modern form of indulgences in order to avoid doing the penance that global-warming activism demands of others. It means that the very rich can continue to suck up energy and raise the price and the demand for electricity and natural gas, while families struggle with their energy costs and face increasing government regulation and taxation. It's a regressive plan that Gore's supporters would decry if the same kind of scheme were applied to a national sales tax, for instance."

In contrast, President Bush is a veritable ecologist.

Again, Instapundit.

Update #2, 2/28/07: Someone's getting rich off of this "carbon offset" business. Gawd I love capitalism.

Update #3, 3/1/07: I've read a lot lately that carbon offsets actually increase energy usage--and hence cause more pollution. This one's from the Economist.

Update #4, 3/3/07: Here are some more details about Gore's energy usage. BTW, it turns out that he purchases his eco-indulgences--I mean, carbon offsets--from a company that he himself set up! All he's doing is buying stock in his own company, a company he no doubt hopes to enrich him and his family! I do love capitalism, but not hypocrisy. So, those details:

What's maybe even more interesting is the gas bill, reported to average $1,080 a month over the last year (none of these figures, first released by a Tennessee free-market think tank, have been disputed). (calculations omitted here--Darren)

One cubic metre of natural gas emits 1.891 kg of CO2 (see page 13), so this represents a total of 27,200*1.891 = 51435.2 kg (51.4 tonnes) of CO2 emission.

By striking coincidence, this is within a whisker of total CO2 emissions per average US household - including household operations, automotive uses, and "indirect emissions" - which amount to about 118,000 pounds (53,636 kg).

The point bears repeating. Mr. Gore's natural gas-based emissions alone account for as much warming as the total due to electricity, heating, transport and "indirect" factors of an average American household.


Update #5, 3/17/07: It just gets worse for Gore, who made a ton of money off a mine.

Al Gore Jr. received more than $500,000 in royalties from the owners of zinc mines who held mineral leases on his farm near Carthage, Tenn. Now the mines have a new owner and are scheduled to reopen later this year.

Before the mines closed in 2003, they emitted thousands of pounds of toxic substances and several times, the water discharged from the mines into nearby rivers had levels of toxins above what was legal.

Keep talkin', Al.

Update #6, 3/18/07: This story just gets worse and worse. Death threats and the like for merely pointing out that Al Gore is a hypocrite. No one challenges the facts. The left isn't upset that Gore uses so much energy, they're upset that it was pointed out. My contempt for these people knows no bounds.

Update #7, 3/18/07: There's at least one Brit who sees the same hypocrisy I do.

How Should The School Deal With The Death of a Student

The first time I ever had to deal with the death of a student was during my first year of teaching. A student transfered into my math class from another school on Monday. He was quiet, didn't turn in any assignments, and didn't cause any trouble. The following Monday we got a note from the counseling office that we should send down any assignments or writing we had from that student. None of us had assignments but we had all sorts of excuses: it had only been 1 week, that's not uncommon for new students, etc. Dad wanted to hold something, anything, in his hand, and we had nothing. We didn't have any schoolwork to show a man who no longer had a son.

In 10 years of teaching, I've been fortunate not to have to deal with the deaths of students I knew. I didn't really know that boy after only one week, and I haven't known other students who've died. I've dealt with the deaths of two teachers, one of which took place on campus, but not of children. Until today.

Early this morning we got an email from one of our school counselors that a student had died over the weekend. He'd transfered to another school at the semester but was still in our district. I had his sister a year or two ago; I had him last semester. It took place at the house of a student at our school.

Later in the morning word had spread, and in what I can only assume was an effort to keep the rumor mill to a minimum, an announcement directed all of us to read our emails--where the principal had written a very brief message that could be read to students. Most students who were severely affected hadn't come to school today, so we were able to get through the day without too much distraction.

At least one teacher complained about the announcement and said there had to be a better way to notify us. I wonder why, given that this is the third death in as many years that we've had to deal with at our school, we don't have some sort of procedure in place to notify us instead of making it up on the fly each time it happens. How is it handled at your school, fellow teachers?

On the way home, I stopped at a card store and found two simple sympathy cards. One I sent to the family, and one I sent to his sister. I lost a brother four years ago this past week; I understand what she's going through. My condolences are sincere, but, given what the family's suffering, seem so insignificant as to border on meaningless. What can I offer them, given their loss?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Whole Foods, Capitalism, and Freedom

I've referenced this speech in comments before, but it's time to give it its own post. The speaker is John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods. You owe it to yourself to read it in its entirety, but here is the condensed version:

My search for meaning and purpose led me into the counter-culture movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. I studied eastern philosophy and religion at the time, and still practice both yoga and meditation. I studied ecology. I became a vegetarian (I am currently a vegan), I lived in a commune, and I grew my hair and beard long. I'm one of those crunchy-granola types. Politically, I drifted to the Left and embraced the ideology that business and corporations were essentially evil because they selfishly sought profits. I believed that government was "good" (if the "right" people had control of it) because it altruistically worked for the public interest...

At the time I started my business, the Left had taught me that business and capitalism were based on exploitation: exploitation of consumers, workers, society, and the environment. I believed that "profit" was a necessary evil at best, and certainly not a desirable goal for society as a whole. However, becoming an entrepreneur completely changed my life. Everything I believed about business was proven to be wrong.

The most important thing I learned about business in my first year was that business wasn't based on exploitation or coercion at all. Instead I realized that business is based on voluntary cooperation. No one is forced to trade with a business; customers have competitive alternatives in the market place; employees have competitive alternatives for their labor; investors have different alternatives and places to invest their capital. Investors, labor, management, suppliers — they all need to cooperate to create value for their customers. If they do, then any realized profit can be divided amongst the creators of the value through competitive market dynamics.

In other words, business is not a zero-sum game with a winner and loser. It is a win, win, win, win game — and I really like that. However, I discovered despite my idealism that our customers thought our prices were too high, our employees thought they were underpaid, the vendors would not give us large discounts, the community was forever clamoring for donations, and the government was slapping us with endless fees, licenses, fines, and taxes.

He then discusses the Freedom Movement.

I hope to do two things tonight. First, I will critique the freedom movement and highlight mistakes that have greatly lessened its impact and influence in the world. Second, I will challenge the movement to re-think its purpose and values. We need to evolve our paradigm along with the brand that we offer the world. As a businessman who knows something about marketing and branding, I can tell you the freedom movement is branding itself very poorly...

How many people in the audience believe that the only social responsibility that business has is to maximize profits? Before I make my next point, let me boast about Whole Foods Market for a moment. In 2005, we did $4.7 billion in sales and realized $136 million in net profits. With our current growth rates, by 2010 we should do over $12 billion in sales. On a percentage basis Whole Foods Market is the most profitable public food retailing business in the United States, with the highest net profit percentage, sales growth, and sales per square foot. I make this boast to prove that (a) I believe in profit and (b) I am quite competent in producing it.

I love profit. Profit is good and it is socially necessary. However, some people in the freedom movement have long argued that the only social responsibility that business has is to maximize profits. I believe that profits are an essential purpose of business, but I would argue that they are not the sole, or even most important, purpose of business. Profit is the most important purpose to the business owners. But owners do not exist in a vacuum. I believe the best way to think about business is as an interdependent system of constituencies connected together in a "harmony of interests..."

I believe that business has a much greater purpose. Business, working through free markets, is possibly the greatest force for good on the planet today. When executed well, business increases prosperity, ends poverty, improves the quality of life, and promotes the health and longevity of the world population at an unprecedented rate. This audience understands these truths, but how many people in our greater society comprehend it? The freedom movement has also poorly defended the social legitimacy of both business and free markets. A new paradigm for business and the free market is necessary — one that accepts the importance of profits, of course, but also one that recognizes that business has legitimate social responsibilities that go far beyond merely maximizing profits...

I believe, however, that all four of these issues are far less critical for improving our society than creating educational choice, privatizing Social Security, deregulating health care, and enacting meaningful tort reform. The legalization of drugs, pornography, prostitution, and guns, as issues, are all too closely associated with the freedom movement. Aligning ourselves with these issues has hurt our brand tremendously, by associating the freedom movement with cultural decadence. Parents don't want their children's lives ruined by drug experimentation, or their innocence prematurely lost to pornography and prostitution, or their lives ended with a bullet...

When I was a naive (some people in the audience by this time probably think I'm still naive) and idealistic young man, I migrated to the Left for my value system. Why did I do that? Because the Left provided an idealistic vision of the way the world could be. However, the reality of the Left's vision proved to be terribly flawed. Its socialist economic system not only didn't work very well, but in its communist manifestation it justified monstrous governments directly responsible for the murders of over 100 million people in the 20th century. Despite the horrible track record of leftist ideology, millions of young Americans continue to migrate to an intellectually bankrupt Left because the Left still seems to be idealistic, and idealism is magnetic to the young. Idealism will always be magnetic to the intelligent and sensitive young people of the world.

How sad that the freedom movement often refuses to be idealistic. We usually don't even attempt to compete. We simply forfeit the field to the Left because we pride ourselves on our "realism" and "tough-mindedness." We talk about freedom and prosperity — and that is about it. We have no real theory of either the good life or the good society except the fundamental belief that if people have sufficient personal and economic liberties (as in Friedrich Hayek's spontaneous order) we will create a prosperous society...

The freedom movement, in my opinion, needs to embrace the ideal, not just of economic growth, but also of personal growth. If we use Maslow's hierarchy of needs as our criterion for evaluating the freedom movement, we see that it is primarily focused on the lower need levels: meeting the physical needs and safety needs through increased prosperity. To be perfectly blunt about it: the freedom movement is largely materialistic in its approach to life, stuck in the lower levels of Maslow's hierarchy. The higher need levels — love, self-esteem, the good, the true and the beautiful, and self-actualization — are either taken for granted or simply ignored...

That is the secret of the success of the Left, despite its bankrupt economic philosophy. The Left entices the young with promises of community, love, purpose, peace, health, compassion, caring, and environmental sustainability. The Left's vision of how to meet these higher needs in people is fundamentally flawed. But the idealism and the call to the higher need levels is magnetic and seductive, nonetheless. The irony of the situation, as I see it, is that the Left has idealistic visions of higher human potential and social responsibility but has no effective strategies to realize its vision. The freedom movement has strategies that could meet higher human potential and social responsibility but lacks the idealism and vision to implement these strategies. I assert that the freedom movement can become a successful mass movement today if it will consciously adopt a more idealistic approach to its marketing, branding, and overall vision, and embrace a vision of meeting higher human potentials and greater social responsibility...

The freedom movement must first advocate the ideal of self-responsibility for health. We own our own bodies, don't we? This is no minor thing, because the Left, by supporting socialized medicine, demonstrates a belief that common citizens are too stupid to take responsibility for our own health and therefore need the "experts" to step in and control things for our own good...

Peace. Why should the Left own the peace ideal? Why should the idealistic young turn to the Left to find peace?...

The freedom movement should own the peace ideal; we do not own it now. Let us retrieve the peace ideal, because we know the truth: democracy + free markets = peace between nations who share these social, economic, and governmental structures...

Most Americans know that socialism doesn't work as an economic system. We allow competitive markets to produce our food, our housing, our clothing, our transportation, and most of the goods and services that we consume. Why then do so many people embrace socialism in health care and education? Because we have not created an idealistic vision of the way things could be if they were grounded in freedom instead of governmental control...

Who among you has read Bjørn Lomborg's book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist"? I cannot recommend this great book to you more highly. It convincingly demonstrates that the doom-and-gloom, apocalyptic crowd has greatly exaggerated the decline of the global environment in many important areas such as air and water quality and the decline in natural resources. With that qualifier said, I still believe the freedom movement has erred strategically by letting the Left own the ideal of environmental sustainability...

Maintaining environmental sustainability is in the collective best interest of everyone. No one will argue that premise. The real question is, "What are the best ways to do it?" What are the trade-offs we need to make? When the freedom movement ignores the issue of environmental sustainability, the Left will dominate the discussion of the issues.

Remember that the Left's goal remains either to cripple or to destroy capitalism. The freedom movement must embrace the ideal of environmental sustainability but must bring to the debate its commitment to property rights, markets, and proper incentives to effectively resist the inevitable leftist arguments for more bureaucratic controls and regulations. Why should the Left own the ideals (and it does own them right now) of love, caring, and compassion — especially with its track record?..

Freedom belongs with love. Prosperity belongs with compassion. This is the vision I hold for the future; this is the world I strive to create. I urge you to join me. Together we can create a world where people have lives full of purpose, love, adventure, a world of freedom, prosperity, and compassion.

This may seem kind of jumpy, but I had to cut out something or else I wouldn't be providing the condensed version. But like I said before, you owe it to yourself to go read the whole thing.

Standardized Testing

RightWingProf is on a roll.

Yes, I agree with him on this post. Standardized testing can be done poorly, but it can also be done well. Complaining about testing itself sounds more like a political than an academic/intellectual exercise.

Nutjob Professors

No, I don't mean RightWingProf. He's just our link to a story that marvels--and not in a good way.

Maybe This Explains It

Via Little Green Footballs (see blogroll at left) we learn about this story from ABC News:

Feb. 23, 2007— Federal agents arrested Charles Rust-Tierney, the former president of the Virginia chapter of the ACLU, Friday in Arlington for allegedly possessing child pornography. (emphasis mine--Darren)

According to a criminal complaint obtained by ABC News, Rust-Tierney allegedly used his e-mail address and credit card to subscribe to and access a child pornography website.

The complaint states that federal investigations into child pornography websites revealed that "Charles Rust-Tierney has subscribed to multiple child pornography website over a period of years..."

The videos described in the complaint depict graphic forcible intercourse with prepubescent females. One if the girls is described in court documents as being "seen and heard crying", another is described as being "bound by rope."

'Nuff said.

More On The Nanny State

Via Joanne Jacobs (see blogroll at left) we learn about this from Illinois:

Fed up with what she sees as a health hazard for thousands of children, Flowers has introduced legislation that would require Chicago schools to make students wash their hands with antiseptic soap before eating.

Coming up next: brushing/flossing afterwards, ensuring students wipe after taking a poop, and requiring students to carry handkerchiefs.

Sneezing. Good gawd. Does your school supply Kleenex? Mine doesn't. Want to stop the spread of germs, lady? Require the schools to have Kleenex available in each classroom. With about as much science behind my opinion as Ms. Flowers has behind hers, I'd say that having Kleenex will prevent more germs from being spread.

But school officials and teachers say the measure seems to reflect misplaced priorities at the state capitol. They say teachers are already doing a good job of keeping kids' hands clean for breakfast and lunch.

And one Chicago parent said promoting cleanliness among students would be a good idea, but questioned whether it deserves the attention of state lawmakers.

"I think they should be focused on the issues," said Mona Van Kenegan, a dentist for a public health clinic at a Chicago high school who has a 7-year-old in a Chicago school.

That one parent is correct. Not every single issue on the planet merits the attention of lawmakers. Otherwise, we get socialism.

The measure passed the Illinois House 100-14 Thursday without any debate. It now goes to the Senate.


It's OK For Schools To Teach K-12 Students About Gay Relationships

I posted a few weeks ago about the parents of a kindergartner and 2nd grader and their lawsuit challenging their children's school from teaching about homosexual relationships. I'd recommend reading that post before moving on here, as it contains the necessary background information--including the fact that such relationships are legal in Massachusetts.

Well, the judge has ruled.

A federal judge yesterday dismissed a suit by two couples who contended that the Lexington public school system violated their constitutional rights by teaching their young children about same-sex couples, but the ruling is unlikely to end a controversy that has roiled the district for nearly two years.

Of course the parents are going to appeal. I'm still torn on this issue--and said as much in the post to which I referred in the first paragraph above--but how could they not appeal when the judge says something as stupid as this:

In his 38-page decision, Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf of US District Court said that under the US Constitution, public schools are "entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy."

Really? I can find nothing in the Constitution that says that. I can't even find anything in the Constitution that implies that.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call judicial activism. It's not good no matter who does it, whether you agree with the ruling or not. It breeds contempt for the law and for the judiciary as a whole.

But wait, it gets worse.

"Diversity is a hallmark of our nation," he said.

You've got to be kidding me. Freedom and liberty are hallmarks of our nation. Equal justice before the law is a hallmark of our nation. The first and second amendments are hallmarks of our nation. Diversity? Not even in the same ballpark.

The judge is correct when he says the following:

Wolf said that the couples, David and Tonia Parker and Robert and Robin Wirthlin, have the option to send their children to private schools or home-school them. He also said they can work to elect a School Committee that might change the curriculum, but that they have no right to dictate what the school district teaches.

That makes sense. But the earlier quotes above show him to be an idiot, one not deserving to wear the robe.

Wolf, in the decision, said he based his ruling on a 1995 decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals on a sex-education assembly at Chelmsford High School.

The appellate court ruled that the constitutional right of parents to raise their children did not include the right to restrict what a public school can teach, even if the teachings contradict a parents' religious beliefs.

Wolf said Lexington educators could exempt some children from a lesson concerning homosexuality if they chose, but he did not define how to do that. But he said an exodus from the classroom would probably undercut efforts to foster tolerance and would deprive pupils of learning from each other.

Again, he's both right and wrong here--but very, very wrong, at least in his implication.

I do agree that we can't have individual parents dictating what the schools teach. That would be unworkable. But we also can't allow the government, via the schools, to run roughshod over the parents, especially in the area of controversial issues. Abortion and homosexuality are still controversial issues, and while students (at appropriate ages) should know about them, to promote them would be wrong. In contrast, slavery isn't controversial anymore--vast majorities of people think it's wrong, and it's ok to teach that it's wrong. It might not have been ok to require such teaching in 1875, but it's ok now.

Parents should have the opportunity to exempt their children from subjects they find offensive. Parents who find too much of the curriculum offensive, though--and we'd need to identify how much is too much--should probably recognize that public schools aren't the right place for their children. But not allowing the parents to remove their children from controversial subject matter that they find personally offensive? As a parent I find that offensive.

So where's he wrong? On the tolerance issue. Here he goes again, shimmering in the mantle of tolerance and diversity. Is the judge implying that exemptions from such instruction, which "would probably undercut efforts to foster tolerance and would deprive pupils of learning from each other", should not occur? Is he contradicting himself? Does he think the school's ability (or even right) to teach some approved curriculum is more important than the actual right of parents to raise their children with the values that they see fit? Here's the real issue: should parents be allowed to raise their children with values that are not politically correct? Should the school be allowed, or required, to attempt to correct those values?

Do we really want government to have that kind of power over our children? That is the problem with this ruling, not the gay issue.

Hat tip to NewsAlert (see blogroll at left).

Update: Do not for a moment take my disdain for the judge's reasoning above to mean that I support homophobia. While I'm not a fan of hate crimes legislation, neither do I think that any person should suffer unjustly at the hands of another. When it comes to the values our schools should teach, I side with teaching tolerance as opposed to acceptance. This is certainly consistent with what I wrote above.

Stories like this, though, sicken me.

Guy Fischer and his partner, Richard Carrillo, say their 13-year-old son, who attended Harper Junior High School, has been the victim of ongoing harassment because he has same-sex parents.

What started as occasional muttered slurs, they contend, escalated into vicious name-calling, shoving and public ridicule. Fischer and Carrillo say the school district has not done enough to ensure their son's safety.

Yes, junior high students can be lord-of-the-flies cruel; that explains, but doesn't justify, their behavior in this circumstance. The school absolutely should ensure the safety of all its students, and students must learn the difference between disapproving of something and harming a fellow student.

Tolerance, not acceptance. Why is this such a difficult concept for some?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Moral Idiots

Thanks to RightWingNation (see blogroll at left) I was turned on to this post at Kerplunk: 10 signs that you're a Moral Idiot.

Grade Inflation?

I don't think my students will ever accuse me of contributing to grade inflation.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It doesn't add up.

Two federal reports out Thursday offer conflicting messages about how well high-schoolers are doing academically.

One showed that seniors did poorly on national math and reading tests.

The other -- a review of high school transcripts from 2005 graduates -- showed students earning more credits, taking more challenging courses and getting better grades...

The transcript study showed that 2005 high school graduates had an overall grade-point average just shy of 3.0 -- or about a B. That has gone up from a grade-point average of about 2.7 in 1990.

It is unclear whether student performance has improved or whether grade inflation or something else might be responsible for the higher grades, the report said.

And what about all the kids who take tougher classes?

"I'm guessing that those levels don't connote the level of rigor that we think they do. Otherwise kids would be scoring higher on the NAEP test," said David Gordon, a governing board member and the superintendent of schools in Sacramento, California.

Mark Schneider, commissioner of the federal National Center for Education Statistics, said the government would conduct a study examining the rigor of high school courses.

Such a study could be crap. What worthwhile information could you draw from a study of high school courses nationwide? Unless there's something of which I'm not thinking, the only value you'd get would be at the school or teacher level. Anything higher than that would be too general to be useful.

So what's being tested? What's causing this concern about course rigor?

On the math test, about 60 percent of high school seniors performed at or above the basic level. At that level, a student should be able to convert a decimal to a fraction, for example.

Just one-fourth of 12th-graders were proficient or better in math, meaning they demonstrated solid academic performance. To qualify as "proficient," students might have to determine what type of graph should be used to display particular types of data...

On the math test, 29 percent of white students reached the proficient level, compared with 8 percent of Hispanics and 6 percent of blacks.

Obviously the standards aren't very high, so what causes those results? White racist teachers, a culture that doesn't value education, the soft bigotry of low expectations? And what can be done about it?

One of the stated goals of the federal No Child Left Behind law is to reduce the gaps in achievement between whites and minorities.

The law is up for review this year. It currently requires reading and math tests annually in grades three through eight and once in high school. The Bush administration wants to add more testing in high school.

Here's where the lefties will squeal: testing isn't teaching! Of course it's not, and it's not designed to teach any more than checking your cholesterol is designed to lower your cholesterol. We need testing data, however, to better target any reforms and/or improvements. If you don't know where the problem is--and I hope we can all agree there's a problem--you can't fix it.

Don't you think that after 12 years of schooling, students deserve to be able to do more than convert a decimal to a fraction, and should in fact be able to do so?

Dark Skin, Dark Times

The Civil Rights Movement in this country accomplished so much in a relatively short period of time. We've all heard of Little Rock, of Rosa Parks, of Dr. King, but there are other smaller, equally important stories.

This is one of them.

Update: What a coincidence that this story turns up on the wire services today.

Voice of the Prophet

I don't agree with everything this man has to say, but he's certainly worth listening to. Here's a blurb about the video:

A truly chilling example of foreshadowing, The Voice of the Prophet is an interview with Rick Rescorla, the head of security for the investment firm Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. A retired Army colonel, veteran of combat in three wars and a survivor of the 1993 bombing of the twin towers (in which he saved the lives of hundreds of Morgan Stanley employees), Rescorla was killed in the WTC attacks of September 11, 2001. In this interview, Rescorla all but predicts the events that lead up to the September 11 attack and the war on terrorism that followed.

You must watch the entire video before answering this question: what thoughts do you think were running through his mind on September 11th? Do you think if he'd had the opportunity, he'd have reconsidered some of what he said here?

Succeeding at College Math

With so many of California's students' having to take remedial math upon entering a CSU or UC, I thought this (well-written and entertaining) comment might give some insight on how to do well in college math:

I was, you see, born without the math gene. I can balance a checkbook and do all manner of basic computation, but when an equation trundles into view, I do not gain immediate and transcendental insight into the beauty, nature and majesty of the universe. I aced my mandatory college math courses, but that was due entirely to general scholarly ability and practice and not at all to an innate understanding of the concepts.

Those of you who think you're done with math because you've passed Algebra 2 and are going to major in psychology, think again! You'll be doing some pretty serious statistics work, so I'd recommend starting now to develop a "general scholarly ability". Do your homework, ask questions in class, and take your work seriously.

Update: Here's another post I wrote about "words" people needing math.

Automotive X-Prize

This is something we should be working towards anyway, whether or not man-made global warming exists.

The Automotive X Prize comes from the same folks who developed the Ansari X Prize. This time the purse may well be double that of the $10-million space prize payout. The challenge? To build a viable, production-capable vehicle that can deliver in excess of 100 mpg or its equivalent fuel economy.

I support this as much as I support research/investment in making cheaper solar cells and in building more nuclear power plants. Obviously I agree with comment #6 (in the linked article) as well--electricity is the way to go.

Muslims and Math

Given the sorry state of the Muslim world today, it's hard to believe that at one time it was a world leader in science, medicine, art, architecture, and tolerance. When my European ancestors were living in mud huts, eating gruel, and living their entire lives in superstition and squalor, the Muslims were building universities, trading with distant lands, and inventing algebra. In fact, so important are the contributions (indeed, the inventions) of Muslims to math that the words algebra and algorithm, as well as the use of x to represent an unknown quantity, have a direct lineage to the Muslim world of over a thousand years ago.

However, let's not go farther than is deserved in claiming mathematical breakthroughs to the medieval Muslims.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Magnificently sophisticated geometric patterns in medieval Islamic architecture indicate their designers achieved a mathematical breakthrough 500 years earlier than Western scholars, scientists said on Thursday.

By the 15th century, decorative tile patterns on these masterpieces of Islamic architecture reached such complexity that a small number boasted what seem to be "quasicrystalline" designs, Harvard University's Peter Lu and Princeton University's Paul Steinhardt wrote in the journal Science.

Only in the 1970s did British mathematician and cosmologist Roger Penrose become the first to describe these geometric designs in the West. Quasicrystalline patterns comprise a set of interlocking units whose pattern never repeats, even when extended infinitely in all directions, and possess a special form of symmetry.

"Oh, it's absolutely stunning," Lu said in an interview. "They made tilings that reflect mathematics that were so sophisticated that we didn't figure it out until the last 20 or 30 years."

Forgive me for dipping into the political, but among those of us who claim to be right of the American center, the source for the above news story is called al-Reuters. They support terrorists rather than our American fighting men and women, and seem to have some sort of stake in being pro-Arab and anti-American and anti-Israel.

But how does the story above, which has nothing to do with terrorism today, fit into that mold?

Joshua Socolar, a Duke university physicist, said it is unclear whether the medieval Islamic artisans fully understood the mathematical properties of the patterns they were making.

"It leads you to wonder whether they kind of got lucky," Socolar said in an interview. "But the fact remains that the patterns are tantalizingly close to having the structure that Penrose discovered in the mid-70s."

In other words, it's not at all clear that Muslim architects or artists of centuries ago knew anything about the mathematics that we (white Christians--that's the implication) didn't figure out until the 1970s. It seems far more likely that the tile patterns in question are just creative, beautiful examples of Islamic art dating from a time when artists in the West didn't even understand perspective drawing. Instead, al-Reuters has to create the headline "Medieval Muslims made stunning math breakthrough", even though there's no indication at all that any so-called breakthrough ever took place. The Arab world made enough contributions to Western math that it doesn't need a cheerleader to hype something that didn't take place.

It's difficult not to see this type of reporting as more of al-Reuters' support for all things Islamic. Shame.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

It's OK To Do, Just Don't Document It

What: Teenagers taking risque photos of themselves are prosecuted for violating child pornography laws.

When: Florida state appeals court rules on January 19.

Outcome: A 2-1 majority upholds conviction on grounds the girl produced a photograph featuring the sexual conduct of a child...

Some more background: Under a 1995 ruling in a case called B.B. v. State, the Florida Supreme Court said that a 16-year-old could not be found delinquent for having sex with another 16-year-old.

Read the whole thing.

Unions and Productivity

This thought-provoking article posits that unions need not always be, but sometimes are, impediments to improved productivity. For a couple of paragraphs, though, the author mentions why teachers unions are such impediments:

This may explain why some unions are equally well known for their lack of productivity; the American teachers' unions are generally believed (by everyone outside of the teachers' unions) to be the primary obstacle to improving America's appalling public schools.

One possibility is that, to the extent that unions do increase productivity, they do so by forcing less competent workers out of the labour market, because they are not worth union pay. In teaching, where the average wages are nothing special for the target, college educated applicant pool, this doesn't work. Indeed, by compressing wages, it makes the problem worse. In areas where there is an oversupply of graduates, such as English and history, teaching programmes choose from the applicants who have relatively few other opportunities; while in areas like science and math, where almost any qualified applicant has higher-paying alternative opportunities, they face permanent shortages.

Will market pay ever come to public school teachers? Not in my lifetime--but for a math teacher, it's a nice fantasy!

Note: this post about unions was not entirely negative, and the linked article even less so. What might that indicate about me, my leftie readers? I'll give you a hint: it rhymes with shmopen-line-ded. =)

Leftie Nutjob Uses Facebook to Stalk, Attack College Republicans

Michelle Malkin has the whole thing. It's pretty creepy.

I'm curious--why do we never see examples of conservatives' doing anything remotely like this?

A Thinking Blog

It's quite an honor to have two fellow bloggers identify Right on the Left Coast as a "thinking blog", one that makes them think. Why else would I want someone to read what I write?

The idea started here, and Mrs. Bluebird was the first to nominate me thusly. Now I'm supposed to identify 5 blogs that make me think. That required some effort.

You see, I read dozens of blogs a day. Many I find downright informative or enjoyable, but that doesn't mean they necessarily make me think deep, intellectual thoughts. Which do? These:

Photon Courier
Going to the Mat
Joanne Jacobs
Classical Values

There are others, but some of them have already been nominated.

Students For President Polk

When I saw the following on an email list of which I am a member, I knew I had to post it here. I've received permission to do so, and here it is:

Last year a discussion developed in class about the Presidents we've had. I posed the question, "If you had one choice, which President would you liked to have had a private dinner with in the White House knowing what you know now about him now?"

At the time I posed the question, we had already examined all of the Presidential administrations so they were not unfamiliar with the entire list.

Generally, the majority picked the ones you would expect .... Kennedy ... Reagan .... FDR ... Teddy Roosevelt ... Lincoln ... Washington ... Jefferson ... etc. But a dark horse showed up that was totally unexpected. More than a few picked ... James K. Polk!

This really intrigued me and I asked why they chose him. Of those who did, there was one consistent response ... (summarized) ... "When Mexico spat in his eye, he conquered the country against Congressional opposition, and that's how we acquired CA, AZ, NM,western TX." Of 240 students, the dozen who chose Polk were all in separate classes.

I thought that was intriguing but gave no more thought about it.

I've just been informed, there's a new student organization that's just been authorized ... The James K. Polk Memorial Association. It already consists of 30 plus members and they are selling T-shirts with a picture of James K. Polk on them.

The criteria for membership is that you have to be able to identify who James K. Polk was and what he did.

But, after digging around, I found out that the organization is comprised of those who think Mexico is pushing us around on the illegal immigration issue and their battlecry is, "Where is James K.Polk when you need him?"


Interesting, indeed. My kinda club!

George Washington and God

The lefties love to claim that certain Founding Fathers, especially Jefferson, were not Christians but deists. I'm sure the citizens who held them up for esteem, or elected them to high office, believed they were Christians and not merely deists.

It's nice to read a clear column on the topic, in this case George Washington's faith.

USS Hornet and the Western Aerospace Museum

Not that Sacramento isn't a great place to live and/or visit in its own right--it genuinely is, and I've posted with pictures before--but one of its convenient attributes is its location. And hour and a half to the west and you're in the Bay Area or on the coast, and an hour and a half to the east gets you up in the mountains. On Monday and Tuesday I headed east to Reno; yesterday I took my son west.

At the former Alameda Naval Air Station is the USS Hornet, a WWII aircraft carrier converted to a floating museum (there are too many similarities to Battlestar Galactica). This Hornet is the same carrier that picked up several of the Apollo capsules during the moonshot days, including the Apollo 11 crew, and on the hangar deck is an appropriate display (including a genuine Soyuz capsule!). There have been ships named Hornet since 1775, and the name holds a special place in the hearts of those of us from Sacramento--our local university teams are the Sac State Hornets!

This was my 2nd visit to an aircraft carrier, having been given a tour, with the local West Point Society, of the USS Ben Franklin when it was at Alameda in the early 90s. Such tours do not disappoint.

Click on the pictures to get an enlarged view.

Just in case someone forgets, this vessel was launched (in 1943) to kill people and break things. It replaced an earlier carrier USS Hornet, which was sunk in 1942. As this sign reminds us, payback is a you-know-what.

Despite how much I cannot stand the politics of San Francisco, it's one of the most picturesque cities on the planet. Here it is in the background, across the bay. You might be able to make out part of the Bay Bridge on the right side of the picture; the Golden Gate is behind the right edge of the city in the picture. And yes, that's an F-14 Tomcat (of Top Gun fame) on the deck.

This is a view from the stern, looking forward on the landing deck. My son gives some reference as to the size.

After leaving the Hornet we went to the Oakland Airport to visit the Western Aerospace Museum, where I used to volunteer as a docent before my son was born.

There are several rooms with exhibits inside, and the main hangar has some exquisite aircraft. Just for example, there's a Stearman biplane and a Lockheed Vega, an aircraft similar to Amelia Earhart's. Did you know she started her voyage from Oakland? You would if you visited the Western Aerospace Museum!

There are also plenty of cool aircraft outside, including a Harrier and this F-14.

The marquee attraction, though, is this British flying boat, a Short Solent. Yes, that's yours truly providing a reference point for the size.

This flying boat missed WWII, and was put into civilian service (BOAC?) flying from Southampton to South Africa. If memory serves, the trip took four days, and each evening the passengers disembarked and stayed in a hotel. Cairo and Lake Victoria were two of the stops.

It was later sold to a South Pacific airline, which flew it to Tahiti and other locales. Is there no market for such beautiful aircraft today? Could no one turn a profit flying such planes?

From there we went back to Alameda to visit my friend and former boss, who lives on a rather impressive boat. We made it home before 9:30. All in all, a great day!

ROTC Retreating South and West

The same people who cry the loudest for diversity are forcing our military's officer corps to become more and more heterogeneous:

There is no Army ROTC program in the Detroit area, with its large middle-class Muslim population, and only one in Miami and Chicago. In New York City, which produced more than 500 military officers a year in the
1950s and early 1960s, the two remaining ROTC programs last year yielded 34 Army officers...

In contrast, Alabama, which has a student population that is about one-fourth the size of the state of New York, has 10 ROTC programs that last year produced 174 Army officers. The South generates about 40% of all Army officers, according to Pentagon statistics...

At a time when the country is growing more and more diverse, the Army is struggling to build an officer corps that takes full advantage of America's multiethnic society. There are only about 1,500 Muslims in a force of about 500,000 soldiers. Arabic speakers are in critically short supply throughout the force, say senior Army officials. Even in those cities, like New York, where the Army maintains ROTC, it is undermanned and culturally out-of-synch with the people it is trying to recruit...

The Army's retreat from urban areas has complex roots, from antimilitary sentiment in big cities in the wake of the Vietnam War to simple economics. Urban ROTC programs have generally produced fewer cadets and are considered poorer investments than programs at large campuses in the South. Internal Army studies say the best ROTC candidates are students whose parents have served in the military and enjoy physical activity. "They may have rafted, canoed, rock climbed or sky dived," an internal Army report states. Prime candidates also have served in leadership positions at school...

The Army's shift South began in the late 1960s at a time when anger over the war in Vietnam was prevalent on many Northeastern campuses. At some high-profile schools, like Harvard, Yale and Columbia, disagreements between the military and school administrators drove ROTC off campus. Many small Southern schools actively courted the military by setting aside new buildings for ROTC programs.

I admit, it's hard for me to imagine a time when New York City produced a sizable number of military officers, especially when one considers the sentiments in this column. This shows how much things have changed in my own lifetime.

I've heard too many people (usually on the left, of course) decry the "military mindset", yet they don't realize two things:
1. there is no military mindset, and
2. if you think there is, you could change it by contributing part of your own thoughts into the system.
But no, they're not going to do that. It's easier to look down your nose at someone, especially if that someone is more than likely from the boonies, or at least from a place where you yourself would never deign to go.

When those northeastern and Pacific Coast elites say that the military isn't our kind of people, they're right--but not in the way they think.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Gallaudet Could Lose Accreditation

I've written about Gallaudet University before, in less than glowing terms. Here's what has to say today about the school:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's only liberal arts university for the deaf could lose its accreditation unless it addresses concerns about weak academic standards, ineffective governance and a lack of tolerance for diverse views, an education oversight group warned.

Gallaudet University was rocked by student demonstrations last fall that shut down the university for several days and forced the board to revoke the appointment of a new president.

Afterward, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education said it was delaying a decision on whether to renew the school's accreditation because of concerns raised during the protests and because of a 2005 federal report that rated Gallaudet "ineffective." The federal Office of Management of Budget this month gave Gallaudet an improved evaluation, to "adequate..."

"The extent of the fall protests and repeated allegations of violence and intimidation raise grave concerns" about whether the university fosters respect for different views, Suskie wrote.

So we have a school where the graduation rate is less than 50%, where students protest because the incoming president isn't deaf enough, and where governance is ineffective, and what's cited is whether or not the university "fosters respect for different views". Clearly it does not; it listens only to the views of its deaf students, who apparently aren't getting much of an education.

This place is an educational abomination. To quote Al Gore, "It's time (pause) for them (pause) to go."

Carnival of Education

Starting today--and for this week only!--it's over at History is Elementary.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Diversity in Presidential Candidates

As he so often does, John nails it.

Diploma = Bank Notes?

I'm a coin collector, but I do have a few notes in the safe. I thought this short piece comparing bank notes to high school diplomas was interesting enough to link to.

Quick Jaunt To Reno

I took a friend to Reno yesterday. I couldn't believe he'd never been, so I had to rectify that situation.

The drive up was nice--but there's no snow. I mean, it was bone dry the entire way there. We have no snowpack, which doesn't bode well for water supplies this summer. We've been through this a few times in my life and always survive, but I'm thinking that perhaps we ought to invite Al Gore out here to talk about global warming.

We stayed at my favorite place, Atlantis. I lost a few dozen dollars in slot machines, but made some of it back playing $3 blackjack. That certainly bouyed my spirits.

This morning we did breakfast at the Cal-Neva downtown, the location of my two favorite slot machines. They only have one type of payout, and you either win or you don't--they pay out early-20's silver dollars. They're worth about $10 each, and it costs 25 cents to play. I got $20 in quarters and started popping them in. After about $5 or so I won a single silver dollar, so I left that machine and went to its sister machine across the alley (if you haven't been to Reno's Cal Neva, don't ask!). A few dollars in that one was rewarded with another silver dollar. I also played Tailgate Party and got two cheerleader bonuses and a football bonus--even got the touchdown for big money, but no barbecue bonus. Made a couple of dollars at the Cal Neva.

We wandered about and saw other casinos--and other former casinos. The Golden Phoenix, formerly the Flamingo Hilton, is being converted to condos. The Sundowner, which closed a few years ago, is also being converted to condos--something I suggested years ago! It's good to see that some of the crazy ideas I have actually have some merit.

The Sands Regency is a fun place. They have a Silver Strike machine there, and it was being pretty stingy towards the guy who was playing it. In addition to paying out money, Silver Strike can also pay out a silver $10 gaming token--and that's all anyone who plays that machine really wants. Well, I thought I'd be in pretty good shape since the guy in front of me wasn't winning any silver. I put in $20 (80 quarters) and started playing 3 at a time, the requirement to win the silver. I played it down to 6 quarters left and hadn't won the silver, and then--bam! I play 3 of my last 6 and won 2 silvers, or $20! At the same time I also won 5 quarters, so I cashed out with 8 quarters and $20 in Silver Strike gaming tokens for my initial $20 gamble. I was pleased.

I was also pleased to learn that I'll no longer have to ask for a non-smoking table in a restaurant--smoke-free, as of a few months ago!!!

We wandered a bit more and then headed home. I've always wanted to stop at the Emigrant Gap overlook on I-80, and today for the first time I did. Take a look--everything you see should be covered with snow. Eek.

The first picture is about a 180 degree panoramic view stitched together from 4 individual shots. The second gives you a little information about Emigrant Gap--and how amazing the original American settlers were.

Tomorrow I think my son and I are heading to Oakland to see the USS Hornet and the Western Aerospace Museum. If we go, I'll post more pictures.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Race, Ethnicity, or Culture?

Britain most certainly has its own race whores, like we do here in the US. I wonder how they explain the following headline:

Chinese pupils eclipse all other ethnic groups in English tests

Chinese pupils are best-performing ethnic group with 86% passing national curriculum tests

Schoolchildren of Indian origin come second with 85% achieving the same standard

But only 80% of white British pupils manage to reach a similar level in the assessment

Must be all those racist British teachers, keeping the white kids down. And not only racist, but sexist:

Yesterday's analysis also shows that girls outperform boys at all levels in almost every exam - although the gap has narrowed slightly. "Overall, the difference in attainment of five or more A*- to C-grade GCSEs or equivalent by gender has dropped slightly from last year when it was 10.1 percentage points to 9.6 percentage points in 2006," it says.

This next part was interesting, given that black immigrants to the US do better than native-born blacks:

The breakdown follows an official report from the DfES, which drew attention to the exclusion rate for black Afro-Caribbean children - they were three times as likely to be excluded from school as white youngsters. Their rate of permanent exclusions was four per 10,000 compared with 1.3 for white pupils. Again, Chinese-origin pupils had the lowest exclusion rate, with 0.2 per cent. The report said: "Black pupils are disproportionately denied mainstream education and the life chances that go with it."

The low performance of black Afro-Caribbean boys has prompted ministers to launch their "Aiming High" project, seeking to improve their performance by providing them with mentors.

There are several other juicy morsels in the article to chew on, but one omission jumped out at me. I want to see a picture of this "Schools minister":

Andrew Adonis, the Schools minister, welcomed the findings.

It should be against journalistic ethics to have a name like that and not publish a picture.

As I often say, go read the whole thing. It presents an interesting outlook on British education.

New Global Warming Post

My recent posts on the topic have too many updates, so let's start a new thread. We can cross the pond, where the Independent Online reports that organic farming may have a larger so-called carbon footprint than mass factory farming? For you normal people, that's leftie-speak for contributing more to global warming.

Update: The Economist points out a couple of obvious problems that American global warming fanatics downplay. Isn't it cultural arrogance to make the US the center of the debate?

Update #2, 2/20/07: The unintended consequences of promoting hybrid cars.

Update #3, 2/22/07: Calling him "the Goracle" adds to my view that belief in man-caused global warming is more like a religion than anything to do with science. In the article, some even say so openly:
"From my perspective, it is a form of religion," said Bruce Crofts, 69, as he held a banner aloft for the East Toronto Climate Action Group amid a lively prelecture crowd outside the old hall.

"The religion for this group is doing something for the environment."

I've been telling you.

Hat tip to Little Green Footballs (see blogroll at left).

Update #4, 2/23/07: I received the following from an email list of which I am a member, and received permission to post the following comments here:

This constant state of scientific flux probably is also one of the reasons that I view with great skepticism the certainty with which the global warming theories are propounded. The 1970s may seem a long time ago to our younger Forumites; to me it is the time of High School and applying for colleges, and I can remember being told with the same degree of certainty that we were on the verge of a global cooling. Since I am an engineer, I require proof, and I have yet to see a climate model that, when fed historic data all the way up to the mid-90s, can accurately predict today's climate. Since I write software and have been doing "maintenance" software since 1992, I've seen how much utter crap there is in the software world, and I'm only willing to trust a software model when it can produce accurate results when fed accurate data. So far, no climate model has lived up to this standard, which means they're all crap. Yes, every single one of them. I also believed that there was a close correlation between CO2 levels and temperature until recently, when I saw solid evidence to the contrary. I also note that the so-called "hockey stick" is no longer spoken of by those in the know because this phenomenon, once spoken of with such certainty, has been demonstrated to be bunk given a longer look at climate records.

The author of those comments has been known to read and comment on this blog before. So Mike, if you see this, thank you.

Update #5, 2/23/07: It's not icecaps that are melting. It's the consensus on global warming.

Update #6, 2/23/07: More examples of the Gore Effect, this time in Toronto and Rhode Island. My favorite comment:

No, not a poster. That’s it, the game is over.

A poster has won the day for the AGW crowd.

Damn you and your poster!

shakes fist

Go read to find out what's going on.

Update #7, 2/27/07: Instapundit nails it.
Environmentalism should be about good planetary hygiene and honest science, not romantic Luddism...

Burning coal is nasty. As I've said before, you don't even have to care about global warming to be against burning fossil fuels.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Where Did I Go Today?

I don't know that I can give a better write-up than I did two years ago. Guess it's an annual thing.

I'll post more links later.

Update: Here's the article from the major Sacramento newspaper. Oh, did I mention they had a Segway there? The line was too long for me to wait in to ride it, though.

Another Example From WWII

From Photon Courier comes this story about the British who broke Nazi codes:

During WWII, the British used electomechanical devices called bombes to break the German Enigma code. The bombe in its earliest form was developed by the Poles, but was considerably enhanced by the British. (The name probably came from an ice cream dessert popular among the Polish mathematicians who did the original work)...

Codebreaking, though, was by no means a purely mechanical function--it required considerable human insight and intuition. Few professional cryptanalysts were available, and those tasked with the work were mostly academics--there were many mathematicians, including the tragic genius Alan Turing, but also quite a few classicists. Bletchley also employed a large number of young women, most of whom performed operational and maintenance functions but some of whom served as cryptanalists. One of these was Mavis Lever, who was halfway through a degree in German when the war began....(boldface mine--Darren

When are we ever gonna have to use this, indeed.

How To Educate Kids And Not Pay School Taxes

Californians might not get this, as our schools are funded by the state and not local property taxes. I hesitate to imagine the disparities that come with funding solely from local property taxes. But here's an interesting disparity, brought to us from the New York Times via NewsAlert (see blogroll at left):

So when it came time last November for the expanding, unincorporated desert community of Troon to choose between joining a nearby school district, and paying higher property taxes to help finance it, or starting its own, Mr. Flynn led the movement that created the Christopher Verde School District.

Not that the Christopher Verde district will have any schools, teachers or, apparently, students.

The children of Troon will continue to attend nearby schools. And thanks to a loophole in Arizona law, the grown-ups of Troon will continue to avoid paying property taxes in those districts, which makes officials in the districts less than mirthful.

Oddly enough, none of my current labels accurately describes this, so until I change that, this will get filed under miscellaneous.

Fat? Smoke? No Health Care For You!

Still think socialized medicine is the answer? Think again:

London ( - As Britain grapples with what's been called an obesity epidemic, a leading government minister here says grossly overweight people should be denied surgery.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said in a newspaper interview this week she approved of doctors refusing overweight patients knee and hip surgery, until they lose weight.

Hewitt also said smokers should have to give up the habit before they are allowed to undergo surgery such as heart bypasses under Britain's National Health Service (NHS).

Overweight patients and smokers should be given access to programs that will help them lose weight and quit smoking, she said.

You may be saying, "Good." What happens when your ox is gored? Will they put limits on how much coffee you can drink, or how much chocolate you can eat, or how much red meat you can eat? What if they require a certain minimum of running, or weight lifting?

When your doctor has the coercive power of the state behind him, things can go downhill pretty fast.

And what about when the state is having a budget shortfall? No hip replacements until next year. No liposuction or facelifts, either.

Click on my socialism label at the left and see what's happening in the medical paradises that are Canada and Europe and tell me that's what you want. The Europeans and the Canadians aren't stupid--if socialized medicine could be done well, they'd be doing it. But they're not. And there's a reason for that.

That reason is exactly why I don't want socialized medicine in this country.

Hat tip to NewsAlert (see blogroll at left).

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Teacher Hits and Kicks Students

This teacher snapped, but counselors will be made available? Sheesh.

Hugo Puts Venezuela In A Hurt Box

Daniel Drezner links to and comments on a New York Times piece about the failing economy in Venezuela, caused by the populist/socialist policies of President Hugo Chavez (who was recently voted near-dictatorial powers).

It's rather short. Read it, and see why I dislike and fear socialism so much. Then read the comments, which are just as true and scary as anything in the Times piece.

West Point's Indoor Obstacle Course Test

Ah, yes, the IOCT. I have vivid, vicious memories of that test!

The Cadet Gym was recently renovated. One part that wasn't touched was the part containing the equipment for the indoor obstacle course test, an entertaining video of which is posted on YouTube. Go take a look.

Low crawl, tire dance, pommel horse, climb up to the shelf, across the bars, through the tire, across the balance beams (ending in a roll), over the wall, hanging ladder, up the rope, and a few laps around the track (once with a baton, once with a medicine ball, once carrying nothing). I don't see the medicine ball in the video, but whatever.

While I hated it, I recognized then and now that it's a good test for overall fitness.

Workers Without Unions Do Just Fine, Thank You Very Much

This opinion piece from the LA Times, hardly a conservative paper, hits the nail squarely on the head.

But maybe unions aren't so crucial to worker well-being. When more than 90% of the private-sector labor force isn't unionized, why do 97% of us earn above the minimum wage? If our bargaining power is so pitiful, why don't greedy employers exploit us and drive wages down to the legal minimum?

The simple answer is that bargaining power comes from having alternatives. Even in the absence of unions, employers have to treat workers well to attract and keep them. In a workplace as dynamic as that of the United States, where millions of jobs are destroyed and created every quarter, a company's ability to exploit workers is greatly limited by how easy it is to find another job.

Ultimately, it is competition among employers that protects us from exploitation. (boldface mine--Darren)

Written by an economist, the article is full of factual tidbits that will anger the rabid u-bots. Here's one:

Look at workers' share of the nation's income. In 1950, employee compensation was 53% of gross domestic income. In 2005, that number was 57%. Somehow, as unions' strength dwindled over the decades, employees' share actually grew. And it's a share of a dramatically larger pie, the result of the incredible economic boom of the last half a century.

But, but, unions are good! They're necessary! They just are! Unless this is true:

Unions help those they represent by trying to raise wages above what they would otherwise be. To the extent they succeed, they reduce the demand for labor in unionized shops. That means more workers have to find employment in non-unionized shops, pushing down wages there. That's especially tough on workers with limited skills and education. The sad irony of unions is that they can only improve the lot of their members at the expense of other workers.

But, but...

Anyway, the closing sentence presented an unexpected little swipe:

Rather than trying to revitalize unions, we ought to be looking for ways to revitalize our moribund public education system. That is the road to true, long-term prosperity.

True enough.

What To Do When A Gunman Comes On Campus

I understand that it's not politically possible to tell students to fight back. Someone's going to get hurt, and then there's beaucoup dinero in a lawsuit from the School Insurance Authority.

However, it's also pretty clear that playing docile isn't going to work, either. If a gunman comes on campus, everyone is left hoping that he goes and kills someone else in another room, and we'll deal with survivor's guilt later on--when at least we're alive to have such guilt.

If no one on campus is armed except the bad guy, the number of good choices to make drops to zero in a heartbeat. What should we do? Hold hands and sing Kumbayyah while some nut gets his jollies blowing people away? No.

These Professors Get It

However, since they're Jewish, it's easy for the left to dismiss their concerns.

Once again, Jimmy Carter has shrunk from debate. Despite having written a book whose purpose he claims was to promote dialogue and discussion, he has consistently dodged appearing with anyone who could challenge him on the numerous factual errors that fill the pages of his slim book.

First it was at Brandeis University, where he was invited to appear with professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School. Dershowitz, who has written two books and numerous articles on the topic (not to mention being a respected First Amendment scholar and one of America's most distinguished attorneys), was not even allowed into the building until Carter had left.

When it became known that Carter was anxious to speak at Emory, the administration consulted a group of faculty and was advised that the most fair and academically valuable format would be to have Carter appear with someone who could engage in a productive interchange and discussion on the topic. This clearly would be the only way for the event to meet the educational standard of a leading university.

Everyone agreed that the best person for this interchange was Ambassador Dennis Ross, who was the main negotiator on the Arab-Israeli situation in both the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration. He was responsible for organizing Camp David II, Clinton's last-ditch effort to find a resolution to the situation. Ross agreed to appear, but Carter pointedly refused to appear with him or with any other expert. No explanation was given.

As I've said before, what bothers me significantly is that I respected Carter for seven years, from 1985-1992, from the time he spoke to the Cadet Wing at the Air Force Academy until his speech at the 1992 Democrat Convention. I don't like being made the fool, but I bought into what he told us.

Carter's actions since '92 lead me to a few conclusions, none of which is very favorable to him:

1. He's never met a dictator he didn't like, unless that "dictator" is a Republican American president.
2. He belongs to that sad strain of Christianity that's anti-semitic.
3. He'll do anything to try to recover some of the glory he lost by getting trounced by Reagan in 1980.

He may at one time have been a good man, worthy of that respect I heaped on him. But no longer. He's a sad shell of a man, haunted by demons and tormented by a hatred that most of us probably cannot fathom. In some respects, he reminds me of Cindy Sheehan.

Is this the behavior of a man who wants to promote dialogue? What precisely is Carter afraid of? Could it be that Dennis Ross - who, like President Clinton, places the blame for the failure of the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis at Camp David II squarely on the shoulders of Yasir Arafat - would tell the former president, who blames Israel for everything, that he is simply wrong? Remember Ross and Clinton were there; Carter was not.

There's plenty more, of course. Go read the whole thing.

RIP, Robert Adler

Did you know important people live in Boise? Me, either.

BOISE, Idaho (AP) Hit the mute button for a moment of silence: The co-inventor of the TV remote, Robert Adler, has died. Adler, who won an Emmy Award along with fellow engineer Eugene Polley for the device that made the couch potato possible, died Thursday of heart failure at a Boise nursing home at 93, Zenith Electronics Corp. said Friday.

In his six-decade career with Zenith, Adler was a prolific inventor, earning more than 180 U.S. patents. He was best known for his 1956 Zenith Space Command remote control, which helped make TV a truly sedentary pastime.

1956? 19-fifty-freakin'-six??? That's when the tv remote came out? Wow.

Adler wished he had been recognized for more of his broad-ranging applications that were useful in the war (WWII) and in space and were building blocks of other technology, she (his wife) said, "but then the remote control changed the life of every man."

RIP, Robert Adler.

University of Illinois Succumbs to PC Pressure

URBANA -- Students lined up 15 deep at University of Illinois bookstores Friday, snapping up every Chief Illiniwek T-shirt, magnet and fleece blanket they could before the mascot has his last dance next week.

As expected, university officials announced Friday that Wednesday's men's basketball game will be the last performance for the controversial chief, who has been at the center of a yearslong, bitter fight.

And though a Champaign County judge and University of Illinois law school alumnus questioned the university's decision, he refused Friday morning to issue a temporary restraining order that would have blocked the move.

Good call for the judge. This is a stupid decision to make, but it's certainly not illegal.

The decision came after more than 15 years of forums, protests and studies about what to do with the chief, which supporters said was an honorable and cherished tradition and critics said was demeaning to Native Americans.

For all the bitterness that surrounded the chief's last few months, from lawsuits to threats, the end of the chief was ushered in not so much with a bang or whimper as with the sound of ringing cash registers.

In the first three hours of business, one campus store sold 1,400 chief-related items.

Gotta love capitalism.

The mood was more reserved at the Native American House, which has helped lead the fight to dump the tradition. There, a cultural group, in town for an unrelated event, sang and beat a large, horsehide drum.

"This is a significant moment," said Wanda Pillow, director of the Native American House. But, she said, "For us, this is the first step of many steps. They haven't yet addressed what this means for the logos or for how Chief Illiniwek will be talked about."

Yawn. I guess from now on, all mascots will be animals--unless PETA has their way.

During the hearing, the judge and U. of I. attorney Jim Kearns suggested university officials faced pressure not only from the NCAA, but also from Illinois Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), who has spoken out against the chief for years.

"Are they capitulating to the NCAA or are they capitulating to the president of the Illinois Senate?" Judge Jones asked.

It doesn't matter to whom they are capitulating. It only matters that they are doing so. *sigh*