Monday, August 31, 2009

New School Year

I continue to be cautiously optimistic about the new school year.

Judeo-Christian Values

When people say that our country was founded on "Judeo-Christian values", what exactly does that mean? I'm sure it means different things to different people. I'll tell you what I think it means.

First, the concept of property, while not solely the province of Judaism and Christianity, is certainly acknowledged. Were it not, we wouldn't have the commandment about stealing. Additionally, Christ recognized slavery in his time, and we're commanded to be charitable with the poor--something that could not be done unless some owned more than others.

Yes, our laws could arguably be said to be based on several of the 10 Commandments, but so could the laws of many countries and societies. I'm not convinced that that enough is sufficient to warrant the "Judeo-Christian values" moniker.

For that, we need to realize one of the tenets that sets Christianity apart from other religions, and that is the idea that man represents the pinnacle of God's creation. Flowing from that idea are the related ideas that all men (humans) are created equal--because in God's eyes, we are--and that all men (humans) are endowed with inalienable rights granted by the creator by virtue of their being the pinnacle of creation.

The Declaration of Independence is thus begun.

The Judeo-Christian values meme is not, and should not be intended, to imply or state that religion is a function of government, or that our government should be run according to the Bible. The justification for our system of government is derived from Judeo-Christian beliefs, but it is not a Christian government; rather, it is a tolerant secular government that recognizes its heritage.

I'm interested in your comments--whether you agree, think I haven't gone far enough, or think I'm way off base.

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
The Tokens. You may not know the group (no one did), but I'll bet everyone could sing along to at least the first verse of the song!

Today's question is:
What was the largest denomination of US coin minted for regular circulation?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Seven: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah, and Fujairah formalized the union in 1971.

Today's question is:
Which group popularized the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight with a 1961 cover?

When Are We Ever Gonna Have To Use This?

I'll be listening to this soon:

Oxford mathematician Peter Donnelly reveals the common mistakes humans make in interpreting statistics -- and the devastating impact these errors can have on the outcome of criminal trials.


I'm still considering a master's degree in stats.

Phil Donahue v. Milton Friedman

Talk show host Phil was a leftie, no doubt about it. What's nice to be able to point out, though, is that he was never rude to his guests as far as I can recall. When he asked a question, he gave time for the guest to answer it. He didn't call names. He let his own views be known, to be sure, but he didn't denigrate those guests with whom he disagreed.

We could use more hosts with such skills today, on all ends of the political spectrum.

Pop on over to Mr. Chanman's blog and watch this YouTube video of Phil and Milton Friedman. Then pop over to this post I wrote last year for links to Phil and Ayn Rand.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Kristin Shepard, Sue Ellen Ewing's sister.

Today's question is:
How many emirates joined to form the United Arab Emirates (UAE)?

Colorado College

In a post from last year I wrote:

But there's a fortress of unabashed liberal fascism in Colorado Springs, just a few blocks from Acacia Park. And wouldn't you know it, it's an institution of higher learning--Colorado College.

I was right then, and I'm right now:

The 2010 edition of U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Colleges issue, released today, includes a full-page advertisement from FIRE highlighting the colleges and universities that have earned FIRE's Red Alert distinction for being the "worst of the worst" when it comes to liberty on campus. Brandeis University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, and Tufts University are listed in the print ad, while Bucknell University, a late addition to the list, will be prominently featured in Facebook ads and in the school's own newspaper.

It's a vile little place.

Some Are More Equal Than Others

Whatever is run by the government, almost by definition becomes political--those who have political pull get "more" than the rest of us peons:

Mayor Adrian Fenty on Thursday dodged more questions about the education of his sons, growing visibly angry as reporters pressed on how his twin boys gained entry into one of D.C.'s top-performing public schools.

Fenty, a resident of the Crestwood neighborhood, on Monday enrolled his 9-year-old sons, Matthew and Andrew, in the fourth grade at Lafayette Elementary School in Chevy Chase. The 615-student school is one of the most difficult to gain entry to for out-of-boundary parents, like the Fentys, most of whom must enter their children in a lottery and hope for one of the few available openings in each grade.

But Fenty has steadfastly refused to say whether he went through the lottery process, or enrolled his boys through some other means...

"Please just stop asking me these questions," he said.


Think about this whenever you start to think that government-run health care might be a good idea.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Art deco.

Today's question is:
Who shot JR?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Is Up With The Veterans Administration?

A dozen years ago, when my grandfather died, the VA told my grandmother that they were backlogged and wouldn't be able to get him a headstone for about 6 months. It took a call to my Congressman to get that corrected.

A few weeks ago I posted VA=Obamacare Foreshadowed?, discussing health care provided to veterans.

Today we learn that the

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is telling university officials nationwide there will be a six- to eight-week delay in processing payments under the new GI bill, citing a massive backlog of applications.

Way to take care of those veterans, VA.

Staying In Touch With Your HS Math Teacher

Inside Higher Ed tell us about the math professor who has written a book after keeping in touch with his high school calculus teacher--and in 30 years of correspondence, they wrote only about math!

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton.

Today's question is:
What style of architecture is used on the Chrysler Building in New York City?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Renting College Texts

At Sac State, students can rent some of their textbooks for less money than they'd pay if they bought them and then sold them back at the end of the semester. I especially liked this comment, appended to the linked article:

Amazing. One of the first books made available is the Marx-Engles (sic) Reader. Today it is a required text in our tax subsidized University and it is taught as an alternative to our capitalistic society. Any wonder why we are following the path we are on in this country.


Truth to power, brother.

A Tale Of Two Charter School Stories

It was the best of times...

The National Education Association pointedly criticized the Obama administration, saying the president is relying too heavily on charter schools and standardized tests in his attempt to overhaul the nation's schools.


...it was the worst of times:

In a startling acknowledgment that the Los Angeles school system cannot improve enough schools on its own, the city Board of Education approved a plan Tuesday that could turn over 250 campuses -- including 50 new multimillion-dollar facilities -- to charter groups and other outside operators.

Oh, the tasty irony!

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
West Point, New York.

Today's question is:
Who are the authors of the Federalist Papers?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Local Boy Makes *Real* Good!

What a surprise it was to learn that someone so close to home was honored with the title of First Captain, the highest rank among West Point cadets:

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Cadet Tyler R. Gordy, the son of Linda and Jeff Schweig, of Newcastle, Calif., has been selected First Captain of the U.S. Military Academy’s Corps of Cadets for the 2009-2010 academic year, which begins Aug. 17, achieving the highest position in the cadet chain-of-command.

Gordy graduated from Lincoln High School in 2002 and then joined the Army.

As First Captain, Gordy, a comparative politics major, is responsible for the overall performance of the approximately 4,400 member Corps of Cadets. He follows in the footsteps of other notable First Captains such as John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur and William Westmoreland.

Cadet Gordy served in the army before attending West Point, and earned a Purple Heart for wounds received in Iraq.

Newcastle is a few minutes drive up the freeway from Casa RotLC.

The 2nd Day of School

It's only the second day, but still our new integrated management software (grades, discipline, attendance) and all our associated procedures are working smoothly. My student situation, teacher's aide situation, and student teacher situation are all nominal (in the aerospace and engineering sense of the word).

So far, so good.

Tuesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Paradise Island, where she is known as Princess Diana. At least, that's how it was explained in the 70's TV series.. In response to one answer to my question, though, I looked in Wikipedia to see if there were some other location listed as her home and got the following information:

Themyscira (pronounced Them-mes-skera) (themyscira-pronounce.ogg pronunciation ) is a fictional island nation in the DC Comics universe, and place of origin to its princess, Diana (better known as Wonder Woman). It was primarily known as Paradise Island, the name given to it by its original creator William Moulton Marston in Wonder Woman and the island's first appearance in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941) until the character's February 1987 relaunch in Wonder Woman (vol. 2) #1.

I am satisfied with Paradise Island as an answer :-)

Today's question is:
The US Bullion (Gold) Depository is located at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Where is the US Silver Depository located?

Monday, August 24, 2009

The First Day of School

I'm much more physically lazy than I used to be. I can't be sure, but there's a possibility that this situation contributes to my continually expanding waistline. I'm just saying.

So trying to do some major fitness regimen isn't going to work for me, I need to start with something small. The alarms went off way too early this morning, but after rolling out of bed, I did some situps and pushups. That's all. I'll do the same number of each every morning, and increase the number by 5 next week. We'll see if I can keep up that routine for awhile. If I can, perhaps I'll throw in the elliptical trainer as well.

I got to school several minutes earlier than usual, got set up, and had a seating chart projected up on the screen as students walked in. I'm nothing if not organized.

Our new attendance program worked without a hitch today, and starting tomorrow we'll see if the gradebook component works as well.

You can't tell from the first day of school if a class is going to turn out to be a good class, but you can certainly tell if one is going to be a bad class. None of my classes sent the telltale "bad" message today, and for that I am thankful. I had one last year, and when I say bad, I mean really bad.

All in all, it's not a bad start.

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
London and Paris.

Today's question is:
Where does Wonder Woman come from?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Class Act At Ohio State



For those of you who do Facebook....

Sunday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
April 25th.

Today's question is:
What are the two cities in A Tale Of Two Cities?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Repeating the Psychological Mistakes of the Past?

When one article can tie the field of psychology, the US and British armies, Saul Alinsky, a Soviet psychologist, the National Education Association, 60's counterculture, and the current War on Terror all into one neat package, it's definitely worth reading.

Saturday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
The Bay of Naples.

Today's question is:
What is the latest date on which Easter can fall in any given year?

Maybe The Best And Brightest, Aren't

al-AP is reporting that 100 professors in Germany are being investigated for allegedly accepting bribes from a company acting as an intermediary between PhD students and the professors. The students paid the company for help in getting doctorates through the company's extensive contacts with the professors--although I can't imagine what kind of "help" the students expected for the thousands of dollars they each paid--but there's no evidence yet that the students knew of outright bribes.

One professor, convicted of taking such bribes last year, received a 3 year prison term.

I would provide a link to this story, but given their attacks on people who quote "their" stories even in fair use, I no longer link to al-AP. Should you want to find the actual story, you might find it by doing a search for the company in question, Institute for Scientific Consulting.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Algebra STARs

What are they doing right?

Every one of the 118 seventh- and eighth-graders in Mark Freathy and Mary Chung's classes at Elizabeth Pinkerton Middle School in Elk Grove was rated advanced or proficient in Algebra I, according to California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) scores released Tuesday.

"I've never seen this in my career," said Principal Patrick McDougall. "I've had one in the high 90s, but it's the first time a school I've been associated with has had 100 percent."

And, of the 118 students in the school's Algebra I classes, 93 were rated advanced, including every single one of the 20 seventh-graders who were taking the course.

The comments bring up some interesting questions. Is the school extra selective about who is enrolled in the class? Are the teachers superstars? Is there something outside of school or outside of the math class that is contributing to this success? What curriculum and pedagogy are the teachers using?

Let's get some answers and see if this success can be replicated.

And for those of you who are not in California, our math standards, especially in Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, are rigorous--and I say that as a math teacher.

As Ready As I'll Ever Be

The classroom is fairly well organized, I have my "welcome letter" ready to hand out, and each class will be met with their seating chart already posted on the overhead. My classes won't get books issued until Tuesday and Wednesday, but I can make do until then. I do, though, already have workbooks for each student.

I'm as ready as I'll ever be for school to start.

Friday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
1951. (This one surprised me--I thought it would generate many guesses.)

Today's question is:
Near what bay is/was the Roman city of Pompeii located?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Computer Stuff

Today we were introduced to the new software that's going to track every student's performance, on any number of tests (not just state standardized tests), for the 13 years they're in school. I can see how my last year's students did, or how my current students did on last spring's tests.

What I'd really like is for people who've done this to train us on how to use that data effectively to improve instruction and student achievement.

After learning about that we met in departments. I hate doing stuff like this: we had to determine if our department goals (created/modified last year) align to the school site goals, the WASC (accreditation) key areas, and the district's newly released "strategies". That kind of activity is mind-numbing to me. I guess there might be some utility in it, but when I do a cost/benefit analysis it comes out very negative. Yet, that's the new thing for this year....

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Broccoli.

Today's question is:
In what year was I Love Lucy first broadcast on television?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

First Day Back At Work

I may just have entered the 21st Century.

Yesterday I upgraded my cell phone. I've only had a cell for 2 years now, and for renewing my contract (at Wal*Mart) I got a no-extra-cost camera phone with Bluetooth headset included. I spent a couple hours last night reading about and playing with my new toy, including sticking a memory card in it and filling up the memory card with mp3's.

Today was our first day back at work, and students show up next Monday. Our district has gone to a new student data management program, and all of us were trained on the teacher component today. Wow! It's like stepping out of the 1960s, complete with ScanTron sheets, into the modern age. Attendance, rather than bubbling in circles on a paper that gets collected from my door by a student every period, now is done online. Classroom grades, which used to be done manually or in standalone computer programs, are integrated into the program--my class rosters are already in there! Report card grades will automatically be drawn from this program, instead of my having to bubble them in and submit them every few weeks.

Additionally, I could create my seating charts in there from the class rosters that already exist! And on the seating chart is an icon I can click that will bring up not only both parents and all their contact information, but also an identifier telling me which parent(s) the student lives with. In the past, if I've needed any such information, I had to walk over to the counseling office and copy the information off the student's emergency card.

Clearly, this system will greatly reduce my administrative burden--which is exactly what computers are best at.

I'll also have a student teacher for the first two periods of the day, all semester long. She will work with both another teacher and me for two periods each; this will be very convenient for all of us, since we all three have the same prep period during which to conduct evaluation discussions, planning, etc. I view this opportunity as yet another way for me to teach.

So while I tried hard to change schools after 6 years, at least I have some positive things to consider as I start this new year.

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Young and sweet. (It appears this question was significantly easier than yesterday's.)

Today's question is:
Which vegetable did the elder President Bush (41) publicly identify as one he did not like?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
1931. No one even attempted an answer to this. Let's hope today's question is easier.

Today's question is:
Give two adjectives to describe the “Dancing Queen”.

Local School Kitchen Health Inspection Results

The major Sacramento newspaper reports on the conditions found in the kitchens of local schools. The story is kind of personal for me, as the worst school is my alma mater--and conditions warranted closure of the kitchen until the problems could be corrected. The school at which I currently teach is also on the list.

Eww.

More On The Consistency Of The Left

Remember all those anti-war protests? They never really were about war--not military war, anyway. Culture war, perhaps, by those who hate what this country has always stood for, who hate the fact that this country can actually fight and win, who want to turn this country in to a neutered, panty-waste, European-type of country.

Don't believe me? How do you explain their disappearance since last November?

Remember the anti-war movement? Not too long ago, the Democratic party's most loyal voters passionately opposed the war in Iraq. Democratic presidential candidates argued over who would withdraw American troops the quickest. Netroots activists regularly denounced President George W. Bush, and sometimes the U.S. military ("General Betray Us"). Cindy Sheehan, the woman whose soldier son was killed in Iraq, became a heroine when she led protests at Bush's Texas ranch.

That was then. Now, even though the United States still has roughly 130,000 troops in Iraq, and is quickly escalating the war in Afghanistan -- 68,000 troops there by the end of this year, and possibly more in 2010 -- anti-war voices on the Left have fallen silent.


They're not against war. They're against Republicans. As Ross Perot used to say, "It's just that simple."

Update, 8/21/09: ABC anchor turns on Cindy Sheehan:

Enough already.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Will UC Cave, Or Not?

Protesters at UC Berkeley interrupted class and demanded that John Yoo, a former Bush administration official who found legal justifications for "enhanced interrogation" of terror suspects and is now a tenured law professor, be fired. Or disbarred. Or prosecuted for war crimes. Or something.

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
986 feet.

Today's question is:
In what year did The Star Spangled Banner become the US national anthem?

Tomorrow Is My Last Free Day

I have to go back to work the day after tomorrow, and students will show up a week from today. I guess my summer is officially winding down.

Ugh.

I guess I really have no room to complain, though :-)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Circumnavigation Complete

Some might wonder where I was this weekend, why I wasn't posting. Well, ever since I bought Bikenstein...
...8 years ago, I've wanted to take a drive around Lake Tahoe. A local scooter club had a rally there, so I made camp with my latest vehicular purchase, the USS Egg-terprise...
...and, after having my scooter trailered up to Tahoe, I joined the rally. We were quite spread out on our run, having over 70 bikes! Here are a many of them parked in front of the Cal-Neva at north shore...
...and here's a view of the lake from a former fire lookout point. The view is looking south...
...and the Cal-Neva is the large set of buildings just to the right of the point.

It's a rough way to spend a weekend!

Pay Off Your College Loans

I guess there's money to be made in this, or the company wouldn't do it:

New public, private and college-based programs are targeting a grim and growing market: unemployed college graduates who can't afford to repay their student loans.

This week, BridgeSpan Financial, a start-up based in Washington, D.C., introduced SafeStart, a product designed to protect borrowers from the risk of defaulting on their loans. For an upfront payment of $40 to $60 per $1,000 of student debt, SafeStart will provide an interest-free line of credit that borrowers can use to repay federal student loans for up to five years after graduation.

Sunday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Old Ironsides.

Today's question is:
Within 20 feet, how tall is the Eiffel Tower (not including the antenna on top)?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saturday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Who dares, wins.

Today's question is:
What is the nickname of the USS Constitution?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
The Pacific Princess.

Today's question is:
What is the motto of the Special Air Service (SAS), a British special forces unit?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Pongo and Perdita. (I was going for the Disney movie--didn't even know there was a book prior to the movie!)

Today's question is:
What ship was home to the tv show The Love Boat?

Why Blogging Will Be Light The Next Couple Of Days

Here's why.

Not to worry, though. I've already scheduled the new trivia questions to pop up at 4pm PDT each day. I won't be able to post any comments, though, until I return.

And lest anyone think about it, my house is not unattended.

Expensive Phone Call

There must be something we're not being told:

The attorney for a New Jersey teacher says she won't appeal a $22,000 fine for making a four-minute personal call during class...

Court records show the veteran performing arts teacher was covering for another teacher in 2008 when she made the cell-phone call to suspended superintendent Antonio Lewis, WCBS TV reported...

The district bans teachers from making personal calls while performing assigned duties.


The fine seems excessive, at least to me.

59 Years Is A Lot Of Teaching

He's 84 years old and is starting his 59th year of teaching.

59 years at one job is inspiring, but 59 years teaching math and science to middle school students is impressive.

That's the case for Sylvester Franklin, whose career started shortly after World War II came to an end. The only place he has ever taught is in Haskell, in Muskogee County.


It's not all roses, though:

He spent 16 years at Haskell's all-black school before desegregation.


It's good that those days are behind us.

Mr. Franklin might be setting a record here that no one can beat:

If nearly six decades on the job isn't impressive, Mr. Franklin has only missed two days of classes in that entire time.


Way to go, Mr. Franklin. Way to go.

Tony Danza To Teach

I can hear the purists already, and there might be some validity to their commentary: this cheapens teaching, turning it into joke and giving people the belief that anyone can teach.

Turns out that Tony Danza is going to be co-teaching a 10th grade English class near Philadelphia. The district will be paid $3500 for each of 13 episodes, and will have rights to object to specific footage.

Hard to believe he's almost 60....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Owner of Whole Foods Talks About Alternatives To ObamaCare

I've written before about John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods. Click on that link and see what he has to say about his experiences as a leftie and then as a business owner, and hear his words about that nastiest of words, profit. I'll give you a glimpse here, and hopefully that will drive you to read that entire post--or perhaps his entire speech, which I link to in that post:

I love profit. Profit is good and it is socially necessary... 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.
Go read the whole thing, it's well worth your time. This man has a powerful intellect and is tuned in to what has made our country such a strong economy as well as a force for good in the world. Keeping that in mind, it's worth listening to his ideas regarding "eight things we can do to improve health care without adding to the deficit."

I agree completely with his views, especially as they pertain to individual choice, liberty, and responsibility:

While we clearly need health-care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system. Instead, we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction—toward less government control and more individual empowerment...

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges.


He discusses the Canadian and English systems, and the benefits his employees in those countries desire. The choice is elucidating:

At Whole Foods we allow our team members to vote on what benefits they most want the company to fund. Our Canadian and British employees express their benefit preferences very clearly—they want supplemental health-care dollars that they can control and spend themselves without permission from their governments. Why would they want such additional health-care benefit dollars if they already have an "intrinsic right to health care"? The answer is clear—no such right truly exists in either Canada or the U.K.—or in any other country.
His consistency and intellect have earned my respect; this man is someone our country should be listening to.

Update, 8/17/09: Since the piece linked above was published, certain lefties want to boycott Whole Foods. Radley Balko sums it best:

I plan to do a lot more shopping at Whole Foods in the coming weeks. Mostly in response to the moronic boycott of the store now gaining momentum on the left. . . . Whole Foods is everything leftists talk about when they talk about ‘corporate responsibility.’ . . . Is this really the state of debate on the left, now? ‘Agree with us, or we’ll crush you?’ These people don’t want a discussion. They don’t want to hear ideas. They want you to shut up and do what they say, or they’re going to punish you.


As Obi Wan Kenobi might say, "This is not the hopenchange you are looking for."

Update #2, 8/22/09: Matt Welch points out the obvious liberal hypocrisy:

I'll just make one observation: The liberal commentariat keeps telling us that we need to have a "serious debate" about reforming our dysfunctional health care system. Well, love 'em or hate 'em, Mackey came up with eight tangible ideas to do just that, and this is the reaction he gets.

Catholic College in the Crosshairs

You just have to wonder about people sometimes:

Today's Inside Higher Ed details the rather disturbing story of an EEOC finding that Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic college in North Carolina, engaged in "gender discrimination" when it refused — consistent with its Catholic faith — to cover oral contraceptives in its employer-provided health-care plan...

Perhaps most disturbing was the EEOC's utter failure to offer any substantive analysis of the college's First Amendment rights. After all, this is not an "in name only" Christian institution. Even a brief glance at the college's website shows that it is committed to its Catholic values. Yet the federal government just plows through that identity. And to what end? For what higher purpose? Does the so-called sexual autonomy of a few disgruntled employees actually trump core constitutional values? Some would say yes.


This wouldn't even be an issue if employers weren't expected to provide health care.

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Boustrophedon.

Today's question is:
Who were the dog parents in 101 Dalmations?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Digital Textbook Initiative

It will be interesting to see how this is implemented and what the results will be:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the first report of California’s free digital textbook initiative - which outlines how high school math and science textbooks submitted under the first phase of the initiative measure up against the state’s rigorous academic content standards. Of the 16 free digital textbooks for high school math and science reviewed, ten meet at least 90 percent of California’s standards. Four meet 100 percent of standards, including the CK-12 Foundation’s CK-12 Single Variable Calculus, CK-12 Trigonometry, CK-12 Chemistry and Dr. H. Jerome Keisler’s Elementary Calculus: An Infinitesimal Approach.

“California’s Digital Textbook Initiative gives school districts high-quality, cost-effective options to consider when choosing textbooks for the classroom - not only during these difficult economic times but in the years to come,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “This represents an important step toward embracing a more interactive learning environment that leverages technology to meet the changing academic needs of California’s students.”

Tuesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
None.

Today's question is:
Writing from left to right is “dextrograde”. Writing from right to left is “sinistrograde”. What is writing that alternates lines between dextrograde and sinistrograde, the word for which means “as the ox plows”?

Unrelated Health Care Debate Tidbits

I read two different columns today about different facets of the ongoing debate about socializing our health care system. They are unrelated, but since I don't want to do two separate posts on the topic, I'll just lump them together here.

First, from Megan McArdle:

Robert Wright notes that "we already ration health care; we just let the market do the rationing." This is a true point made by the proponents of health care reform. But I'm not sure why it's supposed to be so interesting. You could make this statement about any good:

"We already ration food; we just let the market do the rationing."
"We already ration gasoline; we just let the market do the rationing."
"We already ration cigarettes; we just let the market do the rationing."

And indeed, this was an argument that was made in favor of socialism. (No, okay, I'm not calling you socialists!) And yet, most of us realize that there are huge differences between price rationing and government rationing, and that the latter is usually much worse for everyone. This is one of the things that most puzzles me about the health care debate: statements that would strike almost anyone as stupid in the context of any other good suddenly become dazzling insights when they're applied to hip replacements and otitis media...

[T]here is also a real difference between having something rationed by a process and having it rationed by a person.

The second comes from The Hill:

The Service Employees International Union, which has endorsed Democratic health reform efforts, also reported Monday a voice mail left at its headquarters that warned the union not to send members to town hall events to block protesters.

“I suggest you tell your people to calm down, act like American citizens and stop trying to repress people’s First Amendment rights,” the recording said. “That, or you all are going to come up against the Second Amendment.”

Let's not forget that it was SEIU goons who beat Kenneth Gladney last week at a town hall meeting in St. Louis.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes Lodge.

Today's question is:
Which US state(s) end(s) in the letter R?

Multiplying In Your Head

I think all students should know how to use the standard computation algorithms before using calculators; this guy, however, doesn't even need a calculator!

In seconds, Clay multiplies a pair of five-digit numbers and writes down the answer in a single line. There's none of the sloppy rows of zig-zagging numbers that would normally clutter a page. Such is the beauty of his homemade formula -- titled "How to Multiply Any Number by Any Number in Your Head" -- which is registered as TXu001325432 in the U.S. Copyright Office.

This next part is interesting and can have a certain value, but it's not one I'd impose upon students:

Clay's technique may be novel, but there are dozens of tricks for multiplying large numbers without pen or pad, especially in China and Japan, said Moody Chu, math professor at N.C. State University. Chu knows of a competition in East Asia that has schoolchildren racing to spit out the answers to three-digit problems, all figuring done silently and hands-free.

Maybe my standards are too low.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sunday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Crabapple Cove, Maine.

Today's question is:
Of which fraternal organization were Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble members?

High School Mascots

These are pretty good, but my favorite is the Poca (WV) Dots.

Closing Schools Because of Swine Flu

The NYT has a slightly interesting article on the subject, but this is my favorite part:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that some schools “will have to close,” and that administrators should be making plans to continue schooling at home, via telephones and the Internet.

When I go back to school next week, I'll be sure to ask my new principal what our plan is for conducting schooling "via telephones and the Internet".

The main point of the article, though, was that most schools will not need to close. My 2nd favorite part of the article was how to deal with open schools in a swine flu environment:

The guidelines also say that if the flu becomes more severe, additional measures may be needed, like...increasing the distance between people at school by moving the desks farther apart.

Yes, all that extra room I have in my classroom after squeezing in 38 desks, that vast expanse I use for herds of buffalo or whatever, I'll expand my huddled desks into that open space--because there's so much of it in my classroom.

As Instapundit would say, "We're in the best of hands."

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Press Actively Promotes Our Descent Into Fascism and Socialism

Oh, the difference a new President makes--with regards to media coverage, at least.

Book Review: Liberating Learning

Back in June I was contacted by a publicist, who found me via my blog, and offered a copy of the new book Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education. Just days before it had received a write-up at the Wall Street Journal Online. If you want a dispassionate review rather than my commentary, I'd suggest reading that viewpoint. I told that publicist that I'm not an unbiased person where this subject is concerned; I point to this post in particular. She still opted to send me the book, asking me to write a review--so here goes.

The authors spend the first couple of chapters telling us what we already know--that American students don't do as well as their international peers, and that teachers unions are the primary hurdle to remedying that situation. To counter the claim that at least America's top students are doing fine, they cherry pick the sad fact that on the 2006 PISA science test, the top American students ranked 13th out of 30 OECD countries. Much ink is spent on international comparisons of test scores, of bachelor's degree attainment, in the earning of technical degrees, etc.

Chapter 3 sees the guns turned on the teachers unions in what the authors call "the politics of blocking"--because the NEA is such a powerful lobby, they can block or water down any education reforms that might damage their standing. "The preeminent power of the teachers unions is a simple fact, and anyone who ignores it or pretends otherwise will misunderstand the politics of education." It's a long video, but in his farewell address, NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin states that the NEA gets things done because it is powerful; take if from the horse's mouth. Three interesting correlations demonstrated are between union membership and "technology grades" as determined by Education Week, between union membership and the number of states with "virtual schools" (what might be called distance learning), and between union membership and tracking student test results by teacher. In all three cases, the states with the highest levels of union membership get the lowest marks; since the authors assert that more technology and teacher accountability is good in education, and since union membership correlates negatively with these three measurements of technology usage in education, the point is made.

After setting the stage, the authors start making their case about the role of technology in education. Here, though, they start slipping, because they come across more as zealots than thoughtful proponents; in fact, after describing new technology schools the authors state, "These schools can then be staffed with believers...", hardly a "white paper" statement. And then, after laying out their grand vision of what education can, should, and would be if only technology were used to its greatest limit, we're told the disappointing news:

But how long will this take? Our answer is, we don't know, but it will surely take a long time. A reasonable guess is that it will take twenty years or more.
That's their biggest flaw. They envision a utopia, then "guess" it will take over 20 years to complete. They have a grand vision of what they'd like, but in reality they don't really know how to get from here to there, and think somehow that technology is going to make it happen. This reminds me of the South Park episode about the Underpants Gnomes:

The Underpants Gnomes are businessmen of sorts, and they know a lot about corporations, and explain them to the boys in their underground lair. Their business plan is as follows:

Phase 1: Collect Underpants
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit

It's also like a geometry proof where Step 1 is given, Step 2 is "magic", and Step 3 is QED.

So now that we know we're reading a book about dogma as opposed to a "how-to" book about improving schools, what outcomes do the authors see regarding the impact of technology--keeping in mind, of course, that we can only fantasize about what technology will be like in 20 years?
  • Most schools will be hybrids of the traditional and the high-tech.
  • Schools will be more customized to students.
  • Schools will provide more effective instruction.
  • Schools will be more beneficial to teachers.
  • Schools will be less costly.
  • Schools will be more autonomous.
  • Schools will be more competitive and offer more choice.
  • Schools will be more accountable.
  • Schools will do a better job of serving needy constituencies.
  • Schools will do a better job of promoting social equity.
  • Schools will continue to socialize students.
  • Schools will be better at doing what works.
How are all these going to come to pass? Regarding improvements to education, computers will free teachers for more one-on-one time with students (I CAN Learn tried that and failed, miserably), can and will provide the best instruction and curriculum available, and will allow students to work at their own pace instead of being in classes with people faster or slower than themselves. Regarding the schools themselves, they are not bound by the limitations of their own physically-present teachers in the courses they can provide, will cost less because computers cost less than teachers, and will provide greater opportunities for students who are currently home-schooled or who are in failing (often urban) schools.

One concern I've always had about distance learning, and which the authors addressed well, is that most students couldn't sit at home and take classes and learn anything. The authors envision a "hybrid" school, where students would come to take classes over the internet. Students could take classes more suited to their interests--languages beyond French and Spanish, for example--and this would keep them more interested in school. I'm skeptical about the last part for many students, but I'm willing to give it a try--I'm a big fan of the distance learning concept. I've seen too many kids, though, who show no interest in learning at all, and I see this type of program as being more harmful than good for them.

I take particular exception with two of the points the authors make. The first, and most important, is that technology itself can revolutionize education. Edison thought that the movie would do that, as every student could then have access to the best teachers on the planet via film; that hasn't come to pass. As I wrote in one of the linked posts above:

There will always be new technology; will it always be necessary to incorporate it into education? Did film strips, movies, and later, VCRs, revolutionize education? Of course not. And it was foolish to expect that they would.


The second major point is that technology will provide information that cannot be ignored; transparency will be required by the public, and decisions will be made based on this more readily available data. That may be true in the future, but I've seen no evidence of it yet here in California in the present day. Our schools publish "school report cards" and the state publishes test performance scores for each school--I haven't seen a mad rush of people using this information to "improve" schools. Perhaps, in discrete places and in particular communities, this information is used as the authors suggest it might be, but my perception is that the information is there and no one--parents, schools, politicians--knows what to do with it.

Amidst the zeal for technology the authors do have some flashes of reality and common sense, and I would be remiss in not pointing them out. Recognition of these points makes the authors much more credible.

On performance pay for teachers: "Care would have to be taken, of course, to make sure that the measures (test scores) are appropriate and fair. On that, everyone can agree. But well-formulated measures would inevitably show that some teachers are much better than others, and some are very bad."

On the roles of teachers in this brave new technological world: "Some may work with students in computer labs, handling much larger classes than today's teachers do (because the computers are taking over much of the actual teaching). Some may work with students online, but still do it in real time. Some may engage in distance learning but do it asynchronously (that is, not in real time). Some may work mainly with parents, monitoring student progress and assuring proper student oversight. Some may oversee or serve as mentors to the front-line teachers themselves."

On what schools would look like: "Most schools, however, will be hybrids: bringing students together (at least for part of the day) for face-to-face interactions with one another and their teachers, yet also very much organized around computers, software-driven course work, Internet-based research, and distance learning for many courses.... The typical American child will not be attending school by sitting at home on a computer. He or she will be going to school, just as now...."

On improving schooling for underserved students: "Cyberschools provide a vehicle for incorporating the nation's million-plus homeschoolers into the education system, providing them with high-quality curricula and an organized schooling experience... Poor and minority children are the neediest of constituencies... The key is that they will have far greater choice--and they will not be trapped... [S]chools serving poor and minority children have the most to gain."

On the lack of utopia, and the new issues that will arrive with the extensive integration of technology the authors foresee: "The great promise of technology for American education, however, is not that it makes the schools perfect or trouble free. Its great promise is that it stands to make them significantly better over time by transforming the underlying fundamentals of the system... [There will be an] emphasis on improvement, as opposed to perfection... Better is not ideal, and still leaves something to be desired... In politics, then, as in education, there is no nirvana to look forward to... Nothing is perfect. New vested interests will surely try to block change. And bad ideas will sometimes be adopted. But what counts is progress. Reformers have been butting their heads against a wall of political power for the last twenty-five years (since A Nation At Risk--Darren) without much to show for it. Thanks to technology, that wall is coming down...."

As I have stated before, I'm very much a realist when it comes to education--if something promotes student learning, I support it, and if it doesn't, I don't. Much like air power advocates throughout the 20th century, technophiles have promised too much and delivered too little on their views of what can and should be. The authors of Liberating Learning present a grand picture of education, one worthy of celebration--should it come to pass. Their lack of a roadmap to get us there, though, is the fatal flaw of the book.

Some Insight Into Me

I've been rewatching Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica (the new series, not the 70s camp), and a particular exchange between President Laura Roslin and Lee Adama struck home. She could have said the same thing to me.

President Roslin: "You are so hellbent on doing the right thing that you sometimes don't do the smart thing."

Lee Adama: "I will try and be smarter, and wronger."
I'd have replied differently.

Saturday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Yum! Brands.

Today's question is:
On the tv show M*A*S*H, what was Hawkeye's hometown?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Best "College" In The US?

According to Forbes, it's my alma mater.

From the story itself:

A big factor in its top rank is that grads leave without a penny of tuition loans to repay. The Army picks up all costs and pays the cadets a stipend of $895 a month. On graduation, they start as second lieutenants, earning $69,000 a year. They have to serve in the armed forces for five years plus three more years of inactive reserve duty. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have pulled 15% of reservists into active duty.

Wow, a 2LT makes more money than I do. If that figure above is true, I'm surprised. Not disappointed, but surprised.

Update: doesn't appear that figure is necessarily correct. According to the pay scale at army.com, a 2LT with no prior service currently earns $2655.30 a month. Of course, there's also quarters and subsistence (food) allowances, both of which are non-taxable, as well as a potential variable housing allowance and possibly combat pay. Even given all that, $69,000 a year for a lieutenant seems a bit high.

Friday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Denmark.

Today's question is:
What is the parent company of KFC, A&W, Long John Silvers, and Pizza Hut, among other brands?

Bake Sale To Save A Teacher's Job

Time reports:

How many bake sales does it take to save a teacher's job? For decades, public-school parents have organized such fundraising events to cover the costs of field trips, sports equipment and other frills that enrich their children's education. Yet now, as recession clouds hang ever lower and state budgets tighten, schools and districts are increasingly asking adults to help pay for essentials. Parents are under pressure to bring in big bucks for supplies, technology and even, in some cases, staff salaries. That's a lot of sugar cookies.

Parent-teacher associations (PTAs), school foundations, independent community groups - the methods may vary, but the goal remains the same: to prevent public schools from losing more staff and services. In New York City, some public-school parents recently came under fire for paying school aides out of their own pockets. The local teachers union filed a complaint, alleging that the positions were taking away jobs from higher-paid unionized aides. It's all a new twist on an old story. "School spending has been augmented by private sources for a long time," says Andy Rotherham, a co-founder of Education Sector, a Washington think tank. "But this money is now being looked at as a way to restore more core services that are being cut, rather than just to provide extra things."

Other examples are given.

Towards the end of the piece the concern morphs into the haves and the have-nots--is it "fair" for kids in richer neighborhoods, whose parents can afford to fund additional positions at school, to have these benefits when poorer kids cannot?

I can see plenty of reasons to be against having parents fund positions, but that is not one of them. One of the benefits of being rich is that you can provide more for your child! If you and your family can't live a better life, what's the point of being rich? This class warfare and equity bunk is just that--bunk. People are entitled to what they can (legally) afford.

Remember, class-warriors--if you're reading this you're probably richer than 95% of the people on this planet. Is it "fair" that your kid gets to go to school in an air conditioned classroom whilst kids in Ethiopia, if they go to school at all, sit on a dirt floor and swat flies away from their faces? Is it "fair" that you can afford to get your kid a binder and pencils and a backpack and an iPhone whilst kids in other countries have to make do with writing on a slate?

If you want to be a "global citizen", then you must remember that in the eyes of the rest of the world, you are the bourgeoisie. It's just a matter of perspective. If you don't want people coming after you with pitchforks because they're jealous of your (relative) wealth, you probably shouldn't attack others because they have more wealth than you do. Something about living in glass houses.

When The Shoe Is On The Other Foot

Get this: The party of “community organizers” is now whining that President Obama’s critics are organizing communities — against his health-care scheme.

So says the New York Post.

I'm not so sure how accurate that is, in that the organizing seems to be decentralized; despite the spittle from the Left, which implies that there are big, dark, ominous players organizing "mobs" against the President's plan, these protests (often at town hall meetings with Congressmen) do seem to be local in nature. Who, exactly, is the heavy player on the right that's organizing them?

When we on the right accused the left of organizing protests, they didn't really object--they knew it was true and were up front about it. MoveOn.org, International A.N.S.W.E.R., and another Soros-funded group whose name escapes me now were three popular groups. I don't hear anyone on the left identifying the big players on the right; if they could, they would, and they'd attack those groups mercilessly. Instead they issue these vague warnings, the purpose of which is not to educate, not to elucidate, not to engage, but to generate anger at the other side. Perhaps that's just what those community organizers on the left do.

Contrast the President's response (see update #2 below) to these Americans who protest his proposed health care proposals to President Bush's response to Mama Moonbat herself, Cindy Sheehan, who essentially camped outside of his house: instead of trying to rally people against her, he said he was proud to live in and lead a country where such dissent was allowed.

Two very different responses. Two very different levels of classiness. Two very different levels of confidence. Two very different attitudes. Two very different men.

Update: Back to the health care debates and intimidation. A racist crowd beat a black man, with one of the attackers shouting a "racial slur" (I wonder which one). Go read the link, it's both short and worthwhile. (First-person account is here.)

Update #2: This from the White House's own web site:

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov. (boldface mine--Darren)


Think about that for a minute. Seriously. Explain to me how that statement jibes with any American values, if such things even exist anymore.

Update #3, 8/9/09: Mark Steyn, as usual, has a brilliant take on this topic:
“The right-wing extremist Republican base is back!” warns the Democratic National Committee. These right-wing extremists have been given their marching orders by their masters: They’ve been directed to show up at “thousands of events,” told to “organize,” “knock on doors” . . .

No, wait. My mistake. That’s the e-mail I got from Mitch Stewart, Director of “Organizing for America” at BarackObama.com. But that’s the good kind of “organizing.” Obama’s a community organizer. We’re the community. He organizes us. What part of that don’t you get?


And Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame has a similar view, although presented with much less sarcasm:

This (protests against President Bush, disrupting meetings about social security reform) was just good, boisterous politics: "Robust, wide-open debate." But when it happens to Democrats, it's something different: A threat to democracy, a sign of incipient fascism, and an opportunity to set up a (possibly illegal) White House "snitch line" where people are encouraged to report "fishy" statements to the authorities.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls the "Tea Party" protesters Nazis, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman --forgetting the events above -- claims that left-leaning groups never engaged in disruptive tactics against Social Security reform, and various other administration-supporting pundits are trying to spin the whole thing as a deadly move toward "mob rule" and – somewhat contradictorily -- as a phony "astroturf" movement.

Remember: When lefties do it, it's called "community organizing." When conservatives and libertarians do it, it's "astroturf."


This President does not like being challenged. The Democrat party does not like being challenged. Fascists never do.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Don't Look Back.

Today's question is:
From which country did the US acquire the Virgin Islands in 1917?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

VA = Obamacare Foreshadowed?

I'd like to think that our soldiers and veterans get the best medical care around, but it's important to remember that the VA, at least, is a bureaucracy, with all the baggage that entails. I've received permission from the author to post this vignette:
I have been processing a claim with respect to being hit by lightning as a cadet (to include bilateral hearing loss and traumatic brain injury) as well as being in a vehicle rollover in a Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicle. The State of NM Veteran Affairs has a great office which assists vets through the process. Every time I get a response from the VA, it is as if they did not read the previous information. They wanted me to send more evidence I actually attended West Point (even though it is on my DD-214 and Officer Record Brief and my file has medical records from Keller Army Community Hospital).

Another vet who was at the office while I was there served in Vietnam as a Marine. The VA was questioning whether he was actually there after providing his DD-214 which chronicled his duty there with Vietnam-specific awards as well as his duty record recording his service there on multiple tours. If the VA is any indicator of what a nationalized healthcare would be like, perhaps it would be good to have those who have never dealt with the VA try it out for a year and then decide if they truly like the idea of nationalized healthcare.

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Russia, the mainland of which is about 60 miles from the Seward Peninsula in Alaska. There is a Russian island about 35 miles from Alaska.

Today's question is:
What was the title of the rock band Boston's second album?

The Funky Things We Find In Laws

How anyone can write, read, and understand laws as they are currently written, I do not understand. Here's an education bill currently working it's way to Governor Schwarzenegger's desk. It takes me 11 "page down" clicks just to get through the legislative counsel's so-called digest!

Here's something interesting in the bill:

SEC. 28. Section 60200.7 is added to the Education Code, to read:
60200.7. Notwithstanding Sections 60200 and 60200.1, the state board shall not adopt instructional materials or follow the procedures adopted pursuant to Sections 60200 and 60200.1 until the 2013-14 school year.

I've read elsewhere that as a result, the government has cut over $700K from the Department of Education, money that was to have been spent on new frameworks and instructional materials adoptions. To be honest, I'm kinda happy with the math standards and fear that any tinkering would result in their being watered down.

If I read the above correctly, we're stuck with the currently-adopted materials for the next 5 years. That's not necessarily bad, but we *will* need to replace some of the textbooks in that time. I hope there's still money available to replace excessively-worn textbooks.

But let's go back to the citation above. What's in Section 60200? Here are the first couple of paragraphs:

60200. The state board shall adopt basic instructional materials for use in kindergarten and grades 1 to 8, inclusive, for governing boards, subject to the following provisions:
(a) The state board shall adopt at least five basic instructional materials for all applicable grade levels in each of the following categories:
(1) Language arts, including, but not limited to, spelling and reading. However, the state board may not adopt basic instructional materials in this category or the category specified by paragraph (2) in the year succeeding the year in which the state board adopts basic instructional materials in this category for the same grade level.
(2) Mathematics. However, the state board may not adopt basic instructional materials in this category or the category specified by paragraph (1) in the year succeeding the year in which the state board adopts basic instructional materials in this category for the same grade level.

I'll be honest here--I'm not sure what that means. Does it mean the state cannot adopt "basic instructional materials" in math two years in a row? If that's what it means, why not say it clearly? Is there a legitimate reason our laws must be written in such obtuse language?

I'm sure there are plenty of other interesting law changes in the above-linked AB X4 2, but I don't have the patience to wade through all that muck to find them.

Update, 8/8/09: The LA Times has a story on the postponement of textbook purchases.

Another Reason Not To Hang Out On The Internet Too Long

Chinese Teen Beaten to Death in Internet Addiction Clinic
His parents hoped their teenage son would be home in a month, cured of his addiction to the internet. They never thought that within 10 hours of taking him to an addiction clinic they would receive a telephone call notifying them that he was dead.

California Universities With The Highest Graduation Rates

You can see a slideshow of them here. There are plenty of private schools and UCs in the top 15, but no CSUs.

Climate Change?

Maybe, but according to these scientists, it's not caused by man's contribution of CO2 in the atmosphere:

More than 60 prominent German scientists have publicly declared their dissent from man-made global warming fears in an Open Letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The more than 60 signers of the letter include several United Nations IPCC scientists.

The scientists declared that global warming has become a “pseudo religion” and they noted that rising CO2 has “had no measurable effect” on temperatures. The German scientists, also wrote that the “UN IPCC has lost its scientific credibility.”

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Tuesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Portmeirion, Wales.

Today's question is:
Which is the closest country to the US that does not share a land border with the US?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Taking "Notes"

I collect coins, and don't really know much about currency. Still, I've amassed a small collection of notes I've found "interesting". I've shown other notes before, and here are more.
click on pictures to enlarge
From what little I can read of French, this appears to be from the period of the French Revolution.


I received this confederate note from my grandfather; we believe it originally came from his great-grandfather (scroll down here to see letters written to him in 1865).


This appears to have been issued by the legitimate government of the Philippines during the Japanese occupation of World War II.


And who is this cherubic individual? Could it be Chairman Mao?


And how about this guy? We've been in a war (of wits) with his country since he was deposed in 1979.


The top note is an Iraqi 25 dinars note issued in 1986. In the middle is one of the leaflets, along with a description of it, that was dropped on Iraqi soldiers during Gulf War I (Desert Shield/Desert Storm). The bottom note could have been released in 2002, before Saddam was deposed, or just after the 2003 invasion. Immediately after Saddam's fall more notes with his picture were printed, but in less than a year the new government had released new notes sans Saddam.

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Revenge of the Sith.

Today's question is:
Where is the real "Village" shown in the British tv series The Prisoner?

Cell Phones As An Instructional Tool

Is this an "efficient use of technology" or just another "let's keep the kids entertained" activity?

"Let's help them learn the way they want to," said Joe Jenkins, chief technology officer at Natomas Unified School District. "They want to use cell phones. They want to text. … They respond to it."

Jenkins recently received instructional software for cell phones. If it passes muster, he will pilot it in a class for a year before district officials decide whether to make it part of the curriculum.


Ignoring the technical problems--does each kid have a phone, are the phones compatible, does each phone have the necessary capabilities--is there anything inherently good or bad about this approach?

Where education is concerned, I'm definitely in the "do what works" camp. I haven't yet been convinced, however, that adding more silicon "works". Thirty years and untold billions or even trillions of dollars have been spent on "technology" in schools, and I don't see that there's been an education boon. TVs/VCRs/DVD players, computer labs, internet access, graphing calculators, and now cell phones. You'll have to pretend I'm from Missouri and Show Me.

Rent-A-Cops

I attended 8-12th grades in the Grant school district, which a couple years ago merged with some elementary districts to become the Twin Rivers district. Back in my day we had an officer or two on our campuses, and many years later when I taught in Grant, I learned that the district had its own legal police force. A humorous moment occurred when I ran into an officer on campus, and immediately recognized him as my high school track coach and the officer on my own high school campus over 15 years before. He could still probably outrun most people!

In this article we learn that some surrounding districts contract with the city police or county sheriff to have officers on campuses, and the amounts charged are egregious. Twin Rivers is in negotiations to lease their officers to these other districts:

Twin Rivers' contract is "half the money for twice the service."


I hope it works out well for all concerned.

Amazon Ate My Homework

Allow me to give the world's shortest summary about what recently happened regarding Amazon and its Kindle reader:
-Amazon sold copies of 1984 and other works that it didn't have rights to
-when it found out about the error, it immediately erased the works and credited buyers for the amount they'd paid

When I buy a dead-tree book, I expect to be able to read it forever. I'm sure most people think the same way about e-books, but that isn't the case. In reality, buying an e-book for a Kindle is akin to buying a ticket to a museum exhibit: you can look, but if the museum needs to move the exhibit somewhere else that's just tough for you.

Amazon has apologized for the way they handled the situation and has promised not to react that way again, but that doesn't satisfy some. Class-action lawsuit, anyone?

I'll admit that I have a modicum of sympathy for the student mentioned in this article:

One of the plaintiffs, Justin Gawronski, has a compelling story about his experience with Amazon's memory hole. Apparently, he was reading his copy of 1984 as a summer assignment for school, and had been using one of the Kindle's selling points—the ability to attach notes to specific parts of the e-book text—to prepare for his return to school. Since he was actively reading the work when Amazon pulled the plug, he actually got to watch the work vanish from his screen. He's left with a file of notes that are divorced from the text that they reference.

Even though I think that electronic textbooks could be the wave of the future, I have to laugh--it's impossible for a publisher to make dead-tree book text disappear before your very eyes!

Update: Young Mr. Gawronski need not read 1984 to learn about a police state. Instead he can pay attention to the real Airstrip One:

The Children’s Secretary set out £400million plans to put 20,000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV super-vision in their own homes.

They will be monitored to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time and eat proper meals.

Private security guards will also be sent round to carry out home checks, while parents will be given help to combat drug and alcohol addiction.
This, in Britain.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Secret Codes

This sounds wildly interesting. Why am I only hearing about it after the fact?

More than 500 teens and their parents packed into one of the largest lecture halls at UC Davis on Wednesday to hear Dr. David Perry, a U.S. Department of Defense cryptologist, decipher the world of encryption and break down the story of the notorious Enigma machine.

Perry's lecture was the centerpiece of Math Fest 2009, an effort by the UC Davis mathematics department to get youths interested in the world of numbers. This year was the third annual Math Fest.

"We're hoping to convey that mathematics is at once beautiful, powerful, fun and useful," said math professor Monica Vazirani. "Getting a degree in math unlocks so many doors and prepares you for a wide variety of careers."

The UC Davis effort to excite younger kids about math and science also encompasses the COSMOS (California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science) program. COSMOS is a four-week residential program for older students that allows them to focus on a topic such as chemistry, robotics, earth science or math.

American Health Care

So much of the "problem" in American health care is the cost. What do we get for that extra cost? This article tells us a few things.

Testing Students Who Don't Speak English As Their First Language

This isn't a result you'd expect in California:

California is entitled to administer school achievement tests and high school exit exams in English to all students, including the nearly 1.6 million who speak limited English, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco rejected arguments by bilingual-education groups and nine school districts that English-only exams violate a federal law's requirement that limited-English-speaking students "shall be assessed in a valid and reliable manner."

The federal law, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, neither requires nor forbids testing in a student's native language and leaves such decisions largely up to the states, the court said in a 3-0 ruling. It noted that the U.S. Department of Education has approved the state Board of Education's testing plans since 2002, though department auditors recently suggested more accommodations for limited-English-speakers.

The law does not authorize a court to act as "the official second-guesser" of the reliability of a state's testing methods, Justice Timothy Reardon said in Thursday's ruling, which upheld a San Francisco judge's 2007 decision.
It should not be a secret that English is the language of success in this country. People can complain about that all day, but it's true--English is the de facto official language of this country. I'm not convinced that someone who doesn't speak English is entitled to earn a diploma from a publicly-funded school in this state. If a diploma means anything, it means that a student has mastered at least a minimum amount of information, in English.

I can't imagine how many languages are spoken in this state. I myself have taught students whose first language is any of several--Spanish, Russian, Ukranian, Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Hmong, to name a few. It wouldn't make sense to create tests in every subject in every language, although some might insist that's needed. Others would advocate for only Spanish, given that Spanish-speakers are our largest subset of ESL students--but if all others can test in English, why not the Spanish-speakers as well?

For students who speak limited English, the law requires "reasonable accommodations," which can include extra time, use of dictionaries, and giving instructions in a student's native language. States can exempt students from the test during their first year in a U.S. school.

California outlawed "bilingual education" several years ago. This ruling seems to be in accordance with state law.

Sunday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
James Forrestal, in 1947. Prior to that, the War Department and Navy Department were separate, independent entities. In 1947 they were merged, along with the newly created Air Force, into the National Military Establishment, which was renamed the Department of Defense in 1949. The Secretary title, though, was created in 1947.

Today's question is:
What is the title of Star Wars Episode III?

Inflation

Sometimes, my collection of coins and paper money provides a tangible example of historical events.
click on pictures to enlarge
The notes above are German notes from near the beginning of the hyperinflationary period in 1922-23. According to this Wikipedia entry, there were 60 marks to the US dollar in 1921. According to this PBS story, by November 1923 there were 1 trillion (1 followed by 12 zeroes) marks to the US dollar. That inflation is shown by the notes below:
The notes above were printed and released so quickly that there isn't even printing on the reverse side. If that PBS story is correct, it would have taken 100 of those 100 million mark notes to equal a US cent.


The note below was issued on November 25, 1981, in Argentina. I can't find what the exchange rate with the US dollar was at that time, but any time you're dealing with that many zeroes on a note, there are economic problems:


I believe post-WWII Hungary still holds the Guiness record for the highest inflation, but today's Zimbabwe seems to be making a run for the money:
The "official" exchange rate is US$1=ZWD$359, but no one takes that seriously. Read here to learn more about the impact of Mugabe's economic policies, and how Zimbabwe is reacting to this runaway inflation.

Unapproved Speech on University Campuses

As I've said many times before, FIRE is what the ACLU would be if it were truly concerned about the civil liberties of all Americans and weren't such a leftie organization. Here's a FIRE video showing Dave Barry talking about "radical" speech on politically-correct campuses.

No Job? Sue Your College.

This story is pathetic on so many levels that I am amazed that anyone can be this stupid:

The Monroe College grad wants the $70,000 she spent on tuition because she hasn't found gainful employment since earning her bachelor's degree in April, according to a suit filed in Bronx Supreme Court on July 24.

The 27-year-old alleges the business-oriented Bronx school hasn't lived up to its end of the bargain, and has not done enough to find her a job.

The information-technology student blames Monroe's Office of Career Advancement for not providing her with the leads and career advice it promised.

"They have not tried hard enough to help me," the frustrated Bronx resident wrote about the school in her lawsuit.

If I were a lawyer I'd be happy to take her money. Pro bono? No way!!!

Hat tip to Joanne Jacobs.

Tolerating Suck

How important is drive, in addition to talent?

“I’d bet that there isn’t a single highly successful person who hasn’t depended on grit,” says Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who helped pioneer the study of grit. “Nobody is talented enough to not have to work hard, and that’s what grit allows you to do"...

Consider, for instance, a recent study led by Duckworth that measured the grittiness of cadets at West Point, the elite military academy. Although West Point is highly selective, approximately 5 percent of cadets drop out after the first summer of training, which is known as “Beast Barracks.” The Army has long searched for the variables that best predict whether or not cadets will graduate, using everything from SAT scores to physical fitness. But none of those variables were particularly useful. In fact, it wasn’t until Duckworth tested the cadets of the 2008 West Point class using a questionnaire - the test consists of statements such as “Setbacks don’t discourage me” - that the Army found a measurement that actually worked. Duckworth has since repeated the survey with subsequent West Point classes, and the result is always the same: the cadets that remain are those with grit.

One of my midshipmen lent me a book and gave me another; both are first-hand accounts, one from a marine and one from a soldier, of time spent in our current Middle East wars. I read about what they went through and I think, "there's no way I could do that." My life is too easy, and that life is too hard.

But people say the same thing to me when I tell stories about West Point. I guess that having gone through West Point, I have a different perspective--it's not so hard to go through, especially when everyone around you is going through the same thing.

Maybe it's that sense of camaraderie, combined with an internal drive to succeed, that makes it possible. I certainly knew people who seemingly had "what it takes", but chose to quit anyway. Maybe it's not the just ability to tolerate suck, but the willingness to tolerate suck, that allows people stay and prosper in a place like West Point, where they have the option to leave.

And maybe that ability and willingness, along with camaraderie, are what allow people to tolerate the conditions our fighters endured, and continue to endure, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

This I'll Defend

"This I'll Defend." So goes the motto of my Scottish clan, but what is it, exactly, that I'll defend? This seems like a good start:

I believe in the free speech that liberals used to believe in, the economic freedom that conservatives used to believe in, and the personal freedom that America used to believe in.

Those are my ideals, in a nutshell. I found the quote here.

Saturday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
The OSS, Office of Strategic Services.

Today's question is:
Who was the first US Secretary of Defense?