Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Why The Onion Should Be America's Official Newspaper Edition

From this Onion article:
WASHINGTON—With only a week remaining in the 2012 presidential campaign, the one-third of Americans adults who identify as members of the lower class announced they are still waiting for the first meaningful mention of themselves by either of the major-party candidates. “I’ve heard a lot about how the middle class is vital to the economy and how the upper class may not be paying their fair share, so I’m hoping that, at some point, there’s at least one remark from Romney or Obama on the plight of the lower class,” said Spillville, IA resident Martin Huskins, a cashier who earned $14,600 last year. “Just a word or two would go a long way. Even if the campaigns talk about us in a manipulative or patronizing way—that’d be okay, so long as there’s an actual acknowledgment of the millions upon millions of Americans in my situation. Because it seems like a pretty big problem, right?” Reached for comment, members of the nation’s working poor and underclass said they were pretty sure both candidates must be saving up big speeches on poverty to deliver right before Election Day.

Consolidation: An Education Discussion That Should Happen But Won't

Cory points out that there's an important education policy discussion that isn't happening in South Dakota: school consolidation.
It may also be a policy discussion worth having. Do we overstretch our dollars by maintaining too many school buildings and school districts? Does South Dakota have a fiscal obligation to pull back, let some small schools and small communities die, and concentrate its resources on larger communities?
I have no strong feelings on the matter. I have taught in a Class B school and in a Class AA school. My debaters compete against students from large and small schools.

It does seem, however, that the structure of the South Dakota's school systems should be part of any comprehensive plan to improve education in the state. Discussion consolidation may not allow the state's politicians to think they are part of a national conversation, but that discussion won't be as myopic as the current focus on test scores.

My inner cynic doubts that discussion will happen in the next legislative session or the one after that or the one after that. Politicians at every level have learned that one doesn't need to solve any large problems; they merely need to demonize smaller concerns. Daugaard Inc. has created his perfect scapegoat: teachers. He can begin and end all reform discussions by attacking teachers and ignore any needed structural changes.

A Minor Musing About Politics And Realism And Short Sightedness

Alan Jacobs, who writes better and thinks far more deeply than I do points to a reason that politicians might be so in love with STEM; those "hard sciences" are realistic and politicians love nothing more than poltical realism. That realism is usually concerned with short term gain:
What people call political realism often seems to me a kind of short-sightedness. The idea that valid political action requires us to choose from among the most prominent current alternatives — in short, to decide whether you’re going to be a Republican or a Democrat and then work to bring your chosen party more closely in line with your convictions — makes sense if your chief goal is to gain a political victory and to gain it now. Or soon.
Some politicians might take offense at being charged with caring only for short term political victories. The STEM loving realists may also take offense that Jacobs's reasoning begins in a novel:
We are too prone, I believe, to think that voting is the definitive political act. That would be true only if politics simply belongs to the government. There is a far vaster sphere of politics — the life of the polis — that belongs to everyday acts of ordinary people. In this maybe Gandalf is a pretty good guide: “Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”
Offering true comfort instead of empty promises, actually uprooting evil instead of accusing one's opponent of  evil, and admitting that there's a greater sphere of politics than the government should be common sense but this political season those concepts seem radical and unrealistic.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Great Reminder That Nothing Is Permanent

Something a little haunting for the night before Halloween:

Quotation Of The Day: Television Is Better Than Politicians Edition

From this Sam Wilkerson post:
I think that people assume that there are pro-government (Democrat) and anti-government (Republican) people occupying the world. I think that’s unfortunate. Seems like there are an awful lot of people who want competent government. Whether or not such a thing is possible might be beside the point; its what those people want, especially when the Wild Wild West is out there beyond the government’s existence. David Simon’s shows have repeatedly made this point. Whether it was Homicide‘s occasionally callous detectives or The Wire‘s innocent bystanders or Treme‘s “city-planning,” it seems clear that people victimized by their government aren’t necessarily against it conceptually so much as they’re against it in reality. There aren’t many politicians capable of making that point in such a way as to get elected.

Monday, October 29, 2012

STEM Politicians Showing Themselves Penny Wise But Pound Foolish

Because Republican governors borrow bad ideas so frequently, this Florida news item frightens:
Highly distinguished universities, such as the University of Florida and Florida State University, could charge more than others. Tuition would be lower for students pursuing degrees most needed for Florida's job market, including ones in science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as the STEM fields.

The committee is recommending no tuition increases for them in the next three years.

But to pay for that, students in fields such as psychology, political science, anthropology, and performing arts could pay more because they have fewer job prospects in the state.
Dan Luzer points out that the plan makes little economic sense:
. . . .Florida’s economy is largely based on international trade, tourism, and agriculture.
It’s unclear how this proposed policy change would help Florida’s actual citizens. The chief benefit seems to be allowing colleges to raise money without the legislature appropriating additional funds. That might be fiscally useful in the short term, but it fails to address the long-term problem with the state’s public higher education: the state isn’t providing the institutions with the money they need to continue operating.

It also seems puzzling to charge more for people who want to major in psychology, political science, anthropology, and the performing arts. Those classes are, in general, actually cheaper for a university to teach and administer than classes in sciences, engineering, and technology, which generally require expensive materials and laboratories.
I know that English majors are a pesky lot. Some may be free thinkers, or, God forfend, atheists. Even the liberal arts majors who are atheists, however, spend their lives trying to live out a Biblical injunction from Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
I haven't seen anyone engineer virtue or honesty. The mathematical formula for beauty hasn't been developed.  In my cynical nature, I wonder if the STEM folks just want to get revenge on Walt Whitman for this poem:

When I heard the learn'd astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Scripture And Song Of The Week: Amos Edition

Amos 5
NIV

7 There are those who turn justice into bitterness
    and cast righteousness to the ground.

8 He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
    who turns midnight into dawn
    and darkens day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
    and pours them out over the face of the land—
    the Lord is his name.
9 With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold
    and brings the fortified city to ruin.

10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
    and detest the one who tells the truth.

11 You levy a straw tax on the poor
    and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
    you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
    you will not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your offenses
    and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
    for the times are evil.

Quotation Of The Day: Definding The Liberal Arts Edition

From this Alan Jacobs post:
those of us who love the liberal arts don’t have to take a single line of self-defense — indeed we shouldn’t, because if the artes liberales really do liberate, they free us to make many varied choices. The person whose liberal-arts education serves him best as a father of children offers as strong a testimony to that education’s value as the person who instead devotes herself to a life of solitary scholarship; and even astonishingly rich entrepreneurs may justifiably celebrate the marriage of technology with the liberal arts. It’s all good.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Regional Rich Folk

Daily Finance has published a list of the richest citizens of each state. I found it interesting that South Dakota, a state that takes pride in its low wagers is home to rich citizen who has more wealth than the richest citizens of several neighboring states.

T. Denny Sanford, the richest person in South Dakota, is not in Warren Buffet's league. Buffet, of course, is Nebraska's richest resident with a net worth $49.6 billion. Sanford doesn't have the bankroll of Montana's Dennis Washington who is worth $5 billion. In Minnesota, Pauline MacMillian Keinath, a Cargill heiress, has a net worth of $3.7 billion, a total nearly three times greater than Sanford's wealth

Sanford does, however, should have enough money to hand out Halloween candy to everyone who rings his doorbell next Wednesday.

With a net worth of $1.3 billion, Sanford has substantially more wealth than Wyoming's John Martin. Martin, the CEO of Gilead Services has a net worth of $210 million. Sanford also has more wealth than North Dakota's Gary Tharaldson who is worth $900 million, and Iowa's Dennis Albaugh who is worth $1billion.


Quotation Of The Day: Baseball And Oral Interpretation Edition

I got to spend this morning in tab room trying to keep an oral interpretation tournament running on time, Tonight, I plan to spend some time watching the World Series, This description of the Detroit Tigers' legendary announcer Ernie Harwell combines the best of both parts of my day:
It all starts far, far from any stadium. There are no diamonds and no throngs of adoring fans—just a crackling radio hissing through a stale summer garage into air as golden-tinged as the dead, yellow lawn.
There’s a man’s voice: “He stood there like a house by the side of the road and watched it go by…and Thomas is OUT, for excessive window shopping!”
The voice is as thick as the greasy garage air, syrupy and mellifluous from decades of polishing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

America's Election And Unintended Irony: European Election Monitors Edition

Rod Dreher points out that Europeans seem confused by Americans' political angst:
It’s hardly an original observation, but watching the last month of the American presidential contest from Europe really brings home how crackpot Americans are about their elections. From here, there appears to be very, very little difference between Obama and Romney. Obama is generally more conservative than the French conservatives, for crying out loud! Hell, he’s more conservative than Richard Nixon. And for American liberals who think Romney is a right-wing whack job, and that crazy crypto-fascists are steadily advancing, they should be in a country where the National Front is a major political player.
Meanwhile, Tod Kelly reports that the ACLU, the NAACP, and other liberal groups have asked"the UN-affiliated watchdog Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)" to supply election monitors. The American groups believe that European observers will “help to improve  [American] citizen’s trust and confidence in election results.” These observers will come come from noted liberal democracies like "Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Albania and Bosnia," so I, for one, am certain that our elections will not be tainted.

Kelly concludes:
I understand liberal activists’ desire to make sure that electoral shenanigans don’t disenfranchise the poor, minorities and the elderly – especially after the voter ID law measures the GOP has taken.  But honestly, what do they expect is going to happen by bringing in monitors from freaking Kazakhstan?  If there is a better way to make sure that Americans actually ignore legitimate instances of fraud or intimidation than having it reported by Eastern European nationals, it’s not coming to mind.  Bringing in the OSCE doesn’t strike me as a way to solve a problem; it strikes me as a way to fire up your base at the possible expense of making it worse.  If I had to think of one word to describe it, it would be “Rovian.”

As for the Republican Talk-Radio crowd using this as a method to get their base to pull out their checkbooks because UN black helicopters are just over the horizon, all I can say is…  ah, fish it.  Why even bother at this point?
Am I the only one who thinks it ironic that people who think Romney may be a fascist are asking Albanians to monitor polling places or that people who think that America's political parties are nearly identical are going to monitor US elections and by doing so give ammunition to a political fringe that believes that Obama and Europe represent the Anti-Christ? Something about these stories makes me believe that a bunch of folks didn't get the memo that the Cold War ended in the late 1980s.

America's Election And Unintended Irony: European Election Monitors Edition

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Kids Are Smart Edition

From his Rolling Stone interview, President Barack Obama spells out what every teacher knows:
“You know, kids have good instincts,” Obama offered. “They look at the other guy and say, ‘Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.’”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Superman To Become A Blogger

Finally someone more indefatigable than Cory Heidelberger has a blog. USA Today reports that Clark Kent, Superman's alter-ego will quit the Daily Planet and start a blog.

Newsrama.com reproduces a page in that shows Clark undergoing a bit of career angst.


Somehow it all seems fitting; if politicians resemble supervillains, the world needs Superman as a blogger. It appears that is further evidence that newspapers are going the way of this 1950s TV intro for a Superman television program.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Highbrow Culture Coming To Sioux Falls

Ok, so maybe it's lowbrow culture. Jay Kirsch reports that Joel Hodgson, the creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) is coming to Sioux Falls:
Mystery Science Theater fans:  Joel Hodgson is in Sioux Falls on Nov. 4.
Joel is the creator of the enduring cult hit “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and also known as the father of movie riffing – making comments throughout a bad films like people who make fun of bad material do in their own living rooms. Except probably a lot more funny.
Cinema Falls presents MST3K creator Joel Hodgson on Sunday Nov. 4 for a one-man keynote presentation, “How to Have a Job Like Mine.” It will feature what Cinema Falls’ Julie Anderson Friesen calls a “secret screening” of an MST3K episode.
For those totally, unfamilar with the show, the theme song spells out its premse:


Of course, execution is everything. Here's a MST3K clip:


Selective Outrage?

Ann Coulter calls the President of the United States "a retard" and no one seems to care:
Ann Coulter called President Obama a "retard" on Monday night.
She made the remark on Twitter after the third and final presidential debate between Obama and Mitt Romney."I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard," she tweeted
Meanwhile, TMZ reports that multiple people were upset because President Obama reminded the world that the military uses fewer horses and bayonets during last night's debate.
TMZ spoke with multiple people in the bayonet industry who tell us they were shocked and even offended when Obama brought up the weapon during last night's debate.
So it's acceptable to insult the President's intelligence but not acceptable to make wry observations about the changing military. I've never served, but I doubt a horse and bayonet are effective countermeasures against a drone.

On a positive note, I haven't read anything indicating that the horse lobby feels slighted.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Somehow This Performance Epitomizes The United States

A few mistakes, some garish flourishes, and a big finish sum up the US pretty well


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Presidential Candidates Aren't That Different From Supervillains

IO9.com notes that the choices for President seem rather grim this year:
When many American citizens cast their vote this November, they'll be choosing between the lesser of two evils. But why choose the lesser evil when you can choose a supervillain as your president? After all, supervillains can be effective leaders, provided you can get past the lying, unilateral decision-making, rampant murder, and dismantling of your Constitutional rights.
Given that both candidates have no problem with using drones to kill innocents abroad and have no problem destroying civil liberties, it seems advisable to look at the site's other criteria for advocating a supervillain in the Oval Office:
They have a strong vision for the future.

They'll go to great lengths to rebuild the country.

They won't stand for idiotic interview questions.

They make our monuments far more interesting.

They'll keep up morale (in order to further their evil schemes).

They'll eliminate unemployment—albeit through slavery.

They're already part of the shadowy conspiracy that runs the planet.

They're surprisingly easy to depose.

It also appears that our government has provisions for dealing with certain types of evil elected official.

Chances are you won't notice a difference between them and your non-supervillain presidents.
Let's see how Romney and Obama stack up on these other measurements.

Both Obama and Romney claim to have a strong vision and concrete plans to better the country. On the other hand, both answered Barry's stupid question during the town hall debate, and neither will ever get on Mt. Rushmore.

The election of either candidate will enrage opposing partisans, so the national mood will remain somewhat depressed no matter who wins in a couple of weeks. Romney's Bain tenure and his belief that corporations are people makes him more likely to embrace enslaving the populace, Republican hyperbole about health care notwithstanding.

Moving on to the "shadowy conspiracy," Both candidates seem to have shadowy people supporting them, but no one seems to care. If a supervillain wins, this criterion will allow South Dakota's own Steve Sibson and every other conspiracy theorist will get to say, "I told you so." Further, black helicopters look cool.

Given that Obama has been terrible on civil liberties and I'm certain Romney or any supervillain would be worse, having an easy to depose or a rather controllable supervillain might be an improvement.

Looking at the list, the last point seems rather accurate; Americans probably wouldn't see any difference if we elected a supervillain like Lex Luthor or Doctor Doom instead of Obama or Romney. In fact, the country might be better off

Doom is not an American citizen, however. I am sick of the Birther folk who would no doubt become apoplectic if Doom took office. That fact leaves me little choice; I'm going to support Lex Luthor in 2012.


Quotation Of The Day: George McGovern Edition

As recorded by Quote.net.
The Establishment center ... has led us into the stupidest and cruelest war in all history. That war is a moral and political disaster -- a terrible cancer eating away at the soul of our nation.
He may have been talking about Vietnam, but it applies to every war the United States has fought since then.

My sympathies to the McGovern family. 

Ignored Agriculture Study Illustrates Why Corporate Power Hurts Common People

The New York Times reports on a USDA funded study conducted by the University of Iowa that illustrates that farming can be done with fewer chemicals.
The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.

The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent.

In short, there was only upside — and no downside at all — associated with the longer rotations.
I admit that I haven't searched every South Dakota newspaper to see if this article has been picked up, but I couldn't find the study mentioned in the Argus Leader or the Yankton Press & Dakotan. The Times points out that many publications seem to ignore this study; it has been ignored by " has been largely ignored by the media, two of the leading science journals and even one of the study’s sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture." The article documents the journals that might fear corporate repercussions if they publish the findings.
The agency declined to comment when I asked about it. One can guess that perhaps no one at the higher levels even knows about it, or that they’re afraid to tell Monsanto about agency-supported research that demonstrates a decreased need for chemicals. (A conspiracy theorist might note that the journals Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences both turned down the study. It was finally published in PLOS One; I first read about it on the Union of Concerned Scientists Web site.)
The Times points to the obvious conclusion:
So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons.
Since the people who have the knowledge and are willing to work smart aren't going to increase Monsanto's bottom line, it's obvious that the sponsor of most corporate agriculture practices will continue to prefer poisons to people.

Scripture And Song Of The Week: Revelation Edition

Revelation 3
NIV

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What Does The Yankton Press And Dakotan Have Against Emilie Weisser?

I carefully cultivate my curmudgeon credentials; I follow Groucho Marx's advice and avoid joining any club that will have me for a member. The only time I want my name in the paper is for my obituary. I really don't want it in then, but my wife says she's going to publish my obituary, and I want to keep her happy, so I won't argue with her.

I also was taught that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. That's why I was confused last February when the Yankton Press&Dakotan published a front page feature about Sadie Stevens earning a Critical Language Scholarship to study Arabic but made no mention of the fact that Emilie Weisser had earned a CLS scholarship to study Russian. I did a bit of rationalization and concluded that Arabic is the hot new language, and Russian is a bit passe. The United States is after all fighting wars in Arabic speaking countries, and the Cold War is over.

Frustration replaced my confusion when the October 10 P&D gave Laura Johnson front page honors because she will begin working with Peace Corps early next year but again ignored the fact that Emilie will be serving with the Peace Corps. Laura is going to Africa; Emilie will begin working with the Peace Corps in Albania next summer. I have no rationalization available for why a service in Africa is more newsworthy than service in Albania.

If I were Emilie, I'd wonder what I'd done to offend the journalism gods or the P&D.

I'm not Emilie, but I find the P&D's selective omissions odd and insulting. If CLS and the Peace Corps service are front page stories when some earn them, those honors should not be ignored when others earn them

I claim no expertise in journalism; I took my only journalism class in the late 1970s. It does, however, seem logical that if one local person has earned an honor, a reporter would contact the organization to discover whether other local people have earned similar honors.

As a news consumer, it seems that local news operates on a basic principle: if one local success story sells, two will sell better. In this case, stories about one attractive recent graduate of Yankton High School would have been enhanced if it had also reported about a second attractive graduate who had achieved a similar honor within the same time frame.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the honors and hard work aren't the newsworthy principle. Perhaps the P&D is governed by the principle the public prominence of one one's parents determines whether achievements are newsworthy. Or maybe, the people running the paper just hate Emilie Weisser.


Saturday Morning Video: The Script Featuring will.i.am Edition

Just because it was the first video I saw this morning and I kinda like it even though it reeks of sentimentality.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Federal Government Moves To Limit Robo-calls: Will South Dakota Republicans Rejoice?

I have followed  South Dakota Robo-CallGate or whatever the it's going to be called with minor amusement. It will be interesting to see if South Dakota Republicans support this little bit of incentive based federal spending.
After years of using traditional regulatory tools to block billions of illegal marketing calls, the FTC is launching a public contest in search of new technical solutions.
The prize: $50,000
“The FTC is attacking illegal robo-calls on all fronts, and one of the things that we can do as a government agency is to tap into the genius and technical expertise among the public,” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We think this will be an effective approach in the case of robo-calls because the winner of our challenge will become a national hero.”
The agency will accept entries between Oct. 25 and Jan. 17. Judges will score proposals based on workability (worth 50 percent), ease of use (25 percent) and the idea’s potential for a wide rollout (25 percent).
Applicants may submit ideas to block recorded marketing calls on landlines, cellphones or both. An entry that successfully stops both will be scored higher. The FTC says that many of those calls are deceptive or fraudulent. Such calls are illegal unless the marketer has prior written approval from the recipient.

I'm all for limiting robo-calls. In fact my wife and I seldom answer our home phone because we don't want to listen to a machine or a person telling us to buy stuff we neither want nor need. In this instance, however, I'm disappointed that I have not gotten neither one of these robo-calls. Heck, I'm not even on the mailing list to get a measly postcard. In order to increase my odds of hearing one of these calls that drives South Dakota's only political party's establishment into fits of hysteria, I hope that the incentive doesn't spur radically quick action.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Witness To Lincoln's Assassination Appeared On A Game Show

The Atlantic posted this video of a person who was at Ford's Theater the night President Lincoln was shot. The show was originally broadcast one year before I was born. I find it fascinating that technology can connect people to a witness of one of America's most infamous events even if that even occurred nearly 150 years ago.



Quotation Of The Day: Newsweek Ending Its Print Edition Edition

Reacting to Tina Brown's announcement Ed Kilgore sums up my nostalgia:
I guess those of us of a certain age ought to wax nostalgic about Newsweek’s demise as a print publication. I am in fact old enough to remember when Newsweek and Time (and to a lesser extent, U.S. News and World Report) were how smart and civically engaged regular folk outside Megalopolis got regular doses of national news and commentary. This was long before you could spot those blue New York Times bags on suburban lawns across the country, and long before cable news and even Talk Radio. And it’s obviously a business model and a slice of media culture that makes little or no sense today.
I remember being ecstatic when my parents subscribed to Newsweek to help me in my high school civics and government classes. The magazine arrived every Thursday or Friday depending on how the mail service was working, and I'd re-read articles all through the week.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Will Dungeons And Dragons Predict the Election?

GeekDad covers an event that has D&D players attempting to defeat Obama or Romney characters.
Casey Jex Smith staged an event for his show Fiend in the Void, a solo exhibition of gaming-inspired works on paper and sculpture. At the opening party, volunteers rolled dice and tried to kill off the characters “King Belian Shipsale” (Obama) and “Lord Spelldyal” (Romney). The last man — er, character — standing determined how Smith would cast his vote in his home state of Ohio. Really.
The entire event is too geeky for me to try to paraphrase or  even quote, but the conclusion sounds dramatic:
The two contestants rolled giant d20s into a box that resembled a craps table. Obama used a d12 for damage and Mitt a d10. Then came the climactic moment: “The hits went back and forth until Mitt had 10 hit points and Obama had 20,” Smith said. The final roll took Mitt to -1 hit points. Smith pronounced [Obama] the victor and finished saying “My vote binds the future.”
Sounds awful dramatic.

I'm a little disappointed that Libertarian Gary Johnson, Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode, or the Green Party's Jill Stein weren't also characters in the game. I guess even D&D is a victim of America's political duopoly.

Quotation Of The Day: Worst Congress Ever Edition

Conor Firedersdorf lays out the case that it's not the current 112th Congress but the 107th Congress from the early years of the Bush Administration:
In October 2001, with just one senator dissenting, that Congress passed the PATRIOT Act, the most alarming infringement on civil liberties in a generation and a precursor to all War on Terrorism abuses to come. In a bipartisan bill that January, legislators approved No Child Left Behind, a well-intentioned but flawed education-reform bill that forced an ineffective test-taking regime on the states and has not lived up to its name. Another bipartisan bill, the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance legislation, didn't remedy the problems it was meant to address before or after parts of it were found by the Supreme Court to violate the Constitution.
But no failure was as consequential as the 2002 authorization for military force against Iraq. What a historic debacle. That same Congress created the Department of Homeland Security, so their legacy of awfulness may well continue in perpetuity. It's all worth remembering next time someone tells you that the present Congress is the worst ever because they won't get anything done. For a couple years after President Bush took over, Congress agreed enough to push through all sorts of major policies with bipartisan support. They just turned out to be follies.
Sometimes bipartisan agreement is far more catastrophic than gridlock.




Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Would Ayn Rand Say About Her Most Public Disciple Now?

Paul Ryan stopped to get a photo op. There's nothing wrong with that. Politicians do it all the time. The problem for Mr. Ryan is two-fold. First, this particular photo op is at a soup kitchen, a charity. Ayn Rand, a person that Ryan claims influenced him greatly, would not be amused. She after all believed that charity was not a moral virtue; in fact, she made it her duty to "fight" that idea:
My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.
The second problem is the fact that the photo op shows Ryan washing clean pots and pans:
Ryan had stopped by the soup kitchen for about 15 minutes on his way to the airport after his Saturday morning town hall in Youngstown. By the time he arrived, the food had already been served, the patrons had left, and the hall had been cleaned.
Upon entering the soup kitchen, Ryan, his wife and three young children greeted and thanked several volunteers, then donned white aprons and offered to clean some dishes. Photographers snapped photos and TV cameras shot footage of Ryan and his family washing pots and pans that did not appear to be dirty.
On second thought, if no one really benefited from Ryan's actions actions except Ryan, who got the benefit of appearing to care for 15 minutes even when he didn't, Rand might be very proud of her disciple. After all she believed that charity is only a "marginal issue." Apparently, charity is only political for Ryan as well.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tweet Of The Week: Great Life Advice Edition


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: What Education Reformers Don't Get Edition

I'm struck by the fact that the biggest things I believe about education are not practical, theoretical or even pedagogical. They're more spiritual than anything else: the notion of kids as both amazing and broken, the idea of humility as the best method of leadership, the notion of learning as a holistic process; being progressive and hopeful and yet respecting the voices of the past.
Nearly every education reform, including Referred Law 16 begins with the premise that kids are means to make rich people richer. The people proposing them are arrogant enough to believe that they know more about students than people who have been in the classroom for decades. They believe that students need know only what's on the test that Pearson or some other textbook company publishes. The past matters only when it doesn't confront reformers with the truth: the virtue in most request is conformity.

Scripture And Song Of The Week: I John Edition

I John 2
NIV
9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister[b] is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister[c] lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

Yankton Paper Joins Rapid City Paper In Pay To Publish Folly

The Yankton Press& Dakotan is joining the Rapid City Journal and charging those who wish to have political letters to the editor published during the remainder of this campaign season:
While we encourage legitimate letters to the editor on almost any subject, we’ve made a crucial decision that we believe will and should have an impact on this year’s political season. Letters to the editor endorsing or criticizing political candidates or issues will no longer run for free. The authors will be contacted if contact information is provided, and they will be offered the opportunity to use advertising space for their support or criticism of a candidate or an issue, just as they would have the opportunity to buy air time on radio here in Yankton and the surrounding region. These “letters” will be labeled “paid advertising.” Of course, the writer may choose not to pay to have his or her advertising letter printed.
Sadly, the abuse by some of the candidates and their campaign managers with our “letters to the editor” section has probably stifled some exchange of opinion, but we know of no other way to stop the abuse.
Thanks in advance for your understanding and feel free to contact me with any questions that may arise.
Both publications argue that the fees are necessary because campaigns organize efforts to get letters to the editor published and that the letters constitute free advertising. If I may be trite, allow me to post the following clip that has become de rigueur for situations such as this one.



Not only am I shocked, SHOCKED that politicians would attempt to gain free advertising. I'm also confused about the distaste for "free advertising" for politicians but the acceptance of it for local businesses, some of whom must also buy ads. On October 12th, two days after the paper announced its pay to publish policy, the P&D carried the following letter to the editor from the Yankton Youth Soccer Association:
The Yankton Youth Soccer Association would like to thank the following businesses for their support this soccer season:

Riverfront Dental, Cork and Bottle, Ron’s Autoglass, Collision Center, ATI, Home Federal, Lewis and Clark Specialty Hospital, Becker Body Shop, Midwest Marble, Stepping Stones Daycare, Broadway Chrysler, McDonald’s, KFC/Taco Bell, Vision Care, Menards, Chesterman’s, KPI, Northwestern, Andera Tax Service, Cortrust, Affordable Expressions Photography, Riverside Autobody, Slumberland, Paul’s Kwik Stop, and Brian’s Electric.

Local business support helped to sponsor 39 youth soccer teams from age 4 to age 12. The youth of the Yankton community had a successful season due in part to your support.
Perhaps I am unable to grasp the subtleties of free advertising, but the difference between this letter praising Menards and McDonald's, both national chains, and letter praising either Obama, Romney, or Libertarian Gary Johnson, all national candidates eludes me. Likewise, this letter praises local businesses like Cork and Bottle and Ron's Auto Glass. The difference between this advertising for a business and a letter supporting Bernie Hunhoff or Mike Stevens once again eludes me. (For the record my wife loves Menards; we both buy items from McDonald's Dollar Menu, and appreciate the service that we receive when we patronize Ron's Auto Glass. The preceding sentiments about local businesses are sincere even though the tone may be snarky.)

The truth is that every election story that local media does is free advertising. Candidates at all levels have the opportunity to shape the story and use the local media to their advantage.  The larger truth is that these policies are one more step to creating a political climate totally dominated by the wealthy and the politically connected. Campaigns will now set up a "letters to the editor fund" and give their most loyal and fervent supporters the equivalent of "street money" to pay to publish. Meanwhile, those on tight budgets who get only candidates' limp handshakes, plastic smiles, and empty promises have one more avenue of expression taken away from them.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday Morning Video: Oral Interp Tournament Title Edition

Because I'm gonna spend most of the day listening to young'uns talking at me with their interp pieces.



Friday, October 12, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Everything That's Wrong With America Edtion

In the process of urging Mitt Romney to embrace an extension of the payroll tax cut, Derek Thompson attacks Romney's tax plan and and unintentionally describes everything that's wrong with the country. Like Romney's tax plan, nearly everything being proposed now "makes little sense, pleases the rich, and confuses everybody else."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Why It Doesn't Pay To Vote For Either Romney Or Obama Edition

From this Bill Kauffman post at The American Conservative:
In his memoir If You Don’t Weaken (1940), Oscar Ameringer, witty and humane radical from the erstwhile hotbed of American socialism, Oklahoma (it really was!), professed a “rule of never voting for a presidential candidate who had the slightest chance of election. The ballot is too precious lightly to be thrown away on candidates selected and financed by the ‘angels’ and archangels of the two historic old parties which have managed my adopted country into the condition it is in today.”
Oscar’s statute remains sound. We are facing in 2012 the worst Democrat-Republican twosome since, uh, 2008? 2004? 2000? I detect a pattern.
A state’s electoral votes have never been decided by a single popular vote, so as history is our guide your vote for president does not matter.




Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Initiated Measure 15: A Study In Political Naivete

On the other hand, it may be a study in incompetence.

The folks behind Initiated Measure 15 which will raise the sales tax to to fund K-12 education and Medicaid began with a number of difficult problems.

First, South Dakotans don't like taxes; it's a safe bet that 40% of South Dakota voters will vote no on any tax increase. That fact means that supports will have to convince 5 of ever 6 remaining voters to support this measure. That's a tough call anywhere, but especially tough in South Dakota under the current environment.

Second, the Pierre Machiavellian, Governor Dennis Duagaard, has suddenly found a budget surplus, so opponents of the measure have an easy talking point.

Third, even if the surplus had not magically appeared, this measure was easy to slogan against.. It is after all a 25% tax increase. That number jars. Besides, the "A penny for T Denny,"  hits a strong populist tune. T. Denny is South Dakota's one percenter.

Fourth, there is a strong progressive argument against the sales tax as South DaCola and The Madville Times both illustrate. There's no doubt that the sales tax is extremely regressive.

Fifth, schools aren't popular now; neither are poor people.

Finally, there's a cynical argument to be made that if the measure passes, there's nothing preventing the legislature from changing the funding formula so that schools and medicaid receives the same dollar amount that they currently do.

One has to wonder at the silence. Silence may be golden but it's not going to buy facts that change any of the above. It's certainly not going to convince 5 out 6 voters who may be persuadable.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Romney Tax Plan Edition

Romney wants to wage war against the rich in order to benefit the super-rich. Maybe his comment about not caring about the poor was actually benign.

From David Frum at The Daily Beast:
When Mitt Romney talks of capping itemized deductions at $17,000 to finance a cut in the top rate of federal income tax to 28 percent, he is talking about paying for a tax cut for the Porsche customer with a tax increase on the Porsche salesman. Both may be “rich” from the point of view of the typical American worker. But they are not rich in anything like the same way. . . .

A congressional staffer friend once joked that Congress spends its days “arbitrating differences between the merely affluent and the genuinely wealthy.” That may have once been true. But in recent years the merely affluent have begun to wonder if Washington has gamed the system to make their lives more difficult while showering perks on the genuinely wealthy.

Mike L., the software engineer, says that this country has never resented the successful.

That’s true. But nowadays it sometimes seems that the very most successful resent everybody else—starting first with the people occupying the rungs of the ladder immediately below their own.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Football Fan Behavior Edition

Eric Winston, Kansas City Chiefs left tackle, on fans cheering Matt Cassel being injured:
"We are athletes, OK? We are athletes. We are not gladiators. This is not the Roman Coliseum. People pay their hard-earned money when they come in here and I believe they can boo, they can cheer and they can do whatever they want, I believe that. We are lucky to play this game. People, it's hard to economic times, and they still pay the money to do this.

"But when somebody gets hurt, there are long lasting ramifications to the game we play, long lasting ramifications to the game we play. I've already kinda come to the understanding that I won't live as long because I play this game and that's OK, that's a choice I've made and a choice all of us have made.

"But when you cheer, when you cheer somebody getting knocked out, I don't care who it is, and it just so happened to be Matt Cassel -- it's sickening. It's 100 percent sickening. I've been in some rough times on some rough teams, I've never been more embarrassed in my life to play football than in that moment right there. . . .

"Boo him all you want. Boo me all you want. Throw me under the bus. Tell me I'm doing a bad job. Say I gotta protect him more. Do whatever you want. Say whatever you want. But if you are one of those people, one of those people that were out there cheering or even smiled when he got knocked out, I just want to let you know, and I want everybody to know that I think it's sickening and disgusting. We are not gladiators and this is not the Roman Coliseum. This is a game. . . .

"It's sickening. And I was embarrassed. I want every single one of you people to put this on your station and in your newspapers because I want every fan to know that. This is a game that's going to cost us a lot down the road. That's OK. We picked it, we deserve it and I don't want your pity. But we have a lot of problems as a society if people think that's OK. 

A Minor Musing On Hollow Political Hope

Eric Miller writes about a past that's similar to mine and elegantly asks a question that I've also asked:
It’s no surprise at all, then, that as Hal Lindsey in the 1970s and 1980s was convincing millions of Americans that the end of the age was coming, many of those same Americans were lining up at the polls and at abortion rallies to “save the culture.” They were Christians. But they were American Christians. Which identity is more decisive? It is never easy to tell.
Miller goes on to point out that answering the question is both difficult and necessary:
This book is American in many ways, but perhaps most distinctively in its hopefulness. At the same time, it reflects an effort to be fundamentally and thoroughly Christian. This pairing of identities is, I’m suggesting, fraught. Christians know that not just any hope will do, whether American or any other kind. Hope is required of us but so is intelligence; our theology, in fact, insists that these belong together, that the absence of hope dims the intellect, that the absence of mind diminishes the virtue. Christian hoping must emerge from our deepest understanding of reality, our truest apprehension of being and time. And it must call into question and subordinate all other visions and intuitions of what is, and what is to come.
The last two sentences of the preceding quotation answer Miller's earlier query. Aligning themselves with the conservative political movement, many American Christians have allowed a conservative vision of Americanism to dominate their thinking. This alignment has produced a hollow hope that places hope above other virtues and leads many to forget that of the important virtues, hope is not the greatest:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
When I was a young'un, pastors used to tell us that living what we believed involved substituting our names for the work "love" in verses 4-7. I forget that advice far too often, but I don't hear it given out very much either. Instead, I hear that to be a Christian is to vote for a political party

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saturday Morning Music Video: Grace Potter Edition

Because I miss watching videos and drinking lattes on Saturday mornings with a young'un who became a college student too soon.


What Will The Political Climate Be If Obama Wins?

Writing about the Jack Welch charge that President Obama and a cadre of loyalists cooked to books to make the Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment report look better than it is, Dave Weigel makes the following observation and prediction:
In 1980, the exact same thing happened with the BLS report. The September labor report found unemployment dropping from 7.6 percent to 7.5 percent. I wasn't there, but a quick Lexising reveals no burst of BLS trutherism. There was, instead, a focus on other elements within the data. The way things are going, if the GOP doesn't win this election, I'd say there's a 20% chance of a congressional investigation into vote fraud and a 5% chance of an Avignon Presidency set up by those who refuse to believe the election was lost. [emphasis mine]
First, the idea that the one party "owns" the Presidency seems relatively recent. My first exposure to that idea expressed by "mainstream" members of a party is some Republican statements made during Clinton's first term

Second, I'm guessing that Weigel's numbers are low. The GOP will likely maintain control of the House of Representatives; the odds of the House attempting a Watergate style hearing if Obama wins a second term are much closer to 40%.

Given that people publicly express their desire that America should not "renig," Weigel's second number should be tripled. In fact, there's more than  a 5% chance that a South Dakota Republican legislator will offer a secession resolution if Obama is re-elected

Friday, October 5, 2012

Someone In Yankton Doesn't Have A Foot Fetish

That person may also need corrective lenses. I suggest that he or she drink a bit of warm milk and take some Ambien. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but I do know that lack of sleep blurs one's vision and makes one irritable.

The Yankton School District has hired a new counselor, Tiffany Kashas, to help develop drug and alcohol prevention programs and help students who suffer from substance abuse. The Woksape, the school newspaper profiled Ms. Kashas and the programs she is beginning. The profile was accompanied by the following photo.


An unknown enlightened citizen, presumably one who keeps track of those who wear white after Labor Day, saw fit to send Ms. Kashas a note taking her to task for not wearing shoes and complaining that her bare feet were disgusting.

Far be it from me to criticize a person for his or her fetishes or lack thereof. I also don't claim the right to arbitrate fashion.

I would like to point out that Ms. Kashas is wearing sandals. I would also like to remind the anonymous person who sent her the letter criticizing her wardrobe that the young'uns don't trust the folks in  formal suits. They are much more likely to trust a young person who dresses and talks like a young professional.  Finally, isn't having programs to help students more important than whether a young woman wears sandals? (That's a rhetorical question, an accepted literary device in situations such as this.)

So allow me to offer the following advice to the anonymous person.
  1. Get your eyes checked. Buy some readers. They are a cheap alternative to prescription glasses.
  2. Cut back of the caffeine and lighten up! Seriously, whether another human being wears sandals is enough to rile you up?
  3. Concentrate on what's important: you know, helping kids avoid or confront drug abuse.
  4. Keep you fetish preferences or lack thereof to yourself.
  5. Have the guts to sign your name to every letter you send or don't send it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tweet Of The Week: Provocative Question Edition




For the record, I think the latter is far worse.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I Need My Coffee....

So do most of the people that I teach with. That fact really makes me wonder why  K-12 teachers or high school teachers didn't make the list of professions who say that they need coffee to get through the day


Also, who are those wimpy teachers who add flavoring to coffee. OK, a former colleague did ad instant coffee to regular coffee to get more flavor, but I don't think that's what other people meant when they responded to this survey. The handy dandy chart comes from here.


Quotation Of The Day: Link And Biblical Allusion Edition

From this Ed Kilgore post at The Political Animal:
CNN profiles luxury religious retreats. Jesus wept.
Amen

Monday, October 1, 2012

South Dakota's Most Interesting Politicians?

Scott Ehrisman apparently started a meme when he substituted Stan Adelstein's bearded face for the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in World. The good folks at the Mitchell Republic developed the de rigueur Top 10 list.

I'll play along.  First, let's define the term; I'll go with being able to get or hold one's attention.  Second, I'm leaving off Governor Daugaard and Senator Thune because they are playing the traditional political game, and although I admire traditional political Machiavellians when they play the game well, that fact doesn't make them interesting.

10th: Tim Johnson:
I'd put him in the same category as Thune and Daugaard but his medical struggles make playing the standard political game much more difficult.

9th: State Representative Bernie Hunhoff:
Watching South Dakota's Republican leaders push through legislation provides little drama; everyone knows they'll get what they want. On the other hand, watching Hunhoff lead the handful of Democrats as they try to do a political version of Chief Joseph's retreat keeps me reading the newspapers during the legislative session.

8th: Steve Sibson
Interesting is not synonomous with successful or effective. Sibson, a  walking conspiracy handbook, may never get elected to anything, but he's certainly not boring. All one has to do is read blog comment threads when he posts.

Tied for 6th: Secretary of State Jason Gant and Representative Kristi Noem:
Seeing the Peter Principle at work is always interesting in the same frightening way that a traffic accident is. I want to turn away, but I can't.

5th: Angie Buhl:
She's actually a liberal not a "Blue Dog" or a raging moderate. In South Dakota, real liberals are the equivalent of a Coelacanth. Rarity creates interest.

4th: Frank Kloucek
Kolaches. 'Nuff said

Tied for 2nd: The bearded gadflies, State Senator Stan Adelstein and State Representative Steve Hickey:
 Anyone calling on his a constitutional officer of his own party to resign as Adlestein has done with Secretary of State Gant is automatically interesting. Hickey challenges his party on usury laws. Gadflies may be annoying but they aren't boring. Besides, 21st Century politicians with beards are rare.

The Most Interesting Politician in South Dakota: State Representative Stace Nelson
I'm not sure if he's a renegade or someone who should have lost a few more games of checkers when he played his grandfather, but anyone who gets expelled from his caucus is an interesting dude.