Saturday, January 31, 2009

Oh, Crap!

This "news" story I find both well-written and hilarious:

John, a porcelain commode gunned down in an accidental shooting at a fast food restaurant's bathroom, has died. His age was not immediately known.

The toilet was shattered by a bullet Jan. 12 when a man's gun fell from its holster as he was pulling up his pants, police said. Police do not plan to file criminal charges in connection with the incident.

Christian Martinez, manager of the Carl's Jr. where John was gunned down, held a memorial service Friday at the restaurant. He gave away bottles of John's favorite toilet cleaner, Kaboom Bowl Blaster, to the eatery's first 50 patrons.

The story continues--go read the whole thing for a laugh.

The Kids Are All Right

Today I received an email from a former student (and infrequent reader/commenter) of mine. He's received his Congressional nomination to West Point! I have one former student who's currently a senior at Air Force and two former students who are midshipmen at Navy. It would be nice if I could take some small amount of credit for their choices, but I have no doubt that all I did was encourage them as they found their own paths.

In a similar vein, here's another young man who has his head on straight:

Hackett High School senior Tom Ankenbauer is such a good student, he was invited to both West Point and the Air Force Academy.

He has now made a choice.

He has chosen West Point because his ambition is to lead infantry.

Good choice, Mr. Ankenbauer.

Last weekend I ran into another former student. He informed me that he's in the middle of the application process and expects to start the California Highway Patrol Academy this June.

Rain Forests Increasing In Latin America?

According to this post, which links to a New York Times story, the answer is yes.

Why I Support Federalism

Our federal republic was set up with the states as independent entities for a reason. It's been described as a laboratory of democracy--states can try their own solutions to problems, for example, to experiment with what works. Some states, like California or Massachusetts, may try strong government control, while other states, like Wyoming or Colorado, might be more libertarian in approach.

If one state happens upon a solution that works, other states can feel free to copy that plan--keeping in mind, of course, that one size might not fit all, that what works in one state with one type of people might not work in another state with another type of people.

In theory, no state would copy a failing program. But President Obama is embarking on a national program that looks much like California's failing program:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was all smiles in 2006 when he signed into law the toughest anti-global-warming regulations of any state. Mr. Schwarzenegger and his green supporters boasted that the regulations would steer California into a prosperous era of green jobs, renewable energy, and technological leadership. Instead, since 2007 -- in anticipation of the new mandates -- California has led the nation in job losses.

The regulations created a cap-and-trade system, similar to proposed federal global-warming measures, by limiting the CO2 that utilities, trucking companies and other businesses can emit, and imposed steep new taxes on companies that exceed the caps. Since energy is an input in everything that's produced, this will raise the cost of production inside California's borders.

Now, as the Golden State prepares to implement this regulatory scheme, employers are howling. It's become clear to nearly everyone that the plan's backers have underestimated its negative impact and exaggerated the benefits. "We've been sold a false bill of goods," is how Republican Assemblyman Roger Niello, who has been the GOP's point man on environmental issues in the legislature, put it to me.

The environmental plan was built on the notion that imposing some $23 billion of new taxes and fees on households (through higher electricity bills) and employers will cost the economy nothing, while also reducing greenhouse gases.

The President also appears intent on copying Massachusetts' failing health care program as well.

And what do we call doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

Update: So who should I believe? The Wall Street Journal (link above), or Lori from the Green Picks blog?

The economic stimulus plan approved by the House allocates over $100 billion for green projects. While there is sure to be political back and forth in the coming days, one thing is certain, no matter what the ultimate outcome: We're going to be hearing a lot more about "green collar" jobs...

And, it turns out that what's good for the environment is going to be good for America's workforce. A reportfrom the University of Amherst Massachusetts says that a $100 billion investment in green programs would create about two million jobs over two years. About 750,000 green jobs already exist, according to a 2008 U.S. Conference of Mayors' report.

Another anti-ROTC Organization

This organization certainly doesn't like JROTC in San Diego schools. In fact, on their web site they have a downloadable file with "talking points" that concerned citizens can use when writing to the school board. Here are their talking points:

Option 1

How can schools have a zero tolerance policy but allow weapons training on high school campuses? This makes no sense to me! What a mixed message that sends to students.

I hope that you will take a stand and eliminate shooting ranges in San Diego Unified School District.

Option 2

Schools are not the place for young people to learn to shoot guns. Why would we encourage students to do this when we have a zero tolerance policy? You can stop this craziness! Please do the right thing.

Option 3

With so much violence in our communities, WHY would we teach our students to shoot guns? It makes no sense than most San Diego high schools have shooting ranges. Please put an end to weapons training immediately.

Option 4

In San Diego, everyone I talk to is shocked to learn that most of the high schools have shooting ranges. People really can’t believe it! Times have changed and zero tolerance means ZERO tolerance.

Option 5

I support the Education Not Arms Coalition. It is absolutely wrong to have shooting ranges on our high school campuses. Please take a stand and eliminate weapons training on our campuses.

Option 6

It is a ridiculous argument to say that weapon training is just another sport. Teaching students to shoot guns in high schools is outrageous. It is a complete contradiction of the Zero Tolerance policy. Weapons training must be abolished.

Option 7

Chicago City Schools, has the nation’s largest JROTC program, with over 40 units and several military academies, yet the Chicago district ended its rifle training program in 1999, after the Columbine school shootings. If they can show such common sense, San Diego can do the same.

Looks like only one talking point to me, rephrased 7 different ways. It's interesting to me that, if I read their site correctly, they're not really talking about firearms, but air rifles. Plastic b-b's.

So, are these people anti-military, anti-firearm, or just anti? I think our answer comes further down the page at their site:

We are a coalition of parents, students, teachers and community activists....

Nothing more need be said. Clearly, I hold them in contempt.

Where's FEMA?


link numero dos

Update, 2/3/09: link numero tres

Why Don't We Get Poledancers At School?

A student of mine who recently turned 18 comes to school each Monday trying to regale me with stories about his weekend excursions to a local strip club. Just think, though; if we lived in Britain we could have had the school provide such entertainment--for free!

A row has erupted at a college after a racy lunchtime pole dancing demonstration prompted a wave of complaints from teachers who branded it too distracting for their 14-year-old students.

Education bosses invited pole dancing company The Art of Dance to South Devon College in Paignton to give two demonstrations as part of their Be Healthy Week.

A packed crowd of around 1,000 teenage students, aged 14 to 19, watched the first display performed by company boss Sam Remmer in the main public area of the college.

Oh, there's video at the link.

Remember, these are the people who civilized most of the planet, who ran the world for a few hundred years, and whose theory of laws is the underpinning of our own constitutional form of government.

Since we're talking about 14-19 year olds, I'll assume "college" is an English term for "high school", just like a "public school" in England would be a "private school" here in the US. Perhaps reader/commenter Donalbain can clear this up for us.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Proof That "Stimulus" = Pork and Payback

I've heard it said that spending beyond our means, and not saving anything, and trying to make a quick buck, are what got us into this economic situation in the first place. So what's our government's solution? To spend more beyond our means, not save anything, and hope that stimulates an economy that helps people make a buck. Hopenchange isn't a good economic philosophy, though.

It turns out, though, that this most recent almost-trillion-dollar package isn't "stimulus" at all. What was originally sold as a "roads and bridges" infrastructure package has only 3% designated for such projects. And when you see what's in the other 97%, you can tell it's just payback to Democrat constituencies for 8 years of having a Republican president. Just look at what's already been removed--hundreds of millions for "reproductive services", and resodding the National Mall? Just what the economists have been recommending to stimulate the economy--not.

And isn't this stimulus package supposed to jump-start the economy in the very short term? If that's so, then why is so much of the funding not even planned to be spent until late next year? This reckless boondoggle is supposed to have an immediate effect, not be vaporware for the future. That's what they tell us, but apparently the new Secretary of Education didn't get the memo:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the economy won't improve without the billions of dollars for schools in President Barack Obama's recovery plan.

"If we want to stimulate the economy, we need a better-educated workforce," Duncan said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press.

"That's the only way, long-term, we're going to get out of this economic crisis," he said.

The stimulus plan is picking up criticism as it moves through Congress. Republicans complain that not all the money will create jobs immediately. Democrats admit it's true, but they say the economy needs long-term help, too.

We're doomed.

Update: Here's more food for thought, showing you how seriously our elected officials take governing:

Imagine that. The most expensive social experiment in American history -- one that will cost taxpayers more than both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined -- was allotted less than a single day of debate in Congress.

How about this?

I love this. The new kind of politics of hope. Eight hours of debate in the HR to pass a bill spending $820 billion, or roughly $102 billion per hour of debate.

Only ten per cent of the "stimulus" to be spent on 2009.

Like I said, pork and payback.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Global Warming For Thee, But Not For Me

Al Gore and Barack Obama, two peas in the global warming pod.

That story's just rich!

And in other news....

Hoist By Their Own Petard

It's silly that the denizens of Berkeley, CA, voted to make the place a "nuclear free zone", even though they grant waivers to the local university, home of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. It's even more silly when their smug, so-much-better-than-thou little scheme blows up in their faces:

Berkeley's public library will face a showdown with the city's Peace and Justice Commission tonight over whether a service contract for the book check-out system violates the city's nuclear-free ordinance.

The dispute centers on a five-year, $63,000 contract the library wants to sign with 3M, an international technology company based in Minnesota, to service five scanner machines library patrons use to check out books.

But 3M, a company with operations in 60 countries, refused to sign Berkeley's nuclear-free disclosure form as required by the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act passed by voters in 1986.

As a result, the library's self-checkout machines have not been serviced in about six months. Library officials say 3M is the only company authorized by the manufacturer to fix the machines, which were purchased in 2004.

The library asked the Peace and Justice Commission for a waiver, but at its Jan. 5 meeting the commission voted 7-1, with two abstentions, to reject the request. The library is now appealing the decision to the City Council.

For starters, I have difficulty understanding the purpose of a city's Peace and Justice Commission. It just sounds too much like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, the purpose of which was to air out the truth hidden by decades of apartheid. Berkeley sounds a bit too--what's the word here? Arrogant?

And they're going to let the library falter because a company won't sign a form bowing to Berkeley's crazy political philosophies. Brilliant! I hope there's more of this.

Another Sicko

It's always a teacher, a preacher, or a cop. This time, it was a teacher.

An Illinois middle school teacher charged with 10 counts of illegal possession of child pornography has reportedly admitted to molesting dozens of boys.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: there's very little that's appealing, and nothing sexually appealing, about junior high school boys.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I've been teaching exponential and logarithmic functions in my Algebra 2 courses for the past few school weeks, and a stark realization hit me.

We're not teaching near as much about logarithms in Algebra 2 as I learned when I was in school.

I don't have a lot of specific memories of my high school classes, but for some reason I remember my old Algebra 2 topics exceedingly well. I remember what we learned about logarithms, and quite a bit of what I learned isn't even covered by our textbook--a textbook, by the way, that meets California's rigorous Algebra 2 standards.

I learned Algebra 2 in the 80-81 school year; calculators may not have been ubiquitous, but everyone had one :-) I don't recall that my teachers had a "classroom set" to lend to students, though. Even though we had access to calculators, my teachers still insisted we learn logarithms the "old fashioned" way--by looking them up in a table, by interpolating for values not found on the table, and making use of the laws of logarithms for those values above 9.99 (the highest number on the table). It was through all that manual work that facility with logs was developed, that deep understanding that even then made me think logs were "easy".

As an example of how things have changed, our Algebra 2 book does not have a table of logs in it. The book assumes students have an electronic calculator. In this way, though, students don't get a "feel" for the magnitude of logarithms; instead, a log is merely a number displayed after pushing a few buttons. There is much to be gained by seeing all the logs arrayed in a table, and that gain goes missing when there's just one log lighting up a screen.

Because there's no table, there's no interpolating. The algebra of ratios, the geometry of similar triangles--the synergy gained by all this practical application is now gone, replaced by a false sense of "exactness" when the calculator displays logs to 10 decimal places.

The depth of understanding gained by fitting all these little pieces together--it isn't there now, because all the little pieces are missing.

Because they didn't learn with a table, students today had a much more difficult time than we did "back in the day" understanding why if log 5.3=.7243, then log 530=2.7243. Because electronic calculators are assumed, understanding is lost. Sadly, this assumption is embedded in the textbook.

It's not that California's math standards insist on calculator use; in fact, quite the opposite is so. And the standards are explicit in what students are required to know about logarithms (see the standards here, and scroll to page 54/72 to see the log requirements for Algebra 2). The state isn't mandating this overreliance on calculators, but since the textbook meets the requirements listed it gets approved--and as I said, this textbook assumes calculator use in the course. And enough teachers support calculator use that students are too dependent on them long before they ever get to my class.

Even worse, I got a call from my sister tonight. She needed to ask me about graphing calculators, saying my nephew has to have one for Algebra 2. I cannot for the life of me see the utility of a graphing calculator in an Algebra 2 course--not if you think it's important for students, not machines, to understand the graphing.

I've heard about "dumbing down" for a long time, but I think this is actually the first time I've experienced it. And it's not like I can blame the students--they'll learn what we teach them. And what we're teaching them isn't necessarily the best.

And before anyone suggests it--yes, I'm required to teach the material in the textbook.

Where We're Headed--More Nanny State

One of the problems with people becoming professional politicians is they think that every problem can be fixed with a new law. This is not a partisan issue--while I often point out the stupidity of Democrats, I didn't go easy on Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a serial regulator. And I'm certainly not going to go easy on this idiot, either:

Smile, say cheese and hold that pose till you hear the 'click'. A new bill introduced in the Congress by New York Republican Rep. Peter King requires mobile phones with digital cameras "to make a sound" when a photograph is taken.

The move is part of the 'Camera Phone Predator Alert Act' and the idea is to ensure privacy and safety of the public, especially children, claims the bill.

As I read somewhere, "for the children" is the most common road to Hell that's paved with good intentions.

But King is still an idiot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Carnival of Education

It's posted a few hours early here, and includes my post about our "training" to conduct the high school exit exam.

If You Can't Dazzle Them With Brilliance...

...then baffle them with BS. Isn't that what the old saying says? I see it sometimes--students have no idea how to answer a test question so they just express themselves artistically. Here's a web site devoted to such expression.

Clinton Budgets Did Not Balance

I found this post, with information direct from the Treasury Department web site, to be most interesting.

Bill Clinton was president of the United States from 1993 to 2001 and although he made significant progress toward fiscal responsibility, he did not balance the budget. If you don’t believe me, (that means you CNN!), then kindly point out two consecutive years in the table above where the total US debt actually decreased from year to year.

According to the table at the link above, the US hasn't had a balanced budget since the Eisenhower Administration.

Possessed, At School

This story is just plain interesting.

Students at a Mississippi high school said a fellow student spoke in tongues and made grave predictions for her classmates for three days.

Some of those predictions included when students would die...

Sparks said Clanton told students about little-known facts in their past and made predictions on how some of them would die.

"It made some students cry and leave school," Sparks said. "Some have not returned yet."

Sparks and his classmates said they think an evil spirit possessed the girl. They were so convinced that Sparks and his friends brought Bibles to school and had a devotional.

"Some believe, some don't." Clanton said. "They say it was the devil, but the devil only tells lies. Everything I said was the truth."

Clanton said she admits she spoke in tongues and made predictions for her classmates. But she said it was God speaking through her, not the devil.

"I didn't cuss anyone out," Clanton said. "If it was a demon, I would have tore that school up. I would have thrown desks and everything. I didn't say no cuss words at all."

I can imagine that such an experience would be, uh, disconcerting.

Local Catholic School To Close

When I was growing up here, there were three all-girls Catholic schools and at least two all-boys. Today, one of those boys schools is now co-ed, and one of the girls schools is closed.

There was big news in Sacramento today--after 54 years, another of the all-girls schools is going to close in June.

Loretto High School, an all-girls Catholic school, will shutter its campus at the end of this school year, administrators announced this morning. They blame declining enrollment.

Three years ago, enrollment at Loretto was 559, according to the California Department of Education. It fell to 389 this year. And registration for the school's annual entrance exam, which usually attracts 175 potential students, only attracted 80, foretelling further enrollment declines next year...

Loretto is expected to graduate 127 seniors in June, according a news release on the school's website. That will leave 262 juniors, sophomores and freshmen who need to enroll at a different campus. Thirty-two teachers, 19 support staff and six administrators work at Loretto. Some are expected to retire, the release states, but the majority will be unemployed after the end of the year.

There was excitement in some quarters on our campus today, with the thought that perhaps we'd get some of those high-performing students.

LA Unified Going Broke, Will Not Lay Off Teachers

I have to wonder how they're going to make up a $250 million shortfall. Maybe they can ask Congress for a bailout.

New Blog To Plug

I'm not too sure about this conservative teen, but I'll bet he has a really good-looking math teacher.

Monday, January 26, 2009


This statement is so obvious to any non-liberal that, in a reasonable world, it would not even need saying:
New York City can be as narrow, blinkered, intolerant, and conformist as any Bible Belt burg. Believe me.

The Wheels On The (School) Bus Go Round and Round--But Very Slowly

Up until a few years ago, California teachers needed to document 150 hours of unpaid "professional development" in order to renew their credentials every 5 years. What's funny is that, as I read the rules, blogging about education-related matters would count towards 150 hours--but that has nothing to do with this post.

We were supposed to document this time, but come credential renewal time, we only had to certify that it was done. Yes, we could be audited, but how often did anyone get audited? I would venture to guess that few teachers kept meticulous records documenting their professional development.

I thought it would be fun to "do the right thing", so, in addition to blogging, I volunteered for a project at the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. That project, and blogging, would put me well over 150 hrs in 5 years. Heck, either of those would put me over 150 hrs, but I wanted to show a "diversity" of development. So, without going into too much detail about the project I'm working on, let's just say that I'm helping check compliance with certain rules, procedures, and standards.

Did you notice that I used the present tense in that last sentence? Well, I did! The last time my "team" met was almost 2 years ago, and some new information recently came in. So after school today I rushed downtown to meet up with my partner--who flew in from Southern California--and we set to work again.

All told, this project has been ongoing for almost 4 years. I've been involved for just over 3 years. And it's nowhere near done.

The wheels are turning very slowly. Maybe someday the organization we're looking into will comply with all appropriate rules, procedures, and standards. By then, the rules, procedures, and standards will probably have changed--and some other team will have to start over.

Update, 1/27/09: Oh heck, I forgot to tell you the best part. A couple years ago the CTC eliminated the charade of 150 hours; now all that's needed to renew a credential is $70 (sure to go up in these times of budget cuts). Not needing the hours anymore, I still work on this project because that's what I committed to.

As for blogging, I still do it because I like it :-)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Are They Lying, Or Just Wrong?

The Global Warming faithful are at it again/still, and need to be corrected.

The measures being proposed to meet what President Obama last week called the need to "roll back the spectre of a warming planet" threaten to land us with the most colossal bill mankind has ever faced. It might therefore seem peculiarly important that we can trust the science on which all the alarm over global warming is based, But nothing has been more disconcerting in this respect than the methods used by promoters of the warming cause over the years to plug some of the glaring holes in their scientific argument.

Another example last week was the much-publicised claim, contradicting all previous evidence, that Antarctica, the world's coldest continent, is in fact warming up, Antarctica has long been a major embarrassment to the warmists. Al Gore and co may have wanted to scare us that the continent which contains 90 per cent of all the ice on the planet is heating up, because that would be the source of all the meltwater which they claim will raise sea levels by 20 feet.

However, to provide all their pictures of ice-shelves "the size of Texas" calving off into the sea, they have had to draw on one tiny region of the continent, the Antarctic Peninsula – the only part that has been warming. The vast mass of Antarctica, all satellite evidence has shown, has been getting colder over the past 30 years. Last year's sea-ice cover was 30 per cent above average.

Nancy Pelosi Is An Idiot

Just look at her response to suggestions that Guantanamo detainees be moved to Alcatraz instead.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday shrugged off Republican suggestions that the federal government reopen Alcatraz prison in her San Francisco district to house detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

President Obama this week signed an executive order calling for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo within the year. Republican Rep. Bill Young then suggested to White House counsel Greg Craig that the prisoners who could not be released back to their home countries or sent to a third country be put up in "the Rock," the famous military installation and prison that closed down in 1963 and is now part of the National Park Service.

Asked whether that was a serious proposal, Pelosi said, "It is -- no."

"Perhaps he's not visited Alcatraz," Pelosi said of Young while displaying little sense of humor. "Alcatraz is a tourist attraction. It's a prison that is now sort of like a -- it's a national park."

To imitate: make a monotone "uhhhh" sound, place your index finger horizontally between your lips, and move this finger in a rapid up-and-down motion.

She's an idiot. You San Franciscans must be so proud.

Carbon Credits Are For Saps

This kind of story only surprises the Global Warming Faithful. And it's from al-AP, not some right-wing web site :-)

The hydroelectric dam, a low wall of concrete slicing across an old farming valley, is supposed to help a power company in distant Germany contribute to saving the climate — while putting lucrative "carbon credits" into the pockets of Chinese developers.

But in the end the new Xiaoxi dam may do nothing to lower global-warming emissions as advertised. And many of the 7,500 people displaced by the project still seethe over losing their homes and farmland...

Similar stories are repeated across China and elsewhere around the world, as hundreds of hydro projects line up for carbon credits, at a potential cost of billions to Europeans, Japanese and soon perhaps Americans, in a trading system a new U.S. government review concludes has "uncertain effects" on greenhouse-gas emissions.

One American expert is more blunt.

"The CDM" — the 4-year-old, U.N.-managed Clean Development Mechanism — "is an excessive subsidy that represents a massive waste of developed world resources," says Stanford University's Michael Wara...

Rather than reduce their own emissions, "firms in developed countries are buying offsets that don't represent real behavioral change, real reductions in emissions," said Wara, the environmental law professor.

The U.S. GAO investigators said they learned that middlemen sometimes manipulate project paperwork to show a need for CDM financing, and they believe "a substantial number" of projects have undeservedly received credits.

I'm shocked--shocked!--that the UN could be involved in something like this.

The Problem Wasn't America

No, Congresswoman Matsui, maybe the problem was you, and people who think like you.

Regarding the inauguration of President Obama, Matsui said:

"Everything our parents told us and we tried to believe, we can believe now." (emphasis mine--Darren)

I've believed that for a long time, Congresswoman, no matter who was President. I don't base my faith in this country and its institutions on who is in the White House. I base it on the principles espoused in the Constitution.

That's why I'm a patriot.

How Did I Miss This Anniversary?

Two days ago marked the 4 year anniversary of Right On The Left Coast. I currently have over 3800 posts on this blog.

Thank you to my readers and reader-commenters, who provide all the motivation I need to keep doing this.

Pay Me

Maybe this crushing deficit in California is a good thing. Maybe, just maybe--although I highly doubt it--it will force some spending discipline on our state legislature.

But I'm not holding my breath.

What might be fun to watch, though, is the response of the CTA to its teachers' not being paid:

With the state of California delaying payment on its obligations, some school districts may run out of money in the spring to pay salaries and bills...

The state budget deficit has ballooned to about $40 billion for the 18 months from now through July 2010. While legislators wrangle over a fix, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed his solution, beginning with a $6.6 billion cut in the current fiscal year for K-12 and community college districts.

The governor's plan includes deferring until July about $2.8 billion that Sacramento normally would pay school districts in February and March.

State Senate and Assembly leaders are meeting with Schwarzenegger to try to work out a compromise between "no new taxes" Republicans and "no cuts to programs" Democrats.

As for what people can do to help unstick the legislative jam, Simitian, a Democrat, suggested contacting Sacramento. "They need to let Republicans know that they think new revenue has to be part of the solution.''

Cut spending to the bone first, then we'll talk about new taxes.

Hat tip to NewsAlert.

Here's A Shocker--NEA Might Have Illegally Diverted Dues Money To President Obama's Campaign

Two Alabama educators are alleging the following:

Claire Waites, the chair of the science department, and Dr. Jeanne Fox, an assistant principal, both work at Daphne Middle School in Bay Minette, Alabama. Waites and Fox are both members of the Baldwin County Education Association (BCEA), Alabama Education Association (AEA), and NEA teacher unions.

In July 2008, Waites and Fox attended the NEA’s annual convention in Washington, DC, as delegates of the BCEA. By telephone, BCEA union president Saadia Hunter informed Waites and Fox that contributions to a “children’s fund” in their names were made from money included in their expense reimbursements for their trip to the convention.

Although Hunter told Waites that these contributions were not political in nature, they actually went to the NEA’s PAC, the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education.

Later, Hunter admitted that the money would be contributed to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Sworn statements by Waites and Fox indicate that the AEA union boss also admitted that the PAC contributions were paid with BCEA members’ dues. However, it is illegal for unions to contribute to political candidates using “dues, fees, or other moneys required as a condition of membership in a labor organization.”

A Solar Influence On Atmospheric Temperature?

It can't be! Say it isn't so!

This site must be funded by oil companies or something.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

America's Newest Soldier

A couple years ago I had a very small, waifish boy in my algebra class. Nice enough kid, tried hard, but just couldn't seem to get it together. His parents weren't pleased with his overall achievement, and off he went to military school for a year.

He came back to our school and always made it a point to talk to me when we passed in the halls. He's now a senior--taller, filled out a bit, and still a baby face--and a couple weeks ago he told me he was going to enlist.

Yesterday he showed me his paperwork. He's going to be a wheeled vehicle mechanic, and his sign-up bonus is $20,000. He also said that the Army was putting him and some other young men up in a hotel downtown Friday night (last night) so they'd all be together (that is, they couldn't change their minds and not show up!) to be taken for their physicals and swearings-in on Saturday. He also told me that the army will pay him a few hundred dollars a month while he finishes high school, and he'll report to Fort Jackson for basic in the summer.

He's America's newest soldier. I'm very proud of him.

Law Professor Sues For Discrimination Against Conservatives

Sadly, I don't see this getting her any satisfaction.

Teresa R. Wagner, Associate Director of the University of Iowa College of Law Writing Resource Center, has filed a lawsuit against the school and its dean, Tax Prof Carolyn Jones, claiming that she was twice rejected for a legal writing faculty position because of her conservative political views.

I agree with one of the commenters: absent a smoking gun, this is probably an uphill battle.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Being A Good Teacher

Some thoughts on the subject here.

I take exception to #1. Interpersonal skills are, as we say in the math field, "necessary, but not sufficient". A good teacher must have interpersonal skills and professional skills--and subject matter competence, too.

What Happens When Guantanamo Bay Closes?

Probably more of this:

A Saudi man who was released from Guantanamo after spending six years inside the U.S. prison camp has joined Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen and is now the terror group's No. 2 in the country, according to a purported Internet statement from Al Qaeda.

The announcement, made this week on a Web site commonly used by militants, came as President Barack Obama ordered the detention facility closed within a year.

There really are bad people in the world. They don't play by the same rules as you and I play by. If we don't just kill them--and we should--we might consider at least keeping them away from decent people on the planet.

Confederate Flag T-Shirts At School?

A federal appeals court says "no".

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- A full federal appeals court won't hear a lawsuit by three Tennessee students threatened with suspension if they wore Confederate flag T-shirts.

A three-judge panel ruled in August that Blount County, just south of Knoxville, could ban the clothing. On Friday, the judges denied a request for a hearing by the full federal appeals court in Cincinnati.

Students Derek Barr and Craig and Chris White argued their free speech rights were violated by the ban on clothes with the flag, which is considered a symbol of racism and intolerance by some and an emblem of Southern heritage by others.

I Do Like Reading Things Like This

When President Bush did it, it was evil and a travesty of justice and a shredding of the Constitution. When President Obama does it, it's smart and shrewd and common-sensical:

The Obama administration fell in line with the Bush administration Thursday when it urged a federal judge to set aside a ruling in a closely watched spy case weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.

In this post I'm neither opposing nor defending our government's spying on Americans here in the United States. I'm merely noting how it's not so objectionable for so many people since last Tuesday.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Is College "Worth It"?

Maybe, maybe not.

Prior Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance

Today we teachers gathered in the library for our annual briefing on how to conduct the High School Exit Exam. You can imagine what a treat such meetings are for all concerned. If I ever go to one where every word on every PowerPoint slide is not read to me, I'll be sure to rush home and write a blog post about it. Don't hold your breath.

California has available a workbook students can get in order to practice for this test--a test given to sophomores, which covers up to 8th grade math and up to 10th grade English, and we give out practice workbooks for it. Anyway, our district ordered the workbooks, and they're scheduled to arrive in April.

We administer the test the first week of February.

Going Green Shuts Down Minnesota Schools

School buses don't run on lard, but some poorly-thought-out law in Minnesota means that districts are in fact trying to do so--with the predictable results.

Anyone who's experimented with running waste veggie oil in their diesel vehicles knows that it doesn't work so well in cold weather. Even using refined biodiesel causes problems because of the higher paraffin content compared to petro-diesel. Unfortunately for school districts in Minnesota, the state requirement to run a minimum of 2 percent biodiesel in school buses and other vehicles is causing problems this winter. Below 10°F, the fuel begins to gel up and causes the engine to not run. Petro diesel doesn't have a problem until about -30°F. In some cases, the gelling issue has caused Minnesota schools to cancel classes.

In the future, things could be even worse. Between now and 2015, the state's requirement is going up to 20 percent biodiesel concentration. Given that Minnesota is not exactly known for its balmy winter weather, it seems odd that no one one considered this issue before. Some districts are currently trying to get a waiver to use straight petro-diesel until the weather warms up.

Why I Don't Support These So-called Stimulus Packages

Here's why.

Update, 1/25/09: I thought these stimulus packages were needed for immediate relief. Guess I was wrong.

The White House warned Sunday that the country could face a long and painful financial recovery, even with major government intervention to stimulate the economy and save financial institutions.

"We're off and running, but it's going to get worse before it gets better," said Vice President Joe Biden, taking the lead on a theme echoed by other Democratic officials on the Sunday talk shows.

At the end of the Obama administration's first week, the party in power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue sought to lower expectations for a quick fix despite legislation expected to pass by next month that would pump billions of dollars into the economy. Democrats also opened the door for even more government aid to struggling banks beyond the $700 billion bailout already in the pipeline.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I enjoy taking pictures. I've gotten better at framing my shots and making them more interesting to look at, but even still I very seldom capture on the camera what I see with my eye. I'm working at improving, especially since it's one of the few artistic talents I have in any quantity at all.

So I found the stories and advice in this post to be not only valuable, but very intriguing. The pictures make me envious.

Myths About Defined Benefit Plans

California's teachers do not pay into social security. Rather, we pay a higher percentage of our pay into CalSTRS, the State Teachers Retirement System. It, like social security, is a "defined benefit" plan, meaning that what we pay into it has only the slightest bearing on what we might get out of it in retirement; our benefit is defined by a formula. This is different from a 401(k) plan, wherein the amount you receive in retirement is based on how much you paid in and how much your investments increased.

Today I received the Winter 2008 newsletter from CalSTRS, and boy, is it a whopper! The first headline is "Study Busts Myth About Cost Burden of Defined Benefit Plans: Your Pension is Well-Managed and Efficient". While that's nice to hear, nowhere does it say how much value CalSTRS has lost due to bad investments and the market downturn. Here are some of the key sentences that just jumped out at me:

*Defined benefits, like yours with CalSTRS, can deliver the same level of retirement income to groups of employees at a lower cost than individual 401(k)-type accounts.
*Public Pensions Unfairly Blamed for Financial Woes
*...(D)efined benefit pension plans are better, more economical, and efficient.
*Remember, your defined benefit is safe. It's mandated by law and guaranteed for your lifetime. Your pension is based on a formula, not on how much you've been able to invest as an individual.

Uh, I ask again, how much money has CalSTRS lost lately? You say this is efficient, and I like the security of this pension, but might someone not in CalSTRS view this situation as a potential budget black hole?

This newsletter strikes me as the captain of the Titanic telling everyone that everything's fine. It doesn't offer any real facts. I am not reassured.

Hope, Reality, and School

We used to have a saying in the Army: "hope is not a battle plan." Despite all the hopenchange rhetoric we've been subjected to lately, one local columnist seems to understand that.

As Obama spoke, it was striking how the new president's family looked like kids at Jackman (Middle School).

Among the students, there were kids who clearly were moved by Obama – a powerful reality to consider. No matter what, these kids have an African American president to help shape their formative years.

But the undeniable truth is that Jackman students need more than a role model for a president.

They need school supplies, a stronger curriculum, a solid shot at going to college.

"Everyone is justifiably excited in the symbolism of Obama's presidency," (Principal) Maffei said. "But we lose a little hope that our students can grow up to be like him if they have no paper, no pencils. … And most of all, a diminished chance of getting into college due to … enrollment cuts."

We need more than "just words". And I'm not just talking about throwing around money, either.

About As Classless As You Can Get

It used to be almost unheard of for a former president to criticize a sitting president. Until yesterday I'd have sworn it was unheard of for a sitting president to take pot-shots at his predecessor during an inaugural address, especially since that predecessor was sitting only a few feet away! And today the official White House web site takes direct shots at President Bush--here's a screen shot in case someone there experiences pangs of decency and decides to change the site:

click to enlarge

Disgusting. So much for all the "come together" and "hopenchange" rhetoric.

Obama=Bush's Third Term?

Jon Stewart is pretty much a leftie, but his humor is usually pretty good. He's usually entertaining no matter who he's joking about (unlike, say, Bill Maher, who is just mean-spirited and angry).

Here's video comparing President Obama's inaugural address to speeches President Bush has made. Oh yes, you should watch it.

I'm all about the hopenchange!

Carnival of Education

This week's is posted here--coincidentally, my post and the Carnival's host both ripped off the same Heinlein book. The carnival includes my post showing the video some of my trig students made.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sacrificing To Stop Global Warming Is Only For The Peons

This from today's Wall Street Journal Online:

Yet it may come as a surprise that at a time of financial crisis and Green correctness, many of the wealthy are choosing to arrive by private jet.

According to an article in Bloomberg, as many as 600 private jets were expected to touch down in D.C. for the inauguration. The runway at Washington Dulles was closed Saturday to allow as many as 100 small planes to park. And the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said it expected a total of 500 small jets to land from Jan. 16 through Jan 21...

Of course, flying private to a celebration of a populist, pro-environment President is a bit like the Detroit execs jetting to Washington for bailout money. How do you call for social responsibility after touching down in a $40 million, gas-guzzling Gulfstream? (Maybe travelers will buy carbon credits).

But you--you must stop driving your kids to soccer practice and must turn down the heater in winter.

Tagged With A Meme

In a comment on this post, Mark at The Stock Mark Report tagged me with one of those internet memes that periodically percolates throughout the blogosphere. Since time is kinda short tonight, I'm going to cheat on this one. You can read Mark's 7 things you don't need to know about me here, and I'll link to a similar one I did last April--7 things about me.

A View Of Teachers Unions With Which The Unions Themselves Would Not Agree

The video is 13:38 long, and I agree with the vast majority of it. The Center for Union Facts has done a great job here.

If you're a California teacher and you agree with the points made in this video, you should visit the web site of the California Teachers Empowerment Network and consider joining.

NEA Largesse

Want to know to which organizations the NEA is giving away your money? EIA (see blogroll at left) has the scoop.

Just for fun, does that look "balanced" with regards to liberal vs. conservative organizations? I didn't think so, either.

Lyrics For A New President

Sing, choirs of angels
Sing in exhultation
Sing all ye citizens of Heav'n above

Glory to 'Bama
Glory in the highest
Oh come let us adore him
Oh come let us adore him
Oh come let us adore him

This cult of personality thing still concerns me, but being a proud, patriotic American I still wish him well. I hope our country prospers under his leadership.

Good-Bye, President Bush

This WSJ piece from November pretty much says it:

President Bush will soon be heading home and for many that day cannot come soon enough. Count me among those who will miss him and his bedrock decency.

He was the right President at the right time. He's also a good man. We're better off for having had his leadership for the past eight years.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Obama Ushers In An Era Of Free Speech In Ohio District

That anyone thinks this is appropriate amazes me.

Mason school officials said they are taking a proactive educational approach in advance of next week's planned Inauguration Day activities.

"Inappropriate comments that may make other students, staff or families feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in school or on the bus will not be tolerated," Superintendent Kevin Bright said in an e-mail sent to parents Monday, Jan. 12.

I'm sure there will be many comments made tomorrow that would make me feel unwelcome or uncomfortable at school, but I doubt those are the comments the superintendent is addressing here.

In Memory Of Dr. King, How Far We've Come

Telegram from the Little Rock mayor to President Eisenhower here
Press release from President Eisenhower explaining why he sent troops to Little Rock here
Telegram to the President from the parents of the Little Rock Nine here

Video of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech here

These events happened before I was born.

"Sleeper" Post

Just about daily I go through Statcounter and see who's visiting my blog, what they're reading, and how they linked here. Most of the time I'll see that people were somehow pointed to a recent post of mine, or just to the main page.

But almost every day, someone gets directed to this post, which is one of my favorites--especially the links in the update. Given what's about to happen tomorrow, the post gives a starting point to show just how far we've come.

More Sacramento County HS Grads Going To College

This may sound like good news, but no information is given about their college graduation rates. That sounds like a pretty serious omission to me.

The number of Sacramento County high school graduates going to California colleges has jumped in the past decade, a fortunate upward trend for them because, in a down economy, they'll need those college diplomas to keep jobs...

Among urban counties, Sacramento is neck-and-neck with San Francisco, Alameda and Ventura counties for sending the highest proportion of graduates to California colleges.

On President Bush's Last Full Day In Office

I'm sure there's a big part of the President that is happy to be relieved of all the burden and responsibility tomorrow.

He was not the best President of all time, but he was nowhere near the worst--and I have no doubt his reputation in popular culture will improve very rapidly except among the most rabid zealots.

So on his last day in office let me toss out three dissimilar links:

To trash Bush was to belong

Peter Beinart is all over the map on this one. Here's just a sampler:

Younger liberals, by contrast, have had no such chastening experiences. Watching the Bush administration flit from disaster to disaster, they have grown increasingly dismissive of conservatives in the process. They consume partisan media, where Republican malevolence is taken for granted. They laugh along with the "Colbert Report," the whole premise of which is that conservatives are bombastic, chauvinistic and dumb. They have never had the ideologically humbling experience of watching the people whose politics they loathe be proven right.

In this way, they are a little like the Bushies themselves. One reason the Bush administration fell prey to such monumental hubris was that it didn't take its critics seriously. Convinced that the Reagan years had forever vindicated deregulated capitalism and unfettered American might, the Bushies blithely dismissed liberals who warned about deregulation, or Europeans who warned about military force, on the grounds that history had consistently proved those critics wrong.

Looking forward, here's a web site devoted to keeping track of how a President Obama does on his campaign promises.

This President did damage the Republican reputation--but not in the way the lefties think he did. He was absolutely right in the need to go to war with Afghanistan and Iraq, and I'd have supported war in a couple other countries, too, if he'd have sent our men and women there. He was right in how he handled the War on Terror on the domestic front (except, as is usual for him, his "selling" of it to the public), and I support his actions on the international front. He was absolutely wrong in being a Democrat-lite on domestic matters; his actions weren't very Republican, and when given a choice between a fake Democrat and a real one, the public will always vote for the real one.

1,462 days from today I hope we'll be inaugurating a new president. Tomorrow, though, I'll thank one President for all he's done and welcome another one to the position and wish him well.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hiring College Grads

This doesn't apply to students because--let's face it--high school and college students are far more likely to apply for worker bee jobs than jobs with heavy responsibility or supervision. But college grads expect to get real jobs, and they need to know how to handle an interview.

As someone who's interviewed many times, for many types of jobs, since 1990, I agree with this article.

Some employers like behavioral interviews because they think you can't prepare for it. Think again. No matter how many employers say you can't prepare for them, you can still dig deep into your memory before the interview and be ready to talk experiences that could fit situations your potential employer throws at you.

Here are some questions you might encounter, courtesy of Scott Weighart, author of "Find Your First Professional Job: A Guide to Co-ops, Interns and Full-Time Job Seekers":

Tell me about a time you:

* failed at something
* had to take an unpopular stand
* really had to go way above and beyond
* had to show exceptional attention to detail
* dealt well with a difficult colleague/co-worker
* showed that you can multitask under pressure

Make sure you prepare your stories, too -- you might be able to wing it, but you won't give the best answers if you do.

And don't even think of making stuff up.

Reno Run

Took a day trip to Reno with the neighbors today. As usual I didn't win anything and my travel partners did.

I saw two things of interest: the railroad tracks through town, which have been "lowered" to below street level to help sound and traffic, have now been covered with a street-level roof. There's this new patch of open space between the El Dorado and Fitzgerald's.

And Fitzgerald's has closed.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

It's Starting

I guess it's not enough that, in a few dozen hours, we're going to elect a black President. It's not enough that the richest woman in America is black (Oprah is the richest, right?), or that the highest paid actor (Will Smith) is black. It isn't enough that our laws no longer discriminate on the basis of skin color.

No, we can't possibly let go of the victimology that, for too many people, goes with being black.

The focus of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 wasn't what had been accomplished — but rather his view of what still needed to be done.

More than four decades later, King scholars say he would take the same approach at this historic moment — the inauguration of the first black president at a time when the nation is facing its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The crisis could widen the already large financial gaps between whites and blacks and make it more difficult to attain King's dream of economic equality in America.

"I believe that Dr. King would caution us not to rest on the election of a black president and say our work here is done," said Kendra King, associate professor of politics at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.

Nope, there's an economic gap between blacks and whites, so our work here isn't done. NAACP is still necessary. United Negro College Fund is still necessary. Urban League is still necessary. Affirmative action (i.e., racial discrimination) is still necessary.

It doesn't matter that this gap is caused not by skin color, but by a culture that devalues the very traits that promote wealth. It doesn't matter that this gap is self-created.

It only matters that we not give up that victimhood.

Oh, and any reporter who says "the nation is facing its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression" is either an idiot or a liar. I remember the late 1970s, and these ain't them.

Update, 1/19/09: This is good. I'm not at all certain it will last.

More than two-thirds of African-Americans believe Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision for race relations has been fulfilled, a CNN poll found -- a figure up sharply from a survey in early 2008.

I'm With The Kid On This One

While I accept without reservation that children don't have the same rights as adults, I also accept without reservation that school administrators should not have more authority than law enforcement officials:

A 13-year-old Arizona girl who was strip-searched by school officials looking for ibuprofen pain reliever will have her case heard at the Supreme Court.

The justices accepted the case Friday for review. They will decide whether a campus setting gives school administrators greater discretion to control students suspected of illegal activity than police are allowed in cases involving adults in public spaces...

The court said the school went too far in its effort to create a drug- and crime-free classroom. "The overzealousness of school administrators in efforts to protect students has the tragic impact of traumatizing those they claim to serve. And all this to find prescription-strength ibuprofen."

In its appeal to the high court, the school district said requiring a legal standard of "probable cause" to conduct student searches would cast a "roadblock to the kind of swift and effective response that is too often needed to protect the very safety of students, particularly from the threats posed by drugs and weapons."

Such a search would be clearly illegal in California, as evidenced by this citation from Education Code:

49050. No school employee shall conduct a search that involves:
(a) Conducting a body cavity search of a pupil manually or with an instrument.
(b) Removing or arranging any or all of the clothing of a pupil to permit a visual inspection of the underclothing, breast, buttocks, or genitalia of the pupil.

Every time I read this I wonder what prompted lawmakers to add "with an instrument" to subsection (a).

Update, 4/20/09: CNN presents some updated facts here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Obama's Inaugural and a Double Standard

Read this short post (and accompanying comments) for background information on the cost of this inaugural compared to 2005. Hint: it will cost four times as much.

I don't find fault in blowing money on the inaugural; I find fault in the double standard of those who thought too much money was spent last time but have no problem with this year's expense.

Warrantless Wiretaps

It's been awhile since I've written on this topic, but today gives good reason:

A U.S. Foreign Intelligence court released a ruling Thursday upholding the right of the president and Congress to wiretap private international phone conversations and intercept e-mail messages without a court-issued warrant.

I don't know why this is news. As I pointed out almost 3 years ago right here on this blog:

Additionally, a 2002 ruling by the FISA court (In Re Sealed Case) stated the following at the bottom of page 11:

"We take for granted that the President does have that authority (to conduct warrantless surveillance to obtain foreign intelligence information) and,
assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President's constitutional power."

How could it be any more clear?

Having cleared this constitutional hurdle yet again, I'm curious what "assault on civil liberties" the President has conducted these past 8 years.

I'm sure a President Obama and his intelligence apparatus will be pleased to make use of this constitutionally-approved tactic in the effort to destroy those who would attack us.

Big Numbers

Sometimes it's really interesting to understand basic math.

Zimbabwe unveiled a 100 trillion dollar note Friday in the latest grim measure of its staggering economic collapse, heightening the urgency of a new round of unity talks set for next week...

The new 100,000,000,000,000 Zim-dollar bill would have been worth about 300 US dollars (225 euros) at Thursday's exchange rate on the informal market, where most currency trading now takes place, but the value of the local currency erodes dramatically every day.

The move came just one week after the bank released a series of billion-dollar notes, which already are not worth enough for workers to withdraw their monthly salaries.

Inflation was last reported at 231 million percent in July, but the Washington think-tank Cato Institute has estimated it now at 89.7 sextillion percent -- a figure expressed with 21 zeroes.

When Mugabe took power at independence from Britain in 1980, the Zimbabwe dollar was equivalent to the British pound.

Golden State? Fool's Gold

How pathetic is this?

State Controller John Chiang announced today that his office would suspend tax refunds, welfare checks, student grants and other payments owed to Californians starting Feb. 1, as a result of the state's cash crisis.

Chiang said he had no choice but to stop making some $3.7 billion in payments in the absence of action by the governor and lawmakers to close the state's nearly $42-billion budget deficit. More than half of those payments are tax refunds.

The controller said the suspended payments could be rolled into IOUs if California still lacked sufficient cash to pay its bills come March or April.

I have to pay my taxes on time, or people with firearms come take me to jail. But if the state owes me money, an IOU is considered acceptable.

There are somewhat over 30 million people in California. The deficit the controller is talking about amounts to about $1400 for every person in the state. That's egregious.

It's not that we're not taking in enough money, it's that we're spending far more than we're taking in. And the governor is proposing a "temporary" 1.5 cent sales tax increase, and the CTA is going to put an additional 1 cent sales tax increase on the ballot (with the money supposedly being earmarked for education).

And the nation is heading where California already is. From whence comes this belief that socialism works?

Update, 1/25/09: Here's more.
Maryland used to be in the middle of the pack of states with business-friendly environments. No more. The Tax Foundation now ranks Maryland as the sixth worst state in the nation in which to do business. Only Rhode Island, Ohio, California, New York, and New Jersey are more hostile to job- and revenue-producing enterprises. Maryland’s “remarkable drop” - from 24th in 2008 to 45th place this year – is attributed to last year’s passage of the largest tax hike in state history, coupled with other major tax policy changes that also put the Free State dead last in the personal income tax category.
Christopher Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, summed up the real problem facing formerly free-spending states now suddenly face-to-face with billion-dollar deficits: “The debate has always been revenue, revenue, revenue – not spending priorities,” he told The Examiner. “We continue to promise more than we bring in. It’s a dereliction of fiduciary responsibility. Meanwhile, families and businesses are struggling to swim and the state throws them a cinder block.”
American companies already pay some of the highest federal corporate taxes in the industrialized world. When states like Maryland and California pile on even more taxes on top of that, business owners start looking at other states that are competing for their presence.

Grenade on a Plane: Then and Now

From AP and Yahoo News:

Authorities detained Johnny Knoxville on Thursday for allegedly bringing an inert grenade into Los Angeles International Airport. After security screeners spotted the grenade in the "Jackass" star's carry-on luggage, a bomb squad determined it lacked a firing pin or explosive. Police say Knoxville was later released and allowed to board an American Airlines flight to Miami.

This story sounds so familiar....

It was August 1985, and I'd just finished jump school at Fort Benning. A classmate and I rented a taxi and off we went to the Atlanta airport. In a taxi. The whole way.

But first we had to stop at Valhalla itself, Ranger Joe's surplus store.

We probably spent a half an hour in there. There were so many "toys" in there, so much to look at. One that caught my friend's eye was a bin of dummy hand grenades. A pineapple, a pin, and a handle--it's just that the pineapple was hollow, no explosive. "My younger brother would love these," he said. He bought two. He tossed them into his bag and on we went to the airport, quite a drive away.

We checked in and, since both of our flights were a couple hours distant, went and had a nice lunch (we cadets must have had a lot of money in those days). Well over an hour had passed since our arrival at the airport, and then it was time to go to our gate. We each put our carry-ons on the metal detector belt and started to go through. I don't know what triggered John's memory then, but simultaneously with his words I understood what was going on: "You know, we're all going to laugh about this in a few minutes."

I don't know where they came from--maybe Scotty beamed them down--but we were instantly surrounded by armed men, weapons drawn. Maybe the screeners saw the grenades on their x-ray screen, who knows. But there we were.

I don't recall if we were in uniform or not, but we were allowed to show them our ID cards--our rank was listed as CADETUSMA, which we had to explain due to a lack of a comma. John explained what we were, where we'd been, and that the grenades were dummies. By this time the tension had calmed enough that he was actually allowed to handle a grenade to show that they were, in fact, hollow.

"We can't let you take those on the plane."

"Why not? You can see they're hollow."

"Yes, but if you were to pull one out on the plane and threaten with it, no one else would know they were hollow."

"I guess that's true. Darn, I wanted to give these to my brother."

So you know what they did? They "unchecked" his suitcase, watched him unscrew the handles from the pineapples, and allowed him to transport the dummy hand grenades in his checked baggage. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Notice this was 16 years before 9/11. Things aren't handled with such common sense today.

Prosecutors will decide whether to charge the 38-year-old with bringing a prohibited item into a secure area of the airport, a misdemeanor.

Grokking Trig

One of the few things I got out of reading Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land was the word grok, which I'll define as complete, total, metaphysical understanding.

Want to review some trig and have some fun? Then spit out your chicle, cleanse your aura, get your chicken feet off the desk in front of you, and watch a few of my students who obviously have too much free time!

Note the witty play on words with grok.

And yes, I might have to throw a few extra credit bones their way.

Women And Children First?

I heard on the radio this morning that "women and children first" was how that US Air plane, the one that landed in the Hudson River yesterday, was cleared. I certainly have no problems with getting children to safety, but several interesting questions are raised:

1. I've flown a few times with my son, who's now 12. Especially when he was younger, does it seem reasonable to have him alone in what would clearly be a high-stress situation? Or to have a bunch of children standing out on the wing in the Hudson with their parents inside?

2. Wouldn't it make more sense to evacuate the aircraft in an orderly manner, and not have to squeeze around men?

3. Not that I have anything against chivalry, but given that we no longer hold Victorian views of the roles of men and women--and in this time of equality of the sexes--on what basis might we argue for allowing women off first? I admit, I'm not coming up with anything good.

And on a completely unrelated note, I've heard (but not seen confirmed yet) that the pilot was an Air Force Academy graduate.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Did You Know All These Math Credentials Existed?

I didn't.
Executive Summary: This agenda item continues the discussion begun at the October 2008 Commission meeting related to the teaching of mathematics in California. The focus of this item is the authorization statements for documents that authorize the teaching of


Recently two of my seniors came to me with the same problem--they had D's and even if they aced the final exam, they couldn't get at least a C- in the course. And they need at least a C- in the course in order to be considered at California's 4-year universities.

If their grades were the result of lack of effort, I would consider this a lesson well learned and not think a thing of it. But I know both of them have tried and struggled all semester long. So I made them a deal: score at least a B on the final, so that I can have a high level of confidence that they've mastered a reasonable amount of the material, and despite their points earned I'll give them a C-.

I graded the finals. One was happy with the result, the other not so much--but I think I earned cool points from each of them just for providing that one last opportunity. Professionally, it's a decision I can live with.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

UCs To Accept Fewer Freshmen Next Year

This is not what many of my students want to hear:

High school seniors hoping to attend the University of California next year could get more grim news by the end of today.

During a special meeting by teleconference this afternoon, UC regents will consider a proposal to cut the number of freshmen the university will accept next year. They're looking at admitting 2,300 fewer freshmen for the fall of 2009, compared with fall 2008.

Coupled with preliminary numbers that show more students than ever have applied to attend UC in the fall, the plan means it's getting harder and harder for high school students to get in to California's most prestigious public colleges.

Say it with me: budget cuts.

Alms For The Poor, A Budget Cuts Tale

Today I was forced to send out the following email to my fellow teachers:

A few days ago, (another math teacher) asked if anyone had a spare overhead bulb lying around—our department budget is kaput, there is no food in the cupboard.

Today I come to you, hat in hand, asking if anyone has a black #15 HP ink cartridge that I can have. If trades need to be conducted, I saw some Kleenex, some notecards, and some whiteboard erasers in our department storage locker.

Teachers are by nature hoarders, but I still had a few reply that they had such cartridges and one sent one over to me immediately. And while that's great, isn't it sad that I had to send such an email in the first place?

Is That A Stimulus Package, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

I can't see how this is going to be good for the profession:

Washington state law does not bar teachers from having sex with 18-year-old students.

That's the decision of a three-judge panel of the Washington Court of Appeals, which on Tuesday ordered the dismissal of a case brought against Hoquiam High School's former choir teacher.

Maybe the joke would be funnier if the teacher taught economics.

Carnival of Education

This week's is hosted at Education Examiner and includes my post about shortening the school year to save a billion dollars.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What Am I Supposed To Glean From These Charts?

Click here to take a look.

The first chart shows where people got their degrees, the second chart shows where people got their credentials.

Where are the out-of-California schools on these charts? Where are the internship programs for credentials reflected?

Is anyone really surprised that only 11% of math/science credentials come from our UC's (which take the cream of California's student crop), given this information? That's assuming this data is correct at all, given my questions above.

Too Young To Lose, And Not Even In Battle

Our hearts go out to the families of those who were killed or hurt in the helicopter training accident at Texas A&M yesterday. Read the words of a photographer who witnessed the crash, and think of the impact such an event might have on the ROTC cadets who watched it.

Sometimes, sadly, the military forces you to grow up quickly.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ice Cream and Bird Seed

If you want to read this post, you must first read this post. Go on, do it. If you don't, you don't get to learn about ice cream.

Now that you've read about ice cream, and understand a bit where I'm going, I'll share with you this email I received recently.

I bought a bird feeder. I hung
it on my back porch and filled
it with seed. What a beauty of
a bird feeder it is, as I filled it
lovingly with seed. Within a
week we had hundreds of birds
taking advantage of the
continuous flow of free and
easily accessible food.

But then the birds started
building nests in the boards
of the patio, above the table,
and next to the barbecue.
Then came the poop. It was
everywhere: on the patio tile,
the chairs, the table .....

Then some of the birds
turned mean. They would
dive bomb me and try to
peck me even though I had
fed them out of my own

And others birds were
boisterous and loud. They
sat on the feeder and
squawked and screamed at
all hours of the day and night
and demanded that I fill it
when it got low on food.

After a while, I couldn't even
sit on my own back porch
anymore. So I took down the
bird feeder and in three days
the birds were gone. I cleaned
up their mess and took down
the many nests they had built
all over the patio.

Soon, the back yard was like
it used to be... quiet, serene
and no one demanding their
rights to a free meal.


Just my opinion, but maybe
it's time for the government
to take down the bird feeder.

If you agree, pass it on; if not,
continue cleaning up the poop!

Hope and change. Liberalism. Socialism. Call it what you will, it all leads to poop on the patio.

And you get it because someone promised ice cream.

Shorten The School Year To Save Money?

In an attempt to help cut California's humongous deficit, the governor has proposed allowing school districts to shorten the school year by a week. This would allow schools to save a week of salaries and a week of HVAC expense--not an insignificant amount in California in June!

The major Sacramento newspaper provides some information about this proposal:

How would the cuts be made?

School board members could decide to shorten the year for their districts or not. Those that opt for a shorter school year would eliminate the equivalent of five instructional days, either in minutes or actual days.

Can you put the cuts in perspective?

Trimming the calendar by five days roughly translates to 3 percent of the school year, said Brian Stecher, an educational analyst with the Rand Education program.

"It's a relatively small cut, but on the other hand, if we saw academic gains of 3 percent across the state, we'd be very happy," Stecher said...

How would cutting school days save money, and how much?

Reducing the school year to 175 days would save on salaries and operational and maintenance costs. According to the California Department of Finance, the state's 1,000 districts could collectively save $1.1 billion.

When would the cuts go into effect?

During the 2009-10 school year.

Until I read this article, I thought these would be midyear cuts--in other words, I thought we'd lose a week this year. Now I learn it won't even be until next year. I could probably save up a week's pay if I have a year's notice, don't you think?

Not that I'd want to, of course. No one wants to take a pay cut. I certainly think that non-classroom expenses should be cut before the first dollar that affects a classroom does. But if the state could save a billion dollars by doing this--we're a couple dozen billion in the hole here, depending on whose numbers you believe. One billion dollars is not an insignificant amount.

Let's keep in mind we're talking about California, though. We must hear what the unions have to say.

Where do employee unions stand?

The California School Employees Association, which represents classified employees including custodians and office staff, and the California Teachers Association are opposed.

"Districts don't get to unilaterally abrograte (union) contracts," said Dave Low, assistant director of governmental relations for CSEA. "The governor is throwing out options that are pretty far-fetched in terms of their capacity to be implemented."

CTA President David Sanchez said in lieu of cutting the school year, his union is proposing a "Public School Investment and Accountability Act," which would create a 1 percent sales tax increase effective Jan. 1, 2010. If approved by the Legislature, it would generate between $5 billion and $6 billion a year for K-12 and community colleges.

So the CTA isn't willing to accept any cuts, and in fact wants to raise taxes on an already-strapped public.

Here's a thought: if the CTA is so worried about its teachers, maybe it could help them by buffering the loss of a week's pay. The CTA admits to spending about 1/3 of its money on expenses not related to collective bargaining or union organizing--that's the money it refunds to me each year (click on the agency fee label for more details on that). Perhaps the CTA could reduce all teachers' dues to the agency fee amount--that is, the amount that it claims is what is spends on collective bargaining and union organizing (even though in reality it spends less than it claims). Teachers would lose around $1000 in pay if the school year is shortened, but union dues could be reduced by $300 with no impact on CTA's stated mission.

That sounds smarter to me than trying to get a sales tax increase passed during a recession.

CTA won't do this, or course--they don't want to give up their money (that they don't earn) any more than I want to give up my money (that I do earn). So what might the result be?

Can districts shorten the year without agreement from unions?

It's illegal for districts to unilaterally impose a five-day furlough, said Ron Bennett, president of School Services of California, a leading nonpartisan think tank. But if unions don't agree to the furlough, their members may face layoffs.

Teachers unions don't really care about layoffs. Layoffs mostly affect new employees that, while dues-paying members, aren't tenured and can be fired anyway. The union will protect tenured jobs, and everyone will be happy--except the poor newbies who get canned. But them's the breaks, right?

NEA To Spend $250K of Teachers' Money At Obama Inaugural

NEA to Spend $250,000 on Inauguration. The National Education Association will spend up to $250,000 on activities related to the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Part of the money will be used to pay for "NEA presence at appropriate events."

With large Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate, the union is also setting its priorities and is expected to concentrate on a handful of issues, including education funding, NCLB reauthorization, health care, GPO/WEP and "21st century skills" (which I would support if they were defined as the ability to detect, analyze and evaluate hogwash).

This, teachers, is where your dues money goes. As I heard so often growing up, "Things are tough all over." I guess they're not so tough for the NEA brass.

So, Whatever Happened To...

Remember all those hysteric cries from the lefties, especially the young ones? Remember the war with Iran that the President was planning, or perhaps even the revival of the draft? Whatever happened to those?

Perhaps once word leaked out and the lefties shrieked, President Bush was forced to shelve those ideas. Yes, that must be it.

Haven't Done That In Awhile

I haven't felt well the past several days. Last night I went to bed at 6:30, and while I certainly didn't sleep the entire time, I just got up.

Here's to feeling better!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Twisting The Knife For The Global Warming Adherents

Did Al Gore recently visit?

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Dutch strapped on skates and flocked to icy canals this weekend as freezing temperatures afforded an increasingly rare chance to skate across their flat country.

After more than a week of cold, an estimated 2.3 million skaters, out of a population of 16 million, have taken to frozen canals and lakes, according to a poll released ahead of the weekend.

That number is expected to double if Queen Beatrix decides to don her skates as well.

I love this quote, attributed to Sherlock Holmes: when the facts contradict your expectations, believe the facts. :-)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Teacher Pay In California

Want to know what the minimum, maximum, and average teacher pay are for Northern California school districts? Look here.

Testing Students For Steroids

Is this program a waste of money, or is it deterring high school students from using steroids?

By the tens of thousands, Texas student-athletes have been pulled out of class to urinate in a cup for the nation's largest high school steroids testing program.

Boys and girls in all sports, from football to tennis to cross country, have been randomly selected.

The results so far have found little to confirm fears that steroid use is a rampant problem. When the first 10,000 tests found only four positive results, critics declared the two-year program a waste of time and money.

Now state lawmakers must decide whether to keep the $6 million program chugging along, scale it down or eliminate it. The 2009 legislative session starts Tuesday.

The Texas legislator who sponsored the testing bill in 2007 calls it an "incredible success."

The point of testing was to act as a deterrent against steroid use, not catch teens using drugs, said Rep. Dan Flynn, a Republican...

No other state screens student-athletes for steroids as comprehensively as Texas, but more limited testing elsewhere also hasn't found widespread steroid use in high schools.

In Florida, a one-year, $100,000 pilot program that tested 600 student-athletes was discontinued last year after only one student tested positive.

New Jersey began random steroid tests of student-athletes who qualify for team or individual state championships in 2006, but only one of 500 athletes screened in the program's first year tested positive.

When the facts contradict your expectations, believe the facts. But there's that deterrence argument.

I'm inclined to support ditching the program, but could be persuaded by strong arguments the other way.

CTA To Push For State Sales Tax Increase, Misinformed Commenter Challenges Me

The major Sacramento newspaper has published a story about CTA's proposal to raise the state sales tax by 1 percentage point (about a 14% sales tax increase). One thing I applaud this newspaper for is allowing comments at the end of their news articles, and I've mentioned such on this blog many times.

So go read the story if you like, but more important, read the comments afterward. Click to display comments "oldest first", then scroll down to the "debate" between one darren65 (guess who!) and "tiredofsocialists". Especially enjoyable was his questioning of my credentials when I challenged a clearly incorrect statement he made.

What "Social Justice" Means In Schools

This is the best definition of social justice I've encountered:

But the term “social justice” does not define a moral cause; it is leftwing jargon to overturn those who have economic and political power.

Here's where I found it:

Why did 18-to-29-year-old evangelicals vote for Barack Obama despite his apostasy on the fundamental moral issues of abortion and same-sex unions? They voted 32 percent for Obama, twice the percentage of that demographic group who voted for John Kerry in 2004.

Many of these young people identify “social justice” as the reason that led them to relegate the prime moral issues of life and marriage to the back burner. But the term “social justice” does not define a moral cause; it is leftwing jargon to overturn those who have economic and political power.

What caused young evangelicals, the children of the so-called “religious right,” to change their moral imperatives so dramatically? Most likely it’s the attitudes and decision-making they learned in the public schools, which 89 percent of U.S. students attend.

The author is, of course, correct.

Update: Here's another view of so-called social justice.