Monday, January 31, 2005

NCLB v. Spelling Bee

[via Education News]
NCLB is turning into a Harrison Bergeron juggernaut: Spelling Bees are violation of the "raising all students" ethic because there's only one winner. Excellence is not to be rewarded; students who can do better are going to be encouraged to do just a bit better, so as to not endanger the preferred gradually rising test scores. How about this: any student who drops out in the first two rounds gets extra help? How about spelling bees with teams instead of individuals? There's lots of ways to make these more NCLB-friendly. But imagination is not, I'm afraid, the first trait of educational administrators.

UPDATE: The Bee is back on [registration required]. Apparently the decision to cancel was made last year: several of the principals involved have since retired and there was "Thoughtful consideration, and lots of input...."

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The five laws of stupidity

The five laws of stupidity are always relevant:
  1. Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

  2. The probability that a certain person will be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

  3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.

  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
There should be a corrolary, lest we get too full of ourselves:
It is almost impossible to identify oneself as a stupid person, because even people who are studiously and conscientiously non-stupid act in stupid ways (see #4) on occasion, usually without realizing the damage done. Therefore we are all, at times and potentially, stupid people.

Someone (I can't find the reference quickly) once said that "Everyone makes a few mistakes every day. The trick is to make them when nobody's looking, in trivial matters."

Addendum: The original rules were formulated under the belief that stupidity is a personal characteristic, inherent in certain individuals. I find this reductionistic and a poor match to the evidence, and I question the methods by which the original research was done. It makes more sense, given the laws of unintended consequences and the apparently consistent findings of stupidity across class, race and gender lines, to consider stupidity by its effects (which is in fact how the rules define it) rather than by its origins.

Just as it is possible for intelligent people to do stupid things, similarly dumb people (or institutions, or policies) may have unexpectedly good results for all concerned. Stupidity is contextual, not essential.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4, Mishna 1(b)

"Ben (the son of) Zoma said, who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: 'From all those who taught me I gained understanding' (Psalms 119:99). Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination, as it is said: 'Better is one slow to anger than a strong man, and one who rules over his spirit than a conqueror of a city' (Proverbs 16:32). Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot, as it is said: 'When you eat the toil of your hands you are fortunate and it is good for you' (Psalms 128:2). 'You are fortunate' -- in this world; 'and it is good for you' -- in the World to Come. Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is said: 'For those who honor Me will I honor, and those who scorn Me will be degraded' (I Samuel 2:30)."

Quotations #036

"No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public." -- H. L. Mencken

"The trouble with being tolerant is that people think you don't understand the problem." --Merle L. Meacham

"The victor will never be asked if he told the truth." -- Adolf Hitler

"No man thoroughly understands a truth unless he has contended against it." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Winning is overemphasized. The only time it is really important is in surgery and war." -- Al McGuire

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Ethical Committments

Ophelia Benson is trying to make a distinction between ethical principles based on whether they are individually developed in an environment of knowledge and options. Ethical principles not developed individually, or developed without broad knowledge of alternatives, or in a situation where options for action based on alternative principles are severely limited, do not qualify as "ethical committments." Its an interesting argument, though she's very carefully (and subtly) defining her terms in such a way as to preclude religious values from being valid ethical committments.


I am going to die at 63. When are you? Click here to find out!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Quotations #035

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts -- for support rather than for illumination." -- Andrew Lang

"Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say." -- William W. Watt

"Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves." -- Lewis Carroll

"The exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess Success [is] our national disease." -- William James

"There is only one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Whether or not life is worth living." -- Albert Camus

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Bush, Gonzales, DUI, and coverups

[via Peking Duck, which I found via Simon World]

I'm not terribly interested in the DUI aspect, or even in the apparent attempt to cover it up. What bothers me about it is the very clear implication that Gonzales is not in any way an independent legal mind. Clever, to be sure, but compliant.

A Liberal Jewish Manifesto

Actually, he calls it an "American" Jewish manifesto. But the globalism, and reduced nationalism, is a pretty fundamentally liberal position. Still, I want to read it later.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Lawsuit Fun

Here are seven of the most egregious civil complaint awards collected over the last year. Yes, they are dumb. But are they evidence in favor of tort reform? Most of the reform proposals coming from the Bush campaign, etc., were about medical malpractice, which isn't at issue here. Is there actually a proposal in play which would address these? You can't legislate common sense, no matter how hard we try, nor can you stop lawyers (and insurance companies, who certainly paid most of these awards) from working in their own interests. What to do?

Update: Hah! Turns out that Most of those stories are both false and old. Remind me to check Snopes next time before I link to a "true story" piece like this.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

POW Sign is Funny?

Some conservative bloggers have been chuckling over a photo of John Kerry with some US troops in which a female soldier appears to be making a gesture that can be interpreted as a hand sign which is intended to be used by American P.O.W.s to indicate surreptitiously that their public statements are being made under coercion. That's funny, right?

This ranks as one of the pettiest, most unpatriotic uses of the blogosphere I can imagine. No, this probably isn't highly classified material in any real sense, if it's taught to all US soldiers, sailors and flight personnel, but it's not something that the whole world knows, either. At least it wasn't, until now. Publicizing these signs endangers the lives and well-being of any US military personnel, former military, or citizen taken prisoner or hostage.

This is, of course, aside from the complete lack of ethics with regard to using and interpreting the image of the soldier in question: the posts I've seen so far clearly haven't gotten confirmation, and since Kerry isn't president (I was going to say he lost, but we still don't know that for sure as long as there are questions about Ohio and electronic systems), there should be no problem getting it. They are qualifying it -- hedging with weasely phrases like "seems like," "interpreted by some" -- but that doesn't change the fact that there is no good reason, aside from snarky laziness, for someone not to have followed up.

The "gesture" might be inadvertent, in which case these bloggers owe their readers and this soldier an apology; the gesture might not have been intended for wider dissemination than the immediate group, and the soldier is not a "public figure" whose privacy is automatically negated by any action they make; the gesture might be deliberate, in which case the soldier in question should probably receive some instruction from her superiors on public decorum and discretion.

Some people -- and yes, I'm generalizing about a certain caste of conservatives from the evidence before me -- will stop a nothing to score points. No ethics, no morals, no foresight, no sense of responsibility or decorum. I'm disgusted. It's entirely possible that there are conservatives out there who will also object to this, or even some who have perpetrated it who might see the error of their ways: if so, I will revise my generalizations, at least to exclude them. Until then, I remain simply outraged.

Update: Mr. Jones suggests that he's equally outraged by all staged uses of soldiers. But the only examples he uses are Democrats. What about the Abraham Lincoln/Mission Accomplished stunt? What about the Thanksgiving Plastic Turkey stunt? He will probably argue that the Commander in Chief has special status, and he's right, but Clinton was, too. He might argue that Bush is "popular" among the troops, and he's right, but that doesn't mean "universally loved or respected" which means that the potential for coercion is still substantial (greater, in fact, as those who disagree would be likely to keep it hidden. Kind of like Mr. Jones' arguments about conservatives in the academy.). I'd like to see some evenhandedness, some consistency. Otherwise I, who prefer to be refered to as "an ahistoricality" instead of having my gender speculated about, can't really take him all that seriously.

Secular Jews, sure. Secular Prayer Services?

Jonathan Edelstein doesn't get it. Neither do I. If it's nostalgia for the tunes, there are CDs you can buy. If it's fellowship, there are clubs. If it's prayer, it's not secular. Non-denominational, perhaps, but not secular.

Quotations #034

"Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone, but primarily by catch words." -- Robert Louis Stevenson

"A good catchword can obscure analysis for 50 years." -- Wendell Willkie

"The best things and the best people rise out of their separateness; I'm against a homogenized society because I want the cream to rise." -- Robert Frost

"An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn't happen today." -- Laurence J. Peter [Ed. - aren't we all?]

"I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense." -- H. L. Mencken

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Remus Lupin, but close to Dumbledore.

I figured I'd be a teacher. Didn't count on a lycanthrope.

You scored as Remus Lupin. You are a wise and caring wizard and a good, loyal friend to boot. However sometimes in an effort to be liked by others you can let things slide by, which ordinarily you would protest about.

Remus Lupin


Albus Dumbledore


Ron Weasley


Severus Snape


Hermione Granger


Harry Potter


Sirius Black


Draco Malfoy


Ginny Weasley


Lord Voldemort


Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
created with

Skunkware Triumphs!

"Skunkware" is an Apple Computer term for applications which have been dropped from development. Apparently working to revive beloved skunkware is a popular pasttime for Apple software engineers. These guys, though, took it to new heights: they were fired, but kept coming to work anyway; their badges were cancelled, but they snuck in the building; they got other people to volunteer considerable time and resources to help them, and in the end, triumphed.

There's a movie in there, somewhere.

First it was Tinky Winky

Yes, it's true: Spongebob Squarepants is.... percieved as gay. And he's popular with children. So the anti-gay right is going to make him a target. Didn't they learn their lesson with Tinky Winky? Didn't anyone learn anything from Quayle's Murphy Brown debacle? They can't even get their facts straight (so to speak) about which websites they object to: Shoot first, check facts later.

It's tough, taking on media -- look at the Passion of the Christ debates -- but you don't see Jewish commentators taking on VeggieTales, do you?

Update: David Neiwert has, as he so often does, a deeper reading.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


The link above, aside from the misspellings, is a very amusing discussion of the politics, aeronautics and logistics of balloon-jamming. But I can't help but doubt the aluminum foil question. Is it true that a tail of foil would give the same radar reflection as a 747? I'll have to ask someone..... [via Sideshow]

UPDATE: A radar expert of my acquaintance [THANKS!] says that a foil strip (particularly one with creases that produce corner echoes) about three square feet in area could well produce a radar reflection equal in strength to that of a commercial airliner, and that the short and fast movements of flapping foil might even produce doppler radar echoes. He also points out that enough flapping foil would serve as a very effective jammer, hiding actual targets.... which is why our missile defense systems are going to have problems. For more information on radar cross-sections, go here.

Quotations #033

"Freud found sex an outcast in the outhouse and left it in the living room an honored guest." -- W. Beran Wolf

"As to marriage or celibacy, let a man take what course he will, he will be sure to repent." -- Socrates.

"You can be sincere and still be stupid." -- Charles F. Kettering

"The farce is finished. I go to seek a vast perhaps." -- Fran├žois Rabelais (last words)

"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom." -- Edward Gibbon

Monday, January 17, 2005

MLK Day on Classical Stations

Today is a real challenge to classical music stations. There's only three kinds of music, basically:

  • 20th century oratoria and other hagiographic materials. Which is fine: if there ever was a day for hagiography, this is one. At least in small doses.
  • Classical versions of folk and spiritual tunes. Copland, Dvorak and.... who?
  • Classical music by African-American performers, particularly politically active ones. Marian Anderson, of course, and Paul Robeson. But this stuff is really better suited to Black History Month than to today. Lots of crossover between this category and the last one.

They can ignore it entirely, of course, or just do a bit of relevant material. Sometimes that's preferable. A few years ago on Yom Hashoah, a classical station of my acquaintance started off their morning program with the Suite from Fiddler on the Roof. Granted, they usually start their morning program with light stuff, which is usually fun. And they announced it as such (though I missed it in between home, car and office). But still, if that's all you've got, just take a pass.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Gollum is Schizoid

No, I'm not just saying that. Professionals think so, too.

Professionals..... I'm working way too hard.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Teaching Haiku

Teacher assigns work
but has to grade all of it
Whose job is harder?

(the index of other lyrics and poetry I've posted is here)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Peevish Policy

Anne Zook is Back! The peevish hole in our lives is full again. Seriously, though, towards the end of her returning rant comes a neat bit of advice: when giving a donation, particularly to a large and diverse organization like a political party, include a letter explaining why you're giving the money and what you want them to do with it. Don't let the mandarins assume away your interests: make them aware of your wishes, and the money that comes with it, and they will follow the money.

Siris: Aphorisms from T. H. Huxley

I haven't posted many quotations recently, for technical reasons. But the above link includes some lovely words from one of the great early writers on science and scientists.

My favorites (on first reading):

There is assuredly no more effectual method of clearing up one's own mind on any subject than by talking it over so to speak, with men of real power and grasp, who have considered it from a totally different point of view.

Of all the senseless babble I have ever had the occasion to read, the demonstrations of these philosophers who undertake to tell us all about the nature of God would be the worst, if they were not surpassed by the still greater absurdities of the philosophers who try to prove that there is no God.

History warns us that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.

The most considerable difference I note among men is not in their readiness to fall into error, but in their readiness to acknowledge these inevitable lapses.

It is one of the most saddening things in life that, try as we may, we can never be certain of making people happy, whereas we can almost always be certain of making them unhappy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

NYTimes on Secret Lives.... and bloggers?

"I think what people are doing on the Internet now," she said, "has deep psychological meaning in terms of how they're using identities to express problems and potentially solve them in what is a relatively consequence-free zone."

I think the definition of cyberspaces as "consequence-free" understates the degree to which people take their on-line activities and identities to heart. But the discussion of multiplicity and secrecy certainly is interesting.

Brilliant twisted humor

Via The Sideshow:

This post at Mahablog has a good point about Newdow's latest crusade: Personally, I would think an atheist would approve of the religious trappings of the Bush inaugural. If Bush takes the oath of office with his hand on a Bible and is not struck by lightning, that's proof there is no God.
I just love the number of people and positions which get skewered in this compact little moment. Nicely done. Funny, too.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

A Likudnik is a ...

Turns out that Israel's Likud is as faction-ridden and diverse as either of the American major parties. One, in particular....

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Think, THEN speak: Probation edition

Amy's short list of things not to say to your probation office..... useful information, to be sure.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Let Madmen Set Our Agenda

The Madman of Chu thinks that the US would do itself some good if we solved the Israel-Palestinian problem (two states, of course) and made massive inroads into our oil dependency. He's right. Very right.

Our current administration is doing neither. Who's mad?

IQ and Marriage don't mix?

Apparently higher IQ is associated with better marriage prospects for men, but worse prospects for women. Very striking numbers. Ironically, it demonstrates that "IQ" is only a one-dimensional measure, because I've never been interested in anyone who wasn't as smart as I was, and married someone who's smarter in several dimensions. Best decision I ever made, probably.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Wal-Mart v. Libertarians (and the rest of us)

William Marinara, of Liberty&Power, points to this review of scholarship on the largest retailer in the country. He refers to it, ironically, as an example of "heroic capitalism" and I think it does present a grave challenge to the libertarians with whom he blogs. Wal-Mart relies heavily on legal and governmental institutions to keep its labor force low, routinely violates fair labor practices, and is heavily subsidized by federal and state governments:
For a two-hundred-employee Wal-Mart store, the government is spending $108,000 a year for children's health care; $125,000 a year in tax credits and deductions for low-income families; and $42,000 a year in housing assistance. The report [February 2004 report by the Democratic Staff of the House Education and Workforce Committee] estimates that a two-hundred-employee Wal-Mart store costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year, or about $2,103 per Wal-Mart employee. That translates into a total annual welfare bill of $2.5 billion for Wal-Mart's 1.2 million US employees.

Wal-Mart is also a burden on state governments. According to a study by the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2003 California taxpayers subsidized $20.5 million worth of medical care for Wal-Mart employees. In Georgia ten thousand children of Wal-Mart employees were enrolled in the state's program for needy children in 2003, with one in four Wal-Mart employees having a child in the program.
What's the alternative, they might argue. Wal-Mart provides jobs (though rarely more than they take away, particularly when you factor in the outsourcing and cost-squeezing they impose on their suppliers), pays minimum wage or higher (though that's far from a living wage in this country, particularly for anyone who isn't single and childless), nobody is forced to take them (debatable), and they are immensely successful at bringing desirable products (well...) to purchasers at low prices. But the true cost of Wal-Mart's products is considerably higher than the ticket price, or even the ticket price plus sales tax. One way or another, Wal-Mart's customers are paying the full cost of Wal-Mart's labor, but because they've managed to shift the burdens to the state, those costs are hidden.

Full disclosure: I shop at Wal-Mart, sometimes. Mostly for things which are difficult to find otherwise in a small town, and almost entirely for things which, if I didn't buy them at Wal-Mart, I'd be buying them at another national chain store, because that's what we've got a lot of. I have nothing against large companies as such, or efficiencies of scale and real productivity increases; I do have something against companies that abuse their power, violate law and shift expenses from their customers to the taxpaying public.

Now, to be fair, many governments, though history, have subsidized corporations for developmental purposes, to maintain stability or growth, to maintain independence in some strategic product or skill, and though the results are mixed from a purely economic standpoint, non-economic purposes have often been well-served. Wal-Mart doesn't seem to me to fulfill any of those functions, at least not particularly well. Libertarians, in particular, who object to the government's intrusions into markets, should find this sort of pointless subsidy of bad business practices quite objectionable.

Product Feature: Sleep Volume

Most TVs and some stereos have a "sleep" function which will turn off the music at a set time. But when you're putting a child to sleep you need something more gradual. A slowly declining volume, with a variable end-time.

I have a stereo with clock-alarm capacity, and one of its settings is to get progressivly louder at thirty second intervals (by the end of two minutes, it's quite unpleasant to be in a small room with it). Something like that, but backwards, slower, and adjustable.

It'll sell like hotcakes for the parental set. Within two years of introduction it'll be a standard feature on mid-range boom boxes. And, of course, the cute-kiddy stereo market is still underserved. Perhaps because good features didn't exist?

Quotations #032

"An atheist is a man who believes himself an accident." -- Francis Thompson

"It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it." -- G. K. Chesterton

"Revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly and modestly." -- Mao Zedong

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents, but rather because its opponents die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." -- Max Planck

"If money is your hope for independence, you will never have it. The only real security that a man can have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience and ability." -- Henry Ford

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Quotations: Other Sources -- Ferenc Szasz on History

My quotations come from my own reading, though I admit that "my reading" includes books of quotations.

Here's another source: History Quotations compiled by Ferenc Szasz.