Wednesday, October 31, 2007

And Along Comes Mr. Authoritarian Personality....

Although sees this as "punching holes" in other Justices' hypotheticals, I see something else:
But Justice Samuel Alito punched holes in some of his colleagues' hypotheticals, asking if those situations "occur with any frequency in the real world."
It's a wonderfully leading question, and you would have to be dumb as a sack of hammers to believe that Alito did not know the answer that would be forthcoming. So it is safe to conclude that Alito didn't intend to learn anything from the answer.

So why then a question which suggests a philosophy that, even when a statute is excessively broad, if the circumstances in which its reach would be unconstitutional are purported to be rare, we should let the statute stand and "trust the government" not to misapply it? That appears to be what Alito believes.

I'm more of the school that legislatures should draft good laws, and courts should not be forgiving of their drafting unconstitutionally vague or ambiguous laws merely because it is hypothesized that the vague or ambiguous elements will rarely come into play. In terms of whether we can trust that prosecutors won't charge people in the situations Alito would deem exceptional, my experience suggests otherwise.

Outsourcing Law Enforcement Functions

Rumors about this have circulated for years, but here's a recent article on the FBI's use of "private contractors" back in the Civil Rights Era. Cheaper than Blackwater, but....

Drug Treatment Expenditures

Although the article contains too few details to give any real insight, London's Guardian shares a report suggesting that a huge investment in drug treatment produced little in the way of results:
Despite a £131m boost in funding for the National Treatment Agency last year, the numbers emerging from treatment free of addiction has barely changed from 5,759 three years ago to 5,829 last year.

This amounts to an increase of only 70 more people, a hefty price tag of £1.85m for each addict to get clean.
The response is that "successful treatment takes from five and seven years" and thus that critics are expecting results too quickly, but also,
Every £1 spent on drug treatment saves £9.50 to the rest of society.
That sounds like a convenient, made-up figure. Why don't we invest the entire GDP in drug treatment, for an easy 950% return each year?

I would venture that the following factors are relevant to the slow start, despite a huge investment:
  • The broadened availability of treatment means that it is now being offered to (or required for) a much larger population of individuals who are not ready to be sober;
  • The broader reach of drug treatment is likely also to bring treatment services to dual diagnosis (or triple diagnosis) patients - those with concurrent physical and/or mental illness which complicates drug treatment - but without offering adequate, coordinated treatment for those other illnesses;
  • Increased funding does not mean that there will be immediate availability of trained, qualified drug counselors necessary to staff new and expanded programs, or that newly created or funded treatment programs will be quality programs;
  • Increased funding does not necessarily mean that the best treatment modalities are being identified and followed.
A lot more study is needed, along with certification of treatment programs. (And not just in the U.K.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Issuing Driver's Licenses to 'Illegal Immigrants'

I'm not sure I understand the furor. The primary purpose of licensing drivers is to ensure that they are reasonably familiar with state traffic laws, and not likely to pose a danger to other drivers.

If you believe that all people who don't have driver's licenses will refrain from driving, well, how cute. How charmingly naive. If it's a knee-jerk "I hate illegal immigrants" thing, well, call me when you have a rational reason for opposing licensing.

But if you're aware of what happens in the real world, why wouldn't you want at least some threshold of testing to make sure that as many of the other driver's on the road as possible at least meet the minimum requirements to hold a driver's license.

Friday, October 26, 2007

But If We Look To Other Commonalities....

When I think of the word "fascism", I think of traditional definitions such as this:
a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.
The colloquial alternative meaning, "a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control", also comes to mind, but I think it is fair to criticize that use as being... well, let's use the words of Jonah Goldberg's publisher,
“Fascists,” “Brownshirts,” “jackbooted stormtroopers” - such are the insults typically hurled at conservatives by their liberal opponents. Calling someone a fascist is the fastest way to shut them up, defining their views as beyond the political pale.
The first part is nonsense, of course - such accusations are occasionally made by a few people, but the assertion is an absurd overgeneralization. In terms of popularizing the meaningless, overbroad use of the term, people like Goldberg lead the field - "But who are the real fascists in our midst? writes his publisher in support of his evolving book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. Alright then - so in one breath the use of the word "fascist" is an unfair tool used to impugn somebody's politics, and in the next, "By the way, liberals are fascists" - his "striking parallels":
Contrary to what most people think, the Nazis were ardent socialists (hence the term “National socialism”). They believed in free health care and guaranteed jobs. They confiscated inherited wealth and spent vast sums on public education. They purged the church from public policy, promoted a new form of pagan spirituality, and inserted the authority of the state into every nook and cranny of daily life. The Nazis declared war on smoking, supported abortion, euthanasia, and gun control. They loathed the free market, provided generous pensions for the elderly, and maintained a strict racial quota system in their universities—where campus speech codes were all the rage. The Nazis led the world in organic farming and alternative medicine. Hitler was a strict vegetarian, and Himmler was an animal rights activist.
Goldberg apparently believes that by finding commonalities between two political ideologies, they somehow merge.
  • Liberalism is not the same thing as socialism;
  • The idea that "free health care", instituted in Germany under Otto Von Bismarck in 1883, emerged from Nazism defies both history and common sense, while Italy long ago emerged from fascism yet has chosen to maintain national health care despite its being introduced by Mussolini;
  • I don't know of any liberals who believe in "guaranteed jobs";
  • I don't know any liberals who believe in confiscating inherited wealth, nor of any in the mainstream who support any form of confiscatory estate tax;
  • I am not sure what it means to expend "vast sums" on education, but I'm not aware of any mainstream conservative movement that admits to wishing to defund public education, of any mainstream "liberal" movement to significantly increase spending on public education, or of any appreciable difference in state education spending which follows from a transition from Democratic to Republican governance;
  • To characterize Nazi programs of eugenics as "pro-choice" in nature verges on the obscene; outside of that context, the Nazis encouraged population growth and large families;
  • The Constitution, which long predates the advent of fascism, separates church and state, although I'm sure if they were around the Founding Fathers would be the first to apologize for offending Goldberg's sensitivities (and, sorry, liberalism is not working to advance paganism);
  • To the extent that some on the political left support gun control as a means of reducing crime and gun-related accidents, there's a world of difference between their methods and motivations and those of a totalitarian regime which wishes to suppress specific individuals and groups;
  • The Nazis opposed smoking... and drug use, sure, as part of their goal of "bodily purity". Goldberg focuses on a nebulous, poorly implemented, and in no small part bipartisan "war on smoking", yet disregards the "war on drugs";
  • The number of "liberals" who can be reasonably deemed to "loathe the free market" is infinitesimal;
  • Fascists, like every developed country, offer some form of "pension" to the elderly? The horror;
  • Goldberg would equate quota systems meant to advance discrimination against disfavored minorities with affirmative action?
  • Goldberg would equate modern "speech codes" which protect conduct which the Nazis deemed punishable by death with Nazi-era totalitarianism as extended to University campuses?
  • Because Nazis liked organic farmers, organic farmers are Nazis?
  • Because Hitler was a vegetarian, vegetarians are Nazis?
  • Because Himmler was an animal rights activist, animal rights activists are Nazis?
It's easy to ridicule, as it's absolutely ridiculous. Himmler was interested in Astrology - does that mean, in Goldberg's mind, Nancy and Ronald Reagan were fascists or Nazis?

The publisher's note also tries to get some mileage out of people it deems as being on the political left, yet sympathetic to totalitarianism. "W.E.B. Du Bois was inspired by Hitler's Germany, and Irving Berlin praised Mussolini in song." No mention of Prescott Bush? It's just silly.

And yet others, who have perhaps advanced less on nepotism than Goldberg, make similar arguments in advance of the concept of "Islamofascism". Christopher Hitchens, who loves that term, argues,
The most obvious points of comparison would be these: Both movements are based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind. ("Death to the intellect! Long live death!" as Gen. Francisco Franco's sidekick Gonzalo Queipo de Llano so pithily phrased it.) Both are hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons), and both are bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories. Both are obsessed with real and imagined "humiliations" and thirsty for revenge. Both are chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia (interestingly, also, with its milder cousin, anti-Freemason paranoia). Both are inclined to leader worship and to the exclusive stress on the power of one great book. Both have a strong commitment to sexual repression—especially to the repression of any sexual "deviance"—and to its counterparts the subordination of the female and contempt for the feminine. Both despise art and literature as symptoms of degeneracy and decadence; both burn books and destroy museums and treasures.
It's interesting how there is zero overlap between what Goldberg deems to be the key aspects of fascism as applied against liberals, and what Hitchens deems to be the key aspects of fascism as applied against Islamic fundamentalists. It is interesting that Goldberg defines fascism as a tool to separate church and state, while Hitchens sees it as a tool to advance theocracy.

It is probably unfair to juxtapose Hitchens with Goldberg in this manner, given that Hitchens is trying to articulate a coherent argument whereas Goldberg's book is perpetually in progress (with the evolution of its tag line being something of a joke). However, it is fair to observe that in advancing the concept of Islamofascism, Hitchens takes a view of fascism that is at odds with any conventional concept of liberalism:
  • Hostility to modernity;
  • Hostility to other religions (not ot mention what they deem as inferior versions of their own religion);
  • Leader worship;
  • Adherence to "the power of one great book";
  • Sexual repression and misogyny; and
  • Advocacy, and sometimes overt acts, of censorship of the arts and literature.
The overlap he sees is largely a tendency toward totalitarianism, intolerance and dogma. It is perhaps also interesting to note that what Hitchens sees as key aspects of fascism are much more consistent with religious fundamentalism - any religious fundamentalism - than they are with fascism.

As for more traditional hallmarks of "fascism", "Islamofascism" is not associated with any particular race or nation - for those who don't know, the majority of the world's Muslims are not Arabs. It is not associated with any centralized autocratic government and, although the Taliban's example suggests it would be as autocratic as the regimes it seeks to topple, holds particular animus toward totalitarian Islamic regimes that it deems as being untrue to Islam. Advocacy of social regimentation? Happy to forcibly suppress opposition? Obviously. Advancing economic regimentation? Control of industry by the central authority? Not so much.

When you look only at the commonalities under a traditional definition of fascism, you're really speaking of autocracy, centralized control, subversion of opposing political and religious viewpoints, and subordination of the individual to the central authority.... That is to say, totalitarianism.

In short, as defined by Hitchens, the religious aspects of "Islamofascism" can be found among extremists in any major religion. (I will grant that the numbers of such extremists vary significantly, and concede that Islam has a disproportionately high number of powerful extremists as compared to other major religions, but this phenomenon is simply not unique to Islam.) The political aspects of "Islamofascism" are not fascist, but are totalitarian. And so you are left with a term which isn't actually descriptive of either Islam or fascism. But it sounds scary so, if for no other reason but your deep respect for the work of George Orwell, ya gotta stick with it.

Gerson on Eugenics

Michael Gerson's column today espouses tolerance and inclusion as an outgrowth of faith:
The portion of "The Deathly Hallows" in which young Harry realizes that he is "marked for slaughter" and accepts the necessity of his own death for the sake of love is moving -- and that love becomes a kind of magic that is stronger than death itself. For every reader, this is an affirmation of friendship, loyalty and courage. For my children, it is also the symbol of a greater sacrifice.

These, of course, are central themes of religion, particularly Christian religion. And the question naturally arises: How can a book series about tolerance also be a book series about religion? This represents a misunderstanding of both tolerance and faith. For many, tolerance does not result from the absence of moral convictions but from a positive religious teaching about human dignity. Many believe -- not in spite of their faith but because of it -- that half-bloods, werewolves and others should be treated with kindness and fairness. Above all, believers are called to love, even at the highest cost.
This makes all the more puzzling his Wednesday column on eugenics. After summarizing various eccentric viewpoints endorsed by James Watson, Gerson writes,
Watson is not typical of the scientific community when it comes to his extreme social application of genetics. But this controversy illustrates a temptation within science - and a tension between some scientific views and liberalism.
One might start out by reminding Gerson that Watson's non-scientific beliefs don't imply any tension between science and liberalism, as they are not premised upon either. But what Gerson's appears to be trying to do is to imply that abortion rights translate into a form of eugenics, an increasingly popular semantic game of the political right.

The overwhelming majority of abortions occur with no genetic testing, and even where genetic testing occurs abortion remains an individual choice. Selectivity in your partner is much more likely to affect the future genome than is abortion - is it "eugenics" for somebody with a hereditable disease to choose not to procreate, or for somebody else to reject such a person as a partner? And if we are concerned about "designer children" or even gender selection, the technologies behind such concerns are applied before implantation, or even before fertilization. Gerson makes the odd statement,
Watson is correct that "we already accept" genetic screening and selective breeding when it comes to disabled children.
Are the two equivalent? And if so, what does Gerson propose as a solution to, well, people choosing their sexual partners at the expense of the disabled (or unattractive, or uneducated, or unaccompished...)? Sorry, Michael, but selectivity in dating has occurred since the dawn of time and while, yes, those icky liberal types will probably continue to advocate "marrying for love", at least in this country most conservatives are likely to resist any alternative you propose.
The left in America positions itself as both the defender of egalitarianism and of unrestricted science.... But what happens when certain scientific views lead to an erosion of the ideal of equality?
The logic of that.... "The left in America positions itself as anti-war and supportive of unrestricted science, but what happens when the scientist develop weapons technology?" "The left in America positions itself as pro-environment and supportive of unrestricted science.... But what happens if scientific discoveries are polluting in nature?" Perhaps notions of "ethics" and "common sense" are lost on Gerson, but my guess is that "the left in America" will apply them to such minor conundrums and not suddenly become tied in knots.

The counterpoint to this is also interesting. Is it a virtue of the left that it supports egalitarianism? Gerson appears to believe so, given his endorsement of the all-inclusive tolerance, kindness and affection ("Love thy werewolf as yourself") that he ascribes to faith. Is he asserting that the political right does not support egalitarianism? If we assume, as Gerson seems to believe, that acceptance of "human equality" is a virtue, is he trying to argue that both "the left" and "the right" support egalitarianism, but that "the right" somehow avoids the tension between egalitarianism and "unrestricted science" by restricting science? Is that a virtue?

In Gerson's mind, does the political right endorse only a restricted, hamstrung version of science? If so, in Gerson's mind, how crippled should right-wing science be? Anything goes, as long as it doesn't conflict with the literal text of the Bible? Or is this simply code for opposing stem cell research (or Bush's vacuous half-measures on that subject). If Gerson is satisfied with the manner in which President Bush has reconciled egalitarianism and science, I don't think he has any room to criticize the political left.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dumbledore's Sexuality

While I understand why some parents might be concerned about their kids asking, "What does it mean to be gay," I expect that to be more of a problem in the abstract than in reality. "Gay" is a playground insult which is in use long before kids have any true conception of its meaning, and if kids haven't already asked about it I somehow doubt that the "outing" of Dumbledore is going to inspire them to press their parents for a definition. I undersand also why some people may be concerned that the disclosure somehow normalizes being gay, and thus shouldn't have been made - I just have no sympathy for that position.

In the Dallas Morning News, a columnist writes,
Stop talking about what Ron will do for a living, whom Neville will marry, what kinds of creatures Hagrid will raise.

If you didn't put it in the books, please don't tell us now.

I guess I don't want you to stop explaining completely. I'd love to know more about what inspired some of the plot details in the books. If you want to dish about how you decided on those particular inscriptions for the headstones, how you came up with the names for the characters, or how you cleverly planned the religious underpinnings of the broad arc of the story – I am all ears.

But telling us that Dumbledore is gay, as you did last week? Why would you do that?
Rowling has long been sharing those other details - bits of trivia and character details that, although vivid in her mind, ended up on the literary equivalent of the cutting room floor. Up to the Dumbledore disclosure, the same people who lament that they don't want to know anything beyond what is on the written page maintained their silence. And although they complain, as does this author,
Is Dumbledore gay? He is for you, apparently. But unless you said it in the actual books, must he be so for me? Your saying so now makes it harder for me to imagine anything different.
Why is it necessary to imagine anything different. When Richard Harris died, I could easily imagine Sir Ian McKellen being cast as Dumbledore - would it have made any difference to the character? If you start to read more into Dumbledore's nonsexual interactions with his student, merely because the author imagined him as gay, that's not really a problem with either the literature or the author's disclosure, is it. As a Time editorial suggests, some who hear the disclosure deem it somehow relevant to Dumbledore's mentoring young Harry Potter?
But here is a gay man as de-sexed as any priest—and, to uncomfortably extend the analogy, whose greatest emotional bond is with an adolescent boy: scarred, orphaned, needy Harry.
Well, that type of nonsense helps explain why teachers, real and literary, would choose to remain closeted. News flash for the slow on the uptake: Being gay doesn't make you a pedophile.

There's another side to this - people who are arguing that Rowling was correct to include a gay character in her book, but that he should have been overtly gay, and that she should also have considered having gay relationships between students. This, to me, seems to be the engrafting of the opposite set of political beliefs onto the disclosure - that if an author imagines a character as gay or is sympathetic to ideas of equality, that must be overt on the page even in children's and youth literature. Had Rowling announced, "Professor McGonagall is straight," would they have made equal demands that she have been described as dating somebody such that her sexuality would have been obvious? It's not quite an equal situation, as the assumption people tend to make in the absence of information to the contrary is one of heterosexuality, but within the confines of youth literature (save for the subgenre focusing on particular "coming of age" issues) the sexuality of teachers and school administrators isn't relevant to the story.

As for students, it is difficult to imagine how a reference to a gay couple, whether made in passing or fully developed as a subplot, would be more than a distraction. Would it have helped us understand the main characters better? (Let's see... Hermione? Immediately accepting. Harry? Perhaps surprised, but otherwise unaffected. Ron? A misunderstanding of some sort, followed by acceptance. Does that about sum it up?)

The author of the Time editorial complains,
But as far as we know, Dumbledore had not a single fully realized romance in 115 years of life. That's pathetic, and a little creepy.
As far as we know, not one of the teachers at Hogwarts has ever had a fully realized romance. Yet you obsess over this one? That's pathetic, and a little creepy.

Friday, October 19, 2007

You Couldn't Pay Me To Look This Stupid On Television

I'm going to give Tucker Carlson the benefit of the doubt, that he's not an idiot but just plays one on television, but let's take a look at a couple of his statements from his recent appearance on Real Time.

Let's start with a comment that is, in a superficial sense, reasonable - but simply detached from reality. Speaking about the insane right-wing attacks on 12-year-old Graeme Frost and his family, Carlson states that individual cases shouldn't have been brought into the debate:
And here’s why. It’s moral blackmail. We’re having an adult conversation about what is best for the country. You bring your ailing child in, who is 12, I can’t disagree with you, because I’m mean all of a sudden. It ends the conversation. It doesn’t start the conversation.
This is, of course, the flip side to Michele Malkin / Rush Limbaugh approach, which seemingly is to send people the message that if they dare to attach their names and stories to a program they oppose, they will abuse their public platforms to hurl wild personal attacks without regard to such niceties as facts. If you're brave enough to put your name forward anyway and weather those attacks, Carlson is there to tell you that you are subverting the debate.

If you remove the personal element from the debate, you're left arguing dollars and statistics. It's a great way to bore the audience, and help ensure that the broader general public doesn't gain any real understanding of the public policy issues or consequences of a particular vote or agenda. So it's a great tack for people who oppose programs like SCHIP. But to pretend that this will lead to better informed decisions and better public policy is naive, dishonest, or both. That's why the rabid dogs of the right responded not with statistics, but with an (entirely dishonest) counter-narrative that the Frosts were rich and undeserving. They could have taken Carlson's (supposed) cue and limited themselves to describing what percentage of recipients fall into the Frosts' demographic, and why that demographic doesn't need SCHIP, but even their most engaged supporters would be drifting off to sleep.

I would accuse Carlson of endorsing high school debate tactics, but even there I doubt that many debate coaches would tell their students, "Pretend that your audience is Mr. Spock from Star Trek, and tailor your argument to what you believe would convince him." (And similarly, I doubt any debate coach would embrace Carlson's tactic of rudely interrupting people and talking over them to prevent them from making their points, even if that is the unfortunate standard for modern political television.) If Carlson is sincere in his argument, he's charmingly naive. If not, as I suspect, he simply wants to foreclose effective tactics of persuasion - if the bullies won't scare people out of sharing their personal stories, Carlson has their back with his accusations that they are subverting the debate and distracting people from the "real issues".
KRUGMAN: Did you go – did you go on your program and start raging against that ad that Bush had in the 2004 campaign about Ashley’s story and how he comforted a young girl after 9/11?

CARLSON: Probably.
I'm thinking "probably not". Further, even assuming that he can find an example where he criticized the personalization of a policy he favors, I very much doubt it was more than a finger wag before endorsing the message. Maybe Carlson truly does want all personal stories eradicated from politics, but I suspect that he reserves this type of argument for issues which he deems unimportant or where he disagrees with the narrative advanced through the personal story.
KRUGMAN: [overlapping] The point is, it’s a perfect illustration of what we’re trying to deal with. [voices overlap]

BEHAR: [overlapping] He’s the symbol of it.

MAHER: [overlapping] He was—

CARLSON: [overlapping]—there is no one child who’s a perfect illustration of any problem in this country. That’s ridiculous.

MAHER: [overlapping] But, he – but, he – but, he was a prop. But he also legitimately epitomized the issue.

CARLSON: [overlapping] Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. No one child can epitomize – this is a very – this is one-seventh of the U.S. economy, pal. ... No one child is a metaphor – he’s a kid.
I am taken back to my first year of law school where some of the students simply couldn't grasp the idea of arguing based on analogy, particularly when they were emotionally close to an issue. This is necessary skill in law, where applying the law as interpreted in previous cases can be crucial to advancing your client's case. A certain subset of students took the position that unless the metaphor was perfect, no comparison could be made. Taken to Carlson's extreme, assuming he doesn't fall into the block of conctrete thinkers who lack the cognitive tools to handle metaphors, avoiding metaphors isn't about making the debate more balanced. It's about making the issues more abstract and more difficult to understand.

There's also an inherent absurdity in arguing that you can't examine individual experience, because (definitionally) each individual's experience is uniqe. Some experiences are highly representative of the whole. And some individual experiences will demonstrate institutional failings that may not be obvious, or may be hidden from view, if you take a broad, impersonal perspective.
No, but you know what I mean? It’s not just Bush. It’s like the same Darfur talk. “We need to get in there and invade Darfur.” The same people who are against being in Iraq say, “Oh, we have to get in there to avert humanitarian crisis there. I mean, the left is for intervention, too, in equally crazy ways. We should all back off, take a good listen to the libertarians, and don’t invade unless we have to. ... Look at Somalia. We were just going to feed the people. And the next thing you know, they’re killing our Seals in the middle of Mogadishu.
Somalia? Darfur? So I guess, Tucker, you only have a problem when other people analogize?

He continues,
What is our responsibility? Do we have a responsibility to police the world? I thought we didn’t. And if we do, then we have to stay in Iraq, if we have that responsibility.
I annoint Tucker "King of the False Dichotomy." If we don't have a responsibility to police the world, does that mean we can simply pack up and go home with no thought for the consequence? If we do, does that mean we have to act everywhere, with an equal amount of effort, and cannot consider whether our efforts will be productive, or the financial, military and human cost?

On Blackwater:
And for the third and most important reason, you can’t go anywhere in Iraq without them. You have to have them. The military is not going to protect you. And so if you want to deliver air conditioners or feed people or get up the, you know, phone lines, you have to have these people. ... I don’t think there’s any evidence the Blackwater guys have committed more atrocities than our own troops.
Tucker.... I think our troops slightly outnumber the Blackwater contractors in Iraq. Also, if you believe that the roles of the troops and of Blackwater "contractors" is equivalent, such that the comparison might make some amount of sense, your argument that we "need" Blackwater falls apart. But then, you do have such difficulty arguing from analogy....
Who – who – who protects your bureau – who protects the New York Times bureau in Baghdad? Because the military is not going to. You wouldn’t have reporters there if it weren’t for private contractors.
So now government agencies are analogous to private news companies, with no greater contribution to the war effort, and thus should be protected by private contractors and not the military.... Deeper and deeper.
MAHER: [overlapping] They didn’t have Blackwater in World War II. Eisenhower wasn’t protected by Blackwater.

CARLSON: [overlapping] Because we weren’t rebuilding the country, that’s why.
Well, now you know. There was no U.S. effort to rebuild Germany or Europe after WWII, and had there been it wouldn't have succeeded without companies like Blackwater. Thanks for clearing that up, Tucker. (It seems that Tucker's never been particularly good with facts.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

SCHIP Is About Uninsured Children

George Will shares his thoughts on SCHIP,
SCHIP is described as serving "poor children" or children of "the working poor." Everyone agrees that it is for "low-income" people.
It is described this way... by whom? Because when I look at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services SCHIP website, I read this:
CMS Administers the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Program benefits became available October 1, 1997 and will provide $24 billion in federal matching funds over 10 years to help states expand health care coverage to over 5 million of the nation's uninsured children.

The State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is jointly financed by the Federal and State governments and is administered by the States. Within broad Federal guidelines, each State determines the design of its program, eligibility groups, benefit packages, payment levels for coverage, and administrative and operating procedures. SCHIP provides a capped amount of funds to States on a matching basis for Federal fiscal years (FY) 1998 through 2007. Federal payments under title XXI to States are based on State expenditures under approved plans effective on or after October 1, 1997.
Not one mention of the word "poor". Perhaps what offends Will then is that states are actually afforded the right to share in the determination of who qualfies to participate in the SCHIP program? He lauds Bush's veto because it pares back the rights of states? And he has to "make stuff up" to make his argument more compelling?

Will whines about families who he believes to be too wealthy to be in need of help obtaining health insurance for their children:
Under the bill that Democrats hope to pass over the president's veto tomorrow, states could extend eligibility to households earning $61,950. But America's median household income is $48,201. How can people above the median income be eligible for a program serving lower-income people?
Well, Gee, George - perhaps you have forgotten your years of prattle about how employment-based benefits are part of a "welfare state" that should be eliminated, and the resulting rise of the working uninsured. Perhaps you have totally overlooked what decent health care coverage costs these days - and how if you're not part of a decent group plan you can pay an extraordinary amount of money while getting very little actual coverage. And no matter how much you keep repeating "low income", while nobody has disputed that the SCHIP program has income limits which lead to that result, that does not appear to be among the program's actual goals or elements.

During my last period of being between employment-based insurance plans - during which I was paying COBRA benefits to maintain coverage probably inferior to that Will receives for free from his employer - I priced out "group" plans available through the State Bar. For my family, I found plans which charged $1,200 or more per month, and offered very poor coverage with significant deductibles. I paid my COBRA premiums quarterly, and they were rising several hundred dollars each quarter. The last bill, right before my wife obtained coverage through a new employer, was not far off from $20,000.00 per year.

Will has a lot more concern for the financial plight of the rich, but those are "his people". When do you suppose was the last time he spoke to somebody who works for a living, other than perhaps to explain to his cleaning lady, "Next time I want this toilet bowl to sparkle."

Pity the Rich

A few days ago George Will, presumably speaking for himself, let out a long, pitiful whine about how hard it is to be rich.
Citigroup's Ajay Kapur applies the term "plutonomy" to, primarily, the United States, although Britain, Canada and Australia also qualify. He notes that America's richest 1 percent of households own more than half of the nation's stocks and control more wealth ($16 trillion) than the bottom 90 percent. When the richest 20 percent account for almost 60 percent of consumption, you see why rising oil prices have had so little effect on consumption.
My sympathy is already starting to... er... percolate in my throat.

Will argues that high-end brand names are becoming too democratized. As if there's a deficit of "even higher-end" brand names eager to take their place. He also complains,
But it is increasingly expensive to be rich. The Forbes CLEW index (the Cost of Living Extremely Well) -- yes, there is such a thing -- has been rising much faster than the banal CPI (consumer price index). ...

This is the outer symptom of a fascinating psychological phenomenon: Envy increases while -- and perhaps even faster than -- wealth does. When affluence in the material economy guarantees that a large majority can take for granted things that a few generations ago were luxuries for a small minority (a nice home, nice vacations, a second home, college education, comfortable retirement), the "positional economy" becomes more important.
Wait... is George Will arguing "relative prosperity" to make fun of those who speak of "relative poverty"? No... he really seems to mean this. (Inadvertent self-parody?)
There is some good news lurking amid the vulgarity. Americans' saving habits are better than they seem because the very rich, consuming more than their current earnings, have a negative savings rate.
Note that Will is careful not to use the word "wages" or "income". So the return from your trust fund, taxed at the low capital gains rate, isn't enough to sustain your extravagent lifestyle? Well then, let me be the first to shed bitter tears for you, as you have to sell a few shares of stock in order to maintain your three mansions, yacht and private jet.
Furthermore, because the merely affluent are diminishing the ability of the very rich to derive pleasure from positional goods, philanthropy might become the final form of positional competition. Perhaps that is why so many colleges and universities (more than 20, according to Twitchell) are currently conducting multi billion-dollar pledge campaigns.
Yes, George. Colleges are trying to raise money not because they need it, or because state contributions toward universities is in a downward spiral, but because they hope to kick off a new era where rich people would rather have their name on a tile in a wall of donors than own one of those $200,000 bottles of Hennessy you describe. How astute of you to notice. [Insert eyeroll here.]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How Sears Continued To (Un)Distinguish Itself

Following up on my prior post about customer service, the redelivery date rolled around. Sears has an interesting system where they computer call you to inform you of the time you can expect delivery, and to confirm that an adult will be present to receive the delivery. That's fine, but both times I used the system after confirming that the delivery window was acceptable and an adult would be present, I was connected with an operator and had to repeat that process with a live person. If the electronic system doesn't work, fix it or scrap it.

The delivery crews both times were very good. The washer and dryer were redelivered in new condition. After the washer and dryer were installed, though, there was a problem with the washer. It kept producing an error code indicating a lack of water flow and, after the installer had followed the instructions in the trouble-shooting guide a few times, he indicated that the washer appeared to be defective. He indicated that Sears could send out a technician, but that I could also request a replacement unit. When I called the Sears 800 number to describe the problem, I was told that I could also try "rapid resolution" - basically, technical support by phone. I tried it; at least in my case it wasn't worth the time.

When I was reconnected to the department responsible for service and replacement, the person I spoke with seemed to be under instructions to encourage service over replacement, but it wasn't a hard sell. And when I was transferred to another person to schedule the replacement, that person (to her credit) checked to see if a technician was available prior to the first available delivery date to minimize my time without a washer. (The service call would have been to repair the unit pending replacement, not in lieu of replacement.)

Looking at my growing laundry pile, and not feeling particularly inclined to go to a laundromat, I decided to take another look at the washer. Following the troubleshooting instructions for the 100th or so time didn't work (big surprise). As the error related to water flow, I decided to disconnect the water hoses just to see what might happen. (They had previously been repeatedly examined for kinks.) Not surprisingly the hoses were fine, water ran through them.... they're pretty simple devices. So I reconnected the washer, plugged it back in, and sure enough, it worked. Perhaps an air bubble was blocking air flow?

I then went to the website where I was instructed on their customer service contact page that I could contact them,
By Email: Our system will route your question to the proper place.
Should it go without saying? The response to the email was that I could not cancel the redelivery by email and would have to call their 800 number. Because, you know, I'm trying to save them money....

But I do like the new washer and dryer (which I selected with the assistance of Consumer Reports Greener Choices).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

No Kidding....

From a court transcript:
Q. And what's your relationship with your mother?

A. She is my mother.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


A few days ago The Opinionator shared some bloggers' thoughts on Hillary Clinton as an example of nepotism and dynasty. They close with a comment by Andrew Sullivan:
A reader responds to Andrew Sullivan’s approving link to Wheatcroft’s column by writing, “And is there any chance George W would have risen to anything more than a district sales manager at a photocopy company if his Daddy hadn’t been president?” Sullivan’s retort: “None. And your point is that Dubya has proven that nepotism and dynasticism don’t matter?”
As I read the comment, the point is that Mr. Sullivan had none of these concerns when he actively supported G.W. Bush in his first campaign, even though G.W. Bush was chosen for that job principally on the basis of his family name - and even within the family was deemed a suitable second choice only after older brother Jeb lost his first gubernatorial election. Concerns about reaching the presidency principally because of family name and connections apply in both cases, but should have been far more pronounced in relation to G.W. Bush. Did Mr. Sullivan even whisper a concern at that time?

Perhaps in retrospect, Mr. Sullivan recognizes the folly of his embrace of the underqualifed Bush. Sullivan's retreat from Bush seems to be primarily one of policy, particularly in relation to gay rights. Has he ever said, "I should have seen at the outset that Bush was unqualified, and was propped up as a Presidential candidate merely because he shared his daddy's surname"? (I admit that I don't follow Sullivan or his blog, but I don't recall that he has ever made such a statement.) If he disagrees with that position, his consternation over Hillary Clinton would seem hypocritical.

As I see it, there is a big difference between the ascendency of G.W. Bush and Hillary Clinton. In the former case, the selection was made and the primary process was constructed to lead to the nomination of the pre-approved candidate. In the latter case, while name and relationship similarly helped Hillary Clinton get the necessary résumé, opportunity and financial support to enter the race, she entered with a lot of negatives, is up against other candidates who still have a legitimate chance of defeating her for the nomination, and has managed to (largely) overcome those negatives (so far) and take the lead. Her party is not handing her the nomination. When Sullivan sneers that "modern, developed, Western societies" don't "actually bestow[] political office on women because they were once the wives of presidents", he may wish to take note of the fact that none exclude them from seeking office.

If she does win, perhaps the proper question is not how she got into the race, but why she was determined by the primary process to be the best candidate for the Presidency. If you take the position that she is not, you can examine how she managed to win, and the extent to which her name and marriage may have factored in. If you take the position that she is, then even if she advanced herself on her name and marriage, we still got the best candidate of those who ran.

I personally have some real problems with Hillary Clinton's ascendency, but they aren't about dynasty. With no offense intended, as good as the Democratic slate of candidates looks when contrasted with the Republican slate, is this truly the best we can do? I think not, so perhaps it is time for our nation to spend some time thinking about why those we would truly like to serve as President are turned off of politics, or are unable to get any traction within the major political parties. With no slight intended to Ms. Clinton as compared to anybody else in national politics, if our political system were currently elevating our best and brightest to the leadership positions of our nation we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Believing Nothing vs. Believing Anything

All too often one idealogue or another will misattribute to "Chesterton" (one assumes G.K., not A.K., although they probably don't know the difference) a "quote" to the effect of,
“When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He believes in anything."
Given that the typical proponent of this quote has no apparent devotion to any particular religion (beyond, perhaps, self-worship), it is difficult to take them seriously even if you don't recognize the misattribution. Yet except perhaps for the most vapid or most mendacious of that bunch, were they to actually think about the quote it is difficult to believe that they would insult Chesterton by trying to insert such an inane thought into his mouth.

At one end, the misquote is used to try to claim that religion somehow acts as a check against man's base nature, and thus that a man who believes in God will be constrained in his actions by the rules of his faith, while a man who does not can convince himself that any variety of evil is in fact a good, or that without the fear of eternal damnation the only constraint on his actions will be secular consequences (if any) of "getting caught". The latter theory presupposes that every religion incorporates some form of eternal damnation, which is simply not the case. (And even where it is, as with Puritanism, if the acts you commit during your life won't affect whether or not you reach heaven, where's the constraint? Only in "getting caught" and punished by man.)

Further, there's something a bit off-putting about the notion that somebody is more morally developed if they refrain from acting only because they fear an external consequence, as opposed to because they have developed an internal moral compass. When somebody behaves only because God may be watching, it becomes necessary to preach that God is all-seeing, because otherwise you would have to watch your back every time you stepped into the shadows.

As for the former argument, that believing in God will necessarily entail your accepting an ethical framework which will constrain your actions, whereas a nonbeliever will (presumably) act on self-will, that's not borne out either by the teachings of religion or by the acts of man and secuarl society. Whether or not you accept Kohlberg's stages of moral development, they do illustrate how a sense of ethics can develop toward a set of "universal ethical principles" even in the absence of religion. And religions are far from uniform. While Icelandic blood feuds may well have followed the model set by interactions among the pantheon of Norse Gods, few would now argue that it is a superior model to the secular U.S. court system merely because it was founded in religion.

In terms of religion preventing you from "believing anything", while I appreciate that some people truly believe that had they been devout, tyrants like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot would not have engaged in hostile warfare and genocide. I discredit Bill Maher's frequent retort that this type of leader and his followers are tantamount to religion. While perhaps a charismatic tyrant can inspire a fervor among his followers that is similar to that of a religion, a part of religious belief is accepting a framework created by the church. While giving due deference to the fact that some of history's worst genocides have been committed by secular leaders, in no small part that results from industrialization and the rise of secular society. That's not conceding the argument - but "lesser" genocides of the historic past might have eclipsed those of the modern world had similar technology been available. And let's not forget how thorough some historic genocides have been - look at the Spanish Conquest, or the absence of a Native population from Newfoundland. At least in my opinion, the treatment of citizens by a typical European government is markedly better in the present than it was during the reins of its various historic kings, queens and princes, even when they sincerely believed themselves to have been placed on their thrones by God.

Where religion does stop you from "believing anything", it is often because the competing thought is deemed contrary to church teaching. Even when that fact was scientifically provable, undeniably true, and completely vindicated by history, the consequence of disputing church teaching could be exceptionally harsh. (In this same vein, many people who are unquestionably devout in their own faith express incredulity at the teachings of other faiths - how can they believe that.) This continues into the present through the blather of people like Ann Coulter, who argues that global warming is a "religion" to the left - because religion is a bad thing? (Or is that just a talking point she borrowed from her friend, Bill Maher.)
Because we can't prove them wrong for a thousand years, and I think the other thing about it is, it goes back to Chesterton’s statement: that when people stop believing in God, the problem isn't that they believe in nothing, it's that they'll believe anything. And that's what you constantly see with people who don't believe in God: They're always imitating the most ridiculous, primitive religions. And it is like a primitive religion, thinking if we just change these lightbulbs, we can change the temperature of the ocean. It's the craziest thing! Even primitive people wouldn't believe something that silly.
Coulter implicitly claims that she "has religion" (although she demonstrates no sign of faith, beyond perhaps worship of money and excessive consumption) and thus apparently believes herself beyond such mundane tasks as fact-checking or sourcing her claims. Those darn secular folks with their science and facts - force them to recant, then (just to be safe) keep them under house arrest.

Global warming is not being addressed in a responsible manner in our society, not because of religion or secularism, but because some powerful corporate interests have worked very hard to convolute the message received by the public, and because they and other powerful corporate interests have lobbied very hard to stop or slow any regulation which might increase their costs. Contrary to Coulter's claims, many religions have accepted global warming as a reality, including the Catholic Church. So, typical of a proponent of the Chesterton misquote, she's wrong on the facts, wrong on the science, and wrong on religion.

Although global warming is simply an example I use in this larger discussion of the Chesterton misquote, I will nonetheless close by quoting one of those nutters who argues that we can fight global warming by changing light bulbs:
EPA and the Bush Administration take seriously the challenge of global climate change, and we are discussing actions to meet the Supreme Court’s decision. I appreciate your willingness to be part of the solution. Environmental responsibility is everyone’s responsibility, even in the case of climate change.

Earth Day is a good opportunity to remind each and every one of us of our own ability to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses we emit in our daily activities – commonly referred to as our “carbon footprint.” And some of these actions may be easier than you think.

The next time you are shopping for a new computer, television, or even a light bulb, consider the advantages of buying an ENERGY STAR product. By purchasing an energy-efficient model, you’ll not only reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted in order to power your appliance, you’ll save money on your electric bills.
Perhaps next time, before implying that the President an irreligious primitive, Coulter will Ask The White House.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Bush's Job Creation Record

Steve Benin notes that although G.W. Bush's actual job creation record is 72,000 per month,,
Bush's monthly average, using the cherry-picked timeline, still trails Clinton, 172,000 per month to 237,000 per month.

* * *

I'd only add that U.S. News recently asked Rudy Giuliani about this in an interview about economic policy. The magazine said, "The Democrats are going to say, 'We raised taxes in the '90s, cut the deficit, and the economy boomed.' Why not try and rerun the '90s instead of cutting taxes?"

Giuliani responded, "Because we have actually done more job creation by lowering taxes than by raising taxes."
Laughable. But also missing something I suspect is crucial - has anybody explored what percentage of the job creation on G.W.'s watch is directly driven by the Iraq war? If you were to reduce his job creation figures by the Iraq numbers, thus creating a "peacetime jobs" figure - jobs which will continue to exist after the war ends - is that not a better figure for comparison to Clinton's record? (And how good would Bush's "peacetime jobs" performance be?)

A war job "boom" paid for by government contracts and deficit spending - the Republican reality, perhaps, but not the image they try to sell to the public.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Inspired by the Founding Fathers....

David Brooks explains:
When conservatism came to America, it became creedal. Free market conservatives built a creed around freedom and capitalism. Religious conservatives built a creed around their conception of a transcendent order. Neoconservatives and others built a creed around the words of Lincoln and the founders.
The "and others" maybe, although those "others" behind the "Southern Strategy" would seem to have relied upon Lincoln's pre-Civil War statements on race. But the neoconservatives? Which words does Brooks have in mind?

I can just picture the founding fathers arguing that we had a duty to invade foreign nations to liberate their people and spread democracy. I can just picture Lincoln insisting that the Civil War would be a cakewalk, could be won with 100,000 troops (maybe 30,000 or so more if things don't go well), and that the people of the south would greet us as liberators. Can't you?

Based upon the actual policies they have advanced, I think it would be more accurate to say that the neocons derived their brand of conservativism by watching the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Note to Fred Thompson

There is a difference - and potentially a very big difference - between supporting a war and supporting the troops who fight it.

Rush Limbaugh supports wars, and will attack anybody who doesn't agree with him even if they are actively fighting the wars he supports.

A Quote (For The Benefit of Justice Thomas)

“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
- Malachy McCourt       

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Brooks On Entitlements

I don't know if it's worth the effort or not, but... a few days ago David Brooks wrote a rather silly piece on entitlement spending:
They [does he mean "I"] bombard you with alarming statistics about unsustainable entitlements. The U.S. government has $43 trillion in unfunded liabilities, or $350,000 for every taxpayer. Standard & Poor’s projects that in 2012, the U.S. will lose its AAA bond rating.
Okay... so how exactly is this "alarming" statistic derived? What period of time does it represent - a century? What assumptions does it rely upon? Is it a deliberately alarmist "worst case scenario"? And what does it mean for an entitlement to be "unfunded", anyway? I'm all for fiscal responsibility, but based on facts, not silly made-up numbers.
Presidential candidates vow to offset the cost of health care plans through “cost savings” measures, and everybody pretends those savings are actually real. Republicans promise tax cuts and people pretend those pledges are not absurd. Democrats vow to pay for their grand spending plans by raising taxes on the rich, even though each one percent increase in the top tax rate only produces $6 billion in revenue.
We're returning to reality, with some valid concerns about present tax policy and promises... although why does Brooks think that the rich (a class notorious for not paying income taxes, as their revenues are derived largely from other means) can only be taxed on their income? Has he somehow missed the furor raised by the wealthy any time somebody hints at, for example, a capital gains tax increase?
These habits infect everything they touch, even a straightforward and successful program like the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-chip. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of uninsured children has been declining steadily for years. It shouldn’t be that costly or hard to insure the ones that are left.
The number of uninsured children has been declining... since the 1997 introduction of SCHIP. A modest expansion of SCHIP should help insure even more of them. So, of course, recognizing the success of the program, David Brooks opposes any expansion.
First, it perpetuates a smoke screen of obfuscation between who pays and who chooses. States have an incentive to ramp up benefits because they know that most of the cost will be borne by taxpayers somewhere else. Second, it entices children out of private and into public insurance, even though after 2012 it cannot cover the cost.
So which is it, David - will states use the additional money to increase the benefits offered, or to insure more children? Which children are enticed out of private insurance (answer: not many), and why would SCHIP be preferable to private insurance for those children? There's a category of insured people commonly described as "underinsured". If Brooks can demonstrate that the private insurance coverage is comparable or superior to SCHIP coverage, he has a point. If not, there should be no surprise in that people will leave an inadequate private health plan for another (from any source) which is superior and comes at the same or a lower cost. Sad to say, private health insurance plans are often grossly inadequate.

And suddenly Mr. "Oh no, don't tax the rich!" is concerned about regressive taxation:
Third, it creates a fund-raising mechanism cowardly in the extreme. Politicians in Washington like to talk in the abstract about shared sacrifice. They could go to the American people and say: We need to insure more children and to do that we’re going to raise broad-based taxes slightly.

But that’s honest and direct, and therefore impermissible. Instead, this program is funded by raising taxes on smokers, who generally are much poorer than average Americans and much less educated. High school dropouts smoke at roughly three times the rates of college graduates.
Let's see... Congress could ask the President G.W. Bush to make a statement about "shared sacrifice" and sign into law a bill which modestly increased taxes. (Have you stopped laughing yet?) And Brooks' new-found concern for regressive taxation.... has he ever before complained about the regressive nature of cigarette taxes? Has he ever proposed cutting or eliminating those taxes due to their effect on the poor? Let's see where he stands on tax policy....
Seventh, raise taxes on carbon emissions and use the revenue to make the tax cuts on capital gains and dividends permanent.
He is consistent on the whole - don't raise income taxes for the rich; cut capital gains taxes for the rich; cut tax on dividend income for the rich. His concern about tax on the poor is situational - there's no evidence that he cares a whit about regressive taxation, but here he thinks a feigned concern will help his argument. (Cruch the numbers and... even an analysis meant to support Brooks' claim of regressive taxation demonstrates that, in fact, the benefits of SCHIP inure to the poor at a level which vastly exceeds their share of the increased cigarette tax - making the tax regressive in the abstract, but progressive in implementation.)
Deficits, obfuscations and trickeries that were once unthinkable are now the norm.
But enough about the New York Times editorial page.

Improving Schools

Today, Bob Herbert points out that increased teacher credentials do not automatically translate into better teaching skills:
The first is teacher quality, a topic that gets talked about incessantly. It has been known for decades that some teachers have huge positive effects on student achievement, and that others do poorly. The positive effect of the highest performing teachers on underachieving students is startling.

What is counterintuitive, but well documented, is that paper qualifications, such as teacher certification, have very little to do with whatever it is that makes good teachers effective.
Part of this, in my opinion, results from the fact that there is typically a strong economic incentive for teachers to increase their credentials, such as an automatic raise upon obtaining a master's degree, which inspires teachers to pursue higher degrees (often a masters in education) without regard to their interest or aptitude, and seems to transform many education graduate programs into diploma mills. But even assuming otherwise, what is there to support the assumption that beyond a certain threshold, more training in educational theory will result in somebody becoming a better teacher? Or, if a teacher is more ambitious, how does a masters degree in math translate into better teaching skills for an elementary school math teacher - if the teacher has the interest and aptitude to complete such a masters degree, it is reasonable to assume they already had sufficient mastery of the subject to teach at the K-12 level.

Herbert proposes developing "New forms of identifying good teachers and weeding out poor ones - by carefully assessing their on-the-job performance". Fair enough, but the educational system is a forest that can't be efficiently improved one tree at a time. He knows this:
The second area to be mined for potentially transformative effects is the wide and varied field of alternative school models. We should be rigorously studying those schools that appear to be having the biggest positive effects on student achievement. Are the effects real? If so, what accounts for them?

The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), to cite one example, is a charter school network that has consistently gotten extraordinary academic results from low-income students. It has worked in cities big and small, and in rural areas. Like other successful models, it has adopted a longer school day and places great demands on its teachers and students.
Not just alternative school models, though - but alternative educational models. Sometimes it seems that approaches to teaching certain skills or subjects depends upon the direction the wind is blowing, not any actual research into the effectiveness of one teaching technique over another (e.g., "whole language" versus "phonics" for teaching reading; "mandatory homework" measured by volume, not relevance or outcome). I was reading somebody advocate for speeding up ESL for immigrant students so that they wouldn't "fall behind" as measured by "No Child Left Behind" - but the real test should be whether the ESL program helps with longer term academic achievement, not the latest litmus test imposed by Washington. It may be that rapid ESL education does that, but that wasn't a concern articulated by the proponent of the "reform".

Length of the school day is an interesting subject to examine, but it's not likely to be a quick fix. There are school systems in other nations which achieve strong academic performance based upon a shorter school day (with a lot of homework). If kids won't have the opportunity to perform their homework outside of the school, or won't have necessary support at home, it is apparent how a longer school day (with less homework) can help overcome such problems. But in such a case the remedy is not one that "fixes the school", but one that compensates for certain problems in the home.

In any case, we can do a lot of bona fide research into teaching methods that work, by age and by subject, and see how well those techniques can be implemented in the classroom. (Language education, it seems to me, is largely dreadful in the public schools - yet we know that the government has already invested millions in efficient language education programs for its employees, and some of those programs and techniques must be transferable to K-12 settings.) Beyond that, we can examine what makes teachers good or inspirational, and try to teach (and coach) better teaching techniques to student teachers and newer teachers. (I suspect that a lot of it will come down to personality, which will make it difficult for many to consistently implement the techniques inconsistent with their personalities, and to going an extra mile or two on the teacher's own time (i.e., after hours, with no additional pay), which is not something that teachers can be compelled to do.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

"You Call That Clean?"

What may turn into an interesting story.... A high school student expelled, and later arrested and charged with battery, after a security guard is dissatisfied with her effort to clean up a piece of birthday cake, allegedly grabbing her by the arm as she tried to walk away to class. When the girl's mother asks school officials to arrest the guard, she's arrested for allegedly assaulting the principal. Another kid captured the security guard wrestling the girl onto a table (breaking her wrist in the process) - also arrested for... well, who knows what?