Monday, December 31, 2012

Culturally Sensitive Perversions

This one's kinda funny:
The U.S. Army got itself into an embarrassing situation recently, when it was revealed that a new cultural sensitivity pamphlet had been distributed containing some explosive advice. Among the many things troops were advised not to talk to their Afghan colleagues or students about were; homosexuality, sex with children, and abusing women. All three practices are common in Afghanistan, especially the southern areas where most American troops operate.
Yeah, you definitely want to read the entire (short) article at the link.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Less Empathy, Not More

In our politically-correct world, you'd expect people at least to fake the "right" answer, but no, honesty shone through:
Today's college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and '90s, a University of Michigan study shows.

The study, presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, analyzes data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years.
Yes, this report is over two years old, but I doubt much has changed in the interim.

Screw The Rich? Not So Fast!

Well, at least, not so much.  It's still socialist Europe, after all:
Embattled French President Francois Hollande suffered a fresh setback Saturday when France's highest court threw out a plan to tax the ultrawealthy at a 75 percent rate, saying it was unfair.

In a stinging rebuke to one of Socialist Hollande's flagship campaign promises, the constitutional council ruled Saturday that the way the highly contentious tax was designed was unconstitutional. It was intended to hit incomes over €1 million ($1.32 million).

The largely symbolic measure would have only hit a tiny number of taxpayers and brought in an estimated €100 million to €300 million - an insignificant amount in the context of France's roughtly (sic) €85 billion deficit.
With these kinds of people, including our president, it's not about bringing money into the treasury. It's about some warped view of "fairness".

Saturday, December 29, 2012

If This Bothered You Lefties Under Bush...

...why does it not bother you under Obama?
By a vote of 73 to 23, the US Senate just voted for the warrantless surveillance of American citizens until 2017.

The vote, set to affirm to eradicate the FAA Sunsets Extension Act of 2012, means we'll be living with Bush-era spy laws for another half decade. In 2007, the Senate voted to grant blanket immunity to companies like AT&T, which conspired with the NSA to monitor American digital conversations without government oversight after 9/11. Today's vote continues that immunity, and provides further carte blanche for the American intelligence-gathering apparatus. Phone calls, texts, and emails are all fair game—and a judge doesn't have to give the OK, so long as it's in the name of counterterrorism. Which is a very easy guise.

Marching Band, Rifle Drill, and Excellence

Based on the language this particular site appears to be Portuguese, but the video is of the Royal Norwegian Guard.  Impressive.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Hiatus!

I'm (probably) taking a break till 2013, so for the next few days you'll get a couple of scheduled posts or "best of" reruns.  Enjoy the end of 2012

This kid rocks.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Freedom

Sometimes people ask me why I value freedom so highly.  If giving up a few freedoms would make life a little easier, they say, why not go for the easy life?

My cerebral answer is that freedom is what drives the human spirit.  We psychologists talk of self-actualizing, they're talking about freedom.  Freedom is the precursor to human growth, it is the essence of what it means to be human.

That's the grand, one-over-the-world answer.  Here's a more practical one:
The Heritage Foundation calculates an Economic Freedom Index annually for countries around the world based on ten factors: business freedom, trade freedom, fiscal freedom, government spending, monetary freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom, property rights, freedom from corruption, and labor freedom. With the index, one can compare the impact of economic freedom to quality of life measures.

The Heritage Foundation uses the index to break down the nations into five subgroups ranging from free economies to repressed economies. Based on the data, it is possible to compare the subgroups for factors such as average life expectancy, income and happiness. Table 1 shows the subgroups based on the 2010 index compared to the average life expectancy, per capita Gross Domestic Product (Purchasing Power Parity), and the Gallup Happiness Index in the year the economic freedom index was calculated.

Practical evidence of my ethereal belief.  Libs can believe whatever they want, but reality is conservative.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I Do Enjoy Satire

Think the Founders never intended for citizens to have high-powered rifles because all they had was muskets?  Think the 2nd Amendment is "technology-dependent"?  How about the 1st?
There’s a lot more at the link, but clearly, and particularly in light of all of the irresponsible reporting and pontificating on what the Founders intended, by CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and others, it’s time to rein in this out-of-control media. How could the Founders have foreseen cable television, or television at all, in which irresponsible, uneducated, ignorant people could fill Americans’ heads with rapid-fire historical nonsense?
If, just to win this debate with me, you say you'd agree to some curtailing of the 1st Amendment if it meant curtailing the 2nd, then you're a fool who has both of those rights only due to the exertions of men and women better than you are. (with thanks to John Stuart Mill)

A Little Reason About the Connecticut Shooting and Calls For More Firearms Control

Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and host of the Instapundit web site, has penned what I consider a thoughtful and reasoned column about the aftermath of the shooting.  You may or may not agree with him, but I think you'll have to agree that he's "thoughtful and reasoned", especially considering that he's not calling for anyone to be killed (unlike the gun control crowd):
When Twenty Minutes Is Forever. According to the CNN timeline for the Sandy Hook tragedy, "Police and other first responders arrived on scene about 20 minutes after the first calls." Twenty minutes. Five minutes is forever when violence is underway, but 20 minutes -- a third of an hour -- means that the "first responders" aren't likely to do much more than clean up the mess...

Is Hate A Liberal Value? A 20-year-old lunatic stole some guns and killed people. Who's to blame? According to a lot of our supposedly rational and tolerant opinion leaders, it's . . . the NRA, a civil-rights organization whose only crime was to oppose laws banning guns. (Ironically, it wasn't even successful in Connecticut, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation)...

Calling people murderers and wishing them to be shot sits oddly with claims to be against violence. The NRA -- like the ACLU, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers or Planned Parenthood -- exists to advocate policies its members want. It's free speech. The group-hate directed at the NRA is ugly and says ugly things about those consumed by it.
He goes on, ending with this:
Ah, yes, the government is broke. And nobody seems to have a plan to deal with it. No wonder they'd rather have us talking about gun control.
Good article.

Obama Administration to California Dept of Education: Screw You!

Obama loves the money his campaign can raise here, and he loves the electoral votes, and he loves his popularity, and he loves our high taxes.

He doesn't like our schools, though, or our elected officials:
California has been denied a waiver from federal sanctions associated with the No Child Left Behind law, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a news release Friday.

"It is disappointing that our state's request – which enjoyed such strong support from parents, teachers, administrators, and education advocates across California – has apparently been rejected," Torlakson said in a statement.
Those who thought that NCLB was a way to privatize our schools, well, you were wrong. It might be a way to force the state, or maybe even the feds, to take them over!

I especially like the comment, as I type this it's the only one, after the article:
Maybe CA should let ALL schools be taken over by the state. Let the state fix them. Let the state figure out how to get the non English speakers up to grade level since Brown and the Dems are so hep on treating all illegals like citizens. Let the state figure out how to make all the poor, under achieving students go to school everyday and study without parental involvement. It seems they believe it's the teacher's responsibility to get all the kids to school everyday, do their homework, and behave themselves at school.

Shoot, we're feeding them with tax dollars anyway. Why not force the teachers to be their parent too.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Day

I watched a healthy portion of the pope's Christmas Mass last night, finally going to bed at 1am.  St. Peter's isn't as impressive on tv as it is in person, but seeing it again brought back memories of the grandeur.

I hope all the readers here at Right On The Left Coast have (had) a wonderful day, a Merry Christmas, or a joyful celebration of whatever holiday you celebrate :) 

Here's my favorite version of a Christmas song, posted again for at least the third year in a row!

Merry Christmas!

Buon Natale!
Froehliche Weinachten!
Feliz Navidad!
Joyeaux Noel!
Mele Kalikimaka!

I'm scheduling this post in advance because I plan on watching the Pope's Christmas mass.  No, I haven't converted to Catholicism, but I want to see St. Peter's again.

Have a great day!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Jury Duty

Back in October I was scheduled for jury duty, but since I'm a teacher (students are allowed to as well) I was able to push my service date out up to 90 days so I could serve during a scheduled break.  I stated on the form that I'd be available the week of December 24th.  A couple weeks ago I got a new jury summons for that (this) week.

The instructions were to call or check the web site over the weekend to see when my group number would be needed.  When I checked on Saturday the site said that my group would not need to go in on Monday morning, but should call or check at 11:30 to see if we'd need to go in at 1pm.  I checked a little early, and here are the new instructions for my group:
Your group is not needed. Your service is complete. You do not need to check back. Thank you for making yourself available to serve as a juror.
Not complaining!

Vilfredo Pareto's Simple Discovery

When I worked in industry, we used Statistical Process Control to ensure that our manufacturing processes were stable.  We measured output using a variety of charts and could identify if something were going wrong with a process (a blade going bad on a cutter, or perhaps a die wearing out) and could fix the problem before it became severe.

One of the charts we used was called a Pareto Chart; on it we listed the types of errors we got from a specific process, and the quantity of those errors.  The goal was to attack the most common error first.  Turns out that chart was named after Vilfredo Pareto, who's discussed in this article:
With today’s liberals, it is not really about fairness. It is about trying to make people equal who will never be equal. It is what socialism and communism have always striven toward, and it is something their philosophy has never achieved. It can never be achieved.

And that is because people are not equal. Created equal, yes; equal under the law, yes; equal in many ways, yes; but ultimately not equal because people are all different. Despite ecumenical pleas that we are all one, that we are all the same, we really are not.

And neither is the tax situation. Liberals cry that the rich are not paying their share, and they are right about that – just in the wrong direction.

The top one percent of earners pays 40 percent of all income taxes. The top 10 percent pays 70 percent of all taxes. The top 50 percent pays 98 percent. The bottom 50 percent of earners pays two percent.

That is the truth. However, the truth, historically, has always been the biggest enemy of the liberals, socialists and communists.

Their goal has never been to be “fair,” or to make rich people pay a “fair share.” Their goal is to make everyone equal in the egalitarian utopia that socialists have always desired. The trouble is, it usually ends with everyone being equally poor and equally miserable...

When you talk about unfairness and inequality, consider the work of Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian engineer and sociologist turned economist. More than a hundred years ago, he saw disparity and it made him wonder – why was 80 percent of the land in Italy owned by 20 percent of the people? He saw the rich and the poor, and he wondered why some people became rich and some remained poor.

His observations – known as the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule — are worth noting, and apply today as much as they did a hundred or a thousand years ago.

Pareto noted that 80 percent of a company’s profit came from 20 percent of its customers; 80 percent of a company’s sales come from 20 percent of its salesmen, and from 20 percent of its clients; 80 percent of a company’s complaints come from 20 percent of its customers; in his garden, 80 percent of the peas came from 20 percent of the peapods. In other words, 80 percent of achievement comes from the efforts of 20 percent.

The principle has been adapted and expanded by a number of economists in the years after Pareto. Microsoft, for example, did its own study showing that fixing 20 percent of the most reported bugs eliminates 80 percent of errors and crashes. Safety experts know that eliminating 20 percent of hazards prevents 80 percent of injuries. Supervisors know that 20 percent of the work takes 80 percent of the time...

A 1992 study by a United Nations committee found that the richest 20 percent of the world’s population controlled 82 percent of the world’s income, while the poorest 20 percent controlled 1.4 percent (and the poorest 60 percent controlled 5.5 percent). The U.N. didn’t need a study to show that.

It does seem unfair that so many have a lot while so many others have so little. But that is life, and life is unfair. The Democrat liberals and socialists have turned America from a society that praised and rewarded hard work, to a society that scorns and punishes it. We now are a society that has made a cult of worshipping the poor. There’s an old saying that it isn’t a crime to be poor, but it isn’t a great achievement. Well, now it is considered a great achievement...

It was Pareto’s education as a sociologist, where human nature came into the mix, that made him understand why utopian theories didn’t work out in reality.

I found the Pareto Principle on a local level, anytime I had to do a story about any of the high schools my newspapers covered. I noticed that the students at the top of the class were involved in the most activities, while those at the bottom of the class were involved in no activities. That didn’t make sense to me on first glance. The students involved in so many activities, like sports, music, service clubs — shouldn’t they have the lowest grades because they don’t have time to study, and shouldn’t those with no involvement have the highest grades because they have all that free time to study?

No, it was just the opposite. Those who worked the hardest, in an out of the classroom, were the smartest and the most successful.

Just like in real life.
Some things just are.  That doesn't mean they're good or desirable, but a quixotic and ruinously expensive attempt to change them isn't any more so.

Running Out Of Other People's Money

You wouldn't see a piece like this in the American mainstream media, especially in the Age of The One, and it's certainly odd to see it in the British press, but it is, as the British would say, spot on:
The promises that governments are making to their electorates are not just misleading: they are unforgivably dishonest. It will not be possible to go on as we are, or to return to the expectations that we once had. The immediate emergency created by the crash of 2008 was not some temporary blip in the infinitely expanding growth of the beneficent state. It was, in fact, almost irrelevant to the larger truth which it happened, by coincidence, to bring into view. Government on the scale established in most modern western countries is simply unaffordable...

Of course, the moral logic of this principle is absurd. The amount of wealth in an economy is not fixed so that one person having more means that somebody else must have less. But, for the purposes of our problem, it is the fault in the economic logic that is more important. The amount of money that is required to fund government entitlement programmes is now so enormous that it could not be procured by even very large increases in taxation on the “rich”. Assuming that you could get all of the rich members of your population to stand still and be fleeced (rather than leaving the country, as GĂ©rard Depardieu and a vast army of his French brethren are doing), there are simply not enough of them to provide the revenue that a universal, comprehensive benefits system requires. And if all the French rich did stay put, and submit to President Hollande’s quixotic 75 per cent income tax, they would soon be too impoverished to invest in the supply side of the economy, which would undermine any possibility of growth...

There is no way that “taxing the rich” – that irresistibly glib Left-wing solution to everything – can make present and projected levels of government spending affordable...

At some point, we will have to accept that government-funded health care will consist of subsidised core services to be topped up by the patient’s own insurance or personal funds, just as dentistry and opticians’ services are now. Similarly, pension provision will have to be largely the responsibility of the individual. The greatest contribution that government will be able make to these efforts will be in cutting personal taxes, thus leaving people with more money to pay for provision that they will be free to choose for themselves.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

No. Next Question.

Is the Ivy League fair to Asian Americans?  Are any so-called selective universities?
Are Ivy League institutions discriminating against Asian Americans by limiting how many are admitted? That's the subject of a debate published this week in the New York Times...

As I see it, we know that even well-intentioned people regularly rationalize discriminatory behavior, that society as a whole is often horrified at its own bygone race-based policies, and that race is so fluid in our multi-ethnic society that no one can adequately conceive of all the ways it is changing; knowing these things, prudence dictates acceptance of the fact that humans aren't equipped to fairly take race into consideration. At various times in history, doing so has nevertheless been a necessity. We're lucky that it isn't a necessity now, and that class-based affirmative action would effectively target the most needy racial minorities in a race-blind way.

To imagine that today's college-admissions officers can step outside the failings of humanity, making subjective judgment calls in secret with racial enlightenment that is unprecedented in human history, is folly. It may have seemed possible and even done more good than harm when America was mostly grappling with black and white. Now that we're asking people to calibrate the "diversity value" of American blacks, Africans, Hispanics, Thais, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Native Americans, and many more besides? The prudent course is acknowledging the limits of our wisdom. Alas, intellectual humility and restraint are not among the Ivy League's virtues.
They do well, so in education circles they're not considered "minorities" and hence can feel the full force of racial discrimination. Logic is not the strong suit of the liberals who create these policies.

Update:  Does anyone truly believe that affirmative action candidates for faculty really are the best instructors a college can get?  No.  Next question.
The problems of such hiring assumptions and practices are so manifold as to make it nearly inconceivable that they should have been implemented across North American universities without any significant protest — but implemented they have been, and most academics I know will admit no serious contradiction between the ideal of equality and the reality of discrimination against white male candidates. It should be self-evident — but is not — that any form of hiring is wrong that does not make merit its first and major criterion. Not only academic departments are harmed by practices that imperil quality; the candidates themselves, who must live with the question of their real qualifications forever undetermined, are placed in a humiliating position. Moreover, department morale is likely to suffer considerably when members see less qualified candidates favored due to non-intellectual factors, with resentments and rivalries an almost inevitable result.

What stands out most in my recollection of that time is the dishonesty of the proceedings. A member of the department who served on a campus-wide committee tasked with developing best practices to promote diversity mentioned one of their recommendations: after a minority candidate is hired, members of the department should take care to tell all their friends of her merit; the equity preference should not be mentioned. The omission hit at the nub of the matter. It was not that individuals were necessarily lying as they offered their various justifications and rationales; many of them believed in what they were doing, at least some of the time. But it was impossible to believe wholeheartedly and without hesitation through all of those strained, compromised, and occasionally ludicrous moments of hedging, half-truth, selective blindness, and forced praise.

No matter one’s commitment to righting past wrongs, one could not avoid recognizing that non-intellectual criteria were being used to hire candidates into positions ostensibly defined by intellectual achievement.

Update #2, 12/24/12Here's the racial breakdown for Cal-Berkeley.  I wonder how many of those Asians are affirmative action candidates.  I wonder what their percentages would be if there were no affirmative action at Berkeley.  I heard once, but can't find a citation for it, that someone once told Governor Reagan that without affirmative action our University of California campuses would be overwhelmingly Asian and his response was, "So what?"  I'd like to find out if that anecdote is true or not, and what the context was.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

It's Like I Can't Stop

No, I'm not talking about eating sweets, although I very well could be.  I'm actually talking about Christmas shopping!  For no good reason today other than wanting to get out of the house, I went to Target to pick up a bunch of stocking-stuffer-type things for my son.  He's 16, but I still like having a stocking from Santa for him :-)

Sometimes our kids bring out the worst in us.  Sometimes, though, they bring out the best in us.  Christmas can be one of those times.

Friday, December 21, 2012

It Must Be Pretty Bad

"But, but, he has a medical condition, and the workplace has to accommodate him!"

"Or, he can wear charcoal-laced undies."

Whatever the solution is, this selfish idiot isn't so important that everyone else should have to smell his farts:
A federal employee was formally reprimanded this month for excessive workplace flatulence, a sanction that was delivered to him in a five-page letter that actually included a log of representative dates and times when he was recorded “releasing the awful and unpleasant odor” in his Baltimore office.

In a December 10 letter accusing him of “conduct unbecoming a federal officer,” the Social Security Administration employee was informed that his “uncontrollable flatulence” had created an “intolerable” and “hostile” environment for coworkers, several of whom have lodged complaints with supervisors.

The worker, a 38-year-old Maryland resident, reportedly submitted evidence that he suffered from “some medical conditions” that, at times, caused him to be unable to work full days. But a SSA manager noted in the reprimand letter that, “nothing that you have submitted has indicated that you would have uncontrollable flatulence. It is my belief that you can control this condition.”
I'm sure this will end up on a judge's bench, and hope that the judge applies some common sense--which this individual clearly lacks.  Of course his union is springing for the attorney.   Why don't they care about all the other employees?

(My favorite line in the story:  The man was also accused of launching a trio of attacks on September 11.)

Clogging the Arteries

How amazing does this pizza look?
The Double Sensation's outer crust is filled with mozzarella, Parmesan, and cheddar cheese, which oozes out from strategically placed notches all the way around the edge. The smaller crust is stuffed with a chicken sausage that is itself stuffed with bits of cheese. The entire thing is liberally covered in pepper-Alfredo sauce, salsa sauce, smoked chicken, turkey ham, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers and zucchini. This is knife-and-fork pizza, not pick-it-up-and-eat-it-with-your-hands pizza. Also: There's a maraschino cherry on top.
I can feel my arteries hardening just from looking at the picture.

What I Like About Today

The last day before Christmas break is always a fun time.  We used to come back in January and have two weeks left in the semester, so finals hung over everyone's head like a Sword of Damocles.  Not so anymore, and everyone, staff and student alike, gets to enjoy a well-deserved no-school-requirements break.

I teach in an upscale area, and the generosity shown my students and parents always humbles me.  It's very kind. 

Additionally, I love it when former students come back and visit.  I think I had three of them just drop in today, one from college and two from one of our "online" schools.  Facebook keeps me in touch with many former students, but it's still nice to see them in person--and they have no idea how much.

Our first day back at work in January is a teacher work day, so that's when I'll finish grading the final exams and entering those grades.  The semester will start that Tuesday.

I think I'll skip entirely what I don't like about today.  I'm on too much of a high.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

We Didn't Have Such Clubs At West Point

We had all sorts of clubs, military-oriented and otherwise, but we didn't have anything like this:
The august flagship of the Ivy League, Harvard University, approved Friday a student group devoted to kinky sex called Harvard College Munch, a university spokesman said.
I'm sure mumsie and dadsie are just so happy to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars so their baby can go to a school with a kinky sex club.

Sad. Very Sad.

Our military academy cadets and midshipmen should be exemplars of decorum, physical aptitude, intelligence, and integrity; they should represent the best of their generation.  How, then, have they devolved to this:
Reported sexual assaults at the nation's three military academies jumped by 23 percent overall this year, but the data signaled a continued reluctance by victims to seek criminal investigations.

According to a report obtained by The Associated Press, the number of assaults rose from 65 in the 2011 academic year to 80 in 2012. However, nearly half the assaults involved victims who sought confidential medical or other care and did not trigger an investigation. There were 41 assaults reported in 2010.
Granted, we're talking about 80 out of 12,000 young men and women, or 2/3 of 1 percent, which is probably better than most civilian campuses, but still--*sigh*.

During the Golden Age of West Point, 1983-1987, such things weren't unheard of (I myself heard of two cases of pressuring but no actual assaults), and we didn't even have locks on our doors.  Nowadays there are locks on the barracks doors to prevent theft and to prevent sexual assaults.  There's no way around it, that's a specific case of degraded standards from "back in the day"--and it comes as much from the society from which these cadets and midshipmen are drawn as much as from any lack of training or command emphasis.

School Shooting

I've been carrying on an animated discussion on the topic over on Facebook, but the bottom line is that my opinion falls well within what is currently mainstream American thought:
A new poll released today by Gallup shows that Americans favor increased security and proactive mental health treatment over gun control. The national poll of a little over 1,000 adults was conducted in the wake of the tragic murders at a Connecticuit school last Friday.
I wrote on the topic of arming teachers over 5 years ago.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Standards, High and Low

The premise of this first story sounds like one of those too-good-to-be-true weight loss diets, just take this pill and you'll look and feel great!
I don’t know anyone who cares more or knows more about Montgomery County public schools then Joseph Hawkins, a senior study director at the Westat research company.

He tried in 2000 to start a charter school in the county to challenge low-income minority kids. The Board of Education said no, concerned, among other things, that the charter’s plan to have all students in the International Baccalaureate diploma program was too strenuous.

Hawkins still wants more rigorous classes for the students least likely to be in them. In a recent post on the Rockville Patch blog, he suggested the following: At the eight county schools that offer IB classes, black students must go for the full IB diploma, which requires six three-to-five-hour exams and a 4,000-word research paper. His reasons are interesting...

“Now I know it sounds simple,” he wrote, “but to close gaps, schools must make the students who are behind (e.g., black students) run faster. And if they do not, then gaps remain.” He said he italicized the word “make” because “it does come down to a requirement. There is no negotiating excellence and better outcomes.”
It seems to me counter-intuitive to believe that putting kids in the IB program will "work" when too many of them--supposedly the best of them--can't succeed in college.
Hawkins and the other charter school backers said making the IB diploma the ultimate goal would transform the usual easy-going, let’s-get-everybody-graduated atmosphere of the typical U.S. high school. With the IB diploma as the goal, “you might need five years of high school to make that happen for some, and that might include going to school six days a week and not five,” Hawkins said. 
Oh, I definitely see the teachers unions getting on board with that.  Not.  It would have to be a charter school. 

How do we address the racial discrimination that would be inherent in such a school setup?


If we want to find something positive in that story, though, at least we can see that someone wants to set and enforce high standards.  What happens when dumb people want to become teachers?  I wrote a harshly-worded post on the subject almost 5 years ago, and now we face the issue again:
Is arithmetic racist? Are English and science and art?

These might seem like stupid questions, but — speaking of stupid — a federal judge says the answer is yes, they are, and slapped New York City with a judgment that could cost the school system hundreds of millions.

The case involves a 16-year-old lawsuit, a handful of unqualified teachers who tried to cast their own failures as a civil-rights violation — and the lefty lawyers who have abetted their cause...

As a former city teacher told The Post, the exam is “high-school level, so anyone with a high-school [diploma] should be able to pass it, regardless of race.”

But that hasn’t been the case. Back in the 1990s, whites passed at far higher rates than blacks and Hispanics.

And when the test was first rolled out, some folks who had been teaching for years were required to take it — but failed.

They were clearly unfit for full-time teaching and were demoted to substitutes, losing salary and seniority.

And they didn’t like that.

So in 1996, some of them turned to activist lawyers and sued the city to have their jobs and pay restored. The case has been kicking around the courts ever since.

Their claim: Since black and Hispanic applicants failed the tests more often than whites, the tests were ipso facto racist.

It’s an embarrassing thing to believe.

The questions on the exam are race-blind and measure basic academic skills. Passing the test doesn’t prove someone will make a brilliant teacher — but no one who fails should be within a mile of a city classroom...

There’s nothing racist about the LAST.

And that fact can’t be sued away.

Yet last week, in the latest twist in this 16-year-old case, Judge Kimba Wood found that the LAST had a “disparate impact” on black and Hispanic applicants and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Kimba Wood? Where have we heard of this genius jurist before?

Who's more stupid, Kimba Wood or the college-educated adults that can't pass a junior-high level test?

I'm curious what Randi Weingarten, she of the "teacher bar exam",  thinks of this.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

That's the argument being used in this case:
A California school district is defending its decision to name a new elementary school after an infamous murderer – by calling him a hero and a role model to children. The decision has infuriated many parents and law enforcemetn (sic) officers.

The Alisal Union School District in Salinas agreed to name the new school in honor of Tiburcio Vasquez – who was eventually hanged for killing at least two people in the nineteenth century.

Superintendent John Ramirez defended the board’s decision telling Fox News that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

“Tiburcio Vasquez, along with others, was an individual who was a revolutionary,” Ramierz (sic) said. “He was not okay with the oppression.”
You know how this story is going to go, but read it anyway.

What's next, Tookie High?

RAM

Remember when, over a decade ago, the price of computer RAM was a serious discussion?

A problem in my stats class today got me to thinking about this.  Remember when, back in the 90s, RAM hit that magical price of $100/Mb, and that was a big deal?  It was a tremendous milestone at the time.

Just for giggles, when the question came up today, I decided to use it as a teaching point.  I went to Amazon and typed in "PC RAM" and the first one that came up was 4 GB for $19.99.  That's half-a-cent per MB, down from $100/MB less than a generation ago.

Nice.

Monday, December 17, 2012

What The Hell Are They Thinking?

Back in the Golden Age of West Point (1983-1987), drugs weren't an especially big problem.  We got popped for random urinalysis tests, and I can only remember once when someone came up "hot".  If there was drug use in The Corps, its existence was virtually unknown to me.  Alcohol?  Gawd yes.  I was known to keep a bottle available once or twice (literally) during my tenure there, but drugs?  Who had that kind of money?

It turns out that several of today's midshipmen do:
When the Naval Academy closed its 11-month investigation last year into the use of synthetic marijuana by midshipmen, officials said they’d dismissed 16 mids — but found no evidence of drug dealing.

What the academy’s account didn’t reveal was just how significant a drug culture Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents found.

The investigation ended the military careers of at least 27 midshipmen, including those allowed to resign while being investigated for drug use and an undetermined number suspected of drug use who were dismissed for collateral reasons.
The only question I can ask is, what they hell were they thinking?

Tying Several Posts Together

Yes, I'm a rock star--temporarily, and in my own way, but a rock star nonetheless!  And in celebration of that new-found status, let me relate a story:

Back in 1982 or so, I had a ticket to see Fleetwood Mac in Sacramento.  Unfortunately the concert was put on hold because Stevie Nicks caught "a cold"--which, if I read the bios well enough, is code for "rehab"--and when the concert dates were rescheduled, Sacramento's was canceled.  A couple years later Christine McVie released a solo album, and I got to see her perform when she played at West Point's Eisenhower Hall.  A few years ago I saw Lindsey Buckingham perform on a solo tour, and just two summers ago I went to a Stevie Nicks concert.  At that point I'd seen all three of Fleetwood Mac's "lead" singers perform, but never as Fleetwood Mac.

Sunday, May 26th, at the MGM in Las Vegas, I get to see Fleetwood Mac perform (Christine doesn't tour anymore, but OK).  I'm very much looking forward to it!

In order to buy tickets I had to go through Ticketmaster, and you wouldn't believe the stupid fees they get away with as a veritable monopoly!  Yes, I want the tickets enough to pay the fees, but that doesn't mean that they aren't stupid fees.  I mean here's the list:
"convenience" fee:  $11.15 ea
order processing fee (I have to pay them to take my money?): $3.75
TicketFast delivery (ie, I get the privilege of printing my own tickets): $2.50

I get to see Fleetwood Mac! After a weekend in Las Vegas!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Can You Believe This Is Really An Issue?

Only in San Francisco could such an ordinance be contentious:
San Francisco's city attorney is urging a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to overturn the city's recently approved nudity ban...

The ban was approved by the Board of Supervisors this month and is scheduled to take effect Feb. 1. It bars nudity in public places, with exceptions at events like the Bay to Breakers race and the Folsom Street Fair.

They Thought They Were Safe, But Time Caught Up To Them

Remember all those teachers who cut school in Wisconsin to throw a hissy fit, and all the doctors who wrote their illegitimate "help me violate my contract by lying" notes to excuse them from work?  You might recall that some of those doctors were sanctioned.  The wheels of justice have turned rather slowly, but almost 2 years later, even more have been busted:
The Wisconsin Medical Examining Board on Wednesday sanctioned 11 more doctors for writing questionable sick notes to protesters demonstrating at the Capitol in February 2011...

The 11 doctors sanctioned Wednesday were named in records the Madison School District released to the State Journal and other media in December after a lawsuit by the newspaper.
Now will the teachers finally be sanctioned?

Global Warming? Not So Fast....

A decade ago Al Gore was telling us how bad hurricane seasons were going to be in "just a few" years--our hurricane seasons have been lighter.  A decade ago we were warned about how the earth was warming up, but now there's no evidence that it's warmed in the last decade.  And then we were told how carbon dioxide, the elixir of life on this planet, was the cause of this global warming, but now even the IPCC is taking a step back:
So the IPCC, at the moment at least, stands ready to admit that the evidence supports a much larger role for solar activity, and a correspondingly much smaller role for CO2. Of course, other sections of the report implicitly contradict this admission. Watts Up With That has all the details on the controversy. I am not sure I agree with those who say this represents the death knell for climate alarmism, but it certainly does illustrate how flimsy the “science” underlying the hysterical position is.
I have long believed, and continue to believe, that solar activity has been the cause of Earth's, and Mars', recent warming trends, and I welcome the IPCC to the group of us that believes in science as opposed to hysteria. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Do You Feel Safer? I Don't.

How could this possibly make us safer?  Are bad guys really going after Travers City, MI, or Eugene, OR?
Transit authorities in cities across the country are quietly installing microphone-enabled surveillance systems on public buses that would give them the ability to record and store private conversations, according to documents obtained by a news outlet...

The use of the equipment raises serious questions about eavesdropping without a warrant, particularly since recordings of passengers could be obtained and used by law enforcement agencies...

Cities that have installed the systems or have taken steps to procure them include San Francisco, California; Eugene, Oregon; Traverse City, Michigan; Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore Maryland; Hartford, Connecticut; and Athens, Georgia.

San Francisco transit authorities recently approved a $5.9 million contract to install an audio surveillance system on 357 buses and vintage trolley cars, paid for in full with a grant from DHS (Department of Homeland Security). The contract includes the option to expand the equipment to an additional 600 vehicles.

Concord, New Hampshire also used part of a $1.2 million economic stimulus grant to install its new video/audio surveillance system on buses, according to the Daily.

Transit officials say the systems will help improve the safety of passengers and drivers and resolve complaints from riders. But privacy and security expert Ashkan Soltani told the Daily that the audio could easily be coupled with facial recognition systems or audio recognition technology to identify passengers caught on the recordings.

In Eugene, Oregon, the Daily found, transit officials requested microphones that would be capable of “distilling clear conversations from the background noise of other voices, wind, traffic, windshields wipers and engines” and also wanted at least five audio channels spread across each bus that would be “paired with one or more camera images and recorded synchronously with the video for simultaneous playback.”
Do we really want or need to live in this type of surveillance society? Do our friends on the left remember when they used to believe in civil liberties, and when they believed in individual privacy rights?

Homeland Security gave these grants.  Are these cities, and/or their bus systems, serious terrorist targets?

Update:  Do you feel safer after watching TSA-holes detain a 12-yr-old wheelchair-bound girl because she had "bomb residue" on her hands?

Rock Star

Regular readers of this blog know that I've started a (5 year long) master's program via distance learning, and my first class has been Linear Algebra.

I started out slowly, getting 9/10 on my first homework submission and 85% on my first test, and began to wonder if I still "had it", as I used to do rather well academically.  After that I hit my stride, though, and going into the final exam this past week I had just over 96%.

Monday after school I took my final exam.  I was allowed 2 hours but finished in 80 minutes--and felt very confident about the results.  Today I got those results back:  including a total of 10 available bonus points, I scored 149/140 on the final, ending with just over 99% in the class.

I'm euphoric.  I feel like a rock star!  There's nothing I can't accomplish today!
appropriately-titled video #1
appropriately-titled video #2

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dear College Math Professor

I'm sorry, I truly am.  But it's really not my fault.  Please don't blame me.

I'm truly not incompetent.  I know you must think I am when you get that student in your class who did so well in high school but doesn't seem to know anything about math.  You wonder what the heck is going on down there in high school, why can't those darned teachers teach these kids anything?  Do high school math teachers know any math at all?

We're not incompetent.  We really do know math.  But we operate under an entirely different set of rules than you do.

Hear me out.

See, you might think that the grades I assign should reflect a level of competency and fluency with course material--that a student who gets an A did an exceptional job and has an exceptional grasp of the material, that a student who gets a B did well above average and has a reasonably strong grasp of the material, etc.

Oh, if only that were so.

 Maybe for most students it is that way, but for a small but growing number of students, the grade I assign is sometimes entirely independent of the student's mastery of the material, and I'm required to assign a higher grade than what you and I think the student should receive.  In fact, I'm legally required to assign this higher grade, even if the student can't meet any reasonable standard of competency.  How can this be, you ask?  Well, I don't know about how this works at your level, but here in high school we're hogtied by a federal law that's been effectively stretched and abused; that law is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, specifically Section 504 of that law.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was written to protect the rights of those with physical or mental impairments, and to provide training for people with handicaps.  Section 504 of that law specifically requires "reasonable accommodations" in the workplace--or in the classroom--so that the "disabled" can fully participate in all areas of society.  And therein lies the root of our issue.

Now don't get me wrong.  I understand that diabetics need to be allowed a snack in class to control their blood sugar, even though no one else can eat in class.  I understand that an obese kid won't be able to walk across campus in our 5-minute passing period and will need extra time to get to class.  I understand that an asthmatic needs to be allowed to carry his inhaler with him, even though we don't generally allow students to carry prescription medicines around with them.  I understand that students who are hard of hearing, or with vision impairments, might need to sit near the teacher at all times.  And if that's all we were talking about when it comes to Section 504, then grades wouldn't be an issue, and you wouldn't think I'm a dolt.

But wait.  Included in the definitions is one small phrase about  the law's applicability to students with specifically designated learning disabilities.

Now can you see the problem?  Can you see the potential for abuse?

I'm here to tell you that it's not potential, it's here.  It's abused.  It's chronic.  It's gross.

And I'm just a lowly minion who's told what to do and threatened with federal sanctions (and lawsuits and disciplinary action) if I don't comply.  If I don't give certain grades, the entire weight of the federal government comes down upon me.

All it takes to get a "504 Plan" is one doctor to say a child has a problem, and voila!  A "504 Plan", as it's called, and a cushy ticket to A-grade-town.  Even high school students--they could have been seen by a doctor in 2nd grade, and if that doctor said they have ADD or "oppositional defiance disorder" or a "sequencing issue" or "verbal processing difficulties" or "dyscalculia" or whatever, then here's what happens.  School officials--sometimes in consultation with a teacher, often not--meet and come up with a "plan" that will bypass the student's disability and get the student Stanford-ready--a silver bullet!--and then that "plan" is imposed upon the teacher who will, since it has the force of federal law behind it, enforce it to the letter or face severe sanction.  And that plan will periodically get updated as the student gets older, but no parent in his or her right mind is ever going to have accommodations removed from this "plan"--they like seeing high grades on report cards, and don't want to accept that their kid isn't truly as capable as they want them to be--so what happens is that as time goes on, even more requirements are imposed on teachers.  Eventually, these requirements become educationally unsound, but as a teacher I'm still required to obey them.  Often these requirements involve how I assess the student's knowledge, and sometimes they even impose specific grading requirements.

Again, don't get me wrong, I'm all for helping students who need help.  What I'm against is having to assign a grade--and most people, especially my fellow educators, interpret a grade as indicating some level of course mastery--that in no way reflects mastery or knowledge at all.  And what's worse, there's no way to indicate that the student got that grade because of excessive accommodations.  When your university admissions team looks at that student's transcript, they see great grades and everything is wonderful.

When you get the student and they can't do anything in your class, you might wonder how this student ever passed the math classes required for university admission.  You'll think I'm incompetent--how could this student, who knows nothing, earn such grades in a math class that's an entry ticket to college?

Please, don't blame me.  And don't think of this as reflecting on my integrity as a teacher.  I have to console myself with the thought that I'm merely an arm of the state in this case; the grade is not a reflection of me, my beliefs, my teaching ability, or of my assessment of the student's abilities.  No, in too many of these 504 cases the grade merely reflects what those above me, and those who came before me, want me to put on that transcript.

Yes, that belief structure is the same heartless one we hear all too often, "I'm just doing what I'm told, just doing my job."

Well, now that kid's your problem.  We both know this isn't right.  I hope you fare better than I did in this battle.

And lest anyone think I'm violating confidences here, this is not about any particular student or any particular event.  This is not a venting caused by any recent student, parent, administrator, or 504 Plan imposed upon me.  This is truly just a general venting on a topic about which I'm very passionate because it is abused so much.

Update, 12/15/12: On a related note:
Eighteen-year-old Jared DeWeese is severely disabled. He cannot walk, talk, read or write. Nevertheless, WSB-TV reports, he is receiving straight A’s in several courses, including algebra, biology and world history at a school in Gwinnett County, Georgia.

Now, Jared’s father, Wes DeWeese, is publicly questioning exactly how such a feat is possible, given his son’s limited aptitude and cognitive skills.

“My wife and I were pretty astounded,” Wes DeWeese told WSB-TV. “Glad he’s getting 90s and 100s. But he can’t do any of these. He has the mental capacity of a six-month-old.”
What is the explanation?  It's quite similar to the explanation for including educationally unsound requirements in 504 Plans:
A spokesperson for Gwinnett County Schools, Sloan Roach, said that the district is merely following the Georgia Department of Education’s policies and regulations. Those regulations require schools to provide students with disabilities — no matter how severe — access to the same academic courses other students take.

“We take those courses you see other students taking and we adapt those courses,” Roach told WSB-TV.

Roach added that students with disabilities, such as Jared, are graded based on “participation” with the curriculum.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

More On Union Thuggery

Instapundit is all over this:
WHAT THE LEFT BLOGOSPHERE IS DOING ABOUT THE ASSAULT ON STEPHEN CROWDER: “They’re engaged in a systematic effort to create confusion and discourage mainstream journalists from reporting on the incident.” And they don’t have to be very good at it to achieve their goal, since mainstream journalists are looking for an excuse to ignore it. They never cover violence by lefties when they can avoid it, though they’re happy to report made-up claims of violence involving the right.
Additionally he links to this:
Max attempts to take the side of the violent protester by implying that Crowder deserved it for inserting himself into the situation and advises Steven to “stop whining, take your licks, and accept that getting hit in the face is a hazard of inserting yourself in the middle of an argument between billionaire-funded know-nothing ideologues and people whose livelihoods and stability are being threatened by the insatiable greed of the super-rich and the blind extremism of their wooden-headed political allies.”

Really? I would love to see this writer’s reaction if a writer at Gawker had gotten punched in the face at a Tea Party event while reporting. I highly doubt the reaction would be the same. It shouldn’t matter what political party you belong to, violence should always be condemned.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Differences In How The Left Behaves vs. How The Right Behaves

Where have all the massive protests against the Obama reelection been?  How many riots were caused by passing Obamacare, or by the Supreme Court ruling OK'ing it?

Oh, that's right, there have been none.

Let the duly elected government in Michigan pass a law similar to that of 23 other states, though--a law that enhances personal liberty, at that--and you get violent protests.  It's like I keep telling you, the left knows only compulsion, and if you don't do things their way, they go straight for the physical violence.

And don't you love it when teachers show their maturity by behaving this way?
At least 26,000 children will miss school today because their teachers called in sick or took a vacation day to protest proposed right-to-work legislation, which is expected to pass today.
Ah, the union mentality.

Nothing would ever get done in this country if conservatives acted this way.  How we as a society tolerate this kind of behavior from half our people, and expect to survive long as a society, is beyond me.

Update:  And who's surprised at this response from the White House?
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to condemn the increasing violence and threats by union members in Michigan, merely telling reporters Tuesday that “the president believes in debate that’s civil.”

When asked by a reporter about a claim by Michigan state Democrat that “there will be blood” should Republicans pass a union-choice law in Michigan, Carney professed ignorance and then downplayed the comment.
Update #2: "There are people under there, oh my God!"

Monday, December 10, 2012

An Inauspicious Ending

It's not that I think I bombed today's final exam--I certainly do not. I probably didn't ace it, either, but perhaps that's not a bad thing, given that the last time I thought I aced a final my overall grade actually dropped from a solid A to an A- because of the final. Yes, seriously.

I was allotted two hours for today's final exam but only took 80 minutes, and that includes checking what answers I could as well as doing the bonus question.

No, it's an inauspicious ending to the first class of my master's program because I have a splitting headache--and not just an ordinary headache, but a straight-across-the-face sinus headache.  Maybe that's to be expected, given that I've been up since 2:30 am (had to study for the final!).  Whatever the reason, I can't celebrate what I anticipate being a very good showing in that class.

I'm having some jasmine tea right now.  In a little while I'll go watch some tv with the dog, and then I'll hit the hay early.  That usually does the trick on headaches.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Final Exam

I take my final exam for my linear algebra class right after school tomorrow, and I admit to slacking on studying for it this past week. It's 5pm, I'm tired, so I think I'll probably go to be in an hour, get up at 2 or 2:30 am, and spend a few hours of quality time with my notes and textbook.

It all comes down to this!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

This Is What A Moderate Sounds Like

Obama: 'I Won't Compromise' on Taxes
link

School Board Considers Overturning Stupid Policy

Six months ago I wrote about the teacher who was fired because he refused to comply with a stupid policy, namely that students would not earn a zero for assignments not submitted.  My take on the story was that the policy was stupid, but it was the district's policy--and the teacher, an employee, needed to follow it.

Turns out that the times, they may be a-changin' already:
Just months after a teacher was fired for giving zeros to students who didn't complete their work, the Edmonton Public School Board is proposing making zeros part of their official policy.
So what happened to the teacher?
After he was fired, Dorval, 61, was hired by a provincially accredited private school in Edmonton, where the headmaster said he would be free to hand out zeros.
Good for him!

Sometimes, Mark Twain's thoughts on school boards are right on.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Where You Stand Depends On Where You Sit

(...if you can find a place to sit.)

While I'm a "live and let live" kinda guy, I still think this is kinda stupid:
The people aren’t really tiny, but their homes are — 150 to 200 square feet of living space, some with gabled roofs, others with bright cedar walls, compact bathrooms and cozy sleeping lofts that add up to living spaces that are smaller than the walk-in closets in a suburban McMansion…

If these affordable homes — which maximize every inch of interior space and look a little like well-constructed playhouses — are the dream, they represent a radically fresh version of what it takes to make Americans happy.
While you're in this house, saving Mother Earth as well as a buck, maybe you'll want to follow Jimmy Carter's advice and put on a sweater, too.

Anyway, this observation couldn't be more correct:
Barbie’s Lowered Expectations House. Put that thing in Flyover Country and cue the Palin jokes. Put it in northeast DC and it magically becomes a fashion statement.

It’s odd… You only read stories about how great it is to be poor, how empowering it is to settle for less, when a Democrat is president. If a Republican was in charge, would WaPo be doing stories about how awesome it is to live in a breadbox?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The "Stupid Fee" Fee

Today I contacted the bank and asked them to send me a check when my certificate of deposit matures in a few weeks.

I don't have any other accounts with them, so in order to get my own money from them, I have to pay.  If I wanted the money wired somewhere, there would be a wire transfer fee.  If I want a check sent to me, there's a check preparation fee.

This is absurd.  It ranks right up there with--might even surpass!--luggage fees at airlines, or the "resort fee" at hotels.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

What's Causing This?

A very interesting article in the SF Chronicle about race, academics, and so much more:
By kindergarten, 1 out of 4 African American boys in California is convinced he will fail in school, a self-fulfilling prophecy driven in part by poverty and trauma, according to the results of a legislative inquiry.
All you lefties who like to spout off about institutional racism in schools--these kids haven't even gotten to school yet.  Evil Whitey Teacher hasn't even started in on these kids yet.  There's a problem, all right, but it's not some imaginary "institutional racism".  These kids aren't getting these viewpoints from EWT, they're getting these views in the home.  On the street.  In the neighborhood.

In other words, it's like I've been saying all along:  it's culture.  Some groups have a culture that supports academic success, some groups do not.  If you want me as a teacher to fix the problem then what you're really saying is that you want me to change someone's culture.  Not my job, not gonna do it.

There's much more sad but interesting information in the article:
Currently, about 70 percent of California males under age 25 are of an ethnicity other than white, yet too many of those boys of color are failing in school and are off track to succeed in the workforce.

For example, by fourth grade, about 60 percent of black and Latino children score below proficient on reading tests, and by eighth grade, about 1 in 4 are chronically absent.
If white teachers and their institutional racism are to blame, then these teachers are efficient and effective. Look at what they're able to accomplish in only a couple years!  Could they really be so effective without truly intending to be so?  Imagine what they could accomplish if they intended to do something!  But wait, they intend to teach material to students, and they're not very effective at that with certain groups.  Something's amiss with this argument.

What's amiss is that blaming the teachers is not only wrong but wrong-headed.  Nobody in the education world is out to shaft black and Hispanic kids.  The problems these kids are having stem from certain specific and identifiable sub-cultural beliefs.  And we all know what they are.

So encouraging people to adopt different, more helpful, values is the recommendation, right?  Well, yes, but bass-ackwardsly so:
"We need to change our value system and recognize that investing in the most marginalized youth will yield the greatest economic returns for California," Swanson said.

Recommendations included expanding educational programs that reduce suspensions and expulsions and increase access to college and career preparation.
They get it wrong again.  Pretending that schools intend to suspend/expel darker-skinned students disproportionately, and then stopping that practice, makes certain people feel good but it doesn't solve the problem.  People should view suspensions/expulsions as exactly what they are:  markers for socially unacceptable behavior.  Removing the markers doesn't remove the behaviors, and it certainly doesn't make the now unpunished behaviors go away, and it doesn't help the student who exhibits those behaviors.  (see the update below)

So, why are certain groups of kids not doing well in school?  For the same reason their larger groups, ethnic and otherwise, aren't doing so well in society.  Until those problems get addressed, we can throw money at schools and create Diversity Officers and refuse to allow schools to discipline kids of certain races--and we'll accomplish nothing but wasting money, devastating good people with false accusations, and reinforcing behaviors that have never allowed success.

Guess what we'll do.

Update, 12/6/12:  I'm reminded of a line from the great movie Stand And Deliver: "There are two types of racism Mr. Escalante--singling out a group of people because they are members of a minority, and not singling out a group of people because they are members of a minority." It's a paraphrase, but the intent is the same.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

A Second Not-So-Impressive West Pointer

Second post in a row about a disappointing West Pointer, this one a graduate:
Charles M. Oberly III, United States Attorney for the District of Delaware, announced today that Saleem Sharif, age 36 of Johns Island, South Carolina, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841 and 846; and possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841. Each charge carries a maximum term of forty years imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum term of five years imprisonment. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for January 15, 2013, at 8:30 a.m.

During the change of plea hearing, Sharif, a West Point graduate and former Captain in the United States Army, admitted that he imported into the United States at least 2.5 kilograms of heroin from Afghanistan while employed there as a contractor. Sharif concealed the heroin in DVD cases, each case containing approximately 2.5 ounces (or 75 grams) of heroin.
Disgusting.

TSA-holes

That bureaucracy and agency can't go away fast enough for my taste.  I hope Elliott's words are true:
With a powerful congressional committee like this lining up behind sweeping TSA reform, it is not a question of if, but when Congress -- which by the way, does sign the TSA's checks -- acts to dismantle this $8-billion-a-year security boondoggle.

I'm not just saying that because I'm CTA's ombudsman and helped devise some of these solutions. Anyone who doesn't believe the current TSA is a federal disaster area with an impossibly sprawling mandate isn't in touch with reality.

The TSA as it exists can't die soon enough.

Atheist Cadet Throws A Hissy Fit And Wants To Resign

Yes, it's a provocative title, but it's really what I get from this story:
While there are certainly numerous problems with the developmental program at West Point and all service academies, the tipping point of my decision to resign was the realization that countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution. These men and women are criminals, complicit in light of day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at times require sectarian religious participation. These transgressions are nearly always committed in the name of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity. The sparse leaders who object to these egregious violations are relegated to the position of silent bystanders, because they understand all too well the potential ramifications of publically expressing their loyalty to the laws of our country. These are strong words that I do not use lightly, but after years of clear personal observation I am certain that they are true.
He goes on to explain that the Commandant, a one-star general, was receptive to his complaints, but this kid is still going to stamp his foot.

I've got two friends (maybe only one left--haven't heard from him in awhile) who are atheists, and I know they're not going to like what I'm going to say here, but it's not like I haven't told it to them before so I'm not revealing some heretofore hidden belief structure:

Atheists can be some of the biggest crybabies.  "Ooh, the word 'God' is on my money!  Ooh, I have to listen to Christmas songs when I go to the store!  Ooh, I'm so oppressed!"  It's no wonder they flock to the Democratic Party, as they've mastered the philosophy of victimhood so prevalent amongst lefties.  I'm from Sacramento, home of Michael Newdow of "pledge of allegiance" fame. 

Atheists--and anyone else, for that matter--I'm not interested in your proselytizing.  There is no such thing as a "freedom from religion", and the rest of us aren't required to pretend that religion doesn't exist just to satisfy you.  This resigning cadet implies that the mere existence of religion in the military is a violation of oath, a laughable view that doesn't deserve further comment.  If it's true that people are being required to participate in sectarian religious practices, then he (and all others) would be right to complain.  He did that--to a general, no less--and admits he got a fair hearing:
The Commandant of Cadets himself, Brigadier General Theodore Martin, expressed what I perceived to be a sincere desire to see to it that these issues are dealt with quickly and severely. As happy as I was to hear his words and see his genuine concern expressed, his influence alone will not be enough to change the confidently bigoted culture of this sad place. The gulf between the intent of a General Officer and the execution of that intent by those in positions of immediate authority is massive in a complex bureaucracy entrenched in over 200 years of tradition. 
If the Commandant can't impose his will on the Corps of Cadets  then things have most certainly changed since The Golden Age of West Point (1983-1987).  Seems to me that this kid has his mind made up, he's going to get his 15 minutes of fame stamping his foot, and nothing's going to stop him.

One could almost surmise that there are others "behind the curtain" egging him on, using this kid, insisting that he sacrifice his own career for their benefit.  Of course I have no evidence of this, but it's certainly not so far out of the realm of possibility that it must be ignored.

Some think he's a hero for falling on his sword.  I think he's a crybaby, that he owes the same repayment that anyone else who resigns at this late date owes, and that the Army should insist on recovering said payment.

Update, 12/6/12Most Americans are religious.  The 1st Amendment is still valid, but let's not require everyone to pretend he/she is an atheist.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Putting the Fox In Charge of the Henhouse

Would you have the alcoholic guard the liquor cabinet?

Would you have the kleptomaniac guard the jewelry store?

Would you put the inmate in charge of the asylum?

For our liberal friends out there:  would you want industry writing OSHA health and safety regulations?  Would you want industry writing EPA pollution standards?

Would you want the teachers' union to decide who gets to be teachers?
A major teachers union wants to create a rigorous professional exam for K-12 teachers that would serve the same function as the bar exam for lawyers and board certification for doctors.

“Unlike law, medicine, architecture and engineering, we hand teachers the keys and tell them to go into the classroom and do their thing,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who is expected to announce the plan Monday. “This is about raising the standards of our profession and making sure that kids get teachers who are prepared.”

A task force of teachers and education experts Weingarten assembled spent a year developing recommendations to improve teacher preparation and certification.

Under the AFT plan, prospective teachers who have undergone training at an education school would have to demonstrate knowledge of their subject areas, an understanding of the social and emotional elements of learning, and spend a year in “clinical practice” as a student teacher before passing a rigorous exam.
All of that sounds reasonable, but why would you expect something so noble from a union?  Answer:  you shouldn't.  Ole Randi and the gang have quite the ulterior motive:
At the same time, alternative teacher preparation programs have sprouted up, offering a streamlined path to certification and the classroom. Teach for America, for example, gives college graduates five weeks of training before sending them into some of the most troubled schools in the country.

A bar exam would “just level the playing field,” Weingarten said. “Maybe all the alternative certified teachers will pass with flying colors. But if only 10 percent of TFA passed it and 90 percent of the students from Teachers College passed it, that would say something.”
My guess is that the TFA candidates would, in their summer "boot camp" have received more practical knowledge and less political indoctrination than the typical teacher candidate, but that's just a guess.

With her last comment quoted above, Randi's shown her true colors.  She's not as interested in improving the teaching corps as she is in deciding who gets to be a part of that teaching corps.

Her suggestion isn't altruistic, it's entirely self-serving--painfully, transparently so.

What If Rachel Carson Was Wrong?

The author of this report claims she is:
This year marks the 50th anniversary of biologist Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, which argued that man-made chemicals represented a grave threat to human health and the environment. Using harsh and unscientific rhetoric—which was rebuked in the journal Science magazine shortly after its publication—Carson postulated that man-made chemicals affect processes of the human body in “sinister and often deadly ways.”

History has proven Carson’s claims wrong. Contrary to her admonitions, a chemically caused cancer epidemic never came to pass. Researchers who identified environmental factors did not simply target trace chemical exposures as significant, but instead focused on major cancer causes such as tobacco and poor diets. In fact, people are living longer and healthier lives, cancer rates have declined even as chemical use has increased, and chemicals are not among the key causes of cancer.
How many people have died from, for example, malaria, because Rachel Carson got the ball rolling that stopped DDT?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Tax Cuts

While President Obama insists the Bush tax cuts caused the recession and record deficits, his own economists say otherwise.

He might want to consult their data for the truth. link
The problem with the inference made is that President Obama isn't interested in truth. He's interested in hate-mongering and "fundamentally" changing the US.  Truth is irrelevant, and evidence is a mere roadblock.

State-sponsored Killing

I never understood the so-called logic behind the argument that we won't allow doctors to kill someone immediately with drugs, but we'll allow them to starve people to death over days.  To me it's just savage.  Britain's NHS isn't solely guilty of this--as I said, we do it here in the US as well--but there, it's actually the government running the hospitals so it's government that's killing people
My first reaction is to hope that this story is wildly wrong, filled with exaggerations and lies.

My second reaction (and this is why I got so agitated) is to imagine what it must be like for the parents. They get talked into letting their kids die, which must be agonizing, and then (assuming they stick around) they have to watch them slowly starve to death or die of thirst. Wouldn’t it be better to just give your kid a fatal injection? Setting aside the moral issue of deciding to let a kid die because he’s disabled or something like that, doesn’t simple decency mean that death should be painless rather than agonizing?

My final reaction is to wonder what Paul Krugman would say about this scandalous neglect and mistreatment. During the Obamacare debate, he told us we could ignore stories about what was happening across the ocean, writing that “In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false.” So I guess starving children don’t qualify as a scare story.
Savage.  I wonder if our descendants will judge us as harshly for doing this as we judge people who owned slaves or burned "witches".

This is "socialism".

The "Small Government" Approach

A couple of years ago, my adopted hometown of Colorado Springs was in a hurtbox.  I remember reading about it at the time, here's what it was like:
More than a third of the city’s 24,512 streetlights went dark. Some 393 trash cans were removed from 128 neighbourhood parks. Public drinking fountains ran dry and park bathrooms were locked. Buses stopped running at 6:15 p.m. and pools shuttered. Irrigation at city parks was ramped down, yielding thirsty, yellowing, brittle grass. Roads deteriorated into a Swiss cheese of potholes and crumbling curbs.

This was Colorado Springs circa spring 2010. The mountain town was still reeling from the recession, its coffers hit by a steep decline in the sales tax revenues it depends on so heavily.
How did they handle such a crisis? Raise taxes? Screw the rich? Kill the kulaks? Not quite:
Actually, residents voted down onerous tax hikes that would have been spent on politician-preferred priorities in favor of paying for or providing their own services.

When the lamps illuminating Ralph Kelly’s street were switched off, he and his neighbours together paid the city about $100 to “adopt” a streetlight and reignite a shared bulb. There was also an “adopt a trash can” program, where the city supplied the bin but residents hauled the garbage to privately run participating dumpsters.

The phenomenon extended beyond people's immediate neighborhoods, too.
[W]hen the government shut off the landmark fountain in America the Beautiful Park three years ago, non-profits and residents banded together to raise $25,000 to keep it flowing. When the city considered closing the innercity’s Westside Community Center, the Woodland Valley Chapel offered to manage it with only limited municipal support. That partnership, and others like it, continues to this day.

When the police force was slashed and Chief Pete Carey “needed to get innovative,” as he put it in an interview, volunteers became community service officers. They cost 60% less than police officers and can respond to non-injury traffic accidents or even burglaries so long as the thief has left the scene.
A local businessman also formed the City Committee to pore over the municipal books. Not surprisingly, committee members found that spending was nonsensical and wasteful and had Colorado Springs on the road to near-term insolvency...

Colorado Springs, now recovering, has apparently maintained many of the cost-saving practices it adopted from necessity. The city has also tightened its budgeting practices, including adopting zero-based budgeting, under which budgets have to be freshly justified every year instead of being based on the previous year's numbers.
It looks to me like they suffered a short period of  "bad", they're now on track for a much longer road of "good".  They haven't shackled themselves with higher taxes, they've trimmed their government, and they're getting the services they want their city to provide.

We on the right would call that a success.  What do people on the left call it?

Socialists Among Us

I know Wilson and FDR would have approved, but would other prominent Democrats in our history be happy with this finding?
Rasmussen has just published a major poll on US voter attitudes towards socialism. It reveals that Democrats are evenly divided in their views on socialism, with 45 percent viewing it favourably, and 45 percent negatively. This is a strikingly high level of support for socialist ideology within a political party in the United States (and the ruling party at that), and strongly suggests that Democrats are increasingly moving towards a continental-European style approach to economic issues, advancing a big government agenda that resembles that of European Social Democratic governments. This is reflected in the Obama presidency’s growing emphasis on tax the rich, class warfare policies that have been de rigeur across the Atlantic for decades, an approach that places heavy emphasis upon the redistribution of wealth.
It's sad. Pathetic, and sad. What has happened to this country, that it could produce so many people who think that way?  Socialism didn't make this country great, and it has never made any country great.  Why would anyone choose it?

California's Katrina, Sacramento's Sandy

video

Actually, the storm drain is over a meter away from those leaves--in the gutter, past the sidewalk that you can't even see because it's under water.  Guess I'm not going anywhere any time soon!

We've had a couple storms move through the area in the last week.  I don't know if the "next" one was last night's (that wasn't so much) or if it hits today--although you can see in the video that right now the weather is fairly clear.

(And no, it's not me who gave these storms the names in the titles of this post.  Some yahoo local news anchor actually used one of the titles, and perhaps I came up with the other--although I may have heard both on the radio and used it in some George Harrison/Pointer Sisters My Sweet Lord/He's So Fine sorta way.)

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Revisionist History

Thomas Jefferson was a monster, at least according to some yahoo writing an op-ed in the New York Times.  Go read it for yourself.

I'm not going to argue against his specifics.  What I'll ask, though, is if someone's faults must overshadow their achievements?  Does Jefferson's personal embrace of slavery, and the wealth it brought him, negate the good he accomplished in 1776 or 1787?  If you want to be fashionable and bash the Founders, I ask you to consider this comment:
I'll wait for the NYT expose on FDR as a racist hypocrite too.

After all, he personally only allowed African Americans to serve in subservient positions as valets, maids and waiters. Didn't pay them a fair wage either. He had no problem interning his own citizens of Japanese descent because of the way they looked. He refused to allow the races to mix in military service. The only reason this 1%er didn't have slaves was a Republican took the opportunity away from him.

Considering FDR had 175 years of history to review and learn from he certainly should have known better. Obviously FDR was a much worse racist than Jefferson.

I won't hold my breath for that article though. Reviewing history through a contemporary lens is immoral sport for the idle classes with nothing better to do than tear down their betters, often from the comfort of tenure.
We can crucify anyone if we want to.  Heck, Nelson Mandela and Dr. King cheated on their wives!  Such paragons of virtue!  Do their faults, and let's include Jefferson in the list, overshadow their accomplishments?  Probably not.  Do they taint them, or at least show these men to be human?  Of course.

It's not the knowledge, the search for truth that I object to.  It's the willful attempt at destruction--not of some mythical Jefferson, but of the ideals that Jefferson put forth.  That he himself didn't live up to those ideals doesn't make them any less valuable to us.

Change Comes Even To West Point

I wonder if a military chaplain is officiating:
The first same-sex marriage at the U.S. Military Academy's Cadet Chapel at West Point will be celebrated Saturday as Brenda Sue Fulton and Penelope Dara Gnesin exchange vows.

The ceremony comes a little more than a year after President Obama ended the military policy banning openly gay people from serving.

Algebra

Is it, perhaps, a fiction that anyone can learn algebra, and therefore we should drop algebra as a graduation requirement in California?  I ask because of the findings reported in this article:
California students who fail algebra and repeat the course are pretty much doomed to fail again, a vicious cycle that wastes limited resources and precious learning time, according to a report released Friday.

Just over a third of students in the 24 school districts studied had to repeat Algebra I either in ninth or 10th grade, yet even after a second year of study, relatively few were proficient in the subject.

Of those who took the class in eighth grade and repeated it as freshmen, just 1 in 5 scored at a proficient level on standardized tests. And of those who repeated as sophomores, 9 percent were proficient.

"These results provide powerful evidence that school systems are struggling to successfully teach, or reteach, mathematics to students who are not already performing well in math by the time they reach middle school," said Neal Finkelstein, the lead researcher on the study, which was commissioned by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd. The Sacramento nonprofit focuses on policies and practices to improve teaching in California.
When I first started teachign algebra well over a decade ago I was told by an experienced teacher not to be surprised if a third of the students failed.  "That's just the way it is."  I was mortified by such a comment, but at the end of the semester about a third of my (8th grade) students had failed.  I wondered if that were some immutable law.

How are other states doing?  How are other countries, especially countries that are known to outperform us in K-12 math, doing?  It's clear that here in California we're doing something wrong, but I wonder if reasonable people could agree on exactly what it is we're doing wrong and how we could fix it.