Hendrik Hertzberg: Militant Atheist?

Hendrik Hertzberg gets emails. He responds to them, too. Here is a bit of a response to an email Rick got about his post about the CHRIST-mas tree:
...But to get back to today, i.e., Christmas. And the cross. What I am objecting to in the Jesus story is something I object to in certain other religious traditions: human sacrifice. Indeed, the human sacrifice of the crucifixion seems to me to be more objectionable, conceptually at least, than the human sacrifices practiced by, say, the Aztecs (or, for that matter, by tribal Hebrews like Abraham). The Aztecs were people trying to propitiate angry, nasty, bloodthirsty gods. (Abraham, by being willing to cut Isaac’s throat, was doing the same for testy old Yahweh.) But who sacrifices Jesus? Not the Romans—they were just enforcing the law as they saw it. Not the Jews—when they made sacrifices, post-Abraham, they offered up goats and lambs and the like. No, in the story of Jesus, the sacrificer seems to be God himself. He kills his “only begotten” son. And why? In order to propitiate himself, apparently. Somehow, by killing his own son, he causes himself to refrain from condemning or killing everybody else. Well, not everybody else—just those who show the proper appreciation and gratitude for his sacrifice.

But is it really a sacrifice? Doesn’t Jesus turn up rather quickly at the right hand of God? Isn’t he said to be part of God, in some special way that the rest of us are not? He (Jesus) goes through the experience of dying, as every human being must do, but he doesn’t end up dead. So how great is the sacrifice, really? And what is the connection between the sacrifice (the crown of thorns, death on the cross) and the benefit it purchases for believers (the crown of righteousness, eternal life)? If God wants to forgive us our sins, can’t he just forgive us our sins? Does he have to torture and murder his own son first—and then take it back by resurrecting the son and making him an object of worship for millions? For the sacrifice to be real, wouldn’t Jesus have to stay dead? The resurrection is a powerful story, but (if you analyze it logically) doesn’t it make the crucifixion a bit of a sham?..[emphasis mine]

James Gurley Of Big Brother And The Holding Company: R.I.P.

James Gurley was Janice Joplin's guitarist. His sound is one of the most recognizable of the psychedelic era. He died Sunday in Palm Springs at 69.


Christmastime For The Jews

Do You Know These Kids VI? Updated

Mick Jagger

John Lennon

One of these guys was born in 1943, the other in 1940. One is alive, the other is not. They are both British.

Update: Barry Garelick, who works for the government, got the answer to both: Mick Jagger and John Lennon. I know Salt of the Earth starts out with Keith's vocals, but it's such a great song I used it for Mick.

Well done, Barry. Keep those edureformers honest!

Do You Know This Kid V? Updated (Already)

Jerry Garcia

Here is your Christmas present. Do you know this kid? He was born in 1942. He is dead.

Update: My friend Althea got this one, as I figured.  Jerry Garcia

Thursday Cartoon Fun: A Puppy Edition


Tangled Up In Blue JGB Style

For all my friends, especially Althea,  or Sugaree or Jessica: (edited for no reason)

Yong Zhao On Race To The Top

Over the Top
Six Tips for Winning 'Race to the Top' Money
By Yong Zhao

I have been reading through the voluminous document published in the Nov. 18, 2009, Federal RegisterRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, giving the final versions of application guidelines, selection criteria, and priorities for $4 billion in competitive grants under the Race to the Top Fund, the largest education grant program in U.S. history.

From news reports, op-ed pieces, and blog posts, I can guess that many states are working hard now to prepare their applications. My reading of the criteria leads me to suggest that the following are winning strategies and actions to include, even though they may be inconsistent with research findings or common sense.

1. Stop paying teachers and principals a salary. Instead, pay them on a per-standardized-test-point basis each day. At the end of the school day, simply give each student a standardized test. Then calculate what the teacher and principal will be paid that day based on the growth of the student, that is, on how much the student has improved over the previous day.

This is true accountability and is sure to keep teachers and principals on their toes. (It also seems to be the true intention behind this requirement: “At the time the State submits its application, the State does not have any legal, statutory, or regulatory barriers at the State level to linking data on student achievement or student growth to teachers and principals for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation.”)

But to do it, you must not ask the question of whether this accountability will lead to better teaching. You also will need to ignore the fact that “accountability” has driven many teachers out of the schools, and to forget about attracting highly qualified talent to the teaching profession.

2. Remove all “non-core” academic activities and courses and reduce all teaching to math and reading. What the U.S. secretary of education wants is “increasing student achievement in (at a minimum) reading/language arts and mathematics, as reported by the [National Assessment of Educational Progress] and the assessments required under the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act]” and “decreasing achievement gaps between subgroups in reading/language arts and mathematics, as reported by the NAEP and the assessments required under the ESEA.” Actually, no need to teach students these subjects; just teaching them how to pass the tests may be even more effective.

But to do so, you have to forget the reasons for education in the first place, ignore all research findings about the negative consequences of high-stakes testing, and suppress any desire to care about the students’ emotional well-being, to cultivate their creativity and entrepreneurship, or to consider their interests and strengths.

3. Make sure every child takes courses in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), the more the merrier. This is because, as the guidelines state, “Emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)” is a “Competitive Preference Priority,” worth 15 points, and you either get 15 points or nothing.

But this requires you to ignore research findings such as those from Lindsay Lowell and Hal SalzmanRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, showing that “over the past decade, U.S. colleges and universities graduated roughly three times more scientists and engineers than were employed in the growing science and engineering workforce,” and that “there is no evidence of a long-term decline in the proportion of American students with the relevant training and qualifications to pursue STEM jobs.” You also must not think about what children will really need to be successful in the 21st-century global economy, such as cross-cultural competencies, foreign languages, and digital capabilities.

4. This suggestion is only for the states of Alaska and Texas, because the others have already committed themselves to doing it: Develop and adopt “a common set of K-12 standards … that are supported by evidence that they are internationally benchmarked and build toward college and career readiness by the time of high school graduation.” The other 48 states have signed on to the Common Core State Standards Initiative spearheaded by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. So I guess the initiative counts, even though it covers only two subjects.

Well, there may be a small problem: how to prove that the standards are internationally benchmarked. Did the authors benchmark against national standards in Canada, our closest neighbor, or Australia, a large federation of states like the United States? Of course not, because these countries do not have national standards. Or perhaps they benchmarked against China, since it is our perceived competitor. Probably not, because China has been reforming its curriculum over the past two decades and loosening its national control on curriculum. Or perhaps it is against the Program for International Student Assessment or the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study—yet these are tests, not curriculum standards.

To wholeheartedly embrace this suggestion, states have to overlook the damages national standards can do to education, and not take into consideration the fact that having national standards neither improves education for students nor narrows achievement gaps.

5. Write in lots of money for testing companies and assessment consultants in the application, because you will be rewarded for “developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments.” In the spirit of this recommendation, I would also suggest that you promise to test the students more frequently, at least twice a day—once when they come to school and once when they leave—because this will help you collect more data to meet the data-systems requirement and hold teachers accountable.

Of course, what this means is that you cannot think about students’ individual differences, the need for diverse talents, or the costs of standardized tests. You cannot think about who will eventually benefit from the assessments either. And in no way should you worry about the corruption that high-stakes standardized testing brings with it.

6. Oh, and while you’re at it, include a proposal to bar all children under the age of 18 from entering museums, public libraries, and music events; lock up all musical instruments in schools, and fire all music, art, and physical education teachers; close sports facilities; disconnect all Internet connections; and cut down on lunch time, because the Race to the Top initiative wants to lengthen the school year and school day, and all these are distracting kids from studying for the tests. Of course, these actions will save money as well.

But that requires you to discard the notion that creativity, talent, and technology are important for the future. You must also not think that a healthy society needs musicians, artists, and athletes. Nor can you assume that a well-rounded human being is essential for a democracy. Of course, you should also deny the fact that creativity, art, design, and music play significant roles in the world of science and technology today.

But other than all that, your new federal funding should enable you to do great things.

Do You Know This Kid II? Updated And Answered

Since the last ones were easy, here is a really easy one.

Do you know this kid?

Tiny Tim

He is dead. He was famous. He was deeper than he let on or most knew.

Update: I guess this one is harder than I thought. He was born in 1932 and died in 1996. He used an alias. He appeared on television frequently. You know who it is!

Update II: Finally we get the correct answer. Tiny Tim!

Wednesday Cartoon Fun: Then And Now Edition

Yes He Did!


Obama Seeks Lowest Common Denominator

From Drew Westen at HuffPo:
...Somehow the president has managed to turn a base of new and progressive voters he himself energized like no one else could in 2008 into the likely stay-at-home voters of 2010, souring an entire generation of young people to the political process. It isn't hard for them to see that the winners seem to be the same no matter who the voters select (Wall Street, big oil, big Pharma, the insurance industry). In fact, the president's leadership style, combined with the Democratic Congress's penchant for making its sausage in public and producing new and usually more tasteless recipes every day, has had a very high toll far from the left: smack in the center of the political spectrum.

What's costing the president and courting danger for Democrats in 2010 isn't a question of left or right, because the president has accomplished the remarkable feat of both demoralizing the base and completely turning off voters in the center. If this were an ideological issue, that would not be the case. He would be holding either the middle or the left, not losing both.

What's costing the president are three things: a laissez faire style of leadership that appears weak and removed to everyday Americans, a failure to articulate and defend any coherent ideological position on virtually anything, and a widespread perception that he cares more about special interests like bank, credit card, oil and coal, and health and pharmaceutical companies than he does about the people they are shafting...
h/t DWT

Tuesday Cartoon Fun: Original Concept Edition

Nurses Say No To The Bill

I got this link in an email from a friend of a friend who is a nurse:

Nation’s Largest RN Organization Says Healthcare Bill Cedes Too Much to Insurance Industry
By National Nurses United

December 21, 2009

The 150,000 member National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union and professional organization of registered nurses in the U.S., today criticized the healthcare bill now advancing in the U.S. Senate saying it is deeply flawed and grants too much power to the giant insurers.

“It is tragic to see the promise from Washington this year for genuine, comprehensive reform ground down to a seriously flawed bill that could actually exacerbate the healthcare crisis and financial insecurity for American families, and that cedes far too much additional power to the tyranny of a callous insurance industry,” said NNU co-president Karen Higgins, RN.

NNU Co-president Deborah Burger, RN challenged arguments of legislation proponents that the bill should still be passed because of expanded coverage, new regulations on insurers, and the hope that it will be improved in the House-Senate conference committee or future years.

“Those wishful statements ignore the reality that much of the expanded coverage is based on forced purchase of private insurance without effective controls on industry pricing practices or real competition and gaping loopholes in the insurance reforms,” said Burger.

Further, said NNU Co-president Jean Ross, RN, “the bill seems more likely to be eroded, not improved, in future years due to the unchecked influence of the healthcare industry lobbyists and the lessons of this year in which all the compromises have been made to the right.”

“Sadly, we have ended up with legislation that fails to meet the test of true healthcare reform, guaranteeing high quality, cost effective care for all Americans, and instead are further locking into place a system that entrenches the chokehold of the profit-making insurance giants on our health. If this bill passes, the industry will become more powerful and could be beyond the reach of reform for generations,” Higgins said.

NNU cited ten significant problems in the legislation, noting many of the same flaws also exist in the House version and are likely to remain in the bill that emerges from the House-Senate reconciliation process:
  1. The individual mandate forcing all those without coverage to buy private insurance, with insufficient cost controls on skyrocketing premiums and other insurance costs.

  2. No challenge to insurance company monopolies, especially in the top 94 metropolitan areas where one or two companies dominate, severely limiting choice and competition.

  3. An affordability mirage. Congressional Budget Office estimates say a family of four with a household income of $54,000 would be expected to pay 17 percent of their income, $9,000, on healthcare exposing too many families to grave financial risk.

  4. The excise tax on comprehensive insurance plans which will encourage employers to reduce benefits, shift more costs to employees, promote proliferation of high-deductible plans, and lead to more self-rationing of care and medical bankruptcies, especially as more plans are subject to the tax every year due to the lack of adequate price controls. A Towers-Perrin survey in September found 30 percent of employers said they would reduce employment if their health costs go up, 86 percent said they’d pass the higher costs to their employees.

  5. Major loopholes in the insurance reforms that promise bans on exclusion for pre-existing conditions, and no cancellations for sickness. The loopholes include:

    • Provisions permitting insurers and companies to more than double charges to employees who fail “wellness” programs because they have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol readings, or other medical conditions.
    • Insurers are permitted to sell policies “across state lines”, exempting patient protections passed in other states. Insurers will thus set up in the least regulated states in a race to the bottom threatening public protections won by consumers in various states.
    • Insurers can charge four times more based on age plus more for certain conditions, and continue to use marketing techniques to cherry-pick healthier, less costly enrollees.
    • Insurers may continue to rescind policies for “fraud or intentional misrepresentation” – the main pretext insurance companies now use to cancel coverage.

  6. Minimal oversight on insurance denials of care; a report by the California Nurses Association/NNOC in September found that six of California’s largest insurers have rejected more than one-fifth of all claims since 2002.

  7. Inadequate limits on drug prices, especially after Senate rejection of an amendment, to protect a White House deal with pharmaceutical giants, allowing pharmacies and wholesalers to import lower-cost drugs.

  8. New burdens for our public safety net. With a shortage of primary care physicians and a continuing fiscal crisis at the state and local level, public hospitals and clinics will be a dumping ground for those the private system doesn’t want. 

  9. Reduced reproductive rights for women.

  10. No single standard of care. Our multi-tiered system remains with access to care still determined by ability to pay. Nothing changes in basic structure of the system; healthcare remains a privilege, not a right.
“Desperation to pass a bill, regardless of its flaws, has made the White House and Congress subject to the worst political extortion and new, crippling concessions every day,” Burger said.

“NNU and nurses will continue to work with the thousands of grassroots activists across the nation to campaign for the best reform, which would be to expand Medicare to cover everyone, the same type of system working more effectively in every other industrial country. The day of that reform will come,” said Ross.



A powerful short animation.

Lucky from EB Hu on Vimeo.
h/t ??

Warning: Contains animated, cartoony blood spurts.

Health Insurance Company Stock Soaring

I know the stock market is not the best indicator of financial health...unless you are an insurance company!

Those Malignant And Vindictive Passions...

Sheldon Whitehouse is as eloquent as they get...

New Rule

If my land-line is busy don't call my cell.  This goes for all calls to those who live alone or with a kid who never answers the phone.


Oregon's Race To The Top Recommendations

I don't know what feelings well up inside you when you read this kind of thing, but for me it's feelings of dread and futility.

Just read some of the nonsense that schools now have to concern themselves with if they want money to buy books and pencils. It's a disgusting commentary on what Americans either find important or are unable to understand.

School is not rocket science. Never was. Shouldn't be. But we are creating an atmosphere where every education policy is driven by "data" which are erroneous or forced at best, as well as inconclusive in the main.

Enough already. Let teachers teach, inspire, entertain, enliven, and care for their students as human beings first, workers for "the man" second, instead of the other way around.

Stand Assmt and Data Oregon                                                                                                                                                    

h/t KL

Brother, Or Sister, Can You Spare A Dime? Updated

(This post will remain at the top for a while)

I don't think I have ever asked, outright, for money.  I don't know how except to just ask.

Could you help support TFT by donating via PayPal or making a purchase of some TFT swag at Cafe Press?

I would really appreciate it!

Update: Thanks to both of you.

Do You Know This Kid IV? Updated

Jimmy Page

Do you know this kid? He is famous. To some, infamous. He is alive. He was born in 1944.  Good luck.

Update: A reader emailed me with the correct response.  Jimmy Page!

Sunday Cartoon Fun: Ineptitude Edition

Avatar: Racist?

I have not yet seen the movie Avatar, but with vacation on I am sure the Frustrated Son and I will be going soon. I found this review interesting.

A snippet from L,G and M:
But the racial essentialism of the film creates a whopper of an unintended thematic irony.* The planet and everything on it do not simply coexist in a harmonious balance of the New Age variety: they are hard-wired into a single neural network that makes the entire planet into a single entity and "the space people" less like a colonizing mercenary force than a disease. The humans are to be resisted not because they are economic imperialists (though they are) and not because they glory in militaristic combat (though they do) but because they are different. They do not belong to the planet and therefore there is no possibility for peaceful coexistence. The only way humans can be accepted is for them to forsake their humanity and become Na'vi. (Think literal assimilation.)

This is not a vision of a racially harmonious social politic: it is an inversion of the logic of passing that seems acceptable only because it imagines the experience of becoming a person of color as necessarily ennobling. The film argues that once a white person truly and deeply understands the non-white experience, he becomes an unstoppable combination of non-white primitivism and white rationalism which is exactly what happens. In order for the audience to support the transformation of Jake Sully into Braveheart Smurf, it must accept the essentialist assumptions that make such a combination possible ... and those assumptions are racist. In football terms, this is a variation of the black quarterback "problem."

The Nelson Compromise (Are You Effin' Kidding Me?)

From digby:
Put another way: If you're buying insurance with help from the government, and the policy you want to buy covers abortions, you have to write two checks (or authorize two credit card transactions, etc.) for your plan. If the plan costs $1000 a month, and the insurer plans to sequester $50 to put into a pool that covers abortions, you have to make one payment of $950 and a separate payment of $50.

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