7/19/08

NBER Says It's The Parents!

In a new report out by the National Bureau of Economic Research, they say this about our poor graduation rates and from where the problem may stem:
The origins of this dropout problem have yet to be fully investigated. Evidence suggests a powerful role for the family in shaping educational and adult outcomes. A growing proportion of American children are being raised in disadvantaged families. This trend promises to reduce productivity and promote inequality in the America of tomorrow. [emphasis mine]
Now who do we blame? Dammit.

Michelle Rhee: Worse Than Hitler!?


The Committee On Education and Labor had a hearing on July 17th on Mayor and Superintendent Partnerships In Education: Closing The Achievement Gap. They had Bloomberg, Rhee, Klein and some other folks. If you care to watch the hours long fiasco, go ahead. What you need to know is that this is the beginning of the end of the beginning of the dismantling of teacher unions, and the pay for performance future we are in for in education.

You should watch the thing, or at least check out the PDFs above of each makher. It is the opposite of what we need, and they are being praised.

Michelle Rhee is the one to fast forward to. You don't even have to hear the question she is answering. She, in one breath, says it will be years after she is gone that her effects will be seen. In the next breath she touts her amazing (they are amazing. they amaze me, like magic amazes me.) successes from being at the helm for a whole year!

She goes on to talk about how to hire good teachers. She says find the ones who believe they can do it even in the face of adversity. Yep. That's how you hire good ones. Find believers!

I hate Michelle Rhee, I think. She blames teachers, unions, and school boards. And she doesn't just blame them, she condescends. She tries to humiliate them. And she is the face of Education Reform. She is education's FDR. Our Larry Bird and Magic Johnson of Education. She, my friends, is worse than Hitler (well, not really).

It is time to write letters to congressmen and shit. It is time to run for school board. It is time. Time. time.

Principals Are "Instructional Experts" Don't Ya Know!

This is beautiful. Over at Principal's Policy Blog they have a link to a private Yahoo group where they are voting on the efficacy of online teacher instruction. Read this quote:

The U.S. Department of Education recently released Evaluating Online Learning: Challenges and Strategies for Success, a guide that addresses challenges faced by school leaders with the implementation of online learning such as how to meet the needs of various stakeholders, how to solve data collection problems, and how to translate evaluation findings into action.

With the rapid increase in students' taking courses online, the release of such a document is timely.

But principals, while not Internet technologists, are instructional experts and likely have already formed educated opinions about the quality of the online courses available to their students. [emphasis mine]
That's right. Even though principals (or anyone, really) have no business opining on stuff they have no expertise in, they are being asked to opine about stuff they have no expertise in!

This myth that principals are "instructional experts" flies in the face of reality. They have the same level of teacher education as any other teacher, at least in California. They had to take a couple extra MANAGEMENT and LEADERSHIP courses to get their supplemental Administrative credential. But, they have no more instructional expertise than me, or the first year teacher down the hall. Indeed, most principals have been out of the classroom so long, many of them have forgotten how to teach, and are pretty unfamiliar with lots of the problems teachers encounter on a daily basis.

Jeebus I wish leaders would defer to the expertise of the experts (teachers) and stop tooting their own leadership horns and inviting only a select few--the wrong few--to make policy.

(I have taken 2 online teacher courses. They were ridiculous. They took about an hour or two of real work--research, writing--and I got my A. They are useless. They make money for the online university. I know this not because I am an expert, but because I have taken one, or two. Oh, and I don't think much of Teacher Certification programs either. They suck too--mine did!)

Space Is Fucking Bitchin!

Two videos you need to see. They are both from Bad Astronomy, and they are awesome. You must watch them a couple times to grok their fullness. The first one is newer than the second, but both of them are very new, in space-time. The Bad Astronomer says:

First, the setup. The Deep Impact spacecraft was the one that smacked a chunk of copper into a comet so that we could see what materials were below the surface. After the impact, the spacecraft kept going (with the mission renamed EPOXI), and it’s being used to do all sorts of interesting observations.

In late May, 2008, it turned its cameras back to Earth and observed us over the course of a several hours. During this time, from EPOXI’s point of view, the Moon passed directly in front of the Earth! The images were put together (by my old boss, Don Lindler!) into, well, one of the most astonishing animations I have ever watched. Ever.




Fucking awesome, right? Here is the second one, with the dude himself narrating. I love his enthusiasm!



Just thought I'd share.

UPDATE: Am I being misogynistic by using the word "bitchin'" because I sure don't want to be misogynistic, or un-PC, or sound stoopid?!

7/18/08

7/17/08

Al Gore Speaks Some Reality

Definition Of Asshole (Updated)

There's a guy--reporter?--who wrote a piece in Newsweek. Over at Sadly, No! they, um, rip the asshole a brand new asshole! Begin the ripping:

So I tried to escape the toxic levels of wingnuttery this evening by flipping through my roommate’s copy of Newsweek. Amazingly, I flipped to page 36 and found this:

The Truth About Torture

To get a full accounting of how U.S. interrogation methods were used, the president should give those accused of ‘war crimes’ a pass.

By Stuart Taylor Jr. | NEWSWEEK

Dark deeds have been conducted in the name of the United States government in recent years: the gruesome, late-night circus at Abu Ghraib, the beating to death of captives in Afghanistan, and the officially sanctioned waterboarding and brutalization of high-value Qaeda prisoners. Now demands are growing for senior administration officials to be held accountable and punished. Congressional liberals, human-rights groups and other activists are urging a criminal investigation into high-level “war crimes,” including the Bush administration’s approval of interrogation methods considered by many to be torture.

It’s a bad idea. In fact, President George W. Bush ought to pardon any official from cabinet secretary on down who might plausibly face prosecution for interrogation methods approved by administration lawyers.
Go read the rest. There are torture pictures. It is a righteous, foul-mouthed repudiation of Stuart Taylor Jr., aka: Fucking Dick!

UPDATE: A truth commission is starting to sound like the only thing we have a chance of getting. Why, MSM, are you such wimps?

Is It Safe Redux

Over at The Dish Andrew has more on the hypocracy of the Hippocratic oath takers.

Psychologist Marty Seligman has objected to the notion that he "assisted" the torture program of the president in Gitmo and throughout the war on terror. Jane Mayer never actually used that word, others have in describing Mayer's book. No facts in Mayer's book have been disputed by Seligman. Here's Jane's response to his protestation of total innocence of what he became involved with, wittingly or unwittingly:

Professor Seligman’s disavowal actually adds a rather interesting new fact to the story of how the psychology profession played a role in the CIA’s “special” interrogation program. In “The Dark Side,” I established by interviewing him, that he had personally spoken for three hours at the Navy’s SERE School in San Diego, in April of 2002, at a somewhat mysterious confab organized in part by the head of Behavioral Science at the CIA.

This was a pretty crucial moment in the development of America’s secret interrogation and detention program. Abu Zubayda had been captured just weeks before, and the CIA was trying to come up with ways to make him talk. They had no patience for the slow, rapport-building methods used by the FBI, whose role in the case they had just superceded. But what to do? At this very moment, Professor Seligman, it seems, agreed to participate in what he says was an unexplained private high-level CIA meeting, held on the campus of the part of the Navy that runs a secret program emulating torture – the SERE School in San Diego.

Professor Seligman says he has no idea why he was called in from his academic position in Pennsylvania, to suddenly appear at this CIA event. He just showed up and talked for three hours about how dogs, when exposed to horrible treatment, give up all hope, and become compliant. Why the CIA wanted to know about this at this point, he says he never asked. But somehow- and this is what is news as far as I know – Professor Seligman does know that in his audience were the two psychologists who soon after became the key advisers to the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation program: James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. So, Professor Seligman, must have had some contact with them, since he knew they were in his audience. Did he speak with them? What did they talk about?

According to sources close to the FBI, around the same time, one of those psychologists, James Mitchell, showed up where Abu Zubayda was being held, and started talking about Dr. Seligman’s theories of “Learned Helplessness” as shedding useful light on how to coerce Zubayda into talking. Specifically, he spoke of Seligman’s dog experiments, in which random electric shocks broke the dogs’ will to resist. An FBI agent was appalled – pointing out they were dealing with humans, not dogs. But Mitchell said it was “good science” for both.

(Mitchell declined to elaborate on the treatment of Abu Zubayda, when I interviewed him, but admitted he admired Seligman’s work on Learned Helplessness. A lawyer for Mitchell later claimed that he had not tried to apply the theory to detainees. But a colleague, Col. Steve Kleinman, who worked in the SERE program, said Mitchell talked all the time about how Learned Helplessness provided the blueprint for interrogating detainees).

So- did Seligman assist the U.S. Torture program? I am careful not to say so in “The Dark Side,”- I just recount the facts of his odd visit to the SERE school. So- he is not denying anything in my book.

But now that he brings all of this up again, it would be nice if he’d answer a few more questions. What exactly did he think he was doing that day in April of 2002 with the CIA? How did he know who Mitchell and Jessen were, and, what role did he think they were playing at that time? Maybe he was as clueless as he says he was. But, why doesn’t he then tell us know what he thinks of his theories being used in this way? Does he renounce Mitchell and Jessen? Does he think they used psychology immorally? He was the head of the APA- has he ever spoken out about this? Has he ever complained to the CIA about what they did with his science? Time for some more information here...instead of non-denial denials...

7/16/08

Is It Safe?

We have been appalled by images of doctors using their skills to torture, as in The Marathon Man. Well, it is pretty clear that America has done the same thing. Apparently we have doctors helping interrogators torture inmates. Now, the question is, do the licensing agencies who certify these MD's revoke the liscense? Of course they should! But, they won't. They probably won't even know who the doctors are.

We know all this, and we know about the torture that abso-fucking-lutely happened, even if Wolf will only say it is alleged (this is a problem the MSM needs to fix. The ought to TELL THE TRUTH, not allude to it!). We now have a well documented book to help us grok the horror.

America, America, what the fuck are we doing? Jane Mayer talks about her book and tells us:

video

And...Scene.

A Second Stimulus: Much Bigger Than the First, and Focused on Infrastructure
by Robert Reich

It will soon dawn on Congress (although it may never dawn on the White House) that we need a much larger second stimulus package than is now being contemplated in order to give the economy the jump-start it needs and fill in for consumers who can't and won't spend more. My guess is that this second stimulus plan, including infrastructure, will ultimately reach $200 billion or more.

A special word about infrastructure spending. Not only is the nation sorely in need of it -- given deferred maintenance on roads and bridges, water and sewage systems, levees, and many of our ports, and the increasing need for public transportation -- but spending on infrastructure generates much more growth than cutting taxes. (This point, incidentally, was stressed in a paper earlier this year by Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com and, not incidentally, an economic advisor to John McCain.)

More Bob...

A Modest Proposal for Ending Socialized Capitalism
by Robert Reich

Socialized capitalism of the sort the Fed and the Treasury are now practicing, consisting of private gains and public losses, is untenable. On the other hand, it's also true that giant Wall Street investments banks as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are too big to fail. How to reconcile these conflicting principles?

Here's a modest proposal: When taxpayers insure a giant entity against loss -- as we now are with Freddie, Fannie, and Wall Street investment banks -- those entities must agree that:

(1) for the duration of the bailout, their top executives cannot receive total annual compensation higher than that received by the President of the United States, and

(2) the government gets five percent of their current valuation as shares of stock (roughly representing the benefit to their shareholders of the federal insurance) -- so that if and when the entities become profitable again, taxpayers are compensated for the risk they've taken on.

Robert Reich Explains...

The End of the Great Moderation, the Bailouts of Freddie & Fannie and Wall Street, and the Tattered Safety Net for Everyone Else
by Robert Reich

As we bail out Wall Street along with Freddie and Fannie and all the top financial executives who have been pocketing tens of millions a year, yet allow millions of homeowners and jobless Americans to sink, it's worth contemplating what's happening to the American economy and to our social safety nets.

What economists have called "The Great Moderation" - a period when the business cycle evened out, and neither inflation nor recession posed much of a threat- began in the mid-1980s, and now appears to be over. It was good when it lasted. But it led the nation to think we didn't need much by way of social insurance.

No one knows for sure what caused the Great Moderation. Some had credited increased sophistication of financial markets and the wisdom of the Federal Reserve Board. Hindsight suggests it was more luck than anything else.

Well, folks, it turns out the great moderation was something of a fluke, and now tens of millions of Americans are in trouble with no safety net to help them.

That's because the apparent end of the boom and bust cycles led us to assume the economy would no longer impose huge, unexpected, and arbitrary losses on large numbers of Americans. So we basically got rid of the safety nets. We abolished welfare, let unemployment insurance wither, and paid scant attention when corporations eliminated defined-benefit pensions and cut health insurance benefits. We even stopped worrying about the safety of small investors, allowing federal deposit insurance to shrink as a proportion of total savings (witness the recent bank run in California).

But now we have to rethink safety nets. Right now, nets are being spread for the wrong people. The giants of Wall Street along with Fannie and Freddie get bailed out but there's still no relief in sight for most homeowners who can't pay their mortgages. Corporations that don't deliver on their pension obligations are helped but there's nothing for retirees and small investors whose savings are drying up because of Wall Street's decline. Small investors are losing their shirts but the Fed stands by to help the biggest.

Yet I have to believe the end of the Great Moderation will eventually result in a broader safety net. Maybe not the old forms of social insurance, but new ones like universal health insurance, earnings insurance, and savings accounts in which the dollars you put away are supplemented by government dollars.

The very rich, fattest investors, and the biggest corporations don't need safety nets. Now that the booms and busts are back, the rest of us do.

Jib Jab!!

Wow! Great production values, and as usual, hilarious!

Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!

7/15/08

Cart, Then Horse. Right?

Over at the Center for American Progress, Robin Chait has a piece that sounds sort of familiar if you have been alive these past few years. It has to do with a surge, and how said surge is working. Caveats? Sure there are caveats, but aren't caveats part of a surge? Let's look at a bit of the article:
The No Child Left Behind Act—the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965—passed in 2001 with bipartisan agreement over two things: the need for the education reforms laid out in law [cart], and the need for adequate resources to support the major reforms that it was asking states and districts to undertake [horse].

The first goal was met [cart], but seven years later, the second still has not [horse].
They made a law, then simply neglected to give the law any means to work. Why would anyone charged with making laws make a law that could not possibly do anything? Hmmmm. Could it be that the law was not supposed to work? Maybe the law was a setup for failure, and now the LAW can take over what used to be public and make it private. Nah, that sounds almost conspiratorial!

Look, I don't want to sound like I think everything is dandy in our schools--it's not dandy. But the lack of dandiness is not because we fail to meet standards. Our system is experiencing the same downward trend as our society. Look at who we elect to high offices! Look at what we drive! Look at what we find entertaining! Schools and teachers are fighting society, and the degraded, frightened, fiscally challenged society is blaming teachers; to blame themselves would be too reflective, and we don't do reflection.

I am sick to death of those in power making decisions based on refuted, convoluted, confusing, and vapid studies. Hell, even the studies have shown that what studies show should be taken with lots of salt (Lot--Salt? get it?).

Phil Gramm : Larry Flint :: Kenny G : David Sanborn

Phil Gramm, you know, the guy McCain thinks is a genius, likes naked ladies and will pay to have them be naked in movies!!

Here is a great quote from Max's story up on HuffPo:
These scenes "really got Phil titillated," Caton told journalist John Judis in 1995. Gramm enthusiastically cut Caton a check for $15,000. Because the film was oversold, however, Caton returned his brother-in-law's money, offering him an investment opportunity in an upcoming feature.
He was titillated! The whole thing is kind of titillating, no?

7/14/08

Obama: Flip-Flopper. Not!


As usual, Hendrik Hertzberg susses it out for us. All the talk about Obama moving to the right, flip-flopping, and becoming Bush2 is just a bunch of MSM mainlining. Here's Hendrik:

One of the World Wide Web’s most distinguished organs of fake news, the Borowitz Report, leads its current issue with this flash:
The liberal blogosphere was aflame today with new accusations that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) is trying to win the 2008 presidential election.
Except that sometimes it’s hard to tell fake from real. These sentiments, for example, are from actual blogs:
If Obama believes the BS he said about the FISA Capitulation bill, then he is not fit to be President.
He is turning on every major issue and I am not going to vote for him. From here on out, the netroots should refuse to donate to any Democratic nominee, including Barack Obama.
Obama, it turns out, is a politician. In this respect, he resembles the forty-three Presidents he hopes to succeed, from the Father of His Country to the wayward son, Alpha George to Omega George. Winning a Presidential election doesn’t require being all things to all of the people all of the time, but it does require being some things to most of the people some of the time. It doesn’t require saying one thing and also saying its opposite, but it does require saying more or less the same thing in ways that are understood in different ways. They’re all politicians, yes—very much including Obama, as Ryan Lizza shows elsewhere in this issue. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same.

It was inevitable that the boggier reaches of the blogosphere would eventually smell betrayal. In contrast, what bloggers call the MSM—the mainstream media—seldom trades in the currency of moral indignation. Although the better newspapers have regular features devoted to evaluating the candidates’ proposals for workability, the MSM generally eschews value judgments about the merits. The MSM—especially the cable-news intravenous drip—prefers flip-flops.

Obama has been providing plenty of plastic for the flip-flop factories with the adjustments he’s been making as he retools his campaign for the general election. Under headlines like “IN CAMPAIGN, ONE MAN’S PRAGMATISM IS ANOTHER’S FLIP-FLOPPING,” the big papers have been assembling quite a list of matters on which the candidate has “changed his position,” including Iraq, abortion rights, federal aid to faith-based social services, capital punishment, gun control, public financing of campaigns, and wiretapping. Most of them are mere shifts of emphasis, some are marginal tweaks, and a few are either substantive or nonexistent. Let’s do a quick tour d’horizon.

On July 3rd, Obama remarked to reporters, vis-à-vis his projected visit to Iraq, that he will “continue to refine” his policies in light of what he learns there. The flip-flop frenzy exploded so quickly that Obama called a second press conference that same day in an effort to tamp it down, saying that while he “would be a poor commander-in-chief” if he “didn’t take facts on the ground into account,” his intention to withdraw American combat troops from Iraq within sixteen months of his Inauguration—which is to say less than two years from now—remains unchanged. Flip-flop category: marginal tweak.

The same week, Obama said he didn’t think that “mental distress” alone was sufficient justification for a late-term abortion, prompting the president of the National Organization for Women to rebuke him for feeding the perception that women seek abortions because they’re “having a bad-hair day.” In “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama had written that:
the willingness of even the most ardent prochoice advocates to accept some restrictions on late-term abortion marks a recognition that a fetus is more than a body part and that society has some interest in its development.
The leading reproductive-rights group, NARal Pro-Choice America, defended him, pointing out that his views are fully consistent with Roe v. Wade. Flip-flop category: nonexistent.

Obama also wrote that “certain faith-based programs” could offer “a uniquely powerful way of solving problems and hence merit carefully tailored support.” Yet his recent call for an expansion of President Bush’s program came as a shock to some, including the Times, which called the program a violation of the separation of church and state. If it is, it’s a minor one, like grants to religiously affiliated colleges; in any event, this isn’t a new position for Obama. Flip-flop category: shift of emphasis.

For twenty years, nominal support for the death penalty and its partner in crime, “gun rights,” has apparently been mandatory for any Democrat wishing to have a serious chance to be elected President. Without enthusiasm, Obama has endorsed capital punishment throughout his political career. In his book, he wrote that “the rape and murder of a child” is “so heinous, so beyond the pale, that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment.” But in demurring from last month’s Supreme Court decision banning executions for child rape alone, he went further: “and” is not “or.” As for the Court’s radical decision conferring upon an individual the right to possess guns separate from service in a “well regulated militia,” he did not, as reported, “embrace” it. But he did commend it for providing “much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions”—a distinctly Panglossian spin. Still, if Obama becomes President the practical effect of these panders will be minimal. It’s hard to imagine an Obama appointee to the Supreme Court voting with Justices Scalia and Thomas on issues like these. Flip-flop category: substantive tweak.

As for the last two items on the flip-flop list—well, it’s a fair cop, as the Brits say. Obama’s decision to refuse public funds for the general-election campaign was political hardball, a spikes-high slide at third base. He still favors public financing in principle, and he says he’ll work to modernize it in practice. In a sense, his utterly unexpected success in raising tens of millions from small, no-strings contributors has created a kind of unofficial public-finance system. But that success is a one-off, and the big contributors are still contributing big, with all that entails. He didn’t change his “position,” but he did break a promise.

Obama’s U-turn on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act last week was not so trivial. He had promised to filibuster it if it retained the provision immunizing telecom companies from lawsuits arising from the companies’ compliance with Administration requests—orders, really—to coöperate in patently illegal activity. The bill did retain that provision, and Obama voted not only for the bill but against the filibuster. Opinion is divided on the seriousness of the bill’s threat to civil liberties. In the Times last week, the Open Society Institute’s Morton H. Halperin, whose devotion to civil liberties is rivalled only by his knowledge of national-security matters, called the bill “our best chance to protect both our national security and our civil liberties.” Other civil libertarians see it as the death knell for the Fourth Amendment. But there can be little doubt that Obama’s vote—which could not have affected the outcome—was influenced by worry about being branded as soft on terrorism. Unlike FISA, the Iraq war can’t be repealed. But perhaps Obama will now take a more compassionate view of Hillary Clinton’s vote to authorize it.

Meanwhile, McCain has been busily reversing his views in highly consequential ways. He opposed the Bush tax cuts because they favored the rich; now he supports their eternal extension. He was against offshore oil drilling as not being worth the environmental damage it brings; now he’s for it, and damn the costs. He was against torture, period; now he’s against it unless the C.I.A. does it. He keeps flipping to the wrong flops. But he and Obama can both take comfort in what they’re avoiding. If they were clinging to every past position, the flip-flop police would be busting them for stubbornness and rigidity in the face of changing circumstances. Bush all over again! Flip-flops are preferable to cement shoes, especially in summertime.

7/13/08

WTF??!!

I am amazed that The New Yorker would publish such a crass, tasteless potentially controversial picture!

A Good Cartoon

Mike Luckovich makes funny cartoons!

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