Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Is The Extremely Good Reason For Allowing Community Colleges to Grant Bachelor's Degrees?

California's master plan for higher education was drafted before I was born.  It established three tiers of schools--junior/community colleges, the CSU system, and the UC system.  Even today the organization of those schools, and how they interact with each other, is not without flaws, but the foundational idea remains valid.  So why change it?
In what could portend a monumental shift in public higher education in California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Sunday that will allow up to 15 community colleges to launch bachelor’s degrees programs in vocational fields.

While 21 other states offer community college baccalaureates, California’s colleges have traditionally been the domain of transfer students and career technical education, granting two-year associate degrees, as established more than 50 years ago in the Master Plan for Higher Education. Senate Bill 850 will allow colleges to experiment with four-year degrees. The pilot program is set to begin no later than the 2017-18 academic year and end in 2024.
I guess the answer to my question is "because we want to", because I'm not seeing a compelling reason. Why not go down the slippery slope a little bit and allow them to grant master's degrees, too?  I mean, if cost and access are truly the reasons this change is necessary....

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/09/29/6744704/jerry-brown-approves-community.html#storylink=cpy

Tackling The Important Issues In California

Soon it will be illegal for grocery stores to put your groceries into "single use plastic bags".  OK, what if, for me (and I can't be the only one), they're not single use?  Lefties don't care:
Concluding the long odyssey of one of the most contentious bills of 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed legislation phasing out the single-use plastic bags that grocery stores and other retailers use to package products at the checkout line. Brown’s assent hands a sweeping victory to environmentalists and vindicates the scores of cities and counties that have already banned bags.

“This bill is a step in the right direction – it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself,” Brown wrote in a signing message. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last"...

Implementing the law will reverberate through multiple industries, shifting how retailers and manufacturers do business. Consumers will face a choice: purchase a reusable bag, or pay at least ten cents for a paper bag or a multi-use plastic carrier that meets a set of state durability standards...

Single-use bags will disappear from checkout aisles slowly. Larger stores will need to cease offering them by July of 2015, with convenience stores and other smaller businesses facing a July 2016 deadline. Proponents of SB 270 believe that time line will allow stores to deplete the stocks of bags already on hand.

But even when the law blankets every store, it will not mean the end of plastic bags. Consumers can still swaddle their fruits and vegetables in plastic or use bags to shield leaky meat.
Well how generous of them, we get to protect our groceries from meat juices.

I wonder about the health considerations from reusing bags for food.  How much of California's (almost non-existent) water will be spent laundering all these reusable bags?

Update, 10/1/14:   Here in the People's Republik we will be forbidden to use plastic grocery bags, but on the plus side, at least our police will be allowed to conduct surveillance with drones without search warrants!
California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have required the police to obtain search warrants to surveil the public with unmanned drones.

Brown, a Democrat facing re-election in November, sided with law enforcement and said the legislation simply granted Californians privacy rights that went too far beyond existing guarantees. Sunday's veto comes as the small drones are becoming increasingly popular with business, hobbyists, and law enforcement.
I'm living in a nightmare.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/09/30/6748372/california-plastic-bag-ban-signed.html#storylink=cpy
..ead more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/09/30/6748372/california-plastic-bag-ban-signed.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/09/30/6748372/california-plastic-bag-ban-signed.html#storylink=cpy

Monday, September 29, 2014


Leadership is a topic that consumes a lot of time at West Point.  Sometimes it's taught explicitly in leadership classes, sometimes it's merely modeled, but the concept is omnipresent.  That doesn't mean that every West Point graduate is an ideal leader, far from it, but it does mean that every West Point graduate has had some of the best leadership training any person could hope to experience.

Some people are natural leaders, some learn how to lead.  Any leadership skills I have are of the latter variety.  And, contrary to the opinions of some, not everyone can be a good leader.  I would assert that, with good training, anyone should be able to improve his/her leadership skills, but good instruction doesn't guarantee a good outcome.

Things we were taught in order to make us better leaders include:
1.  Officers eat after the soldiers.  It's a sign of leadership to take care of your people before you take care of yourself.
2.  Don't ask your soldiers to do something you're unwilling to do.  That should be obvious.
3.  Take more than your fair share of the blame, and less than your fair share of the credit.

It's that last one that I'd like to focus on here for a moment.  Nobody respects someone who takes credit for other people's work, and people do respect those who give them credit for the work they've done.  It's just common sense.  And if you give a little less blame than is merited, and a little more credit that might be merited, people appreciate and respect that.  Making people feel valued is a key component of leadership.

It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog, then, that today's example of lousy leadership comes from Barack Obama.  The Instapundit's commentary on "IN" is pretty much an abdication of the my third point above:
OUT: President Obama is “among the most sophisticated consumers of intelligence on the planet.”
IN: Obama: Intel officials underestimated ISIS. When things go well, it’s always “I, me, mine” with this guy. When things go badly, it’s always “they” who screwed up.
Related: Former DHS chief: Obama made mistakes on ISIS.
The buck stops anywhere and everywhere except with him.  No one respects that.

The Voter Fraud "Myth"

Lefties often tell me that voter fraud is a myth--and they tell me every time one of their people is caught committing it:
Battleground Texas (BGTX) may have failed to take any action regarding the “admission” of an undercover volunteer with BGTX that she had broken multiple election laws, according to a new video investigation by journalist James O'Keefe's organization Project Veritas. The allegations come on the heels of sting earlier this year that busted BGTX, a group attempting to turn Texas blue, for illegally copying voters' personal data for campaign purposes.
There's video at the link.

You know what?  It's not even Tuesday but, because I like you, I'll give you a two-fer anyway:
State Rep. Christina “Tita” Ayala, D-Bridgeport, was arrested Friday on 19 voting fraud charges.

Ayala, 31, is accused of voting in local and state elections in districts she did not live, the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office said in a press release.  link
Maybe our friends on the left don't think voter fraud exists because Republicans don't do it, and when liberals do it it's not fraud but rather doing the right thing "by any means necessary".

Repetition and Memorization

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, Barbara Oakley posits that the Common Core standards, and the pedagogy that is often pushed with those standards, prioritizes “conceptual understanding” at the expense of slighting repeated and varied practice that leads to computational mastery:
Conceptual understanding has become the mother lode of today’s [Common Core] approach to education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—known as the STEM disciplines. However, an “understanding-centric approach” by educators can create problems….

True experts have a profound conceptual understanding of their field. But the expertise built the profound conceptual understanding, not the other way around. There’s a big difference between the “ah-ha” light bulb, as understanding begins to glimmer, and real mastery.

As research by Alessandro Guida, Fernand Gobet, K. Anders Ericsson and others has also shown, the development of true expertise involves extensive practice so that the fundamental neural architectures that underpin true expertise have time to grow and deepen. This involves plenty of repetition in a flexible variety of circumstances. In the hands of poor teachers, this repetition becomes rote—droning reiteration of easy material. With gifted teachers, however, this subtly shifting and expanding repetition mixed with new material becomes a form of deliberate practice and mastery learning….

True mastery doesn’t mean you use crutches like laying out 25 beans in 5-by-5 rows to demonstrate that 5 × 5 = 25. It means that when you see 5 × 5, in a flash, you know it’s 25—it’s a single neural chunk that’s as easy to pull up as a ribbon. Having students stop to continually check and prove their understanding can actually impede their understanding, in the same way that continually focusing on every aspect of a golf swing can impede the development of the swing.

Understanding is key. But not superficial, light-bulb moment of understanding. In STEM, true and deep understanding comes with the mastery gained through practice.
I recently wrote on a similar theme, quoting from a newspaper article about a Stanford paper that demonstrated, among other things, that children should memorize multiplication tables and addition tables. Quoting:
Next, Menon’s team put 20 adolescents and 20 adults into the MRI machines and gave them the same simple addition problems. It turns out that adults don’t use their memory-crunching hippocampus in the same way. Instead of using a lot of effort, retrieving six plus four equals 10 from long-term storage was almost automatic, Menon said.

In other words, over time the brain became increasingly efficient at retrieving facts. Think of it like a bumpy, grassy field, NIH’s Mann Koepke explained.

Walk over the same spot enough and a smooth, grass-free path forms, making it easier to get from start to end.

If your brain doesn’t have to work as hard on simple maths, it has more working memory free to process the teacher’s brand-new lesson on more complex math.

‘The study provides new evidence that this experience with math actually changes the hippocampal patterns, or the connections. They become more stable with skill development,’ she said.

‘So learning your addition and multiplication tables and having them in rote memory helps.’
As a math teacher I explain it this way: to truly understand algebra a student must already have mastered operations with fractions, decimals, and negative numbers. The simple calculation of calculating the slope of a line between two given points could include all three of those, and if one expends all his/her brain power on that simple calculation, there won’t be as much brain power “left over” to understand what the answer, the slope, actually means or represents.

Some things must be memorized–not for their own sakes, but because they are useful tools, they are means to an end.

In professional development sessions I’m often told, as if it’s an obvious fact that cannot possibly be doubted, that if you cannot explain how something works, then you truly don’t have a “deep” enough understanding of it. You have rote memorization, nothing more, and rote memorization is useless. Sometimes I’m even told this by math teachers, who will at lease concede that memorizing the multiplication tables is a valuable exercise. I put up a division problem, usually something simple like 515/3, and ask “Who can perform this calculation?” Everyone can and all hands are raised. Then I ask, “Who can explain why the standard algorithm (which everyone our age knows and uses) works, and why?” Even most math teachers cannot, but everyone recognizes why that standard algorithm is important, useful, and efficient–everyone, that is, except for those who think that some Indian lattice method leads to “deeper understanding”. Beyond knowing that division is akin to finding out how many “groupings” of a certain size can be made from a certain number, how “deep” does one need to understand division? It’s useful only as a tool to get to bigger and better things, IMNSHO.

So repeat and repeat and repeat until the repetition begets memorization. That’s what Mrs. Barton did until every one of her students knew the multiplication tables. Don’t allow a pet pedagogical theory to harm students’ ability to calculate. Teach them what works. Give them the most efficient tools out there.


Cross-posted at http://www.joannejacobs.com/2014/09/repetition-and-memorizing

Guest Blogging

I'm temporarily guest-blogging over at Joanne Jacobs' site, so if you see the same posts both here and there, it's only because I'm cross-posting.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Could Fall Be Approaching, Or Is This Just A Tease?

I mentioned previously that it rained a little on Thursday, and last night there was a bit of rain as well as lightning and thunder.  And today it's nice out, temperatures only in the mid-70s.  Evenings are kind of cool.

It's not even October yet, so even if cooler weather is approaching there's still the advent of the so-called Indian Summer to look forward to next month.  And if the seasons hold, that will be summer's last gasp.

Today I took out the furnace filters and gave them a good cleaning.  Even turned the furnace on for a few minutes; doors and windows have been open all day so that burned dust smell won't permeate the house and won't be present that first time I fire up the furnace for real.  I've lit some candles--I like the ambiance, including the smell, of a room lit with candles, even if the lights are on.

I hope we have a long, wet winter.

Friday, September 26, 2014

So Smart They're Dumb?

I was talking recently to a friend of mine who teaches calculus at an "academically solid" school, and he was mortified that not one of his calculus students got the correct answer set to the following equation:


Not one.

What do you think was the most common mistake made?

My Pride Overfloweth

I know that pride cometh before a fall, but I can't imagine why the Fates would want me to "fall" over this one--my son graduates from Basic Training today.  He transitions right into Military Police training.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Water From The Sky

For the last couple of days the Accuweather app on my phone has said that today, Thursday, there would be a 63% chance of rain.  When I woke up this morning I looked at the app and the picture for Sacramento showed rain!  Then I looked--only a 9% chance.  What a suck.

I looked outside when it got light enough.  The ground was dry.  *sigh*

It started raining just as I left for work.  I could joke about rain of Biblical proportions but it was a very light rainfall.  By lunch the sky was nice and blue with a few puffy clouds.

Since it's been forever, though, I thought I'd have a little fun.  I started each class off with a music video related to rain:
I Wish It Would Rain Down by Phil Collins
Set Fire to the Rain by Adele
Fire and Rain by James Taylor
Purple Rain by Prince
It's Raining Men by The Weather Girls (wish I could have found the West-Point-cadet-made video of parachute school that song playing)

It's a little cool outside right now, enough that I can open my doors and windows for fresh air.  Think I'll light a few candles, too--I enjoy candle season!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Back To Iraq

Our genius president pulled us out of Iraq before the Iraqis themselves were ready.  As a result we have to go back there and cover some of the same ground (literally and figuratively) that we covered from 2003-2011.  This will result in more American deaths, and now that my son is a soldier I take that concern even more seriously than I have before.  And that's saying a lot.
As the U.S. expands its war against the Islamic State, the Army is preparing to deploy a division headquarters to Iraq.

Officials have not identified the division that will deploy — the first division headquarters to go to Iraq since the U.S. withdrawal in 2011.

An official announcement is expected in the coming days. But Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno recently confirmed the Army “will send another division headquarters to Iraq to control what we’re doing there, a small headquarters.”

It’s unclear how many soldiers will be sent, or how long they will deploy. Division headquarters average between 100 and 500 soldiers and deploy for one year.
It's reasonable to wonder if, after sending a division headquarters, sending an entire division would be such a stretch.

Here's a comment from my West Point mailing list, which I received permission to repost here:
Yes, but since they will not be wearing any boots, then it doesn't really count...and besides, even if they are wearing boots, they will not be touching the ground...even if they touch the ground, it will all be good as long as they don't cross any red lines...
The president's an idiot.  His sole capability is fundraising, at everything else he's an abject failure.  Can anyone believe a word he says?

Revenge Porn

I haven't mentioned the ACLU in forever and then they show up in two of my posts today, this being the second:
Back in May we wrote about a problematic new anti-revenge porn law in Arizona. As we've been detailing for a while, revenge porn is a horrible thing, done by disgusting people, but we're quite reasonably worried about many of the legal attempts to "deal" with it, because they're often overly broad, or create other problematic consequences. The Arizona law was immensely troubling in that it appeared to punish First Amendment protected activities, and turning them into a "sexual offense" that was considered on par with domestic violence in the law. Even posting something for a journalistic purpose could be considered a felony offense. We had trouble seeing how it could possibly be Constitutional.

It appears we weren't the only ones alarmed by the breadth of Arizona's law. The ACLU has now sued to argue that the law is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. The ACLU, in its announcement about the lawsuit, details a number of situations in which the law would technically apply, creating criminals...
If we criminalized all a-holish behaviors, there would certainly be fewer people on the streets.

Forced Unionism

Public employees can be forced to pay a labor union as a condition of employment in the states highlighted on the map below.  link
I pray for a day when that entire map is white.

Should Government Be Telling Us What To Do, Or Even "Nudging" Us In A Certain Direction?

Liberals do love their paternalism and compulsion, don't they?
This is a scientised version of original sin. And its eager adoption by today’s governments threatens social consequences that many might find troubling. A culture that believes its citizens are not reliably competent thinkers will treat those citizens differently to one that respects their reflective autonomy. Which kind of culture do we want to be? And we do have a choice. Because it turns out that the modern vision of compromised rationality is more open to challenge than many of its followers accept…

That, in a nutshell, is the problem of the practical application of behavioural economics to modern governance, in the form of nudge politics. Kahan argues against what he calls the ‘public irrationality thesis’: the idea that ordinary citizens act irrationally most of the time. He thinks this thesis is ungrounded, but the liberal-paternalist architects of nudge policy simply assume it – in, so they claim, our best interests.

What If We Applied Feminist Logic To Crimes Other Than Rape?

No commentary on this piece is necessary:
We should be teaching people not to steal, not telling people to lock their doors and windows...

I don’t want to live in a world where I can’t jog down deserted streets at night. I shouldn’t have to change my normal behavior because someone wants to attack me or steal my iPod...

People need to be taught not to abduct children; children shouldn’t be told not to talk to strangers...

Every nation should be as safe as the safest neighborhood in all of America. That’s the world I want to live in. Therefore, I shouldn’t have to carry two copies of my travel documents or hide my jewelry and wallets when I travel overseas.  

Double-Secret TSA Lists

Do you remember the issues I had a couple months ago at the Vancouver airport?  I questioned then if I might be being personally singled out for special harassment.  Perhaps I was:
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has put out a new report intended to analyze the performance of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the operation of the watchlists that determine how much abuse passengers have to suffer before being allowed on a plane (assuming they're allowed).

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) read through the report and was a bit disturbed at what they've discovered. The ACLU, you may recall, has been suing the government (and winning) over the horrible, opaque way the watchlists and no-fly lists have been operating in secret. You may also recall a recent report from The Intercept showing that hundreds of thousands of Americans placed on watchlists for extra screening have no known ties to terrorism. In fact, today Stephen Hayes, a senior writer for The Weekly Standard, tweeted that he discovered he'd been added to a DHS watchlist after taking a one-way flight to Turkey in July.

The ACLU notes that the TSA has taken to assigning passengers to risk categories for reasons that have nothing to do with any law enforcement agency recommending them for review...
The TSA is keeping those criteria secret, which is part of the problem. However, the GAO report states that the "high-risk" passengers aren't just those who appear to match a name on the FBI's No Fly, Selectee, or Expanded Selectee lists (as problematic as those lists may be). Now, the TSA is also using intelligence and law enforcement information, along with "risk-based targeting scenarios and assessments," to identify passengers who may be "unknown threats."

In other words, the FBI's flawed definition of someone who is a suspected threat to aviation security isn't relaxed enough for the TSA, so the TSA is creating its own blacklists of people who are hypothetical threats. Those people are also subjected to additional screening every time they fly. To make matters worse, another recently published GAO report indicates that the redress process for travelers who have been incorrectly caught up in the watchlisting system does not apply to these new TSA blacklists. So the TSA's "unknown threats" are truly without recourse.
The Directorate of Internal Security. That's what we have now.

Barack Hussein Bush?

This post from Instapundit is so well done that I'll just repost it here in its entirety, including embedded links:
As President Obama begins to bomb Syria (with no UN authorization and with a coalition of the willing), he is still bombing Iraq, Yemen, and Pakistan; he has U.S. forces spread out across Africa; some are heading back into Iraq; and Guantanamo is still open. It’s hard not to wonder whether in a quiet moment President Obama sometimes thinks he was too smug and too callow back when he poured contempt on President Bush. (After all, even the New York Times is slowly coming to grips with the similarities between how certain events have unfolded. Surely President Obama has noticed them in passing as well.)

Neither President got everything right; both made costly mistakes. But both struggled to come to grips with a serious and growing problem: the spread of a religious movement based on hatred and violence and its organization to fight a war against civilization.

This new kind of struggle is forcing the United States and its allies to grapple with a whole series of extremely complicated and difficult practical, strategic, moral, and legal problems. When Obama was running for President, he showed very little understanding of or sympathy for the difficult and in some cases impossible choices that President Bush had to make.

We hope President Obama’s critics will be less snarky and self righteous than Obama’s supporters were when it was time to criticize Bush; we would, for example, be sorry to hear the entire right wing of the country start calling the President and his top advisors “chicken hawks” and mocking them for sending Americans into harm’s way without having done military service themselves.

We’d also like to see the President demonstrate some class—perhaps by inviting President Bush to the White House to some advice from the only other person on earth who really understands what Obama is going through.
Yeah, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.
I won't, either.

Let The Children Throw Their Little Temper Tantrum

There's still going to be a quiz on Friday, whether you've been in class to learn the material or not:
The most coveted dresses for school dances this season show some skin. Cutouts, sheer paneling, high leg slits, short hemlines, and strapless tops are just a few of the popular styles that students are wearing. But showing up in one of these types of dresses meant that some students weren’t allowed into Bingham High School’s homecoming dance

On Saturday night, about a dozen students were denied entry into the dance at the South Jordan, Utah, school. While officials gave the girls who were wearing dress-code-breaking outfits the option to change clothes or put on a sweater, a few decided not to attend at all. Then, on Monday, with school in session, some of the teenagers still upset by the weekend’s incident staged a protest and were joined by 100 of their peers...

The dress code, which was relayed to students weeks before the dance, stated that dresses should cover the chest and back at the top of the armpit, and hemlines shouldn’t rise higher than midthigh when sitting.
Does that dress code seem so draconian that complying with it is akin to slitting one's own wrist?   I don't think so, either.

The Commies Are Back

Actually, they never went away.  Patrick Moore, cofounder of Greenpeace, left Greenpeace when it became to radical for him!  After the fall of the Soviet Union all the west's leftists needed somewhere to go, and they picked up on the environmental movement.  It didn't matter that capitalist countries have better environmental records than communist countries--because they don't really care about environmentalism.  They care about ending capitalism.

You don't believe me?  Perhaps you'll believe your not-so-lying eyes.  It's been awhile since I've linked to Zombie's work, but he's still the preeminent photojournalist of our age.  And yes, these communists are here in the People's Republik of Kalifornia, in lovely downtown Oakland.

If I wanted to get rid of them for good I'd just tell Raiders fans that those commies are Denver fans.  That would take care of the situation pronto.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Corporate "Responsibility"

I'm still of the belief that a corporation's only goal should be to make money for its shareholders.  Let the shareholders do what they want with their own money:
In September 1970, the late Milton Friedman published a bold manifesto entitled “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” in the New York Times Magazine, where he argued that businesses do not need to engage in various charitable or public-spirited activities, even those that generally meet with approval from shareholders. The best defense of the Friedman thesis is that any discrete corporate effort to advance collateral ends will not enjoy the unanimous consent of all corporate shareholders, so that the contribution operates like an implicit tax on dissenting shareholders. The better track is for the corporation to make the shareholders rich, so that they in turn can embark on their own charitable operations, without having to bind their fellow shareholders...

Unfortunately, government efforts to impose socially responsible regulation in a top-down manner can easily go awry, by limiting the ability of a firm to develop efficient supply chain practices, which might for a whole host of reasons require rapid shift from one supplier to another, perhaps in response to unanticipated regulation from the host state. Diversification of supplies is often the best response to sovereign risk.

The point here is not that corporations should cease socially-responsible activities, but rather that they should organize them independently of their production efforts. Thus if a corporation wants to show good will to a developing country, either by voluntary choices to improve worker conditions or to make charitable gifts entirely apart from the core business operations, it should be allowed to do just that.  It may well be better, for example, to send aid to local schools than to enter into inefficient agricultural contracts.  link
Someone who thinks "you didn't build that" probably disagrees.

How To Get Bad Things To Stop

I've long said that certain injustices in the world will stop when they're imposed on just enough women as opposed to being imposed mostly on men.  One of those injustices is being considered a potential rapist:
Writing in Time, Cathy Young notices something interesting in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures on rape: Women rape a lot more than people think..
If the CDC figures are to be taken at face value, then we must also conclude that, far from being a product of patriarchal violence against women, "rape culture" is a two-way street, with plenty of female perpetrators and male victims.
How could that be? After all, very few men in the CDC study were classified as victims of rape: 1.7% in their lifetime, and too few for a reliable estimate in the past year. But these numbers refer only to men who have been forced into anal sex or made to perform oral sex on another male. Nearly 7% of men, however, reported that at some point in their lives, they were "made to penetrate" another person — usually in reference to vaginal intercourse, receiving oral sex, or performing oral sex on a woman. This was not classified as rape, but as "other sexual violence." And now the real surprise: when asked about experiences in the last 12 months, men reported being "made to penetrate" — either by physical force or due to intoxication — at virtually the same rates as women reported rape (both 1.1% in 2010, and 1.7% and 1.6% respectively in 2011).
In short, men are raped by women at nearly the same rate women are raped by men.
According to a recent study from the University of Missouri, published by the American Psychological Association, male victims of sexual assault are often victimized by women: "A total of 43% of high school boys and young college men reported they had an unwanted sexual experience and of those, 95% said a female acquaintance was the aggressor, according to a study published online in the APA journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity."
An erection is not consent!

We can't solve any problems unless we admit what the problem is.  I think the current hoopla over so-called rape culture is another shibboleth of the left, with no bearing on reality except as it gets certain people fired up to vote for more lefties.

West's Winds Wane

What's going on out here in the west?
A study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington has concluded that warmer sea and land temperatures along the Pacific coast in North America over the past 100 years are due to weak winds--and not due to human activities or "climate change." The study was published Monday on the eve of the UN Climate Summit by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, published as "Atmospheric controls on northeast Pacific temperature variability and change, 1900–2012," reports that while "Northeast Pacific coastal warming since 1900 is often ascribed to anthropogenic greenhouse forcing...century-long warming around the northeast Pacific margins, like multidecadal variability, can be primarily attributed to changes in atmospheric circulation," and not to human burning of fossil fuels.
If you don't believe this you're a science-denier.

Monday, September 22, 2014

School Dances

This isn't the first time I've talked about school dances on this blog, and I continue with the idea that they should all have a "Gomorrah Burns" theme.

I think school dances are outdated.  Back in "the olden days" you went to a dance to get away from home and hang out with friends.  Kids don't need that anymore; heck, what with their electronic connectivity they don't even need drivers licenses anymore.  In my day we got our drivers licenses as soon as we could, today kids don't seem in much of a hurry to get them (unless they have their own cars).  Dances just don't serve the social function that they used to, kids don't need to get away from home to see each other because they can do so on their phones.

In our hypersexualized world, though, dances provide an opportunity for students to hump each other in public and to show off their pelvic thrusts.  Why does that bother me?  For a couple reasons:  first, I don't know that anything good comes from supporting teenagers who act that way, and second, a little discretion is a social grace.  Do you want to hear about the wild animal sex I had last night?  Shall I post about it, here, in graphic detail?  Of course not, no one wants to hear about that.  Then why would I want to see it, especially in children?

Today I heard an interesting reason for still having school dances--how else will we raise money?  Well, why do we need to raise money?  To have a nice junior prom, a nice senior ball, and a graduation downtown at Memorial Auditorium instead of with folding chairs out on the soccer field.  Well, stop holding orgies dances, and let students pay more for the proms and graduations.  Or hold a carnival instead of a meat market dance.  Be creative, do something that hasn't been done at our ossified school before, don't hold a grindfest dance that no teacher wants to supervise.

You can call me old fashioned, but by trying to find something that fits into today's world I'm the very definition of progressive :-)

Things Are Going to Hell in a Hand Basket, But It Isn't Because of Climate Change

There's so much good stuff in this article that it's hard to find something to snip--you should read the whole thing!
The United Nations Climate Summit will begin in New York this Tuesday, but environmental activists didn’t wait. All day Sunday, they filled the streets of Manhattan for a march that featured Al Gore, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, and various Hollywood actors.

But they certainly didn’t act like a movement that was winning. There was a tone of fatalism in the comments of many with whom I spoke; they despair that the kind of radical change they advocate probably won’t result from the normal democratic process. It’s no surprise then that the rhetoric of climate-change activists has become increasingly hysterical. Naomi Klein, author of a new book on the “crisis,” This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, said, “I have seen the future, and it looks like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.” In her new book she demands that North America and Europe pay reparations to poorer countries to compensate for the climate change they cause. She calls her plan a “Marshall Plan for the Earth” and acknowledges that it would cost “hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars.” But she has an easy solution on how to pay for it: “Need more money? Print some!” What’s a little hyperinflation compared to “saving the planet”?

Nor is Klein alone in her hysteria. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio is releasing a new film in which he warns that the world is threatened by a “carbon monster” that is treated like a kind of Godzilla that must be killed off by ending the use of carbon-based fuels.

One reason the rhetoric has become so overheated is that the climate-change activists increasingly lack a scientific basis for their most exaggerated claims. As physicist Gordon Fulks of the Cascade Policy Institute puts it: “CO2 is said to be responsible for global warming that is not occurring, for accelerated sea-level rise that is not occurring, for net glacial and sea-ice melt that is not occurring . . . and for increasing extreme weather that is not occurring.” He points out that there has been no net new global-warming increase since 1997 even though the human contribution to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 25 percent since then. This throws into doubt all the climate models that have been predicting massive climate dislocation.
It's been awhile since I've mentioned Bjorn Lomborg on this blog so let me correct that now:
Bjørn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, told me that all of the carbon-reduction targets advocated by the U.N. or the European Union would result in imperceptible differences in temperature, at enormous cost. “We would be far better off and richer if we did simple things like painting roofs in hot climates white and investing in new technologies that could help us adapt to any change that is coming,” he says. Even the U.N.’s own climate panel admits that so far, climate change hasn’t included any increase in the frequency or intensity of so-called extreme weather.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Law School Professor and Former Criminal Defense Attorney Advises Prospective Attorneys: Don't Let Your Clients Speak To The Police

In fact, he says that no one should ever agree to be interviewed by the police.  Take the 5th.  Even if you're innocent, speaking to the police will never be to your advantage.  What you say can and will be used against you in a court of law--but it cannot be used in your favor as it's just hearsay.

About halfway through the video the professor turns over the mic to a police officer who, rather than contradicting the professor, actually augments the professor's arguments.

We Don't Need No (Higher) Education

We don't need no thought control:
Consider the state of higher education today. Since the late 1970s, the total of poorly paid untenured and contingent faculty has far outstripped the number of tenured faculty on college campuses all over the world and now accounts for roughly 76 % of faculty in U.S. higher education.

The shrinking number of tenured academics has been paralleled by a growing number of very well-paid administration positions, filled by MBAs or Educational Administration doctorates who have spent little or no time in the actual educational trenches. The current corporate administrative pattern emphasizes a profit model of efficiency, cost control, and knowledge delivery, which is fundamentally different from the academic and pedagogical model of knowledge creation, a messy, individualistic but often life-changing process. This new emphasis is evident in the constant rise of tuition (going to grandiose building projects and bloated administrative salaries mirroring the corporate world), increasing demands for the quantification and standardization of instruction, larger class sizes, and the devaluing of educators’ professionalism, expertise, mentoring, innovative pedagogy, and the kind of student-centered, highly personalized learning opportunities I had at my small liberal arts college in the 1980s.

If these trends continue unchecked, the educational “opportunities” I and many other educators foresee will look like something out of that science fiction dystopia. For the sake of efficiency and the bottom line, students will be “educated” (although it will be more like indoctrination with facts than true education) en masse, remotely, in MOOCs (massive online open courses) by a few “star” academics who record their lectures and require the purchase of very expensive texts and materials from a few monopolistic academic publishers. Low-salaried “tutors” (today’s adjuncts with Master’s degrees and doctorates) will be standing by at what amounts to a call center with scripted responses to students’ questions. There will be little or no discussion of the material, little opportunity to interact with other students, the professor, or even ideas that are not in the book or online, and virtually no support for struggling students beyond a disembodied voice or image on a screen. This is the logical extension of the model of knowledge delivery vs. knowledge creation, which requires teacher-student interaction, argument, discussion, questioning, practice, and widely varied pedagogical methods—teaching the student, not the material.

If this sounds far-fetched, you should know that one attendee at the recent Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) conference reported that her Canadian college, Athabasca University, is already in the process of moving its adjunct instructors into that call center, hiring non-academic operators to determine whether student questions are administrative or academic and route them accordingly, and requiring its “tutors” to use a script penned by the textbook publisher. Remember the last time you called tech support and got an offshore technician who insisted on running through the entire customer-service script, even though you’ve already tried everything suggested? Imagine this as your educational experience. Just as bad, MIT and Harvard have already formed a company called EdX to provide machine grading of academic essays. Not for Harvard or MIT, of course. Machine grading, though possibly cost-saving, would lead to a “beating the machine” or “gaming the system” mentality of teaching to the test rather than real learning, the kind of instruction we see in test prep centers for the college boards. I’m sure the testing companies will jump on that opportunity too.

Inevitably, this sets up a two-tier system of education: the intimate, personalized educational experience for those who can afford a “traditional” education, and the cheaper, technology-heavy/professor-light so-called education of the masses.
A bit sensational but an interesting article, to say the least.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Legitimate Policy, or Stupid One?

And is the punishment appropriate to the "crime" in this case?
An eighth grade student from Weaverville Elementary School got a detention slip for sharing his school prepared lunch Tuesday.

Kyle Bradford, 13, shared his chicken burrito with a friend who didn’t like the cheese sandwich he was given by the cafeteria.

Bradford didn’t see any problem with sharing his food.

"It seemed like he couldn't get a normal lunch so I just wanted to give mine to him because I wasn't really that hungry and it was just going to go in the garbage if I didn't eat it," said Bradford.

But the Trinity Alps Unified School District has regulations that prohibit students from sharing their meals.

The policies set by the district say that students can have allergies that another student may not be aware of.
An 8th grader should be aware of his/her own allergies, and probably is much more so than the cafeteria staff. What if they gave the child something to which he/she was allergic???

Tar Sands Messiah

In Loco Parentis

Colleges and universities used to act in loco parentis, in the place of a parent.  Even though the vast majority of college students are legal adults, they were treated as children in an idealized, extended adolescence.  Like everything else, I'm told this ended in the 1960s.

The philosophy has been brought back these days, but now it means the crazy parent.  Why on earth would a university ask incoming students such personal, prying questions about their sex lives?
As originally reported by Campus Reform, Clemson required its students to disclose personal information about drinking habits and their sex lives as part of an online Title IX training course, which required students’ IDs, names, addresses, and housing details in order to login. All students, faculty, and staff were required to complete the course by Nov. 1 or face disciplinary action.
My outrage prevents me even from forming logical questions about who was responsible, and why these types of questions should be asked of anyone.  Fortunately, sunlight, as they say, is an excellent disinfectant:
“Required Title IX online training has been suspended pending elimination of certain questions that were associated with a training module provided by a third-party vendor,” the email, sent at 11:42 p.m., said. “Clemson University will eliminate these questions. We apologize for any concern and inconvenience this has caused.”
But it's not a complete victory:
“It's a great first step forward, but not a complete victory since they're only planning on eliminating certain questions from the invasive program,” (student) Pendergist told Campus Reform. “We need to eliminate the entire ‘mandatory’ program altogether since there is nothing in the Campus SaVE Act that requires a mandatory program to be completed by all students and faculty, but rather it only requires that programs be available, not mandated, for faculty and new students.”

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Took My First Test In Discrete Optimization

Just got my exam score:  47/50.

Two of the missed points I need to figure out.  The third is kinda penny-ante, at least in my opinion, but I now know the standard.

Update:  I totally missed a constraint when writing a linear programming problem in matrix form.  Doh!  I'm still trying to figure out the other "legitimate" point missed.

Lest You Think I've Forgotten About Climate Change...

I have not:
We evil climate deniers often enjoy comparing the current uproar over the weather with Stalin’s misuse of science by Trofim Lysenko.  But I think the devotion to extreme climate, or whatever today’s catch phrase may be, is far more in the realm of magic and metaphysics than real physics — Lysenko was, after all, a genuine agronomist — and is much more akin to the story of Sabbatai Zevi, the 17th century Sephardic rabbi many Jews believed was  the long-awaited Messiah but who ended up ridiculing his supporters and converting to Islam.

Climate armageddon is a messianic cult based almost entirely on religion and faith and very little on science.  And, like the Sabbatean movement where many adherents remained devoted to Zevi no matter what he did or how he behaved,  it’s still thriving, somewhat, despite the many blows that it has taken lately — no warming in the last fifteen years, Antarctic ice cap bigger than ever, more polar bears than ever, all kinds of leaks of fraudulent figures and fudged graphs, etc., etc.   The list, available at www.wattsupwiththat.com by scrolling backwards, is almost comical in its extent.   It’s amusing to read the myriad theories for why the ice cap is bigger, motivated, for the most part, by panic on the part of the scientists involved that they might have their stipends cut.
I like the way Simon writes.  And I'll point out he's a former way-out-leftie :-)

Is Education In Finland All That and a Bag of Chips?

Finland's is often held up as an exemplar of an exceptional school system because its students do so well on international tests.  One author says, not so fast:
Two out of every three schoolchildren in Finland are being let down by an outdated system and uninspiring teaching.

That is one of the claims made in a provocative new book by primary-school teacher Maarit Korhonen, which challenges the widely-held belief that the Finnish education system is among the best in the world.

In Herää, koulu! (“Wake up, school”), Korhonen argues that Finland’s consistently high performance in international PISA rankings, a test of problem-solving skills among 15-year-olds, has led to complacency among Finland’s educational establishment, and has blinded teachers and decision-makers to the reality of teaching today.

“What we are studying, it’s so old fashioned,” Korhonen says. “We have the same chapters in the science book that I used to have in the '60s. Same subjects in the same order. Nobody changes anything, but something has to change.”
Thrown-away children

After 30 years in the classroom, Korhonen’s central argument is that education is “throwing away” the roughly two-thirds of schoolchildren who are not academically minded, or who do not learn from sitting down and reading a book, or who do not perform well in exams.

As a result, she claims, thousands of pupils are led to believe that they are not good at learning, putting them at risk of becoming marginalised and encountering serious problems later in life.

If You Want To Work In Tech, What School Should You Attend

According to people who actually work in tech, Stanford, MIT, and CalTech are the top three.  That should surprise no one.  Which are numbers 7 and 8 in the Top 10?  Why, that would be the US Naval Academy and the US Military Academy!

You Have To Wonder Who It Was Who Lost Their Mind

My suburban Sacramento school district doesn't even have its own police force.  I used to work in another district that does, and that police force has been the source of voluminous bad press for that district.  Imagine all that, times ten:
Just last week, MuckRock posted on its site about a FOIA request from California, detailing the military equipment given to school police forces. Just the fact that any military equipment is being given to school police should raise some serious questions, but the one that really stood out was that the LA School Police had been given three grenade launchers, along with 61 assault rifles and one MRAP (mine resistant vehicle -- the big scary looking armored vehicles that have become one of the key symbols of police militarization). Asked to explain itself, the LA School police chief, Steve Zipperman, claimed that the district had actually received the grenade launchers and the rifles all the way back in 2001 (though the MRAP is brand-spanking-new). But, he claimed, we shouldn't worry too much, because the police didn't think of them as "grenade launchers," but rather "ammunition launchers," and they were mainly kept around in case other police needed them...
It really is time to demilitarize all of our police forces.  Seriously.  Especially the school cops.

Beauty in Mathematics

I, of course, find plenty of beauty in mathematics, but I'm not sure that seeking it out is the right way to teach mathematics.  Since the beauty is not in a linear, sequential, one-step-build-on-the-last process, trying to teach it that way would make math into an unrelated hodgepodge that nobody but the naturally gifted would be able to see past.  Great, people would understand fractals, but would they understand fractions?  If you wanted "the masses" to know one or the other, wouldn't you choose the latter?

My view is not universally accepted:
Math has a bad rap, writes math professor Manil Suri in a recent New York Times op-ed, and would be better geared to students as a playful and stimulating subject of ideas. Unfortunately, that’s not at all what our culture currently embraces...

Cornell Math Professor and New York Times columnist Steven Strogatz, author of The Joy of x, said much of middle and high school math curriculum (which covers not basic arithmetic, but higher math) doesn’t appeal to students’ hearts, instead offering answers to questions that kids would never ask — which he calls “the definition of boredom.”

“When people want to learn about music, they’ve reacted to it, they love it and naturally want to learn more about it. They have their own questions,” Strogatz said. When introducing higher math to a group of curious young students, he suggests first “showing them math’s greatest hits” and allowing them to become fascinated; students then naturally come up with their own questions. Suri was on the right track, Strogatz said, when he suggested students learn something like the origin of numbers — because the first step is falling in love with the mathematical ideas behind the formulas and procedures.

Strogatz acknowledges that grasping the concepts of higher math can pave the way to many wonderful careers — many in the popular and highly needed STEM fields. But rationalizing to students that math improves reasoning skills or that “you’ll need it in the real world” are two strategies doomed to fail, he said, because they not-so-subtly suggest that math isn’t worth learning for its own sake, but parallels something more akin to “mental push-ups.”
K-12 math isn't the place for "following your bliss", but that's just my opinion. I think mental push-ups are a good idea for any number of reasons.
Grabbing students’ hearts, however, is only the first step to falling in love with math. High school math teacher Dan Meyer realized his algebra classes needed a makeover, the subject of an inspiring TED talk in which Meyer takes a larger look at how math is taught. “We have defined math rather narrowly in the U.S. to mean memorizing procedures and performing them accurately and quickly,” he said. “Those are certainly important parts of mathematics, but they aren’t the only parts, or even the most important parts. We need to define math to include skills like prediction, argumentation, and systematic thinking. These are important skills to have whether you go into a STEM field or not.”
Meyer has done interesting work in his classes, but I disagree with his diagnosis.  Math, if taught poorly, is about "memorizing procedures and performing them accurately and quickly".  I deny that that's how I teach math, and I resent any implication that I should change how I teach because some do teach poorly.

But again, that's just me.

Standards, Good and Bad

I'm one who believes that the Common Core state standards represent a step down from California's previous standards, at least for math.  Yes, the old ones could have been improved upon, but the Common Core standards are not that improvement.

Today we had a professional development powwow on writing "learning targets", what students are supposed to be able to do after each lesson.  How these differ from "goals" or "objectives" is just an exercise in semantic masturbation to me, but whatever, that's what our professional development was about today.

A few of us math teachers were tasked to "deconstruct" a particular calculus standard, breaking it down into what students should know, what they should be able to do with that knowledge, etc.  It's a new taxonomy but you get the idea.  Start with what they should be able to "recall" or "regurgitate" and work your way up to developing a cure for cancer, or something.

Before I continue, let me say that, despite my sarcasm, there's nothing inherently wrong with doing this.  It's a good thing for teachers to do if they haven't really thought before about why they're teaching some point, or how what they're teaching fits into a grand whole.  I just don't think that the time spent doing this for every lesson is going to reap rewards in student learning.  I accept that I could be wrong about this, but it hasn't been proven to me yet.

So anyway, we were talking about some of the mathematical standards in Common Core.  In some cases we were trying to figure out what, exactly, they mean.  Whether you liked the old California standards or not, you cannot deny they were worded in such a way as to be crystal clear in intent.  My favorite (I don't have the manual here at home from which to quote others, I apologize) was a 3rd grade standard:  "students will know the multiplication tables up to 10x10 to automaticity."  If that isn't an exact quote, it's darned close.  Is there any doubt what is expected?

After trying to "deconstruct" a couple of the Common Core standards, this is what one of our members came up with:  a bad standard is one that needs to be interpreted.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Love These Kinds of Messages

This evening I received a message from a student I had in statistics last year.  He gave me credit for his acing his first statistics exam in college.

I love it when they do well.  I really do.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

BC Teachers Strike Almost Over?

Teachers must still ratify the tentative agreement:
The B.C. Teachers' Federation is recommending its members accept the tentative six-year deal which B.C. Premier Christy Clark is calling "historic." A deal of that length has never been reached with teachers before in the province.

"We have … reached an historic six-year agreement with teachers," Clark said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. "This has never been been done before in British Columbia's history. That means five years of labour peace ahead of us"...

The deal to settle the months-long B.C. public school teachers' strike could have students back in class by Monday, said Clark. Teachers are expected to vote on whether to accept the package Thursday...

Clark said  the deal is a real "game changer" that settles the outstanding grievances from the B.C. Supreme Court decision that ruled in the teachers' favour on class size and composition...

However, the province is still appealing the court ruling and the contract includes a "reopener clause," which in the event of a court decision in the province's favour would allow it to revisit some of those issues.

The deal also includes $100 million more to address class size and composition. The government had been offering to set aside $300 million for a learning improvement fund for teachers but increased it to $400 million in the final deal.

Once the details of the deal are finalized by the bargaining teams, the province's 41,000 public school teachers will have to vote on it before classes can resume.
If they're anything like the teachers in my district, even if the agreement calls for ritual scourging the teachers will vote for it 95%-5%.  Heck, were elections in the Soviet Union even that lopsided?

Odd Dreams

Now that work has started up again I don't do anything new or unique--which means I have nothing exciting to write to my son about.  Accordingly, I've switched from letters to cards and post cards, which he's still thankful to receive in Basic Training.

I had a very strange dream a night or two ago, and it reminded me of another strange one I had months or perhaps a year ago.  I'll start with the older one first.

I was a cadet at West Point.  In some of my dreams I'm a cadet "again" even though I'm my current age and recognize that I've already graduated, but I don't think that was the case in this dream.  I think I was a cadet of "cadet age".  I was either a junior or a senior.  Either way, I was very unhappy and, after long deliberations, decided to resign.

So resign I did.

No longer subject to the stresses that had put me under so much pressure, I thought I'd be happy, but I wasn't.  I started to second guess myself and decided that perhaps I'd acted too hastily.  I talked to some officers there and, after an absence of only a couple weeks, I got reinstated.

It didn't take long to realize, though, that going back was a mistake, so I resigned again.  I must have been a senior in this dream because I recall that I wasn't so far from graduation, perhaps a semester or so.  But I was so sure this time, West Point wasn't for me, and even though I regretted not finishing my degree there, I left again, this time for good.

I feel so many strange emotions when I remember that dream, almost as if part of it were real or something.  What is it in my subconscious that would fabricate such a story--about a place I haven't attended in over 25 years?  It's all so very odd.

So a couple nights ago I dreamed that I was my current age and status but for some reason was compelled to go back into the army, but instead of being an officer I was going to be enlisted.  I remember thinking, Is Austin (my son) going to outrank me?  Then I was relieved to realize I'd be a sergeant, while Austin is still a private.

And that was the end of the dream.

Are these weird, or what?

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Free Night

Today I took the first of (I think) six tests in my discrete optimization course.  I studied out the ying-yang, and the test certainly wasn't as hard as the one I studied for!  That doesn't mean I aced it, of course, just that it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.  I'm convinced I didn't make any egregious "strategic" errors; any mistakes had to be of the "silly" or "bad calculation" variety.

I usually devote 2 hours each night to my master's program, but not after a test.  I take the test and then take the rest of the evening off.  Watch out, single people, I'm free tonight!

(OK, so I'm headed to Walmart to get some groceries.  Whatever.)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

From California's Flagship University

The author of this post isn't enamored of a particular calculus course offered at UC Berkeley:
This year, I encountered the world’s worst calculus class, a mutant-frog specimen of undergraduate mathematics: UC Berkeley’s Math 16B. It’s an exercise in cynicism; a master-class in spite; a sordid and cautionary tale of everything that can go wrong in curriculum design.
The author then proceeds to justify those statements, and justify them well.

It's a funny read.

Must Everything Be Political?

The September 13th issue of The Economist has an article on "Voting with your wallet":
Puritanism, wrote H. L. Mencken, is "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy." Half a century later, the prissiest Americans are haunted by a different fear: that they  may buy cheese made by someone whose opinions they do not share.  To help people avoid this calamity, a new app called BuyPartisan reveals whether any given product is made by Republicans or Democrats.

Using an iPhone's camera, it scans the barcode and reports back on the ideology (as measured by donations to political parties) of the directors and staff of the company in question.  Obsessive partisans can then demonstrate their commitment to diversity by boycotting firms with which they disagree.  "We vote every day with our wallets," trills an advert.
I echo The Economist's mockery.  I'm not all that interested in where people or corporations spend their legitimately-earned money--unless, and this is my caveat, they try to strengthen their brand or appeal to a specific political group by touting those donations.  I've never bought a Ben and Jerry's ice cream because their blatant anti-military stance when I was in the military told me they didn't want my business.  I'm hard pressed to think of any other company whose products I do or don't buy out of political considerations.  Didn't Michael Jordan once refuse to discuss his political views because "Republicans buy shoes, too"?  That seems eminently reasonable to me from a business point of view.

And from a consumer's point of view, who really has time for the hassle?  The Economist quotes a "mother with a baby strapped to her chest in a Safeway supermarket":
The idea of scanning every sausage or toilet roll for its political affiliation is "just crazy, she says.  "If I want to eat gummy bears, I will eat gummy bears.  I don't care if they're Republican."
In general, I just want to live my life and be comfortable.  I don't want to have to spar with the liberals in every single arena, my time is too valuable for that.

US an Oligarchy?

I saw this article linked on Facebook and decided to give it a read:
A new scientific study from Princeton researcher Martin Gilens and Northwestern researcher Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn't a democracy any more. And they've found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military.
Usually when I think of an oligarchy I think of a relatively small group of people, but if the US is one it actually consists of a huge group.  Does that make a difference?  

I was taken aback, though, when I read this:
While there are some limitations to their data set, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez constructed income statistics based on IRS data that go back to 1913. They found that the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of us is much bigger than you would think, as mapped by these graphs from the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities...
Piketty.  Piketty.  I've heard that name before. Ah yes, Thomas Piketty:
Financial Times economics editor Chris Giles says French economist Thomas Piketty's best-selling "Capitalism in the 21st Century," about rising inequality in the West, contains serious errors that undermine his conclusion that wealth distributions are widening.

Giles says there are clear examples of some "fat finger" mistranscriptions and compares the situation to omissions found in Reinhart's and Rogoff's data on debt levels and growth.

But while the two Harvard professors' errors seemed to have been unintended, Giles levels a more serious critique: that Piketty actively manipulated his data.
Given the excitement that Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has stirred up within the political left, the French economist probably should have titled it Fifty Shades of Inequality.

In Capital, Piketty presents a painstakingly researched case for doing what progressives ranging from Paul Krugman to Barack Obama want to do anyway, which is to raise taxes and expand the power and reach of government. Unfortunately for liberals, Piketty gets almost everything wrong, starting with the numbers.
Any article or study relying on Piketty would thus, in my opinion, be immediately suspect.

The good news, though, is that the authors of the Princeton study didn't mention Piketty's work; it seems that the author of the first linked article tried to buttress his story with other references and opted to choose an extremely bad one.  Also, the word "oligarchy" is mentioned in the Princeton paper only twice.

It makes for an interesting read and one could certainly recoil in horror at the paper's conclusions.  I wonder, though, even if they're right, what an appropriate solution would be to the "problem".

Update:  Perhaps these are some of our oligarchs:
Special interest money and super-wealthy individuals are two of the most prominent features of today’s bourgeois liberalism. The unions, the foundations, the colleges, the liberal-leaning or rent-seeking corporations, the residents of Manhattan and Silicon Valley and Beverly Hills and Ward 3, Warren Buffett, George Soros, Tom Steyer, Marc Lasry, Steve Mostyn, Michael Bloomberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Chris Hughes—these groups, these men, they are not misshapen appendages of the Democratic Party. They are its innards. Its guts.

How Much Will College Students Pay For This Textbook?

This falls into that "funny but oops" category:
How can you tell what the perky teacher in that photo is really teaching her students?
It turns out a Thai publisher accidentally put a Japanese porn star on the cover of a math textbook.
As Rocket News 24 reports, the MuangThai Book Center had distributed over 3,000 copies of its latest math textbook before realizing its mistake.

The cover originally featured a bright young schoolteacher on a cute and colorful cover...
The article goes on to show some other pictures of that "teacher" from the same photoshoot. 

The ending of the article is great:
Let's hope Thai students find what's inside the book as exciting as the outside.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Taking Tests

Is flunking good for the soul as well as for the grade?
This is the idea behind pretesting, one of the most exciting developments in learning-­science. Across a variety of experiments, psychologists have found that, in some circumstances, wrong answers on a pretest aren’t merely useless guesses. Rather, the attempts themselves change how we think about and store the information contained in the questions. On some kinds of tests, particularly multiple-choice, we benefit from answering incorrectly by, in effect, priming our brain for what’s coming later.

That is: The (bombed) pretest drives home the information in a way that studying as usual does not. We fail, but we fail forward...

Yet another species of exam collapse is far more common. These are the cases in which we open the test and see familiar questions on material we’ve studied, perhaps even stuff we’ve highlighted with yellow marker: names, ideas, formulas we could recite easily only yesterday. And still we lay an egg, scoring average or worse.

Why does this happen? Psychologists have studied learning long enough to have an answer, and typically it’s not a lack of effort (or of some elusive test-taking gene). The problem is that we have misjudged the depth of what we know. We are duped by a misperception of “fluency,” believing that because facts or formulas or arguments are easy to remember right now, they will remain that way tomorrow or the next day. This fluency illusion is so strong that, once we feel we have some topic or assignment down, we assume that further study won’t strengthen our memory of the material. We move on, forgetting that we forget.

Often our study “aids” simply create fluency illusions — including, yes, highlighting — as do chapter outlines provided by a teacher or a textbook.
Sounds to me like justifications for homework or weekly quizzes.   But it's not, not quite.  Pretesting is really what's key:
Bjork’s experiment suggests that pretesting serves to prime the brain, predisposing it to absorb new information. Scientists have several theories as to how this happens. One is fairly obvious: Students get a glimpse from a pretest of the teacher’s hand, of what they’ll be up against. That’s in the interest of not just students but of teachers, too. You can teach facts and concepts all you want, but what’s most important in the end is how students think about that material: How they incorporate all those definitions into a working narrative about a topic that gives them confidence in judging what’s important and what’s less so. These are not easy things to communicate, even for the best teachers. You can’t download such critical thinking quickly, hard as you might try. But you can easily give a test with questions that themselves force that kind of hierarchical thinking. “Taking a practice test and getting wrong answers seems to improve subsequent study, because the test adjusts our thinking in some way to the kind of material we need to know,” Bjork said.
And there might even be a place for the much-maligned multiple-choice test!
A second possibility has to do with the concept of fluency. Wrong guesses expose our fluency illusions, our false impression that we “know” the capital of Eritrea because we just saw it or once studied it. A test, if multiple-choice, forces us to select the correct answer from a number of possibilities that also look plausible. “Let’s say you’re pretty sure that Australia’s capital is Canberra,” Robert A. Bjork, Elizabeth Ligon Bjork’s husband and a leading learning scientist, said. “O.K., that seems easy enough. But when the exam question appears, you see all sorts of other possibilities — Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide — and suddenly you’re not so sure. If you’re studying just the correct answer, you don’t appreciate all the other possible answers that could come to mind or appear on the test.” Pretesting operates as a sort of fluency vaccine.
I like the conclusion:
Many teachers complain that a focus on testing limits their ability to fully explore subjects with their students. Others attack tests as woefully incomplete measures of learning, blind to all varieties of creative thinking.

But the emerging study of pretesting flips that logic on its head. “Teaching to the test” becomes “learning to understand the pretest,” whichever one the teacher chooses to devise. The test, that is, becomes an introduction to what students should learn, rather than a final judgment on what they did not.
Hat tip to Joanne Jacobs for the article link.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Teachers Strike in British Columbia Continues

What good does a strike do if the government can just legislate a settlement compel everyone back to work?
Efforts to restart negotiations in the B.C. teachers' strike that were made Thursday have yet to yield any concrete results, increasing speculation the government has other plans to get the teachers back to work...

[O]n Friday morning, there was no sign from either side that a new round of actual negotiations has been scheduled.

Meanwhile, there are more signs government plans to legislate the teachers back to work if a deal is not reached by Oct. 6 when the legislature resumes sitting...

One former Liberal education minister says a legislated settlement is looking more and more likely.

The government and union have a long history of struggle over control of educational policy, with the union striking more than 50 times in the past 40 years and at least three settlements imposed by government.
The union last struck in 2012.  Clearly there's a hostile relationship between the union and the government.  That's never a recipe for a good outcome.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Less Take-Home Pay

No pay raise.  Union dues are up.  Retirement costs are up:
Resounding applause is in order for enactment of this plan to fully fund the Defined Benefit Program in a manner consistent with sound actuarial and accounting practices,” said CalSTRS Chief Executive Officer Jack Ehnes. “This historic legislation alleviates the risk of a looming liability for the world’s largest educator-only pension fund and sets a course for its long-term viability. We believe this plan achieves the right balance of time, commitment and completeness.”

Increases in pension contributions for all parties take effect July 1, 2014, and will be phased in over the next several fiscal years. Contributions rates for all CalSTRS members will increase from 8 percent of payroll to 8.15 percent of payroll in the first fiscal year.

CalSTRS members hired prior to January 1, 2013, not subject to provisions of the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013, will see their contributions increase by a total of 2.25 percent of payroll phased in over the next three fiscal years. Contribution increases for CalSTRS members hired after January 1, 2013, who are subject to the provisions of PEPRA, will be phased in over three years with their total increases capped at 1.205 percent.

CalSTRS members who were actively working on or after January 1, 2014, will receive a guarantee of the existing 2 percent Annual Benefit Adjustment, also referred to as the improvement factor, in exchange for their contribution increases. For members who retired prior to January 1, 2014, no change in benefits will occur.

Employer contributions currently at 8.25 percent will increase gradually by an additional 10.85 percent phased in over the next seven years, for an eventual total of 19.1 percent. State contribution rates, which are currently 5.541 percent, when the contributions for purchasing power protection are included, will increase over the next three years to a total of 8.828 percent by fiscal year 2016-17.

Other highlights of the new legislation include granting the Teachers’ Retirement Board limited rate-setting authority for contributions. Member rates remain fixed in statute. CalSTRS will also be required to submit a funding status report to the Legislature every five years to ensure the plan continues to sustain an appropriately funded benefit program.
As much as I don't like having even less money in my wallet, I can't help but think this is a good thing--and I've long railed against the problem on this blog.  The California State Teachers Retirement System was racing towards insolvency, and the only way to save it was to increase contributions or to decrease benefits.  Since decreasing benefits would be severely unpopular, more money has to be pumped into the system by teachers, school districts, and the state.  This, then, means school districts will have less money available with which to offer pay raises.  Scylla and Charybdis.

What A Lousy Excuse

It's entirely possible she got a lousy education as a child, but that doesn't excuse her becoming a teacher.  She knew she couldn't spell, she knew that her own grammar was lacking, she shares a large portion of the blame for her becoming a teacher.

How many people failed in her story?  Certainly she did, as seemingly did her K-12 teachers and university professors.  Whatever England's system is for credentialing teachers, it certainly let an elephant slip through the cracks.

I'm not able to say who owns exactly what percentage of the fault for this woman's becoming a teacher, but I can't help but find her sorta-mea-culpa in the linked column to be one big, lousy, attention-grabbing excuse.

I Can't Believe It's Gotten This Far

Back when Gray Davis was fighting to maintain the governorship of California against a recall vote, I didn't think there was any chance he'd be removed from office.  The polls tightened in the weeks leading up to the election, and when the voting was done and the dust settled, Arnold Schwarzenegger had been elected governor and the Democratic governor of a deep blue state had been swept aside.

The only information I've been getting about the upcoming vote on Scottish independence came from The Economist, which for weeks intimated that this wasn't really a contest.  Yes, the polls were tightening, but there was no way the Scots were going to break away from the United Kingdom.  It just wasn't going to happen.  In the last issue the articles and authors seemed not so sure of the outcome.

The impossible is now almost a reality:
One week from now, it’s entirely possible that the United Kingdom will, in effect, no longer exist in its current form. Next Thursday the people of Scotland will vote Yes or No on the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” — and according to recent polls, an increasing number of Scots are ready to end the 307-year union between their country and the rest of Britain. If the decision is indeed Yes, then the details will take a year or so to thrash out, but a political earthquake will be triggered that will shake Britain to its foundations, with the shockwaves felt across Europe and much of the world.

Calls for a vote on independence have been growing since a Scottish Parliament, with powers devolved from Westminster, was created in 1998. For much of the time since the independence referendum was announced at the end of last year, the No campaign had held a comfortable majority in the region of 60 percent to 40 percent; however, the polls have narrowed in recent weeks, and last week the Yes campaign took the lead in a poll for the first time.

The Yes campaign’s message is that it’s time for Scotland to strike out on its own, and that the country can achieve more as an independent nation than as part of the UK. Its leaders envision the country as a Scandinavian-style land of plenty along the lines of Norway and Sweden, economically prosperous but with a generous welfare state funded by income from North Sea oil and gas — 90 percent of the UK’s oil reserves lie in what would likely become Scottish waters in the event of a Yes vote.
This is potentially a seismic event.

I've heard it said that without the Scots, there won't be a Labour government in Britain for a generation.  To give a US example, it would be as if the Northeast and Pacific Coast states seceded (there wouldn't be a Democratic-controlled US government in a generation) or if the South seceded (there wouldn't be a Republican-controlled US government in forever).

When we look at the NATO alliance and our closest allies, this really is a BFD.

What's next?  Do the Basque, and Catalan, break away from Spain?  Do the Quebecois give it another try?  Does this justify Russian expansion into Ukraine?  Does Iraq divide itself?

As Instapundit might say, I guess it's a good thing we have Smart Diplomacy® on the case.

How Much Does That Free Health Insurance Cost?

To the surprise of no one but rabid socialists, Americans are paying more for health insurance under Obamacare then they were prior:
Supporters of Obamacare took a victory lap when the first premium numbers were released for 2015 and the increases weren’t quite so “scary” as first thought. But there’s a reason for that. As USA Today reports, premiums aren’t going up so much because policyholders are seeing big hikes to out-of-pocket expenses...
Anyone with the slightest knowledge of economics knew that this would be the only possible result.

We now cut to a clip of Will and Grace: