Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "What nickname was given to the first pre-paid postage stamp, first issued in England in 1840?", is:
Penny Black. The cost was one penny, and the stamp was black with white lettering and a profile of Queen Victoria.

Today's question is:
Aspirin, ibuprophen, and naproxen are in a class of medications called NSAIDs. What does NSAID stand for?

Reports From the NEA's Annual Representative Assembly

Conservative blogger Treehopper is attending the NEA's Annual Representative Assembly, held this year in Chicago, and is reporting from there. If you're interested in what's going on in that hornet's nest, and want to hear it from a conservative viewpoint, his blog Endangered Principles is the place to look.

EIA will have his usual excellent reporting as well.

You Can't Ride On The Gravy Train Forever

Eventually, as Margaret Thatcher says, you'll run out of other people's money:
Hundreds of thousands of British teachers and civil servants went on strike on Thursday in the opening salvo of what could be months of widespread industrial action over planned pension reforms and austerity measures.

Echoing protests across Europe against spending cuts imposed to reduce budget deficits, the strikes closed many schools, as well as a small number of courts and other public offices, while thousands joined rallies in cities and towns across the country.

The National Government Isn't So Great, Either--Starting At The Top

I just wrote a post about how California shot itself in the foot with its new budget, let's now see how great a job the president is doing. Turns out, not so great:
I watched President Obama today make a scathing speech in which he was alternatively cynical, deprecating, preachy and downright demagogical. It was class warfare elevated to a fine art. Tax those “millionaires and billionaires.” Tax those people “who own private planes” (used that one 5-6 times) and tax those oil companies who are “making too much money” (doing what businesses are supposed to do—make money, create jobs and economic growth)...

Mr. President, you need to admit you don’t know how to fix America, and what you thought would work, didn’t, isn’t working and won’t work. You were wrong, and still are. Mr. President, you need to stop going to fund raisers to reach $1 billion you can spend on your reelection campaign and do your job. You need to retire your golf clubs and roll up your sleeves and live up to some of that soaring rhetoric that got you into this job—you know, the one you have learned you were woefully underprepared to do.

Remember the speech about not being “red states and blue states, but being the United States of America?” Well, somewhere between that convention speech in which you leaped from anonymity to fame, you forgot about that line, that great message, and fell into the traps of power—pride, narcissism and arrogance. Your glorious teleprompters from which flow the golden words will not tell you how to fix America. All you know for certain, in your heart as you go to sleep each night is that you have tried everything you thought was right and it didn’t and doesn’t work, and the American people are figuring that out.

I hope enough figure it out by November 2012.

California Shoots Itself In The Foot With New Budget--Passed Without A Single Republican Vote

They'll have a hard time pinning this one on the Republicans, but it won't be for lack of trying:
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law California's tax on Internet sales through affiliate advertising which will immediately cut small-business website revenue 20% to 30%, experts say.

The bill, AB 28X, takes effect immediately. The state Board of Equalization says the tax will raise $200 million a year, but critics claim it will raise nothing because online retailers will end their affiliate programs rather than collect the tax.
Amazon has already emailed its termination of its affiliate advertising program with 25,000 websites...

Almost all the California Amazon affiliates have fewer than 75 employees and a large percentage have no employees, according to Rebecca Madigan, executive director of the Performance Marketing Association, a Camarillo-based nationwide trade association.

"This law won't impact Amazon that much but it is a crisis for website owners who make revenue by placing ads on their websites for thousands of online retailers," Madigan said. "Most of them don't have a physical presence in California."...

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1992 ruled that states cannot tax businesses that aren't physically within their boundaries. Such taxes would regulate interstate commerce, which is a federal government prerogative...

Board of Equalization Member George Runner blasted Brown for signing the law. "Even as Governor Jerry Brown lifted his pen to sign this legislation, thousands of affiliates across California were losing their jobs. The so-called 'Amazon tax' is truly a lose-lose proposition for California. Not only won’t we see the promised revenues, we’ll actually lose income tax revenue as affiliates move to other states."

Other states have passed so-called Amazon Taxes and seen Amazon cut affiliates in those states from the team; why would California's government think it would be any different here? Or do they not care about the jobs, and just hope that Amazon comes out looking like the bad guy here? I understand liberals believe in "hope" a lot.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Breaking News! CTA Recognizes That Republican Teachers Exist!

It's the end of June, a good time to receive the June issue of the CTA mouthpiece rag, California Educator. Let's look on page 29, and see what's going on with that most mysterious and never-seen species, the Republican Teacher:
Fed up with stonewalling by GOP leaders and the failure of the Legislature to approve tax extensions, several Republican teachers from the Central Valley turned out on June 9 to urge their lawmakers to do the right thing for schools, students and California by approving tax extensions to prevent deeper cuts to education.

The teachers, all prominent in the Republican Party and active in CTA’s Republican Caucus, particularly took aim at two local Republican legislators during a news conference at the Visalia Adult School.
I don't know how people can fall for this story line. Democrats have overwhelming majorities in both houses of the legislature and now a full-on Democrat (as opposed to a Democrat-lite) in the governor's office. How is it that Republicans are responsible for getting a budget passed on time? How is it that Republicans are preventing anything from getting done?

The answer is: they're not. The Democrats need only two Republican votes in each house of the legislature for a supermajority, and the Republicans are standing in lockstep. The Dems don't need Republican votes to pass a budget, they need 2 Republican votes to reach the 2/3 majority needed to raise taxes--this is what the Republicans are denying them. And shame on the teachers mentioned above, who are looking out for their own short-term self-interest. I look out for my own long-term self-interest as well as the state as a whole, recognizing that I won't have the retirement I've been promised if this state isn't solvent and on a strong financial footing.

How can you know what I'm telling you is true? Why should you believe what I say? What proof can I offer you? This, from the major Sacramento newspaper:
Gov. Jerry Brown said for months that he could broker a bipartisan budget deal.

By agreeing to a majority-vote budget, passed by Democrats in the Legislature on Tuesday, he conceded he could not...

"We can't sit here until we're covered in cobwebs waiting for them (Republicans) to be reasonable," Duran (the governor's spokesman) said Tuesday. "He's doing his job. He did his best to broker a bipartisan deal, but instead he had to find a way to wade through the dysfunction and get a budget on time."

Republicans are not the problem in this state.

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "In what year did the current pope, Benedict XVI, become pope?", is:

Today's question is:
What nickname was given to the first pre-paid postage stamp, first issued in England in 1840?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "What name identifies Prince William of Great Britain on the nametag he wears on his RAF flight uniform?", is:
Will Wales (picture here).

Today's question, which hopefully will generate more answers than the previous two questions, is:
In what year did the current pope, Benedict XVI, become pope?

(If you don't know, just take a guess. Part of the fun is to see how close you come!)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "What was the name of Eric Clapton's 4-year-old son, whose 1991 death inspired the song Tears in Heaven?", is:

Today's question is:
What name identifies Prince William of Great Britain on the nametag he wears on his RAF flight uniform?

I Have An Interested Visitor From Iceland!

Welcome to my blog!

Number of Entries:
Entry Page Time:
27 Jun 2011 11:20:37
Visit Length:
0 seconds
Safari 5.0
Iceland Flag
Total Visits:
Reykjavík, Gullbringusysla, Iceland
IP Address:
Landssimi Islands (
Referring URL:
(No referring link)
Visit Page:

I had planned to visit your beautiful country in August, but an injury will keep me from flying then. My quarrels are with Icelandair, not Iceland itself, and I hope to be able to visit next year--flying a different airline, of course, unless Icelandair changes its mind.

Student Free Speech

Unless the student's speech (or actions, for that matter) have a significant impact on what happens at school, the school should have no authority to punish students for such speech. Sadly, that isn't the law of the land yet, but it is the law in the Third Circuit:
Yesterday, the full court for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued two simultaneous opinions to resolve how much control grade schools and high schools may exercise over their students' off-campus, online speech. In Layshock v. Hermitage School District and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, the 14-judge court delivered two landmark victories for free speech, holding that school officials cannot "reach into a child's home and control his/her actions there to the same extent that it can control that child when he/she participates in school sponsored activities." In the cases, two students had been disciplined for creating parody MySpace profiles mocking their respective principals. The Third Circuit held that schools cannot punish students' online speech simply because it is vulgar, lewd, or offensive. In addition to their impact in the grade school and high school settings, these decisions further solidify the robust free speech rights that must be afforded to college students engaging in online speech...

Both Layshock and J.S. also held that off-campus speech is not transformed into school speech, subject to the Fraser standard, simply because some students access it on school computers, or because the principal requested that a hard copy of the website be brought into the school...

Importantly, in both cases, the Third Circuit concluded that the speech at issue "could not reasonably have led school officials to forecast substantial disruption in school."
I have a long history on this blog of maintaining that what students do in their off-campus time is the purview and responsibility of their parents, not of the school.

Why I'm Not A Socialist, and Never Will Be

In this piece Victor Davis Hanson doesn't address the "human nature" reasons why socialism fails, and neither does he discuss the loss of freedoms to an overpowering state. Those are the "red meat" reasons I'm against socialism, but his reasoning is pretty powerful, too:
The strangest things about the global statist crack-up are socialists’ unhappiness with their socialist utopia, and their subsequent efforts to avoid the consequences of the very redistributive state that they themselves once so gladly crafted.

Greece is the locus classicus. Why are the Greeks protesting? Against whom? They obtained long ago the promised bloated sector and high taxes that all schemed to avoid. Their alma mater EU is hardly a demonic capitalist-run plutocracy, but a kindred socialist state. Is Greece an oil producer, industrial powerhouse, high-tech innovator — anything that might explain the sort of upscale life, modern infrastructure, legions of Mercedeses, and plush second homes that one began to see in Greece after 1985?

In truth, socialist Greeks are furious that they have impoverished themselves and demand that private money and far harder-working Germans bail them out — but why so, when socialism should not need outside capitalist-generated dollars? ...

This discussion is, of course, a belabored example of why and how socialists do not like socialism. Indeed, statism is not a desired outcome, but rather more a strategy for obtaining power or winning acclaim as one of the caring, by offering the narcotic of promising millions something free at the expense of others who must be seen as culpable and obligated to fund it — entitlements fueled by someone else’s money that enfeebled the state, but in the process extended power, influence, and money to a technocratic class of overseers who are exempt from the very system that they have advocated.

So what is socialism? It is a sort of modern version of Louis XV’s “Après moi, le déluge” – an unsustainable Ponzi scheme in which elite overseers, for the duration of their own lives, enjoy power, influence, and gratuities by implementing a system that destroys the sort of wealth for others that they depend upon for themselves...

What stops socialism?

I fear bankruptcy alone.

Who are socialists?

There are none. Only technocratic overseers who wish to give someone else’s money to others as a means of winning capitalist-style lifestyles and power for themselves — in a penultimate cycle of unsustainable spending.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Because I'm a serious teacher who actually cares about students and wants them actually to learn the material, I support this policy--but not because LA Unified is right about it:
The nation's second-largest school system has decided to give students like these a break. A new policy decrees that homework can count for only 10% of a student's grade.

Critics — mostly teachers — worry that the policy will encourage students to slack off assigned work and even reward those who already disregard assignments. And they say it could penalize hardworking students who receive higher marks for effort.

The more that homework counts, the easier it is to pass a course--precisely because some teachers do grade on effort. I don't grade on effort, I grade on performance.

In my classes, homework counts for 20% of a student's grade--still too much for LA Unified, but much less than so many others teachers. This means that 80% of a student's grade comes from tests and quizzes, which are measures of performance.

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

I could be wrong here, but I predict that grades will go down instead of up with this policy, and it will be modified or replaced within three years. I give that long because it will take a year to notice the drop, another year to confirm it wasn't an anomaly, and a third to make the decision.

Sunday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "On Bonanza, who were Ben Cartwright's sons?", is:
Adam, Hoss (Eric), and Little Joe.

Today's question is:
What was the name of Eric Clapton's 4-year-old son, whose 1991 death inspired the song Tears in Heaven?

Technology In Education

I've said it so many times before: technology in education is a means to an end, not the end itself. It seems that Curmudgeon and I agree:
The real world requires that a problem exist before it feels the need to go buy technology to solve it. The RW needs to know what to do with the new tech and be convinced that the new tech is an improvement, that it will provide better, cheaper, faster, more efficient output. Testing is done by the tech seller in order to create the glossy brochures and advertising. All this happens BEFORE purchase. Tech is an answer to a problem in the Real World...

Education, on the other hand, operates differently. Here, Shiny and New is purchased because it's Shiny and New and then teachers go try to justify the purchase and attempt to find a problem that this Shiny and New solution will hopefully solve...

That's American education for you. Buy shit without knowing what, if anything, it will do. Throw out what's working to focus on the Shiny New Toy and completely forget about the real purpose of education: education. This is the only chance at an education this group of kids will ever get and we have no compunctions about testing new theories on them ... and we don't even give a damn about the results.

Some day I'll write a blog post about all the "stuff" that was being stored in the math department's Crap Storage Area before I turned it into a computer lab for my statistics classes. Shiny and new, indeed.

It's Always A Teacher, A Cop, or a Preacher

Kiddie porn stories--if they're to be genuinely good, see-them-on-the-evening-news caliber stories--will always have a teacher, a cop, or a preacher as one of the bad guys. It's like some unwritten rule or something. This story comes pretty close:
The head of a children's art organization, arrested three weeks ago on suspicion of possessing child pornography, placed "offensive" tiles in murals he created at four city schools, San Francisco police said Friday.

About 100 "inappropriate" tiles have been found in murals at Sunset Elementary School and three other unnamed schools in the city, Police Chief Greg Suhr said...

Also under investigation were murals Norris worked on at Old Mill Elementary School in Mill Valley, Global Family School in Oakland, and Bahia Vista Elementary School in San Rafael.
If you don't see it on the evening news, it's because he's not a full-on teacher, he just worked with kids.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

But, But, But, Wal*mart Is Eee-vihl!

Mordor was Tolkein's version of Bentonville, Arkansas, or something like that:
Sacramento Schools have received $11.5 million from The Walmart Foundation for three-year summer learning program that started Jun. 6.

The foundation provided the funds to the National Summer Learning Association, which then distributed them to local learning programs in 10 cities nationwide. The donation is part of a national effort to improve education for between school years.

Just saying. :-)

Saturday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, "How many US states seceded and formed the Conderate States of America, precipitating the US Civil War?", is:
11: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina (in order of secession).

Today's question is:
On Bonanza, who were Ben Cartwright's sons?

First Trip

A friend came to visit yesterday, and asked what I'd like to do--he was thinking we could go out somewhere, get me out of the house. I only half-jokingly said "Reno", a suggested he pounced on, as he hadn't been there in 20 years! I went to my physical therapy and my chiropractor appointments--I'm feeling so much better now that the first has started and the second has resumed!--and he scheduled a room at the Grand Sierra Resort, a place I'd never before stayed. By mid-afternoon we were off!

After some sightseeing we were headed to the buffet at Circus Circus, one of the two best in Reno, when we came upon a street fair along Virginia Street, the main drag through downtown. "Beer, blues, and barbecue" or something like that. I thought maybe we'd find some good food there, so we parked and walked a couple blocks over to it. Me, walking a couple blocks!--when only a week or so ago a walk through the grocery story was exhausting. Then we walked a couple blocks through the festival, and finding nothing we really wanted to eat, we entered the El Dorado and walked through it and Silver Legacy until we got back to Circus Circus. The buffet there still lives up to its reputation.

Anyway, here's me "walking" down Virginia Street:

I still can't bend my knee much at all, so I can't put on shoes or socks--good that I know someone from whom I can borrow the Crocs! And notice I'm getting a little shaggy, too--need to buzz that head!

After our evening in downtown, we drove a few miles to the Grand Sierra Resort, formerly the Reno Hilton, formerly the MGM Grand Reno. My friend isn't much of a gambler, but I was able to convince him to sign up for the player's club card and play a few slots with me; who knows, maybe we'll get a free room or something out of it. One of my favorite slots is a Star Trek-themed slot, and I sat down to play. No sooner than my friend took off for the restroom than I got a random little bonus feature--and won $228! It's a penny slot, and each play cost me about 35 cents, so definitely not a bad ROI! I definitely did the "pay it forward" thing....

My legs were killing me when I woke up this morning. My calves were both tight because I haven't walked so far in so many months, and my knees were both sore from all the walking. A pain pill made it all bearable!

It's nice that I could take a day trip, and even nicer that I could enjoy it so much. I think the combination of a few things--excitement over starting therapy, joy at getting out of the house, improvement in my condition--made me capable of walking as far as I did. And winning a couple hundred bucks at midnight didn't hurt, either!

Maybe I should do this a little more often, to minimize the isolation I feel.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
9/80 (I'll post all the commented answers tomorrow, as I'll be afk for 24 hrs.)

Today's question is:
How many US states seceded and formed the Conderate States of America, precipitating the US Civil War?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Little Knowledge Of Algebra Goes A Long Way!

How did he know? :-)

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, the last in 2000-2009 Week, is:
February 4, 2004.

Today's question, the first one "not in a theme week" in a few months, is:
What is the average of 1/8 and 1/10?

Education Buzz

This week's is here, and includes my posts about my visit to school and about how Berkeley's oh-so-progressive schools are doing a horrible job teaching minority students.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
On October 9, 2007, the S&P 500 reached a high of 1565.15; on that same date the DJIA closed at 14164.53.

Today's question is:
When was Facebook “launched”?

Had My First Physical Therapy Appointment Today

I like the therapist--he said he's not into pain! Also, counter to what my doctor told me, he doesn't want me to take a pain pill before going. He wants the possibility for feedback from the pain, so he knows if he's going too far. Makes sense to me.

A Good Idea, Or More Propaganda?

I lean towards the latter, to be honest:
In an historic vote today, the Maryland State Board of Education provided specific guidance to all public schools to require that each student be environmentally literate before he or she graduates from high school.

The vote cements Maryland as the first state in the country to approve a graduation requirement in environmental literacy, a credit to Governor O'Malley, to board members, and to Dr. Nancy Grasmick, State Superintendent of Schools.

I foresee a lot of Church of Global Warming proselytizing....

Update: Apparently I'm not the only one.

Can Social Media Help Me With Icelandair?

At West Point, your classmates are everything. I put out a call for help on my class emaillist, and one in particular is going whole hog trying to help me. It helps that he's writing a book about internet marketing!
Often times these customer service opportunities will become viral marketing for or against a company regardless of the company’s activity in social media, and today is just one of those times. You see, Icelandair chose to tell a customer that he was not important, and I think it will end up costing them business. Of course, if this story goes viral, they will end up spending a lot of money just trying to “undo” the negativity from all of the commotion that is created.

It is important to note that Icelandair did nothing legally wrong, and they did not violate any contract terms either. However, there are times in business when you can make a judgement call that will cost the company a small amount of money but gain a large return in word of mouth marketing. Unfortunately, our short story is about the the exact opposite occurring...

Think about the long reach of viral marketing and the internet. This is a Florida business marketing blog about a airline in Iceland treating a California customer poorly, and it will be tweeted to 100+ countries and over 200,000 twitter followers (and hopefully a lot more) everywhere. This is word of mouth marketing that works against IcelandAir, and all because they did not think about how this could help their company...

Remember, this is not an article about the big bad wolf, IcelandAir did nothing contractually wrong. They just missed a great opportunity to get some very cheap viral marketing from social media accounts all over the world. Not to mention the attention that it will receive in the blogging community.
I've updated my original post on the topic with the information and link above.

And thank you, Joe.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Helping People Before The Welfare State

From Welfare Before The Welfare State:
Many people think life without the welfare state would be chaos. In their minds, nobody would help support the less fortunate, and there would be riots in the streets. Little do they know that people found innovative ways of supporting each other before the welfare state existed. One of the most important of these ways was the mutual-aid society.

Mutual aid, also known as fraternalism, refers to social organizations that gathered dues and paid benefits to members facing hardship. According to David Beito in From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State, there was a "great stigma" attached to accepting government aid or private charity during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.[1] Mutual aid, on the other hand, did not carry the same stigma. It was based on reciprocity: today's mutual-aid recipient could be tomorrow's donor, and vice versa.

It was kind of like insurance. In fact, when I was a child my mother carried our life insurance through a company called Woodmen of the World, which billed itself as a "fraternal benefit society".

The Army Mutual Aid Association, now the Army and Air Force Mutual Aid Association, is an insurance company, but its name tells you how it started. The history goes a little deeper. From their web site:
The Army Mutual Aid Association was established in 1879 after the Battle of Little Big Horn, or "Custer's Last Stand." During frontier times when an officer died, the remaining soldiers would literally "pass the hat" to raise money for the surviving family. This system collapsed, however, with the Battle of Little Big Horn. There were too few survivors to pass the hat, thus leaving the deceased soldiers' families in need. To remedy this situation, Army officers established the Army Mutual Aid Association.
Voluntary associations. Conservatives don't want toss grandma off the cliff or have the sick dying in the streets, we just feel there are more compassionate ways of helping people help themselves. We also believe in charity.

A Minor Physical Improvement

Rather than worrying about the pain of physical therapy, in the last few days I've taken to embracing physical therapy--which starts tomorrow. If this injury is to be healed, if I'm to walk again, physical therapy is how that's going to happen.

One thing my doctor suggested was a hot tub so my leg muscles, and the injured tendon, could "relax". Earlier this week a former student finished cleaning out my tub, which had sat empty for months, and I filled it up. I've been in it a couple nights now. Very soothing. I actually enjoy the hot tub more in the summer than I do in the winter, in part because getting out of the tub is so harsh in the winter. But I digress.

I've been worried about my injured left leg. Yes, the injury was only to the kneecap tendon, but the entire leg has been next to useless. For example, if i sit in a chair and have my legs out in front of me, I can raise my right leg--I feel the thigh muscles tense up, and the leg rises. My left leg, though, I don't feel anything. I don't feel the thigh muscles tensing, the leg doesn't move. And when I stand, I can't move it forward more than, say, 2 inches. Like I said, useless.

But tonight in the hot tub, I learned that's not so. The buoyancy of the water would make my leg weigh less, so I set it in front of me and tried to raise it--and I could! Oh, it wasn't far, but it moved! And while I still couldn't feel the thigh muscles tensed up, they were doing something; placing my hand on them while my leg was elevated, it felt like they were rumbling or vibrating. They must be very weak, atrophied, after all those weeks in the immobilizer, but they're still there, wanting to work.

Physical therapy starts tomorrow!

Media Bias?

Say it ain't so:
Accusations of political bias in the media are often made by members of both political parties, yet there have been few systematic studies of such bias to date. This paper develops an econometric technique to test for political bias in news reports that controls for the underlying character of the news reported. Our results suggest that American newspapers tend to give more positive news coverage to the same economic news when Democrats are in the Presidency than for Republicans...We also present some evidence that media treats parties differently when they control both the presidency and the congress.

Red State Schools and Blue State Schools

Which states have the best and worst schools? Which type of states (Democratic or Republican) have the best and worst schools?
When it come to excellence in education, red states rule — at least according to a panel of experts assembled by Tina Brown’s Newsweek. Using a set of indicators ranging from graduation rate to college admissions and SAT scores, the panel reviewed data from high schools all over the country to find the best public schools in the country.

Sadly, Newsweek's rating methodology has been suspect for quite some time, so I'm not sure how much "there" there is in this article.

One thing that stuck out to me, though, is that California, the state with more schools than any other, merited only one mention in the entire article:
The poor performance of the New England states is particularly striking. Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts are the states with the oldest and strongest traditions of public education in the country. They led the rest of the country in establishing free public schools and were among the first to mandate a full 12 years of pre-college education. Non-New England blue states like New York, New Jersey and even troubled California and Michigan do significantly better than the New England states in the rankings. The decline of public education in New England is clearly a subject that deserves further study.

Hardly a ringing endorsement.

No Taxpayer Funds For UC Athletics

From the San Francisco Chronicle:
With a few words in the new state budget, lawmakers will ban spending taxpayer money on intercollegiate athletics - and end a controversy that started when a sharp-eyed UC Berkeley professor found that university officials had changed details of the law.

University of California officials acknowledge asking the state to remove athletics from the list of programs required to be "self-supporting and not subsidized by the state," but say the reason was bookkeeping and not an attempt to pirate taxpayer money meant for academics...

UC officials insist that no campus has spent state money on athletics in at least 30 years, and that doing so would violate UC policy.

Tuesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:

Today's question is:
In what month did both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index reach their all time highs?

Monday, June 20, 2011

I'm Angry Today

I could use your help.

I lost the battle, but I don't want the war to be over.

Last November, fulfilling a dream I'd had since I was 9 years old, I booked a vacation for this summer in Iceland. Anyone who's been reading this blog for more than a day knows that I won't be able to go on that trip, that I'll be right in the middle of physical therapy trying to walk again.

So I had to cancel my trip. I asked to postpone it, but that was out of the question. Icelandair wouldn't deal with me, but would only deal with my online travel agency--which was not much of a help. Bottom line is that because I didn't purchase travel insurance, they're going to impose the maximum penalty on me for cancelling this trip. They're going to refund me 50% of my fare, but to rub salt into the wound, they want to charge me an extra $100 to do this. That's right, I'll get 50% minus $100. (See "Update" below--this $100 goes to the travel agency, not Icelandair.)

I'm not arguing that this isn't legal, and I'm not seeking government rules forbidding such a practice. I asked them out of a sense of human sympathy and decency to allow me to cancel that flight without penalty, or at least to reschedule it until next summer when I will be healthy again. They refused, because they could.

I've written to their CEO. I've sent letters, including a letter from my doctor, to their North American office in Massachusetts. So far this has been to no avail.

A friend just told me that he emailed them asking that they refund the rest of my money, and I quote, "because they can choose to do so." He suggested I ask for your help.

So I'm asking. If you're willing to participate in this little email campaign, please be courteous in your message. You know my name, and my Yahoo email address is pretty easy to deduce from the contact information in the left column of my blog profile (here). (I prefer not to list my full and complete email address anywhere, so as to avoid the spambots.) The email address for Icelandair's Reykjavik headquarters is here, and their North American office is here--and all of them are here. My airline reservation number is 2VXOOP.

Again, I'm not trying to incite you to storm the gates or to carry pitchforks, but to implore Icelandair as decent, good people, to make an exception to their policy so that I can visit their country when I'm healthy again.

I hope you're with me :-)

Update, 6/21/11: Icelandair says that the $100 fee is not from them, that it must be from the travel agency. This makes sense: the travel agency representative could not explain to me why Icelandair would credit me one amount while charging me a second. The reason is because Icelandair isn't doing the charging here! Because this was misrepresented to me (that's a polite way of saying they lied), I will certainly not pay that $100 charge.

Update #2, 6/21/11: Several people have sent me their replies from Icelandair, which are all variations on the same theme: I booked my flight through a travel agent, and they can only deal with the travel agent. While that's true, it is Icelandair that refuses to budge on its refund policy. The most recent reply I got from them is that while they understand my frustration, they do not waive their policy. That is what I'm hoping to change with this email campaign.

Update #3, 6/21/11: "Now witness the power of this fully operational battle station!" OK, there's no Darth Vader in this story, but a West Point classmate of mine is trying to help my story go viral:

Often times these customer service opportunities will become viral marketing for or against a company regardless of the company’s activity in social media, and today is just one of those times. You see, Icelandair chose to tell a customer that he was not important, and I think it will end up costing them business. Of course, if this story goes viral, they will end up spending a lot of money just trying to “undo” the negativity from all of the commotion that is created.

It is important to note that Icelandair did nothing legally wrong, and they did not violate any contract terms either. However, there are times in business when you can make a judgement call that will cost the company a small amount of money but gain a large return in word of mouth marketing. Unfortunately, our short story is about the the exact opposite occurring...

Think about the long reach of viral marketing and the internet. This is a Florida business marketing blog about a airline in Iceland treating a California customer poorly, and it will be tweeted to 100+ countries and over 200,000 twitter followers (and hopefully a lot more) everywhere. This is word of mouth marketing that works against IcelandAir, and all because they did not think about how this could help their company...

Remember, this is not an article about the big bad wolf, IcelandAir did nothing contractually wrong. They just missed a great opportunity to get some very cheap viral marketing from social media accounts all over the world. Not to mention the attention that it will receive in the blogging community.

Icelandair is holding firm, but they can still change their mind.

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
December 26, 2004. (It doesn't seem that long ago to me.)

Today's question is:
Which space shuttle broke up on reentry at the end of its mission on February 1, 2003?

Tablets, Not Textbooks

I don't see this as a solution to high textbook costs in K-12 schools, but in colleges and universities, where students would buy their own tablets, this makes a lot of sense:
Prentiss Ashford wouldn't call himself a big fan of economics, but the sophomore at Abilene Christian University in Texas says this semester he found himself turning to his econ textbook whenever he had spare moment.

"Just the fact that it's on the iPad and it's all on there, makes me a lot more interested," Prentiss says.

Abilene Christian University paired with digital publisher Inkling and McGraw Hill to test-drive new interactive textbooks in a handful of classes this year, as part of the school's three-year old mobile-learning initiative.

What A Condescending Idiot

Check out this comment on an article questioning whether ed schools give out too many A's (or, if the work is just too easy):
It makes perfect sense to me that students in the Education Department of a university would have the highest GPAs because they are being taught by trained educators. I would expect the lowest GPAs to be among the math and engineering students because mathematicians have still not figured out how to teach math.
I'd like to think the commenter was being facetious but given the signature (MS, MEd) and other similar comments on that same article, I think the commenter was sincere.

And that's worse.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

This Doesn't Give Me Warm Fuzzies

In how much jeopardy is my paycheck?
Nearly every school district in Sacramento County is now in financial peril.

Galt Joint Union High, Robla Elementary and Center Joint Unified school districts have joined Elk Grove Unified, Sacramento City Unified, San Juan Unified and Folsom Cordova Unified on the state's fiscal early-warning list released Wednesday.

That leaves only tiny school districts such as Archoe Union in Herald, Elverta Joint in Elverta, River Delta Unified in Rio Vista, Galt Joint Union in Galt and the county's Office of Education still able to balance their budgets for two consecutive years...

The number of California school districts in financial trouble has increased dramatically since March, with 30 percent more school districts joining the list.
I know what let's do. Let's raise taxes, create more business regulations, teach more social justice and less math and science, and cut teachers and counselors and nurses while district offices grow and grow!

What Should We Teach In Schools?

Besides the 3 R's, of course:
Our educational system has let us down. Instead of trumpeting the skills it takes to take risk and start a business, they focus on social justice. There is no better social justice than providing a paying job for someone else.

In the social justice web, it’s not just a paying job-but a “living wage”. This again turns the American Dream on it’s head. The market determines how much your skill is worth, not an overarching regulation. If your skill level is ditch digger, you get paid as a ditch digger. Not everyone can be CEO. But, American educators act like everyone has the skill set to be a CEO.

Everyone might acquire the skills if they started teaching them correctly.
I don't have an entrepreneurial bone in my body. My skills lie in helping others make money; I see inefficiency as easily as others see colors. But I'd rather be taught about entrepreneurialism than so-called social justice.

Sunday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Vicente Fox, of the National Action Party (PAN).

Today's question is:
When did the Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunami strike?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Strange Feelings

What strange feelings I've been having lately--physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I've mentioned before that I'm concerned about getting physically dependent on my pain pills, as I know someone who died from an overdose of them. I was especially worried a couple nights ago, when I couldn't sleep until taking one at 4am.

The fear of becoming dependent on them (the word "addicted" scares me) creates feelings all its own. I talked to a nurse friend of mine when I couldn't sleep last night, and he said that if I absolutely had to take something, try an antihistimine. This isn't a bad suggestion, especially given all the outdoor growth from our late Spring rains, so I took some. Over 45 minutes later I was still awake, but shortly thereafter got to sleep. I woke up an hour or two later but was able to get back to sleep. This morning I felt better, like perhaps I'm not reliant on the pain pills.

Throughout today, though, my hurt knee kept feeling tighter and tighter. Also, I get this strange feeling in my back, almost like I'm carrying a backpack or something. I don't know how to describe it but "restless". Today, more than a day and a half after that 4am pill, I took a half a pill. I hope that will help. And my doctor told me definitely to take one shortly before going to physical therapy on Wednesday.

I've noticed something else. I'm getting weepy lately. I don't know what brings it on, sometimes nothing, but I'll just start crying. Thirty seconds later it'll end as abruptly as it started. In fact, if I want to I'll bet I can cause myself to start crying on command. What the heck is that? I feel like this song sounds.

I wonder if I might be staying indoors too much. Today I charged up the motorized scooter and took it for two spins around the block. It was nice being out in the sun and tossing out hellos to people, but it was also nice to get back into my air conditioning. Still, because of that odd feeling in my back, I couldn't enjoy resting or taking a nap afterward.

About my back, I should probably contact my chiropractor--whom I haven't seen since before my injury. That might help my back a lot; unfortunately, I don't think his office is open on Monday! About the crying, I don't know what causes it so I don't know how to end it. And now that I've gone a night without the pill, and I'm down from lots to only half a pill a day (unless there's physical therapy!), I can with some reasonable confidence believe that I'm probably not physically dependent on the medication--which is a tremendous relief.

These last few days have been exceedingly uncomfortable in so many arenas. I'm hopeful that these days were just a random "rough patch" and that there will soon be improvement. My son and I split a couple games of Sorry tonight, and tomorrow morning we're scheduled to walk (I'll moto-scoot) up to Grocery Outlet for a few things, and my dad and his wife are picking us up for Father's Day ice cream in the afternoon. A friend should be here for movie night in a few minutes, and I asked him to bring some root beer, as I kinda have a craving (ooh, and I have vanilla ice cream!). I recognize that I have no legitimate reason to be in an emotional funk, and every reason to think that I'm well on the road to physical recovery from an injury that, while not big in the grand scheme of things, was very traumatic for me and my way of life.

So why can't I shake this?

Update, June 19th, just a few hours later: Movie night is over, and how helpful it was to find the comments here and the emails from friends (yes, I sent this link to them). Cries for help can be pathetic, but they're usually only made when necessary. I'm not magically "cured", I can't suddenly walk or even feel happy, but I don't feel alone, trapped in this house, with my son leaving tomorrow afternoon, doomed to face four walls and the reality of my condition. Oh, all that is still true, I just know that I'm not alone.

Saturday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:

Today's question is:
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governed Mexico for 71 years, until 2000, when which opposition party candidate won the presidency?

Union Propaganda In The Classrooms

It's a bit self-serving, don't you think?
The California Federation of Teachers thinks it’s important for kids to learn how to run a business. I come from a small business family, so I’m cool with that. The curriculum immediately starts off on the wrong foot, though, because it’s not from the perspective of an entrepreneur, but rather a disgruntled employee.

A “Labor Studies Curriculum for Elementary Schools,” entitled “The Yummy Pizza Company,” takes up to 20 classroom hours over a two-week period. Important concepts in the 10 lessons, such as the value of work and money management, are critical components, but are quickly overshadowed by the fact that 40% of the curriculum is about forming Pizza Makers Union Local 18. That’s right – the program is focused on teaching kids to unionize...

Art lessons are incorporated into the curriculum. Students are assigned the task of designing a union logo and membership cards. Math is also a focus. Part of the lesson involves calculating “union dues as a percentage of wages.”

But the lesson doesn’t end with forming the union. What’s next? Contract negotiations, of course! Yes, elementary kids are then taught the finer points of collective bargaining. Members of the Pizza Makers Union may “vote to accept offer, negotiate further or strike.”

The next lesson covers “Unions in the real world,” where “Students will learn about a real union and how it helped its members,” as well as “some labor history and a few prominent labor leaders."
As you might imagine, it gets even better. Go read the whole thing.

Hat tip to NewsAlert.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Is The Achievement Gap A Fraud?

This article is sure not for those who get the vapors easily, or for those who cannot set aside their preconceived notions:
The very concept of the "achievement gap" is a fraud. It assumes that the correct result in schools is equal educational outcomes among different ethnic groups. The same is true of the concept of "underrepresentation." There is a simple problem with these concepts: It is resolutely ignorant to assume that there will be equal outcomes among ethnic groups. Thomas Sowell has richly detailed the myriad ways in which different ethnic groups have always behaved differently and had disparate outcomes in life, around the world, and throughout history. As Sowell points out, there is no basis in human experience or in logic to expect that different ethnic groups would have identical outcomes. Different ethnic groups have vastly different attitudes, habits, and preferences with regard to many aspects of life, including education. Berkeley Professor John Ogbu (1939-2003), who was black, concluded exactly that in his incredibly important work on black student achievement...

The "achievement gap" is just as natural as different cultural preferences in music, the arts, family arrangements, personal space, and sports.
So much in education is culture.

Friday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:

Today's question is:
In what year did Hurricane Katrina strike?

8 Weeks

My skiing accident was eight weeks ago today. When I think back to what shape I was in on that afternoon and the next morning, I can recognize the tremendous progress I've made towards walking again--I can hobble around the house without crutches if I need to, and that's a big deal. On the other hand, I still can't even move my left leg forward more than two inches, I can't bend my left knee beyond maybe 15 degrees, and I can't lift my left leg at all. I can't even make it budge to pretend like it's going to lift.

The glass is filling, but it's nowhere near half full.

Yesterday was the first full day I went without a pain pill, and I survived. I took one at about 10 pm on Wednesday night, and none at all yesterday. But I couldn't sleep. My leg didn't hurt, but my entire body felt "uncomfortable", I felt tired but not tired enough, and I couldn't sleep. I also had other stuff on my mind. I watched an import movie I picked up at Blockbuster, and while it made me sad, it wasn't enough to put me to sleep, even though it ended after midnight. So at about 4 (or so said the clock) I got up and took the pill, and that seemed to be enough to let me sleep for over 4 hours. And I had another one of my seemingly very long, very elaborate, vivid dreams, although such dreams are not listed on the list of side effects.

I hope I'll be tired enough tonight not to need a pill to get to sleep. Oxycodone is very addictive, and I know someone who died from an overdose of it. I'm very conscious of not taking too much, and hope that last night isn't a sign that I'm becoming dependent on it (even though I've been taking less and less).

Physical therapy starts this coming Wednesday. I'll be able to drive myself there; it takes me a couple minutes to wriggle my way into the car, but once I'm there, I'm ok for short distances. It's uncomfortable, but not unsafe. I limit myself to short distances, with little traffic, perhaps once a day max, and that shouldn't be putting anyone at risk. I'm glad not to have to depend so much on asking others for rides or assistance now; while people say they don't mind, and they probably don't, I want to keep it that way and not overstay my welcome, as it were. I say that as I'm expecting a former student to arrive in about an hour to clean out my hot tub, which has been drained for months. My orthopedic doctor said a hot tub would be good for me

And I stopped typing there because the doorbell rang! OK, he's significantly early, but to his credit he did give an "ish" time, and he said he came early because he had to go to work today four hours earlier than he thought. Fortunately he didn't interrupt anything important on my busy social calendar!! He's out there now, taking care of the tub. There's no way he'll finish before he has to go to work, but he said he'll be back before my physical therapy starts on Wednesday so I'll have the tub available. Nice kid. Good kid..

So, 8 weeks.

Update, 6 hours later: this just goes to show you how out of sorts I am. Today's Friday. 8 weeks will be tomorrow.

My Kind Of Conservative

Ted Cruz is running in Texas to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison as Senator. Now, he's a fairly impressive figure in his own right, but I don't write puff pieces on Republicans just to do so; no, there's got to be a little more, and this part about his parents got my attention:
At age 14, Cruz's father, Rafael, fought with rebels (including Fidel Castro) against Cuba's dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Captured and tortured, he escaped at 18 to America with $100 sewn in his underwear. Rafael graduated from the University of Texas, met his wife — like him, a mathematician — with whom he founded a small business processing seismic data for the oil industry.
I wonder why his dad would leave a worker's paradise....

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wal*Mart and Target

I know plenty of teachers who won't shop at Wal*Mart, for various and sundry reasons (all of which have to do with Wal*Mart's being something nefarious), and to a person, all of them state a preference to shop at Target instead.

I wonder if this will change things:
Left-leaning blogs are having a field day poking fun at Target’s anti-organizing video from 2003, apparently public for the first time. Crooks & Liars links to a transcript, while Salon went out and found one of the actors, who’s a member of AFTRA and the Screen Actors Guild.

(video here at the link)

Sounds like Target’s free ride from the broader union movement is about over.
Now, what is it again that's wrong with Wal*Mart? :-)

Update, 6/20/11: This story just gets better:
NEW YORK (AP) — Workers at a Target store in New York voted against joining the country's largest retail union Friday night, but the union said it would press on and broaden its push to represent the company's workers nationwide.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500 also said it would contest the results and ask the federal government to order a new election, alleging that Target illegally intimidated workers. Target denied the union's allegations.

What A Pathetic Excuse

Don't you love this loser of a principal's attempted excuse for why 7th graders are taking a sexually explicit questionnaire?
Principal Fran Thomas told Fox News Radio that students were indeed given the survey – and admits it was graphic. But Thomas said the school has nothing to do with the content and they were required to administer the survey to fulfill a grant requirement.

“I can take no responsibility for what’s on that survey,” Thomas said. “It’s not generated by the school system.”

Thomas said the survey was funded by a federal grant and administered by LUK Inc., a local social services agency -- in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control...

“It was not optional,” he said. “It’s part of a grant that they applied for and the district said you have to administer this survey.”
No, you can't take responsibility for what's on the survey, but you darned sure better take responsibility for giving the survey. "We're getting grant money for giving it" and "the district told me to" are pathetic excuses.

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question, the last in 1990-1999 Week, is:
Three; SLTS was released in 1991, and Cobain offed himself in 1994.

Today's question, the first in 2000-2009 Week, is:
On what day of the week were the 9/11/2001 attacks?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lead, Follow, Or Get The Heck Out Of The Way

But don't just stand there like a deer caught in the headlights.

At West Point we were taught that a leader takes more than his fair share of the blame and less than his fair share of the credit. How does President Obama act?
In the world of Barack Obama, inflating tires and “tuning up” modern car engines precludes off-shore drilling. Four-dollar-a-gallon gas prices can be ameliorated by having the average consumer trade in his 8-mpg clunker. Medical bills soar because doctors unnecessarily rip out tonsils and lop off limbs. “Skyrocketing” power bills and bankrupt coal companies are abstractions, and do not involve personal tragedies. One third of the border fenced means that the fence is “basically” completed. Nine percent unemployment is due in part to automation like ATMs, which apparently first came on the scene during the Obama administration to eliminate jobs. Shovel-ready jobs were not so shovel-ready. Criticism is dismissed as “enemies” deserving “punishment” or opponents relegated to the “back seat” or adversaries caricatured with “moats and alligators.” And so on.

Two themes predominate: a cluelessness about how things work outside the Ivy League–Chicago–D.C. political nexus, and a sense that nothing is ever Barack Obama’s fault.
Not being a liberal, I'm not one who believes that government in general, or the president in particular, is capable of effecting immediate, major change in an economy. When run well government can help an economy along, otherwise it can burden an economy and distort markets. It's much easier to do the latter than the former! I've said it so many times before: government should clear out the bumps and let the markets, and the people, thrive in an environment of freedom. When government does that, prosperity ensues.

Right now we're not thriving. Part of this is the cyclical nature of economies--they get big, they bust, they correct--but part of it is the president, his policies, and the Congress' actions since 2006. Their actions aren't geared towards improvement, towards clearing out the bumps; no, they're geared to more government control, more uncertainty, and higher costs. So in that regard, President Obama does have some responsibility for the current state of the economy. UCLA economists state that Roosevelt's policies extended the Great Depression by 7 years, and this president and the liberal policies of 2006-2010 are harming this economy--look at the president's own chart, augmented to show what actually happened, despite his administration's promises, to see that this is true. And we are over 700 days without even having a federal budget, a clear shirking of constitutional duty.

President Obama is in so far over his head that if he weren't so smug and obnoxious I'd almost feel sorry for him. By any standard except an ideologue's he's a horrible leader, a weak executive, and a lousy president.

Something else we used to say in the army: Hope is not a battle plan. Well, neither is hope and change. It shouldn't be hard to beat this man in the next election. That the Republicans don't have someone already all but elected speaks volumes about that party's organization, or rather the lack thereof.

But that isn't a good enough reason to stick with "the devil we know", because it's hard to imagine a Republican who would do a worse job than this president.

Update: What does this 2009 Obama have to say about today's "it's going to take some time" Obama?

And do we expect things to get better when the president rewards his friends with taxpayer money and sinecures--the very definition of crony capitalism?
Telecom executive Donald H. Gips raised a big bundle of cash to help finance his friend Barack Obama’s run for the presidency.

Gips, a vice president of Colorado-based Level 3 Communications, delivered more than $500,000 in contributions for the Obama war chest, while two other company executives collected at least $150,000 more.

After the election, Gips was put in charge of hiring in the Obama White House, helping to place loyalists and fundraisers in many key positions. Then, in mid-2009, Obama named him ambassador to South Africa. Meanwhile, Level 3 Communications, in which Gips retained stock, received millions of dollars of government stimulus contracts for broadband projects in six states — though Gips said he had been “completely unaware” that the company had received the contracts.

More than two years after Obama took office vowing to banish “special interests” from his administration, nearly 200 of his biggest donors have landed plum government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions of dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events, an investigation by iWatch News has found.

These “bundlers” raised at least $50,000 — and sometimes more than $500,000 — in campaign donations for Obama’s campaign. Many of those in the “Class of 2008” are now being asked to bundle contributions for Obama’s reelection, an effort that could cost $1 billion.
I would never have thought an American president could be so incapable and yet so corrupt, and I never thought I'd see the day when a president could loot the treasury and do so out in the open--and be supported by the media as he does it. As a country we are falling too far, too fast, if we allow this.

Update #2, 6/16/11: Remember the Misery Index?
Conceived by economist Arthur Okun in the early 1970s, the Misery Index simply adds together the inflation and unemployment rates to create an effective indicator of real-world suffering.

It gained notoriety under President Carter, whose growth-choking, easy-money policies pushed the index to its post-World War II high. Now, under President Obama's equally disastrous economic policies, the Misery Index is making its return.

The annual inflation rate for May climbed to 3.6% as price spikes spread beyond oil and food. At the same time, May's unemployment rate edged up to 9.1%, yielding a Misery Index of 12.7.

That marks the fourth straight monthly increase in the index, which is now 62% higher than it was when Obama took office, and 57% higher than it was when the recession officially ended.
Heckuva job, Obammie.

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Germany competed as a unified team (not West and East Germany) for the first time since 1964. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania competed as independent nations for the first time since 1936. The rump of the former Soviet Union, which had started breaking up, competed as the Unified Team. Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovena competed for the first time; because of UN sanctions, teams from the what was left of Yugoslavia were forbidden to compete. With the end of apartheid, South Africa competed for the first time since 1960. Four National Olympic Committees didn't send their athletes to compete: Afghanistan, Brunei, Liberia, and Somalia.

Today's question, the last in 1990-1999 Week, is:
How many years passed between Nirvana's hit Smells Like Teen Spirit and the death of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain?

Tomorrow starts 2000-2009 Week, and then non-decade-related trivia will resume for awhile :-)

Is It Too Much Exposure To The Salty Air?

What makes them so freakin' nuts in San Francisco?
San Francisco's ever-active Animal Control and Welfare Commission has renewed its push for a pet sale ban in the city - only this time, it even covers goldfish.
How can anyone want a government that would tell them they can't own a goldfish?

Fundraiser Cancelled For Stupid Reason

Nobody's "establishing religion" by allowing religious statements on fundraising bricks, but they're going to cancel the fundraiser anyway:

A California school district has canceled a fundraising program featuring memorial bricks, scuttling proceeds of $45,000, after two women submitted Bible verses in their tributes.

The two women, Lou Ann Hart and Sheryl Caronna, had filed a court complaint in January against the Desert Sands Unified School District after the district blocked them from placing the Bible verses on bricks to be installed in walkways at Palm Desert High School in Palm Desert, Calif., about 10 miles east of Palm Springs. The women sought an injunction against the district to compel it to allow the scripture bricks.

Instead, school district officials have decided to rescind the fundraiser and refund money of every community group or individual who purchased a memorial brick, according to a court filing last week with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California...

Hundreds of other messages had been accepted for the bricks, Cortman's organization said, including inspirational and religious themes, such as a quote from Mahatma Gandhi and a Bible quotation -- "Yes, it is possible" -- written in Spanish.

Hart, of Palm Desert, and Caronna, of Rancho Mirage, were informed after submitting their bricks that they would not be included because the religious content risked an unconstitutional establishment of religion, Alliance Defense Fund officials said.
We have all sorts of these bricks all over the school at which I teach, and while I haven't paid enough attention to notice, it would not at all surprise me to find some with religious references. Is that really such a horrible thing, that someone might see "John 3:16" or something on a brick at a school?

I say this with all seriousness: some people are truly hateful.

Strike One! Strike Two!

Canadian mail:
Mail delivery across Canada came to an abrupt halt Wednesday after the corporation responsible for running the nation's postal service suspended its operations and locked out striking workers.

Canada Post suspended operations late Tuesday night. In a prepared statement, the company said 12 days of rotating strikes have racked up $100 million in losses for the corporation.

The union is protesting the corporation's plan to cut medical and pension benefits.

British teachers:
Almost every state school in England and Wales is likely to close on Thursday, June 30, after unions unanimously backed a national walk-out in a row over pensions. Further action is expected to be taken in the autumn.

It's a law of the universe that something that can't go on forever, won't. Government pensions are going to drive too many governments into bankruptcy unless something is done to rein those costs in a bit. It doesn't do any good to be promised a great pension if, when you become old enough to draw it, there's no money left.

Why Should I Listen To You?

OK, I know this post is written to be sarcastic, but the opening statement is real:
I am bad at math, even worse at macroeconomics. In other words, I am your standard political reporter. So take this for what it is worth, but I have an idea for how President Obama can solve the nation's never-ending mortgage foreclosure crisis.
Standard fare for people who know better than I do how to run my life, and who want to tell me how I should live it.

This Isn't The Way To Be Taken Seriously

When we say the federal budget must be cut, we can't refuse to cut subsidies just because someone might get angry. Anything we cut is going to get someone angry! And yes, subsidies are tiny compared to entitlements, but they're just as wrong philosophically:
How is it that the party loudly proclaiming how the government shouldn't "pick winners and losers" could only manage to get 34 senators to oppose one of the most egregious examples of federal industrial policy? ...

Hopefully, more Republicans will come to realize that they only undercut their "get government off our backs" message by kowtowing to the ethanol lobby.

You think?

Tea Time

One of my guilty pleasures is Teavana, a loose-leaf tea store in "the mall" (actually, in two malls not too far from my house). They always have samples at the entrance, and I'd be remiss if I didn't try one.

My favorite flavor is Youthberry, which, despite its cheesy name, is quite good. It's an orange blend, and while they sweeten their samples somewhat with German rock sugar, I drink it "straight" at home.

Tea Club at work is still going strong--we've expanded to the T&C Club, for tea and coffee, so we're less "exclusive"--and one of the English teachers in the group also enjoys Teavana. She came to visit me a couple weeks ago and brought me a bag of Youthberry. Just a couple of days ago I scooped up the last scoop of it...

The next day, a friend of mine who visited me a couple weeks ago came by again. He's the one who took me to the mall for wheelchair exercise and took the picture in this post, and he remarked that I'm much more mobile now than I was just two weeks ago. Anyway, before our visit to the mall he'd never before been to Teavana, and he, too, liked the Youthberry sample at the entrance. When he visited me a couple days ago, he brought me a Get Well gift--a huge tin of Youthberry. I swear there's enough in there to get me through December! In fact, I'll pause while typing this and go make a cup.

OK, I'm back.

A couple weeks ago the kitchen was getting a little empty and I needed to make a grocery store run. I had things I can only get at Sam's Club, and most everything else could be gotten anywhere. I thought it was being too much a pain to ask my parents to take me to both, so I found some similar items at and ordered them there, and the parents just included me on their Wal*Mart run. I wanted to get some tea, but decided I'd order a bunch of it on Amazon instead (it took almost two weeks to get here, but that's a different story!). I ordered a 6-pack of Lipton Green Tea with Purple Acai and Blueberry--yes, I love fruit-flavored teas. With all that tea, and with the recent addition of the Youthberry tin, I'll not be doing without tea for quite some time.

May my English heritage be honored, with a modern twist!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ludwig II and His Castles

I was 9 years old the first time I visited Germany; I was to return 3 more times. That first time I visited the three (major) castles built by Ludwig II of Bavaria: Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, and Herrenchiemsee. This post commemorates the 125th anniversary of his death (assassination?), and includes 30 pictures, several of which bring back so many memories.

Was he crazy, detached, strong-headed, or some combination thereof? 125 years later it's hard to tell, and it doesn't really matter. I always enjoyed his story, though, as well as his castles. Not too long ago I (finally) won an eBay auction for a coin with his picture on it.

Update, 6/15/11: Here is the Wikipedia entry for Ludwig II, which contains several pictures of both him and his castles. And here's a scan of the coin I mentioned above:

High Schoolers Offered An Insider's Look At West Point

I'm a big fan of the Summer Leaders Seminar, a program that invites high school soon-to-be-seniors to West Point for a couple weeks in the summer. In effect they get to "test drive" the military academy and see if it's for them:
WEST POINT, N.Y., June 8, 2011 -- Most students have never handled a weapon before or been asked to conduct a tactical room-clearing operation. Even fewer have experienced the swift pace of performing scientific experiments in the classroom one day to completing multiple obstacle courses with a team the next.

For more than 1,000 rising high school seniors, the Summer Leaders Seminar, or SLS, was a week-long exploration of the academic, athletic and military opportunities at West Point. Established by the West Point Admissions Office in 1976, SLS is a total immersion experience into what life as a cadet is like, led by the cadets themselves.

Class of 2013 Cadet Michael Sands wanted to provide students not with a sales pitch, but a real insider’s look into the academy.

“It’s not about getting every student wanting to come to the academy, but helping them to understand West Point and letting them make the decision for themselves,” the SLS squad leader said. “We’re not sugar-coating anything here. We tell them how it’s like. Beast is rough. We’re going to tell them it is rough.”

During the week, candidates ask cadets anything and can expect direct and honest answers, from explaining what Beast (Cadet Basic Training) is like to what kind of food is served at the Cadet Mess...

To learn more about the SLS program, visit the West Point Admissions website at

A photo album is available at

That link actually takes you to the West Point Public Affairs page; this link gets you to the 2011 SLS pictures.

Tuesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:

Today's question is:
In the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, several countries competed for the first time in decades. Other countries competed for the first time ever. Identify any of them.

I Love How It's Fox News That's Biased

Lots of people are picking up on CNN Money’s headline on top of an analysis of Republican positions on debt-ceiling increases by Jeanne Sahadi, such as Jammie Wearing Fool and Rob Port, among others. On top of a picture of Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Marco Rubio, CNN Money headlines the piece … well, you can read it for yourself:

Via Hot Air, which points out that Gingrich and Palin don't even get to vote on the issue since they're neither in the House nor the Senate.

Obamacare Is Not Just Wrongheaded, It's Unconstitutional

I've said so since the day it was introduced, and here's a little bit on why it's unconstitutional:
They began with the claim that there was no difference between activity and inactivity, since both involved decisions, and thus could be reached under the commerce power. Having largely abandoned this unwinnable argument, they now claim that the mandate does not really compel individuals to buy insurance, but merely regulates their inevitable future health-care consumption.

But because the future consumption of nearly all existing goods and services is inevitable across the entire population, this argument means that Americans can then be compelled to purchase an infinite variety of goods and services chosen by Washington. Far from limiting what government can do, this is the ultimate enabling principle. Even Soviet apparatchiks, who told producers what to make, did not dare tell people what to buy.

ObamaCare's defenders have sought to manufacture another limiting principle. They claim that health care is unique because everyone will use medical services, health-care costs can be financially ruinous for uninsured individuals, and others will then have to pick up the slack by subsidizing consumers who do not pay their medical bills. Yet any number of national markets, including the housing market, share these same characteristics.

Thus the administration's position comes to this: What is one unconstitutional law, more or less, among friends? Health care is simply more important than any other issue. And Congress can be trusted to act responsibly, imposing purchase mandates only when they are essential. That's why Congress can mandate medical insurance but would never require Americans to buy broccoli. The courts have always found such promises constitutionally insufficient.
The sooner this law goes down, the better.

Cuckoo For Cocoa Puffs

There are a lot of kooks out there in the world, and lots of them seem to be flocking to this web site and its post about the Top 10 Most Influential People in New Media:
The criteria we've chosen to base these rankings of the most influential alternative media figures are the following;
  • people that have the courage to seek the truth no matter where the information leads them;
  • those with the courage to question 9/11;
  • those who don't buy into the false left-right political paradigm;
  • those who are grounded in peace and liberty;
  • those with the communication skills and platform to affect real change.
If that snip above isn't full of enough fever swamp gas to make you woozy, the comments seal the deal. My favorite one is this one:
We love Rivero, but he refuses to discuss fringe topics with overwhelming evidence like chemtrails. Thus, his bridge only goes so far too.

Stop hating on truth seekers because their well-built bridges don't necessarily lead to your reality.
Remember those old Swiss clocks with weights shaped like pine cones? Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

Electric Cars Not Green After All?

That electricity has to come from somewhere, and those batteries don't grow on trees:
ELECTRIC cars could produce higher emissions over their lifetimes than petrol equivalents because of the energy consumed in making their batteries, a study has found.

An electric car owner would have to drive at least 129,000km before producing a net saving in CO2. Many electric cars will not travel that far in their lifetime because they typically have a range of less than 145km on a single charge and are unsuitable for long trips. Even those driven 160,000km would save only about a tonne of CO2 over their lifetimes.

The British study, which is the first analysis of the full lifetime emissions of electric cars covering manufacturing, driving and disposal, undermines the case for tackling climate change by the rapid introduction of electric cars.

We're just not there yet--a good reason to keep looking. Electricity from nuclear power plants addresses the first issue I brought up....

We Need To Fix Homosexuality

What? That's impossible? It's just the way people are?

OK, I agree. Is it the same with heterosexual issues?

Unlike homosexuality, heterosexuality is amenable to therapeutic remedies--or so Anthony Weiner and his fellow House Democrats would like us to believe. "Congressman Weiner departed this morning to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person," Weiner flack Risa Heller told the New York Times Saturday...

On what basis does one posit that there is "something deeper going on"? To explain what motivated his actions, it is sufficient to observe that he seems to have a healthy male libido--indeed, perhaps a bit too healthy. Of course, "I'm sick" is just the latest in a string of Weiner excuses: "I was hacked," "I take full responsibility," etc. But it is also an example of his feminist hypocrisy. It is as if a family-values conservative were caught in gay sex chats and announced that he was entering therapy to overcome his "sick" homosexual impulses.

Real Or Imagined Problem?

Dyscalculia. An inability to deal with numbers.

This article says it's a genuine condition. I'm willing to concede that it might be, but I'm also willing to go out on a limb and say that an overwhelming number of Americans whom doctors might say have this condition actually don't. Math is harrrrrrd, and part of our culture allows and even sometimes celebrates a lack of facility with numbers; most Americans who do poorly in math don't put forth the effort. Gawd, if I never again hear, in one of my lower-level math classes, "Oh, we have a test today?" it will be too soon.

If this condition is real, mark my words--it will be overblown. How can it not be, it's the greatest "Get out of jail free card" in the history of school. I dread the special education and disability accommodation nightmare that will occur when this diagnosis makes its way into the school system. Seriously, we may as well just give them all A's (because that's all too many parents want) just to shut them up, as people will be beating down the doors with IEPs and 504 Plans for dyscalculia.

I would hope that if this diagnosis gains traction, California would eliminate its graduation requirement of passing Algebra 1. I don't think it's out of bounds to expect seniors to pass a class that Singaporeans pass in 7th grade, but if we're going to have to water it down even more to pass the dyscalculics, it would be better just to be rid of the requirement. Bring back the old "consumer math" if we must, but please, let's not do any further damage to the teaching of Algebra 1.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Not The Strongest Argument For The Benefits of Higher Education

This information has been flowing through the interwebs today:
With 90 percent of lawmakers holding at least a bachelor's degree, California has the most highly educated Legislature in the country, according to a study being published today by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The study compared education levels of all 50 state legislatures and found that Arkansas has the least-educated statehouse – 25 percent of its members did not attend college at all.

Other findings on the education of California's lawmakers:

• 84 percent went to a public college.

• 59 percent got their degrees in California.

• 20 percent have a law degree.

• 13 percent went to a community college.

The relatively high level of education among California legislators is likely explained by the fact that the state has large districts, a full-time Legislature and high salaries for lawmakers, said Scott Smallwood, managing editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

"It's a more professional job and they're more likely to be highly educated," he said.

Doesn't say much for having a full-time legislature either, does it?

More Reasons To Love Bjorn Lomborg

I don't agree with every single utterance from his lips, but the guy makes sense more often than not:
Climate alarmists and campaigning environmentalists argue that the industrialized countries of the world have made sizable withdrawals on nature’s fixed allowance, and unless we change our ways, and soon, we are doomed to an abrupt end. Take the recent proclamation from the United Nations Environment Program, which argued that governments should dramatically cut back on the use of resources. The mantra has become commonplace: our current way of living is selfish and unsustainable. We are wrecking the world. We are gobbling up the last resources. We are cutting down the rainforest. We are polluting the water. We are polluting the air. We are killing plants and animals, destroying the ozone layer, burning the world through our addiction to fossil fuels, and leaving a devastated planet for future generations.

In other words, humanity is doomed.

It is a compelling story, no doubt. It is also fundamentally wrong, and the consequences are severe. Tragically, exaggerated environmental worries—and the willingness of so many to believe them—could ultimately prevent us from finding smarter ways to actually help our planet and ensure the health of the environment for future generations.

Because, our fears notwithstanding, we actually get smarter. Although Westerners were once reliant on whale oil for lighting, we never actually ran out of whales. Why? High demand and rising prices for whale oil spurred a search for and investment in the 19th-century version of alternative energy. First, kerosene from petroleum replaced whale oil. We didn’t run out of kerosene, either: electricity supplanted it because it was a superior way to light our planet.

For generations, we have consistently underestimated our capacity for innovation. There was a time when we worried that all of London would be covered with horse manure because of the increasing use of horse-drawn carriages. Thanks to the invention of the car, London has 7 million inhabitants today. Dung disaster averted.
He believes global warming is real and that man has a real impact on it, but notice his solution:
We know from experience that more prosperous countries are more able to respond to the challenges that climate change will pose. They are much more resilient to natural disasters while more able to invest in measures such as greener cities and flood protection. Yet instead of first making sure that everybody is better off and more resilient, our response to global warming has been to try to cut back carbon emissions too soon. In reality, this means reining in growth and making do with less than we could have otherwise.

But this approach flies in the face of history. The way we have made progress against disease, malnutrition, and environmental degradation in the past is by growing, by discovering, and by innovating. Naturally, it is a hard sell to tell the hundreds of millions of people lifted out of poverty in China and elsewhere that they ought to stop burning coal, roll back their prosperity, and go back to a life of poverty.
Even when I don't agree with his entire argument, his logic is sound.

I've written several posts mentioning or quoting him, take a look.

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:

Today's question is:
What year was the James Cameron movie Titanic released?

Texas and California

The states are similar in demographics but very different in governance. I thought this quote here was right on:
It has no state income tax, low corporate taxes, does just enough regulating to get the job done, cares for the environment without making a fetish of it, lets its legislature meet for a relatively short period just once every two years, keeps the executive branch slim and trim and is a right-to-work state where unions don't get to grab dues through governmental coercion. (boldface mine--Darren)

OK, I highlighted two great points, but is there anything in that quote that's a "bad thing"?

Update, 6/19/11: California is losing companies (and jobs) in droves, and Texas is the top destination. Chart and further information here.