Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve Musings

I've never been one to do much celebrating on New Year's Eve, but as I get older, I appreciate the chance for new beginnings.  Hope springs eternal on the opening day of each sport's opening day.  (As a side note Major League Baseball's opening day should be a national holiday.)  Kids may lose their optimism quickly but most seem to relish the chance to start a new school year with a fresh start.

2011 started with a long winter followed by dreary local, statewide, and national political outcomes.  The usual distractions failed to provide solace (the Twins sucked.)  At a personal level, the year seemed to have more downs than ups.

Tomorrow is a chance to start over.  Here's hoping 2012 will be better.  Happy New Year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Twelve Predictions For 2012 (Part 2)

I posted my first six predictions here.

7. The Yankton School Board will pursue a second opt out.  The fact that the downtown Yankton post office is closing or has closed will be used as a reason to reject the opt out.

8. Trying to prove it's a real sport, NASCAR will have a work stoppage during 2012.

9. The San Diego ComicCon will have to be shut down when geeky fanboys and fangirls start a brawl during a session that has panelists discuss whether action movie sequels or Marvel/DC crossover events are more annoying.

10. The Republicans will select either Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity as the vice presidential nominee.  Rick Perry will take over as talk show host.  No one will notice any difference.

11. A group of Republican legislators will try to amend current civil rights law to gain minority status for the richest one percent of Americans.  Those sponsoring the legislation will seek protection for themselves as "irony challenged individuals of wealth."

12. Because each party has appropriated every President of the other party, political consultants will counsel candidates of both parties to claim the legacy of William Henry Harrison. In protest, Michael Beschloss and Doris Kearns Goodwin will refuse to do Sunday morning interview shows.

Quotation Of the Day: Politics As Cult Edition

From this John Avalon commentary at The Daily Beast:
At a time when our politics is looking like a cult, there is no tolerance for principled dissent. Dissent is disloyalty and punishable by either the threat of excommunication or electoral execution.
Descriptions of and discussions about the South Dakota version of the principle Avalon enunciates can be found here.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Conspiracy Hits Just Keep On Coming

South Dakota isn't quite as isolated as residents or comedians would like us to believe.  I've talked about local conspiracy theorists here, here, and here

Although he is writing about the national scene, Conor Friedersdorf could be talking about Steve Sibson and his fellow South Dakota conspiracy buffs.  Firedersdorf takes on both Ron Paul and the mainstream Republicans who criticize Paul's colorful worldview but promulgate their own equally preposterous theories.
. . . Rep. Paul's critics are on questionable ground when they write as if he alone among Republican Party members fails to confront -- or even leverages -- conspiracies in which his supporters believe, or that he is unique in consorting with conspiracy theorists. Alex Jones broadcasts some indefensible nonsense, from what little I've heard of his show. I've insufficient basis to compare it to other broadcasters I've listened to much more frequently, but I can say this: if Glenn Beck's show on Fox News was less nutty than the Alex Jones Show, as it may well have been, it nevertheless was rife with nutty conspiracy theories -- and lots of prominent conservatives were happy to appear on it. Sarah Palin, for one. Is that where she told us to fret about death panels? How many prominent conservatives slyly said that they hadn't personally examined Obama's birth certificate, and couldn't know for sure if he was born in the United States? How many conservative talk-radio hosts sold commemorative coins at a substantial markup because they're supposedly the last gold the government would confiscate?
How many election cycles has the conservative movement used the canard that reinstating the Fairness Doctrine was agenda item one for Democrats if they regained control of the government? How many Sean Hannity radio listeners think that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim? Haven't Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain all played on conspiratorial fears that we're on the verge of sharia law being implemented right here in America?
National Review employs as a national-security journalist a man who alleges that President Obama is allied with our Islamist enemies in a "Grand Jihad" against America, and Gingrich dissents from that theory only because he believes the Dinesh D'Souza thesis that it is actually Kenyan anti-colonialism that guides Obama's behavior. In some parts of the GOP, the theory of evolution and all climate science are also regarded as elaborate conspiracies. And don't get me started on Clinton-era conspiracy theories. The notion that this pathology is somehow unique to Paul or the libertarian wing of the Republican Party is flat-out indefensible.
Friedersdorf also provides several historical examples to illustrate the dangers ignoring verifiable wrongdoing while concentrating on shadows:
Governments, ours included, are frequently complicit in unthinkable acts, whether sanctioned from the top, like forcing water into the lungs of prisoners in secret CIA facilities, or perpetrated by rogue actors, like Abu Ghraib. Peruse the Church Report. Read about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Or if it's domestic matters that interest you, read Radley Balko's work on bite mark analysis.
In yet another example of someone writing something I want to say better than I can, Friedersdorf concludes,
We'll never be without conspiracy theories, but decreasing their presence and power in American politics would be a lot easier if the government would stop doing wildly controversial and corrupt things, often in secret, whether at home and abroad, on Wall Street, in the halls of Congress, or at the Fed. It would also be easier if Paul critics were as outraged by the conspiracy theories that are deeply ingrained in the conservative movement, and the subject of frequent pandering.
I suspect that one trip through The Madville Times comment sections tomorrow will prove the first sentence of the preceding paragraph prophetic

Gingrich As A Sandwich

I may have to take a road trip to the Coffee Works, a Sioux City coffee shop.  From this New York Times blog post about the campaign,
Newt Gingrich’s “jobs and growth” bus tour is visiting small businesses across Iowa to highlight the economic challenges of entrepreneurs, who the candidate argues will benefit from his calls to repeal “Obamacare,” the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law and onerous environmental mandates.
But not all small businesses are on board. As Mr. Gingrich entered the Coffee Works here Thursday morning, a chalkboard advertised a sandwich special, “The Newt: Ham (lots of it), American cheese, on White Bread. Price increase on this one!’’

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Noem One Of The Poorest Members Of Congress

At least financially.

According to this Washington Post slide show, Noem had net worth of -$111,996 in 2010.

The Republican Candidates and Superheroes

Andrew Sullivan posts this clip of a 9 year old New Hampshire boy asking Republican candidates which superhero they'd be.

Unsurprisingly, most of them named Superman.  Surprisingly, none of them mentioned that they wanted to be Superman because he stood for truth, justice, and the American way.  I have to hand it to Rick Santorum; he stays on his family values message when he discusses Mr. Incredible.

At the risk of being presumptuous, allow me to match superheroes with the candidates.

Mitt Romney is Plastic Man.  The name matches the candidate's smile and the power to stretch oneself matches Romney's ability to tie himself into knots as he tries to explain his rapidly evolving political positions.

Herman Cain should have selected Booster Gold.  Cain's candidacy was more of a book tour than a campaign; Gold is as much a huckster as he is a hero.

Lest I be accused of ignoring the Marvel Universe, Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, the Fantastic Four's scientist extraordinaire, should have been Jon Huntsman's choice.  Huntsman is the only Republican who accepts a scientific consensus on climate change.  At least he used to accept the scientific consensus.

Newt Gingrich and Tony Stark match up pretty well.  Stark, aka Iron Man, claims to be a futurist just like Gingrich claims to be an idea man.  Both have personal lives that have been shambles.

The only hero who matches Ron Paul's stand on the gold standard is The Lone Ranger who uses silver bullets.  They both have been linked to some questionable stances on race issues as well.

The Scarlet Witch can alter reality; Michele Bachmann wants to

Rick Santorum wants to be a first tier candidate, but he comes up short.  In that respect, he's just like Bucky Barnes who wants to be just like Captain America but doesn't quite measure up.

Finally, Rick Perry and the Thing both need to think things through a bit more than they do.  Sometimes a simple message isn't quite enough.

Yes, I have no life.  I am, however, married and do not live in my mother's basement.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Twelve Predictions For 2012 (Part 1)

1. Because Republicans seemingly don't want to nominate Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich or any other current candidate, Speaker of the House John Boehner will link all upcoming votes about raising the debt ceiling to a constitutional amendment allowing 21-year olds to serve as President.  A brokered Republican convention will then nominate Tim Tebow who will unite the Republican base with a campaign pledge to use Tebowing as an enhanced interrogation technique.

Tebow will narrowly lose to Barack Obama because the Supreme Court will reject Republican claims that a Mike Prater 59-yard field goal should count as electoral votes.

2. Justice Anthony Kennedy will become the first documented case of spontaneous human combustion when he bursts into flames while trying to decide which way to vote on health care reform cases brought before the Supreme Court.

3. Joe Biden will resign as Vice President.  Democrats will create a reality show combining the worst parts of Survivor, American Idol, and Jersey Shore to determine his replacement.  South Dakota state senator Frank Kloucek will be one of the contestants.

4. The NBC, CBS, and ABC television networks will merge.  No one will notice.

5. South Dakota Democrats will field no legislative candidates in 2012,  South Dakota Republicans will win every seat in the legislature and immediately complain of being a persecuted minority.

6. Eminem and Carrie Underwood will release an acoustic opera album featuring electric auto-harp accompaniment.

Monday, December 26, 2011

I May Watch Too Much TV

I don't think New Year's Resolutions work, but I may have to resolve to watch a little less TV.  I saw this picture of London's trains setting idle because drivers undertook a 24 hour strike,

I was disappointed, however, when I didn't see this version of an English train.

I suppose Thomas never sat idle.

The Conundrums Of Christmas

Christmas has always been a incongruous holiday.  It's the season when hope confronts cold. As winter begins we experience the longest nights; during Christmas those nights are lit up with often garish displays of light that fight back the darkness  During Christmas we celebrate a baby born of humble circumstances destined to have the
government . . . on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
That promise will be result in a crucifixion and an empty tomb.  At the risk of dramatically overstating the comparison, Christmas is about living well while knowing death is imminent.

Yesterday, the incongruity hit home.  I was a human jungle for my elementary school aged niece and nephews, and I read an email telling me that a friend from college had died.

This morning, the Christmas trees are still up; there are a few scraps of wrapping paper on the floor, and Skip Bayless is ranting in support of Tim Tebow on ESPN's First Take.

Death in the midst of life and life in the middle of death seems to be what Christmas is really about, a lot of hope during a season when fear and darkness dominate.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Nostaligia And Best Wishes For A Merry Christmas

I made my father play this 78 dozens of times every Christmas season,  Hearing the scratches from the old record makes the nostalgia hurt a bit more.

The flip side is equally awesome if one is of a certain age.

I'm sure it's probably politically incorrect for a German from Russia to use a Swede to offer holiday greetings, but I really don't care.  Merry Christmas!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

SD Education Leaders And School Funding

The SD Rushmore Political Action Committee trumpets that "Education Leaders Have Positive Outlook On Gov. Daugaard's Budget Proposal."  The post links to this article that contains the damning faint praise such as
“This budget puts South Dakota schools back on track to regular increases using the current formula in statute,” said Linda Whitney, Sanborn Central Superintendent of Schools. “After a tough year last year, we appreciate the Governor's commitment to a return to the funding formula.”
Let's parse that a bit.  Whitney doesn't say she's happy with the funding; she's just happy there won't be cuts and that the Governor intends to "return to the funding formula."

The article also contains these paragraphs:
Jason Selchert, President of South Dakota United Schools’ Association and Gayville-Volin superintendent of schools, affirmed his organization’s optimism for the FY13 budget.

“SDUSA is a group of 111 school districts and we support the premise of the budget. Our schools are committed to working with Governor Daugaard and the legislature to have a positive discussion about the future of education in South Dakota. This budget signals an interest from the Governor in having those discussions, and we hope the Governor and legislature will continue to work with schools in the future.”
Again, Selchert doesn't support the actual numbers; he supports "the premise of the budget" and expresses "hope the Governor and legislature will continue to work with schools in the future.”  Hope and support are not necessarily synonyms

Allow me to offer a visual of what the administrators are saying..

With all due respect the fine administrators of Gayville-Volin and Sanborn Central along with the 111 schools of the South Dakota United Schools Association, I'm certain that they represent fewer than half of the students in the state.  Without the stats in front of me, I'm guessing they represent approximately a third.  I'm certain that a consensus is not built on faint praise from leaders representing a third of the state's students.

The post continues,

why is South Dakota being sold on a TAX INCREASE whose supposed purpose is to fill budget gaps in education. Its not right that we are being asked to pay more in taxes to solve a problem that the Governor has already addressed.
Let's be clear, I'm not sure I'm going to vote for the sales tax increase.  I'm not convinced that the legislature and Governor won't alter the funding formula so that only the sales tax revenue provided by the initiated measure funds schools.

More importantly, the sales tax is the most regressive tax imaginable, especially when food is not exempted.

I don't care if one opposes or supports the sales tax initiative, but I do care when one misrepresents the situation.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ending The Boredom Of School Reform

At the Answer Sheet blog, Mark Phillips writes an important post that many education reformers will probably ignore because it challenges entrenched paradigms.

Phillips contends that the current debate bores him because it repeats the same questions:
Standardized testing, useful or harmful? Charter schools, the answer or the new problem? Teachers maligned, teachers defended, teachers resistant to change. No Child Left Behind, revise or eliminate?
Phillips then offers a few thoughtful and thought provoking suggestions, a few based on Native American culture and mythology. First,
Perhaps we need a trickster to wake us up and boot us into another dimension. To many Native American peoples the trickster is the raven, the rabbit, the coyote.  The trickster is the teacher who surprises people and wakes them out of their routines. It is also the trickster who sometimes provokes us into leaving the safety of our present worldview.
Of course, Phillips never had to deal with parents who begin every conversation about education with "when I was in school. , ... "  That fact allows him to make this provocative proposal:
we’ve had ideas from educators with some vision that extends beyond our same old room, ideas . . . .  And there are teachers who could help take us there, if we would provide them with the luxury of time to develop their ideas.
As one example, years ago Louise Berman, in New Priorities in the Curriculum , challenged the idea that we must organize our curriculum in the present way. She focused on processes rather than our traditional way of organizing subjects. Her organizers (perceiving, communicating, loving, knowing, decision making, patterning, creating, and valuing) are debatable, but at least she stepped out of our present dimension and challenged our preconception of subject organizers.
I've long advocated breaking down department barriers and having more team teaching. No one seems to want to listen.  I believe debate seems to cover "communicating," "knowing," "decision making," "creating," and "valuing" as the terms are commonly understood, so a department of argumentation might be fun.

Phillips goes on to suggest placing
a teaching consultant in every school, a seasoned tribal elder, to continually guide younger teachers. Certainly too, each school would have a full-time psychologist/counselor, not just a part-time person or one who focused almost exclusively on college admissions.
This suggestion makes a lot of sense, but I fear that administrators would turn the consultant's main job into creating cookie cutter teachers.

I realize that Phillips and I might argue vehemently about the details.  I certainly agree with him about how to start:.
I also think it would be refreshing if educational reform wasn’t such a ponderously serious business. Maybe we need a Brigade of Educational Tricksters, to keep waking us up, making sure we aren’t taking ourselves and our varied positions too seriously, helping us to see beyond our present paradigm, and making sure we are able to laugh at the absurdity in the educational world we inhabit.

Why I Continue To Wish A Pox On The Houses Of Both Political Parties

The New York Times recently reported that Mitt Romney continues to make millions of dollars per year from Bain Capital., an investment company that makes millions laying off workers, even though he left the company over a decade ago.  Anyone who criticizes Romney for earning money by increasing the misery of average American workers loves the Soviet Union, at least that's Mitt's spin.

Democrats may not be able to take advantage of Mitt's record, however.  Writing at the Frum Forum, Fred Bauer points out,
However, there are numerous reasons not to overestimate the potential effectiveness of White House attacks on Romney over Wall Street connections.

Perhaps foremost among them is the White House’s own very deep connections to Wall Street. Cabinet figures like Tim Geithner and White House allies like Jon Corzine are the embodiment of Wall Street insiders—they make Mitt Romney look like a secretary at the Merrill Lynch branch office in Fargo, North Dakota. Many of Obama’s top advisors come from the world of Wall Street. Any attacks on Romney’s Street connections immediately open Obama up to the countercharge of hypocrisy: if Wall Street is so bad, why do you choose to people your administration with Streeters and have Wall Street tycoons as central fund-raisers for your presidential campaign?
Bauer is overstating his case, Kennedy was a son of wealth and privilege and he was able to paint Romney into a corner.  Obama probably can do the same.

That being said, Wall Street will continue to dominate both parties, so I guess we'll keep seeing pictures like this one.

What Sites Are Found In My Open Tabs?

It's that merry time of year when everyone starts publishing year end lists; I've decided to play along a bit and do a few lists between now and the start of 2012.  Up first, in no particular order, the daily reads.

The Madville Times:  Everything about South Dakota that's fit to publish along with Cory's interlocutors who add  comments that range from witty to paranoid.  I still want to know where he gets the energy to walk as fast as he does and publish as much as he does.

Andrew Sullivan: He writes a lot and covers everything.

Lifehacker:  Quite frankly, the site was better a couple of years ago, but they do provide lots of geeky advice about technology and organizing one life.

The Daily Beast Cheat Sheet:  The Daily Beast surveys the news and updates top stories regularly.  I can check in here and not have to channel surf and risk seeing the demonic Nancy Grace.

Yankton Press & Dakotan Opinion Page: The writers they syndicate don't really impress me, but the letters to the editor and the local editorials let me keep up on local news.  The comment trolls frequently provide ghoulish entertainment as they cannablize each other. gives me my pop culture geek fix.

Conor Friedersdorf:  Quite frankly, I should hate this guy.  He's younger, better looking, and says what I want to say better than I can.

Eunomia and Rod Dreher at The American Conservative.  I'm counting these guys as one.  Dreher gave the world the term "crunchy con" and Larison has good foreign policy insight.

South Dakota War College because I think I have to.  Actually, the site used to be good, but now there are too many posts straight from the Repbublican Party Headquarters or Thune/Noem office press releases.  Although, in fairness, this post is a pretty good reminder that principles should produce actions.

That's what I make sure I get to every day.  Anything grand I'm missing?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Ron Paul Conundrum

I have trouble getting my head around Ron Paul.  The big boy bloggers seem to have the same problem.

Andrew Sullivan endorses Paul for the Republican nomination because Paul is relatively strong on civil liberties and doesn't seem to be a politician for hire.
And I see in Paul none of the resentment that burns in Gingrich or the fakeness that defines Romney or the fascistic strains in Perry's buffoonery. He has yet to show the Obama-derangement of his peers, even though he differs with him. He has now gone through two primary elections without compromising an inch of his character or his philosophy. This kind of rigidity has its flaws, but, in the context of the Newt Romney blur, it is refreshing. He would never take $1.8 million from Freddie Mac. He would never disown Reagan, as Romney once did. He would never speak of lynching Bernanke, as Perry threatened. When he answers a question, you can see that he is genuinely listening to it and responding - rather than searching, Bachmann-like, for the one-liner to rouse the base. He is, in other words, a decent fellow, and that's an adjective I don't use lightly. We need more decency among Republicans.
On the other hand, Jon Chait asserts,
Ron Paul is not a kindly old libertarian who just wants everybody to be free. He’s a really creepy bigot.

Around four years ago, James Kirchick reported a lengthy story delving into Paul’s worldview. As Kirchick writes, Paul comes out of an intellectual tradition called “paleolibertarianism,” which is a version of libertarianism heavily tinged with far-right cultural views. The gist is that Paul is tied in deep and extensive ways to neo-Confederates, and somewhat less tightly to the right-wing militia movement. His newsletter, which he wrote and edited for years, was a constant organ of vile racism and homophobia. This is not just picking out a phrase here and there. Fear and hatred of blacks and gays, along with a somewhat less pronounced paranoia about Jewish dual loyalty, are fundamental elements of his thinking. The most comparable figure to Paul is Pat Buchanan, the main differences being that Paul emphasizes economic issues more, and has more dogmatically pro-market views.
Tod Kelly damns with faint praise.
And for all the talk of him being a crackpot, in my mind he in not nearly as bats**t crazy as Gingrich or Bachmann.
In short, the big boy blog community seems to indicate that a man who has published or, at the very least, has lent his name to racist, homophobic publications and who wishes to return the country to the gold standard has more character, is better on civil liberties, and has a range of policy ideas that are sounder than those of every other Republican candidate in the race.  It is indeed a curse to live in interesting times.

Newt Or SuperVillain Quiz

Comic books and politics combine; plus it's a self-scoring quiz, something that makes every teacher happy.  In short this little exercise sums up 80% of what I blog about.

The mind boggles at the geniuses of the interwebs:  Newt or Supervillain.

HT: Andrew Sullivan

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Threats One Sees Are More Dangerous Than The Conspiracies One Can't

Cory calls out conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Steve Sibson.  As Cory points out Sibby fervently asserts bogeymen lurk behind every rock, tree, curtain, and atom.  The Four Horsemen of Sibby's Apocalypse are  socialists, ”Masons,” [the] “New World Order,” and “New Age Theocracy.” Sibson's trust issues and search for black helicopters would be humorous if they did not dangerously distract from real and imminent assaults on freedom.
Conor Friedersdorf reminds readers that President Obama
has previously been subject to complaints about his war on whistleblowers, the humanitarian and strategic costs of his drone war, theillegality of the war he waged in Libya, his use of the state secrets privilege, his defense of Bush-erawarrantless wiretapping, and his assertion of the power to kill American citizens accused of terrorism.  . . . .[and] Obama plans to sign rather than veto a bill enshrining indefinite detention into U.S. law and failing to exempt American . . . .
All of these decisions frighten me far more than any Masonic Socialist.

One could, of course, hope that candidates hoping to win the nomination of the party of limited government would be more amenable to preserving civil liberties.  Newt Gingrich quickly destroys that hope. Tod Kelly writes,
The war on drugs, I admit, is worrisome. The surveillance of American citizens without a warrant is troubling. Holding people not charged with any crime for an undetermined period of time is deeply disturbing. And yet as chilling as I find those realities, none of them frightens me to the degree that this idea does:
“During an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Gingrich suggested the president could send federal law enforcement authorities to arrest judges who make controversial rulings in order to compel them to justify their decisions before congressional hearings… When host Bob Schieffer asked how he would force federal judges to comply with congressional subpoenas, Gingrich said he would send the U.S. Capitol Police or U.S. Marshals to arrest the judges and force them to testify.”
Granted, Newt doesn't seem ready to be establish a secular theocracy with New Age requirements that all school children learn to play the flute or "non Western instruments."  (Those New Age Pagans are a conniving bunch.)

Still, that separation of powers thing was important enough for the founders to put it into the Constitution.  A president who decides that he can abolish courts and arrest judges who issue rulings he disagrees with is acting like a dictator not a president.  The real danger to Americans' freedom comes from politicians who refuse to take seriously their oath to uphold the Constitution not some secret cabal.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Let Them Chew Gum

Jonah Lehrer points to a study about the gum chewing's cognitive effects.
Gum is an effective booster of mental performance, conferring all sorts of benefits without any side effects. The latest investigation of gum chewing comes from a team of psychologists at St. Lawrence University. The experiment went like this: 159 students were given a battery of demanding cognitive tasks, such as repeating random numbers backward and solving difficult logic puzzles. Half of the subjects chewed gum (sugar-free and sugar-added) while the other half were given nothing. Here’s where things get peculiar: Those randomly assigned to the gum-chewing condition significantly outperformed those in the control condition on five out of six tests. (The one exception was verbal fluency, in which subjects were asked to name as many words as possible from a given category, such as “animals.”) The sugar content of the gum had no effect on test performance.
There are a few limits; Lehrer writes, "as gum chewers only showed an increase in performance during the first 20 minutes of testing. After that, they performed identically to non-chewers."

Gum also helps keep people awake.
Last month, scientists at Coventry University found that people chewing mint gum showed a dramatic decrease in feelings of sleepiness. The subjects also looked less exhausted when assessed with the Pupillographic Sleepiness Test (PST), which uses the oscillations of the pupils as a metric of tiredness. When we chew gum, we gain alertness and attention, but without the jitters.
Lehrer offers this priceless conclusion:
Given the uncanny power of gum, it seems a little silly that we don’t allow it in the classroom. (If a pill achieved these same results, we’d all be popping it.) Of course, gum is disgusting and unsightly once it becomes litter, but it also appears to be a wonderful stimulant, allowing us to benefit from the attentional boost of eating without having to swallow or ingest calories. (Plus, fresh breath!) A recent review of the gum-chewing literature summarizes the science: “Gum appears to be a functional food with function but no food.”
A cynic might say that Lehrer answered his own question about allowing students to chew gum a little over a year ago when he blogged about elementary teachers' responses to creative students.
Would you really want a little Picasso in your class? How about a baby Gertrude Stein? Or a teenage Eminem? The point is that the classroom isn't designed for impulsive expression - that's called talking out of turn. Instead, it's all about obeying group dynamics and exerting focused attention. Those are important life skills, of course, but decades of psychological research suggest that such skills have little to do with creativity.
Let's review:  gum may create a sticky mess and help students thing better.  With those qualities, I'm surprised that Congress doesn't make it illegal for everyone.

After all no one wants smart voters, just followers.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Minor Musing About An Atheist And Christian Intellectuals

Ross Douthat's New York Times tribute to Christopher Hitchens, the greatest essayist of the past 25 years, contains the following paragraphs:
Intellectually minded Christians, in particular, had a habit of talking about Hitchens as though he were one of them already — a convert in the making, whose furious broadsides against God were just the prelude to an inevitable reconciliation. (Or as a fellow Catholic once murmured to me: “He just protests a bit too much, don’t you think?”) This is not a sentiment that was often expressed about Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or any other member of the New Atheist tribe. But where Hitchens was concerned, no insult he hurled or blasphemy he uttered could shake the almost-filial connection that many Christians felt for him.
Some of this reflected his immense personal charm, his willingness to debate with Baptists and drink with Catholics and be comradely to anyone who took ideas seriously. But there was something deeper at work as well. American Christian intellectual life is sustained today, to a large extent, by the work of writers very much like Hitchens — by essayists and journalists and novelists and poets, from G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis to W. H. Auden and Evelyn Waugh, who shared his English roots, his gift for argument and his abiding humanism.
These paragraphs prompt a couple of observations.  First, living a life that allows for debating Baptists, drinking with Catholics, and being "comradely to anyone to [takes] ideas seriously" should allow for a good deal of fulfillment, whether it be social, intellectual or spiritual

More importantly, Douthat correctly points out that British intellectuals nurture American Christianity's intellectual life.  That fact prompts a two simple questions:  Why do American Christians have to turn to the British for intellectual nourishment?  Why are there no new thinkers to replace Chesterton who died in 1936, Lewis who died in 1963, Auden who died in 1966, and Waugh who died in 1973?

I accept that Christian truths are eternal and unchanging, but its intellectual challenges are not.  It stretches credulity that no American Christian intellectual with the grace, wit, and intellect of Chesterton or Lewis has come forward to engage deconstruction or any other recent intellectual trend.  Unfortunately, no such Christian has emerged.

That sad fact is probably the best illustration of the sorry state of both America's intellectual life and American Christianity.

Christ Is In The X

Mental Floss corrects a common misconception:
Lots of people think that the X in Xmas is a secular watering down of the word Christ. You know, “we love to celebrate the holiday but don’t believe in Jesus,” sort of thing. However, this is not the case. The X actually comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of Χριστός. Now, if that’s all Greek to you, Χριστός, of course, means Christ. And the “mas” in Christmas, well, this is mental_floss, so I need not explain where that comes from, right?
Of course, facts don't matter is all one wants is to make religion a political football.

The Perfect Sunday Satire: Sports And Religion

Friday, December 16, 2011

The 12 Day Of Christmas Reasons Students Won't Be In Class Next Week

I guess I'm not in the Christmas spirit yet.  With sincere apologies to the composers and lyricists who gave us "The 12 Days of Christmas," here's a really bad and cynical adaptation.

12 Early Family Christmases

11 Colds and counting

10 Parents who live out of state

9 Chances to earn overtime

8 Ski trips with the church youth group

7 Last minute shopping trips because it's Mom's day off

6 I'm too tired from last night's band concert

5 I couldn't find my bling

4 I'm not ready for the test

3 My car wouldn't start

2 My brother needs me to get him from the airport

And My car hit the partridge flying out of the pear tree.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Quotation Of The Day: What's Wrong With Republicanism Edition

From this David Frum post:
The thing most wrong with present-day Republicanism is its passivity in the face of the economic crisis, its indifference to the economic troubles of the huge majority of the American population, and its blithe insistence that everything was fine for the typical American worker up until Inauguration Day 2009 or (at the outer bound of the thinkable) the financial crisis of the fall 2008.
It is the lack of concern to the travails of middle-class America that “reform Republicans” should most centrally be concerned with.

Never The Twain Shall Meet . . .

These recent threads at the Madville Times illustrate that the the atheist vs believer conflict shows little sign of abating.  The local comments echo the comments of noted atheist Richard Dawkins and religious philosopher Alvin Plantaga
Mr. Plantinga and Mr. Dennett do agree about one thing: Religion and science can’t just call a truce and retreat back into what the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould called “non-overlapping magisteria,” with science laying claim to the empirical world, while leaving questions of ultimate meaning to religion. Religion, like science, makes claims about the truth, Mr. Plantinga insists, and theists need to stick up for the reasonableness of those claims, especially if they are philosophers.
Plantinga, at least as he is portrayed in the NYT profile, takes positions that both sides in the local dust up might find a bit off-putting.

Plantinga will anger the local atheists when he asserts,
The so-called New Atheists may claim the mantle of reason, not to mention a much wider audience, thanks to best sellers like Mr. Dawkins’s fire-breathing polemic, “The God Delusion.” But while Mr. Plantinga may favor the highly abstruse style of analytic philosophy, to him the truth of the matter is crystal clear.
Theism, with its vision of an orderly universe superintended by a God who created rational-minded creatures in his own image, “is vastly more hospitable to science than naturalism,” with its random process of natural selection, he writes. “Indeed, it is theism, not naturalism, that deserves to be called ‘the scientific worldview.’” 
On the other hand, some of the more vociferous believers might take umbrage at the following: 
Mr. Plantinga says he accepts the scientific theory of evolution, as all Christians should. Mr. Dennett and his fellow atheists, he argues, are the ones who are misreading Darwin. Their belief that evolution rules out the existence of God — including a God who purposely created human beings through a process of guided evolution — is not a scientific claim, he writes, but “a metaphysical or theological addition.”
I suppose that one can hypothesize the fact that Plantinga will probably anger both sides of the contentious  debate means that he's stumbling close to a truth.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Post For All The Comment Spammers Who Tell Me To Get A Facebook Link

I am a Facebook conscientious objector, a term I stole from Laurel, a former student. It turns out that I am not alone. According to this Jenna Worthman NYT article,

As Facebook prepares for a much-anticipated public offering, the company is eager to show off its momentum by building on its huge membership: more than 800 million active users around the world, Facebook says, and roughly 200 million in the United States, or two-thirds of the population.
But the company is running into a roadblock in this country. Some people, even on the younger end of the age spectrum, just refuse to participate, including people who have given it a try.
As a contrarian I welcome the fact that people get a little hot and bothered when I say I don't want anything to do with the social networking giant. I will probably get to confuse and perhaps anger a few more folk. According to Worthman,
But the peer pressure is only going to increase. Susan Etlinger, an analyst at the Altimeter Group, said society was adopting new behaviors and expectations in response to the near-ubiquity of Facebook and other social networks.
At least I won't be depressing people. Facebook does that on its own. Worthman writes,
One of Facebook’s main selling points is that it builds closer ties among friends and colleagues. But some who steer clear of the site say it can have the opposite effect of making them feel more, not less, alienated.

“I wasn’t calling my friends anymore,” said Ashleigh Elser, 24, who is in graduate school in Charlottesville, Va. “I was just seeing their pictures and updates and felt like that was really connecting to them.”
This morning Andrew Sullivan points to this Dan Gulati post that points out that Facebook is making users miserable.
But this new world of ubiquitous connections has a dark side. In my last post, I noted that Facebook and social media are major contributors to career anxiety. After seeing some of the comments and reactions to the post, it's clear that Facebook in particular takes it a step further: It's actually making us miserable.
Gulati, who must have been an extempter in high school offers three reasons:
First, it's creating a den of comparison. . . .
Second, it's fragmenting our time. . . .
Last, there's a decline of close relationships . . .
Given these observations, it seems to me that I'm doing everyone a favor by refusing to join Facebook. My stubbornness means that I'm not making anyone else miserable.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Some Musings About Newt And Poll Responses

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Jonah Goldberg muses that Newt Gingrich might be the next great conservative revolutionary, a fact that Goldberg apparently believes would be a good thing.
But there's another possibility: It's true. Moreover, the times may be ripe for precisely the sort of vexing, vainglorious and all-too-human revolutionary Gingrich claims to be. That's the argument a few people have been wrestling with. Gingrich, after all, is the only candidate to actually move the government rightward. While getting wealthy off the old order, he's been plotting for decades how to get rid of it. To paraphrase Lenin, perhaps the K Streeters paid Gingrich to build the gallows he will hang them on?

Meanwhile, South Dakota War College flags a CBS poll that shows that finds that 54% of Americans don't believe that President Obama deserves a second term.

The good folks at SDWC don't mention that the same poll shows Congress's approval rating at 11%.
Congress' job approval rating is far lower than the president's. Eighty-two percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, while 11 percent approve - just two percentage points above the all-time low of 9 percent recorded last month.

When it comes to the difficulties in reaching agreements and passing legislation in Congress, Americans put more of the blame on the Republicans in Congress than Mr. Obama and the Democrats. Forty-two percent blame Republicans more, while just 26 percent blame Mr. Obama and the Democrats, though 22 percent volunteer both are equally to blame.
One of "the difficulties in reaching agreements and passing legislation in Congress" seems to be the fact that both political parties seem to have imposed a parliamentary discipline on members of a system designed to ensure regional balance.  Tip O'Neil famously created the cliche, "All politics is local."  That axiom has now been turned on its head.

At first blush, Gingrich and his Contract with/for/on America seems to be the person most responsible for turning the House of Representatives into the House of Commons and the political logjams that Americans hate. 

Maybe that's why Goldberg has experiences like this one:
The other night while having drinks with some prominent conservatives, I said I thought there was a significant chance that Gingrich will not only win the nomination but that he might be the next president. Going by their expressions, I might as well have said I put a slow-acting poison in their cocktails.

And maybe Newt's history is a reason for SDWC not to count their electoral chickens before they hatch.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Love It When Politics And Pop Culture Come Together

In a League of Ordinary Gentlemen post that can only be described as pure genius, Tod Kelly uses the Highlander franchise to analyze the Republican presidential primary.

That post got me thinking about other movies that fit the election season.  It's become a cliche to cast the race in terms of Romney and anti-Romney, so this scene from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome seems equally accurate..

The Running Man also could work if one substitutes Romney for Ben Richards.
Set in a totalitarian society. Ben Richards is a cop who was blamed for a massacre which wasn't his fault. He would be sent to prison and breaks out with some other inmates. He tries to escape but the woman whom he dragged into his plan turns him over to the authorities. Damon Killian, who is the host of THE RUNNING MAN a game show wherein convicted felons are given the chance to run to freedom but have to elude the stalkers; men who hunt them down and kill them in gruesome manners.

Anything else come to mind?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Babies Understand Grammar

So why don't high school students?  According to,  Jill Lany asserts that babies understand grammar before they learn how to talk.  She doesn't answer the question about high school students, however.  She does make me feel like a rotten teacher when she asserts,
Babies are constantly looking for language clues in context and sound. My research suggests that there are some surprising clues in the sound stream that may help babies learn the meanings of words. They can distinguish different kinds of words like nouns and verbs by information in that sound stream.
If babies can distinguish between nouns and verbs, high school freshmen should be able to as well.

Lany speaks about her research in this YouTube video:

A Minor Musing About Religion In America

Over at the Madville Times, Cory has a post about Americans' perceptions about atheists.  As a believer who would sooner consult a competent atheist doctor rather than an incompetent Christian doctor, I find the findings he reports harsh. 

The New York Times has seen fit to examine Americans' views about God.  The Almighty maintains followers.
Apparently, a growing number of Americans are running from organized religion, but by no means running from God. On average 93 percent of those surveyed say they believe in God or a higher power; this holds true for most Nones — just 7 percent of whom describe themselves as atheists, according to a survey by Trinity College.
Nones are the undecided of the religious world. We drift spiritually and dabble in everything from Sufism to Kabbalah to, yes, Catholicism and Judaism.
I'm guessing that much of that dabbling can be attributed to the U.S.'s consumer culture and fixation on choice.  We love buffets and big box stores that allow us to pick and choose whatever our greedy little souls desire.  Less charitably, one might argue that the drifting reflects an unwillingness to seriously develop the discipline that many faiths demand.  The cynic in me often wonders if unwritten scripture that informs the American gospel doesn't contain phrasing similar to "shun that which is difficult; cling to everything easy."

The article's most damning indictment of American religion strikes me as extremely accurate.
If a certain spiritual practice makes us better people — more loving, less angry — then it is necessarily good, and by extension “true.” (We believe that G. K. Chesterton got it right when he said: “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.”)
Given that American political discourse is getting angrier and the economy is a cause of constant worry, America's religious leaders of all stripes would do well to ensure that their faith allows followers a few self-deprecating chuckles.  Maybe we should be nicer to atheists too.
By that measure, there is very little “good religion” out there. Put bluntly: God is not a lot of fun these days. Many of us don’t view religion so generously. All we see is an angry God. He is constantly judging and smiting, and so are his followers.

Melody Sings Off Key Again

Scott McCloud asks the key question about education reform
What will it take for Americans to stand up and fight not just against our schooling systems but also against educational reform efforts that take those systems in wrong directions?
McCloud points out that U.S. efforts are a model for reform; unfortunately, it's a model for how not to reform education.  He quotes a an Alberta Views article that concludes,
By contrast we can also learn what not to do from reform in the US, whose education system is in decline. Its elements, implemented over the past two decades, are largely ideological: "market-based" reforms (the application of "business insights" to the running of schools); an emphasis on standardization and narrowing of curriculum; extensive use of external standardized assessment; fostering choice and competition among schools, often with school vouchers; making judgements based on test data and closing "failing schools"; encouraging the growth of charter schools (which don't have teacher unions); "merit pay" and other incentives; faith that "technologically mediated instruction" will reduce costs; an overwhelming "top-down" approach which tells everyone what to do and holds them accountable for doing it. 
On  the other hand, McCloud notes,
it's pretty clear what we should be doing instead. As a recent book, Surpassing Shanghai, notes, school systems around the world (like Japan, Finland, Singapore, and Shanghai) that consistently outperform the U.S. on international assessments do things very differently:
  1. Funding schools equitably, with additional resources for those serving needy students
  2. Paying teachers competitively and comparably
  3. Investing in high-quality preparation, mentoring and professional development for teachers and leaders, completely at government expense
  4. Providing time in the school schedule for collaborative planning and ongoing professional learning to continually improve instruction
  5. Organizing a curriculum around problem-solving and critical thinking skill
  6. Testing students rarely but carefully -- with measures that require analysis, communication, and defense of ideas.
 Marc Tucker makes a similar point in this Atlantic post
You would think that, being far behind our competitors, we would be looking hard at how they are managing to outperform us. But many policymakers, business leaders, educators and advocates are not interested. Instead, they are confidently barreling down a path of American exceptionalism, insisting that America is so different from these other nations that we are better off embracing unique, unproven solutions that our foreign competitors find bizarre.
Some of these uniquely American solutions -- charter schools, private school vouchers, entrepreneurial innovations, grade-by-grade testing, diminished teachers' unions, and basing teachers' pay on how their students do on standardized tests -- may be appealing on their surface. To many in the financial community, these market-inspired reform ideas are very appealing.
Yet, these proposed solutions are nowhere to be found in the arsenal of strategies used by the top-performing nations. And almost everything these countries are doing to redesign their education systems, we're not doing.
 Melody Schopp's Department of Education, however, continues to focus on tests.  South Dakota will continue to "hold schools accountable for student proficiency and closing achievement gaps through continued annual public reporting of disaggregated student outcomes in math and reading."  A high school's "student achievement score will be based on the percent of students scoring proficient or advanced on the statewide assessment in reading and math delivered in 11th grade."

Other alleged reforms are not specified because Schopp is looking for an "appropriate" or "valid" "assessment tools" from SMARTER Balanced consortium.  Since, SDDOE's document is jargon laden, I'll lapse into a cliche:  it seems as if SDDOE is trying to sell a pig in a poke.

There's nothing in Schopp's draft that will improve South Dakota's K-12 education.  The draft indicates that SDDOE will continue to push schools to test more and insure that students learn less.  Instead of adapting what works, SDDOE will conform to the nationwide trend of serving as bad example of education reform.

Friday, December 9, 2011

I Really Wouldn't Mind Seeing These Buzzwords Retired

The site Meeting Boy publishes a survey of the most hated buzzwords.
1.think outside the box (16%) back (15%)
3.synergy (14%) is what it is (13%)
5.touch base (13%) the end of the day (13%)
7.let’s take this offline (12%)
8.low-hanging fruit (11%)
9.value-added (11%)
10.proactive (10%)
11.paradigm shift (9%) practices (9%)
13.going forward (8%)
14.take it to the next level (7%)
15.30,000-foot view (or any other multi-thousand foot view) (7%) (7%)
17.on the same page (7%)
18.leverage (6%)
19.a lot on my plate (6%)
20.robust (6%) smarter (5%)
22.impactful (4%)
23.rockstar (4%)
24.holistic (4%) (4%) (3%) whatever it takes (3%) (2%)
29.flawless execution (1%)
The South Dakota Department of Education is fond of "next generation."  Judging by this draft proposal, I'm going to hate that one more than any of those on Meeting Boy's survey.

I'll try following up on some of the specifics of SDDOE's proposals over the weekend.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Political Debate I'd Like To See

The December 27 potential debacle hosted by Donald Trump is now thankfully down to two people:  Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.  If one is too chose leaders on their judgement, prudence, or discretion, the fact that Gingrich and Santorum are still considering attending indicates that both men lack the judicious nature the Presidency demands.  By calling those who decline to attend an event hosted by a blowhard with an ego worthy of a Homeric epic, albeit a comic one, Santorum shows himself to be totally unsuited to any executive office.

Conversely, Gary Gutting describes an event that I'd like see:
The best evidence of how capable candidates are of fruitfully interacting with intellectuals would be to see them doing just this. Concretely, I make the follow suggestion for the coming presidential election: Gather small but diverse panels of eminent, politically uncommitted experts on, say, unemployment, the history of the Middle East, and climate science, and have each candidate lead an hour-long televised discussion with each panel. The candidates would not be mere moderators but would be expected to ask questions, probe disagreements, express their own ideas or concerns, and periodically summarize the state of discussion. Such engagements would provide some of the best information possible for judging candidates, while also enormously improving the quality of our political discourse.
I suspect that both political parties will do everything in their power to prevent such an event from happening, but one can always hope

Plains Pops: Random Stuff From Around The Web Edition

Cory gives some good analysis of Rick Perry's desperate attempt to get right wing fundamentalists to vote for him.

This Marc Tucker article about how to fix American education:  quick hint, technoloy isn't the answer.

Nathan Johnson covers love and hate from the police logs.

Finally, this overview of income inequality throughout the world is interesting and distrubing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fox News Channels Steve Sibson

Maybe it's the other way around.

Yesterday, I thought that these comments at the Madville Times were the most over the top item I would read this week.  The claim that the effort to help students develop critical thinking skills is an integral part of a socialistic effort to create a "New Age Theocracy" struck me as ludicrous, so I responded with a bit of snark:
"Is there a single topic that does not lend itself to the charge it will lead to New Age Wiccan Masonic neo-Pagan Socialist Anarchy?"
Less than 24 hours later, I discover how wrong I was.  The Muppets apparently teach people to hate successful businessmen.

According to this New York Daily News article,
“The Muppets are back and being terrorized by an evil oil executive in their new movie,” said host Eric Bolling. “Liberal Hollywood depicting a successful businessman as ‘evil,’ that’s not new.”
“I’ll put it out there: Is liberal Hollywood using class warfare to kind of brainwash our kids?” Bolling then asked guest commentators.
Apparently "the left" has gone to far this time:
“It’s amazing how far the left will go to manipulate your kids and give them the anti-corporate message,” said guest Dan Gainor, of Media Research Center, a conservative think-tank.
At least the Muppets don't ask people to think critically.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gingrich, The Tea Party, And Civil Liberties

I'm beginning to hate Conor Friedersdorf; not only is he far younger than I am, he writes better than I do.  This analysis is spot on:
Ron Paul supporting Tea Partiers would be the first to bail from a coalition that reshaped itself around Gingrich. In Reason magazine, Jacob Sullum runs through some of Gingrich's appalling positions on civil liberties: that the War on Terrorism somehow makes null certain rights to free speech and due process; that the government should stop the construction of a mosque until the day when Saudi Arabia permits churches and synagogues to be built; the proposal to escalate the War on Drugs by executing drug smugglers; support for warrantless wiretaps; and extreme hostility toward the co-equal judicial branch. It's true that only a small subset of Tea Party voters actually care about civil liberties with any kind of consistency, but Gingrich will alienate them.

Quotation Of The Day: Ayn Rand Followers Are Frequently Wrong Edition

From this Noah Kristula-Green post at Frum Forum:
The moral of the story: just because the person talking has a lot of money doesn’t mean they always know what they are talking about, especially if they never grew out of their Ayn Rand phase. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

HIgh School Policy Debaters Apparently Become Conservative Columnists

I will be in the tab room this Saturday, but I fully expect to hear something like this Charles Krauthammer analysis on any number of disadvantages (DAs) the next time I judge a high school policy debate round.
Everything is going to have a price. It is true that if we cut off Iran’s economy entirely or if we impose, as the Europeans, or some of the Europeans, are suggesting, an embargo on Iranian oil you might get an increase in the oil price. But think how the cost will pale compared to the cost of what is inevitably going to happen if nothing is done, which is an Israeli airstrike, which would cause the outbreak of a regional war, which could cause the closing of the Straits of Hormuz, which would cause a doubling of [oil] prices.
Krauthammer is getting a little sloppy.  He should add that the rising oil prices will lead to a regional war which will lead to nuclear war which will lead to human extinction, a terminal impact.  Oh well, he probably is going to drop the DA and close for a conservative kritik (K).

That's ok; I love a good K debate.