Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Minor Musing About Permanent Political Climate Change

When people discuss climate change, someone usually feels the urge to remind everyone that weather and climate are different. This is an election year, so the political weather may just be undergoing a regular cycle. I'm not optimistic, however. It may be time to worry about permanent political climate change.

Political seasons used to be predictable.  The year began with tax-and-spend rains, followed by weak-on-defense heat waves. Then, there were the conspiracy season chills followed by a scandal sleet .

This year the weak-on defense season has been so mild that I haven't noticed it.  In fact, some youngsters might not even know that weak-on-defense season exists.

Conspiracy theory winds seem to have lasted forever. The birther humidity seems to come more often, but it has been relatively mild. Sharia Law and Muslim terrorist freezes have lasted much longer than most full conspiracy seasons. The winds of Sharia Law panic have "roiled" some regional political waters, and Michele Bachmann has conjured up a Muslim infiltration front.

Tax-and-spend-liberal season didn't register with me this year. Instead, we've have full fledged Marxism monsoons that seem to have lasted forever.  In April, Allen West claimed that Congress was rife with Marxists, and nearly four months later David Liss is still seeking to "identify and remove" them. The depth and intensity of these Marxist storms have old-timers claiming that these Marxism storms are worse than the ones in the early 1950s. That fact leads me to believe we may be entering an era of full fledged Marxist seasons.

If the political climate has truly been altered, both tax-and-spend liberal season and weak-on-defense season may disappear.  The country will then be confronted by a political climate that begins with socialism season, goes into conspiracy-theory season, which in turn leads to a Marxism season that is as long as tax-and-spend liberal and weak-on-defense season combined. That cycle might be more dangerous than melting polar ice caps.

The Financial Cost Of Fear

Steve Clemons boils down the numbers:
Secondly, if one takes the approximate amount the United States was paying to "feel safe" on September 10, 2001 and account for inflationary growth since, the cumulative amount in just defense spending since is roughly $2.7 trillion. That doesn't include other domestic expenditures for Homeland Security which would make the collective bill even higher.
He acknowledges that comparing defense spending to other spending is an apples to oranges comparison, but it seems clear that costs of feeling safe have dangerous consequences:
To put the comparison in context, $2.7 trillion in economic activity in the private sector equates to approximately 6 million jobs sustained over the period between the 9/11 terror attacks and today.

Big, costly, unpaid-for wars are undermining the economic health of the country -- and are robbing growth and opportunity from the future to pay for these military objectives today.

It is a good debate to have whether the invasions of Iraq and the ongoing 'ownership' of the Afghanistan conflict have been worth the investment or not -- but not tending the economic health of America's core has been a strategic failure of enormous magnitude.
Six million jobs lost, $2.7 trillion borrowed, and lost civil liberties are high price for wars that have had a less than desirable result.

Quotation Of The Day: Presidential Campaign Edition

Rod Dreher sums up my mood perfectly:
Still, it’s an interesting question: how is it that things can be so crummy for so long, with so many real, and real serious, problems facing the country, and the only protest movement we can generate is that pointless SWPL-palooza [Stuff White People Like] called Occupy Wall Street, and the election still comes down to Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney? Read David Brooks today on why this campaign is so awful.  I swear, this campaign is like watching CSPAN1 and CSPAN2 having sex on Ambien.

Testing Results Rank Students But Don't Measure Learning

The New York Times covers a Texas testing controversy. The statewide tests rank students but don't measure learning effectively:
Now, in studies that threaten to shake the foundation of high-stakes test-based accountability, Mr. Stroup and two other researchers said they believe they have found the reason: a glitch embedded in the DNA of the state exams that, as a result of a statistical method used to assemble them, suggests they are virtually useless at measuring the effects of classroom instruction.
Pearson, which has a five-year, $468 million contract to create the state’s tests through 2015, uses “item response theory” to devise standardized exams, as other testing companies do. Using I.R.T., developers select questions based on a model that correlates students’ ability with the probability that they will get a question right.
That produces a test that Mr. Stroup said is more sensitive to how it ranks students than to measuring what they have learned. That design flaw also explains why Richardson students’ scores on the previous year’s TAKS test were a better predictor of performance on the next year’s TAKS test than the benchmark exams were, he said. The benchmark exams were developed by the district, the TAKS by the testing company.
South Dakota also uses Pearson. The company's name appears 82 times in the 2012 Dakota STEP Test Coordinator Manuel. The Dakota STEP also uses "item response theory." According to the 2011 Technical report:
The process of calibration, linking, and scaling utilizes item response theory (IRT), which is based on the idea that the characteristics of individual items can be used in conjunction with student item responses to produce estimates of students’ levels of achievement. The particular model used in calibration and linking for the Dakota STEP assessment is the Rasch IRT model (Rasch, 1960). [Italics in original]
Earlier this month Josh Verges reported:
That will change soon as South Dakota gets on board with a national education reform movement that has the support of the Obama administration and Republican governors. By 2014-15, state law requires that half of every South Dakota public school teacher’s yearly evaluation be based on quantitative measures of student growth.
 Verges may have buried the lede:
Schopp doesn’t know how the state will evaluate its teachers two years from now, but she’s confident the process will be an improvement over what schools are doing today.
“It’s not going to be a perfect system, but it’s not a perfect system right now,” she said. “In fact, it’s pretty dysfunctional.”
Tying evaluations to tests that don't measure learning has made the system more dysfunctional. I have a sinking feeling that the final response, like the tests themselves, will follow a Texas model.

Monday, July 30, 2012

We May Not Need Algebra: The Horror!

In the future, I can see a math teacher sadly proclaiming, "First, they cut ancient history from the curriculum, but I didn't care because I didn't teach history. Then they came after Shakespeare, but I didn't care because I didn't teach English. When they came after algebra, the precedent was set and I was totally screwed."

The algebra teachers who smugly watched their social studies and literature counterparts try to justify their curriculum may soon face the same battle.  Writing in the New York Times, Andrew Hacker opines:
A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.
Surely Hacker is wrong. STEM is allegedly America's salvation, and algebra is a key component of STEM. Hacker has an answer:
Nor is it clear that the math we learn in the classroom has any relation to the quantitative reasoning we need on the job. John P. Smith III, an educational psychologist at Michigan State University who has studied math education, has found that “mathematical reasoning in workplaces differs markedly from the algorithms taught in school.” Even in jobs that rely on so-called STEM credentials — science, technology, engineering, math — considerable training occurs after hiring, including the kinds of computations that will be required. Toyota, for example, recently chose to locate a plant in a remote Mississippi county, even though its schools are far from stellar. It works with a nearby community college, which has tailored classes in “machine tool mathematics.”
That sort of collaboration has long undergirded German apprenticeship programs. I fully concur that high-tech knowledge is needed to sustain an advanced industrial economy. But we’re deluding ourselves if we believe the solution is largely academic.
 Hacker offers at least one possible alternative to algebra:
Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives. Thus mathematics teachers at every level could create exciting courses in what I call “citizen statistics.” This would not be a backdoor version of algebra, as in the Advanced Placement syllabus. Nor would it focus on equations used by scholars when they write for one another. Instead, it would familiarize students with the kinds of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.
It could, for example, teach students how the Consumer Price Index is computed, what is included and how each item in the index is weighted — and include discussion about which items should be included and what weights they should be given.
He also suggests that math and other disciplines combine analyses:
I hope that mathematics departments can also create courses in the history and philosophy of their discipline, as well as its applications in early cultures. Why not mathematics in art and music — even poetry — along with its role in assorted sciences? The aim would be to treat mathematics as a liberal art, making it as accessible and welcoming as sculpture or ballet.
One could also examine the poetry or music of mathematics  instead of the math of poetry. Hacker's conclusion shows why that sort of inversion might be necessary:
Yes, young people should learn to read and write and do long division, whether they want to or not. But there is no reason to force them to grasp vectorial angles and discontinuous functions. Think of math as a huge boulder we make everyone pull, without assessing what all this pain achieves. So why require it, without alternatives or exceptions? Thus far I haven’t found a compelling answer.
If only a literary allusion to some guy pushing a boulder up a hill existed. Hacker could have referenced such a story to help make his mathematical point.

Racism Lives On

Relevant Magazine and Rod Dreher both point to this story:
A Jackson couple had their wedding rehearsal last week, two days before their scheduled big day at the Crystal Springs church where they were planning to get married.
But the couple's dream of exchanging vows in the church they had been attending was dashed when the church pastor relayed to them that some members had complained about the black couple getting married in the predominantly white First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs.
Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson said it was devastating having to move their wedding to another church only days before the July 21 wedding.
Galatians 3:26-28 states:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The pathetic members First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs who complained must have a translation that leaves out those verses.

A National Holiday Worth Celebrating: National Lego Day

The fine folks at GeekDad have set aside the first Saturday in August as Lego Day. They are urging others to join in and create a national holiday:
I am happy to announce that this year’s theme is Doctor Who. While my older son has already created several minifigures of The Doctor and his companions, I think this year’s theme will be quite a challenge.
So, drag out your bins of Lego, clear the living room floor, and join us in celebrating the fun, imagination, and creativity of Lego on Lego Day, Saturday, August 4, 2012.
I don't know enough about Dr. Who to follow the GeekDad theme, but a few hours with Legos sounds like a great way to spend a hot Saturday and avoid the threat of "August Heat." Bad literary pun aside, the timing is perfect, a day of creative play a few weeks before school starts. All the day needs to be perfect is a special meal like turkey dinner or snack like Christmas cookies.

Quotation Of The Day: Grammar Edition

From this Kyle Wiens post in Harvard Business Review:
On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?
Wrong. If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use "it's," then that's not a learning curve I'm comfortable with. So, even in this hyper-competitive market, I will pass on a great programmer who cannot write.
Grammar signifies more than just a person's ability to remember high school English. I've found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts.
In the same vein, programmers who pay attention to how they construct written language also tend to pay a lot more attention to how they code. You see, at its core, code is prose. Great programmers are more than just code monkeys; according to Stanford programming legend Donald Knuth they are "essayists who work with traditional aesthetic and literary forms." The point: programming should be easily understood by real human beings — not just computers.
And just like good writing and good grammar, when it comes to programming, the devil's in the details. In fact, when it comes to my whole business, details are everything.
I have three quick reactions.  First, I need to proofread more carefully before I hit publish. Second, I have told students that a link exists between programming and grammar.  It's good to see someone support that premise. Finally, grammar is necessary but people who write with good grammar may still produce boring work: feel free to insert a necessary not sufficient cliche.

HT: Andrew Sullivan

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Free Speech Edition

From this Wendy Kaminer post at The Atlantic

"We need a Free Speech Association, an FSA, with the commitment and clout of the NRA, but we're unlikely to see one emerge anytime soon, from right or left. Several small advocacy groups, like the National Coalition Against Censorship, are devoted to First Amendment rights; the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a fierce defender of speech rights on college campuses. But more powerful lobbying groups on both sides tend to protect their own speech rights, while ignoring or endeavoring to suppress the rights of others."

It might be better to call a free speech protection group the National Rhetorical Association; people seem enamored with the initials NRA.

Microsoft As Object Lesson

Cory and others have covered the Vanity Fair analysis of Microsoft's collapse.  I have gone back to the article several times because it's a powerful object lesson of the way institutions decline.

First, the mighty usually fall:

"Once upon a time, Microsoft dominated the tech industry; indeed, it was the wealthiest corporation in the world. But since 2000, as Apple, Google, and Facebook whizzed by, it has fallen flat in every arena it entered: e-books, music, search, social networking, etc., etc."

Second, the reason for that fall is frequently becoming the thing that one despised or defeated:

"By the dawn of the millennium, the hallways at Microsoft were no longer home to barefoot programmers in Hawaiian shirts working through nights and weekends toward a common goal of excellence; instead, life behind the thick corporate walls had become staid and brutish. Fiefdoms had taken root, and a mastery of internal politics emerged as key to career success. . . .

"' They used to point their finger at IBM and laugh,' said Bill Hill, a former Microsoft manager. 'Now they’ve become the thing they despised.'”

The loss of joy and the political feudalism sprang from a single source:

"At the center of the cultural problems was a management system called “stack ranking.” Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees. The system—also referred to as “the performance model,” “the bell curve,” or just “the employee review”—has, with certain variations over the years, worked like this: every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor.

“'If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” said a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.'”

The fragmentation produced a predictable result:

"One Apple product, something that didn’t exist five years ago, has higher sales than everything Microsoft has to offer. More than Windows, Office, Xbox, Bing, Windows Phone, and every other product that Microsoft has created since 1975. In the quarter ended March 31, 2012, iPhone had sales of $22.7 billion; Microsoft Corporation, $17.4 billion."

Microsoft's decline began with a centralized evaluation system and merit pay. Political bureaucrats who plan on implementing those systems across an entire state apparently believe they have more talent and managerial skills than the people who managed Microsoft.

I doubt that proposition. In fact, if I were a political bureaucrat looking to improve a statewide system, I'd bet that every person in Microsoft's management is smarter than I am. If I wanted to avoid Microsoft's fate, I'd spend more time with some barefoot people fond of wearing Hawaiian shirts.

(I am phone blogging, so I reserve the right to reformat the post when I access a computer)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Will People Who Eat At Chick-fil-A Stop Shopping On Amazon

Chick-fil-A has gotten heat for it's CEO's comments about marriage.  From today's New York Times,
Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon.com, and his wife, MacKenzie, have agreed to donate $2.5 million to help pass a same-sex marriage referendum in Washington State, instantly becoming among the largest financial backers of gay marriage rights in the country.

With the gift, the couple have doubled the money available to the proponents of Referendum 74, which would legalize same-sex marriage in the state by affirming a law that passed the Legislature this year. Courts or lawmakers have declared gay marriage legal in six other states, but backers of such measures have never succeeded at the ballot box.

Proponents of the effort in Washington State called it a game-changing gift that gives them a fighting chance in November.
Barnes and Noble and Popeye's are waiting for a decision.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Science Fiction Site Gets One Religion Story

The fine folks at Get Religion argue that the media doesn't get religion. They may be right in many instances.

I hope, however, they celebrate this brief history of the doctrine of the Rapture on I09.com.

They remind readers that the doctrine has a recent origin: "dating back less than 200 years." Further, it takes interesting mental gymnastics to tease the doctrine out of the Bible:
Depending on which theologian you speak to, only one or two passages from Judeo-Christian religious texts make reference to an event akin to what is portrayed as the Rapture, leaving the idea with very little Biblical support.
In fact, pop fiction has a lot to do with the doctrine's popularity:
The best known treatment of the Rapture is probably Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye's Left Behind book and movie series. The Left Behind tie-in movies feature a wide-eyed Kirk Cameron leading people through a world that looks like a PG-rated issue of Garth Ennis' Crossed. Planes crash into the ground, and cars that are suddenly missing their drivers careen into each other, as a chosen group of people are "raptured" and disappear from the Earth, leaving the rest of the world to fend for themselves.
Further, many Christian denominations don't accept the doctrine: "At the moment, Eastern Orthodox churches, many branches of Protestantism, the Anglican Church, and the Catholic Church do not believe in the Rapture."

Finally, the doctrine owes a lot to Bible commentary. One of the early promulgators had a huge influence on a popular commentary:
[John}Darby traveled to North America on several occasions during the mid-19th Century, teaching his theory of the Rapture. On one of these trips, Darby met with James Brookes, a prominent preacher and writer in Missouri — and, most importantly, the mentor of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield.

Scofield, influenced by Darby's teachings via his mentor, published the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. The Scofield Reference Bible went on to become one of the best selling religious texts of the early 20th Century, one that continues to sell extremely well in the United Kingdom. Scofield's text displays his personal notes and explanations right next to the King James translation of the Judeo-Christian Bible. The proximity of Scofield's notes to the religious text no doubt lent credence to his words, especially in a world lacking widespread communication systems. As individuals emigrated to the United States in the early 20th Century, this helped spread the belief that Darby had already put in place, during his visits to North America.
Some may quibble that the post doesn't dwell on the pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib controversies. That wasn't the point. The post successfully gives a brief history of the doctrine. Those who would express that concern should also note that a pop culture site gave attention to a relatively important theological concept without the prompting of a new film, book, or video game.  That fact indicates that Christians still have a powerful presence in the broader culture even though many of the their leaders claim otherwise.

It's always good to refute those who don't "get" something and who, therefore, spread misinformation. It is also important, however, to give credit when someone does "get" it. I09.com got it this time.

Still More About None Of The Above

Conor Friedersdorf gives advice to voters like me who are dissatisfied with both Obama and Romney:
If you aren't crazy about the Republican or Democrat, but think of your vote from a utilitarian perspective and are uninterested in purely symbolic gestures, here's how to impact presidential elections in two easy steps:

1) Postpone your calculated support for someone you don't like until you're standing in the election booth. Before then, support the third-party nominee you'd like to see win. If a pollster asks who you support give their name, not the major-party candidate you may wind up voting for in the end. Doing so doesn't squander your vote on someone who won't win, but could be the difference between a Libertarian or Green Party candidate being included or excluded from TV debates.

2) Think about whether or not you live in a swing state. If so, maybe it makes more sense to vote Republican or Democrat. But if you live in a state like California, where the Democrat will obviously win, or a state like Utah where the Republican is obviously going to win, your vote is going to have a lot more impact if you're part of a third-party surge that signals disaffection to others.

These two strategies make sense partly because a third-party needn't win or even swing an election to make a difference. Neither the Green nor the Libertarian parties are likely to ever win the presidency. But that needn't be the goal. If Republicans or Democrats notice a third party getting traction -- that is to say, 8 or 10 or 15 percent of the vote -- they'll start co-opting its issues.

That's worth something.
Freidersdorf's point about polling makes sense, but getting polled is unlikely. No one in this house answers the phone if the number is unrecognized.

His second point reinforces points I made earlier. Citizens living in red or blue states really don't get to cast a vote that matters if they don't support the dominant party. South Dakota is a red state; in fact, it's so red it makes a raw steak look well done. A vote for a Obama is as big of waste as a vote for Gary Johnson or Dr. Jill Stein. Getting Libertarians or Greens close to double digits seems as realistic as having Obama carry the state.

Friedersdorf's advice will probably anger partisans, but it gives us dissatisfied voters a strategy and logical support for voting for someone other than Romney or Obama.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Bane Of Education

It's not this; teachers aren't superheroes.

Instead, the Tempered Radical points out that it's this.

By the way, merit pay and testing just to test isn't creative, but this slide is also a mirror.  I got in a rut last year and need to change some things.

Quotation Of The Day: Evangelicals Used To Be Progressive Edition

From this James Rohrer post on Salon/Alternet:
Most Sioux County [Iowa] voters are descendants of Dutch Protestant immigrants who settled the area more than a century ago. Their grandparents and great-grandparents were if anything even more theologically conservative, more pietistic, and more inclined to lace every conversation with biblical injunctions. But a century ago, the local folk opened their Bibles and found admonitions against rich rulers exploiting the poor. They found Jesus preaching that the “sinners” would enter the Kingdom of God before the Chamber of Commerce types, and understood that disciples must speak out against the Trusts and war profiteers. I just spent a week reading through the Alton Democrat for 1900, which routinely drew upon the Bible to editorialize against the imperialist ambitions of the United States –even dubbing its capitalist rulers “immoral” and “evil”– and to denounce the moneyed aristocracy that unjustly controlled the destiny of the people. . . .

The Bible has not changed, and neither have the core theological beliefs of the people of Sioux County. But society has changed and the nature of political action has evolved almost beyond recognition since the turn of the 20th century. The Bible and the Christian tradition can be tapped as resources for an array of political agendas. That the “heartland” has in recent decades swung so far away from the populist tradition of [William Jennings] Bryan is not because there is something intrinsically authoritarian or anti-democratic in the religious beliefs of the masses, but because Republican strategists in the last two generations have done a far better job than progressives at organizing, marketing and communicating their message in a way that appeals at a visceral level to the hopes and fears of many people. To change America, we must change this reality.
While discussing Rohrer's essay, Ed Kilgore adds a paragraph from his review of  Michael Kazin's biography of William Jennings Bryan, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan
Once upon a time, right here in America, tens of millions of people read the Bible daily and read little else; believed it to be the literal and inerrant Word of God; and somehow interpreted it as a saga wherein God repeatedly delivered His people from the predations of the rich and the powerful and the privileged, perpetually condemned their subjugation as a divine commandment, and further commanded that they respect their equality as His children. In other words, those politicized Christians who have formed a firm alliance with Mammon and Mars on the grounds that the Word’s main message today is to condemn abortion and homosexuality and feminism are forever vulnerable to those faithful who read their Bible and see otherwise.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Plains Pops: How Teachers Can Approach Tech And The Web

At Lifehacker, Adam Pash advocates a fragmented approach. He notes that Facebook does everything competently, but requires a large investment:
Facebook is a microblogging platform, a blogging platform, a photo-sharing platform, a location-sharing platform, a chat platform, an email client, a pseudo-music-sharing platform, a gaming platform, and so on. It's an incredibly powerful service. For many, Facebook isn't just a site on the internet; it's the internet.

And that's why you're locked into Facebook; that's why it's so hard to leave. You've invested so much, not just in sharing photos or posting links, but in the whole ecosystem.

Facebook does about everything well enough. It's a full-fledged internet operating system. But like most operating systems, the stock applications aren't as good as the apps and services built by companies who are passionate about one thing.
Pash contends fragmentation offers the following advantages:
1. If, say, I decide Instagram has made some bad choices and all of the sudden totally sucks (a completely realistic but not necessarily inevitable possibility now that they've been acquired by Facebook), I can abandon Instagram and start using one of a million other photo-sharing services. If Facebook mucks up their photo sharing, I'm probably going to write a series of short, angry status updates, grit my teeth, and keep using Facebook.

2. You can easily define your communities based on what you're sharing. On Rdio, for example, I specifically follow people whose musical habits I'm interested in. I may be interested in your listening habits but have no interest in the pictures you're sharing. I'll follow you on Rdio and not on Instagram. Handy.

3. People who make just one thing tend to really care about it and have really great ideas about how to make it better. Cf. the discussion above about stock apps.

This whole discussion swings back to something we've talked about a couple times before: The Unix philosophy, the core of which surrounds the virtues of software that does one thing well. It's a fantastic philosophy that has implications well beyond software, and the more experience I have (with software, systems, people, etc.), the truer it rings.
John T. Spencer adds another reason to go piecemeal: one can use the technology in the "wrong" way:
I don't think I've ever known anyone else who uses a spreadsheet as a calendar. For me, it works, though. I have the date, the day, the task or event, the type of task and the location. For recurring events, I simply write "every week" or "every day." Then, I use the sort function to see what I need to do each day or to see the timeline of a particular project (sorting by category).  I like being able to ask, "When is Galileo testing?" and simply sorting it with one click. Calendars don't allow me to do that.
I'm not suggesting everyone should use a spreadsheet for a calendar. I'm odd. I get that. I like every event in one place and I find the calendar to be inefficient. But it has me thinking about technology and customization. It has me thinking that maybe acceptable use should be broadened to also mean, "Use the tools in the way they weren't intended to be used."
Too often, students learn a rigid definition of how a particular technology tool should be used. PowerPoint and Google Presentations are meant for presenting new information. Spreadsheets are for crunching numbers. Twitter is for telling people what you're doing. Blogging is for short writing entries. Google Docs should be used for writing only.
At one level, Pash's desire for the perfect tool and Spencer's urging to use tools in the "wrong" way may seem mutually exclusive, but both writers require and allow for user autonomy and experimentation. Both will get results that a do everything site like Facebook will never provide.

Can Americans Change The Conversation From Guns To Violence?

The Onion has been proved correct: the Aurora slaughter has turned political right on schedule. Further, both the LA Times and the New York Times have articles contending no political will exists to change gun laws. No politician seems willing to discuss changing laws.

Cory's Madville Times post and the accompanying comments illustrate that people have plenty to say about guns but seem unwilling to change their minds. A fact Alan Jacobs alludes to with this series of tweets:

Those facts and examples aside, Dan Baum made an important admission that few seem to have the courage to admit. Writing in Harpers, Baum contends:

It’s true that America’s rate of violent crime remains higher than that in most European countries. But to focus on guns is to dodge a painful truth. America is more violent than other countries because Americans are more violent than other people. Our abundant guns surely make assaults more deadly. But by obsessing over inanimate pieces of metal, we avoid looking at what brings us more often than others to commit violent acts.
If the country is not going to deal with guns at the official level and the public debate will generate more heat than light, perhaps it's time to ask a few questions that stem from Baum's contention.

First, is Baum correct?  This question is not a value or a policy question. Statistics will probably show Americans commit more violent murders and assaults than Europeans or Canadians, 

Second, why are Americans more violent?  This questions is far too deep to develop fully in blog post and far above my skills at committing sociology and philosophy without a license.

Third, do Americans want less violence? That discussion hasn't been had. Everyone claims to desire safety but these same people also seem to value more abstract concepts above safety.

Fourth, if Americans don't want less violence, what level is acceptable? If Americans, want to become less violent and more like Canada and Europe, what are they willing to sacrifice to reduce violence?

Answering these questions need not be a political exercise that allows people to retreat to their talking points. True, they accept the conservative premise that guns don't kill people; people kill people. Liberals, however, claim gun control will reduce crime; these questions focus the debate on reducing crime.

I've already admitted that I can't answer the second question.  The third question and the responses to the answer require a public debate not a pronouncement.  The comments are open.

Quotation Of The Day: National Debt Statistics Edition

From this LA Times Daniel Lazarus post:
According to FactCheck.org, the national debt rose 190% under former President Reagan. It rose 52% under President George H.W. Bush, 37% under Bill Clinton and 86% under Bush II. During his first three years in office, President Obama has presided over a 45% increase in the national debt.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Wealth Concentration Iceberg

The Guardian looks at the amount of money hidden in tax havens around the world:
Using the BIS's measure of "offshore deposits" – cash held outside the depositor's home country – and scaling it up according to the proportion of their portfolio large investors usually hold in cash, he estimates that between $21tn (£13tn) and $32tn (£20tn) in financial assets has been hidden from the world's tax authorities.

"These estimates reveal a staggering failure," says John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network. "Inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people.

"This new data shows the exact opposite has happened: for three decades extraordinary wealth has been cascading into the offshore accounts of a tiny number of super-rich."

In total, 10 million individuals around the world hold assets offshore, according to Henry's analysis; but almost half of the minimum estimate of $21tn – $9.8tn – is owned by just 92,000 people. And that does not include the non-financial assets – art, yachts, mansions in Kensington – that many of the world's movers and shakers like to use as homes for their immense riches.
To put the last paragraph in perspective, Sioux Falls, South Dakota has about 150,000 people according to the 2010 Census. The 2011 US GDP was about $15 trillion; China's was about $7 trillion.

In short, a relatively small group of people equivalent to half the population of Sioux Falls hides assets that are larger than the GDP on a country of 1 billion people or 60% of the American economy.

If one wishes to be ironic, Mitt Romney can take comfort in these numbers.  Whatever he's hiding in the Caymens and Swiss accounts is only the tip of the tip of an iceberg capable of slowing down every economy in the world.

Plains Pops: History, Reading Lists, And Poetry Edition

A History News Network poll has determined the least credible history books in print:
Readers of the History News Network have voted David Barton's The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You've Always Believe About Thomas Jefferson the least credible history book in print in a week-long HNN poll. The book edged out Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States by nine votes at the end of polling -- 650 votes versus 641. Commenters criticized the book for its gross factual errors and political agenda -- in an email to HNN, Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, professors at Grove City College and authors of Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, wrote that "Barton misrepresents and distorts a host of Jefferson's ideas and actions, particularly his views and practices regarding religion, slavery and church-state relations." A commenter on HNN's boards noted that the book "looks like an intentional attempt to mislead and deceive in the guise of history. "
This animated characters read difficult books.

Rod Dreher discusses Wallace Stevens and asserts that one of Stevens's "gorgeous, pagan poem[s] is why the only Christianity that makes sense to me is the sacramental kind, Catholic or Orthodox."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Literature Reviews From The Mouth Of Babes

Blogging at Strollerderby, Sunny Chanel elicits some wisdom from her six-year-old daughter by asking the "recent kindergarten graduate [to judge] a book by its cover"

The six year old might not have Jane Eyre's plot quite right.

"This is about a girl that goes mining. I don’t know why, but she looks like she would go mining, mining for gold."

She does a little better with The Catcher in the Rye.

"It doesn’t really have a story. The cover is weird. It doesn’t give you like any clue to what it is about on the cover, like other books do."

I wish she would re-write The Great Gatsby.

"I think it's a book about a haunted theme park and it stars a magical magic guy and he's good and evil and he's trying to get rid of the ghosts. And I think at the end, since it's haunted by a ghost, he tried to make the park go on fire and it did."
Her version of Atlas Shrugged would make the book worth reading.

"This is about Daydis (her spelling it’s actually – Daedalus). He is an ancient god guy who prays a lot. This book is about him crying. He is crying because he doesn’t like himself at all, because he hates himself. It looks like a saddy, saddy, saddy bookie.”

Her mother adds: "Note: she loves Greek Mythology at bedtime hence the Daedalus reference. And really, who doesn't?"

HT: IO9.com

Quotation Of The Day: The Disposable Middle Class Edition

April Rubin gives cold-blooded advice to financial managers:
The middle class is toast. In the wake of the financial crisis, middle class families in the U.S. are burdened by too much debt, the rising cost of health care, fewer jobs and the ever-increasing price tag on retirement.

Financial advisors in the future who want to prosper need to hitch their star to high net worth clients, including , maybe even especially, those from outside the U.S. who are seeking a dynamic asset allocation approach designed to deal with rising global market and economic volatility.

It’s a reality that advisors need to embrace, but all too many are behind the curve. They are using old-fashioned methods to appeal to clients who are rapidly disappearing and who will in the future not be able to afford their products and services.
I guess that if one is a financial planner one doesn't care that the middle class is being destroyed; one only cares that one is "behind the curve" in chasing wealthy clients and throwing middle class clients to curb.

Scripture And Song Of The Week: Hebrews Edition

Hebrews 11
King James Version

1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Flash Mob That Relaxes

Because everyone needs to relax and remember to act like civilized human beings:

HT: Diane Ravitch

Quotation Of The Day: Human Fallibility Edition

From Chad Segersten:
Often I find myself missing opportunities to be gracious, to listen a little deeper, to be thankful, to appreciate, to smile, to laugh, to support a friend, to help a stranger.
In my case, the phrasing should begin "too often I find myself . . . ."

Gordon Howie Proves "The Onion" Prophetic

The Onion responds to the Colorado shooting with appropriately revealing satire:
"I hate to say it, but we as Americans are basically experts at this kind of thing by now,” said 45-year-old market analyst Jared Gerson, adding that the number of media images of Aurora, CO citizens crying and looking shocked is “pretty much right in line with where it usually is at this point." "The calls not to politicize the tragedy should be starting in an hour, but by 1:30 p.m. tomorrow the issue will have been politicized. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if the shooter’s high school classmate is interviewed within 45 minutes."
This morning, Gordon Howie writes political boilerplate that The Onion's editors would have found too stereotypical to publish:
The Colorado incident would have had a far different outcome if someone in the theater had been exercising their right to carry a gun. This deranged shooter would have been stopped and many lives could have been saved.

The real problem in Colorado was that there wasn’t anyone prepared to DEFEND their self or others.
Tomorrow, I expect Howie's column to blame the slaughter on the fact that Batman and Catwoman had sex in Catwoman #1 during the DC comics New 52 reboot.

At South Dakota Politics Dr. Blanchard concisely sums up the situation:
The eWaves are afroth with unsupported speculation, hand wringing, condemnation and counter-condemnation over the atrocity in Colorado. Uncharacteristically, I won't add my bit (at least not just yet). Whatever we may learn in the days to come, I am confident that there is very little we will be willing and able to do about it.
There's little doubt we will be able to do much to stop a person set on doing harm to others; therefore, can we all just agree to prove The Onion wrong and wait until all of the funerals have been conducted before writing laughable political tripe?

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Reading List For Entrepreneurs

As a curmudgeon, I frequently take umbrage at the STEM uber alles crowd and the businessmen who erroneously contend that literature and history have no worth.  I also try to be a fair curmudgeon, so I want to point out these INC. posts.

Bill Murphy Jr. contends that The Great Escape is the best entrepreneurship book ever written.  He notes that a group of talented, inspired individuals did what every entrepreneur does:
First, they identified solutions to a deeply felt problem. . . .
Second, they acquired the resources they needed. . . .
Finally, they had to execute. . . .
Murphy follows up with a list of 7 other books including Moneyball and The Aeneid.

Both posts make an extremely valid point; the fault is not with the fiction or histories; the fault lies with readers who lack the imagination to read beyond the facts to garner principles.

Why The Internet Is A Tool Not A Teacher

Writing in today's New York Times, Mark Edmundson concludes:
A truly memorable college class, even a large one, is a collaboration between teacher and students. It’s a one-time-only event. Learning at its best is a collective enterprise, something we’ve known since Socrates. You can get knowledge from an Internet course if you’re highly motivated to learn. But in real courses the students and teachers come together and create an immediate and vital community of learning. A real course creates intellectual joy, at least in some. I don’t think an Internet course ever will. Internet learning promises to make intellectual life more sterile and abstract than it already is — and also, for teachers and for students alike, far more lonely.

Neither Romney Nor Obama Should Quote Teddy Roosevelt

Conor Friedersdorf provides a different view on President Obama's social contract comments. In addition to building roads and providing security, government also "funnels so many tax dollars toward Wall Street bankers, Blackwater mercenaries, and the Orwellian infrastructure of the Transportation Security Administration." Friedersdorf points out that these negative consequences happen because its easy to profit from the system:
It is beyond dispute that there is a huge amount of rent-seeking in the American system, that lobbying yields truly stunning returns on investment, that the complexity of our tax code benefits very rich people who employ extremely intelligent tax attorneys to reduce their tax burden, and that certain policies (like the Wall Street bailout) redistributes toward moneyed interests.
 Friedersdorf goes on to point out some of Obama's failures:
Having railed against the ill-gotten gains of lobbyists in 2008, Obama hasn't really found a way to tame them. Obama's inclination to micromanage the economy with subsidies to specific firms all but guarantees capital will keep flowing to the wealthy and well-connected rather than the most efficient uses. There's been no real attempt at reforming Wall Street in a way that gets rid of the incentive for financial transactions that create neither efficiency nor value to anyone other than traders. And Obama generally favors policies that make America's tax, regulatory and health care systems more complicated and reliant on the discretion of corruptible bureaucracies.

All of this is to say that there are a lot of ill-gotten riches in America. But there is little focus on reforms that would remedy that huge, seemingly intractable problem. Instead, public upset over the perception of ill-gotten gains is used in service of efforts to raise taxes on the rich generally. If that effort succeeds, more serious inequities and inefficiencies will remain unaddressed. . . .
Obama failed, but it's a near certainty that Romney will do nothing make lobbying less profitable or make it more difficult to redistribute money to Wall Street interests. In fact, his record at Bain indicates he will perpetuate a system with "neither efficiency nor value to anyone other than traders." Were I a betting man, I'd bet that Wall Street and it's lobbyists will see a better return on their investment under Romney than they have under Obama.

In short, neither Obama nor Romney will ever believably be able to quote Theodore Roosevelt:
We who stand for the cause of the uplift of humanity and the betterment of mankind are pledged to eternal war against wrong whether by the few or by the many, by a plutocracy or by a mob. We believe that this country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in. The sons of all of us will pay in the future if we of the present do not do justice to all in the present. Our cause is the cause of justice for all in the interest of all. The present contest is but a phase of the larger struggle. Assuredly the fight will go on whether we win or lose; but it will be a sore disaster to lose. What happens to me is not of the slightest consequence; I am to be used, as in a doubtful battle any man is used, to his hurt or not, so long as he is useful, and is then cast aside or left to die. I wish you to feel this. I mean it; and I shall need no sympathy when you are through with me, for this fight is far too great to permit us to concern ourselves about any one man's welfare. If we are true to ourselves by putting far above our own interests the triumph of the high cause for which we battle we shall not lose. It would be far better to fail honorably for the cause we champion than it would be to win by foul methods the foul victory for which our opponents hope. But the victory shall be ours, and it shall be won as we have already won so many victories, by clean and honest fighting for the loftiest of causes.

We fight in honorable fashion for the good of mankind; fearless of the future; unheeding of our individual fates; with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes; we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.

Quotation Of The Day: Being A Good Teacher Edition

Heart of a Teacher post points to a Edutopia post about a Carlston Family Foundation report about what makes a good teacher.
Tim Allen, Director of the Carlston Family Foundation, interviewed hundreds of students who listed the qualities that make their favorite teacher stand out from the rest of the faculty. Here are nine of the key qualities/strategies that outstanding teachers share.
1. They show a deep passion for teaching; they love their subject matter and know it thoroughly.
2. They hold high expectations that are fair, reasonable, consistent and clear.
3. They are scholarly and love learning themselves.
4. They hold all students equally accountable and responsible for learning and for their behavior.
5. They plan every minute of class time; there is never a wasted moment.
6. They will never leave students behind and will allow other students to help those who have difficulty.
7. They make the subject matter relevant to the lives of students and their immediate experience.
8. They have respect for students, are insightful about them on a day-to-day basis, and are non-judgmental.
9.They are authentic, real and appropriately autobiographical.
A few quick comments, test prep doesn't seem to be on the list. Also, "making the subject matter relevant to the lives of students" and test prep are mutually exclusive activities. Finally, the planning point seems to leave out the need to adapt. If students aren't getting it, the plans have to go out the window.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

$50 Million Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

Earlier this week, a task force chaired by Paul Volker and Richard Ravitch released a report about state budgets.  A couple of conclusions should make everyone a bit less giddy about South Dakota's surplus:
State budget practices make achieving fiscal stability and sustainability difficult:
While almost all states have constitutional or statutory balanced budget requirements, “revenue” and “expenditure” are not defined terms. The use of borrowed funds, off-budget agencies, and the proceeds of asset sales are not uncommon practices, often rendering balanced budgets illusory.
The lack of financial transparency makes it more difficult for the public to understand the critical nature of problems such as pensions and other payment obligations. Temporary “one-shot” measures to avoid or delay hard fiscal decisions mask these underlying problems.
Opaque and untimely reporting, coupled with nonexistent multiyear planning, severely hampers efforts to address these problems in a serious manner.
Perhaps, this surplus is the result of good fortune and fiscal responsibility.  Bob Mercer thinks that it is. However, these results are as curious as the budget crisis that was never mentioned during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign and then revealed during Governor Daugaard's budget address to the 2011 legislative session.

That skepticism aside, the report concludes that all of the states will face problems in the future:
Since 2008, . . . state funding of K-12 education has declined as a share of state spending while Medicaid spending has increased in share. There have also been significant cuts in state funding of public higher education. Relatively uncontrollable Medicaid spending and rising obligations to contribute to pension funding crowd out spending for education and will continue to do so until these problems are brought under control. Continuing cuts in state funding have put access to
education and the quality of instruction and student performance at serious risk.
America’s aging infrastructure faces growing capital needs, most of which are funded by state and local governments. However, these critical needs suffer from low budgetary priority. Like education spending, essential infrastructure spending is now crowded out by more immediate spending pressures, pushing essential investments off to the future and increasing the risks to public health and safety and economic growth.
I doubt South Dakota's population is immune to the aging process or that its poorest citizens will reverse the Medicaid trend here.  I also doubt that South Dakota has fewer infrastructure needs relative to other states.

Slightly Related: I usually leave the Dakota War College questions to The Madville Times, but is there any explanation as to why the Bill Clay post that contained this statement has disappeared?
Does anyone wonder why exactly some would be pushing for a 1 cent sales tax increase when our state is coming up with $50 million budget surplus? Your thoughts are as good as mine. Somebody must like to spend money. . . .
The recent budget surplus indicates that amount is obviously not ”necessary,” Since our state is sitting on $50 million extra. Education and health care providers just need better lobbyists. Why would I as as citizen vote to pay another penny in sales tax when our state is flush with cash?

President Obama Continues The STEM Uber Alles Drumbeat

President Obama loves STEM:
The Obama administration unveiled plans Wednesday to create an elite corps of master teachers, a $1 billion effort to boost U.S. students' achievement in science, technology, engineering and math.
The President also loves drones,  so it seems appropriate to let Darth Vader provide the President with a useful reminder:
Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the potential of the Force.
I know Vader is just a movie character.  A more realistic test may be having  the President explain the STEM device that allowed him to create the oratory that convinced millions to enthusiastically support him in 2008.

NFL Team Makes Political Contribution

A football team donates to Jan Brewer's PAC:
The Arizona Cardinals have yet to win a Super Bowl, but they’re champs when it comes to super PACs.
A $5,000 donation last month from the Cardinals to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s JAN PAC committee appears to be the first time a National Football League club has institutionally contributed to a federal super PAC, which may raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, unions — even sports teams
Brewer's PAC doesn't seem do deal with sports issues unless one believes that Obamacare will make it more difficult for millionaires to get ACL surgery or proper treatment for a concussion:
A PAC spokesperson could not be reached for comment, although JAN PAC’s website states that the super PAC is “dedicated” to four goals, including “securing the border and restoring integrity to our immigration system,” “fighting ObamaCare,” “creating jobs – getting Americans back to work” and “reducing the size of government.” The super PAC formed in October. Brewer frequently takes to national television to tout these positions and has notably sparred with President Barack Obama, earning her accolades from conservatives in particular.
Travis Waldron points out that there may be other reasons for the Cardinals political interests:
The Cardinals’ donation to Brewer isn’t huge, and given the nature of Brewer’s PAC (aptly named JAN PAC), why the team made the donation now is unclear. The implications for the future, however, aren’t hard to imagine, as the franchise’s choice to get political demonstrates how the Court’s decision in Citizens United, together with subsequent decisions expanding the allowance of corporate campaign cash in our elections, has changed the game for professional sports franchises the way it did for other corporations.

Across the country, professional sports franchises have negotiated various tax breaks and other public financing deals to get what they want — new stadiums, improved infrastructure, a more generous split of gameday (and non-gameday) revenues. The deals are popular with politicians, who soak up the promises of economic boosts and who, faced with threats of the team moving to a new city, are scared to be part of the group that let the team walk away. Popular as they may be, though, the deals leave taxpayers footing the bill when they fail to provide the promised economic boom, instead pushing cities and states into debt.

Quotation Of The Day: Things A Preseidential Candidate Doesn't Want To Hear Edition

From this Politico interview with John McCain:
Asked why he chose not to go with Romney, McCain said: “Oh come on, because we thought that Sarah Palin was the better candidate. Why did we not take [Tim] Pawlenty, why did we not take any of the other 10 other people. Why didn’t I? Because we had a better candidate, the same way with all the others. … Come on, why? That’s a stupid question.”
McCain attempts to clarify here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Respond To The Most Vapid Tweet In The History Of Twitter

Facts That Prove The Above Tweet True

1. The Cubs will win the 2012 World Series.

2. No one will die tomorrow.

3. Ice cream, cookies, and bacon will be discovered to be healthy foods when eaten in excess.. (I don't know anyone who doesn't care about at least one of those great foods,)

4. Teenagers and their parents will never experience communication errors.

5. John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi will have a love child and name Rachel Rush Olbermann. The child will not have orange skin.

6. I would have the self control not to write a post about a vapid tweet. (If no one cares what I post about, this one probably doesn't count.)

What Does One Do With A $50 Million Budget Surplus?

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader opened their July 16th story with a similar question.  There seem to be three answers.

First one can be blatantly political. The Dakota War College quickly trumpets the idea that the surplus means that the sales tax initiative should be defeated:
Does anyone wonder why exactly some would be pushing for a 1 cent sales tax increase when our state is coming up with $50 million budget surplus? Your thoughts are as good as mine. Somebody must like to spend money. . . .

The recent budget surplus indicates that amount is obviously not ”necessary,” Since our state is sitting on $50 million extra. Education and health care providers just need better lobbyists. Why would I as as citizen vote to pay another penny in sales tax when our state is flush with cash?
 Expect that talking point to become a drum beat over the next few months.

One can also be political and hopelessly naive.  South Dakota Education Association spokesperson Bryce Healy "said the budget surplus is 'good news for everybody.'” The Argus Leader reports:
“SDEA hopes our state leaders will look into investing those resources in our education system and not just putting them into reserves,” Healy said. “These dollars would help, but we still have a long way to go in education funding to get us back to the levels where we need to be.”
I'll let the attitudes and laughter from the following commercial provide my response to Healy's naivete.
The Press and Dakotan has the most believable outcome:
If history serves as a template, we will instead probably hear about uncertain times, the need for restraint and, of course, the obligatory IOUs from lawmakers that the money that has been or will be cut or unspent now will find its way back to our schools, our roads and our social programs ... some day.
"Some day" a prince will come, and the sun will come out tomorrow, and if everyone claps Tinkerbell will live

Stephen Colbert Muses About Critical Thinking

I've been spending some time with the in-laws since Sunday, so posting has been done through an Android phone.  I wanted to get this posted earlier today, but the phone didn't seem to cooperate; that's what I get for trusting a non-human.

So, here it it; Stephen Colbert taking down the bogeyman of "critical thinking."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Republican Superiority Complex Edition

From former White House Chief of Staff and New Hampshire Governor John Sununu:
". . . .I wish this president would learn how to be an American."
I'm not voting for President Obama, but this sort of rhetorical "everyone who isn't us isn't an American" rhetoric ensures I won't vote Republican either.

Let's All Game The System

Frank Bruni, whom I rarely read takes on Tim Ferriss whom I've only read about:
"Having exhorted Americans toward six-pack abs and schooled them in 15-minute orgasms, the personal improvement guru Tim Ferriss turned his attention more recently to travel advice. It appeared in The Times on Sunday,and it said a lot about what's wrong with our country."
Ferriss has apparently started giving travel advice. He urges his disciples:
One of the tips he shared in The Times was this: if you must a check a bag, pack an unloaded starter pistol in it,so that the Transportation Security Administration will flag the piece of luggage, thus diminishing or altogether eliminating the possibility of its loss. It's extra work and fretting for them but, hey,you get peace of mind. Isn't that what counts?"
According to Bruni, Ferriss also suggests parking illegally and paying the parking fines if those fines would happen to cost less than the fees. If Ferriss were advocating civil disobedience because the TSA frequently targets passengers unjustly or the airport pricing schemes make loan sharks seem charitable, his tactics might have merit.

Ferriss, however, seems to be indicating that all systems should be gamed. Ferriss's financial success means that he has access to lawyers and has made connections that insulate him from the consequences of his actions. Someone who makes $50,000 and tries these stunts may well miss a flight or face more severe consequences because it's easy to make an example of her.

Finally, are Americans really that forgetful and stupid? The country is still suffering from the worst economic downturn in 80 years because a bunch of people gamed the system for individual gain.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Pipeline And Pawnbroker Principle

I watch Pawn Stars.  Whenever an expert comes into the shop and states an item's value, the pawnbrokers invariably pay only half the quoted amount.  Pipeline companies must operate like pawnbrokers.  Although they say they will pay an given amount in taxes, they'll end up paying only half.

From this Omaha World Herald article:

"When TransCanada officials began promoting the benefits of its first pipeline to cross Nebraska,they projected a $5.5 million taxwindfall for the state in the first year of operation.

"The actual taxbill for the original Keystone pipeline is less than half that figure.

"State and county records indicate that TransCanada this year will pay $2.2 million in personal property and real estate taxes to eight rural counties in eastern Nebraska crossed by the 30-inch, crude-oil pipeline."

Quotation Of The Day: We Should All Feel Safer Now Edition

From this Yahoo News Article article:

"CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms)," agency spokesman David Daigle told The Huffington Post.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Scripture And Song For The Week: Ecclesiastes Edition

Ecclesiastes 1
King James Version (KJV)
1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

3 What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.

5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

8 All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Woody Guthrie Shows Some Things Never Change

Woody Guthrie was born 100 years ago today.  Were he alive today, he would undoubtedly add a verse or two about bailouts, bonuses, and LIBOR.

Breaking News: Merit Pay Still Doesn't Work

New York City used this RAND corporation-Vanderbilt study to justify ending its program. Jersey Jazzman uses that occasion to cruelly points out that there's no Merit Pay Fairy:
we looked for the Merit Pay Fairy in Tennessee: she wasn't there. She wasn't in Texas, either. Corporate reformers stayed up all night in Chicago waiting for her; she never showed. She wasn't in Michigan. We even tried looking for the Merit Pay Fairy in 18th Century England; sorry, mate.
Governor Daugaard is nothing if not a skilled politician, so he must have some October surprise in store to insure that Referred Law 16, his version of merit pay, is enacted. If there's no Merit Pay Fairy, he probably won't insult voters' intelligence by trying to produce one. I'm just guessing here, but the Governor may try one of the following to show voters that he is indeed the person who can make merit pay work when no one else could.
  • He and his friends can produce a live Sasquatch they bagged during the Governor's Hunt. Bigfoot is set in Deadwood, so there's a fictional precedent.
  • He can produce the WMDs that were supposed to be in Iraq. I'm sure he's got people on his staff who could write a believable story about finding them in a couple of abandoned missile silos.
  • He may start building a baseball diamond in a corn field. When asked why he's sacrificing crop land during a drought, he will whisper, "If you build it, merit pay will work."
  • He can claim that he's found Noah's Ark in the Black Hills.
  • Desperate times require desperate measures, so he may try to do something bi-partisan like produce conclusive proof that Al Gore did indeed create the Internet.

Quotation Of The Day: Suicidal, Hard-Hearted, And Spineless Edition

Writing about the House Republican farm bill that "cut food stamps by more than $12 billion while actually adding new subsidies to agribusiness," Walter Russel Mead sums up the decision than nearly anyone else:
The House Republican majority certainly looks like it’s trying to destroy itself. The combination of raising agricultural subsidies by billions of dollars and cutting food stamps is one of the most stupid, self-destructive moves an American political party could make.
A party with principles might cut food stamps and farm supports. A party with no principles but good political instincts might spend more on food stamps and farm subsidies. But to cut food stamps while subsidizing big agriculture manages to make Republicans look hard-hearted and spineless at the same time.
HT: Rod Dreher