Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Modest Proposal For Government; It Will Be Ignored

This great idea comes from blogger E.D. Kain,  I agree with the general concept, but I really love the specific examples.

In any case, I like the idea of sunset provisions for government institutions themselves. I’m not sure if this has ever been tried. But wouldn’t it have been wonderful to write in not only a sunset provision for the Patriot Act, but for the entire Department of Homeland Security?

Too often our government is a self-serving, bloated mega-institution incapable of ever cutting off any of its outgrown limbs. Making more if it temporary – or at least writing in the possibility of temporariness when constructing it – would at the very least give these big government institutions a reason to try to remain relevant.

Of course, the downside would be an even more concerted effort to self-preserve, but at least there would be a conversation going on about whether survival was in the best interests of the nation at large.

A Common Sense NCLB Post

Rod Dreher at his new site makes great points about unintended but pernicious effects of NCLB.

Latvia and Moldova Lead The US In Something Other Than Soccer

I think I've seen other posts about this phenomenon, perhaps in The Madville Times, but when I followed this Lifehacker link to discover consumer download speed rankings, I slipped into fine and profane gentleman mode and uttered several versions of WTF loudly and repeatedly.

The index "compares and ranks consumer download speeds around the globe."  I'm not surprised that South Korea leads the rankings, I'm not really surprised that the US is 27th.  I am blown away that Moldova, Romania, Lithuania, and Latvia all have downloads speeds that are twice as fast as those in the US.  In fact Latvia's average speed of 24.27 Mbps is nearly three times as fast as the US's 9.91 Mbps

Latvia?  Seriously?  I could understand Latveria; it's ruled by Doctor Doom who's both "a genius inventor and a sorcerer."  What do the former Russian client states have?

Update:  Madville Times has a new post about similar stats.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Weird is Definitely Good

Far be it from me to fact check and correct my betters but South Dakota Magazine made a small error when they reported on the the South Dakota entries on weirdest places to travel list. The site includes not only the Petrified Wood Park, the pride of the Lemon/Bison metroplex, (thanks for the term Cory) but also the redoubtable Mitchell Corn Palace.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sacred Zombie Cows: An Idea I've Rustled

I came across this little piece of art work while renewing my acquaintance with Gaping Void.



Hugh MacLeod created this artwork on the back of a business card as one of his Cube Grenaede commissions.  This piece was done for David Gamel at Orpreneur.  Gamel explains the zombie cow as follows:

Enter the sacred zombie cow. Sacred zombie cows are the purest manifestation of crap within an organization. These are programs, products and services that are a net negative to the company and yet are incredibly hard to kill. They no longer have a strong sponsor on the scene but still they shamble along, eating up resources.
People tend to walk around sacred zombie cows like they are just a piece of furniture, ignoring how utterly dangerous they are.
Peter Drucker, the godfather of business strategy, said that the most innovative companies are those that are ruthless about stopping things. They maniacally root out and destroy sacred zombie cows, like a Van Helsing in Dockers.
Education has so many sacred zombie cows that we need Van Helsing to lead a posse of Heracles, Thor, Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and She-Hulk to deal with a herd that size.  Hell, we might even need a young John Wayne, a young James Arness and the whole cast of Silverado to round up the zombie doggies and send them to slaughter.

Even more frightening than cows that have returned from the dead and refuse to die again is the fact that we keep adding more of these undead hamburgers on the hoof.  We want standards, but the evidence that standards work is hardly conclusive.

Further, education does a better job of organizing circular firing squads than it does of organizing an effective posse.  National politicians, state and local politicians, school boards, administrators, high school teachers, junior high teachers, elementary teachers, and students of all ages can see the zombie sacred cows in other constituencies.  Everyone is willing to turn others' beasts in to zombie beef, but they will get in the way of every silver bullet aimed at their own undead bovine.

MacLeod doesn't like "endless droning on about nothing, the endless tedium that is your career…," and I think he's right; therefore, I'll look at the crap in the way I teach and try to kill a few of my own zombie cows instead of worrying about things I can't control. Lord knows, I've probably got a corral full.

Monday, July 26, 2010

More English Teacher Weirdness

Via a Bookslut tweet comes this link to a Guardian article about a lost work by Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and some works by Franz Kafka.  The works are not available to the public.  The article points out,
"We can easily envisage an owner owning a manuscript while we collectively own and know the piece of literature it contains. But in the case of the works of Kafka that are lying in those safes, we're not allowed to do that. Both the manuscripts and the literature are in the possession of the owners."
I doubt that the works in question will change the way I teach the Romantics or Kafka, but I agree that it's "an outrage, that a long dead, great writer's work can be hidden away in its owner's drawer."  Literature and other art should be shared.

Summertime Blogging Blues and a Question

First, I went to the National Forensics League Speech and Debate Tournament in Kansas City; then I went to debate camp at SDSU; then I did a two-day meeting about South Dakota's DSTEP and the annual family vacation, so blogging has been light.  The letter reminding me about the pre-school meetings came on Saturday, so summer is over.

While catching up on some blog reading, I came across this post at The Core Knowledge Blog.  The post responds to a comment made by Eli Broad in an article Bill Gates' School Crusade the July 15 of Business Week.  Broad claims, "We don't know anything about how to teach or reading curriculum or any of that," . . . . "But what we do know about is management and governance."

In response, Core Knowlege's Robert Pondiscio provided the following list

1. The Edsel.
2. Betamax.
3. New Coke.
4. MC Hammer.
5. The XFL.
6. Pets.com. 
7. Polaroid.
8. Ishtar.
9. Segway.
10. Microsoft Vista

I'm willing to concede that Betamax and Polaroid may have been great products that just weren't accepted.  I know nothing about Pets.com, and the Segeway may still have its day. Even with those concessions, people who know "management and governance" and who were experts produced some epic failures.  The fact that business has great successes doesn't mean that business leaders are omnipotent or omniscient.  In fact some of their failures are so grand that the idea of taking their advice as gospel seems to be a recipe for creating a worse disaster.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Beverage Politics

Coffee drinkers are allegedly wired. Tea is supposed to be soothing, If that's true, why is every image of a Tea Party event full of angry people wheres The Coffee Party offers to support "those who offer facts, civility and solutions." I don't think every Coffee Party member is on decaf.

Survivor: The Classroom??

Survivor has been to tropical spots all over the world.  One can buy The Zombie Survival Guide, and one can buy Modern Survival Magazine or Backwoods Home Magazine which offers an Emergency Preparedness Guide.  Today Lifehacker published its "Top 10 Tips for Surviving Office Life."

The government does publish a survival guide for new teachers, but it's from the government, and after NCLB, I'm not sure if teachers who actually have survived the classroom helped write it.  I know no one listened to actual teachers when legislators wrote and the executive branch implemented the law.

All of this got me to wondering, what does it take to survive in the classroom?  What are the top ten tools or tricks or  methods that allow teachers to stay on the island?  Comment at your leisure.  Comment early and often.  Forward, link, whatever you desire.  If I get enough comments, I'll collate them and post the best of the best survival tips or tools.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dynasty Without Joan Collins

Cory and his commenters at The Madville Times are starting a little discussion about the estate tax.  At the risk of adding a little fuel to the fire, I think this editorial from the NY Times shows that the rich have found ways to get around the estate tax.

Ray D. Madoff, a law professor at Boston College, points out that "dynasty trusts" will help develop an "American aristocracy" because the trusts allow the rich to "provide their heirs with money and property largely free from taxes and immune to the claims of creditors. And rather than benefit only children and grandchildren, dynasty trusts provide for generations in perpetuity." [Madoff, America Builds an Aristocracy, NYT 7/9/10]

I don't have a problem with the rich leaving their money to their offspring, but these "assets can pass tax-free and creditor-proof to the next generation."  More importantly,
[the] tax breaks are not the only special advantages . . .they commonly include a “spendthrift clause,” which provides that trust assets cannot be reached by a beneficiary’s creditors. If a beneficiary causes a car accident, for example, the victim cannot be compensated with assets from the trust, even if they are the driver’s only resources. So beneficiaries are free to behave as recklessly as they like, knowing that their money is forever protected for themselves and their heirs. [Madoff, America Builds an Aristocracy, NYT 7/9/10]
In short, generations of spoiled brats can live on the wealth of the predecessors and behave badly, but face few, if any, financial risks.  Financially, it seems, they have immunity that foreign diplomats would kill to obtain.

The US has corporations that are too big to fail, a fact that means the poor and middle class have to bail them out when they behave irresponsibly.  Further, the wealthy people who don't want to pay any income taxes or estate taxes but expect the poor and middle class to pay payroll taxes on every dollar.  Now, the rich want their children to remain rich without responsibility.  I'm positive this situation isn't what Adam Smith endorsed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cancer and Philosophy, Sort of

Via Andrew Sullivan's blog, this post about new findings in cancer research. 

Jonah Lehrer, author of  the original article,  reports "that mice living in an enriched environments - those spaces filled with toys, running wheels and social interactions - are less likely to get tumors, and better able to fight off the tumors if they appear."  In fact, "while every mouse in the standard cages developed cancerous growths, 17 percent of the mice in the enriched enclosures showed no sign of cancer at all."

Lehrer concludes,
It's important to not overhype the results of this study. Nobody knows if this data has any relevance for humans. Nevertheless, it's a startling demonstration of the brain-body loop. While it's no longer too surprising to learn that chronic stress increases cardiovascular disease, or that actors who win academy awards live much longer than those who don't, there is something spooky about this new link between nice cages and reduced tumor growth. Cancer, after all, is just stupid cells run amok. It is life at its most mechanical, nothing but a genetic mistake. And yet, the presence of toys in a cage can dramatically alter the course of the disease, making it harder for cancerous cells to take root and slowing their growth once they do. A slight chemical tweak in the cortex has ripple effects throughout the flesh.
It strikes me that we need a new metaphor for the interactions of the brain and body. They aren't simply connected via some pipes and tubes. They are emulsified together, so hopelessly intertwined that everything that happens in one affects the other. Holism is the rule. [Emphasis in original]
Maybe it's the experiment's use of toys; maybe it's the conclusion that "[h]olism is the rule," but this study brings to mind Aristotle's discussion of happiness.  In his Rhetoric, Book I Chapter 5, Aristotle defines happiness as "prosperity combined with virtue; or as independence of life; or as the secure enjoyment of the maximum of pleasure; or as a good condition of property and body, together with the power of guarding one's property and body and making use of them."  Based on that series of definitions, Aristotle concludes, 
From this definition of happiness it follows that its constituent parts are: -- good birth, plenty of friends, good friends, wealth, good children, plenty of children, a happy old age, also such bodily excellences as health, beauty, strength, large stature, athletic powers, together with fame, honour, good luck, and virtue. A man cannot fail to be completely independent if he possesses these internal and these external goods; for besides these there are no others to have. (Goods of the soul and of the body are internal. Good birth, friends, money, and honour are external.) Further, we think that he should possess resources and luck, in order to make his life really secure.
Lehrer's post indicates that external realities such as toys keep rats healthier; Aristotle illustrates that externals help one lead a good life.  Given my talents for seeing connections where none exist, I might be reading a bit too much into this new report, but it seems as if a fulfilled life is one of the best tools a person has to stay healthy, and that many of old guys that people want to discredit as "dead white males" were right more often than they were wrong.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The End Of The World As We Know It

The BP deluge may destroy more than the Gulf; it may destroy the world.

I have no idea about the science of this article, and I'll stipulate it sounds like a bad Syfy channel movie.  It does have footnotes, but so do most of my students' term papers.  That being said, I think I'll start reading The Road this afternoon, so I have a feel about how to try to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Random Things I Learned This Week

Benedict Arnold was born in 1741, and agreeing to play for another basketball team is akin to switching allegiances in the middle of a war, at least to owners of NBA franchises.

We live in a time that is closer to 2050 than the moon landing or Woodstock.  I think that means Bob Dylan's The Times They Are a-Changin' is both accurate and old.  I'm just old.

Wonder Woman must still have cultural cachet if Slate, Fox News, The New York Times, and The Washington Post all covering it.  A review of issue #600 which features the change can be found here.


College students don't study as much as they used to.  People, with or without consternation, search for answers here and here.

Americans eat 20 percent of the world's frog legs, and soon the U.S. is likely to overtake France and Belgium as the world's largest consumer of frog legs.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lebronamania

It's probably just me, but the whole Lebron James mania strikes me as a rip off of a professional wrestling storyline. Please excuse me while I borrow terms and definitions from Wikipedia's pro wrestling glossary.

Right now, Lebron is a "face," the good guy.  He's setting up his turn to "heel," the bad guy by leaving his home town and announcing it on the "worldwide leader in sports."  The one hour ESPN special is "cheap heat" which occurs "when a wrestler (often a heel) incites a negative crowd reaction by insulting the crowd (by insulting the city or a local sports team) or by using a news event as part of his promo.

If Lebron does in fact go to Miami to play with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, he will create his own stable, "a group of wrestlers within a promotion who have a common element—friendships, either real or storyline, a common manager, or a common storyline—which puts them together as a unit."

Who says art doesn't imitate life?

Ignorance Is Strength and Torture Is Not Torture

I missed this story while fulfilling other commitments, but it has caused me a bit of consternation.  Apparently I have been making a grievous error as an English teacher; I have spent my entire career telling students to read Orwell's 1984 as a warning; I should have been telling them to read it as a road map.  

The New York Times will no longer use the term "torture" to describe torture such as waterboarding.  The NYT "acknowledged that political circumstances did play a role in the paper's usage calls."  Because "defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture” the venerable, allegedly liberal newspaper declined to tak[e] sides in a political dispute."

Big boy blogger Andrew Sullivan  covered the story here and here far better than I can.  Like Sullivan, I am amazed.
What we have here is an admission that the NYT did change its own established position to accommodate the Cheneyite right. So their journalism is dictated by whatever any government says. In any dispute, their view is not: what is true? But: how can we preserve our access to the political right and not lose pro-torture readers? If you want a locus classicus for why the legacy media has collapsed, look no further. (emphasis in original)
Sullivan covers the major implications of the NYT's acquiescence to the government, but I do want to add an aside about what this event says about education.  In short, we've failed.  Anyone who has sat through a high school English class should be able to see that the phrase "harsh interrogation techniques" is an effort to obfuscate.  Anyone who has sat through a high school government class should know that American citizens need to stand up to government power and that Americans have been able to accomplish much good when they have opposed government overstretch.  In short, anyone with a high school diploma should be able to see that the so-called Patriot Act is a far greater threat to liberty than the health care law.

One of the results of NCLB is that most of the recent graduates won't know what "obfuscate" means.  They have had their reading list trimmed to include only works that will help them be proclaimed as proficient on their NCLB mandated tests, so they probably won't know that Orwell believed that using language to limit expression was a terrible idea.  Many probably won't understand the attempted humor if I allege that Orwell thought limiting vocabulary is worse than terrible; he would think it is "double un-good."

The longer I live with NCLB and Obama's continuance of the most pernicious elements of the law, the more I'm seeing that its major effect, whether intended or not,  is limiting students' thought and their ability to express ideas.  I don't want to channel Glen Beck and his paranoid reading of American history, but as time passes I'm beginning to have a nagging suspicion that limiting citizens' thought and expression is NCLB's intended goal.  If that's the case, then everyone needs to read and understand Orwell to read between the lines of not only government newspeak but also NewYorkTimesSpeak. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

One of My Viewpoints Summed Up Better by Someone Else

This Jason Peters article on  Front Porch Republic is about higher education, but I believe it sums up what I believe should happen in high school as well.  I've got nothing to add to this paragraph.
There’s a risk to education, and education should be worth the risk, to say nothing of the cost. It should result in better and more thoughtful citizens of given places. It should culminate in full human beings who know better than to be enamored of abstractions. If I allow that education should be driven largely by content, I hasten to add that it should also be ethical, moral, and humane. It should be conducted with respect for both the future and the past, which is to say its should be conducted with measured suspicion of and admiration for both.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Something Totally Geeky

Using a bike to charge USB devices seems like a bad ESPN SportsCenter commercial.
 
 
If anyone's interested, however, here are some links.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Once Again, I'm Confused.

I really don't want to get into a major argument with some of the regular commentators of the Madville Times, especially those who comment on posts like this Independence Day observation.  I seldom wade into religion and America discussions because most of those arguments (I'm using the term to denote screaming and shouting and throwing hissy fits as opposed to issuing a series of propositions to establish a supportable logical position) will have the same outcome as a pissing contest with a skunk:  there may be some relief, but the odor will be terrible.

I realize that in Matthew 5:10-12 Christ says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  That being said, however, I don't see anything in this injunction that implies that Christ's followers should make it easy on those who would mock them by saying incredibly stupid things that make it easy for sites like Tea Party Jesus to make little satirical comments like this one.

I'm sure many will be offended that artistic renderings of Jesus are being used in this way.  They should be offended that many of the artistic renderings are really horrendous and inaccurate.  I don't think First Century Palestine featured any blond, blue-eyed Jews.

One would hope that seeing rather idiotic or vile or unchristian comments coming out Jesus' mouth would make people stop and think before they speak, but that would require me to be more optimistic than I have ever been in my life. 

My natural pessimism leaves me with two options:  remembering to  "...work out [my]  salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for  His  good pleasure" Philippians 2:12b-13.  I also need to remember "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" Isaiah 55:8-9.  The first injunction will take up most of my time.  The second is just a reminder that we mere mortals are never going to be as smart as we think we are.