Sunday, July 31, 2011

"President For Life" of a Teachers Union

I think "President For Life" has a nice, Latin American sound to it, don't you?
The most powerful woman in Mexico carries $5,000 Hermes purses and can make or break a presidency.

She's head of the nation's principal teachers union, the largest syndicate in Latin America, and once gave Hummers as gifts to loyal teachers.

Elba Esther Gordillo commands the patronage of more than 1.5 million teachers, and in election years, that means more than 1.5 million votes. Almost every political party courts her...

Then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari anointed Gordillo in 1989 as president of the National Syndicate of Education Workers, or SNTE, after she'd spent years as a tireless and fiercely loyal climber in the party and the union.

In 2007, at a closed-door meeting protected by private guards, the union leadership purportedly made Gordillo "president for life." A dissident group of unionized teachers has been threatening ever since to denounce her to the International Labor Organization for abuse of office.

Nothing fishy here. Let's see if we can find something juicy in another part of the article:
Her union has not had to open its books to the public; its finances, including Gordillo's salary, are kept private. However, there are growing demands by critics and some politicians that the organization undergo an audit. Gordillo said that she'd be happy to have the finances inspected, one day, but that she won't do so under pressure.

Why should they? After all, shouldn't anyone be able to carry a $5,000 Hermes handbag without scrutiny?

Hat tip to Larry Sand of the California Teachers Empowerment Network for the link.

The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

When your teachers care about you so much that they help you cheat on state tests because they don't think you can learn, what exactly is it that they care about?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

MTV

What a difference 30 years makes.

This Monday, August 1, MTV celebrates its 30th birthday. It might as well be the 30th birthday of KMET. Remember KMET? Of course you don't. It's an old Los Angeles classic-rock radio station. And it's dead. Dead just like radio. Dead just like MTV. The revolution is long over, and MTV is just another in a long line of corporate stooges trotting out corporate stooge bands trying to pass themselves off as something anti-establishment. It’s filled with a bunch of reality nothingness celebrating a life of consumerism. The "M" used to stand for "music." Now it stands for "meaningless." EmpTV. Empty. It's all one self-conscious, soulless bore.

Ah, but on August 1, 1981, it was magic. Nothing but '80s video goodness and the whole world in front of us. Big hair, padded shoulders, and lots of guitar hooks. Here are the first 10 videos played that day in order. Let the good times roll.

I remember visiting my aunt and uncle in San Jose that summer, and marveling at that new channel they had on cable. It was heaven. The link lists the first 10 videos. I knew the first two (had a trivia question about them a few months back!) but don't even recognize the 3rd, 5th, or 8th songs. I wouldn't have guessed most of them for MTV's first season; The Pretenders' Brass In Pocket, for example, came out in 1979, and had pretty much been played into the ground by the time MTV rolled around.

You'd never know it today, but back then, MTV was something very special.

What A Freakin' Whiner!

Students of mine know the funny sound I make when students whine about something; it sounds something like dee-tee-tee-boo-poo-poo. Well, if I encountered this woman in person and she started talking, I'd raise my voice an octave or two, give her a sad face, and say dee-tee-tee-boo-poo-poo:
We have become victims of the Tyranny of 87. This is not a reference to the years immediately preceding the French Revolution of 1789. I am referring to July 2011 in the United States of America, the greatest democracy in the world. Or so I thought.

The Tyranny of 87 is the bizarre, surreal, but all too real situation we are in right now in the midst of perhaps the most significant and economically turbulent issue that has been before Congress in decades: the raising of the debt ceiling.

The tyranny is coming from the 87 members of Congress from the tea party caucus, whose selfish and irresponsible demands during the debt ceiling negotiations may very well mean either outright default or what could be even worse and too late to avoid -- the downgrade of the country's gold standard AAA credit rating. What is worse, these 87 little tyrants have no clear understanding of the fallout of either scenario.

She's got her panties in such a bunch, I can't help but wallow in schadenfreude. She's horrified--horrified!--that some Americans actually expect the government to spend less money and live within its means! Her disdain is apparent throughout, and yet in the last sentence quoted she even notches it up a bit by questioning their intelligence. I mean, smart people like her just know what's best for us rubes!

Sorry, lady, that ain't how it works anymore.

But what can you expect from someone like this?
Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, and former communications director to the Democratic National Committee.
I could almost feel sorry for her, if I weren't mocking her so much.

Cute Picture of the Day

Yes. Next Question.

Are Internet Explorer users dumb?

Linked by a proud Firefox user :-)

Who's Right In This Case?

And what is the proper role of a teacher here?
A string of seven student suicides district-wide in less than two years has stirred public debate over Anoka-Hennepin's sexual orientation curriculum policy.

Parents and friends say four of those students were either gay, perceived to be gay or questioning their sexuality, and they say, at least two of them were bullied over their sexuality.

The district's curriculum policy, adopted in 2009, bars teachers from taking a position on homosexuality in the classroom and says such matters are best addressed outside of school. It's become known as the neutrality policy. Anoka-Hennepin is the only Minnesota school district known to have such a policy.

"It's a censorship policy," Fietek said. "It's censorship. There's nothing neutral about taking the side of the oppressor."

Reasonable people can disagree on this topic, as there are very strong points for and against each position.

Friday, July 29, 2011

If This Is The Best They've Got On Her....

As the Instapundit himself said regarding this topic, "Well, policing the color line is something South Carolina Democrats have been doing for 200 years. . .":
What box should Gov. Nikki Haley check when it comes to her race?

The South Carolina Democratic Party tried Thursday to make Haley out as a liar for checking "white" as her race on her 2001 Lexington County voter registration application.

But the application had no specific option for "Indian." Her options were "white, black/African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American or other."

The governor stayed silent on the matter, although her allies accused the Democrats of the lowest-grade politics: race-baiting.

As I recall from the movie, Gahdhi was considered "colored" in South Africa. As I recall from some social science course I took, East Indians are of the "caucasoid" group.

Then again, I'm not really interested in what color someone's skin is. Without trying to sound too melodramatic, I'm more interested in the color of someone's soul.

I Forgot I Was Asked About This

I found out about this article by seeing its URL show up in Statcounter:
Should teachers be allowed to vent online?...

California math teacher Darren Miller who blogs at Right on the Left Coast: Views from a Conservative Teacher told the Lookout there's a pretty easy way to have an online presence and be a teacher: Don't write stuff that will get you in trouble.

"I've mentioned to students that I have a blog; they can look at it if they want to," he writes in an e-mail. "Each year one or two students comment on it periodically, and that's ok. While I don't put my last name on my blog, or identify my school by name, I also don't write about serious school disciplinary events or anything else that could reasonably be considered indiscreet."
Totally reasonable :-)

Help An Injured Police Officer

Friend, long time RotLC reader, and current cop MikeAT sends this story of a police officer who could use some financial assistance. The motorcycle crash looks pretty gruesome:
If you can please forward this info on the fundraiser. Injured cops in larger areas like Houston and New York have more support than smaller places like Shreveport and facing the loss of a leg, this man and his family needs help.

Please go take a look.

I Went Through The Nudie Scanner!

At the airport in Las Vegas, I went through the porno scanner.

The TSA agent on duty essentially lied to me, telling me it wasn't the scanner about which I'd heard so much, but he finally came around to telling me what I hope was the truth--the image, which I'd be able to see after I'd gone through, was not an x-ray-vision shot of my "stuff", but rather a Gumby-like drawing with curious/suspicious areas marked with a dot.

Mine showed a dot on my left knee, where in April the surgeon used a screw to attach the remaining portion of my tendon directly to my kneecap. (I hope that wasn't the "let's fool the public" picture, with some pervo in another room checking out the actual picture of my stuff.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Unedited Video Of My Helicopter Tour of the Las Vegas Strip

One of the highlights of my trip: http://vimeo.com/27036834

Bring That Guy Forward In A Time Machine?

What were Obama's big issues in 2008? Oh yes: politics of fear, cronyism, transparency, corruption, economy in the tank, Gitmo, wars, hope, change, etc....

Sound familiar?

Update, 7/29/11: The debate between Senator Obama and President Obama: at least they agree on one thing.

Even More Than The Coveted Sewing Kit, or, There Must Be Something In The Nevada Water

Much like a book published in the 1800's, this post has a title and a subtitle.

The title refers to an inside joke between me and someone I still love all these years later....Anyway, we used to visit CheapoVegas.com before our Vegas trips, and one of the informational tidbits at that site was a description of what toiletries you'd receive at each hotel. The creme de la creme, the pinnacle of hotel goodies, was the sewing kit. Well, today I got home from a 3-day stay at Aria in Las Vegas, and there were so many toiletries! There were four bottles: shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, and body lotion. There were four other items: a "vanity kit" containing not only a mere sewing kit but also a shower cap, Q-tips, an emery board, and some non-descript pads; soap; mouthwash; and a toothbrush. Sadly, I saw no shoe rag, but I'm sure there was one somewhere! I must say, I was impressed not only with the toiletry haul but with pretty much the entire facility--room, decor, restaurants, and the like. The slots took my money without so much as a smile, though, and there were no Star Trek slots!


The subtitle of this post refers to the improvement of my injured leg when I go to Nevada. Last month I went to Reno and, for the first time since my accident, was able to lift my foot into the car. On this week's trip to Las Vegas, I was able to walk up a couple of stairs while leading with my injured leg for the first time! Maybe there's something in the water....

I'm currently uploading some low-resolution video of a helicopter tour of The Strip, which I'll publish as soon as it's completed....

This Week's Education Buzz Is Now Posted!

It's here, and includes my post about Notre Dame's disgusting new standards regarding sexual harassment/assault on campus.

Freedom Is A Little Piece of Broken Concrete (Originally published April 2008)

I--Growing up in Cold War Sacramento

I lived just down the street from McClellan Air Force Base; I remember watching from my front yard once as an AWACS came in for a landing, looking like it might touch down right at the end of my street. McClellan was a major logistical base; aircraft were repaired there. It was just north of downtown.

Mather Air Force Base, just east of downtown, was a Strategic Air Command base. There were bombers there, and most assuredly nuclear weapons.

In downtown, and just northeast of downtown in Roseville, were major railroad repair depots. My father worked at the Southern Pacific yard downtown.

East of downtown, in Folsom, was the Folsom Dam, which included a power generation station. Southeast of downtown was the Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant.

South Sacramento held the Sacramento Army Depot.

In West Sacramento is a deepwater port, capable of supporting ocean-going vessels. And Sacramento itself is the capital of what was at the time the 7th largest economy in the world.

Sacramento was an inviting target indeed. We went to school every day knowing, in the back of our minds, that there were Soviet nuclear missiles targeted at us.

II--The Soviet wheat harvest

I believe it was during my first trip to Germany, in the summer of 1974, or perhaps it was my second in 75, when I heard on the radio about a bad wheat harvest in the Soviet Union. The President had decided to sell American wheat to the Russians. I remember thinking, at only 9 or 10 years old: "Let them die." Why would we help the enemy? Détenté or not, they were the enemy. Why not finish them off?

III--The Hawk battery tactical site

In the summer of 1985, the summer after my sophomore year at West Point, I was sent to an active duty air defense artillery unit based in Schweinfurt, West Germany. Each day I rode the troop bus from our battery headquarters out to our "tac(tical) site" near Massbach, West Germany.

B Battery was "on the leading edge of freedom's frontier, guarding the skies of NATO Europe." The thought was that before the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact invaded with ground forces, they'd soften us up with air attacks; our battery's mission was to destroy the attacking aircraft with Hawk missiles. There was only one problem, though--we were within range of ground artillery. The Reds would take us out before the first aircraft flew overhead, before we could ever get a shot off.

Germany in the summer can be rainy or hazy, but one day the weather was exceptionally clear. I climbed to the top of one of our radar towers, and in the far distance I could see a thin strip of dirt winding its way through the trees.

It was the East German border. A fence and probably a minefield, not to keep us out, but to keep them in. A thin strip of dirt--freedom on one side, tyranny on the other.

IV--NORAD

Only a couple months later I was an exchange cadet at the Air Force Academy. The 6 of us from West Point, along with the exchange cadets and midshipmen from the Coast Guard and Naval Academies, were taken on a tour of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex south of Colorado Springs.

Cheyenne Mountain was partially hollowed, and an entire base built inside. In it was housed the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which tracked everything in orbit around earth--down to and including flecks of paint that had come off rockets. They also monitored our satellites which spied on the Communists.

Like the Greenbrier facility in West Virginia, only not a secret, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex could be sealed off from the outside world with a huge steel door--in the event of a nuclear war. I stood in the control room, I saw the phone that connected the commander directly to the President. I touched the phone myself.

If a launch was detected anywhere in the world, the staff in the control room had about 20 seconds to analyze the flight dynamics and determine if it constituted a threat to the United States or its allies. Fortunately, there never was such a threat; if there had been, the commander would have picked up the phone and told the President. This would have put into play a lengthy series of steps culminating in the launch of nuclear missiles from our triad of forces--ground-launched ICBM's, air launched missiles and bombs like those at Mather, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

It was called MAD, mutually-assured destruction. You fire at us, we'll fire back at you. Our missiles will pass each other over the North Pole. You don't fire at me, and I won't fire at you. Deal?

It was an insane policy, but it worked.

V--Tienanman Square

I was on a rotation to the National Training Center, outside of Barstow, CA, when we got the news. There had been rallies and protests in Beijing since April, but by early June the Communist leadership had had enough. The Chinese sent troops into Tienanman Square to end the protest once and for all.

We were very isolated out in the desert, not even having non-military radios. The only news we got was from the observer-controllers who were evaluating us. All we knew was that the Chicoms had sent the army into Beijing. They began shooting. We heard reports, later proven to be inaccurate, that some military units were firing on others in defense of the protesters. We wondered about a civil war in a nuclear power.

Those reports were wrong. No military units mutinied. It was a massacre. Only weeks later, when we finally returned home to Fort Carson, did we see the iconic picture of White Shirt Guy standing in front of a tank. Tanks are very effective anti-personnel weapons. But one man, a man craving liberty, can be brave enough to stop a line of tanks.

For a little while.

VI--The Wall comes down

Late 1989 was a surreal time. All across Eastern Europe, protests against Communist rule occurred. Why then? It's hard to say. The borders were becoming more porous, and more people were escaping to the West. President Reagan was fueling an arms race, one he knew would bankrupt the Soviets--and governments began to collapse under their own weight and that of their citizens who yearned to breathe free. Gorbachev promised even more democratic reforms, more perestroika. All the lines were converging.

It all happened so quickly. First, East German strongman Honecker resigned in October. On November 7th his entire cabinet resigned. The Communist Party dismissed the ruling Politburo in response to huge anti-government protests. Two days later, on November 9th, the East German government opened it's border and The Wall. Other Eastern European governments also faced huge protests, and within weeks they fell.

The entire Warsaw Pact had collapsed without a shot being fired. The world order that had existed since before I was born evaporated in less time than it took to get a visa.

At that time, most people in the world had never heard of Nicolai Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator. Most had no idea how bad life was in Romania. I had only read his name so couldn't pronounce it (it's chow-shes-coo), and I had only the faintest idea how bad it was there. I remember telling a friend of mine, "I'll believe this is real when that Co-ses-co guy in Romania falls." A few days before Christmas I got a phone call early in the morning; my friend said, "Turn on your tv." And there was Ceausescu, under arrest in his own country.

VII--The Baltic Republics

It seemed that in late 1989 the entire Eastern bloc was protesting communist rule. The biggest underdogs, though, were the Baltic Republics.

Unlike the Warsaw Pact countries, which were theoretically independent but in reality answered to Moscow, the formerly independent countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia had been absorbed into the Soviet Union itself. Special attention was paid to these three Soviet republics by the press. While the world marveled at the sight of people from both east and west standing atop the Berlin Wall, or striking it with picks and sledgehammers, news reports continued to show non-violent protests in the streets of these three small lands.

I didn't understand how fast everything was changing, I couldn't believe it was real. I thought I was going far out on a limb when, in the fall of '89, I bravely predicted that "the Baltic Republics will be free within a decade." There might not be a fight, but no way was Moscow going to slice off parts of its own country, not any time soon.

In December, Lithuania abolished the Communist Party. In March of 1990, it declared its independence from the Soviet Union. Latvia and Estonia followed only two months later.

VIII--The Quinones family

A retired sergeant major died, and I was tasked to be the widow's Casualty Assistance Officer. I was to escort her to the funeral, and later help her with the myriad activities that no one wants to plan for--dealing with insurance companies, getting all the household bills put in her name, having the deed to the house placed in her name, getting a new military I.D. card, and meeting with lawyers, among others.

One of her sons was a major in the Berlin Brigade, the US garrison that had been stationed in Berlin since the end of World War II. He appreciated the efforts I'd expended on behalf of his mother and family, and before returning to Berlin after the funeral asked if there was anything he might do for me. I'd already told him that I would be leaving the army soon, so no, there was nothing, but thank you. And then, with my usual sprightly manner and a smile, I said, "You know, sir? I would like a piece of The Wall." That was just me being funny, fending off the discomfort of talking about getting out of the army.

A few weeks later I received one of those bubble-wrap envelopes in the mail. It was from Major Quinones, and inside the envelope, inside the ziplock baggie, and inside the paper towel--was a little piece of broken concrete. The enclosed letter said he'd gone to The Wall himself to get it for me.

IX--Dénouement

I've seen freedom born--in Vilnius, in Riga, in Tallinn, in Moscow and Tirana, and more recently in Kabul and Baghdad. I've seen the looks on the faces of people as they took their first breaths of free air, their first tastes of genuine liberty. It's a wondrous sight, an honor to watch. Because you see, freedom isn't an abstraction, not to me. Freedom is something real, it's concrete--it's that little piece of broken concrete sitting on my shelf.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Honesty From A Teacher (Originally published October 2010)

Math Curmudgeon does a post about student videos that denigrate teachers and/or school, and says some things that might be more true than I'd care to admit out loud:

These kids are complaining about school (a new phenomenon, I'm sure) and, true to form, people are watching them. Some viewers take everything at face value and believe every word the kids say because the teachers are always at fault. Others, I assume, are in thrall to the idea that "If it's put on the Internet by a kid, then that's 21st Century Skills right there!" and completely miss the fact that the kid is in desperate need of some psychological counseling. Most of the ones shown at the link above are of the"whiny student" who hates his teacher "because he made me work" variety. Danzigar (left) points out the problem with that reasoning...

I worry, though, about the ramifications of these. The teachers who see them are not going to be happy and the kids seem completely unaware that people talk. They also seem unaware that most people, when attacked directly will retaliate, overtly or subtly. Stories will be told. Deadlines will become more definitive; retakes and makeup will disappear. People will be warned. Reports of threats and unsafe working environment will surface - hey, teachers are mandatory reporters and that first kid keeps picking up sharp implements. Threats will be reported to the police and the evidence is crystal clear. Admissions officers will notice. Principals will react. People will think twice about your judgment. It'll all be confidential, of course. (Sure, it will -- you put it on YouTube, you moron!.)

What's the point of it in the long haul? Why didn't some adult say, "Not a good idea."?

If I'm in one of these videos, I might change something about the way I teach but it's more likely that I would write it off as another selfish, whiny student. I can't change my accent. I teach the way I do because I believe it's a good way - backed by my 30 years of teaching experience as opposed to the kid's 2 years ignoring high school. If you hate me, I don't actually care.

But these videos persist.

"A recommendation? Sorry."
"You want to join my class? Sorry, it's full."
"Mr. V, watch it with that one. Bad student."
"That just wasn't a very good essay. I'm sorry. You made a whole lotta grammatical errors and it brawt the grade down. You're a junior. This isn't assseptable." I'd be sure to use any words she mentioned in her little tantrum and really draw out the accent.
"This dyke isn't amused."


A teacher could make the next parent phone call or conference REALLY uncomfortable for the parents, especially if the teacher has been there for a while and knows all the people the parent knows. Just start playing the video in everyone's presence. Watch the parent slink into the crack of the chair.
The whole post, and a peak at the videos, might be entertaining. This seems a bit like a one-up version of RateMyTeachers.com. A few years ago I used to read what was written about me; when I didn't find anything I considered valuable enough to merit changing what I was doing in class, I stopped going there.

Home Visits By Teachers (Originally published June 2007)

I've always been against the concept of home visits. For starters, I'm a teacher, not a social worker. I'm not trained to evaluate what I see in the home, and even if I were, how would I use that information in the classroom? "Oh, Johnny's home doesn't have many books. And there were dishes in the sink. And the tv was on." I know there might be an impact, but how does that knowledge help me teach Johnny? He's either responding to my instruction, or he's not. If he's not, let's try something else and see if he responds to that.

I'm not ashamed of my home, not in its appearance, upkeep, or conditions. But I would never allow my son's teacher to come to my house for such a visit. In my son's life, my place is at home and at school, but his teacher's place is at school.

I always thought home visits a bit paternalistic and judgemental, because I was told their reason was for the teacher to get an "understanding" of the child's home life. I viewed them as one link in the chain of soft bigotry of low expectations.

Here, however, is a justification I can live with and support:

The concept is simple: Students will do better in school if their teachers and parents get to know each other. The grants go to schools that predominantly serve children from low-income families.


Building a bridge is good. Acting like a social worker after a two-hour in-service on what to look for in a home visit is not.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Public Displays of Affection At School (Originally published October 2007)

My school used to have a problem with blatant public displays of affection. Students were mauling themselves in the halls, and teachers felt powerless to do anything about. Then along came a new teacher to the school, who stopped it in its tracks.

Yes, I was that new teacher.

I started calling students on their inappropriate conduct, and I'm not talking about a short hug and/or kiss when dropping the significant other off at their classroom door. No, these kids were going at it.

So when I was approached by the student editors of the school paper and asked to write an op-ed on a topic of my choosing, I chose PDA. Instead of preaching, though, I thought I'd try a more effective means of communication: satire.

I entitled my piece, "A Modest Proposal." And just like Johnathan Swift was (verbally) pilloried for his over-the-top solution to the problem of poor and hungry children in Ireland, so was I attacked for my writing. Of course, being a writer of satire and all, I never really expected that we'd have a sex room on campus. I sure got people talking, though.

And the problem, as I saw it, ended almost overnight. If nothing else, I allowed other teachers to see that it was ok to call students on inappropriate behavior. Yes, there were attempted consequences, but part of the agreement "ending hostilities" between me and my principal was a gag order--I'm not allowed to tell you the outcome, except to say that I'm extremely satisfied with it. Take from that what you will.

So when I came across this CNN.com article about PDA, I thought it would make an interesting addition to my blog. Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks there are some reasonable boundaries regarding making out in public.

"In moderation, and in the right venue, they're fine. Assuming that one half of the couple isn't leaving for a two-year deep-space mission, I'll say that any PDA beyond the hand-holding, arm-around-the-waist, closed-mouth-kiss type is out of order," says Charles Purdy, aka "Mr. Social Grace," a Vancouver, British Columbia-based etiquette columnist and author of "Urban Etiquette: Marvelous Manners for the Modern Metropolis."

"Extreme PDA -- hands under clothes, deep tongue kissing -- just makes the couple look incredibly immature or, possibly, drunk," Purdy adds. In other words: keep it PG-rated, kids. Don't do anything you wouldn't want your mother to see.

Excellent call, Mr. Purdy. Did you catch that, everyone? It makes you look immature, like you can't control yourself. Don't do it in public. Mr. Purdy says not to do anything you wouldn't want your mother to see; I agree with that, and suggest that you not do anything in public that you don't see your parents doing in public.

Want to hear about some real immaturity? Well, it comes from some junior high school students, so what would you expect? Apparently at one school, "hugging lines" were all the rage.

If you need a hug, you won't get it at Percy Julian Middle School. Principal Victoria Sharts banned hugging among the suburban Chicago school's 860 students anywhere inside the building. She said students were forming "hug lines" that made them late for classes and crowded the hallways.

"Hugging is really more appropriate for airports or for family reunions than passing and seeing each other every few minutes in the halls," Sharts said.
Way to go, Ms. Sharts. Not only are you letting the students know that their behavior is not appropriate at school, you're telling them when and where it might be more appropriate. Excellent. Contrast that with my school's administrators of a few years ago, who refused even to acknowledge that there was an issue.

There's a reason modesty is a social grace. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine that reason! (There's the math teacher in me, shining through.)

Operation Arkansas and the Little Rock 9 (Originally published January 2008)

I'm conflicted about Eisenhower's sending the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to enforce racial integration at Little Rock Central High School. I'm hard-pressed to find a legal justification for sending the army into US cities, barring natural disaster, of course. Is "the ends justify the means" the only legitimate justification here?

I don't object to the outcome. Far from it--it would have been better for all concerned if this response had never, ever, been needed in the first place. But using the army to enforce the law? I'm going to paraphrase/steal the following from a tv show I watch:

The military is used to fight the enemies of the state. Police are used to protect the citizens of the state. When the military is used as a police force, it's very easy for citizens to become the enemies of the state. That leads to tyranny.

Was the army the only federal force big enough to take on the forces arrayed in Arkansas? Was this potential tyranny justified by the tyranny already in place, that which kept black students from attending the local high school?

What a mess.

To commemorate 50 years of integration, the army has a slideshow of what was called Operation Arkansas. It's fairly innocuous, and doesn't show the same pictures of hatred that we've all seen in history books and documentaries. What caught my eye, though, was the title of slide #11--evidence of the potential for tyranny of which I spoke.

I'm glad this is America, where it's only potential.

Update, 1/8/08: I was directed to the Eisenhower Archives, and reading the documents there one gets a sense of what it must have been like in those turbulent days.

The legal justification can be found in the document called Press Release Proclamation 3204. Page 2 shows the relevant law citations. (Other sources indicate these laws were passed in 1861, another turbulent time in American history.)

The moral justification can be found in the document called Telegraph Mann To President 9 24 57.

Based only on reading Mayor Mann's telegraphs to President Eisenhower, I've come to the conclusion that the mayor was a brave and noble man. President Eisenhower's correspondence shows great poise and wisdom. We are lucky to have had such men in that time.

The communication between "the parents of nine Negro children enrolled at Little Rock Central High School" and the President should be enough to renew anyone's faith in our system of laws and governance.

Update, 1/19/09: It looks like the documents linked above can now be found here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

I Still Hate The TSA

In honor of my getting felt up by them soon, here's a web site that will hopefully allow decent Americans to take back their rights from a government gone absolutely mad.

Thank-you Notes (Originally published December 2005)

It's that time of year again. As I've told you before, I teach in a rather upscale area, and it's not uncommon at my school for teachers to get an almost-obscene number of cards and gifts. I'm sure everyone accepts them with an overabundance of genuine gratitude and humility. I certainly do.

I don't know about other teachers--and I certainly don't ask!--but I always write thank you cards and bring them to school the first day after Christmas Break ends. Yes, I take note of each gift I receive and write each student a thank you card. I do give the cards to students during class, when everyone's working independently, but I certainly don't make a major production of it. In fact, I do it in as unassuming a manner as possible, at least as unassuming as one can be whilst walking around a classroom giving envelopes to certain students.

In years past the response to such cards has been interesting. Students seem surprised to get them. Is this a lost art? Am I violating some taboo or something? I don't know. But I do it, and I'll continue to do it. Gratitude is nice, but recognizing generosity is even better.

I didn't always do this. My parents always taught me to say "thank you", of course, but it was West Point that instilled in me the necessity of sending thank you notes. We were taught to do so, and even taught a format for writing such notes! It sounds very clinical but the results speak for themselves. Students seem genuinely pleased to be recognized personally this way. And maybe I'm teaching them something besides math as well. What do they call that in ed school, "modeling appropriate behavior"?

Yes, I know that it was probably the parents who bought and/or wrapped the gifts, but it was the students who gave them to me. They're the ones whose names are on the cards, and they're the ones I address the thank-you cards to.

I received a Christmas card from a student today. There was a personal note in it. Tucked in between "Happy Santa Day" and "Have a great break" was the comment, "You are such an awesome teacher...." Is there anything more a teacher could ask for than the appreciation of his students? What better gift could I hope to receive?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Debt Showdown

It'll be interesting to see how this situation has developed by the time I return from my hiatus:
President Obama, fearing losing reelection more than default, threatens to veto any last-minute debt package from Congress unless it extends the nation’s borrowing limit beyond the 2012 elections.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told ABC’s “This Week” that Obama demands that any agreement to increase the debt ceiling extend beyond the 2012 elections.

Obama’s chief of staff, Bill Daley, confirmed the veto threat. Daley was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if Obama would veto a plan that doesn’t extend the limit into 2013. Daley answered, “Yes.”

So a stubborn president Obama is willing to veto what by all accounts is the going to be the only viable option to meet his administration’s August 2 deadline for avoiding default so he doesn’t have to debate the issue during his reelection campaign.
President Obama, the post-racial "light-bringer" president who's going to cause the seas to recede and the earth to heal. All the people who bought that garbage are certainly shown for the rubes they are.

Sunday No-Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "An organization known as the MPAA used to assign movie ratings; what does MPAA stand for?", is:
Motion Picture Association of America.

I'm going to take a little internet hiatus for a few days, so there will be no trivia. I'll also be doing what radio talk show hosts sometimes do--I'll run a "best of" compilation of popular posts from the last 6 1/2 years, as determined by how often I see hits to them on Statcounter.

See you again on Thursday!

Attacking The President With Star Trek Metaphors

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal is his usual insightful and humorous self in this piece, responding to a Boston Globe column that attacks Republicans and fellates the president by saying he has "Spock-like rationality and sober caution":

And of course everyone remembers the episode in which Spock said: "Imagine Captain Kirk drivin' the Enterprise into a wormhole"--Vulcans always drop their g's when they're trying to sound folksy--"and it's a deep wormhole. It's a big wormhole. And somehow he walked away from the accident, and we put on our boots and we transported down into the wormhole--me and Bones and Scotty and Hikaru and Nyota. We've been pushin', pushin', tryin' to get that starship out of the wormhole. And meanwhile, Kirk is standin' there, sippin' on a Slurpee"...

Green's entire account of Obama's presidency is as removed from reality as "Star Trek." By what conceivable standard can one claim that the president has "governed in a manner largely consistent" with the "ideal" of "a postpartisan era"--much less that he has been "unlike Bush" in doing so?

Consider the two most controversial legislative initiatives of George W. Bush's first half-term: the 2001 tax cut and the 2002 authorization to use military force against Iraq. Both had substantial bipartisan support: The former passed with "yes" votes from 28 House Democrats and 12 Senate Democrats; the latter had the backing of 81 House Democrats and 29 Senate Democrats.

By contrast, Obama's two biggest legislative initiatives, the so-called stimulus and ObamaCare, had the support of a grand total of three Republicans in both houses combined (all senators who voted in favor of the stimulus).

Now, Obama backers might argue that these were just "practical, long-term reforms," which the Republicans were partisan for opposing. One's own side, after all, is always principled where the other side is partisan. But the majority of voters did not seem to see it this way. The most modest interpretation of the 2010 election results is that Americans thought Obama had gone way too far and wished to restrain him from going further.
I don't recall President Bush ever denigrating Democrats as a group, but Obama's attacks on Republicans (car in the ditch, drinking Slurpees, etc.) jump instantly to mind by people on both the left and the right. The fantasies that the president's supporters choose to believe in just don't stand up in the light of day.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lies The President Told Me

Here are 10 whoppers. And these aren't things about which he was merely wrong, these are things that he knew were wrong when he said them.

Most Underrated Musical Artist of the 1970's

There's plenty of room for negotiation, debate, and compromise, but here's my vote:

Here is more of his work on Youtube.

Saturday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "In 1972, Governor Reagan signed legislation designating which insect as the California state insect?", is:
The California dogface butterfly.

Today's question is:
An organization known as the MPAA used to assign movie ratings; what does MPAA stand for?

Just Sit Right Back And You'll Hear The Tale...

It wasn't the SS Minnow, but this story sounds darned familiar to people of my generation:
Fifteen castaways marooned on an uninhabited island that's but a small dot in the Pacific Ocean are believed to be safe and in good health, a U.S. Coast Guard official said Saturday.

Probably Not My Best Decision

I probably shouldn't have done this right before going to bed since it's gotten me all amped up, but I didn't realize just how excited it would make me.

Shortly after midnight--13 weeks to the day, 3 months to the day--I got on my elliptical trainer. It took some effort, it wasn't easy--in fact, it hurt a little and was a bit scary--but I was finally able to get a full 360 degree rotation on it. And then another. And then another. I can exercise.

This week has been a bit distressing. My physical therapist tells me I'm progressing nicely. His philosophy is not to have to conquer the same ground twice--he believes that slow and steady wins the race, and he'd rather see constant improvement than push too hard and have setbacks due to pain or overexertion. But this week I also saw a doctor for the first time in a month, and she said that 3 months into this my leg should be significantly stronger than it is. She wants me to work harder, and in fact prescribed muscle relaxers for me to take before physical therapy so we can get my leg a little "bendier" there.

Two people whose opinions I trust are giving me conflicting information, and I'm not sure which to follow.

And my "walking" is not pretty--in part, I believe, because of the weakness in my leg. I walk like a complete and total gimp, which both tires and hurts.

So I've needed a victory. And a couple dozen minutes ago, I got it. Of course now I'm totally wired and probably won't be able to get to sleep, Ambien or no Ambien, but whatever--I got a small improvement. A victory.

Today on the radio I heard this quote, which I'll paraphrase: It's not a sin to get knocked down, it's a sin to stay down. "Sin" is probably too strong a word, but the sentiment is right. I was definitely knocked down, but I'm not staying down. I've got a lot of work to go--according to my surgeon, I'm now halfway to the best case scenario for recovery--but I am getting up.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "On what day of the week must the first of the month be if there is a Friday the 13th that month?", is:
Sunday.

Today's question is:
In 1972, Governor Reagan signed legislation designating which insect as the California state insect?

8th Grade Algebra

In this country we seem to get in a tizzy whenever Algebra 1 in 8th grade is discussed. My favorite is when people trot out "cognitive theorists" who say that most 8th graders are not capable of Algebra 1; my usual response is to question why they're capable of it in so many other countries but not ours. A friend, who chooses to remain anonymous, gave me permission to post the following:
Perhaps I should use this opportunity to clarify my take on this whole Algebra-in-8 issue.

I consider the 'developmental' and 'cognitive readiness' arguments against algebra in grade 8 completely baseless. And when they come wrapped in 'brain scans' and 'PET images' they are either charlatanism or pretentious ignorance... I often use the example of 1990 Japan, as described in Kodaira's preface to his math curriculum translation into English, as a convincing evidence that a whole cohort, with its full bell-curve ability distribution, can reasonably master both algebra 1 and geometry by grade 9.

That being said, it does not mean that in the average case students *need* to study algebra in grade 8 to succeed. Just that they can. In the ideal situation, only those students that are prepared and interested would study algebra in grade 8. After all, I don't see a big difference whether it will be studied in grade 8 or 9. And I don't think that every student needs 4 years of HS math *beyond* Algebra 1.

But we are not in an ideal situation. For years elementary and middle school teachers could dilute math education, and not prepare students for algebra even in grade 9, as there was no 'capstone' course like Algebra 1 at the end of K-8 span. All their ill-prepared charges were thrown over the wall to high school, and it became a high school's problem, instead of elementary and middle problem, to cope with the results of ES and MS neglect.

And that's why I believe having Algebra 1 in grade 8 is so important. As opposed to '7th grade math,' or '8th grade math,' Algebra 1 still has a much better defined content across the land, and placing it as a capstone for K-8 forces ES and MS to face the results of their own preparation, rather than evade responsibility and later place the blame on HS, that often anyway belongs to another school district.

So, no. I don't believe Algebra 1 in grade 8 is critical to child's future, although it should be a breeze for any reasonably prepared child, even with an IQ a full standard deviation below average. But it is critical to the improvement of our non-academically focused school system with its under-prepared ES and MS teachers.
I disagree with none of this.

It's A Sad Day At West Point

USMA 2015 Cadet Dies During Training

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE RELEASE NO 24-11
CADET DIES DURING TRAINING – Jul. 22, 2011


WEST POINT, N.Y. – A U.S. Military Academy cadet died July 21, 2011, while participating in field training in the vicinity of Camp Buckner. Cadet Jacob D. Bower, 18, of Fairmont, W.Va., a member of the Class of 2015, was found unresponsive at the local training area at West Point, N.Y., on Jul. 21. Immediate attempts to revive him at the scene were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead at 6:05 p.m. The incident and cause of death are under investigation.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Bower family during this difficult time,” said Lt. Col. Sherri Reed, U.S. Military Academy, Public Affairs Officer. “The academy is a close-knit family and the loss of one of our own affects all of us,” said Reed.

Bower was a new cadet and he had completed the first part of cadet basic training in good standing.Cadet Bower was a highly qualified applicant, a three-sport athlete, a member of the National Honor Society, and had participated in West Virginia Boy’s State while attending East Fairmont High School in Fairmont, W.Va.

***************************
Training is serious business.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Would You Want To Go To A Rally Endorsed By These People and Groups?

Many of the people, organizations, or topics I list below I've blogged about before, and you can find them using the search boxes at the top or bottom of this page. Here's the "greatest hits" list:

Linda Christensen, Bill Bigelow, Bob Peterson, and Stan Karp of Rethinking Schools


Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles Ducommon Professor of Education at Stanford University and author of books including The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future


Dr. Michael Klonsky, longtime educator, civil rights activist, and director of the Small Schools Workshop at the University of Illinois, Chicago

Alfie Kohn, human behavior & education expert and author of books including Punished By Rewards and The Schools Our Children Deserve

Jonathan Kozol, educator and author of books including Savage Inequalities and Ordinary Resurrections

Dr. Stephen Krashen, linguist and professor emeritus at the University of Southern California

Dr. Cornel West, professor and public intellectual at Princeton University, author of books including Race Matters, and co-host of the weekly public radio show, Smiley & West

The Green Rainbow Party of Massachusetts (what the heck is a green rainbow? wouldn't that be rather unappealing?--Darren)

The International Association for Learning Alternatives (what is the alternative to learning, anyway?--Darren)

Richmond Teachers for Social Justice

San Francisco Teachers for Social Justice (they sure like their social justice in the Bay Area--Darren)

Donna Stern, East Coast/Midwest Coordinator of By Any Means Necessary

Students for a Democratic Society


United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministry (what what? religion?--Darren)

Whole Language Umbrella, a conference of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)

Freedom Socialist Party

Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity

Progressive Democrats of America – Tucson Chapter

Radical Women

Vicki Abeles, Founder of Reel Link Films & Director of Race to Nowhere


Here's the rally they're endorsing. Anyone want to go hang out with these folks?

Ew.

Family Law Is So Screwed Up In California

Why should Arnold Schwarzenegger have to pay Maria alimony? It's not like she's Suzie Homemaker with no ability to take care of herself. Ditto on child support; even though they both seek joint custody of their minor children, the fact that Arnold currently has more money makes him liable for such support. Don't they both have enough money to make such spiteful silliness like this moot?

Andrew Klavan on the So-called Comedians On The Left

I enjoy Klavan's wit and powers of observation, and he hits the ball so far over the fence in this column that, with a nod towards "fair use", I'm going to link to his column and then quote over half of it:
Reality Time
Why the country’s Bill Mahers say what they say
21 July 2011

Comedian-commentator Bill Maher has been getting a lot of attention lately for trying to get a lot of attention. He generally goes about this by using sexist hate speech against attractive, powerful, and intelligent conservative women like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, calling them female vulgarisms, for instance, or, as most recently, hosting comedians who fantasize aloud about sexually abusing them. Yet another attractive, powerful, and intelligent conservative woman (gee, there are a lot of those, aren’t there?), Ann Coulter, who is Maher’s friend, feels that these childish displays should be ignored. “I am sick of this show getting so much free publicity just because they use the f-word, the c-word, say something stupid,” Coulter said on FOX News’s late-night show, Red Eye. “All they are saying is, ‘I hate Michele Bachmann,’ ‘I hate Sarah Palin.’ Except they’re saying, ‘I [expletive] hate Michele Bachmann,’ ‘I [expletive] hate Sarah Palin.’ And then conservative blogs and this show say, ‘Oh, they use the f-word,’ and then they get 8 billion times more viewers.”

As so often, Coulter makes a good point. Maher, who is only just so funny and only just so bright and only just so popular, seems rather desperately to be turning himself into a moral Elephant Man in an attempt to draw the gawkers. The dignified reaction would be to walk on by, warning the children not to stare at the poor fellow because he has an affliction, God bless him.

I suppose it would also be self-diminishing to allow oneself to feel frustrated by the fact that the leftists of the so-called mainstream media regularly twist themselves into knots to make conservative speech sound hateful while ignoring the routine and open hatefulness that permeates the speech on their side and theirs alone. Sarah Palin is upbraided as violent for “targeting” congressional districts; Tea Partiers are called racist (often by Maher) for criticizing Barack Obama’s policies; I myself was recently accused of advocating violence toward women after I joked along with a silly video made by left-wing comedian Jimmy Kimmel in which Speaker of the House John Boehner doinked former speaker Nancy Pelosi on the head with the speaker’s gavel. Meanwhile, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews compares Republicans to terrorists, Jon Stewart implies that Michele Bachmann’s husband is a homosexual, and Maher hurls his filth at conservative women, and we’re more or less obligated to turn a blind eye so as not to encourage them.

But with a bow to Coulter’s wisdom, there does seem to me to be one thing worth saying about Maher and the others. Their ugliness seems to be escalating day by day, and with it the dishonesty, distortions, and bullying anger of their mainstream-media fellow travelers. There’s a reason for this, I think. It’s the increasingly apparent failure of Barack Obama. With the notable exception of Osama bin Laden’s execution, the Obama presidency has resembled nothing so much as an episode of Mr. Bean, one slapstick misadventure after another. The stagnant economy, the rising unemployment, the staggering, soon-to-be-crippling debt—hiked more under Obama than under every president from Washington to Reagan combined—these can no longer be blamed on his predecessor but are his to own. (boldface mine--Darren)
He's correct, and I have nothing to add.

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "Who is the only US president to have served at least one full term but did not make a Supreme Court nomination?", is:
Jimmy Carter.

Today's question is:
On what day of the week must the first of the month be if there is a Friday the 13th that month?

Homework Policy Canceled Before It's Ever Even Implemented

Less than a month ago I posted about LA Unified's new homework policy, that homework couldn't count for more than 10% of a student's grade. In that post I wrote the following:
The more that homework counts, the easier it is to pass a course--precisely because some teachers do grade on effort. I don't grade on effort, I grade on performance...

In my classes, students must demonstrate some level of mastery of the material in order to pass the course; I don't give courtesy D's for those who learn nothing but "try" all the homework. That practice is what will end in LA Unified, and I don't think they'll get the results they're looking for, despite their stated aims:
According to the new policy, "Varying degrees of access to academic support at home, for whatever reason, should not penalize a student so severely that it prevents the student from passing a class, nor should it inflate the grade." It was distributed to schools last month.

I could be wrong here, but I predict that grades will go down instead of up with this policy, and it will be modified or replaced within three years. I give that long because it will take a year to notice the drop, another year to confirm it wasn't an anomaly, and a third to make the decision.
Clearly I didn't give LA Unified, which is sometimes called "LA Calcified", enough credit for alacrity. The policy has already been canceled:
After considerable backlash from parents and teachers, the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified suspended a policy that would allow homework to count for only 10 percent of a student's grade.

The policy was quietly approved by the school board in May in an effort to level the playing field for students with varying levels of academic support at home.

But Superintendent John Deasy called a halt to the policy after complaints that it would penalize hard-working students who complete homework assignments and strip teachers of authority over their classrooms.

There you go. The "hard-working" kids who still don't learn anything will be penalized. Somebody noticed the same thing I predicted in my linked post above, that grades would go down under this policy--and we can't have that, can we?

Let's continue:
(Deputy Superintendent) Aquino said grades should be based a student's mastery of the material and not whether they've finished all their assignments.

Excellent! But then he backtracks:
"I believe we need a balance - mastery of standards is vital but we also need to hold our students accountable for being responsible," Aquino said.
What's the point of "being responsible", which I believe is code for "doing your homework", if you don't accomplish the goal of actually learning anything? Are we really doing kids a service if we teach them that effort expended while completely wasting their own time is some sort of good?

I Thought School Personnel Didn't Like One-Size-Fits-All Tests

Apparently they do in Chicago, though, where what amounts to a personality profile can get you kicked out of the teacher candidate pool. That's right, boys and girls, it's a high-stakes test for teachers! But instead of testing competence, they test "soft stuff". Who has checked this test for validity?
A new questionnaire that probes the “soft skills” needed be a teacher has resulted in what critics call the “blacklisting’’ of hundreds of potential Chicago Public School teachers — including some who already had job offers, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Graduates of the Academy for Urban School Leadership’s teacher training program touted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel have, in effect, flunked the test. So has a winner of a prestigious Golden Apple scholarship. Likewise a special-education major who made the dean’s list at Michigan State University and was described as a “dream candidate’’ by a CPS principal who wanted to hire her.

Of the 3,900 CPS teacher applicants who have taken TeacherFit since June, 30 percent have scored low enough to be excluded from hiring...

The candidate — and many others — said she thought she was merely taking a survey when she filled out TeacherFit. She had no idea her career would rest on her answers, she said.

“Had I known, I might not have been as honest,” and instead given the answers she thought test evaluators were seeking, said the candidate, who asked to remain anonymous.

The CTU’s Lewis said the union complained about some questions during the TeacherFit development process because some seemed to probe for people who were “willing to work for free.’’ One current question asks candidates “how do you feel about a job that would require you to regularly work after hours?”

Other questions ask candidates to recall how frequently they did something — such as help their peers with a difficult task — over a 10- or five-year time frame. A 10-year span would take a 21-year-old teaching candidate all the way back to age 11, one education professor noted.

TeacherFit co-author Neal Schmitt, a psychology professor at Michigan State University, said many of the questions involve “personality or attitude’’ items that try to get at the “soft skills’’ needed to be a teacher — student focus, planning and organizing, results-focus, perseverance and self-initiative.

Development of the test was paid for by the Chicago Public Education Fund, which counts as a board member Bruce Rauner, a wealthy venture capitalist and close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Rauner was a driving force behind the sweeping school reform bill that Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law last month.

Hat tip to NewsAlert for this story.

How Can Teachers Tolerate Their Unions' Support of These People?

I have no heartburn with Presidents Clinton and Obama's sending their children to a private school, and I have no issue with Rahm Emanuel's sending his children to private school. Asking them why they do seems a fair enough question, though, and this is not the way to deal with it:
But when his press secretary Tarrah Cooper said time was up just 10 minutes into what was scheduled as a 20 minute interview, I tossed him the school question.

Similar to his former boss, Emanuel said it's a private decision.

While I appreciate the desire for privacy, I tried to explain that the Mayor’s family is now in the public eye as Chicago's First Family, and that the public would want to know whether Emanuel is confident enough in the public school system to send his own children there. But Emanuel broke in.

“Mary Ann, let me break the news to you. My children are not in a public position,” he said, curtly. “I am. You’re asking me a value statement and not a policy. … No, no, you have to appreciate this. My children are not an instrument of me being mayor. My children are my children, and that may be news to you, and that may be new to you, Mary Ann, but you have to understand that I’m making this decision as a father.”

The mayor stood up to leave.

“I look forward to our future interview,” he said before unclipping his lanyard microphone and dropping it to the floor, and walking out of his office. I asked my camera man to stop rolling.

As I tried to explain further, Emanuel doubled back. He looked directly at my two college interns, and said, "You are my witnesses."

Then, the Mayor of Chicago positioned himself inches from my face and pointed his finger directly at my head. He raised his voice and admonished me. How dare I ask where his children would go to school!

"You've done this before," he said.

This was the Emanuel we had heard about, and it was one of the oddest moments in my 29 years of reporting.

My two interns followed out of City Hall and back to the station.

Several hours later I called the mayor directly since I happened on his cell number and saved it. I thought it might be best to clear the air. But no air was cleared.

“My children are private and you will not do this," he said into the receiver.

He said other children of public figures - Chelsea Clinton and the Obama girls - have been kept out of the public eye, despite media attention on the admission to the Sidwell Friends Academy in Washington D.C.

I tried to explain he had a point, but their parents too had to answer the question of what school they would attend. No one is trying to have lunch with the first children.

I also let him know that I felt wronged and bullied during his earlier tirade.

“You are wrong and a bully," Emanuel fired back. "I care deeply for my family. I don't care about you."
I agree with Emanuel that where he sends his children is a decision made by the children's parents in the children's best interests. On the other hand, it seems silly to me that teachers unions will continue to heap millions of dollars into the campaign war chests of people like Clinton and Obama and Emanuel who obviously do not support public schools, or rather, support them for thee but not for me.

Complete and total hypocrisy--which of course is what I expect from teachers unions.

Greece To Go Communist?

Interesting idea:
What the world needs, lest we forget, is a contemporary example of Communism in action. What better candidate than Greece? They’ve been pining for it for years, exhibiting a level of anti-capitalist vitriol unmatched in any developed country. They are temperamentally attuned to it, having driven all hard working Greeks abroad in search of opportunity. They pose no military threat to their neighbors, unless you quake at the sight of soldiers marching around in white skirts. And they have all the trappings of a modern Western nation, making them an uncompromised test bed for Marxist theories. Just toss them out of the European Union, cut off the flow of free Euros, and hand them back the printing plates for their old drachmas. Then stand back for a generation and watch. The land that invented democracy used it to perfect the art of living at the expense of others, an example all Western democracies appear intent on emulating. Being the first to run out of other people’s money makes Greece truly ripe to take the next logical step beyond socialism.
I don't wish Communism on anyone. The most important thing to remember about Communism is that it always, every time, without exception, involves a secret police and death camps.

On the other hand, if that's what people want....

To Celebrate My Upcoming Trip To Las Vegas

Let's see what Obama supporter Steve Wynn has to say about the president. Hint: it's not flattering.

Update: The co-founder of Home Depot isn't thrilled, either.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why Is CERN Gagging Its Scientists?

Maybe the information isn't politically viable?
That there is a gag in place is not in dispute. The question is why?...

True, as far as it goes, but it’s hard to imagine any scientist in any field getting gagged by higher-ups if their science backs up the global warming narrative. What we have seen, though, is scientists pushing the global warming thesis despite the faults in their models and the holes in their own data, and overall encouragement across many disciplines to push the AGW line whether it’s directly relevant or not.
But, but, but, there can't be evidence against man-caused global warming--because it's real, darn it!

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "Who was the only US president twice elected with less than 50% of the vote?", is:
Entirely wrong. Bill Clinton (43% and 49%, due to third party candidate Ross Perot), but I missed Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson! As my students would say, "My b."

Today's question is:
Who is the only US president to have served at least one full term but did not make a Supreme Court nomination?

Boo-hoo! They Can Dish It Out....

Poor, poor, pitiful me. That's how the CTA wants teachers to think after this editorial cartoon was run last week.

Hint to teachers and to the CTA: it's anti-teachers-union, not anti-teacher. To the CTA there's no difference between the two, but in reality there's a world of difference.

Higher Education Spending and Priorities

Michael Barone tells us in the Washington Examiner:
For years government has assumed it's a good thing to go to college. College graduates tend to earn more money than non-college graduates.

Politicians of both parties have called for giving everybody a chance to go to college, just as they called for giving everybody a chance to buy a home.

So government has been subsidizing higher education with low-interest college loans, Pell Grants and cheap tuitions at state colleges and universities.

The predictable result is that higher-education costs have risen much faster than inflation, much faster than personal incomes, much faster than the economy over the past 40 years.
That's just the warm-up, here's the good part:
For what have institutions of higher learning accomplished with their vast increases in revenues? The answer in all too many cases is administrative bloat.

Take the California State University system, the second tier in that state's public higher education. Between 1975 and 2008 the number of faculty rose by 3 percent, to 12,019 positions. During those same years the number of administrators rose 221 percent, to 12,183. That's right: There are more administrators than teachers at Cal State now.

These people get paid to "liaise" and "facilitate" and produce reports on diversity. How that benefits Cal State students or California taxpayers is unclear.
And they'll keep increasing tuition, and asking for more taxpayer money, as long as they can get away with it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "Who was the only US president to have been a president of a labor union?", is:
Ronald Reagan, who had been president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Today's question is:
Who was the only US president twice elected with less than 50% of the popular vote?

My Retirement Is Saved!

Probably not, but it was a nice little thought:
CalSTRS, still trying to recover from the market crash of 2008, earned a 20 percent profit on its investments in the just-ended fiscal year.

But the staff of the teachers' pension fund warned that it will be tough to duplicate these latest results.

Complete results on fiscal 2010-11, which ended June 30, will likely be released next week. But in a report earlier this week to its governing board, the CalSTRS investment staff said it recorded a gain of around 20 percent, which was "the second or third highest of all time."

But it's far from certain that the investment gains will be enough to completely restore CalSTRS to financial health. While it has done well the past couple of years, California State Teachers' Retirement System has insisted for some time that it eventually will need more money from taxpayers.

The pension fund had unfunded liabilities – the gap between assets and future obligations to retirees – of $56 billion as of June 2010.
$56 billion, with a "b". Just so you know, that's over half the entire state budget right now, and that number will only continue to climb.

Bypassing the Teachers Unions

Here in California one can only dream:
Utah's Ogden School District is a small district just north of Salt Lake City. A charming community with less than 1,000 teachers, Ogden is making news for its school board's decision to bypass local union negotiations in favor of sending individual contracts to teachers for the upcoming school year. While the move has obviously infuriated the local union, the move has been described as not only a trend in teacher negotiations, but the future of how policymakers and school districts will communicate with teachers, especially in areas with hostile and uncompromising unions.
In theory, I support unions--when membership is voluntary. When it's compulsory, or paying money to the union is compulsory, I abhor unions.

An Orgasm For The Children

That's the title of this piece. It's certainly provocative; how far off base is it, if at all? Go take a read!

And the teachers unions are promoting that agenda.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Interesting Study

From FoxNews:
The University of California, Berkeley is asking 5,800 freshmen and transfer students to record their voices and accents in a project being called part linguistic experiment, part social science and part ice-breaker, the Los Angeles Times reports...

After two years and perhaps again after four, students will be asked to make new recordings to determine whether being at Berkeley homogenized their accents or pushed them into distinctive speech subgroups, Johnson said.

How Do We Reconcile This As A Society?

From the New York Post:
Now, Bronx disc jockey Clifton McLaughlin, a born-again Christian, says he'll refuse, if asked, to work at gay weddings.

"This is based on God's law," McLaughlin told me. "There is no way man can come with his own law."

Could he be punished? Well, yes! A gay couple denied service by a DJ, not to mention a florist or wedding band, has grounds to sue in Civil Court, a Cuomo spokesman told me.

I don't want to go back to a society wherein a business can post a "no coloreds allowed" sign on the door. Why is gayness any different?

On the other hand, businesses (like DJs and florists) don't have to accept every job offer that comes their way, either. There are many reasons why they might not do a job.

So how do we reconcile these two diverging thoughts?

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "Which are the only US presidents whose full names contain the necessary letters to spell the word 'criminal'?", is:
Richard Milhous Nixon and William Jefferson Clinton.

Today's question is:
Who was the only US president to have been a president of a labor union?

Why Health Care Is Not A "Right"

Conflating "goods and services" with "rights" is a serious mistake made by our fellow travelers on the left. All boldface in the quote below is mine:
The intentions of Democrats are only the best. They want all of the old to have lavish retirements, all of the young to have scholarships, verse-penning cowboys to have festivals funded by government, and everyone to have access to all the best health care, at no cost to himself. In the face of a huge wave of debt swamping all western nations, this is the core of their argument: They want a fair society, and their critics do not; they want to help, and their opponents like to see people suffer; they want a world filled with love and caring, and their opponents want one of callous indifference, in which the helpless must fend for themselves. (“We must reject both extremes, those who say we shouldn’t help the old and the sick and those who say that we should,” quips the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg.) But in fact, everyone thinks that we “should” do this; the problem, in the face of the debt crisis, is finding a way that we can. It is about the “can” part that the left is now in denial: daintily picking its way through canaries six deep on the floor of the coal mine, and conflating a “good” with a “right.”

Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt linked “freedom from want” to “freedom of speech” and “freedom of worship,” the left has been talking of everything that it thinks would be nice to have in terms of an utter and absolute right: a right to a job and a right to an income, a right to retire in comfort in Florida, a right to the most advanced health care without paying much for it, and a right to have your children taken care of while you work all day at your job. The problem is that these are all goods and services, though of varying importance, and goods and rights are not the same things. People tend to concur upon rights (except for the speech rights of those who oppose them), and they do not depend upon others to supply and pay for their rights. With goods, there is always a political argument: about the value of the good, who is to get it and who is to pay. And all this comes down to the question of “fairness,” about which there is no end of disputation and grief.

And on nothing does the rights/goods division loom larger than on the issue of health care. Rights come from nature, and cost no one money, but good health in nature is rare....
No one should have a "right" to anything I have to pay for. If someone is entitled to have me pay for something, then what they have is an "entitlement", not a right, and an entitlement can be altered or abolished by the same government that grants it.

What's Changed In The Last 5 Years?

Every Democrat in the Senate voted against raising the debt ceiling back in 2006, and every Republican but one voted to raise it (votes shown here). Today the roles are reversed. Is there hypocrisy at work on both sides? Perhaps, but I argue that the lion's share of that hypocrisy rests with the Democrats.

It's not necessarily hypocritical to support spending more money when debt is lower, but oppose it when debt is higher and spending is now seemingly out of control. That's the position the Republicans are in.

I can't come up with a reasonable explanation for the Democrats' position, which was to oppose a debt ceiling increase when debt is lower but support it when debt is higher--except for the big difference in the last 5 years, which is the party that runs the White House.

I'm not so naive as to think that the Republicans would be opposing a debt ceiling increase if a Republican president were asking for one today; rather I'm saying that the Republicans are on stronger ground with their current positions than the Democrats are, hypotheticals notwithstanding.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "Who was the first American president born in the 20th Century?", is:
John Kennedy.

Today's question is:
Which are the only US presidents whose full names contain the necessary letters to spell the word “criminal”?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "Prince William and Princess Catherine are known as the Duke and Duchess of what?", is:
Cambridge.

Today's question is:
Who was the first American president born in the 20th Century?

Maybe This Is Why Liberals Feel So-called White Guilt

They have something to feel guilty about:
Here is the ultimate political irony of the Obama era and gentry liberalism: the metropolitan areas most passionately committed to the progressive agenda – which have adopted them on the state and local level – also tend to be those with the highest rates of inequality and the deepest poverty. Indeed, if cost of living is included, most of the urban counties with the highest percentage of poor people are located in the very bluest areas of New York, California or Washington, D.C., which together account for five of the nation’s ten poorest counties. As a state, California, once a prototype for democratic capitalism, now suffers the worst income inequality in the country.
Hat tip to NewsAlert.

The Very Definition of Racism

I expect stupid people to say stupid things. However, when you get a school board to display its collective stupidity, in written format for all to see, that, dear readers, is a sight to behold.

From the Toronto District School Board:
Racism:

"While people in different contexts can experience prejudice or discrimination, racism, in a North American context, is based on an ideology of the superiority of the white race over other racial groups....

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "In the book The King's Speech, there are several pictures of cards and notes signed by King George VI of England, and they're signed 'George R I'. What does R I stand for?", is:
Rex Imperator, or King (of Great Britain) and Emperor (of India).

Today's question is:
Prince William and Princess Catherine are known as the Duke and Duchess of what?

Should Universities Focus On The Future Employability of their Students?

The smart-aleck in me says "yes", because then the vast majority of the "Aggrieved Studies" majors would, of necessity, disappear overnight, but employment is only one purpose, and perhaps not even the most important purpose, behind getting an education.

But what if the federal government required schools to focus on graduate employability?
A true “education” is a profound and complex thing. Narrowing its purpose to “gainful employment” in a “recognized occupation” seems to both demean our notions of “higher” learning while shoe-horning its purveyors into a new, decidedly un-capitalist, field of “employment guarantor.” Yet, the Department of Education’s “Gainful Employment Rule” demands precisely such a guarantee.
An article worth your time. I like one of the suggestions in the piece:
(I)nstead of the onus falling solely on colleges and universities to insure their students get “gainful employment” to pay back government loans, maybe the onus should fall equally on the loan recipient to demonstrate his or her academic focus, drive, and worthiness.
Hear hear.

California's New Law To Teach About Gays In Schools, and Other Diversity-Related Topics

I've been asked about this law in a couple of different places now, so I'll just go on record with my thoughts. First, I like what NewsAlert quoted from the SF Chronicle:
"If children in other countries are learning math and science, and American children are learning about the private lives of historical figures, how will our students compete for jobs in the global economy?" said Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster (Los Angeles County), the vice chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education.
Additionally, I don't believe in teaching about the "contributions" of people from different groups, which is a cute way of stating the actual goal. If someone did something noteworthy, let's teach about that. But if what they did is noteworthy only because they're gay, or black, or female, or Mormon, or whatever, especially if being gay, black, female, or Mormon isn't related to what they accomplished--well, isn't teaching that way more than just a little paternalistic?

Can you name the first black astronaut? Was the fact that he was black important to his being an astronaut? Why do I need to know about the first gay astronaut? Why are color or sexuality important when learning about astronauts? This is my point.

Update: On a related note, NewsAlert again does yeoman's work and points us to a story about how Omaha schools used "stimulus" money. How, exactly, is this supposed to stimulate the economy?
Public schools in Omaha spent $130,000 in federal stimulus money on cultural diversity books for all 8,000 school staffers including: teachers, administrators, and even janitors that teaches that a color-blind society is not enough to end racism.
Dr. King and Thurgood Marshall would not be welcome among the diversity-philes of today.

And the University of California system sure is cutting to the bone, isn't it?
California’s budget crisis has reduced the University of California to near-penury, claim its spokesmen. “Our campuses and the UC Office of the President already have cut to the bone,” the university system’s vice president for budget and capital resources warned earlier this month, in advance of this week’s meeting of the university’s regents. Well, not exactly to the bone. Even as UC campuses jettison entire degree programs and lose faculty to competing universities, one fiefdom has remained virtually sacrosanct: the diversity machine.

Not only have diversity sinecures been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing. The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.

What It Will Take For A Republican To Win The White House

In a post on the debt ceiling debate, Instapundit says the following:
I don’t know who will win the Republican nomination (and I doubt it will be Gingrich) but it’ll be someone who’s willing to stand up and fight. And that’s who’ll beat Obama, too.
And the coup de grace?
Nobody’s going to accommodate their way into the White House. (boldface mine--Darren)
Just say no to squishiness.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "Where are you if you're at 0 degrees latitude and 0 degrees longitude?", is:
In the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa.

Today's question is:
In the book The King's Speech, there are several pictures of cards and notes signed by King George VI of England, and they're signed 'George R I'. What does R I stand for?

An Improper Use of School Equipment

I don't think the general public has any idea how rabidly leftist most public school workers are:
A public school district in Michigan has used its phone alert system to point voters toward the recall effort against Gov. Rick Snyder. In early June, shortly after the Snyder recall reached the petition-gathering phase, the alert system for Lawrence Public Schools sent out the following robocall to residents of the district:

“This is a message from the Lawrence Public Schools (inaudible) alert system. This is an informational item and not directly associated with the school. Concerned parents interested in cuts to education . . . we're here to inform you that there is information about the problem. Also, be advised that there is a petition to recall Governor Snyder. If you want, stop by Chuck Moden's house right by the school June 7th/8th between 3:30 and 4:00 pm. Thank you. Goodbye.”

That no one thought, "This isn't appropriate", is all you really need to recognize to prove my point.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "Who bought the first commercially-produced Hummer in 1992?", is:
Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Today's question is:
Where are you if you're at 0 degrees latitude and 0 degrees longitude?

More Evidence of Dysfunction In California Higher Education

From the major Sacramento newspaper:
Minutes after voting to raise student tuition by 12 percent for the fall, California State University trustees on Tuesday decided the salary for a new campus president should be $100,000 greater than his predecessor's.
Sadly, this is how we roll in California. Here's the result:
It is the second increase in less than a year, making this year's tuition 23.2 percent more than last fall's: $5,472, up from $4,440. And with mandatory campus fees averaging $950, the price for a year at CSU will come to about $6,422, not counting room and board.

That's twice what it cost in 2007.
Somehow, I doubt students are getting twice the education.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tips For Speaking English Abroad

At CNN.com:
Most travelers have witnessed these awkward English exchanges. In the former example, the woman seemed to assume that anyone working at a hotel must speak fluent (rambling) English. In the latter, the man's simplified language and charades were so over-the-top, he came across as patronizing. Doesn't every traveler have a story like this? A glad-I'm-not-like-that-jerk tale?

It's easy to roll one's eyes at these obvious gaffes and grumble about ignorance, but it's not easy to navigate a language barrier. Is it presumptuous to try and communicate in fluid English when abroad? Is it condescending to simplify your speech when talking to a non-native English speaker?
For me, part of the enjoyment of travel is the difference, the experience that I don't get at home. I enjoy the local foods, like to walk the streets, try to talk to the people. And while I recognize that many non-Americans, especially those in touristy areas, will speak English, I consider it respectful to learn at least a few phrases in whatever local language in which I'm immersed.

Here are some common ones that I've found useful:
please
thank you
excuse me
I'm sorry
do you speak English?
where is... ?
how much does this cost?
numbers

Like everyone else, I've had "language experiences" when I travel. My two favorites both occurred a few years ago, on my solo trip to Cancun. In the first experience, I was trying to let the hotel staff know that one of the lights in my bathroom didn't work. I couldn't come up with enough words on my own, so I cheated and typed it into Babelfish or some similar translation web site, and wrote the staff a note. The hotel staff giggled but understood what I meant; I guessed--and was correct--that what I had actually told them was that one of the lights in my bathroom wasn't employed! Not knowing I'd used the internet, though, they still told me they were impressed with (and appreciative of) my effort.

On another day, I was on one of the local buses, and there were some clearly drunk, clearly American 20-somethings, very loud and very foul-mouthed, and crawling all over each other making out. F***ing-this, g**-d***-that, very rude and disrespectful to the passengers around them, stating outright that they considered the Mexicans to be lesser people than themselves. Past experience has taught me that drunk 20-somethings are not very likely to respond positively to corrections from a single middle-aged man, so I said nothing. As soon as they got off the bus (thankfully!), though, I looked around at those around me and said, "Lo siento por los Americanos." I don't know if it was proper grammar or not, but everyone smiled and looked sympathetically at me--knowing how embarrassed I was--and many gave me the "no problema".

Turns out, though, that the Americans are not the worst visitors to Cancun. Without exception, I was told that that dubious distinction belongs to the Argentines. Eastern Europeans can be a bit rude, too. In general, Americans may be clueless, but they mean well and don't try to offend.

In preparation for my now-cancelled Iceland trip, I had borrowed a language CD from the local library. I was practicing Icelandic pronunciation and trying to learn the stock phrases I listed above. That trip's now on long-term hold, and next year's trip is currently scheduled to be Italy. I spent a summer in Italy when I was 11 and knew all those phrases above, so my preparation for next year shouldn't be as daunting.