Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Ask 20 Political Questions (Part 1)

For the Tea Party

1. You claim that your founding principle is love of freedom and states rights.  Where were you when the Patriot Act, the biggest legislative threat to individual liberty of the 20th Century was passed?  I heard no outcry then.  The same question goes for NCLB which threatens states rights in the same way the Patriot Act threatens political liberty.

2. If you reach your goal of reducing the federal government to the level that it was before the Civil War, what's your plan to deal with corporate power? 

3. Have you forgotten that corporations performed the actions that lead to the Great Recession?  You do remember that we now live in a world where some corporations are now too big to fail?  Does it ever scare you that that fact probably means corporations' success may be as toxic to the common person as their failure was?

4. Why are your leaders such jerks?  I'm thinking about Eric Cantor in particular, but a large number of your national spokespeople remind me of drunken louts sitting in fine restaurants and ruining the meals of other patrons through boorish behavior.

5. Have you read Animal Farm?  You do realize that the allegory applies not only to the Soviet Union but to any group that claims to provide political salvation.  The symbolic pigs who take over any movement eventually become the corrupt men that they expel from the metaphoric farm paradise.  You do know that?  Are you taking any steps to try to prevent that from happening to your movement should you achieve success?

For the Democrats

6. You claim that Republicans and Tea Party members are anti-science and anti-intellectual.  In short, you claim they are foolish, but they cleaned your political clocks in the debt ceiling fight.  If I may paraphrase Obi Wan Kenobi, who's the bigger fool, the fool or the fool who loses political fights with the fool?

7. President Obama, you do realize that the ends don't justify the means, don't you?  Do you understand that driving a dictator from power doesn't justify ignoring the Constitution or the War Powers Act?

8.  On the subject of Libya, do you remember what happened to your predecessor when he hung out the "Mission Accomplished" banner a wee bit early?  Can you avoid that mistake even though you couldn't avoid the temptation to not follow the Constitution?

9. South Dakota Democrats, you do realize that Will Rogers was joking when he said that he wasn't part of any organized party; he was a Democrat?  You do understand that if you're going to defeat Noem who is going to get at least two-thirds of the West River vote, you need to get a really strong candidate?

For Republicans

10.  You don't want to close tax loopholes that favor corporations or let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire, but you seem willing to let the payroll tax break expire at the end of the this year.  Why are you willing to end tax breaks for the common people but not the rich?

All answers need to be done in complete sentences.  Neatness counts.  Part 2 will be assigned later in the week.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Yet Another Musing About Big Ideas

On Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish, Zoe Pollock provides a quick summation of reactions to the Neil Gabler essay that I discuss here.

Pollack quotes Will Wilkenson who contends that "more people read and discussed Kant last year than in 1950, or that the size of the class of people who study and produce ideas for a living is now much larger than it was in 1950."  She also quotes Megan Graber who contends that Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia are big ideas.  Finally she quotes Kevin Drum who contends,
[B]ig ideas may or may not have been more common half a century ago than they are now, but at least back then we knew where to find them and we have a widely understood set of social conventions about how to discuss them. We haven't yet really figured that out for electronic media, and that makes the discussion of big ideas chaotic enough and inchoate enough that it can often seem as if the ideas themselves don't exist anymore. But I suspect they do. We just have to learn how to talk about them in a new language.
I'm going to play philosopher without a license and contend that  Drum, Graber, and Wilkenson are all missing the point.

First, the technological innovations that Graber and Drum discuss are technological innovations but not necessarily big ideas as Gabler or Wilkenson conceive the term.  More importantly, to use Wilkenson's Kant example, the technological innovations that Graber references have a result that is the complete opposite of Kant's categorical imperative.  Kant based his imperative on the fact that humans are autonomous beings who possess reason.  Wikipedia and Facebook do little to reaffirm a person's autonomy.  In fact, many people now use Wikipedia as a reason for humans to "know" less because everything that one may need to know and remember can be found on the site.  In short, humans should lessen their autonomy and depend on the machine or the cloud.  If the past 500 years have produced a  greater weapon of quiet compulsion than Facebook, I am unsure I want to know of it.

Second, Americans have not been blessed with leaders with the skills or desire to implement big ideas.  FDR created social security; subsequent administrations raided the trust to pay for other pet programs.  Ronald Reagan contended that government was the problem but those claiming to be his disciples grew the size and scope of government.  Further, during the past 60 years, Democrats have offered little except extend the New Deal; Republicans have countered with reduce spending and "starve the beast."  Most recent leaders lack George H.W. Bush's honesty.  At least he admitted he didn't get the vision thing.

Third, too many big ideas have had military or strategic implementations: the interstate highway system, the space program, or the Internet.  Perhaps looking for ideas that don't have military use would help thinkers produce a new set of big ideas.  While we're turning from military use as a source of big ideas, perhaps Americans should stop with the war metaphors.  The wars on drugs and poverty have produced neither ideas nor success.

Finally, the fault may lie in ourselves.  Big ideas take time and offer little immediate reward.  Although, Americans now lack the honesty to admit holding the attitude that "he who dies with the most toys wins," most of us spend far too much time "getting and spending" without acknowledging that such activity causes us to "waste our powers."

Monday, August 29, 2011

I Say Something Good About A Major Corporation's CEO

In a Financial Times interview, Doug Oberhelman, chief executive of Caterpillar, makes two important points.  First, he gives "a pox on both their houses" statement about the recent debt ceiling debacle:
“The process was ugly and it was a red herring of a problem,” Mr Oberhelman said. “The politicians turned [it] into this big giant thing that scares people. I’m equally critical of both sides.”
Second, he decries America's failure to improve its infrastructure.
“Spending on infrastructure made us one of the most competitive economies on the planet. But now our infrastructure is deteriorating badly. We have decided as a country not to invest in infrastructure any more. It’s short-sighted and it’s dangerous for the future of our country. We cannot give up our international competitiveness. That’s what’s at stake.”
I'm sure Oberhelman want so sell more earth movers, but that doesn't mean he's wrong.  He's absolutely right; the poisonous political debate will have long  term, concrete consequences.  (Pun semi-intentional)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Morning Quotation Of The Day

From this post by Brook Wilensky-Lanford, author of Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden and blogger about the fine line between fact and fiction at
Eden isn’t quite the same as utopia: it doesn’t bother with social systems; it is exclusive, a party of two. Eden is also not the same thing as paradise. Paradise is an end: permanent, perfection. Eden is always capitalized, as if it were the name of an actual geographical place, but Eden is actually temporal.
It’s a cycle: in the beginning, things were perfect, yes, but then something went wrong, and we had to leave, and then we began to yearn to return. Yes, Eden was a place of plenty, with all the conditions most fruitful for life, but more in the way an incubator is a place of plenty—nutritious, but not designed to be permanent. So the Garden of Eden always includes the Fall. It wouldn’t be paradise if it weren’t already lost. Stay too long in Eden and it becomes a cryogenic Shangri-La whose perfection turns meaningless, even menacing. Perfection leads to destruction. Even—especially—in the Bible. Adam and Eve picked themselves up after the expulsion from Eden, learned to till the earth, begat several generations. But then God decides to destroy the whole earth with Noah’s Flood. The flood is sort of a continuation of the Eden story: creation, destruction, then recreation again.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Is Voting With One's Feet Really Voting

Andrew Ferguson profiles Rick Perry in The Weekly Standard, a publication not known for liberal bias.  Ferguson quotes the following nugget from Fed Up, Perry's recently published book.
“Crucial to understanding federalism in modern-day America is the concept of mobility, or ‘the ability to vote with your feet,’ ” he writes. “If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t come to Texas. If you don’t like medicinal marijuana and gay marriage, don’t move to California.”
In short, Perry seems to believe that people vote with their feet and move to places with values and politics that they share.  Perry conveniently ignores that Texas has benefited from energy booms for some of the state's growth. He also ignores the fact that many localities seem to have economic development policies that can best be described as "pay them enough to live but too poor to leave."

Ferguson develops another problem with Perry's view of federalism.
Perry’s idea of federalism, boiled down, becomes a kind of crude majoritarianism. What if you favor both medicinal marijuana and the death penalty? What if you’re a guy who takes comfort living in a state where citizens pack hand guns but you still want to marry your boyfriend? You’re out of luck. You’ll have to live in a state where the majority​—​gun-packing homophobes or potheads with a distaste for capital punishment​—​perpetuates itself by disgorging people like you. “If you don’t like how they live there, don’t move there” is a principle with a corollary: “If you don’t like how we live here, leave.” You and your partner might have to secede.
Ferguson makes big point here.  Many people have views that differ from the majority of those in their locale.  They can't all move to regions where people share their idiosyncratic views.  As one who is "displaced" because of idiosyncratic ideas, I'm not sure how many places I can move to that share my views.

Further, and I admit to committing history, sociology, and philosophy without a license, but it strikes me that the United States is the only nation on earth that is not united by geography, religion, or language.  Instead the country is united by the idea that being an American is unique and wonderful.  "Love it or leave it" or "vote with your feet" will create a mindset where some regions are "American" while others our not.

Besides, it seems that we have acted on this idea once before.  One region had a "peculiar institution"; another did not.  Those offended by this institution could leave.  Eventually, one region seceded and the US engaged in the Civil War,

Whether "love it or leave it" comes from the right or the left, it's wrong. It may also be dangerous.

Friday, August 26, 2011

South Dakota Needs More Liberals

The prolific and indefatigable Cory Heidelberger has added the writing of a South Dakota Magazine column to his regular posting at The Madville Times.  I'm happy for Cory, but when I next see him, I will, of course, FACETIOUSLY accuse him of selling out like some great indie band that recorded a pop album just to get mainstream acclaim.

Cory's intro post explains why he is a proud denizen of the political left.  He also asks but does not answer "Is there a 'left wing' in our state?"  I will now take the role of the smart aleck student who answers what is surely a rhetorical question: "There is nothing resembling an organized political Left in South Dakota!"

Senator Tim Johnson is the lone Democrat to hold a major office.  The state senate features only five Democrats; the party holds fewer than one-third of the seats in the state house.  Off the top of my head, I can think of only two members of the state legislature that I would consider "liberals" or "leftists" as those terms are currently used: Representative Frank Kloucek and Senator Angie Buhl.

I want an organized liberal opposition in South Dakota not because I'm part of the left but because I enjoy occupying the center.  Right now, the absence of a viable left produces little but bad policy options like a sales tax increase to fund education and Medicaid.

South Dakota may need to increase taxes to fund education, but the sales tax is a regressive tax.  South Dakota multiplies that regressivity by not exempting groceries.  In fact, The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy lists South Dakota as one the nation's 10 most regressive states.  Should this tax pass, the state will become more regressive not less.

If there were a liberal opposition with a chance of gaining a majority in either the state senate or house, it's possible that the conservative Republican majority would have to move to the center.  Now, they move the state's political center to the right.  The result of that political movement is that the people least able to pay will may be forced to spend more on necessities.

Conservatives And Evangelicals May Not Go Together Like A Horse And Carriage

At The Front Porch Republic, Darryl Hart has written a provocative post about evangelicalism and conservative politics.  I am going to hit a few highlights, but the whole article is worth reading.

Hart writes,
The shame here is that we are over three decades into the shot-gun marriage of conservatives and evangelicals and the latter have apparently not learned a thing from the Right. . . . Conservatives were often Christian and shared evangelical convictions about the importance of religion as the basis for culture. But Conservatives were never so biblicist about it.
The alliance between conservatives and evangelicals has always confused me.  Conservatives have seemingly used evangelicals as political cannon fodder but have never awarded their foot soldiers the spoils of battle.  The fact that evangelicals keep returning to help conservatives win elections indicates that they have learned little from their political allies.

Hart also points out that relying on the Bible as the source of one's political conservatism is problematic.  First, the Constitution is not in the Bible and the Bible is not in the Constitution.
For most Protestants, the Bible and the Constitution were in fundamental harmony, or at least Protestants were free to interpret the Bible according to the liberties protected by the Constitution. But anyone who has read the Pentateuch, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Constitution knows that the ideals of checks and balances, small government, and freedom of religion, are not readily found in Scripture.
Second, many conservatives don't accept the Bible as a source of authority; instead they appeal to natural law.
Instead, natural law was a way of appealing to a common set of truths derived from the creator of the universe upon which people could try to establish a peaceful, free, and orderly society. It was also the grounds for trusting neighbors who didn’t have Jesus in their hearts; the law written on their hearts would keep these God-deniers from most criminal activity and maybe even lead to genuinely neighborly acts.
Having differing sources of authority may cause evangelicals to see allies where none exist.  Further, being unwilling to accept natural law as authority may lead them to underestimate the many varieties of conservative.  More importantly, evangelicals seem to have no coherent idea of what to do if given the chance to govern.
[Evangelicals] sincerely believe they are conservative. But they have almost no understanding of the various shades of American conservatism and its different thinkers. They think they are conservative simply because they are Christian, never realizing that at least since the publication of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, a lively debate has been going on about the Right and its borders. They think they are conservative because their Bible tells them they are conservative. Yet, they don’t know the world of American conservatism beyond restoring the Decalogue in public life.
Evangelicals allied with conservatives not because conservatives had the same priorities but because "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."  This rationale is ironic.   Evangelicals insist that thought and action must be biblical. but they have based their political alliances on a maxim not found in the Bible.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Changing Education: A Continued Musing

I'd like to add to the list of suggestions to change education that I posted here.

First, emulate the National Football League.  Every team in the NFL has a goal: win the Super Bowl.  The successful teams are also able to enunciate clearly a "system"  that they will use to achieve the goal.  The NFL has a "West Coast offense" or "use the running game to set up the passing game," :Tampa 2," or "pressure defense" philosophies that may be intricate but communicated clearly and concisely.  I don't know if any schools clearly communicate their method.  Further, most seem to follow any idea that's in vogue even if it doesn't fit with what they have been doing.

Second, (I realize this point may partially contradict the previous one) teachers should eliminate the use of jargon.  Education jargon for whatever reason is wimpy.

Finally, this problem needs to get fixed.  Daniel Luzer reports,
Many critics argue that American college students seem to earn grades that are too high, or too high at least for the actual effort they’re putting in. In 1991 the average college GPA was 2.93. In 2006 the average college GPA was 3.11.
Well, guess which students earn the highest grades? It’s future teachers. According to a new study by Cory Koedel published by the American Enterprise Institute:
Students who take education classes at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in every other academic discipline. The higher grades cannot be explained by observable differences in student quality between education majors and other students, nor can they be explained by the fact that education classes are typically smaller than classes in other academic departments

This is despite the fact that education majors have the lowest high school grades and standardized test scores of all college students.
Now obviously there’s nothing we can do about this from a policy perspective. Grades are awarded by professors. If they think their students all deserve As and Bs (the average classroom-level grade GPA in American education departments is 3.8), well, that’s their prerogative.
But this is an important thing to keep in mind when discussing standards-based reform and rewarding and punishing teachers based on student achievement. Tough grading might be sort of a novel concept for many teachers.

How They See Us: Gawker Ranks South Dakota

Gawker writers, who in the main live in New York, are ranking the 50 worst US states.  South Dakota comes in as the 16th worst.  Congressperson Noem does little to help our reputation.

16. South Dakota

The Mount Rushmore State is beautiful and strange, a quiet and vaguely menacing place with more bison than people (or at least it seems that way).
The Good: The whole Badlands/Black Hills/Mt. Rushmore stretch of the state is very pretty. Wild and faraway-feeling, it's like standing in a history book about the pioneer days, but also like standing on the moon. On the way into the Badlands you may pass by, oh say a million or so signs for Mitchell, SD's fabulous Corn Palace, a kitschy tourist trap that's worth the drive just to say you've been. Wind Cave National Park is cool and creepy too, a mysterious place where the main attraction is underground and everything up top is strange prairie grass on low rolling hills, waving in the wind. Shivers!
The Bad: There's nothing there. Nothing! When your most cosmopolitan city is Sioux Falls, you've got a problem. Also, South Dakota boasts the United States congressperson with the worst hair in all of Washington. Look at that hair! Kristi, girl. Choose one look and go with that. You can't have the Rachel and the Monica at the same time. In general, South Dakota's politics tend to trend towards the batshit bonkers side, so beware. Also, the Corn Palace? It's nothing special. Or at least it doesn't justify the fifty million signs that advertise its proximity. I'd be more interested in seeing Kristi Noem's hair salon. And burning it down
Final Score: 4.45
Our neighbors fare a bit better.  North Dakota is 20Wyoming is 19Montana is 18Nebraska is 17Minnesota is 45 even with Michele Bachmann. Iowa is 27; the news about deep fried butter improved its rating.

If I am interpreting these ratings correctly, the rest of the world believes that Kristi Noem  is such a liability that even Mount Rushmore cannot overcome her deleterious effects.  Oh well, at least the rating wasn't scientific.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Yet Another Strange Statistic Of The Week

Caucasians who live in rural areas are "America's prime demographic to accidentally die during ill-advised, testosterone-fueled stupidity!"  The abstract of "Living Dangerously: Culture of Honor, Risk-Taking, and the Nonrandomness of 'Accidental' Deaths" published in Social Psychological and Personality Science states,
Two studies examined the hypothesis that the culture of honor would be associated with heightened risk taking, presumably because risky behaviors provide social proof of strength and fearlessness. As hypothesized, Study 1 showed that honor states in the United States exhibited higher rates of accidental deaths among Whites (but not non-Whites) than did nonhonor states, particularly in nonmetropolitan areas. Elevated accidental deaths in honor states appeared for both men and women and remained when the authors controlled for a host of statewide covariates (e.g., economic deprivation, cancer deaths,temperature) and for non-White deaths. Study 2, likewise, showed that people who endorsed honor-related beliefs reported greater risk taking tendencies, independent of age, sex, self-esteem, and the big five.
The article contends,
research suggests that men (White men, in particular) in the southern and western United States who have been influenced by an ideology of honor are especially driven to achieve this goal (e.g., Cohen et al., 1996; Cohen & Nisbett, 1994; Nisbett et al., 1995). Consequently, men from culture-of-honor regions might be more prone to engage in risky behaviors that sometimes lead to death, relative to men from nonculture-of-honor regions, because such behaviors signify that one possesses the ‘‘manly’’attributes of strength and courage (Bosson et al., 2009).
South Dakota isn't mentioned in the article.  I don't know if South Dakota has a culture that has been "influenced by an ideology of honor" but I see my students as being far too willing "to engage in risky behaviors that sometimes [may] lead to death."

Strange Statistic And Good Suggestion Of The Week

Writing for The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal notes a lack of basic computer literacy and offers a sound suggestion.
This week, I talked with Dan Russell, a search anthropologist at Google, about the time he spends with random people studying how they search for stuff. One statistic blew my mind. 90 percent of people in their studies don't know how to use CTRL/Command + F to find a word in a document or web page! I probably use that trick 20 times per day and yet the vast majority of people don't use it at all.
"90 percent of the US Internet population does not know that. This is on a sample size of thousands," Russell said. "I do these field studies and I can't tell you how many hours I've sat in somebody's house as they've read through a long document trying to find the result they're looking for. At the end I'll say to them, 'Let me show one little trick here,' and very often people will say, 'I can't believe I've been wasting my life!'"
I can't believe people have been wasting their lives like this either! It makes me think that we need a new type of class in schools across the land immediately. Electronic literacy. Just like we learn to skim tables of content or look through an index or just skim chapter titles to find what we're looking for, we need to teach people about this CTRL+F thing.
Even if the CTRL+F command disappears tomorrow, teaching kids that there are effective, legitimate shortcuts to allow them to work smarter not harder is important.

Madrigal does a follow-up post here to respond to those who claim he lives in a "web worker bubble."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Changing Education: A Minor Musing

Yesterday, Travis at Dahle Communication ended a long blogging hiatus and posted a few ideas for education reform along with a request for others to do the same.  Travis advocates a longer school year, taking steps to treat teachers like professionals not hourly employees, and paying teachers more.  I have no argument with any of those proposals, but since he asked, I'll add a few of my own.

First, the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) need to start acting like the American Bar Association (ABA) and the American Medical Association (AMA).  Right now both groups act more like labor unions.  If teachers want to be treated like professionals, our professional organizations need to model themselves after other successful professional organizations.

Second, education needs to develop diagnostic tests that give teachers more information about student needs.  On the first day of school, 25 to 30 students will walk into the classroom.  Three weeks later classroom teachers will start to get an idea of what each student needs.  It might take another three or four weeks to determine what works for each student.  If schools gave teachers better information at the start of a semester, teachers would be more effective and students would learn more. If people are worried about adding administrative personnel, I would eliminate curriculum directors and replace them with diagnostic test experts.

Third, the diagnostic testing should allow students to test out of certain subjects.  Sitting in classes and relearning or reviewing things is a waste of time.

Fourth, the class size argument needs to be framed differently.  A class with people who have trouble in the subject should have 12-15 students.  Classes with students who have no problem mastering the material can be much larger. 

Fifth, students who have tested out subjects need to be allowed a "personal interest period."  Students can use this period to take a literature or science class even if they have tested out of literature or science.  If they want, they can take a carpentry class, an art class, a music class, a computer class.  Taking things that interest them in school setting may help students understand that learning is a life-long enterprise

Sixth, high schools should have a junior college option for students who are testing out of most of the basic classes.  I'm fairly certain that most of South Dakota's AA schools have enough teachers with advanced degrees who are competent to teach 100 or 200 level intro classes.  With the price of college tuition shooting through the roof, this option should help a lot of lower income families send their students to college and allow the student to leave college with hill of debt rather than mountains of debt.

Finally, work to change the culture's view of education.  Right now, teachers seem to be viewed as sales people.  Let me work with the students; someone else can take care of the PR.  Right now, it seems as if everything has to do with marketing the school or a particular department or a certain class.

I realize that most of my proposals need the longer school year and increased pay that Travis proposed, but I think the results will be worth the investment.

Book Soundtracks

I am old enough to remember a time when the marketing of a film's sound track sent a signal that the movie sucked had some major flaws.  Now, it's rare for a film not to market its soundtrack.

Salon reports that books now feature soundtracks.
Actually, it might be too easy. A much better sense of Emma's sensibility -- cool Britannia like Prefab Sprout, Cocteau Twins, Billy Bragg and Everything But the Girl alongside English major mainstays Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell and Joan Armatrading -- appears on author and screenwriter David Nicholls' website. Nicholls has imagined the two mix tapes Emma gives Dexter (one from 1989, the other from 2000) and created Spotify and iTunes playlists where they can be streamed or purchased.
Book soundtracks like these have become increasingly popular among authors and readers, especially as the connection between writers and their audience has become more interactive, and as the fast popularity of music-streaming services like Spotify have made it easy to share songs online. But while a song on a movie soundtrack might be there because of a licensing deal or to boost an artist on a label also owned by the studio, author playlists, when done well, can deepen a character and enhance a reader's connection.
"A big part of creating characters for me has always involved working out their tastes -- in clothes, fashion, music," said Nicholls, in an email interview. "I know what the leading characters like, what they wear, what they listen to, what they eat, and making playlists is, I suppose, a form of note-taking, a way of working without really working."
I don't see myself as a luddite, but I fear a reading future that exists of Kindles with links that allow readers to hear a song every time the title or lyrics appear on the screen.  That eventuality seems the next logical step.  Our society doesn't need more sound; it needs more time for quiet contemplation.

Monday, August 22, 2011

More Reading And Politics: The President's Vacation Reading

From The Daily Beast, the President will apparently be reading fiction during the his vacation.
President Obama may be on vacation, but don't expect to see any paparazzi shots of him passed out on the beach—at least not without a book in hand. Obama was spotted Friday at the quaint Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard, where he picked up Daniel Woodrell's The Bayou Trilogy and Rodin's Debutante by Ward Just. Trilogy is a trifecta of crime novels, while Rodin's Debutante is about a "Gatsbyesque character living in a mansion outside robber-baron-era Chicago," according to The president packed three other books for the trip: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, To the End of the Land by David Grossman, and Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns, hailed as the "epic" tale of America's Great Migration.

Reading And Politics And Consequences

Tevi Troy, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former senior aide to president George W. Bush, has an interesting article about the books the current Republican candidates have read or are currently reading.  I won't go through the whole list, but I do want to highlight a few highlights.

First, the epithets that Troy or a headline writer gives some of the candidates prove interesting, illuminating, and descriptive.
Second, Troy's conclusion is thought provoking.
The reading lists of the 2012 Republican contenders reflect not only the wide-open nature of the field, but the still-open question of what it means to be a conservative. Reagan left office more than two decades ago, and the GOP still cannot agree on any one person to take his place — let alone a single book to define modern conservatism. There is no latter-day “The Conscience of a Conservative” to pluck off a shelf or download on your Kindle; and there are no Buckleys or Friedmans to write landmark conservative works.
Yet there seems to be a thirst for big books, or at least big ideas, that Republican candidates can use as guiding lights. It may be a coincidence, but the first contender to withdraw from the race, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, did not really highlight any big books animating his conservatism. (In his own book, “Courage to Stand,” Pawlenty cites Ross Bernstein’s “The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL” as an example of the “finest lessons and greatest joys” that the sport of hockey has given him, and explains how it informs his political strategies and dealmaking.)
The variety and unpredictability of the GOP candidates’ reading lists could reflect a willingness to pursue unconventional thinking, for good or for ill, and they contrast with Democratic reliance on a single type of book, which evokes Saint Thomas Aquinas’s warning of hominem unius libri timeo (“I fear the man of a single book”). But the variety could also prove more virtue than defect. The Republicans have become a party of too many ideas, but too few unifying ones beyond low taxes and a newfound fiscal conservatism. This lack of clarity on core principles will be tested in the 2012 primaries, and the results could guide conservatism for years to come.
I need to do much more thinking to come to a sound conclusion, but I am wondering if it's more dangerous to have only one book or only one idea.

Was McDonald Medusa's Surname?

I love it when mythology and pop culture come together. discovers this sculpture.

I will admit there are some obvious similarities: Medusa turned people to stone if they made eye contact with her; McDonalds' food turns people's arteries into stone.  IO9 may have carried the comparison a bit too far with this speculation:

I'm assuming Perseus traveled to the bowels of McDonaldland and collected the spokesclown's head to prevent a one-kilometer-tall Grimace from destroying Argos. Also, Ronald's blood turns into the Fry Kids when it splatters the earth.
Everyone knows that Ronald doesn't have blood.  He has Big Mac "special sauce" running through his veins.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Some Economic Queries

The Madville Times points to this Washington Post editorial that questions Republican economic theorySouth Dakota Politics counters by pointing to a New York Times article that indicates the green jobs initiatives fail.

Dr. Blanchard also takes issue with Cory's assertion that
Republican economics is wrong, intellectually, empirically, and morally. It’s really just class warfare, trying to convince the majority that government has no role in the economy so they can take the government’s hand off the tiller and let wealth naturally accumulate upward.
Blanchard responds,
The green jobs agenda is an intellectual and empirically verified farce. My friends on the left will still believe in it, and insist that we invest in it. What else could they do? But this kind of spending on useless things means that somebody isn't getting a raise and somebody else isn't getting a job. That might matter morally.
I have been thinking a lot about conflicting priorities and underlying problems lately. The fact that the country needs more jobs is indisputable.  Blanchard's rejoinder, however, seems to miss the point of Cory's question about economic policy and morality.

Politifacts rates as true the claim that he 400 richest people in the country control as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the population.  In other words 400 people control as much wealth as 150 million people.

The PBS NewsHour has developed this chart to show the how wealth is distributed in the United States.


Blanchard wants to leave morality out of the conversation, so I won't ask if this distribution is moral.  Instead I'll ask the following four questions.

First, is this distribution desirable?

Second, is this distribution sustainable?

Third, if the answer to either of the previous questions is "No," what's the best way to change the distribution?

Fourth, how does this distribution affect job creation?

Blanchard and many others are rightly concerned about avoiding Greece's fate.  Avoiding bankruptcy or default is a necessary goal.  However, it strikes me that one needs to work to achieve a more desirable distribution; one that looks like this chart that shows Sweden's distribution.

We may never achieve Sweden's breakdown.  As a country we may decide that this distribution has negative consequences that we want to avoid.  That being said, it seems blatantly obvious that the bottom 60% need more than 4.3% of the pie.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Ultimate Combination Of Nostalgia And Geek

From Hijinks Ensue, Game of Thrones and Calvin and Hobbes:  who could ask for more?

Plains Pops: Totally Random Edition

Random item 1.  Someone in Yankton agrees with me.  I posted about the need for more political parties here.  Kelly Hertz writes this editorial that explains the need for a third party and reminds readers of Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 run.

Random item 2. All debate coaches love it when a headline and extemp question converge.  The headline to this Conor Friedersdorf article is great as both an attention grabbing headline and a thought provoking question:  "Is Sarah Palin a Presidential Candidate or a Narcissist?"

Random item 3. I don't know why, but I always get the following songs confused.  First, The Asteroids Galaxy Tour's "The Golden Age" which is the background song to a Heineken commercial.

Second, Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks"

I guess my wife is right; sometimes my brain just doesn't work right.

Random Item 4:  Talking Points Memo points to this link picturing a girl holding a Ron Paul Mosh Pit ticket. I hope a libertarian mosh pit doesn't turn into an IFC cage match.

Random Item 5:  The Great Plains Observer doubts Michele Bachmann's claim that she can implement policies that will reduce gas prices to under $2 per gallon.

This Andrew Pavelyev post on Frum Forum explains how she can accomplish her goal.
I have been quite critical of Michele Bachmann lately, but I will defend her whenever she is attacked unfairly. She has just promised that if elected she would bring the price of gas below $2 per gallon. This promise has been met with widespread derision, and even conservative outlets such as National Review doubt whether she can achieve this.
But I have no doubt: yes, she can!
Bachmann’s economic policies (such as immediate drastic cuts in federal spending) would surely cause a new recession, the recession would also affect Europe, China, India and other major oil consumers. Oil prices would collapse and gas prices would indeed plummet below $2 a gallon (just as they did in late 2008). So if you want cheap gas (and absolutely don’t care about anything else), vote for Bachmann!

Quotation Of The Day: David Brooks Edition

David Brooks profiles Philip Leakey and offers some thought provoking closing paragraphs that should apply to the classroom:
Philip guides you like an eager kid at his own personal science fair, pausing to scratch into the earth where Iron Age settlers once built a forge. He says that about one in seven of his experiments pans out, noting there is no such thing as a free education.

Some people center their lives around money or status or community or service to God, but this seems to be a learning-centered life, where little bits of practical knowledge are the daily currency, where the main vocation is to be preoccupied with some exciting little project or maybe a dozen.

Some people specialize, and certainly the modern economy encourages that. But there are still people, even if only out in the African wilderness, with a wandering curiosity, alighting on every interesting part of their environment.
The late Richard Holbrooke used to give the essential piece of advice for a question-driven life: Know something about something. Don’t just present your wonderful self to the world. Constantly amass knowledge and offer it around.
A few quick comments:  First, curiosity and failure are essential elements of success.  I just wish that institutions were more accepting of both.

Second, I'm certain that "learning-centered life" is incompatible with both status seeking and wealth seeking.  On the other hand, I believe that being "learning-centered" or "God-centered" or "community-centered" need not be mutually exclusive.

Finally, the Holbrooke quotation should hang in every classroom.  American education has spent far too much time pushing self esteem so that students can show their wonderful selves to the world.  Some in education even smirk at amassing knowledge because the interwebs know more than any individual.  Holbrooke's statement serves as reminder that amassing and sharing knowledge still necessary.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Quotation Of The Day: Sarah Palin Edition

Nick Broomfiled on Palin's hometown.
"People are afraid to talk.  Wasilla makes Twin Peaks look like a walk in the park."
I wonder if Laura Palmer's secret diaries have any entries about Palin.
(HT Andrew Sullivan)

Income Inequality Through Satirists' Lenses

Conor Friedersdorf has a great essay illustrating that Jon Stewart is a better satirist than Rush Limbaugh.  Given my attitude toward Limbaugh, I obviously believe that Friedersdorf damns with faint praise.  If fact,  Stewart and his running mate Stephen Colbert frequently rise to the level set by Jonathan Swift.

Recently both Stewart and Colbert have taken to the same subject matter that motivated Swift to pen his most famous satirical essay, "A Modest Proposal."  Swift's speaker begins,
It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they grow up either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes.

I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.
In short the poor are responsible for their own condition and need to take charge of their lives.  Swift's black humor allows him to satirically suggest that the Irish sell their young as a food source for the rich.

Last night, Stewart takes on this sort of "class warfare."
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
World of Class Warfare - Warren Buffett vs. Wealthy Conservatives
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Steven Colbert takes on the same targets.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

South Dakota Politics: Why Isn't Competence The Priority?

What follows is a slightly modified cross-post of my response to this comment at The Madville Times.  The commenter writes,
“I have seen her [Kristi Noem] at events and she personally went around and talked with each person there.”
Later, I came across this Dakota War College post in which the author concludes,
When Dennis Daugaard speaks I listen, because I believe him to be a genuine and honest man who has earned my support.
Let me stipulate with all seriousness that I'm sure that Kristi Noem Dennis Daugaard are  better human beings than I am, and I hope God will reward each of them on judgment day with mansions the size of New Hampshire.

That being said, I don’t care if a politician greets everyone in the room and is a friendly person that people like and beg to attend their backyard barbecues and their children’s baptisms and weddings. Further, I have not met Governor Daugaard, Senator Thune, Representative Noem, or former Representative Herseth-Sandlin.  I have shaken hands with Senator Johnson but I would hardly call the exchange a conversation.

I have seen few people in statewide or local office that I would consider genuine.  Further, I find it hard to believe that most politicians are genuinely "nice" people.  (I can think of two exceptions that I'll keep to myself so my endorsement does no harm to their careers.)  To gain positions of leadership and run for statewide office, one must have stabbed a few people in the back to reach the top.  I'm guessing all of the above are guilty of political treachery.

Because I don't necessarily expect politicians to be kind, generous, genuine, or honest, I want four things from my elected officials. First, I want them to be more intelligent and wiser than I am so that they can sort through complicated issues and reach sound conclusions.  None of the above strike me as wise individuals.

Second, I want them to work hard to educate themselves on both sides of an issue.  I don't get the feeling that Noem or Thune work that hard.

Third, I want them to courageous enough to vote for things that benefit three people who didn’t donate to their campaign even if that thing doesn’t benefit one person who did.  I won't hold my breath waiting for any of the above to take on a major contributer.

Finally, I want politicians to tell me how and why they voted the way they did without resorting to party-approved, focus-group tested talking points. Citizens of Texas, Missouri, Iowa, and South Dakota should not hear their representatives and senators mouthing the same speeches.

I don't care if they greet me nicely while they are out campaigning.  That "nice behavior" is a test of acting skills not character, and nothing in any campaign exchange can be construed as genuine.  Further, with all due respect to Leo Durocher, nice people should not necessarily finish last, but being "genuine" or friendly doesn't mean that they should be elected.

In short, I'd much prefer competent leaders who put their constituents not their party first.  I don't think I'm going to get to see my preference in action any time soon.

Businesses Threaten Privacy For Profit

The Daily Beast points to a Wall Street Journal article which is hidden behind a paywall.  The Beast reports,
Major websites have developed a new—and legal—technique to track users’ online activities, known as a “supercookie,” a powerful device that is impossible for computer users to detect, researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, said Wednesday. Supercookies are capable of re-creating user profiles even after people delete the regular cookies, researchers said. While many companies have been criticized for the selling of private data online, some sites that use supercookies said the supercookie tracking was inadvertent and they would cease using it. MSN and Hulu, who were both notified that they had been using supercookies, announced Wednesday they would immediately investigate the technique.
Today is going to be rushed, so I'll do four quick hits about this story.  First, unless one is reasonably suspected of committing a major crime or cheating on a spouse, a person should not be tracked surreptitiously by either business or government.

Second, governments allegedly need a warrant to perform this sort of tracking.  Businesses need only a customer.  I know many people claim to love their country but fear the government.  In this case I fear the business model.  As a quick side note, I'm willing to bet that these companies won't tell me the names of their customers because they want to protect the cusomers' privacy even as they sell them surreptitiously gained private data.  I'm much more fearful of private enterprise's standard operating procedure that government standard operating procedure in this instance.

Third, many philosophers and sociologists claim that privacy is dead.  They may well be right, but courtesy ought to demand that people be informed that their privacy is being taken.  My Motorola Droid informs me every time some new app allows my location to be tapped.  I see no reason that these websites can't do the same.

Finally, in light of the previous point, tell consumers that they are being tracked and how to remove the cookies,  Many won't care that their data will be sold.  Others will be too lazy to remove the "supercookies."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Summer By The Numbers

Students show up on Thursday, so I thought I'd review my summer.  I also thought I would try to quantify things instead of merely assert them.  Here is a dirty dozen description of my summer.

0 Days I slept in until 10 am (I feel cheated.)

1 Trip to visit my mother

1 Family gathering with my wife's side of the family

1 Week spent coaching at National Forensic League National Debate Tournament.

1 Week spent lecturing at South Dakota State University Debate Camp

3 Afternoon naps. (I feel cheated.)

19 Times I concluded Colin Cowherd wants to become the Rush Limbaugh of sports talk radio.

31 Days in July that were too hot and humid.

63 Hours spent reading books or comics (I feel cheated.)

179 Blog posts.

433 Hours planning changes or worrying about not being ready for the first day of school.

1297 Hours looking at a computer screen. (I would have gotten out more but July was too hot and humid.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rick Perry As A Caricature

At Madville Times, Troy Jones posted the following comment at 8:57 am on August 15.
I sense fear in the liberal extremist wing and they are lashing out.

Look, there are conservatives who are as you describe hyperbolicly above but Rick Perry isn’t one of them. And, there might be legitimate “attacks” against Perry you can make from your liberal perspective.
But, what you are doing is attacking a caricature you have created to embody those you most disagree with little accurate description of Perry.
Less than 12 hours later, Rick Perry said the following about the Federal Reserve Chairperson Ben Bernanke:
“Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous — or treasonous in my opinion,”
 Article III Section 3 says,
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
Perry also said,
“If this guy prints more money between now and the election,” Perry said Monday at a campaign function in Iowa, “I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas."
"Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous — or treasonous, in my opinion," he added.
Is it a caricature to say that Perry considers monetary policy he opposes equates to waging war against the United States and that he apparently wants to do physical harm to a man doing a job that George W. Bush appointed him to do?

Ron Paul doesn't like the Fed either, but he suggests that the United States
dismiss the $1.6 trillion payment owed by the Treasury to the Federal Reserve. The American government (and citizens) incurred this “debt” through a crafty bit of sleight of hand on the part of the Federal Reserve, a cabal of men determined to make our freedom disappear. Paul justifies this seemingly radical response by reminding Americans that the debt owed to the Federal Reserve isn’t real and that it was created by that organization “out of thin air.”
Two weeks ago, Paul's statement seemed a bit extreme.  Now it seems tame compared to Perry's statement.

The most frightening part about Perry's statement is the fact that he stands by the statement.
“Look, I’m just passionate about the issue,” Mr. Perry said, as aides hustled him away from a lunch with business leaders in Dubuque. “We stand by what we said.
I don't think it's caricature to call Perry stubborn and to wonder if the country should give the powers of the Patriot Act to a person who makes statements like these and refuses to back down .

Further, I worry about the attributing criminal behavior to political acts.  Last week Politico reported that a Texas Congressman wants to impeach President Obama.
Impeaching President Barack Obama “needs to happen,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) told a local tea party group, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Tuesday.

Burgess spoke, the paper said, in response to an attendee’s suggestion that the GOP-controlled House use impeachment to stop Obama from “pushing his agenda.”

“It needs to happen, and I agree with you it would tie things up,” Burgess reportedly responded. “No question about that.”

When the Star-Telegram’s reporter asked Burgess about the comment, he said the House needs to do what it can to stop the president.

“We need to tie things up,” Burgess said. “The longer we allow the damage to continue unchecked, the worse things are going to be for us.”
Again, it doesn't seem to be a caricature to point out that Perry is using the same tactics as some of the more vocal and extreme members of the Tea Party.

I will admit that caricatures of Perry exist.  Jon Stewart does a good one.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2012 - Corn Polled Edition - Rick Perry Announces His Candidacy
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There Is Nothing New Under The Sun: A Minor Musing About Inservice Sessions

The first thing that I can confidently say about every inservice session I've sat through over the past 5 or so years is that the presenters either cut and paste or slightly modify the ideas of  three thinkers:
  • Immanuel Kant who wrote that "we should never act in such a way that we treat Humanity, whether in ourselves or in others, as a means only but always as an end in itself."
  • Aristotle who asserted,  "It is neither 'by nature nor contrary to nature' that virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive them, and they are made perfect by habit.
  • Confucius who formulated the golden rule as "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."
Second, nearly every session contains injunctions "to get out of one's comfort zone."  That's not really a new idea.  I'm pretty sure that The Odyssey was illustrating that concept with plot elements like the lotus-eaters who gave up free will to eat the lotus and the Laestrygonians who destroyed ships captained by men who believed they were safe because they had anchored their ships inside a harbor.

In The Spoon River Anthlogy, Edgar Lee Masters created a speaker named George Gray who explained better and more succinctly than most presenters the need to "leave a comfort zone."
I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me --
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one's life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire --
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.
Finally, yesterday's presenters reminded me to tell my debaters not to overpromise in their cases or analysis.  They said that they had material that "will change your life."  The speakers entertained; they reminded me of a few things, and they offered a few tricks of the trade that may or may not work.  The setting was a high school theater not a road to Damascus, and no bright light fell from heavan.  Of course that might have happened because some people are hoarding incandescant light bulbs, but that's a post for another day.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Of Politics, Inservices, And Emapthy

I've been thinking about empathy a lot today.  Teachers in the district spent 6 hours listening to presenters tell us to be responsible for our own attitudes, listen to students, and own our mistakes.  The presenters spent much of the morning reminding teachers that classroom success demands empathy.  In fact, empathy is more important than intellect.

This evening, I came across this Ta-Neshi Coates post about Rick Perry.  Coates writes,
I don't know when people got it in their heads that there's a Wonderlic test for the presidency, but it's a notion that should be done away with immediately.
I'm sure there some level of imbecility which would be too much for Americans, but it seems that the ability to understand and speak to the ambitions of a critical mass of the electorate is much more important. Intelligence might help that effort. But empathy--or at least the ability to communicate empathy--with your audience seems much more important.
I may not be doing what I should to maintain a good attitude, but Coates's use of the term "communicate" troubles me.  Fourth grade teachers have real empathy.  Perry and other politicians seem more Machiavellian.  From chapter 18 of The Prince,
EVERY one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft. . . .

Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.
Machiavelli had this one right.  Success for Perry or any other presidential candidate is not about communicating empathy; it's about appearing to have it even if one doesn't. 

Some Depressing Paragraphs to Start The School Year

From the New York Times article "The Elusive Big Idea" by Neal Gabler, a senior fellow at the Annenberg Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California and the author of Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.  The whole article is worth reading and thinking about, but the following points and paragraphs seem to be the most relevant.

First, it seems we have fewer ideas than we used to.
Ideas just aren’t what they used to be. Once upon a time, they could ignite fires of debate, stimulate other thoughts, incite revolutions and fundamentally change the ways we look at and think about the world.
They could penetrate the general culture and make celebrities out of thinkers — notably Albert Einstein, but also Reinhold Niebuhr, Daniel Bell, Betty Friedan, Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould, to name a few. The ideas themselves could even be made famous: for instance, for “the end of ideology,” “the medium is the message,” “the feminine mystique,” “the Big Bang theory,” “the end of history.” A big idea could capture the cover of Time — “Is God Dead?” — and intellectuals like Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal would even occasionally be invited to the couches of late-night talk shows. How long ago that was.
If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did. In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passé.
Further, it seems we won't start caring.
It is no secret, especially here in America, that we live in a post-Enlightenment age in which rationality, science, evidence, logical argument and debate have lost the battle in many sectors, and perhaps even in society generally, to superstition, faith, opinion and orthodoxy. While we continue to make giant technological advances, we may be the first generation to have turned back the epochal clock — to have gone backward intellectually from advanced modes of thinking into old modes of belief.  . . .

We live in the much vaunted Age of Information. Courtesy of the Internet, we seem to have immediate access to anything that anyone could ever want to know. We are certainly the most informed generation in history, at least quantitatively. There are trillions upon trillions of bytes out there in the ether — so much to gather and to think about.
And that’s just the point. In the past, we collected information not simply to know things. That was only the beginning. We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful — into ideas that made sense of the information. We sought not just to apprehend the world but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas. Great ideas explain the world and one another to us.
Finally, most of us may be so concerned with our immediate wants and needs that we don't care.
Still, while these ideas may change the way we live, they rarely transform the way we think. They are material, not ideational. It is thinkers who are in short supply, and the situation probably isn’t going to change anytime soon.
We have become information narcissists, so uninterested in anything outside ourselves and our friendship circles or in any tidbit we cannot share with those friends that if a Marx or a Nietzsche were suddenly to appear, blasting his ideas, no one would pay the slightest attention, certainly not the general media, which have learned to service our narcissism.
What the future portends is more and more information — Everests of it. There won’t be anything we won’t know. But there will be no one thinking about it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Brief Response To Jonathan Alter's Support Of Obama's/Duncan's Education Policies

Jonathan Alter lauds President Obama in "Obama Shows Spunk Pushing Brave Education Plan."

I'll let Ed Asner answer for me.  It's about 2:30 in if you don't want to watch the whole thing.

A Post Which Serves As An Audition For A Job As A Snarky Campaign Ad Writer

Do Americans Really Want A 47 Year Old Woman Who Does This To Herself To Control Nuclear Weapons Or Make Decisions About Social Security, Medicare, Or Medicaid?

Judgment Matters

If I'm working for a Republican campaigning for social conservative votes, I'd add 

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, . . . ."  Vote THIS CANDIDATE WHOEVER THE HECK IT MIGHT BE.

Plains Pops: Sunday Morning Playlist Edition

Perhaps it was the Madville Times post about the one-page atheists hymnal or these tweets discussing a #teacherplaylist, but I thought I'd toss out a Sunday morning playlist.

U2's classic "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" reminds me that seeking is ok.

Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody," provides a useful reminder about existential choices.

I've also thought "Desperado" was a secular hymn.

The under-appreciated Sam Phillips has useful reminders in "I Need Love."

Since a lot of services end with "Go forth and serve the Lord," I thought it appropropiate to end with a call to immediate action as well:  "The Revolution Starts Now."

Suggestions welcome.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Common Core Training Treats Literature Like Pop Songs

I think this is a a sign I'm old.  I love albums; remember those?  Some are famous: The White Album or Boy.  Others, Flat as a Pancake, may have been forgotten unless one is of a certain age. Still others, Martinis and Bikinis, appeal to a small fan base. 

In addition to being old, I'm cantankerous; some might even call me a curmudgeon.  It seems to me that most current music is designed to get put on compilations like Now 39.  A song needs only a catchy hook and melody that can become an earworm; the song doesn't have to be an integral part of a larger composition.

Some education reformers apparently believe that the Common Core standards mean that literature teachers should treat literature like pop music.  The whole no longer matters; teachers should just use snippets to achieve the standards:
I attended a 2-day Common Core training sponsored by the NC Dept of Ed. In the English Language Arts (ELA) workshop, we were told that one of the GREAT things about the common core was that we no longer should teach entire novels. Snippets and targeted short passages from novels were all we needed to teach ELA concepts. There was an audible, collective gasp from the people in the room. But I was the only one who raised my hand and questioned this pronouncement. And the trainers continued to tout the wonders of using shorter texts.
I don't know what Melody Schopp has in mind as South Dakota begins to implement Common Core.  Given that textbook companies write many of the tests that states use, it strikes me as probable that South Dakota may look at adopting some of the training that North Carolina uses.

Schopp wants to emphasize STEM, so she may put reading and literature on the back burner.  I hope she understands that treating literature like a Britney Spears song won't help teachers teach or students improve their reading.

Debt Super Committee Get Their Own Baseball Cards, Sort Of

Those of you who have lives may not know that US Presidents get their own cards in some Topps baseball card sets.

The current Oval Office occupant has not been left out.

The debt reduction super committee may not get a Topps card set, but this Atlantic article has put together stats that Topps can use to put on the back of the cards if the company chooses to issue a set.  All stats below are taken from the Atlantic article.

John Kyl--Position: Senator     Party: Republican
Statistics:  "He carries a lifetime 96.72 (out of 100) Senate vote rating from the American Conservative Union."

Chris Van Hollen--Position: Representative     Party: Democrat
Statistics:  During the previous two election cycles, Van Hollen helmed the Democratic Party's House campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

James Clyburn--Position: Representative     Party: Democrat
Statistics: He is the highest-ranking black member of Congress.

Rob Portman--Position: Senator     Party: Republican
Statistics: Having served as U.S. trade representative and as George W. Bush's Office of Management and Budget director, he brings budgetary experience to the table.

Xavier Becerra--Position: Representative    Party: Democrat
Statistics:  He's . . . a member of the House Progressive Caucus, meaning he's probably too liberal to jump on board with any grand super-committee compromise that can win more than one or two Republican votes.

Jeb Hensarling--Position: Representative     Party: Republican
Statistics:  Serving as Republican Conference chairman, Hensarling is the fourth-highest-ranking House Republican, and he's an across-the-board conservative, fiscal and social.  Hensarling carries a 98.96 lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, and in each of the last two years he's carried a rating of 100.

Pat Toomay--Position:  Senator     Party: Republican
Statistics: A former congressman, for years Toomey ran The Club for Growth, a D.C.-based economic-conservative group that pressures legislators to vote for an anti-tax, pro-business agenda and sponsors primary challengers against Republicans deemed too moderate.

Max Baucus--Position: Senator     Party: Democrat
Statistics:  Each delegation has its budget-and-tax wiz -- a guy or gal who actually knows how to work the numbers -- and that's what Baucus is for Senate Democrats.

Fred Upton--Position: Representative     Party: Republican
Statistics: Upton chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Joe Barton, who infamously apologized to BP, relinquished the top GOP spot on Energy and Commerce after the last Congress ended, and in the ensuing power-struggle over the committee chairmanship, Upton had to overcome insinuations that he's not conservative enough.

Dave Camp--Position: Representative     Party Republican
Statistics: As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Camp brings a knowledge of tax policy -- but also a history of non-enthusiasm for Paul Ryan's controversial budget plan. After Ryan released it, Camp said his committee wouldn't take it up, given that Ryan's plan would never make it through the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Patty Murray--Position: Senator     Party: Democrat
Statistics:  First elected in 1992, . . . she finds herself at the heights of Democratic power. This election cycle she took the helm as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, heading up the party's efforts to raise and spend money on Senate campaigns

John Kerry--Position: Senator     Party: Democrat
Statistics:  Seven short years ago, Kerry was running for president as the Democratic Party's standard bearer against president Bush. After that quest was derailed by Swift-Boat Veterans and wind-surfing photos, he hasn't quite made it back into a the national spotlight, even while serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee after Vice President Joe Biden's departure for the executive. Serving on the super committee offers a high-profile task for the once-higher-profile Democrat.

Should Topps publish this set, I can see MC at the Dakota War College offering Cory Heidelberger at the Madville Times 3 Becerras for a Toomay and 2 Kyles.  Steve Sibson would probably try to corner the market on Hensarlring.