Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Number Of Students Needing A Free Lunch Rises

I don't think the following paragraphs from this NY Times article need much commentary unless one believes that school lunches are a plot to get poor people who support the New World Order.
Millions of American schoolchildren are receiving free or low-cost meals for the first time as their parents, many once solidly middle class, have lost jobs or homes during the economic crisis, qualifying their families for the decades-old safety-net program.

The number of students receiving subsidized lunches rose to 21 million last school year from 18 million in 2006-7, a 17 percent increase, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data from the Department of Agriculture, which administers the meals program. Eleven states, including Florida, Nevada, New Jersey and Tennessee, had four-year increases of 25 percent or more, huge shifts in a vast program long characterized by incremental growth.
 According to this accompanying piece, South Dakota has seen a 5% in those receiving free or reduced school lunches.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bad Ideas From Good Sources

The Atlantic has published a list of bad ideas that "good companies" promulgated.  The list includes some obvious suspects:  Windows Vista, New Coke, and Ford's Edsel.

It also includes a few things that I had forgotten about like Google Wave and McDonalds Arch Deluxe, although whether the Arch Deluxe was a worse idea than the McFeast may be debatable.

Several items surprised me because I had never heard of them:  Coors Water anyone?  Harley Davidson cologne?  After all, oil and motorcycle exhaust seem to be scents everyone should sport.

Of course, this list is for the private sector.  I'm not sure if anything tops NCLB or the decision to invade Iraq to search for non-existent weapons of mass destruction.  I think I'd live on McFeasts and Coors Water if I could find a way to undo those really bad ideas.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

If Gingrich Had Written The Union Leader Endorsement

The Republican endorsement game has started to heat up.  Earlier this week, John Thune endorsed Mitt Romney.  Today, the Manchester Union Leader endorsed Newt Gingrich.  The New Hampshire publication, famous for its conservative stances, writes,
America is at a crucial crossroads. It is not going to be enough to merely replace Barack Obama next year. We are in critical need of the innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing.
He did so with the Contract with America. He did it in bringing in the first Republican House in 40 years and by forging balanced budgets and even a surplus despite the political challenge of dealing with a Democratic President. A lot of candidates say they're going to improve Washington. Newt Gingrich has actually done that, and in this race he offers the best shot of doing it again.
The editorial concludes,
We don't have to agree with them on every issue. We would rather back someone with whom we may sometimes disagree than one who tells us what he thinks we want to hear.
Newt Gingrich is by no means the perfect candidate. But Republican primary voters too often make the mistake of preferring an unattainable ideal to the best candidate who is actually running. In this incredibly important election, that candidate is Newt Gingrich. He has the experience, the leadership qualities and the vision to lead this country in these trying times. He is worthy of your support on January 10.
I'm sure that Gingrich is thankful for the endorsement, but I believe he would have preferred something stronger than the faint praise of the last paragraphs.  Perhaps, he would have preferred that his campaign write the endorsement.   He certainly has staffers capable of writing some purple prose.

Perhaps Lithgow will be able to reprise this performance at the Republican convention.

Stuff I Wish I Had Written: Wisdom And Education Edition

From this John Spencer post,
Schools are designed for the acquisition of knowledge. Occasionally we move from measurable knowledge to immeasurable knowledge. However, when I think of what's missing, it often fits into the general sense of wisdom: a recognition of mortality, a deeper questioning of existence and identity, philosophical conversation, an expansion of one's worldview, ethical thinking, a chance to serve the community, a better understanding of relationships, opportunities to experience the world rather than simply read about it.

Sometimes it's as simple as an analog clock. Other times it's a mural or a garden or a hard conversation about death when one of your schoolmates dies from an asthma attack. Sometimes it's a simple Socratic discussion. Other times it's a different way of reading a novel.

It's not that I'm against knowledge. I'm not advocating that schools abandon the Quadratic Formula or throw away the copies of Shakespeare. Wisdom is an expansion of knowledge. It's that second step of guiding knowledge toward thinking well about life or being empathetic or learning to love. It's an embrace of why does this matter? rather than simply how will this be tested?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The More Things Change. . .

Jonathan Bernstein stumbles across this little nugget from 1988.
I’ve been going through George H.W. Bush’s 1988 convention acceptance speech for another project, and came across a couple of fun items.
First, one of the great rhetorical tricks…of course, this was a lot fresher then than it is when they use it now:
But let’s be frank. Things aren’t perfect in this country. There are people who haven’t tasted the fruits of the expansion. I’ve talked to farmers about the bills they can’t pay. I’ve been to the factories that feel the strain of change. I’ve seen the urban children who play amidst the shattered glass and shattered lives. And there are the homeless. And you know, it doesn’t do any good to debate endlessly which policy mistake of the ‘70’s is responsible. They’re there. We have to help them.
First, as Bernsteiin notes, "It’s 1988, and there are, inexplicably, things still wrong in the nation despite eight years of Ronald Reagan…so which policy mistake of the 1970s was responsible? Cute."  Republicans are still running against Bill Clinton and forgetting the eight years that lead to the 2008 financial meltdown.

On the other hand, I'm surprised that I had forgotten that Republican candidates formerly blamed poverty on policies not people suffering its effects.  Cain, Gingrich et al would do well to research the recent history of their party's standard bearers.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Plains Pops: Scary Predictions Edition

From a New York Times Op-Ed about so-called superfluous workers.
In fact, if modern capitalism continues to eliminate as many jobs as it creates — or more jobs than it creates — future recoveries will not only add to the amount of surplus labor but will turn a growing proportion of workers into superfluous ones.
I don't want to become superfluous, but this article claims that a second Mayan reference to December 21, 2012, so I may not have to worry about that fate too much.
Mexico's archaeology institute downplays theories that the ancient Mayas predicted some sort of apocalypse would occur in 2012, but on Thursday it acknowledged that a second reference to the date exists on a carved fragment found at a southern Mexico ruin site.
Most experts had cited only one surviving reference to the date in Mayan glyphs, a stone tablet from the Tortuguero site in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco.
But the National Institute of Anthropology and History said in a statement that there is in fact another apparent reference to the date at the nearby Comalcalco ruin. The inscription is on the carved or molded face of a brick. Comalcalco is unusual among Mayan temples in that it was constructed of bricks.
 On the positive note, the article concludes,
The institute repeated Thursday that "western messianic thought has twisted the cosmovision of ancient civilizations like the Maya."
The institute's experts say the Mayas saw time as a series of cycles that began and ended with regularity, but with nothing apocalyptic at the end of a given cycle.
Given the strength of Internet rumors about impending disaster in 2012, the institute is organizing a special round table of 60 Mayan experts next week at the archaeological site of Palenque, in southern Mexico, to "dispel some of the doubts about the end of one era and the beginning of another, in the Mayan Long Count calendar."
 From the LA Times, the nation's longest war may never end:
Marine Gen. John R. Allen, who took command in Afghanistan last summer, wants 1,700 more military personnel — mid-level officers and senior enlisted troops leading hundreds of new advisor teams to be assigned beginning next year to Afghan units battling the Taliban insurgency, the officials said.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What Did Thune Get For His Endorsement?

John Thune, South Dakota's conservative poster boy, recently endorsed Mitt Romney, the Republican conservatives love to hate.  South Dakota War College posts videos of the endorsement and Fox News commentary.  Neither the post nor the commentary ask what should be the obvious question, why would a rising conservative star risk his standing with conservatives to endorse Romney whose poll numbers never seem to top 25%?  George Will even contends that Romney is a Republican Dukakis.

Perhaps I'm a perpetual cynic, but no politician does something for nothing, so I'm left with the question:  What did Thune gain for risking his status as a conservative's conservative?

One option is a cabinet spot such as Agriculture or Interior, but those spots seem like a step down for a "rising star."  I don't think Thune has the chops for Defense or State, so the most logical bet is that Romney offered to consider him for Veep, but Thune brings only 3 electoral votes, and I think Romney would prefer to get someone who can help him win Ohio, Pennsylvania or Florida.

On the surface, it looks as if Thune is putting a lot on the line.  Unless there was some sort of quid pro quo, this endorsement seems to be a huge gamble with little potential reward.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Orwell In The News And Blogosphere

I must have missed the memo that one of my favorite 20th Century authors has reached 21st Century prophet status.  Maybe the memo just declared November is national Orwell month.

First I read this Dr. Newquist post that reminds readers
A fundamental premise of Orwell's work is that the meaning of words is determined by their accrued history,  Accumulated human experience is stored in the language.  An emphasis in Orwell's work is that language used honestly, accurately, and skillfully is requisite to a healthy political climate.
Given the Republican debates, this reminder is certainly useful.

Then I stumbled upon this Conor Friedersdorf piece that uses" Shooting an Elephant" to analyze the pepper spraying of a  University of California Occupy Wall Street protester.

Then there's this ABA Journal article that reports that Orwell earned mention in legal arguments in the case of United States v. Jones.
George Orwell’s novel 1984 and its Big Brother society got several mentions as Supreme Court justices considered Tuesday whether police can use a GPS device to track suspects without getting a warrant. . . .
Justice Stephen G. Breyer told Dreeben that if the government wins the case, “then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States.” Breyer added that it “sounds like 1984.”
Finally, the BBC reports,
Though perhaps more famous for novels like 1984 and Animal Farm, Orwell was also a superb essayist and journalist.
In an article written for the London Evening Standard in 1946, he produced a detailed description of his ideal watering-hole, The Moon Under Water, which "is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights".
 JD Weatherspoons, a British pub chain is trying to use Orwell's criteria to create a perfect pub.  I'm not an expert in British pubs but I do like one criterion.
Jethro Scotcher-Littlechild, believes he has found the ideal formula. "The quality of the ale's got to be right, I think good food and we like people to be talking in the bar. We don't have any music," he says
"The art of conversation's what you need in a good British pub."
Orwell would have concurred with the ban on music. "In the Moon Under Water it is always quiet enough to talk," he wrote. "The house possesses neither a radio nor a piano, and even on Christmas Eve and such occasions the singing that happens is of a decorous kind."

Holiday Nostalgia

The best Thanksgiving line of all times comes from this classic WKRP in Cincinnati episode:

I just finished a unit on metaphors, so I'm probably seeing metaphors in everything, but it does strike me that this line applies to nearly every politician running for office right now; none of them can fly.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Holiday Conundrum

I don't get out much.  On Thanksgiving, I will probably have to converse with other human beings. I will be able to hold my own in a conversation that involves what's happening during the football games.  I could discuss a little about politics or religion, but those topics are not supposed to be avoided during holiday celebrations

If I am surrounded by those who are not football fans, I will be in trouble.  Right now my life revovles around work, comic books, and a neurotic cat.  My father frequently reminded me that it is far better to have people think one a fool than it is to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.  Given my available conversation topics, I think I'll fake a case of strep throat.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kodachrome And Floppy Disks: A Minor Musing

I don't think I'm a Luddite, but this paragraph from Roger Ebert strikes me as an important reminder that some of our technological advancements and reliance on electronic storage may have an unintended consequence.
Speaking of my fears, I have a final one. Film on celluloid has proven remarkably resilient. Not long ago, invaluable missing footage from Lang's "Metropolis" was found surviving very nicely in Argentina. If we had the missing reel from "Magnificent Ambersons," we could watch it together tonight. How long will the digital file of a new movie survive and be readable? I have memory discs of pretty much everything I've ever written on a computer, but have no idea what format they were created in or how to read them. I also have carbon copies of everything I wrote for the Sun-Times from 1966 until around 1977, when we got computers in the newsroom. I made them on my typewriter. You remember those.
I'm in the same boat; I have 5 1/4 floppy disks in a cupboard in my room, and I have some 3 1/2 floppies lying in various desk drawers along with a zip disk or two.  I don't have a single machine that can read the older, larger disks, and I'd be hard pressed to find a working computer that can read the more recently created smaller disks.  I don't even know if the word processor that I used to type my M.A. thesis still works.

Maybe none of these concerns bother members of the Facebook generation, but to those of use who grew up with "Kodachrome," either the film or the song, the situation seems a bit sad.
When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school

It's a wonder I can think at all

And though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none

I can read the writing on the wall

They give us those nice bright colors

Give us the greens of summers

Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah

I got a Nikon camera

I love to take a photograph

So mama don't take my Kodachrome away
If you took all the girls I knew when I was single

And brought 'em all together for one night

I know they'd never match my sweet imagination

And everything looks worse in black and white

They give us those nice bright colors

They give us the greens of summers

Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah

I got a Nikon camera

I love to take a photograph

So mama don't take my Kodachrome away
Mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Mama don't take my Kodachrome

Mama don't take my Kodachrome

Mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Mama don't take my Kodachrome

Leave your boy so far from home

Mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Mama don't take my Kodachrome

Mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Another Scary Stat Alert

Twenty percent of us might eventually suffer from dementia according to this IO9 post.
Hearing loss is the kind of ailment that sneaks up on you over time — many people don't even recognize that it's happening). New research shows that its long-term consequences could include dementia. And now, it turns out that hearing loss is far more pervasive than anyone realized.
According to a study published in yesterday's Archives of Internal Medicine over 20% of Americans over the age of 12 suffer from hearing loss in at least one ear — that's about twice as high as previous estimates. As many as 1 in 8 may suffer from hearing loss in both ears.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No Wonder I Can't Keep Students Awake

Seriously, myths are full of sex and violence.  High school students live for sex and violence, but there are days when the most grotesque details still put the young'uns to sleep while reading.  This Argus Leader story points to a reason.
A government report shows residents here sleep less than their neighbors, creating a health risk that hurts performance at work and school, specialists said. . . . .
South Dakota is in the second-worst group among the five. People here report getting inadequate sleep 11.5 to 13 nights every month, or more than one-third of the time. Iowa is in the middle group in the report. Minnesota, Montana and Wyoming are above average. North Dakota and Nebraska are in the best group.
The article indicates that it's unclear why South Dakotans sleep less than their neighbors.
Less clear is why South Dakota stands out. Dr. David Thomas at Sanford Health said long hours of winter darkness can lead to seasonal affected disorder that would disrupt sleep. The state has many single parents, people working two jobs and farmers working long days.
Those conditions should affect North Dakotans and Minnesotans more, however.  I suppose one reason that South Dakotans sleep less than their neighbors is that more of them work two jobs.  Worrying about money and work seems to disrupt my sleep patterns more than anything else, even a neurotic cat.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Today, I'm Thankful For Jon Huntsman And Ron Paul

I was traveling home with high school debaters while the Republican presidential candidates were engaging in an activity that confuses sound bites with cogent argument.  Conor Friedersdorf reports that I have reasons to respect two of the participants in the most recent cliche fest.

First, Jon Huntsman took a solid stand for the American values I grew up with and spoke out against torture.  Friedersdorf writes, 
Jon Huntsman made the most eloquent case against waterboarding.
"This country has values," he said. "We have a name brand in the world... I've been an ambassador for my country three times. I've lived overseas and done business. We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project that include liberty and democracy, human rights and open markets when we torture. We should not torture. Water-boarding is torture. We dilute ourselves down like a whole lot of other countries and we lose our ability to project values that a lot of people in a lot of corners of the world are still relying on the United States to stand up for." 
Friedersdorf also reports that Paul took a stand against the American government sanctioning the assassination of one of its citizens.
Ron Paul was the savior on this issue. 
"We're at war against a tactic and therefore there's no limit to it," he said, condemning Obama's assassinations. "We create these monstrosities and we do things outside the law... You want to live within the law. And obey the law. Because otherwise it's going to be very bad for all of us. And this whole idea that now we can be assassinated by somebody we don't even like to run our medical care, they're giving this power to the president to be the prosecutor, the executor, the judge and the jury." As Adam Serwer mused on Twitter, "Paul remark goes at heart of contradiction of modern conservatism: Government is only infallible when it kills people."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Contrasting A Person Who Thinks With One Who Doesn't

Cruising around the interwebs, I came across some prime examples of each person.  Representing the non-thinkers, Michele Bachmann,
"The ‘Great Society’ has not worked and it’s put us into the modern welfare state,” she said. “If you look at China, they don’t have food stamps. If you look at China, they’re in a very different situation. They save for their own retirement security…They don’t have the modern welfare state and China’s growing. And so what I would do is look at the programs that LBJ gave us with the Great Society and they’d be gone.”
Bachmann's analysis, of course, ignores the fact that China's command and control economy makes Johnson's Great Society look positively libertarian by contrast.  Then there's the minor problem that China doesn't seem to have any political ideals that square with either democratic or republican principles.

Representing the thinkers, a person who seems to have anticipated Ms. Bachmann's lack of thought, G.K.Chesterton.  In an essay entitled What's Wrong With The World, Chesterton writes,
Therefore there has arisen in modern life a literary fashion devoting itself to the romance of business, to great demigods of greed and to fairyland of finance. This popular philosophy is utterly despotic and anti-democratic; this fashion is the flower of that Caesarism against which I am concerned to protest. The ideal millionaire is strong in the possession of a brain of steel. The fact that the real millionaire is rather more often strong in the possession of a head of wood, does not alter the spirit and trend of the idolatry. The essential argument is "Specialists must be despots; men must be specialists. You cannot have equality in a soap factory; so you cannot have it anywhere. You cannot have comradeship in a wheat corner; so you cannot have it at all. We must have commercial civilization; therefore we must destroy democracy." I know that plutocrats have seldom sufficient fancy to soar to such examples as soap or wheat. They generally confine themselves, with fine freshness of mind, to a comparison between the state and a ship. One anti-democratic writer remarked that he would not like to sail in a vessel in which the cabin-boy had an equal vote with the captain. It might easily be urged in answer that many a ship (the Victoria, for instance) was sunk because an admiral gave an order which a cabin-boy could see was wrong. But this is a debating reply; the essential fallacy is both deeper and simpler. The elementary fact is that we were all born in a state; we were not all born on a ship;. . . . But we live and die in the vessel of the state; and if we cannot find freedom camaraderie and the popular element in the state, we cannot find it at all. And the modern doctrine of commercial despotism means that we shall not find it at all. Our specialist trades in their highly civilized state cannot (it says) be run without the whole brutal business of bossing and sacking, "too old at forty" and all the rest of the filth.
Of course if one is seeking to be the nominee of  a political party that has devoted " itself to the romance of business, to great demigods of greed and to fairyland of finance," it's easy to see why one would be willing to overlook despotism, commercial or otherwise.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

High School Debate Topics In The News

Sometimes there ls no escape.  I got home from the Sioux Falls Washington Warrior Debate Tournament at 8:50 pm.

I started  surfing the interwebs on my phone and found this article about  exploration on Mars.  Then I found this link about the Electoral College's unpopularity.

I guess finding those the article and the post created a moral obligation to share them.

Of course, I could be sharing them just to get a post finished before midnight.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Educational Jargon Alert

On this Answer Sheet post, Roxanna Elden takes on a some of the jargony catch phrases beloved by reformers of all stripes and educational reformers in particular.  Her list of most annoying catch phrases:
"We know what works!"
This line promises a great sigh of relief to the non-teaching public: Now that we finally figured out what works in education, all we have to do is get teachers to do it! Then we can move onto fixing healthcare and jumpstarting the economy!
"Demographics don't determine destiny! (You lazy racist!)"
No one really says the part in parenthesis. It would ruin the alliteration. However, the line above suggests those who disagree with the speaker are insisting that demographics DO determine destiny — and presumably think it's not worth working hard to teach poor, minority students. This phrase sets off alarm bells for teachers, who know that while demographics don't "determine destiny," they don't tell the whole story, either. Kids from similar demographics or neighborhoods aren't necessarily similar kids.
"Measurable results"
Some information in education lends itself to accurate measurement. In other cases, measurements can be counterproductive. For example, pushing for improvements in "discipline numbers" encourages schools to let behavior problems slide rather than processing discipline referrals. It's also no secret among teachers that the obsession with test scores often forces schools to do things that are bad for kids. This is especially true during "crunch time," the unspecified period leading up to a high-stakes test.
"If grocery stores were run like public schools..."
This is supposed to be an argument about how introducing market-based competition in education encourages innovation and leads to better opportunity, especially for low-income families. If kids and families are treated as consumers, the thinking goes, they will have the buying power to demand a quality education. . . . It is also worth noting that businesses aren't run for the benefit of consumers. They are run for profit, and many businesses make their biggest profit on people who don't read the fine print.
"We need transformational change!"
Bashing the status quo is so 2010. This year, the issue is transformational, disruptive change (cue applause) vs. incremental change (eeewwww). In 2011, reformers delivering gleeful knockout punches to anyone who disagrees with them have drowned out their more reasonable colleagues. This leaves teachers uneasy. After all, history (and the history of education, according to Rick's most recent book) is filled with examples showing that good ideas, taken to extremes, become bad ideas, and that change can bring unintended consequences.
This is a great list, and the whole article is worth a read.

On a snarky note, I need a about 10 more do make a decent Buzzword Bingo card for the next in-service or to prepare for the cookie-cutting competition that SDDOE has in store for teachers

Comments are now open for other buzzwords to add to the list.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Living Well In Four Steps???

James Altucher offers the following four steps to be happy and successful or the luckiest guy on the planet.  I like the balanced approach, but I am always skeptical of anything that's boiled down to 4 easy steps.  He does of course have a lot of sub-sets.


A)     Physical – being in shape. Doing some form of exercise. In 2003 I woke up at 5am every day and from 5-6am I played “Round the World” on a basketball court overlooking the Hudson River. Every day (except when it rained). Trains would pass and people at 5:30am would wave to me out the window. Now, I try to do yoga every day. But its hard. All you need to do, minimally, is exercise enough to break a sweat for 10 minutes. So about 20-30 minutes worth of exercise a day. This is not to get “ripped” or “shredded”. But just to be healthy. You can’t be happy if you aren’t healthy. Also, spending this time helps your mind better deal with its daily anxieties. If you can breathe easy when your body is in pain then its easier to breathe during difficult situations. Here’s other things that are a part of this but a little bit harder:
  1.     Wake up by 4-5am every day.
  2.     Go to sleep by 8:30-9. (Good to sleep 8 hours a night!)
  3.     No eating after 5:30pm. Can’t be happy if indigested at night.
B) Emotional– If someone is a drag on me, I cut them out. If someone lifts me up, I bring them closer. Nobody is sacred here. When the plane is going down, put the oxygen mask on your face first. Family, friends, people I love – I always try to be there for them and help. But I don’t get close to anyone bringing me down. This rule can’t be broken. Energy leaks out of you if someone is draining you. And I never owe anyone an explanation. Explaining is draining.

Another important rule: always be honest. Its fun. Nobody is honest anymore and people are afraid of it. Try being honest for a day (without being hurtful). Its amazing where the boundaries are of how honest one can be. Its much bigger than I thought. A corollary of this is: I never do anything I don’t want to do. Like I NEVER go to weddings.

C)      Mental – Every day I write down ideas. I write down so many ideas that it hurts my head to come up with one more. Then I try to write down five more. The other day I tried to write 100 alternatives kids can do other than go to college. I wrote down eight, which I wrote about here. I couldn’t come up with anymore. Then the next day I came up with another 40. It definitely stretched my head. No ideas today? Memorize all the legal 2 letter words for Scrabble. Translate the Tao Te Ching into Spanish. Need ideas for lists of ideas? Come up with 30 separate chapters for an “autobiography”. Try to think of 10 businesses you can start from home (and be realistic how you can execute them)? Give me 10 ideas of directions this blog can go in.  Think of 20 ways Obama can improve the country. List every productive thing you did yesterday (this improves memory also and gives you ideas for today).

The “idea muscle” atrophies within days if you don’t use it. Just like walking. If you don’t use your legs for a week, they atrophy. You need to exercise the idea muscle. It takes about 3-6 months to build up once it atrophies. Trust me on this.

D)  Spiritual. I feel that most people don’t like the word “spiritual”. They think it means “god”. Or “religion”. But it doesn’t.  I don’t know what it means actually. But I feel like I have a spiritual practice when I do one of the following:

  1.  Pray (doesn’t matter if I’m praying to a god or to dead people or to the sun or to a chair in front of me – it just means being thankful. And not taking all the credit, for just a few seconds of the day).
  2.  Meditate – Meditation for more than a few minutes is hard. It’s boring. Here I give tips for 60 second meditations. You can also meditate for 15 seconds by really visualizing what it would be like meditate for 60 minutes. Here’s a simple meditation: sit in a chair, keep the back straight, watch yourself breathe. If you get distracted, no problem. Just pull yourself back to your breath. Try it for 5 minutes. Then six.
  3.  Being grateful – I try to  think of everyone in my life I’m grateful for. Then I try to think of more people. Then more. Its hard.
  4.  Forgiving – I picture everyone who has done me wrong. I visualize gratefulness for them (but not pity).
  5.  Studying. If I read a spiritual text (doesn’t matter what it is: Bible, Tao Te Ching, anything Zen related, even inspirational self-help stuff, doesn’t matter) I tend to feel good. This is not as powerful as praying or meditating (it doesn’t train your mind to cut out the BS) but it still makes me feel good.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Melody Schopp Should Watch Chopped

I was nosing around the South Dakota Department of Education website and came across this page suggesting a "framework for teaching."  The framework comes from the work of Charlotte Danielson and has four domains and twenty-two components.

I have a few suggestions for Secretary of Education Melody Schopp.  First, keep the DOE's language simple and concise.  Instead of using wordy jargon like "framework," "domain," and "component"; use a simple clear adjective like "cookie-cutter."  Everyone will understand what South Dakota's Department of Education wants from teachers.

Second, read some Emerson.  Here are a three of my favorites from "Self-Reliance."
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. 
Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.
Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. 
I know that Emerson doesn't fit into Schopp's STEM-centric worldview, but Walt Whitman presents a simple challenge to any STEMmy cookie cutter.
When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
Something tells me that Schopp will get plenty of applause for mandating that teachers act in a cookie-cutter fashion.  Teachers, meanwhile, will get more sick and tired.

A careful reader might legitimately accuse me of mixing metaphors by using boring astronomers and kitchen utensils to make my point, so I'll return to the kitchen.   Schopp needs to watch Chopped.  Contemporary classrooms aren't like my mother's kitchen where everything was neat and orderly.  They're like the mystery basket that has canned tuna, blue cheese, cranberries, saltines, and a pork chop that need to be turned into a dessert in 30 minutes. 

On Chopped, the chefs combine the ingredients to the best of the their ability in the limited time.  They are judged on three broad criteria: taste, creativity, and appearance.  The judges actually cook for a living.  There's no room for cookie cutters on Chopped.

If Schopp were to watch Chopped, she might understand that the French Chef in the Black Hills and the rustic baker in the Southeast Corner will both do a better job with the mystery baskets that compose their classrooms if they are not hampered with the requirement to use a cookie cutter.

The Republican States Of America??

In a report that is sure break Cory Heidelberger's heart, Richard Florida asserts that the United States is becoming a more Republican nation.
Polling data by the Gallup Organization identifies the percentage of state voters who "lean Republican" or "lean Democratic," taking the partisan inclinations of self-declared political independents into account. Measured this way, Republican identification now tops 50 percent in six states: Utah (58 percent), Wyoming (57 percent), Idaho (56 percent), Kansas (50 percent), Nebraska (50 percent) and Alabama (50 percent). The number of states where 40 percent or more of voters lean Republican has doubled, rising from 17 in 2008 to 34 in 2011. In only one state, Hawaii, do less than 30 percent of voters lean Republican.
These changes seem to be tied to pessimism.
The percentage of Americans who say they lean Republican has increased in 47 of the 50 states, and it has grown by more than 5 percent in 20 of them. This shift has little to do with how Americans perceive the current condition of the economy. At bottom it reflects great cleavages of income, class, religion, and diversity that continue to divide Americans by state and region. Republicanism is most pronounced and is growing fastest among America's least well-off, most blue collar states with the bleakest futures. Democratic identification remains strongest in richer, better-educated, more-diverse, and more prosperous states. 
As someone who thinks the Murphy who coined Murphy's law was an optimist, I should be leaning Republican.  I obviously am not.

Florida's analysis also explains why South Dakota's political leaders seem to go out of their way to avoid attracting creative class jobs.
In a 180-degree shift from the great electoral realignment of the 1930s, the Republicans have increasingly become the party of blue-collar working class states. The transition to a knowledge-based economy has been spiky and uneven. De-industrialization and the consequent loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs has been concentrated in the Rustbelt; much of the Sunbelt has crashed along with its housing bubble. At the same time, the growth of knowledge and creative class jobs has been concentrated on the East and West Coasts and in college towns. Republican identification is highly positively associated with the percentage of the workforce in blue-collar occupations (.52, again up from 2008). Conversely, Republican affiliation is negatively associated with the proportion of the workforce engaged in knowledge-based and creative class work (-.39). Growing Republicanism reflects the highly uneven geography of work and class in America.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How Others See Us: We're Number 7 Edition

The Daily Beast ranks the top 20 politically active states.  South Dakota is number 7.

The Beast used the following criteria:
To find out, The Daily Beast combed the U.S. Census Bureau statistics on last year’s elections. We then ranked states based on the percentage of citizens who were registered to vote, and the percentage who actually voted. We also considered the average amount of individual donation ($200+) per citizen for the 2010 election cycle, according to the contribution tally maintained by, and each state’s citizen population.

For this list, exercising the right to vote was deemed the most potent form of engagement. Thus, the average percentage of voter turnout was weighted twice as much as the average percentage of voter registration, and four times as much as individual donations.
 North Dakota ranked 3rd; Minnesota came in 6; Montana was ranked 15, and Iowa came in at 11.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Founders And Occupy Wall Street

Writing at The Washington Monthly, Rick Ungar takes a few jabs at views that originalists like Antonin Scalia or John Roberts espouse, especially the view that corporations are people.  Ungar writes,
While we know that the Founders had contempt for these corporate entities and the corruption they produced in Parliament, it appears to have never occurred to them to directly address corporations when they wrote the Constitution. It is not particularly difficult to understand why this would be the case. The Constitution speaks to control of government by the people…for the people…and of the people. Why should it occur to the Founders that a corporation might ever be perceived as one of “the people”?
He goes on to remind readers:
After the nation’s founding, corporations were, as they are today, the result of charters granted by the state. However, unlike today, they were limited in how long they were permitted to exist (typically 20 or 30 years), only permitted to deal in one commodity, not permitted to own shares in other corporations, and their property holdings were expressly limited to what they needed to accomplish their specific, corporate business goals.
Put another way, every single investment bank on Wall Street, as we know it today, would have been illegal in the days of our founding. 
Of course corporations are now legally individuals, so what was illegal is now seen as "good business," especially when one wishes to buy political influence.  Ungar, however, concludes,

Despite the controls placed on corporations in the early days of our nation, as corporations grew larger and their shareholders wealthier, they began to influence the rule making process that governed corporations. Using the money they had accumulated, they began to chip away at corporate restrictions. Eventually, corporations were permitted to go on forever. Where shareholders had once been personally responsible for the actions of the corporation, contemporary corporations shield their owners from personal liability. And, as more money became involved, the politicians who regulated them grew were increasingly seduced by what the wealthy corporations could do for them.
Were they around today, our founders would not only be standing on the front lines of the Occupy Wall Street movement, they would likely be pursuing a far more strident strategy than playing some bongo drums in Zuccotti Park.
 I'm sure the Tea Party folk will be upset at the notion that they don't have sole claim to being on the side of God, angels, and the founders or that Occupy Wall Street has an equal claim to the founders' vision.  Were they a little more aware of the history they claim as their own, they would remember that the original tea party struck against tea owned by corporation sanctioned by crown and parliment.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

South Dakota Is Really Part Of Two Nations

It's not just East River or West River or Native Americans and European culture according to Colin Woodard, author of  American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.

Woodard places Eastern South Dakota in The Midlands.

Arguably the most “American” of the nations, the Midlands was founded by English Quakers on the shores of Delaware Bay. Pluralistic and organized around the middle class, the Midlands spawned the culture of Middle America and the Heartland, where ethnic and ideological purity have never been a priority, government has been seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and political opinion has been moderate, even apathetic. Long an ethnic mosaic, with people of German descent -- not Anglo-Saxons -- making up the largest group since the 1600s, the Midlands includes those who, like Yankees, believe society should be organized to benefit ordinary people, but they are skeptical of top-down government intervention, as many of their ancestors fled from European tyrannies. The Midlands is home to a dialect long considered “standard American,” a bellwether for national political attitudes and the key swing vote in every national debate from the abolition of slavery to the 2008 presidential contest.
From its cultural hearth in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware and Maryland, Midland culture spread through much of the heartland: central Ohio, Indiana and Illinois; northern Missouri; most of Iowa; and the less-arid eastern halves of South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. It shares the key border cities of Chicago (with Yankeedom) and St. Louis (with Greater Appalachia, a nation to be discussed in a later installment). It also has an important extension in southern Ontario, where many Midlanders emigrated after the American Revolution, forming the central core of English- speaking Canada. Although less concerned with its national identity, the Midlands is, nonetheless, an enormously influential moderating force in continental politics, as it agrees with only part of its neighbors’ strident agendas.
Woodard places West River in the Far West.
Climate and geography have shaped all the 11 nations to some extent, but the Far West is the only one where environmental factors have truly trumped ethnic ones. High, dry and remote, the interior West presented conditions so severe that they effectively destroyed would-be settlers who tried to apply the farming and lifestyle techniques they had used in Greater Appalachia, the Midlands and other nations. With minor exceptions, this vast region couldn’t be effectively colonized without the deployment of vast industrial resources: railroads, heavy mining equipment, ore smelters, dams and irrigation systems.
As a result, the colonization of much of the region was facilitated and directed by large corporations based in distant New York, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco, or by the federal government itself, which controlled much of the land.
Even if they didn’t work for one of the colonizing companies, settlers were dependent on the railroads for transportation to and from far-off markets and manufacturing centers. Seaboard nations treated the region as an internal colony, exploiting it for their benefit. And the region remains in a state of semi-dependency, despite significant industrialization during the World War II and the Cold War.
Its political class tends to revile the government for interfering in its affairs -- a stance that often aligns it with the Deep South -- while demanding that it continue to receive federal largesse. Yet the Far West rarely challenges its corporate masters, who retain near-Gilded Age levels of influence over the region.
Today, this nation encompasses all of the interior U.S. west of the 100th meridian, from the northern boundary of El Norte up to the southern frontier of First Nation. It includes northernArizona; the interiors of California, Washington and Oregon; much of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alaska; portions of the Yukon and the Northwest Territories; the arid western halves of the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas; and all or nearly all of Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. 
I'm assuming Woodard is unaware of the kuchen vs. kolache vs. lefse feuds that dominate the Dakotas or he would not have written off the power of ethnic disputes so blithely.

At the national level, Woodard contends that the regional divisions may be widening.
Rather, our divisions stem from this fact: the United States is a federation comprised of the whole or part of 11 regional nations, some of which truly do not see eye to eye with one another … Few have shown any indication that they are melting into some sort of unified American culture. On the contrary, since 1960 the fault lines between these nations have been growing wider, fueling culture wars, constitutional struggles, and ever more frequent pleas for unity.
The results of the political divisions is rather predictable.

The U.S. is wracked by internal discord between two blocs formed by seven of its 11 regional nations -- the conservative bloc that includes the Deep South, Tidewater and much of greater Appalachia, pitted against the more liberal alliance of Yankeedom, New Netherland, the Midlands and the Left Coast. Increasingly, through American history, the conflict between these two blocs has been driving the nation apart.
The country has been exhibiting the classic symptoms of an empire in decline. Kevin Phillips -- the political strategist who, back in 1969, used regional ethnography to accurately predict the ensuing 40 years of American political development - - has pointed out parallels with late imperial Holland and Britain. Like its superpower predecessors, the U.S. has built up a staggering trade deficit and sovereign debt while overreaching militarily. As financial services have come to account for a larger and larger share of national output, religious extremists have come to play a bigger and bigger role in political life.
 Woodard suggests adopting a Canadian mindset; that effort seems doomed to fail, so he offers important albeit vague suggestions for moving forward.

One thing is certain: If Americans want the U.S. to continue to exist in something like its current form, they will need to respect the fundamental tenets of our unlikely union. It can’t survive if we end the separation of church and state or ban the expression (or criticism) of offensive ideas. We won’t hold together if presidents appoint political ideologues to the Supreme Court, or if party loyalists try to win elections by trying to stop people from voting. The union can’t function if national coalitions continue to use House and Senate rules to prevent decision-making on important issues.
Other sovereign democratic states have central governments more dysfunctional than our own, but most can fall back on unifying elements we lack: common ethnicity, a shared religion or near-universal consensus on many fundamental political issues. Our constitutional order -- an arrangement negotiated among the regional cultures -- assumes and requires compromise in order to function at all.
And the U.S. needs its central government to function cleanly, openly and efficiently because it’s one of the few important things that bind us together.
 Woodard gives an overview of his 11 nations' analysis here, here, here, here, and here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sad Stat Of The Day

From this post,
One year at Princeton University: $37,000. One year at a New Jersey state prison: $44,000. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Is It Weird Enough: Old Age And Treachery Edition

Conor Friedersdorf writes one of the best ledes in recent memory.
Four Georgia men in their mid-sixties to early seventies were plotting a biological weapon attack on American cities including Atlanta, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Georgia.
I thought that people mellowed with age; apparently I was wrong. Friedersdorf seems surprised by the old folks' antics as well; he sardonically notes, "The advanced age of the alleged plotters is very unusual too."

Maybe this incident will prompt the educational establishment will rethink their emphasis on STEM. That science stuff produces domestic terrorists.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

People Agree With Me About Refusing To Take Herman Cain Seriously

I gave my view that Herman Cain should not be taken seriously here. Some big boy bloggers agree with me.

In The American Conservative,Rod Dreher writes,
Still, if you think about it, it says something bad about America that here we are, facing the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and looking at a future of crippling indebtedness unless our leaders take drastic action … and the top candidate for the Republican nomination a year from election day is a charming businessman with no political experience, who knows nothing about the world (and makes jokes about his own ignorance), and who is given over to camping it up on the campaign trail. If times were great, there would be serious reason to doubt whether America could afford a man like Herman Cain in the Oval Office. But times are terrible, and could easily get far worse. It’s really quite an indictment on the unseriousness of our country, or at least the conservative electorate, that Cain is at the top of the polls now.
Dreher shows that he's no pointy headed elitist when he continues,
I know too that the “best and the brightest” often screw up horrible. It was Kennedy and McNamara who got us into Vietnam. George W. Bush might not have been the second coming of Metternich, but his national security team was taken straight from the GOP foreign policy elite — and they gave us Iraq. Expertise does not guarantee wisdom. But that doesn’t mean the amateurism puts us on the side of the angels, either. You wouldn’t trust an amateur to spay your cat or to give you sound investment advice for your 401(K) — yet there are millions of Republians who think an avuncular amateur like Herman Cain would do a great job as president of the United States, or at least a better job than Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, or anybody else on offer who has actually worked in politics. I’m not thrilled with these choices either, but come on, what is wrong with us?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Maybe My Students Are On To Something, But...

According to this Lifehacker post, doodling may help "untangle" ones brain.
...sketching has a defined end point. Once you put the pen down, nothing jumps up on my monitor or flashes on my desk to tempt me to resume. By doing something nontechnical, it's very unlikely the break will stretch on for too long because once I'm done doodling, I'm not thinking about it at all. The inverse is also true, once I'm doodling my mind couldn't be farther from my daily work, which is more therapeutic than getting caught up in any digital distraction.
On the other hand, "doodling only works if you don't take it too seriously." Judging by the doodles in the margins of some of the notes my students take, students take doodling more seriously than they take notes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Good News About Debit Card Fees

From this Daily Beast post,
Score a point for enraged consumers. Bank of America dropped a plan to charge customers $5 monthly to use their debit cards, becoming the last major bank to ditch proposed debit card fees. "We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks," the bank's co-chief operating officer said in scrapping the plan, which had been met with widespread derision. Last week, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo both cancelled test runs of charging the new fees, and SunTrust Banks and others dropped fees and reimbursed customers. Banks devised the new fees to make up for lost revenue from debit card swipes