Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Either Education Is Important, Or It's Not

In the army I learned that "perfection is the enemy of the good enough."  President Reagan once remarked that someone who agrees with you 80% of the time is not your enemy, despite that 20% opposition, but your ally.  Life seldom gives problems where the solutions are black and white, choose your level of gray.

That is what came to my head as I read this story about not teaching.  We teachers like to chant the mantra that education is the solution to all of society's ills, but things are different in Berkeley:
In Berkeley, California’s most progressive city, they aren’t educating anyone online because of equity issues. Using Titanic-style logic (“Since we can’t save everyone on the Titanic, let’s make everyone stay on board and go down with the ship!”), district officials maintain that because not every student has a computer or access to the internet, no one should get educated. And this mentality has not only infected Berkeley. School districts in Kentucky, Washington state and elsewhere have succumbed to Titanic logic.
Education is the solution to all of society's ills until it conflicts with the political philosophy of "equity"; when that happens, toss education aside.  It's better to have no education at all than to have some education for some people, even if only temporarily.  Must. Have. Perfection.

Similarly, if Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposes something, it must be bad, right?
On the national level, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has suggested that Congress should consider microgrants to help teachers with online learning, especially for disadvantaged students. The proposal would target kids whose schools have been closed for at least 30 days and are either eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or are enrolled in a special education program.

A spokesperson for DeVos said the grants could be used “to fund materials needed for home-based learning, like computers or software, internet access, or instructional materials. They could also support educational services like therapies for students with disabilities, tuition and fees for a public or private online learning course or program, and educational services provided by a private or public school, or tutoring.”

Sounds reasonable, right? Well, not if you are a union boss. An unhinged National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García shot back, “Betsy DeVos is shamefully using this global crisis to push her privatization agenda.”

García also claimed that DeVos’ scheme “would use ‘microgrants’ to siphon scarce public funding to private programs. I say, if it looks like a voucher program, acts like a voucher program, and sounds like a voucher program, there’s only one thing it can be.”

García urged NEA members to contact Congress and tell them to “reject Betsy DeVos’s latest plot to undermine public education.” She added “Students, parents, and educators need real help, not another attempt to take funding away from the most vulnerable students.”
So, in Berkeley, there's no online teaching going on because some kids don't have computers.  Let's give grants so poor kids can get computers, says DeVos.  No way, that's bad because it might (somehow) lead to privatization!

Lefties, especially those in education, are deranged.  There's just no way around it.  Politics über alles, even über kids' education.

Update, 4/8/20:  A commenter noted that there is teaching going on in Berkeley.   Here is the Berkeley USD's lengthy distance learning plan.  I read it, the entire thing, and to be honest, it doesn't impress me.  I'm going to contact the author of the article I linked above and ask where he got his information about Berkeley.

Sunday, April 05, 2020


I filed my taxes electronically on March 29th.  Using my bank's phone app I see that both my federal and state refunds are "pending transactions" with tomorrow's date.  Ain't technology grand?

I wonder how long it will take for me to get my "stimulus" payment.

Chronology of the US Coronavirus Response

A dispassionate view shows that President Trump comes out looking pretty good in response to coronavirus, considering that the actions he took early on (say, in January and February) were mocked as excessive, xenophobic, and/or racist.  Even more, he took action even when the CDC was downplaying the threat, which helped feed the "excessive" storyline.

Apparently, Zoom Isn't The End-All Be-All

With a large proportion of America's students now receiving their education via distance learning, many schools and teachers have settled on Zoom as the delivery method for video meetings.

I've seen many reports, from many different sources and news outlets, about the inherent security flaws built into Zoom.  Zoom is owned by an American company but its engineering team is in China, and there are fears that, either influenced by the Chinese government or not, some of the security flaws were intentional.  Also, Zoom is easily hacked by those who know how to do so, and there are reports of Zoom meetings being flooded with porn and other undesirable content.

As a result, New York City says no:
Teachers in public schools in New York City have been told not to use Zoom video conferencing technology for distance learning amid security and privacy concerns, according to media reports...

The Chalkbeat website reports that New York City’s Department of Education has received reports of issues impacting Zoom privacy and security. “Based on the DOE’s review of those documented concerns, the DOE will no longer permit the use of Zoom at this time,” it said, in a memo to principals obtained by Chalkbeat.

Instead, schools were advised to switch to Microsoft’s Microsoft Teams collaboration technology, according to Chalkbeat.
Update, 4/9/20: “Following two weeks of escalating privacy and security concerns about video conferencing platform Zoom, the U.S. Senate and Google have both banned its members and employees from using the software.” link

Common Core in the Age of Coronavirus

These folks have rewritten the Common Core standards for education during the coronavirus home isolation.  One of my favorites:
Domain 2: Screen Time


Grades 6-8

2-A. Students will learn that their parents do not want to know what a “TikTok” is, nor do they want to see your “TikTok,” but it had better be appropriate.
Does anybody besides another teenager really want to see your "TikTok"?

Two others:
Domain 4: Content


Grades 9-12

3-A. Students will learn that Romeo and Juliet had it easy, because they only had to contend with an inter-family feud, and not the cancellation of prom, or the indefinite postponement of “going to the next level,” which their significant other definitely gave affirmative consent for, via text, last week...

3-C. Students will learn exactly how irritating, boring, aggravating, and absurd it can be to live through history. They will also learn that attendance in History IRL is mandatory.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

I'm Required To Pay Extra For The Privilege of "Recycling"

I required to put cardboard, plastics, and glass into a blue-colored garbage can that gets picked up every two weeks.  Two garbage trucks make the routes, one for garbage (the brown container) and one for the blue recycling container.  I'm seeing articles like this one more and more frequently, and I wonder if I'm paying more just for the privilege of going through a useless ritual:
Baltimore County residents have had their perceptions about recycling shattered. In early February, news broke that for the last seven years, the county has been trashing the glass it collects as part of the county recycling program.

"There are numerous issues with glass recycling, including increased presence of shredded paper in recycling streams which contaminates materials and is difficult to separate from broken glass fragments, in addition to other limitations on providing quality material," a county spokesperson told The Baltimore Sun.

Glass recycling reportedly stopped in 2013, the same year the county opened a $23 million single-stream recycling facility, according to the Sun...

Many of the recyclables that are collected end up in landfills or incinerators.

That's exactly what's been happening to Baltimore County's glass. Yet county officials are still encouraging residents to recycle the stuff, fearful that people will fall out of the recycling habit. Ritual is apparently more important than reuse.

"The Hills North of San Francisco"

As a native Northern Californian, I bristled when I read this in a BBC story:
When James W Marshall discovered gold in the hills north of San Francisco in 1848, it sparked a migration of epic proportions.
If you don't know the area, how far would you say this distance is?  "Hills north of San Francisco" sounds to me to be "not far".  10 miles?  Maybe even 25 miles?  And what does "north" mean?

To a Northern Californian, "north of San Francisco" means Marin County--Sausalito, Mill Valley, San Rafael, maybe even as far north as Santa Rosa.  But that's not what the BBC author meant.

Sutter's Mill, located along the American River, was where Marshall first discovered gold in the tailrace of the mill.  The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is located in Coloma, California.  Here's its location relative to San Francisco, thanks to Google Earth:
Yes, Coloma is more northern than San Francisco, but would you describe it as "north" of San Francisco?  I guess it is in the same way that London is "north" of San Francisco.

And, as the crow flies, Coloma is over 100 miles from San Francisco.  Does "the hills north of San Francisco" seem at all accurate for describing the location of the Gold Discovery Site?

No, this mistake isn't earth-shattering.  And the location of Coloma has nothing to do with the BBC story, which was about San Francisco's sourdough bread.  But such an error is like fingernails on a chalkboard to people who know better.

Here are some pictures from Coloma:

Very pastoral.  When visitors come from out of state, I like to take them to Coloma.  It's maybe 45 min from home, peaceful, and interesting.  I'd say it's where modern California began.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Sad News

I live near Auburn Blvd, which in days past was US 40.  The stretch near my house has been Auburn Blvd my entire life, but I remember when it was a pastoral road out in the middle of nowhere.

As long as I can remember, the Ranch Motel and adjacent Ranch Cafe have been there.  Never knew much about the motel, but it looks like one of those tiny places you see in movies about the 50s.  The Ranch Cafe has always been a greasy spoon, but the food has always been good and the prices even better.

Several years ago the Ranch Cafe was sold and it became the Western Coffee Pot.  Later it was sold again to some east Indians whose restaurant about a mile away, Rosie's Country Kitchen, moved into the former Western Coffee Pot.

The Ranch Cafe/Western Coffee Pot decor didn't change.  The service and value didn't change.  The menu changed a little.  Sure, the omelets and chicken fried steak and waffles and burgers and hot and cold sandwiches remained on the menu, but some new meals were added:  Chicken Tikka Mughlai, Chicken Curry, Chana Masala, Vegetable Briyani.  You get the idea.

I'm fortunate to still have an income, as I'll continue receiving pay until the end of the school year in June.  When the best thing I can do to help the economy is to order out for dinner in order to keep a small business operating, that's not a huge sacrifice.  At all.  I've had a hankering for breakfast-for-dinner and would love their chicken fried steak meal, so I called.

They're closed for the foreseeable future.

Pearl House, a Chinese restaurant, is thankfully still open.  I have to go pick up my meal in about 10 minutes.

Pearl House, Rosie's, and a local Mongolian BBQ were the 3 local restaurants I've decided I need to support.  I'm too late for Rosie's so I'll add in a nearby Mexican restaurant.

I was going to spend my "stimulus" money on eating out, and eating out isn't something I do often at all.  But I'm not going to wait for the money to arrive--I still have income.  It's time I start eating restaurant meals more often.

Just Got The Call

Just got a robo-call from my district, schools are closed for the rest of the school year.  Here's what it says on the district web site:
Based on guidance from both state officials and local health officials, and in coordination with other local school districts, (the school district) is extending the closure of our school facilities through the end of the school year.

This does not mean the 2019-2020 academic year is finished. While we will continue to stay physically apart, teachers and staff are quickly working to shift to a new model for delivering instruction. After spring break, teachers and students will engage in new lessons via distance learning which can take many forms.

We recognize this difficult but necessary decision may cause disappointment and understand the hardship that distance learning creates for our students, families and staff. Superintendent (Name) will be assembling a group of students to generate and review ideas on how we can best celebrate our graduating seniors’ achievements and support their post-secondary goals. More information on these efforts will be shared as they become available.

There are still many questions that need to be answered. Please know that we are working hard to address your concerns and will be in touch as we have updates. In the meantime, please see below for details about distance learning and what to expect as we return from spring break.
My district hasn't done horribly in its planning, but to be honest, there's not much buy-in from students.  They've stopped just short of telling us to pass everyone, as "grades don't matter".  I still don't have a warm fuzzy about how to give *math* tests to assess student understanding in this time.  Not sure how that's gonna happen.

Guess I'll figure it out, or come close trying, like everyone else.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

The Luxury of Liberal Politics

Liberal policies don't make sense, but when times are good they can be enforced on people under many guises including "It's good for the environment" or "Orange man bad."  I'm sure San Francisco will revert to form after the coronavirus fears have waned, but in this case they're showing that their politics can actually harm people:
San Francisco has reversed its 13-year ban on plastic bags and will now prohibit the reusable bags city leaders once championed because of the coronavirus.

The liberal city announced the switch this week as part of its plan to curb the spread of coronavirus. Barring customers from bringing reusable bags, mugs and other household items into stores was adopted as a measure “to prevent unnecessary contact” among the public.

San Francisco is not the only place that has reversed its reusable bag policy, but it is certainly the most surprising. The city was at the forefront of eliminating single-use plastic bags in 2007.
If they're smart, they won't go back. Raise your hand if you think they're smart.

(Note:  yes, the first sentence at the link is written awkwardly. It should open with what are now its last four words.)

Stuff Like This Doesn't Make Teachers Look Good

For all the "I'm a professional, treat/pay me as one" talk we often hear from teachers and their unions, stunts like this give a strong counter-argument.  We're supposed to be well-educated, upstanding members of the community:
A middle school teacher in Rhode Island is under investigation for reportedly tweeting that she will pay people infected with the coronavirus to cough on President Trump.

The Woonsocket School Department is investigating an unidentified teacher’s tweet that read, “Somebody with Covid-19, I will pay you to cough on #Trump.” The account has since been deleted, but subsequent posts show the user identified herself as a teacher at Villanova Middle School, according to NBC 10 News.
The teacher has been identified by name but I have decided not to identify her here.

As we used to say in the army (cleaned up a little, of course), "One ah-crap gets rid of 10 attaboys."

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

How Could The Plaintiffs Not Win?

On what grounds could the universities expect to keep this money?
A class action lawsuit has been filed against the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing board for Arizona's three public universities, after the three schools refused to refund room, board and campus fees to students who were displaced because of coronavirus.

All three universities, Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, moved their classes to online only for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester to protect students and staff and prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Students who lived on-campus were either told to move out or encouraged to do so. The lawsuit says the Arizona Board of Regents has refused to offer refunds for the unused portion of their room and board and their campus fees. The lawsuit seeks payment of the prorated, unused amounts of room and board and fees that the class members paid but were unable to use.
And these aren't even those eeeeeeevil for-profit schools.

Union Shenanigans

Our first story discusses several SEIU cases:
Breaking the law once might be excusable, but breaking the same one a second time is clear evidence of contempt for authority.

So imagine what it says about government employee unions on the West Coast that the Freedom Foundation has identified at least 12 cases where someone in the union forged a worker’s name to authorize the union to deduct dues or political contributions from his or her paycheck.

In fact, the organization on Monday filed federal lawsuits on behalf of five separate public employees in Washington, Oregon and California alleging their union not only created false documents but cited those same documents to justify keeping the workers — and their dues dollars — in the union.
I like this part:
“When the Supreme Court in Janus affirmed the right of public employees to opt out of union participation, it didn’t mean they could only do so under strict guidelines drawn up by the union. And it certainly didn’t give the unions permission to engage in fraud to regain what Janus took away."
Our next story comes from Los Angeles and its execrable teachers union president:
Sadly, though, there are some who are using these trying times to advance their political agenda. And quite prominent in that ugly crowd is Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers of Los Angeles.

In a classic case of “never-let-a-good-crisis-go-to-waste,” Caputo-Pearl ripped off a missive to Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent Austin Beutner and the L.A. school board on March 26th. Incoherently invoking the coronavirus, the union leader is demanding “a moratorium on the approval of any new charter schools” and “that LAUSD halt all new proposed charter co-locations for the 2020-21 school year.” At the very end of the harangue, he gets to his real point. “Los Angeles is already over-saturated with charter schools and loses over $600 million/year in resources to unregulated charter growth. It is time to stop the bleeding and ensure that our existing classrooms and students are appropriately funded and protected.”

Not surprisingly, California Charter Schools Association president Myrna Castrejón fumed at Caputo-Pearl’s epistle, and in a blistering rejoinder, accused him of demeaning charter families instead of showing compassion. “You demanded the eviction of charter students and teachers from the learning space provided to them by voter-approved law when they need your support. And, you resurrected your all-too-familiar demands for a charter school ban. You labeled charter students, families, and staff as unique hazards to public health, stoking perverse and unfounded division.” She went on to describe his tactics as shameful, dangerous, and dehumanizing, using COVID-19 to advance his political agenda.
Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Planning For The Future

According to the Los Angeles Times, California might have been better able to respond to the coronavirus outbreak:
They were ready to roll whenever disaster struck California: three 200-bed mobile hospitals that could be deployed to the scene of a crisis on flatbed trucks and provide advanced medical care to the injured and sick within 72 hours.

Each hospital would be the size of a football field, with a surgery ward, intensive care unit and X-ray equipment. Medical response teams would also have access to a massive stockpile of emergency supplies: 50 million N95 respirators, 2,400 portable ventilators and kits to set up 21,000 additional patient beds wherever they were needed.

In 2006, citing the threat of avian flu, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the state would invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a powerful set of medical weapons to deploy in the case of large-scale emergencies and natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires and pandemics.

“In light of the pandemic flu risk, it is absolutely a critical investment,” he told a news conference. “I’m not willing to gamble with the people’s safety."

The state, flush with tax revenue, soon sank more than $200 million into the mobile hospital program and a related Health Surge Capacity Initiative to stockpile medicines and medical gear for use in outbreaks of infectious disease, according to former emergency management officials and state budget records.

But the ambitious effort, which would have been vital as the state confronts the new coronavirus today, hit a wall: a brutal recession, a free fall in state revenues — and in 2011, the administration of a fiscally minded Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who came into office facing a $26-billion deficit.

And so, that year, the state cut off the money to store and maintain the stockpile of supplies and the mobile hospitals. The hospitals were defunded before they’d ever been used.

Much of the medical equipment — including the ventilators, critical life-saving tools that are in short supply in the current pandemic — was given to local hospitals and health agencies, former health officials said. But the equipment was donated without any funding to maintain them. The respirators were allowed to expire without being replaced.
Short-sighted decisions with long-term costs.  Read the whole thing.

Update:  But wait, there's more:
Joe Biden has made pandemic preparedness a theme of his attacks on President Trump in recent weeks.

But, according to analysis from Gregg Re at Fox News, the Obama-Biden administration repeatedly sought to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "seemingly undercutting former Vice President Joe Biden's repeated attacks on the Trump White House for its pandemic preparedness."

The budget requests are available online via the CDC website.

On many occasions, Democrats, including Biden, have falsely accused President Trump of slashing the CDC's budget. Biden has used these false claims to suggest that he would never even propose similar cuts, let alone make them. Fact checks from the Associated Press and FactCheck.org both proved the claims made by Biden and others to be wrong, because CDC funding actually increased during the Trump administration.
Do we chalk Joe's talking points up to hypocrisy, lying, or dementia?

Monday, March 30, 2020

Essential Oils

I have a very strong sense of smell.

I used to burn candles in my house.  When you have a big dog, especially one that spends a lot of time outside, you need something to freshen the house, especially in winter.  What do you do in the summer, though?  That was always the conundrum.  Having lived here almost 15 years, though, I can now see the accumulation of soot on the ceiling above where my candles are, and sometimes even darker areas on the walls near candles.  I like the smell and the ambiance but not the residue.

Then I got a diffuser with essential oils.  All the nice smells, none of the soot.

Despite my strong sense of smell, I'm not one of those people who believes that certain scents make you "happier", "calmer", or more "focused".  I don't believe that certain smells will help me go to sleep faster, will cause me to breathe easier, or will cure cancer.  When it comes to essential oils, I just like the smells.

I must have a good BS-detector (also, language warning for the excerpt below):
Now a new study shows that a tendency to mistake the meaningless for the profound is a good indicator a person may also put an overzealous amount of faith into essential oils...

A general tendency to be receptive to bullshit – so being more likely to be taken in by made-up or empty rhetoric – means people are more likely to go all in on the claims of essential oils, the researchers report. That has implications for how doctors might guide patients to more reliable treatments in the future.

"We found that receptivity to pseudo-profound fabricated statements and religiosity were the most consistent predictors of greater use of, perceived effectiveness of, and a willingness to spend more money on EOs," write the researchers in their study...

"Of all the personality and personal variables we looked at, being high in receptivity to bullshit was the most consistent predictor," psychologist and lead researcher William Chopik, from Michigan State University, told Eric W. Dolan at PsyPost.

"Bullshit receptivity reflects people's willingness to endorse meaningless statements as meaningful."

One of the sample statements in the experiment was "as you self-actualise, you will enter into infinite empathy that transcends understanding" – if you have a high bullshit receptivity, you're more likely to see that statement as profound rather than nonsense.

People less able to spot and recognise bullshit were more likely to think that EOs would improve friendships, boost spirituality and heal health issues, even if the oils weren't specifically marketed to cover those areas.
I fire up the diffuser almost daily.  I like the smells.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

True? Or Urban Myth?

If this is true, public shaming is in order:
A company in Austin, Texas is looking to dock pay from workers who receive government stimulus checks, according to an anonymous employee.

With the historic $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus deal signed, Americans can look forward to receiving some economic relief during the pandemic.

An unnamed company in Texas, though, appears to be looking to use the stimulus to relieve their payroll strain.

On Wednesday, the company sent out a form titled “Employee Acknowledgement of ‘Government Assistance’ Pay Reduction.”

The form was reported by an employee who wished to remain anonymous, but the employee spoke to local news KXAN about the situation.

“The form says they are preemptively deducting funds from our paychecks. That number is based on what they’re anticipating the government relief fund to be,” the worker told the outlet.