Saturday, April 30, 2011

Social Media Corrupts Everything, . . . .

Even language or phrasing that some with a puritanical bent might find corrupt.

Stolen from Brains on Fire.

Still More This Week in Opt Outs

This week saw twelve letters to the editor of the Yankton Press & Dakotan.  Seven support the opt out while five oppose. The Yankton County Observer published one letter opposing the opt out.  In addition, the YSD School Board held a forum.

On Monday, Dale and Sherry Oare opine ". . remember we can vote on the opt-out, and we can’t vote on any of these other budget busters. The kids will still get a quality education and most of the teachers that were laid off will be called back regardless of how this vote turns out. I believe that anyone who tells you otherwise is just flat out wrong."  I gave a brief rebuttal here. I will also note that the Oares do not cite any sources that back up their assertion.

In the same edition, Mike Gillis sees the situation differently.  He writes, "If the opt-out fails, the Yankton school board will be forced to make barbaric cuts deeper than already passed."  Gillis, like Robin and Jon Flom, urges a pay it forward approach.  The Floms write,
We pay it forward. We believe that is what members of a community do. We are not willing to passively accept the cutbacks already outlined in the newspaper, not to mention those still to come. When the time comes to vote on the opt-out, we will have yet another chance to repay a little of the debt that we owe. We will vote YES. 
One must note that the Tuesday school board forum lends credence to Gillis's and the Flom's assertions that more cuts will occur without the opt out.   Page 22 of the handout distributed at the forum shows that the equivalent of 12 full time positions will not be filled this year even if the opt out passes

On Tuesday, Larry and LaDawn Remington claim that "the school board “decisions” that cost us an arm and a leg in higher taxes."  Other parts of their letter have been discussed here.  Also, on Tuesday, the Yankton School Board held a forum attended by 500 citizens.  At the forum, board member Chris Specht reminded attendees that property taxes are lower now then they were were in the early 1990s.

On Wednesday, Leon and Arlene Heine assert that the school has become a "nanny state" that will "overtax parents to where they can’t feed their kids equals the school will send supper along with homework every night."  Several online commenters to their letter explain some facts about the meals that the school sends home.

Also on Wednesday, Carll Kretsinger publishes "research" that shows "something . . . a bit wrong" with the fact that 12 of the teachers laid off were paid with federal funds.  Kretsinger also claims "all teachers and staff over age 52, when they retire they get a bonus of 75 percent of their annual salary."  The latter bit of research is both unsourced and factually wrong.  Kretsinger does not explain why federal funding "smells" wrong or whether it is guaranteed to be renewed.  Wednesday also saw recent graduate Katy Adam share some fond remembrances of her YSD education.

On Thursday, John Trombly tries to apply the theory of "creative destruction" to the the school district's funding problem by asserting "make the tough cuts now or choose to increase your taxes to perpetuate the problem and likely end up with cuts regardless."  Because schools can't charge for the education that they provide, it seems unlikely that Joseph Schumpeter's theory applies to education.  If you don't trust the Madville Times's reading of South Dakota law, see page 16 of the school board forum handout.

Also on Thursday, Dr. John Sternquist writes,
I am a retired physician who over the years has been intimately involved in the recruitment of physicians to our community. I have been proud to tout the advantages to these young people of our great school system. I even recall a Redbook magazine article listing Yankton as one of the 100 best school systems in America, giving me additional ammunition. We have been able to develop and sustain a tremendous medical community by enticing well-trained young men and women with the promise of a great place to raise their families. The mainstay of that promise is an educational system of which we are proud. Degrading that system by these extreme measures will make recruitment of young business and professional people more difficult. 
On Friday, The Yankton County Observer printed a letter from Ruth Ann Dickman who claims that she knows how "important education is" because she has a daughter who "became a teacher."  Dickman takes issue with the recently built bus barn and administration building.  She doesn't indicate how those buildings which were funded from the capital outlay fund apply to the opt out which will provide funds for the general fund.  She also doesn't source how the opt out will "turn Yankton into a town without many business places."  She also doesn't recite any anecdotal evidence, something that Sternquist and Paige Elwood do.

In Friday's P&D, Dr. Paige Elwood echoes Sternquist's claims.  Duane Grimme offers some numbers that show the school board position in a favorable light, although I wish he had provided more context for the his research.  Finally, former candidate for the YSD School Board Matt Pietz writes to support the opt out "because I want my children, current students, and future students to have the same, if not better, opportunities to succeed as those before them. In order to maintain our schools and the ability to offer a high quality education that the Yankton community is accustom[ed] to, the opt-out is necessary."

Plains Pops: Mini-Posts and Links for Saturday Morning Coffee

*Cursive writing became a topic du jour for the New York Times; Slate responded.  All I know is that every teacher who assigns in-class essays or essay tests wishes that students had legible handwriting.

*Starbucks is the third largest fast food chain in the United States.  The New York Times adds that Starbucks is a great place to steal laptops.  Before reading these articles, I thought the only coffee crime was brewing a weak cup.

*The Internet is going to the dogs.  (HT Big Boy Blogger Andrew Sullivan)

*Superman has renounced his American citizenship. People are exhibiting a good degree of sociological angst about this issue.
Now, however, Superman won't be claiming any nationality as his own. And we have to realize what a profound change that will be for one of our country's most iconic figures: Superman has always represented immigrant culture, the ability to literally "make it in America." In a key panel of #900, Superman states his reason for leaving, saying, "I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy." As the Comics Alliance mentioned in their post about the issue:
What it means to stand for the "American way" is an increasingly complicated thing, however, both in the real world and in superhero comics, whose storylines have increasingly seemed to mirror current events and deal with moral and political complexities rather than simple black and white morality.
*The King James Bible still warrants New York Times coverage.  The conclusion
Not everyone prefers a God who talks like a pal or a guidance counselor. Even some of us who are nonbelievers want a God who speaketh like — well, God. The great achievement of the King James translators is to have arrived at a language that is both ordinary and heightened, that rings in the ear and lingers in the mind. And that all 54 of them were able to agree on every phrase, every comma, without sounding as gassy and evasive as the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, is little short of amazing, in itself proof of something like divine inspiration.
My brother and I think the first two sentences should apply to pastors as well.

* Pirates Every Man Should Know, because no one can know too much about pirates,.

Friday, April 29, 2011

I May Have to Travel To Deadwood in October

As a mystery and detective fiction fan, I have to say that the program for the 2011 SD Festival of Books looks great.  Craig Johnson is one of my favorite authors.

Education: Singapore and South Dakota Edition

Which of the following goals statements comes for the United States and which comes from Singapore?

Statement A:  “The goal for [Country X's] educational system is clear: Every student should graduate from high school ready for college and a career. Every student should have meaningful opportunities to choose from upon graduation from high school.”

Statement B:  “The person who is [educated] . . . in [Country X's] system . . . . has a good sense of self-awareness, a sound moral compass, and the necessary skills and knowledge to take on challenges of the future. . . .is responsible to his family, community and nation. . . .appreciates the beauty of the world around him, possesses a healthy mind and body, and has a zest for life.

In today's prime example of educational system irony, Singapore, a country infamous for maintaining tight control on its citizens, wants them to have "a zest for life" whereas the land of the free wants to prepare citizens for "a career."

Lest one assume that Singapore is trying to produce a bunch of liberals who will hate democracy and live solely to destroy capitalism, the country wants to produce students that become
* a confident person who has a strong sense of right and wrong, is adaptable and resilient, knows himself, is discerning in judgment, thinks independently and critically, and communicates effectively;
* a self-directed learner who takes responsibility for his own learning, who questions, reflects and perseveres in the pursuit of learning;
* an active contributor who is able to work effectively in teams, exercises initiative, takes calculated risks, is innovative and strives for excellence; and,
* a concerned citizen who is rooted to Singapore, has a strong civic consciousness, is informed, and takes an active role in bettering the lives of others around him.
First, I note that there's not much STEM detail in these goals.  Second, it seems as if most conservatives admire entrepreneurs who take "calculated risks" and want people who are "rooted" in America.  I'm pretty sure that a person who "takes responsibility" and perseveres will also possess “self-reliance, persistence, and frugality,” qualities beloved by Governor Daugaard.

I stole most of this information about Singapore from this Valerie Strauss post, so I might as well steal her conclusion as well.
Again, I don’t know if Singapore actually produces the kind of student described in these desired outcomes. “Standing up for what is right” doesn’t seem so desirable to an authoritarian government, and doesn’t have the identical political meaning in East Asia that it does in the more liberal West.
But because its school system is so often compared favorably to ours, it is fair to look at what kind of graduates the government of Singapore says it wants the public school system to produce.
I have no doubt Americans would like to see its graduates confident and innovative and moral and healthy and appreciative of the arts. We just don’t have time to talk about that because we are too busy talking about tests and bad teachers and Michelle Rhee.
Talking about Rhee may happen more in DC than it does in South Dakota.  We just talk about cutting funding and getting rid of teachers, whether they be good or bad teachers makes no difference.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Political G.D.I. and Proud of It

Some of the comments on The Madville Times frat boys tend to be drunken louts post reminded me that I have always been an independent.  I don't join frats, churches, political parties, or any social club that claims they would have me as a member.

My status as a political independent concerns The New Republic's Michael Kazin.  According to Kazin, people of my ilk are "really just a confused and clueless horde, whose interest in politics veers between the episodic and the non-existent."  Further, political independents, according to Kazin, "seem to be more myopic than moderate."  In fact, "our next holders of state power might end up being chosen by a minority that seems to stands for very little—or, perhaps, for nothing at all."  This myopic minority is composed of creatures that so frighten Kazin that he despairs "come 2012, they [independents] just might be the ones to decide the future course of the republic."

Let's begin with the idea of a "minority" being a "horde."  Somehow, those two terms do not seem synonymous. Further, John Sides shows that this minority is small and shrinking. "The number of pure independents is actually quite small -- perhaps 10% or so of the population. And this number has been decreasing, not increasing, since the mid-1970s."

Further, Kazin ignores a phenomena that David Roberts calls "post-truth politics: a political culture in which politics (public opinion and media narratives) have become almost entirely disconnected from policy (the substance of legislation)."

Roberts goes into more detail when he asserts that politicians'
rhetoric doesn't have to bear any connection to their policy agenda. They can go through different slogans, different rationales, different fights, depending on the political landscape of the moment. They need not feel bound by previous slogans, rationales, or fights. They've realized that policy is policy and politics is politics and they can push for the former while waging the latter battle on its own terms. The two have become entirely unmoored.
In short the American political system, according to Roberts, has created a situation where "there are no more referees. . . .[there] are only players" because "[t]here are no Reasonable People behind the curtain, pulling the strings."  America's "political system is choked with veto points, vulnerable to motivated minorities, insulated from public opinion, and flooded with money."

Roberts analysis indicates that the problem isn't that independents stand for nothing or are easily confused.  Perhaps it's that we realize that the parties' rhetoric will not be put into practice.  With the exception of preserving their political power, it seems that the political parties, not independents, stand for nothing.

"Useless"? College Degrees

The Daily Beast has published a list entitled The 20 Most Useless College Majors.  The writers used the following criteria:
To find the most useless degrees college students can get with their four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars, we wanted to know which majors offer not only the fewest job opportunities, but those that tend to pay the least. The Daily Beast considered the following data points, weighted equally, with each degree’s numbers compared to the average for each category, to achieve a categorical comparison that accounts for differentiation from the mean. Data are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Payscale:
According the Beast, the most useless major, much to their chagrin, is journalism.  In what must be seen as bad news for South Dakota, horticulture and agriculture rank second and third.

The most interesting rankings are numbers eight and nine: mechanical engineering and chemistry, two STEM staples.  Although literature and English rank 15 and 19, I can console myself with the Beast's conclusion: "Several majors on this list—photography, literature, theater—suffer from low starting and mid- career salaries, but still show potential for job growth, and industry superstars can still make a very nice living."

I see a large number of students guided toward careers in engineering or sciences because these careers are practical.  Those offering advice need to remember that advice should be practical enough to help students realize that the most practical thing is getting both a job and a livable paycheck.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Musing About Jargon and Lies

The Interwebs are a wonderful place.  I get to write this blog and read The Madville Times or Front Porch Republic or learn that I should have retired last year because "all teachers and staff [in the Yankton School District over age 52, when they retire they get a bonus of 75 percent of their annual salary"

Of course the Web does have some limitations.  For example the The Madville Times and Front Porch Republic are blogs written by reliable individuals who give opinions and use facts to buttress their arguments.  That statement about retirement bonuses is at best a factual error; at worst, it's a blatant lie designed to inflame public opinion.  Because evidence suggests that person who wrote the non-factual statement won't accept the truth, I won't go into details unless commenters ask for them

What the Web needs is a BS detector that automatically corrects errors. I haven't found an app for that, but I did find two sites to help me deal with jargon.  The first, Unsuck-it gives common definitions for business jargon.  For example, "realize negative gains" means "accept losses," and a "dog's breakfast" is "a mess."

Although jargon frequently hinders communication, but inside organizations, jargon may "help coordinate activities efficiently."  I was, therefore, extremely excited to discover the Educational Jargon Generator.  Now I can fill out my lesson plans with phrases like "extend outcome-based infrastructures" or "morph mastery-focused synergies" or evolve literature-based networks."  I can hardly wait to write my lesson plans next week.

The Jargon Generator also helped me find a term for the lie that I linked to above.  The statement is an effort to "iterate impactful manipulatives."

Will They Be in Foxholes?

Steven Prothero, author of God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run The World, lists Atheism as a religion.  The other seven are Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba Religion, Judaism

Prothero is not alone in his belief that Atheism is a religon.  According to a New York Times article, "groups representing atheists and secular humanists are pushing for the appointment of one of their own to the chaplaincy, hoping to give voice to what they say is a large — and largely underground — population of nonbelievers in the military."

The article quotes Jason Torpy, a former Army captain who is president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers,as saying “Humanism fills the same role for atheists that Christianity does for Christians and Judaism does for Jews,” . . . “It answers questions of ultimate concern; it directs our values.”

According to the Times, "Defense Department statistics show that about 9,400 of the nation’s 1.4 million active-duty military personnel identify themselves as atheists or agnostics, making them a larger subpopulation than Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists in the military."  I would guess the military has more Atheists than it has followers of Confucius or the Yoruba Religion as well.Christians are apparently overrepresented in the chaplain corps; "Christians represent about one million, or 70 percent, of all active-duty troops. They are even more dominant among the chaplain corps: about 90 percent of the 3,045 active duty chaplains are Christians, most of them Protestants."

Given that religious areas of the country seem to exhibit a stronger support for the military than some of the more secular regions, I wonder the reaction to this suggestion will be

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Of Opt Outs and Belief Systems

Chris Mooney examines “The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science” in Mother Jones.  Mooney illustrates that people who hold strong views on a subject whether it be climate change, creationism, the existence of WMD in Iraq prior to the Gulf War, or vaccine-autism link will refuse to change their minds when confronted with conclusive evidence that opposes their belief.  Others use Mooney’s article to show how “Truthers, Triggers, Birthers” have trouble accepting facts that confront their preferred conspiracy theory.  All of these examples reveal “. . . . head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever.”  Later in his article, Mooney writes that people resist “correction in a variety of ways, either by coming up with counterarguments or by simply being unmovable.”  He uses the following example:
Interviewer: [T]he September 11 Commission found no link between Saddam and 9/11, and this is what President Bush said. Do you have any comments on either of those?
Respondent: Well, I bet they say that the Commission didn't have any proof of it but I guess we still can have our opinions and feel that way even though they say that.
The responses to the Yankton School Districts proposed opt out seem to parallel Mooney’s findings.  For example, twenty-two positions have been cut, but this letter to editor in the Yankton Press & Dakotan asserts, “The kids will still get a quality education and most of the teachers that were laid off will be called back regardless of how this vote turns out. I believe that anyone who tells you otherwise is just flat out wrong.”
There seems to be little difference between the letter writer’s assertion and Mooney’s example of a person who clung to the belief that Saddam possessed WMD.
This letter writer quotes the YSD Opt Out FAQ page about the administration building and other capital outlay expenditures before concluding, “What does building a new bus barn, shop and administration building have to do with handicap accessibility? Honestly, we voters of this school district are much too bright to fall for this nonsense.”  This letter seems to blend resistance with a hint of a small conspiracy theory; school officials are deliberately lying about previous building expenditures.  Writing in Slate, David Weigel asserts,
. . . . modern-day political conspiracy theories may actually be comforting: They assume that our political leaders are hyper-competent. They've developed, then covered up, Rube Goldberg designs to get what they want and maintain their power. This is no small achievement. If, on the other hand, the conspiracy theorists are wrong, well, that means the world is random, and the people who wield power or influence can screw up like everyone else. No one wants to believe that.
Mooney also finds that when “we think we're reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing.”  That may be the case with this correspondent who claims,
This opt-out is not $4.2 million; it is $42 million. I do not care how much they scream they won’t use it all; I have my doubts. I have yet to see any government or quasi-government agency turn down money. . . . .
I believe if the School Board would have come out and said, “We are taking a big hit, lets do a $1.5-2 million opt-out for 2 to 3 years to get over the hump,” no one would have blinked an eye. But $42 million?
Near the end of the article, Mooney writes,
The upshot: All we can currently bank on is the fact that we all have blinders in some situations. The question then becomes: What can be done to counteract human nature itself?
We all have blinders in some situations. The question then becomes: What can be done to counteract human nature?  Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn't trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.
Mooney concludes, “In other words, paradoxically, you don't lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.”
Therein lies the rub.  How does one enunciate a value that doesn’t elicit “a defensive, emotional response”?  The situation is charged with phrases like “emotional blackmail” and “detention-room administrators” and the ever popular “for the kids.”  All concerned are appealing to values, so it’s hard to see how the facts will ever have a fighting chance.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Quotation of the Decade

From a Businessweek article, "[Jeff] Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google (GOOG), and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. 'The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,' he says. 'That sucks.'"

Friday, April 22, 2011

I'm Shocked That The Country Agrees with Me

From a New York Times poll
Given the choice of cutting military, Social Security or Medicare spending as a way to reduce the overall budget, 45 percent chose military cuts, compared with those to Social Security (17 percent) or Medicare (21 percent.)
I often worry that Americans really want to keep engaging in foreign adventures and would prefer that the Department of Defense be renamed the Department of Permanent War.  These results give me hope that we will return to the idea of a robust defense but leave the empire building to the French and English.

Light Posting Announcement

Mrs. Plainsman and I will be returning to the Plains soon.  Out motorized Conestoga doesn't have internet access.

More Evidence of Good Results of Free Time Reading

Read the whole article, but the lead paragraph sums it up well:
Of all the free-time activities teenagers do, such as playing computer games, cooking, playing sports, going to the cinema or theatre, visiting a museum, hanging out with their girlfriend or boyfriend, reading is the only activity that appears to help them secure a good job
I think reading is valuable without this added benefit, but for all the pragmatists, it's just one more reason to have literature classes or the so called fluff classes like a science fiction class or a mystery and detective fiction class.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is Kristi Noem Under the Influence of the Lobbying Industry?

I wanted this blog to be a Noem and Palin free zone.  I really did, but this Washington Post article got me angry.
Among the Republican freshmen with big PAC receipts were Reps. Diane Black (Tenn.) with $178,000, Nan A.S. Hayworth (N.Y.) with $170,000 and Kristi L. Noem (S.D.) with $169,000.
Noem scheduled at least 10 Washington fundraisers in the first quarter, according to invitations compiled by the Sunlight Foundation. An e-mail obtained by the foundation included nine events, including a pizza lunch and two dinners asking for a $1,500-$2,000 donation from attendees. A Noem spokesman declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Stivers.
How many South Dakotans paid to eat pizza with Representative Noem?   How may South Daktoans have $1500 to eat dinner with her?  How is this upholding a vow to shake up Washington?  What's the difference between this shake up and a shake down?

The article notes that this fundraising is not unique to Republicans.
Overall, fundraising among the large GOP freshman class is below the average raised by new Democratic members in the first quarters of 2007 and 2009, after elections when liberals won big gains in Congress. Two years ago, Democratic freshmen raised $287,000 on average, while the figure this year for the new GOP lawmakers was $176,000.
Let's be clear; the your guy is more corrupt than my girl defense isn't really a defense.  Someone who robs 9 banks is not a law abiding citizen just because someone else robbed 10 banks.  Being under the corporate influence is wrong for both Democrats and Republicans.  Both are equally guilty of putting money ahead of constituents.  It's sad but not surprising to see Noem at the front of the gravy train even though she promised to be a new breed of politician

Failures of Multitasking

I frequently vent about multitasking, so I'm surprised that I have only one post that reveals that frustration.  There's no time like the present to correct an error.  Kevin Drum of Mother Jones contends that multitasking ruins one's brain.

Drum begins by quoting an email sent by a "professor friend" of his who begins by making a complaint that I share: "Fully half of my 60 person general physics class this semester sits in the back of the room on either phone or laptop. They're not taking notes. The good ones are working on assignments for other classes (as if being present in mine causes the information to enter their pores). The bad are giggling at Facebook comments."  I teach in a high school that attempts to ban cell phones in the classroom, but students think they should be allowed to do homework for other classes in my class.  I guess I should be flattered that think that I have the omnipotence to force them to learn by just being in my presence.

Drum then quotes a Frontline interview of Stanford psychologist Clifford Nass.
What did you expect when you started these experiments? 

Each of the three researchers on this project thought that ... high multitaskers [would be] great at something, although each of us bet on a different thing. 

I bet on filtering. I thought, those guys are going to be experts at getting rid of irrelevancy. My second colleague, Eyal Ophir, thought it was going to be the ability to switch from one task to another. And the third of us looked at a third task that we're not running today, which has to do with keeping memory neatly organized. So we each had our own bets, but we all bet high multitaskers were going to be stars at something. 

And what did you find out? 

We were absolutely shocked. We all lost our bets. It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They're terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they're terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organized; and they're terrible at switching from one task to another.
 Let's review; Research says that "multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking."  Surely, multitaskers must be able to discover that fact.  Alas, Nass reports,
One would think that if people were bad at multitasking, they would stop. However, when we talk with the multitaskers, they seem to think they're great at it and seem totally unfazed and totally able to do more and more and more. We worry about it, because as people become more and more multitaskers, as more and more people -- not just young kids, which we're seeing a great deal of, but even in the workplace, people being forced to multitask, we worry that it may be creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.
Nass goes on to show what gets lost as people lose the ablility to think well.
Some things that we know get lost are, first of all, anytime you switch from one task to another, there's something called the "task switch cost," which basically, imagine, is I've got to turn off this part of the brain and turn on this part of the brain. And it's not free; it takes time. So one thing that you lose is time.

A second thing you lose is when you're looking at unrelated things, our brains are built to relate things, so we have to work very, very hard when we go from one thing to another, going: "No, not the same! Not the same! Stop it! Stop it!" It's why people who aren't multitaskers, like me, often experience when we're typing and someone walks up and starts talking with you -- you've probably had this -- you start typing their words and go, "Ah, what happened?" And that's because your brain loves to mix. So we're spending a lot of time trying to beat down this combining brain we have. ...

At the end of the day, it seems like it's affecting things like ability to remember long term, ability to handle analytic reasoning, ability to switch properly, etc., if this stuff is, again, ... trained rather than inborn. If it's inborn, what we're losing is the ability to do a lot of things that we're doing. We're doing things much, much poorer and less efficiently in time. So it's actually costing us time.

One of the biggest delusions we hear from students is, "I do five things at once because I don't have time to do them one at a time." And that turns out to be false. That is to say, they would actually be quicker if they did one thing, then the next thing, then the next. It may not be as fun, but they'd be more efficient.
Multitasking costs more than time, long term memory, and efficiency.  Nass concludes with a reminder of what Americans used to find important and have now lost.  "One of the biggest points here I think is, when I grew up, the greatest gift you could give someone was attention, and the best way to insult someone was to ignore them. ... The greatest gift was attention. Well, if we're in a society where the notion of attention as important is breaking apart, what now is the relationship glue between us?"

Some Thoughts on Anger and Betrayal

Yesterday, conservative blogger David Frum opined,
Americans who feel robbed and duped by the series of financial and economic disappointments and disasters from the dot-com bubble onward are boiling with rage against their financial and political leadership. Conservative Americans express that rage in terms learned from talk radio and Fox News. But the fact that these conservative voters express their rage by talking about “debt” and “taxes” does not mean that they want what K Street wants: a Ryan budget that cuts spending on people like them to finance tax cuts for people much richer than them. They are just using familiar words to express a new and unfamiliar emotion of betrayal and resentment.[emphasis mine]
I want to examine the bolded sentence a bit.

First, if these feelings are "new and unfamiliar" what took these conservatives so long?  If they are social conservatives, Republicans have been using them with promises of overturning the Roe decision for decades.  For at least six years of the Bush administration, Republicans controlled all of the levers of government and they delivered nothing.  If these aggrieved people are libertarians, the alleged PATRIOT Act and its assault on civil liberties should have sent them over the edge nearly a decade ago.  The only conservatives who should be happy with the Republicans are the richest 1% represented by K street.

Second, why is the "betrayal and resentment" not being turned on those who betrayed them?  Ron Paul has been a more consistent deficit hawk and spokesperson for civil liberties than most.  Most Republicans who have served 3 or 4 terms in the House or 2 terms in the Senate have drunk deeply from the K Street Kool-Aid.  Yet the conservatives' anger seems to be turned against Democrats.  Let me add here that Democrats bear their share of blame.  The Plainsman wishes a pox on both houses.

Finally, and I admit that I should be a better person but I can't resist, the fact conservatives are expressing their "rage in terms learned from talk radio and Fox News" illustrates that one gets what one pays for.  Both Fox and talk radio choose to appeal to the lowest common denominator and enrage rather than enlighten.  Both reject nuance and logic while spreading propaganda and logical fallacies.

As one who thinks the Hulk is an acceptable role model,  I have nothing against anger.  Anger, however, must be directed at the proper target.  Even the Bible instructs one:  "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath" (Ephesians 4:26 KJV).  The first step in avoiding sin probably is directing the anger at the proper target.

More About Talking or Not Talking

Writing as a guest on the Answer Sheet, Diana Senechal echoes a Plainsman point shared by the Madville Times and  asserts that "public education needs public discussion."
Public education needs public discussion. We need forums where the information is laid bare and where arguments rest on their merits. For instance, any learning software should be available for public scrutiny. Anyone should be allowed to test it thoroughly and even examine its code. The same should hold for value-added models and anything else affecting instruction and school policy. We should be as faithful as elephants, meaning what we say, saying what we mean, remembering what we said before, and knowing what we’re talking about to begin with.
“That’s naive,” someone might object. “If you made these matters public, people would just clam up or bust. The issues are too volatile, too delicate. As for the products you mention, nothing would be gained from public discussion of them. They’re too complicated—who’s going to sit down and make sense of that code? And why are you lumping these things together—social networking and private products and elephants?”
The imaginary person has a point—well, three. Yes, education policy requires skilled negotiation. Yes, software and other education products may take a while to figure out. And yes, these are somewhat separate matters. But we still need words whose meaning does not elude us. We need ideas that can be questioned by anyone willing to take the trouble. And we need to insist on knowing what goes on in the schools—so that information does not cede to rumor and brochures, nor open dialogue to glib pitches, nor grounded ideas to costly and nebulous plans.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New Melody Same Tired Lyrics

A friend emailed me this Michael Dirda review of John Armstrong's In Search of Civilization. Dirda's review contained two inspiring paragraphs.
To be civilized, Armstrong argues — with a nod toward Matthew Arnold’s influential essay “Culture and Anarchy” — each of us should strive to become our best self. This requires us to be attentive to ends rather than means. Cellphones, he observes, may allow us “to communicate more often, to take more photographs, to locate restaurants; but these resources do not automatically help us reach the ‘ends’ they ideally serve: good conversation, deep relationships, convivial evenings, the appreciation of beauty.” Whatever “the cross-currents of fashion,” we need to bear in mind those goals in life that truly matter.

Thus Armstrong doesn’t deride cellphones or any other aspect of technology, but he does emphasize that “civilization is material prosperity plus something else. The character of that something else is to do with inner life: the prosperity of the soul.” What matters is that an increase in material comfort be accompanied by a corresponding expansion in spiritual growth, by the nurturing and diffusion of “wisdom, kindness and taste.” To many, Armstrong admits, these three words will sound old-fashioned and elitist. But they shouldn’t. The real task of art and intelligence is “to shape and direct our longings, to show us what is noble and important.” Rather than happiness, per se, civilization should promote what Armstrong calls “flourishing,” a sense of personal “satisfaction grounded in character and action."
For a few hours I foolishly allowed myself to bask in the idea that educators actually help students become civilized.  We help students see technology as a tool and recognize that “civilization is material prosperity plus something else" and that one needs an "inner life: the prosperity of the soul." Literature and history help everyone attain this prosperity when students are exposed to the "'wisdom, kindness and taste'" of great thinkers from the classical to modern eras.

As Dirda notes, many will find Armstrong old-fashioned and out of fashion.  By 5 pm, I encountered such a person.  Following a tweet by @KealeySDPB, I was able to hear Kealey Bultena's interview with South Dakota's Secretary of the Department of Education Melody Schopp.  It takes Schopp approximately 20 seconds to reduce education to "an economic focus" and about 40 seconds to tell the audience that schools need to focus on STEM.  In what may go down as a gaff, an honest statement that shouldn't have been said, Schopp says that the budget crisis "is what it is" and will probably be "this way for a long time."

Let's be clear; schools need to prepare students for a job; therefore, we need to help students master higher level math and science.  That fact doesn't mean that students don't need critical thinking skills, writing skills, and abstract thinking while on the job.

Even though job preparation is important, work occupies 40 hours a week.  During the rest of the week, people eat, sleep, raise children, hopefully perform their civic duties, or engage in recreational activities.  I seriously doubt anyone with a "flourishing" life claims that the best part of the week is the 40 hours at work.  I also seriously doubt STEM will help anyone become wise, kind, or cultivated enough to flourish because STEM by its very nature focuses on ends rather than means.  It also focuses on the material not the "plus something else."  STEM isn't concerned with civilization, it's concerned with technology, a byproduct of civilization.

Finally, Schopp's admission that the budget crisis will be here a long time means that South Dakota will keep trying the same old economic development plans that rarely work.  People who want to disparage intellectuals used define an intellectual a person who thought ideas are more important than people. This sort of accusation is often made against philosophers or literature professors.  If the accusation is true, intellectuals are not nice people.

On the other hand, STEM is not even a person; it's a theory that has become a dangerous end unto itself. Wendell Berry reminds us
STEM’s definition of humanity includes no suggestion of reverence or neighborliness or stewardship. Instead, people are encouraged to think of themselves as individuals, self-interested and greedy by nature, violent by economic predestination, and members of nothing except their careers. The lives of these “autonomous” individuals will be “successful” insofar as they subserve the purposes of the corporate-political powers, who will regard them merely as consumers, votes, and units of “human capital.”
Berry also offers a bit of light at the end of the tunnel or at least a path of resistance that may preserve civilization and the values that many South Dakotans claim they hold.
. . . .you will have to refuse certain assumptions that the proponents of STEM and the predestinarians of the global economy wish you to take for granted.
You will have to avoid thinking of yourselves as employable minds equipped with a few digits useful for pushing buttons. You will have to recover for yourselves the old understanding that you are whole beings inextricably and mysteriously compounded of minds and bodies.
You will have to understand that the logic of success is radically different from the logic of vocation. The logic of what our society means by “success” supposedly leads you ever upward to any higher-paying job that can be done sitting down. The logic of vocation holds that there is an indispensable justice, to yourself and to others, in doing well the work that you are “called” or prepared by your talents to do.

Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me

According to USA Today, economists aren't worried about inflation even though the consumer price index rose 2.7% last month.  Economists might not be worried, but I am. The article lists "13 items that cost more" or will become more expensive in the near future.

I'll run through the 13 items and predict the impact on my life.  The scale will range from no impact, through minor misery, then to gloom, before reaching despair, and finally agony. For information about the scale, see below.

1. Airfare--I don't fly much but I want to get my kids home from college for a visit  Gas prices make driving more prohibitive, I guess I'll have to live with video chats.  Rating:  Gloom

2. Chocolate--I eat candy, but I can do without it if I have to.  The problem is that all snacks will probably become more expensive; see below.  Rating: Minor Misery

3. Coffee--I can't get through the day without coffee right now.  My pocketbook or my emotional well being are going to suffer.  Rating: Despair

4. Fast Food--I don't go out much, but I will grab stuff from the dollar menus.  I expect those offerings to shrink. Rating: Minor Misery

5. Fruits and Vegetables:  I don't know what vegetables are, but apples, oranges, bananas are necessary items, especially if one is going to forgo snacks like chocolate.  Rating:  Despair

6. Furniture: I can sleep on the floor and use pillows for cushions to lean against the wall. Ok, my wife won't let me do that, but I don't need to by any furniture right now. Rating:  No Impact

7. Gasoline: We South Dakotans have to drive everywhere.  In this state, mass transit is what happens when Lutherans become Catholics or vice versa.  Rating: Agony

8. Household Products:  Let's look at the list:  "[d]iapers, soap, toilet paper, toothpaste, trash bags."  In short, anything that's necessary to keep the house in order is on that list.  Rating: Agony

9. Insurance:  'Nuff said.  Rating: Agony

10. Juice:  I only drink orange juice when I'm sick.  Rating: No Impact

11. Packaged Foods:  "Among those announcing price hikes: B&G Foods, maker of fruit spread, canned goods and sauces; ConAgra Foods, whose brands include Banquet, Chef Boyardee, Healthy Choice and Peter Pan; General Mills, maker of Nature Valley snack bars and Cheerios cereal; H.J. Heinz, world’s largest ketchup maker; Kellogg, which makes Frosted Flakes, Pop Tarts and other foods; spice maker McCormick; and Sara Lee, the maker of frozen desserts, Hillshire Farms lunchmeat and Senseo coffee."

They're raising prices on Pop Tarts, the bastards! I'll admit that I don't need Pop Tarts, but combined with the increased prices for chocolate, fruit, and fast food, the cumulative effect will shrink the pocket book. Rating: Despair

12. Soft Drinks:  They're taking my coffee and my soda!  If I'm not drinking coffee to survive the day, I'm relying on Diet Dew to keep myself artificially stimulated. I could switch this rating with the coffee rating, but the combined effect has to be taken into consideration here. Rating:  Agony

13:  Tires:  See the gasoline comments.  Rating: Despair

It's going to be a long summer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Where Do South Dakota Bloggers Write?

Big boy blogger Andrew Sullivan published a post with a picture of his "blog cave."  I'm not going to post a picture of myself on the internet because I might break it.  My mother always told me "you break it; you buy it.:  I can't afford a new battery for my laptop, so I think the internet is out of my price range.

Now that that digression is over, I'm curious how and where South Dakota bloggers write their posts and work their blogging around their real jobs.  Is there a specific time of the day that people feel more productive?  How may posts at a sitting?

I'm tied to the living room table.  I prefer the morning but teaching means that I write a couple of posts each evening and schedule one to post in the morning.  I try to generate ideas during the day so that I can get posts written quickly and start correcting homework. 

That's it, kinda boring. Comments are open.

Stuff I Wish I Had Written About Facts And Philosphy

Political debates often get heated.  One reason is that people believe facts speak for themselves.  Writing at Front Porch Republic, John Medaille writes,
The problem, however, is that there are no such things as “naked facts,” only details. “Facts” are the details we select because we believe they will be useful for some purpose, such as constructing a theory. We might compare the construction of a theory to the making of a map. Any map of necessity leaves out more than it includes, but the details selected as “facts” depend entirely on the purpose of the map. That is, a road map will have one set of facts, while a political map another set and a topological map a third, and only the selected details will count as “facts” for the purpose of the map; everything else will be irrelevant detail, to be excluded.

In the same way, the creation of theories involves a selection of details that one believes will be useful in constructing the theory. Further, this process must be, by definition, pre-theoretical; that is, the researcher starts with his own beliefs, his values, in selecting the details that will count as facts. For example, a statement like, “Unemployment stands at 8.9%,” certainly sounds “scientific” in the “value-neutral” sense, but it turns out that it involves value judgments at every step of the process: what is to count as “unemployement,” how it is to be counted, who will be included in the count, what will be considered the final terms, etc., are all value-laden—and political—decisions.

In other words, we must have some purpose in mind before we decide which details will count as facts; the facts do not create the theory, the theory creates the facts. As in the case of the map, it is the theory that discriminates between “facts” and “irrelevant details.”
Medaille's last paragraph points out why Republicans and Democrats, or tea partiers and progressives, or policy debaters and Lincoln-Douglas debaters can't get along.  They don't share the same theories, so they can't agree on what facts are relevant.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My New Debate Flowing Method And Judging Paradigm

Via Joe Carter who got it from Marginal Revolution who got it from Leiter Reports who got it from Landon Schurtz of Oklahoma, I present my new flowing method and judging paradigm.  I believe this method will eliminate any need to have oral comments at the conclusion of a round.

A Modest Proposal--Can Americans Stop Being Stupid And Just Get Along

Representative Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican wants to declare the first weekend of May "Ten Commandments Weekend" in order "to recognize the significant contributions the Ten Commandments have made in shaping the principles, institutions, and national character of the United States."

Perhaps, Gohmert  like Patrick J. Deneen believes, "Our return to a distinctively modern form of paganism is nearly complete."

it seems far more likely that this resolution could very well make it to the floor for a vote and maybe even father still."  Moore hopes for a day "when members of Congress finally come out and clearly state that we are 'One nation under God, A Christian God, Period. Amen.' instead of slowly creeping over to the microphone every few months to whisper it in our ears."  Chris Rodda also worries that the resolution will pass and goes through the resolution and gives some historical perspective.

I don't know if Moore and Rodda support "a Seattle school approved . . .'hunt' for round objects containing sweets and surprises on the condition that they be called “Spring Spheres."  If they do, I'm positive Moore, Rodda, and the teacher who tried to eliminate the use of the term "Easter egg" don't want to endorse ANY religion and tried to avoid using the term because the Easter has its roots in the worship of a pagan goddess.
Old English Ēostre (also Ēastre) and Old High German Ôstarâ are the names of a putative Germanic goddess whose Anglo-Saxon month, Ēostur-monath (Old English "Ēostre month"), has given its name to the festival of Easter. Eostre is attested only by Bede, in his 8th century work De temporum ratione, where he states that Ēostur-monath was the equivalent to the month of April, and that feasts held in her honour during Ēostur-monath had died out by the time of his writing, replaced by the "Paschal month". The possibility of a Common Germanic goddess called *Austrōn- was examined in detail in 19th century Germanic philology, by Jacob Grimm and others, without coming to a definite conclusion.
Linguists have identified the goddess as a Germanic form of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn, *Hausos, some scholars have debated whether or not Eostre is an invention of Bede's, and theories connecting Eostre with records of Germanic Easter customs (including hares and eggs) have been proposed.
On the other hand, I'm a bit surprised any Republican supports the 10 Commandments.  That injunction: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, . . .nor any thing that is thy neighbour's" might alter Americans' materialistic attitudes and hurt the country's economic recovery (Exodus 20:17).

Maybe I'm projecting a bit here.  A 10 Commandments weekend might interfere with plans to hang out with @coralhei and observe "a Plato weekend."  Of course, I, selfishly might want to take some time celebrate Free Comic Book Day and watch The Kentucky Derby.  The first weekend in May is crowded with activities.

Of course, there's nothing in the 10 Commandments forbidding Plato, comic books, or horse racing.  Unfortunately, the commandments have no prohibitions against willful ignorance either.  As Deneen reminds us, "[t]he old paganism had the virtue of openness to Christian truth – the new paganism aims at destroying even that openness."

In an effort to promote a little openness and honest communication, I have the following modest proposal.  Let's not have have a 10 Commandments weekend.  The Republic has survived without it.  Let's keep calling those eggs kids look for every spring Easter Eggs.  Heck, let schools have kids get outside and look for Easter eggs.  Our Democracy seems to have checks so Americans won't start worshiping a pagan goddess, even thought Neil Gaiman's American Gods makes worshiping her sound like fun.  I don't think the jelly beans inside the eggs have the magic powers to make anyone a Christian either.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Some Cognative Dissonance on Boredom

The Atlantic has posted a Special Report:  How Genius Works.  Tim Burton writes,
“I don’t sit down and try to draw a character. I attempt to reserve some time each day for myself to sit and do nothing—stare off into space or doodle or whatever--just be in my own head. That time is very precious for me, and sometimes the characters will strike me in these quiet moments.”
Novelist T.C. Boyle claims,
In the old days, the days of this artifact, I would have retyped this page during the following day’s work, incorporating the changes you see here and feeling my way. When the novel was completed, I would make additional notes and then type a clean final draft. In the case of The Tortilla Curtain, which weighs in at 355 finished pages, this process would have occupied the better part of a month (producing, along the way, countless eraser shreds and dribbles of Wite-Out). Now I’m able to accomplish the same thing in three or four days.

Still, there was a pleasant rhythm to those hard-typing times, during which I would neatly stack up 10 to 12 finished pages daily, the whole business accumulating in a very satisfying way before I headed off to stroll through the woods or quaff a drink or two at the local bar. It was restful. Contemplative. Deeply satisfying. And let me tell you—and this is no small consideration—back then, I had the strongest fingers in the world.
 Meanwhile, Google chairman Erick Schmidt claims,
"You're never lonely, you're never lost, you're never bored, and you're never out of ideas," Schmidt said. "It's all because of our ability to understand what you care about, get relevant information to the devices you carry around, and use supercomputers in the cloud to process all that data."  (HT @coralhei)
Schmidt seems to be saying that "never bored" means that one will never be "contemplative" or "sit and do nothing—stare off into space."  People might have have plenty of "relevant information" and they may never be "out of ideas," but I'm not sure that they will be creative.

Writing in Slate, Matt Feeney asserts "defending boredom seems stern and unsympathetic, like a Depression-born mom impatient with her complaining children" before asserting,
But the depression-era parent urged a kind of stoicism, bearing-up against fake or minor suffering as a moral lesson of childhood. For today's middle-agers, relishing the image of a teenager thrown into fidgets by a dead cellphone, boredom is not merely fake suffering. It's important in its own right, a state of latent fertility. It leads to creativity. The contemporary defender of boredom is not a stoic. She's a graying humanist, the martinet as art teacher.
Feeney does a good job of making boring sound, well, boring albeit necessary.  It's the necessary element that I find most important.  Every day I hear a student say "reading is boring." By extension,they are implying that boredom is something to be avoided at all costs.  Roger Ebert looks at that fact and is as frightened as I am.  He's a bit more poetic, however.
I learn that he average American teenager spends 17 minutes a weekend in voluntary reading. Surely that statistic is wrong. Do they mean reading of "serious" novels? I would certainly count science fiction, graphic novels, vampires, Harry Potter, newspapers, magazines, blogs--anything. Just to read for yourself for pleasure is the point. Dickens will come later, Henry James perhaps never.
At the end of the day, some authors will endure and most, including some very good ones, will not. Why do I think reading is important? It is such an effective medium between mind and mind. We think largely in words. A medium made only of words doesn't impose the barrier of any other medium. It is naked and unprotected communication. That's how you get pregnant. May you always be so.
The best times to read are when one is "bored," "lonely" and "lost," at least metaphorically.  It's those times that make one open to true communication and great ideas.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Why Atlas Shrugged When Jesus Died

Big Boy Blogger Andrew Sullivan posted this entry last Friday.  Cut and pasted in its entirety, I think it's worth far more as a Sunday morning sermon, especially in an era when Christians have let themselves be uses as pawns of the economic elites.  All I can add to Mr. Sullivan's post and the post he links to is a loud Amen!

Ayn Rand vs Jesus Christ

It's not an easy co-existence, Mr Gingrich. Some contrasts:

“Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter.”

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith,” - I Timothy 6:10.

Or this:

“It is one’s own personal selfish happiness that one seeks, earns, and derives from love.”
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Or this:

“I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

It is possible to read the Gospels as entirely a personal and not political message, and certainly not view Christianity as a short route to socialism. But it is impossible even in one's personal life to be a Christian and to be a Randian. The whole point of the Gospels is that Rand's value system leads to profound misery and spiritual loss. And the whole point of Rand is that Nietzsche was onto something.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sometimes I'm Glad Certain Students Sleep in Class

According to the Manchester Union Leader, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum apparently fell asleep in some of his literature classes.  Fortunately, a current student did not.
Santorum by and large stayed on message but was tripped up a bit when a student asked him if he knew that the choice of his slogan, "Fighting to make America America again," was borrowed from the "pro-union poem by the gay poet Langston Hughes."
"No I had nothing to do with that," Santorum said. "I didn't know that. And the folks who worked on that slogan for me didn't inform me that it came from that, if it in fact came from that."
The student, whose name was not immediately available, was referring to the poem "Let America Be America Again." When asked a short time later what the campaign slogan meant to him, Santorum said, "well, I'm not too sure that's my campaign slogan, I think it's on a web site."
It was also printed on the campaign literature handed out before the speech.
A cursory reading of a few stanzas show that an uber capitalist like Santorum might not want people reading the poem and thinking about its theme and images.
. . . .

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!
. . . .
Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!. . . .
At a time when Republican governors are trying limit bargaining rights and the top 1% control as much wealth as the bottom 50% lines like "shot down when we strike" or "who live like leeches on the people's lives" don't really toe to the Republican line. I know some on the Right want to take back America, but I'm not sure they want to take it back in the way Hughes meant.

Of course it's not the first time that a Republican heard poetic lines or patriotic sentiment and missed the underlying irony.  Ronald Reagan tried to use Bruce Springsteen and "Born in the USA!" as part of the 1984 campaign.  The song's lyrics don't fit what Reagan wanted to say.

Of course, it may have been the speech writer who didn't know what CNN reminded us of in a 2004 article.
But look deeper, and there was another dimension to "Born in the U.S.A." The song was the ferocious cry of an unemployed Vietnam veteran.
"Down in the shadow of the penitentiary/Out by the gas fires of the refinery/I'm 10 years burning down the road/Nowhere to run ain't got nowhere to go," Springsteen sang in a working-class howl.
In 1984, Reagan was able to get away with confusing the public, although the Boss was not amused.
"I think people have a need to feel good about the country they live in," he later told Rolling Stone. "But what's happening, I think, is that that need -- which is a good thing -- is getting manipulated and exploited. You see in the Reagan election ads on TV, you know, 'It's morning in America,' and you say, 'Well, it's not morning in Pittsburgh.' "
This time around, Santorum got caught much earlier misappropriating art for his own ends.  Let's hope that he and others who want to "take America back" learn a bit from Hughes's wisdom.

More Stuff I Wish I Had Written

From Diane Senechal writing at The Core Knowledge Blog
What do teachers “produce”? If there is free will, they produce nothing. They teach, inspire, and encourage their students; they demand the best of their students; and they point to many possibilities, through the subject matter and their own examples. They help students reach a point where they can support themselves and do something they enjoy. But it is the student who takes off and does it—often making choices that confound the teachers and parents. That is how it should be. Otherwise, for all our fanfare over the Future, we would be trapped in an eternal Industrial Age, with teachers turning out remote-control dolls.

Who Decides Which Gamblers Are Arrested?

The government is going after the three largest poker sites in the country.
Eleven executives at PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker and a number of their affiliates were charged with bank fraud and money laundering in an indictment unsealed in a Manhattan court. Two of the defendants were arrested on Friday morning in Utah and Nevada. Federal agents are searching for the others.

Millions play online poker and watch televised tournaments despite the fact that "[i]n 2006 Congress passed a law curtailing online gambling. Most of the leading sites found ways to work around the law, but prosecutors allege that in doing so they broke the law."

Government officials allege, “These defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits,”

No one is for fraud, and those who benefit from millions of dollars in illegal profits should be prosecuted.  Still if the government can prosecute 11 people who ran allegedly illegal gambling sites why can't they arrest and prosecute those whose gambling caused the banking crisis that caused the worst economic crisis since the great depression?  Apparently, failing to prosecute these individuals is unique and risky.

But several years after the financial crisis, which was caused in large part by reckless lending and excessive risk taking by major financial institutions, no senior executives have been charged or imprisoned, and a collective government effort has not emerged. This stands in stark contrast to the failure of many savings and loan institutions in the late 1980s. In the wake of that debacle, special government task forces referred 1,100 cases to prosecutors, resulting in more than 800 bank officials going to jail. Among the best-known: Charles H. Keating Jr., of Lincoln Savings and Loan in Arizona, and David Paul, of Centrust Bank in Florida.

Former prosecutors, lawyers, bankers and mortgage employees say that investigators and regulators ignored past lessons about how to crack financial fraud.
I guess if something's too big to fail it's also to big to prosecute; he only time to safely "go all in" is if one can bring down the whole house.

Some Stolen Wisdom about Motivation

Writing a guest post on The Answer Sheet, Larry Ferlazzo points out
One of the lessons community organizers learn is that you might be able to threaten, cajole, badger, or bribe someone to do something over the short-term, but getting someone to do something beyond a very, very short timeframe is a radically different story. Organizers believe that you cannot really motivate anybody else. However, you can help people discover what they can use to motivate themselves.

This is very similar to what Edward Deci, one of the premier researchers and authorities on intrinsic motivation, wrote: “The proper question is not, ‘how can people motivate others?’ but rather, “how can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?”

When we are trying to motivate students—often unsuccessfully—the energy is coming from us. When we help students discover their own motivation, and challenge them to act on it, more of the energy is coming from them.
Ferlazzo is a fine example of a Romantic.  He conveniently forgets that many voters now consider community organizing an evil occupation that is only a little lower that pimp.  His minor memory error does not prevent him from making a wonderful point about the goal of education.  That reminder is needed during a week that has NCLB testing as its focus.

Years ago, a volunteer leader in one of our community groups (I had a 19-year career as an organizer prior to becoming a teacher) was comparing two organizers with whom she had worked. She learned a lot of information from Ralph, she said. “But Johnny taught me how to think.”

Perhaps if we’re able to keep some of these concepts in mind, our students will describe us more like Johnny than like Ralph. And perhaps they’ll say we also helped them light their own fires.
I pray that I can get a few students to think this year.

Justice May Not Be Blind but It Might Be Hungry

Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science points to a study that shows that prisoners will have a better chance of parole if the judge has a full stomach.
. . . .prisoners will be successfully paroled start off fairly high at around 65% and quickly plummet to nothing over a few hours. After the judges have returned from their breaks, the odds abruptly climb back up to 65%, before resuming their downward slide. A prisoner’s fate could hinge upon the point in the day when their case is heard.

These rulings were made by eight Jewish-Israeli judges, with an average of 22 years of judging behind them. Their verdicts represented 40% of all parole requests in the country during the ten months. Every day, each judge considers between 14 and 35 cases, spending around 6 minutes on each decision. They take two food breaks that divide their day into three sessions. All of these details, from the decision to the times of the breaks, are duly recorded.
If trained professionals can adversely affected by hunger or blood sugar or whatever causes these results, what factors influence the classroom?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Pox on Both Your Houses

Writing in Salon, Allyssa Battistoni points out,
Jamelle Bouie writes, "vanishingly few elected Republicans are interested in anything approaching egalitarianism, but a non-trivial number of Democrats support deep spending cuts and oppose tax increases"?

A study by Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels provides some insight. Bartels found that senators are "very responsive" to the views of the wealthiest third of their constituents, "somewhat responsive" to the middle third, and not responsive at all to the third with the lowest incomes (to the extent that the opinions of the wealthiest constituents can outweigh senators' party affiliations in determining their voting records). It's true that Republicans are nearly twice as attentive as Democrats to the preferences of the wealthy, but both parties are equally indifferent to the opinions of their lower-income constituents. [emphasis mine]
It's horrible that both parties seem willing to sell out their principles to serve the rich but that fact explains why banks got to big to fail and why no one has been prosecuted for actions the nearly destroyed the economy.

Bartels' study has some even more depressing details.  For example, "These results provide surprisingly strong and consistent evidence that the biases I have identified in senators’ responsiveness to rich and poor constituents are not primarily due to differences between rich and poor constituents in turnout, political knowledge, or contacting" (28).  In short, the poor and middle class are underserved because they are poor not because they don't vote or make an effort to contact a senator.

Bartel's results are brought into sharp contrast when Battistoni points out "relatively well-off people who believe the government favors the poor."

The irony and the facts lead a clear conclusion that Battistoni effectively points out.
. . . in unequal societies, "social insurance is perceived as redistributing income over the population, rather than across time." In European countries, which have much lower income inequality and largely depend on broad-based tax systems, people expect to utilize the services they're funding at some point; in America, people think they're writing checks to some deadbeat. . . .
Funding social programs largely through high taxes on high earners isn't a problem because higher taxes are inefficient, job-killing or unfair, as conservatives often claim. It's a problem because, with money and power concentrated the way they are now, the functioning of the government is essentially dependent on the acquiescence of the rich to higher taxes.
I don't want huge government or huge taxes.  I think both are dangerous.  In fact, the only thing that I think is more dangerous is the current situation that gives the rich control of both the economy and the political system.  We're seeing the result of that control and will soon have to live without the social safety net that has been available since 1965.