Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Proßt Neu Jahr 2009!

Herzliche Freunden, wir wunschen Ihnen ein Gutes Neues Jahr. --that's how the Viennese say it. As it it almost midnight in Wien even now, I suggest you go dig up your copy of the Blue Danube and prepare to waltz.

Closer to home, Family Mojo will be observing a quiet, more modest (in keeping with the times) passing of the old year. Pup-pup is esconced at the vet's so we don't have to worry about loud boom-booms upsetting her (and tempting her to make a jailbreak exit from the yard). We will probably watch Maazel conduct the New York Philharmonic, then make a mad dash to buy fireworks (legal in my front yard b/c I live in an unincorporated area).

Remember to stock up on black-eyed peas and cabbage BEFORE you head out tonight. Few things are as awkward as trying to find an open grocery store on New Year's Day, only to find that they are out-of-stock on such items.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Hazards of Underground Poker

Short version: I was at one of my "haunts" last night and we got hijacked. Which is to say, two men forced their way into the room and pulled pistols and made off with all the available cash. No shots were fired and no one was seriously hurt --the door-minder got two scraped knees from wrestling at the entrance with the intruders. This is why I rarely carry cash to the games; if I lose, I go to the ATM at the end of the evening (never alone) and settle accounts post-haste. I lost no money personally.

Disturbing aspect: poker room robberies are never random acts. Someone knew that there was a game in that location, at that time. (As the holidays approach, some games shut down for lack of players.) As the game had only started very late and had tentatively broken up early in the evening, it had to be someone who had called in during the evening to see if a game was going on. Which means: someone everyone knows acted as a "scout" for these two gangsta clowns. I have my suspicions.

Cardinal Rule No. 1 of Underground Games: don't let in people you don't recognize.

Cardinal Rule No. 2 of Underground Games: see Cardinal Rule No. 1.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A serious question from a not-so-serious-but-very-intelligent atheist

Penn Jillette; slouching toward Bethlehem --not that I always agree with ol' Penn, but there's a money line in here:

“How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible, and not tell them that?” [emphasis added]

Words to ponder in the season celebrated as the Advent.

Monday, December 15, 2008

15 questions 9/11 ‘truthers’ now need to answer -

15 questions 9/11 ‘truthers’ now need to answer - some good ammo to throw at your conspiracy enthusiasts.

The Leidenfrost Effect

Hurray for the Leidenfrost Effect: I have Been There and Done That. Sometimes it's good to be an absentminded professor...

I don't know what's more disheartening

Grade 'H'?! More Schools Flunk the 'F' in which we read of the Grand Rapids schools doing away with the "F". I don't know what's more disheartening: that the Grand Rapids superintendent actually believes the fertilizer that's being spread, or that so many comments on the thread agree with him.

"Oh there are lots of intelligent people who don't get good grades." Yes, they're called exceptions to the rule.

We need to do more to signal the students that we care." It's called tough love. Telling the students that they can never fail makes them believe that theirs are lives of entitlement, e.g., "I deserve to pass because I'm a student."

For the record I hate incompletes, which is the functional equivalent of the "H". In my experience only a few of the students bother to follow through with the work. I dread to think of the pressure public school administrators will put on teachers to let students "make up" the work. Most students are bright enough to do the work, they just need to be held accountable from an early age. By the time they get to high school, however, many have indeed fallen through the cracks and have become so thoroughly conditioned that they won't work or make an effort. Don't get me wrong: any good teacher will recognize a student who wants to learn and will do whatever it takes to record the fact that the student did learn, including (on the college level) incompletes. What Grand Rapids proposes is the short path to making it the status quo and not the exception. Therein lies the road to perdition.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What I do over Christmas Break

Plagiarism strikes, I strike back!

It happened again: I busted a student for plagiarism this semester. I looked at the essay for the second exam and I thought, "Geez, this is obviously straight out of Wikipedia," so I did a text search and came up with the essay, word-for-word. Yet generosity and magnanimity overtook me, and I merely awarded zero points for that portion of the exam and wrote some straightforward comments to the student on what had happened. You'd think that the student would either drop the class or beg mercy --at which point I would've made the student rewrite the entire entry in the student's own words.

But no, the student did nothing. Worse than nothing: on the very next exam, the student committed even more blatant plagiarism! This time I wrote in the comments, "This is the second time you've plagiarized; didn't you bother reading what I wrote when I caught you the first time?!? Don't bother coming back to class, you've already earned an automatic 'F' for the course." And the student disappeared from sight without even bothering to cause a scene.

My syllabus is quite explicit: cheating (including plagiarism) will result in an automatic course grade of "F" and possible expulsion from school. And I include a rather specific definition of plagiarism as "taking someone else's words and presenting them as your own." (Courtesy of James Madison University.) So there was absolutely no doubt about things. But the sad truth is that the "F" is probably going to be the worst thing. Few colleges (especially two-year programs) willingly expel students for cheating anymore, unless it's part of a widespread plot. It's far more lucrative instructive to the learning community to make the student retake the course.

Obviously, I am not going to identify the specific individual involved, and here is why. But it does give me fresh material for next semester's orientation.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Comparing the Election of 2008 to ...1828

I've skipped a few elections along the way as being less-than optimal for comparison purposes. Also, 1828 is a significant election, as it marks the first election wherein a majority of the electors were chosen by "the people," i.e., state legislatures apportioned electoral votes according to popular vote tallies.

Unpopular incumbent. John Quincy Adams, the incumbent President, had managed to lose a significant amount of popularity by 1828. His vision of expanded federal exercise of power (particularly his ideas for creating a national university and astronomical observatory) had offended those who favored a more limited view of government. He was noted for being largely ineffective as a public speaker when addressing Congress. And, it should be noted, many felt his election was at the least tainted by the so-called "Corrupt Bargain" that gave Henry Clay the position of Secretary of State (then an important stepping-stone to the Presidency [HRC take note!]). Many of the same points could be about G.W. Bush in the recent election; the key point of difference here is that GWB was not running for re-election (claims of "McSame = 3rd Bush Term" notwithstanding) and JQA was standing for a second term.

Economic crisis. Both Andrew Jackson and Barack Obama benefitted from the appearance of a financial crisis at the time of the election. . JQA's decline in popularity (in particular his alienation of key Northern supporters such as Martin Van Buren) stemmed in part to his clueless handling of the debate over what was later termed the Tariff of Abominations. He had agreed to sign the tariff before the details were finalized; his opponents then tried to amend it to death, thus guaranteeing that there would be something in the final version to offend everyone (except for certain New England manufacturers). Jackson's people laid the blame for the ensuing rise in prices at JQA's feet. There may be a distinct parallel here to the subprime mortgage crisis, which some are blaming on Democratic legislators' efforts at pressuring banks into lending to "sub-optimal" clients, then blaming the Republican administration for failing to regulate the markets. (NB Jackson also blamed economic uncertainties on the existence of the Bank of the United States and excessive circulation of paper money, but those issues would not predominate until the 1832 campaign.)

Regional appeal. Jackson was a candidate of the fast-growing West and South. However, he was only able to win the election with the support of the Ohio Valley states and Pennsylvania --plus a majority of the then-proportionately-assigned New York electoral votes. Obama's regionalities have already been noted.

"Modern" campaign tactics. Jackson had spent the previous four years in the wilderness, letting his allies lay the groundwork for his 1828 attempt. John Eaton spent hours writing "anonymous" letters to friendly newspapers, calling Jackson the Washington of the West. Martin Van Buren (whom JQA had alienated) brought the tactics of internecine New York state politics to the national level, including the use of what Jackson would later call "rotation in office" --the spoils system. Jackson waged one of the most advanced campaigns of the antebellum era; JQA was at a disadvantage from the start. Jackson's people recognized the importance of mobilizing voter turnout. Obama spent years preparing to run and out-gunned all of his opponents in voter mobilization, particularly in the registration of new voters. Both candidates also were sure to use the endorsement of a former well-loved President to their advantage: Jackson's people used letters written by Jefferson in the early 1820s to bolster their case, while Obama's people --after the elimination of Hillary Clinton as a rival-- took pains to seem to court the opinion of Bill Clinton and use him in a more-or-less active campaign capacity (though not too active, lest he overshadow the current nominee).

Both candidates positioned themselves as the "people's candidate". For Jackson, this was especially significant in 1828, when for the first time a majority of white males over 21 were not only eligible to vote but had a direct role in choosing a state's electors. Jackson's margin of victory was 56% - 43%, a bit more than Obama's.

--Very busy of late. Had the house interior repainted to cover up the hurricane damage. Many arguments with the insurance company, then with Citimortgage over disbursement issues. Sick baby. Sick mommy. Sick Kaiser. Finals. Courses for next semester. Whiny students. All this and no duck hunting to balance my soul. Ugh ugh ugh.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

University fires teacher for publicly identifying cheaters

The Daily Texan - University fires teacher : "The six students received F’s and were reported to the school, but their grades may not stand because of Young’s blog post [in which he publicly identified them]."

Not terribly long ago, at a school where I'm no longer on the active call-out roster, I busted a student for plagiarism. Dead to rights I caught the student, as in, "I took the last sentence of your essay and Googled it as a text-string search, and the only hit I got led me to your essay, verbatim, looking me in the face." When I went to my department chair, the first thing he asked me was whether or not I could document the cheating. Inside my head, my first response was, "Gee, you think I'd waste your time if I couldn't?" The second thing he asked me was if I felt inclined to give the student another chance. Out loud, I responded, "No, the students were specifically warned in my college-approved course syllabus that cheating would automatically result in a course grade of zero, no exceptions." And then he asked me if I was willing to let the student drop the course (W). I was astounded, and grew even more so when he then told me that unless I went immediately through the registrar to fail the student, the student could (via a not-so-roundabout process) drop my class without penalty and without my approval or comment!

This is the crux: students are no longer in any way held accountable for their actions. It starts in the public schools, where it's an open secret that teachers aren't allowed to fail more than X% of their students (and they have to document that they bent over backwards to help/assist the student, notified the parents multiple times, etc.), and that if every little step to "re-teach" hasn't been taken, the failing grade can (and often will) be overridden. Knowing this, students are quite confident in doing no work and/or cheating, because the onus is not on them but on their teachers to justify the grades. "You can't fail all of us, even though no one did the work, because if you do, you will get in trouble, not us." And yes, this even goes down to something as simple as doing worksheets!

In this professor's case, the students will probably end up getting course credit because, parallel to the public teachers, the professor did not follow proper procedure. And while violating FERPA is a huge no-no and the university is justified in not rehiring that adjunct, giving the students credit for cheating sends entirely the wrong signal here. They were warned that this could happen, why are they surprised and/or angry when it does?!? But because the entire education establishment is now "learner-centered," as in, "we need the learners in the seats so that we can get money," they know that they will now be rewarded, not punished.

But it's just plagiarism. The worst that can happen is that you end up Vice President.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Comparing the Election of 2008 to... Part I: 1800

[okay, I never did get the graphics issue resolved to my satisfaction, so I'm going to just write it out long-hand. And because I'm doing that, I might as well start with...]

Two parties that cannot stand each other, hurling mud and invective against the other faction's candidate. False charges, threats of violence, even revolution if the wrong person wins. A lot of fuss for two men in powdered wigs, but that's 1800.

Senator Obama's elevation to the White House is a big deal. Considering the long history of black Americans, for one to win a presidential election is a milestone, one that cannot be ignored. We can ruminate on the current significance of that in some future conversation; right now, it's time to play History Lesson and put this election into its proper historical context. And for our purposes here, that means forgoing the race angle as much as possible; race is simply too much of a non sequitur to be brought up at every turn and twist. Thus, apologies now to everyone who wants to harp on that point.

Let's look at the big points of comparison between the two elections, 1800 and 2008:

  1. Unpopularity of the sitting President --without a doubt this played a major role in the elections of both Jefferson and Obama. John Adams's Federalists had come close to bringing the nation into a war to which a significant number of Americans objected. To pay for this war, taxes had been increased, further angering opponents of the war. Worried about the effect that opposition newspapers were having on volatile electorates, the Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1798, effectively criminalizing anti-government speech. Ironically, the Sedition Act had the effect of galvanizing the Republican opposition instead of stifling it. When the Quasi-War hysteria passed, many supporters of the Federalist faction began second-guessing the Adams Administration. In the 2008 election, we had a president who (evidently, according to Gallup) is the most unpopular president ever recorded, an economy with rising unemployment and much anxiety about the financial infrastructure. Oh, and said president led the nation into a once-popular-but-now-not-so-much-even-though-most-Americans-now-think-we've-won-or-are-winning war.

  2. Regional appeal of the opposing candidates. Jefferson's support came solidly from the South and the trans-Appalachian states, but he only won the election because he carried the swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. Obama's support is perimeterial in nature (is that even a word? It is now, heh), with the coastal states and the Great Lakes solidly lining up behind him, and key swing states --including Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York-- also coming into line. Obama also picked up support in other traditional (last 30 years) Republican areas, so in that sense, he is much less a creature of the regions than Jefferson.

  3. Nastiness of the campaign. In both elections, the candidates themselves eschewed the sort of negative attacks that Americans find distasteful from their presidents, but love to see from their subordinates. McCain was noticeably more negative as the campaign wore on, and some believe that it held him back (while others consider it his fatal flaw that he didn't "go negative" sooner). The attacks on Jefferson and Adams by their respective opponents are the stuff of legend. Federalists warned that Jefferson would import the guillotine from France and begin executions of his opponents. Republicans warned that Adams wanted to institute a hereditary monarchy and aristocracy. Both sides' supporters published false, malicious and/or misleading statements about the other guy --in fact, this was used by the Federalists as continued justification for the Sedition Act. In that sense, nothing much has changed in over 200 years, although the number of Republicans demanding the jailing of the New York Times staff remains quite small. (NB there is a real sense, on the other hand, that an Obama Administration may punish those perceived to be "hostile"; witness the bumping of reporters from Obama One is the closing days from papers whose editorial pages supported McCain.)

  4. Congressional coattails. In 1800 the Republicans rode the wave of dissatisfaction to commanding leads in both chambers of the Congress, with a 68-38 majority in the House but only a 17-15 majority in the Senate (one vacant House seat, two vacant Senate seats). While the Democrats already controlled both chambers going into the 2008 elections, they have managed to increase their margin to fifty-odd votes in the House (435 members total) and are close to 59 seats in the Senate (including the two independents who caucus with them; also depending on the final vote tally in the Minnesota race). Significantly, though, Jefferson may have had the better deal, as the Senatorial filibuster had not yet come into existence and debate could be closed by a simple majority vote. In the end, there would be limits to Jefferson's power over Congress, such as the rise of the "Tertium Quids" who ultimately out-Jeffersoned Jefferson in their adherence to strict constructionalism. Party unity in the present day, however, is generally much more structured, although the Blue Dog faction in the House may yet pose problems for Obama and his close ally, House Speaker Pelosi. (Aside: the grand irony is that Jefferson's coattails almost did him no good, as this election was an electoral tie owing to shenanigans involving Republican electors and rumors that Aaron Burr, the designated running mate, may have actually wanted to be at the head of the ticket. As such, the outgoing Federalist-dominated House actually decided the election, ultimately choosing Jefferson as the "known" devil over the "ambitious" Burr.)

  5. Ramifications for the judiciary. I doubt severely that we will see the kind of repercussions in the judiciary in the modern day that the nation saw in the wake of the 1800 election. The court system was simply far too small and limited to have any real impact --or so it would seem. Yet Federalists so feared the Republican take-over that they deliberately stacked the judiciary in an attempt to limit the power of the Republican government. From this came the case of Marbury vs Madison,from which I take great pleasure in discussing how Chief Justice John Marshall out-constructed Jefferson and Madison and argued that an ultra-strict reading of the Constitution actually gave the Court the power to deny itself an ability (mandamus), yet in so doing achieve the greater power of interpreting the Constitution, even to the point of being able to nullify acts of the Congress which it felt violated the Constitution. Jefferson and his allies would then spend the next few years targeting judges for impeachment, ultimately with very limited success. Given the nature of Senate procedure today, especially the reluctance of the Senate to formally adjourn (thus giving the President the opportunity to make recess appointments), there will be no similar court-packing today.

    6. The popular vote. Not that it mattered in Jefferson's time, since the vast majority of the electors were chosen by the state legislatures (Electoral College 1.5, as I like to call it), nevertheless Jefferson won about 68% of the popular vote in those areas where electors were thus chosen. Obama's margin is much much smaller, on the order of 53% or so.

--okay, I think that will do for a start. Comments are most welcome. Coming next time: the election of 1824.

But...but...there's only so much Farsi I can learn before they go broke!

#115 Promising to Learn a New Language

It's no great secret that a significant number of poker players in my area are foreign-born. In fact, it makes things much more interesting. The casino-standard rule "English-only at the tables during a hand" has started many heated arguments.

A good many of my acquaintances are Persian-born, exiles from the Islamic revolution of 1978-9. So I am s-l-o-w-l-y learning conversational Farsi --which, not coincidentally, is a good way to learn to swear and order drinks in most Middle Eastern bars. It's also fun because I become a source of much amusement when I mangle pronunciations...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Shedding Potential Kos/Huff Cooties

You know you you are, and you know why you're here, so let me spell out the other side for the sake of balance:

Suppose McCain/Palin wins the election, but the Senator from Arizona is Unavailable before December 15, the date of the formal election of the President via the Electoral College ballots. Republican electors have two options: to honor the spirit of the Constitution's Article II and the 20th Amendment and vote Gov. Palin as President-Elect; or to select a candidate of their own choosing, perhaps at the behest of the Republican National Committee. YOUR worst-case scenario, worse than Newt, worse than Cheney, even worse than Huckabee: Tom Delay is elected President. Remember: he's not a convicted felon, and it's looking a lot like all the charges will end up being dismissed in the end anyway.

[This post relates to a comment I made on The Volokh Conspiracy regarding what might happen should the Senator from Illinois win the election but decede before December 15.}

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Folly of Temper

It may come as a surprise to some (but not to those really close to me) that I actually have a very nasty temper. It was much worse when I was younger (testosterone?), and I have made many long strides in the last ten years in bringing it to a manageable level. It still shows itself in verbal slips now and again, but that just adds to my curmudgeonly charm. It's when It (that's what I call the beast) surfaces when things can quickly get ugly.

Wednesday night, after a particularly questionable hand of poker, It emerged. Its immediate target was an innocent, inanimate cocktail table. I attempted to place-kick it across the room. Left-footed --that's how upset I was. Unfortunately, said table proved to be much heavier than it looked. I did knock it over, but at the cost of a broken severely bruised big toe. The next day, I was unable to do any serious walking. And the day after that. And today.

It was today when I really regretted my folly, because Mrs. declared it was such a nice day that she wanted to take the Wee One to the zoo for the very first time. After some protests, I gave in and walked all over the park with my family. The Wee One enjoyed it and my wife now adores me (again). I managed to walk slowly without putting weight on that toe --which inordinately stressed the calf of that leg as a consequence, and so I'm back to limping at half-speed anyway.

Bright spot: I can still lift at the gym and do cardio, so the workouts continue apace. I'm glad I'm no longer doing free-weight squats.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why Tuesday? Plus, Voting Reform

Why Do We Vote On Tuesday? --short answer is that farmers liked it that way. Lots of bellyaching in the comments about how voting procedures need to be modified to allow more inclusiveness.

Shying away from What We Expect Mojo To Say (i.e., "Making it easier to vote inevitably will lead to people taking voting for granted," or even, "Why do we want everyone to vote? "), let me take a different tack --one that WordPress inexplicably refused to let me post (?):

[In response to the idea that Election Day should be a national holiday] NO! to a holiday for voting. I submit that making it a holiday will actually depress voter turnout rather than enhance it. Consider: the pressure would be enormous to make the holiday on either a Monday or a Friday to avoid (further) disrupting the work week. How many people take Memorial Day Monday to go pay their respect to the war dead, hm? How many people go on Labor Day to see the unions parade? Voting Day would turn into another wasted workday, with added absenteeism before and afterwards (honk if you've ever taken off Friday before a Monday holiday weekend, or Thursday before a Friday holiday weekend). And since voting wouldn't take all day, retail stores would be encouraged to run sales to attract the off-work consumers (screwing the employees who have to work that day, natch). The easier and cheapest solution across the board is to extend voting hours in all jurisdictions to 24 hours beginning 5AM EST on Voting Tuesday.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Visitors? HERE???

I'm expecting online visitors, strangely enough. If that's you, how-de-do! Rummage the archives and lie around on the floor reading old issues.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When Gaming and Politics Collide

somehedgehog: Adventuring Party Politics: The Campaign is Getting Ugly

Shhh, if this gets out I'm out of a day job...

America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree, wherein we find these figures:

Today, amazingly, a majority of the students whom colleges admit are grossly underprepared. Only 23 percent of the 1.3 million high-school graduates of 2007 who took the ACT examination were ready for college-level work in the core subjects of English, math, reading, and science...

A 2006 study supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors scored below "proficient" levels on a test that required them to do such basic tasks as understand the arguments of newspaper editorials or compare credit-card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. The students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.

So undergraduates aren't ready for us. I blame the public education system and subcultures that devalue pedagogy. But when the author begins talking about solutions, I began to cringe:

  • A national test, which could be developed by the major testing companies, should measure skills important for responsible citizenship and career success. Some of the test should be in career contexts: the ability to draft a persuasive memo, analyze an employer's financial report, or use online research tools to develop content for a report.

What part of HELL NO do I need to spell out? Not that testing is evil in and of itself. I just know where this will lead: federal funding (which will create more useless bureaucratic jobs) will become tied to test scores, and low-performing colleges will begin teaching the exams at the expense of subject matter. It's the path of least resistance.

The author makes some other points, many of which are good (or, at least, present no immediate sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach). I especially liked this one:

  • If your child's high-school grades and test scores are in the bottom half for his class, resist the attempts of four-year colleges to woo him. Colleges make money whether or not a student learns, whether or not she graduates, and whether or not he finds good employment. Let the buyer beware. Consider an associate-degree program at a community college, or such nondegree options as apprenticeship programs (see, shorter career-preparation programs at community colleges, the military, and on-the-job training, especially at the elbow of a successful small-business owner. [emphasis mine]

And therein we find the root of all evil: colleges are money-making machines for administrators, bureaucrats and student loan officers. I would love to see a financial aid worker's face if one were ever told that they could lose their jobs if too many of their "clients" failed out or otherwise defaulted on their obligations. Bank officials can lose their jobs if they make too many bad loans (oh wait, not if they're the bank executives or if they contribute to members of Congress...), why not financial aid workers?

But I digress. Colleges are money-making machines, and most students don't need half of what they are forced to learn, prepared or not. I should be careful, though. If word of this gets out, historians may be out on the streets --or even asking for a Congressional bailout.

UPDATE: wave if you came here via Gates of Vienna. I'm actually quite pleased that thoughtful people can have serious disagreements on some things yet find (non-esoteric) things to agree on.

I miss boating.

I was all excited earlier this year when I finally got my boat back from the shop, rebuilt engine and all. Sure, there are still a few glitches that need attention, but those pale in comparison to the smell of the water, the roar of the engine, the whole enchilada...

Sadly, I've managed to take the boat out precisely twice this year. Granted, one of the times was with Family Mojo and that was pretty cool. But inevitably Things Came Up. Weekend commitments. Teaching loads. Hurricane Ike. Especially Hurricane Ike. Late September - early October are my prime times to hit the bay and go fishing. The storm completely wrecked every facility that I know of. And even if I could get out onto the water, all of the channels etc. have been re-arranged; I'll have to do a complete trip just to map out the safe routes through the bay.

So the boat hasn't been back out. It may not go out again at all this year. Man I miss boating.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Testing: a picture of The Wee One

--and this isn't even one of her better pictures!

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Reminder Of Why I Have Gates of Vienna On The Same List As Boing-Boing

Opposite ends of the political spectrum, same questionable intelligence.

Gates of Vienna: The Iranian Death Ship: talks about how the Iranians were going to blow up a huge cargo ship of radioactive sand on Yom Kippur off the Israeli coastline, killing thousands in potentially the largest terrorist strike in human history.

Haroog??? Put up a highly radioactive cloud that could drift into Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia itself? (But they're Sunnis... Yeah, but you'd kill thousands of Shia Palestinians as well...)

And in a way that would almost certainly invite a massive nuclear counterstrike from the Israelis???

Leave all that aside, though, and consider the Extremely Bad Juju that would result if the al-Aqsa mosque were rendered unusable due to fallout. Radioactive cargo: yes. Evil madman plot: dubious.

I'm not saying that GoV is totally full of beans, but the leaps in logic from factual stone to factual stone in this piece make me shake my head.

UPDATE: ZOMG!!!111!!!1! I GOT A MENTION DIRECTLY ON GoV!!! Here it is! Also check out the comments...

When Warren Buffet Talks, You Should Listen

Buy American. I Am. - Warren Buffett in the New York Times:
A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation’s many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.

A little history here: During the Depression, the Dow hit its low, 41, on July 8, 1932. Economic conditions, though, kept deteriorating until Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933. By that time, the market had already advanced 30 percent. Or think back to the early days of World War II, when things were going badly for the United States in Europe and the Pacific. The market hit bottom in April 1942, well before Allied fortunes turned. Again, in the early 1980s, the time to buy stocks was when inflation raged and the economy was in the tank. In short, bad news is an investor’s best friend. It lets you buy a slice of America’s future at a marked-down price.
He's right. I'm still kicking myself for not doubling down on Charles Schwab after the '87 crash --I'd have made a huge killing by selling off in 1999. Mr. Buffett's logic is a perfect example of contrarian investment, and his track record is pretty good. I'm long in cash right now, and for the short-term that is very good. Buy for the long haul and quit looking at the news. Companies that are fundamentally sound will survive and prosper.

Remember: if no one were buying any stock, the market would be at zero. The market is not at zero, ergo there are people buying stock.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Ahh, I see Professor Mojo has given his first exam of the term..." [REPOST]

[NOTE: this post was originally made over the summer, but it applies just about every semester to just about every section I teach. This semester has so far proved no exception.]

"Ahh, I see Professor Mojo has given his first exam of the term: his students look like they've been gut-shot."

I try to keep class upbeat, lively, and not boring --oxymoronic aims for a history lecture, one might say (and yes, there are days when even I get bored by the things I have to cover). But I never intentionally mislead my students. From Day One, I warn them that if they don't study for the exams --and especially if they blow off the essay questions -- they will fail. But there are a significant number who simply do not listen.

And so every term, I get Exam One grades (out of 100) like 55. 38. 18. Welcome to the world of Community College Education.

For what it's worth, I also tell the students that this happens to everyone, and that I will take significant improvement into account when final grades are calculated. My mission is to improve these students, I don't get paid extra for failing them --that's how I justify it. Even so, I also know from past experience that only half of those students who bomb Exam One (bomb: = = anything less than a D/60) will even bother to finish the course, they'll head for the door at break and keep on going to the registrar to withdraw. It makes me sad.

But I can only do so much. I'm not legally allowed to use a war elephant (with howdah) to chase down those counselors who push students into classes for which they are absolutely unprepared; nor can I use Invoked Devastation on the schools which produce these students. I can only encourage and work with those who stick it out, and at least get them on the Path of Right Learning ("Study! Read! Think!").

[Slightly modified from the original. The really sad part is that many of them will "shop around" for an "easier" prof next semester, and then end up failing again when they don't bother to study. This is college: I'm not doing any favors by reinforcing the bad habits they picked up in high school. And yes, I can throw stones at high schools, I used to teach high school, and I do know what it's like.]

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New Deal actually a bad deal? I've been arguing this for a while now...

FDR's Policies Prolonged Depression by 7 Years, UCLA Economists Calculate
There is a growing "new" conservative critique of FDR's New Deal, one that doesn't rely on ideological revulsion so much as cold hard data. This is an example of one such critique. It lends credence to the thesis behind Liberal Fascism's argument that government interference has generally made things worse and not better. Another conservative economic critique of FDR's policies can be found in Great Myths of the Great Depression (I assign this one to my students as an anodyne to the rah-rah-"if-anything-the-New-Deal-was-too-conservative" line taken in my main textbook. )

Friday, October 3, 2008

Greed, Hubris and Pork 1-0 Common Sense and the People's Will

The Senate passed a revised version of the bailout bill and today the House followed suit. A(n even more) substantial helping of earmarks swayed many who had initially campaigned against the bill. Sigh. And already, the State of California is jumping on the bandwagon and asking for a cash transfusion from the Federal government.

My illusions about Obama were long-ago torn away: he is committed to raising taxes and he will pay for bailouts with tax increases that will directly cause further contraction of the economy. I was hoping McCain would show some moral backbone, but I was disappointed. The dinner bell has sounded, all the critters are rushing for the trough.

If authority rewards a behavior, expect the behavior to reoccur. That's somewhere in Pedagogy 101. I distinctly remember that part...

I hope he made it back to Paris

The Kingston Trio: News: Nick Reynolds has passed away.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Good Lord, Have Mercy! Did You SEE This!!?? (plus, Professor Mojo's Scary Crystal Ball Prediction)

Bad News For The Bailout -
(S)ome of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.
"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number." [emphasis added]
The government can't even figure out how much money they supposedly need, and so they make it "a really large number" and get both major parties' leaderships to run around yelling, "Doomsday!" Is this hubris, sheer stupidity, or both?


History can be cyclical. Scarily, I see pieces falling into place for a major global war in 10-15 years, if not sooner. This is largely predicated on the belief that America will enter a severe economic crisis, that interventionist politics will prolong the crisis, and that America's lack of attention to foreign affairs in the interim will permit the rise of at least one major nation-state enemy who will directly and forcefully challenge American power, up to and including a military assault/major terrorist attack (with ensuing claim of responsibility). The ensuing war will permit the government to expand even more forcefully. Hayek argued as much in Road to Serfdom. Orwell in 1984 picked up from there.

Monday, September 29, 2008

And They Listened! (Maybe...)

Today the House defeated the bailout package, with a large number of defections from the Democratic leadership's official line. Republicans, too, refused to support President Bush in the matter.

The medicine is going to be bitter. Unemployment is going to continue to go up. There will be some panic movement of money on Wall Street. People tend to forget that Wall Street isn't significantly more intelligent that Main Street, and is prone to sheep-like behavior as much as the next mob. But if the government intervenes, it only sets the stage for the next bailout, plus it gives it more excuses to intervene where it has no business.

But probably, they will try again before the week is out, probably with enough pork and special favors to sway the swing voters.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Calling J.P. Morgan

Calling J.P. Morgan. I have refrained from commenting too much on the proposed/pending governmental bail-out, because either way it goes, things are going to be rough. I would point out that it was Woodrow Wilson, fearful of the power of magnates such as Morgan, who brought the Federal Reserve System into being as a way of reducing the influence of private actors. Ironically, increasing numbers of economic historians are pointing to the Fed as making the problem worse instead of better, particularly in regard to the Great Depression.

Still, I want everyone to repeat after me:
1. The FDIC is stable and secure, as is the FSLIC.
2. There is no need to hide money under the mattress.
3. Pulling money out of the bank will only make things worse if everyone does it.
4. This problem only exists because stupid banks made stupid loans to stupid people.
5. The government did not help anyone by encouraging banks to make aforesaid stupid choices.
6. The government will only be encouraging this sort of behavior in the future by bailing out the stupid banks.
7. The government is full of stupid people of both major parties, so putting them in charge could would make things even worse.
8. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

In Memoriam: Paul Newman

Paul Newman has died. Truly one of the finest Hollywood had left.

Over a round of hold'em (yes, my break is over, and yes, I have been winning), we began discussing Newman's career and lamenting that no one could fill his shoes. One of my colleagues disputed that, saying that Matt Damon could pull off Cool Hand Luke. Perhaps, I intoned, but not Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, and certainly not The Sting. This led to a wide-ranging speculation on who could fill what roles in which movies. Here are a few that I came up with:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I may someday vote for a Democrat --but not this year, and NEVER for any clown who says this

Ben Smith's Blog: Biden garbles Depression history -
"When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the princes of greed," Biden told Couric. "He said, 'Look, here's what happened.'"
Sweet Mary McGillicuddy!!! Whomever he plagiarized this time wasn't worth copying!

That's okay. Obama is going to channel FDR once elected and we can relive it all personally --with Biden being relegated to the role of Cactus Jack Garner (only less influential).

Hey there, all you greasers... It's time for Sha Na Na!!!

Sha Na Na: Founders of the Modern Conservative Movement --go read it. I'm serious. Dip dip dip dip dip dip dip dip bow....

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wanna See Where Our Beach Cabin Used To Be?

(Image courtesy of the NOAA)
Download the picture and look for the "red square" near the highway towards the right-hand border. That is the red concrete slab for Bryan Wolf's Trading Post --which had long-since been burned down but the slab is still very recognizable. Look seaward and slightly to the left of that new tidal inlet: that's where our beach cabin once stood.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ike Aftermath

Today I learned the tricks of the roofing trade: your butt is a useful third foot when it comes to steeply-pitched roofs. I helped my neighbor repair his roof (tarping) and it was a challenge. We had to make steps out of 1x3's as we went, then we ended up hauling up the ladder and using it (in a very non-recommended manner) to lower ourselves down a steep pitch to hammer boards. Don't tell Mrs., this will make her yell at me for being Less Than Prudent. ("But Mrs., you gave me the ladder for Christmas!") Also, when you take up the steps, go back and fill the nail holes with roofing tar. It's a Good Thing. His roof is far worse than mine: he lost the entire ceiling of his upstairs playroom when the sheetrock collapsed from water weight. We got his done, and then we got mine done. And then it was Happy Hour.

Power is still on here and probably will be for the duration. Many of my friends now have power, but that's a drop in the bucket for the area. My campuses took moderate to severe damage, and we will probably be taking the whole week off. The people in SE Texas are reliving all of their Rita nightmares in full Technicolor, only worse.

My family used to have a beach cabin in Gilchrist. Used to. Satellite imagery shows the entire town has literally been wiped from the face of the Earth. Not even a slab remains of the foundation. In fact, if I read the image correctly, there's now a tiny tidal inlet there now. I'm glad we took the Wee One earlier this year.

Insurance adjuster called me back today, yay! With luck I'll have on-site assessment within a week.

Running local joke: we should all get our FEMA checks, road-trip to New Orleans, and spend all our money on booze and gambling, while criticizing the locals for not being "understanding." It's OUR turn now, damnit!

Friday, September 12, 2008

I like Ike, you like Ike, everybody likes Ike For President (but not for an extended visit)

Family Mojo is hunkering down in place in the face of the biggest storm to hit this part of the Gulf of Mexico (in terms of sheer surge) since Hurricanes Carla and Ivan. We are well out of even the 500-year flood plain, so no worries there. Our location is slated (as of this writing) to experience winds around 70mph but probably not much higher. There is a distinct possibility that we will lose power for at least 24 hours once the storm makes landfall.

I have put a brisket on the smoker overnight, and we are well-stocked on all other provisions, including canned baby formula. We have less than $500 in groceries in the fridge, so even in the event of an extended outage, I'm not all that worried. Plenty of hard liquor, too. The Cap'n has a generator, so if we lose A/C for more than two days, we will likely go camp over there.

UPDATE: We lost power at 8:30 Friday night, just as we were bathing the Wee One. The weather wasn't even bad yet, save for some wind. What we now think happened was that Centerpoint Entergy shut down our grid as a pre-emptive against blown transformers. A long and scary night with howling wind ensued, punctuated by Mrs. waking me at 3:30 ( we were downstairs on the air mattress) with "Omigod the roof's leaking!" Sure enough, I went into the attic while the 70+ m.p.h. wind blew just the other side of my roofing, and there was water coming in. A few pots and pans later, I went back to bed.

The morning: shingles shingles everywhere, some of them are mine! We lost a handful of shingles, but not many, though there is an exposed patch of roofing plywood visible. The water did damage the ceiling, but most of that was wind-blown rain coming in via the soffit. We lost water pressure around noon, and we were contemplating leaving on Monday. HOWEVER, after a recon trip to soak up some vehicle-induced A/C, we arrived back at the homestead and the instant we walked in the door, the power came back on. Centerpoint's gambit apparently worked: once the main transmission lines to our vicinity were proven sound, they re-initiated service.

And I've even managed to already finish my online registration for FEMA! God Bless America!!!

UPDATE II: Mrs.'s Parents came to spend the night to take advantage of the A/C. As we were debating breakfast this morning, everything went dark again. This on top of a new round of rain that (while the power was on) allowed me to take a really good look at the leaks in the roof. It's not super-bad outside today, so I spent a lot of time reading Scottish history. And then, just as Mrs. and I were debating what time to head down to her folks's place (irony: theirs came back on as ours went out), the lights returned. I'm staying here to guard against mischief while she and the Wee One go down there to spend the night.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yet Another Reason I Have Long Since Quit Taking Seriously The NYT

The Gray Lady Experience:
The New York Times editorial board scoffs at Sarah Palin and her qualifications to be Vice President. In its lead editorial, the Gray Lady states that Palin has no “national or foreign policy experience” and is therefore unqualified to be “standy president”. For some reason, they don’t seem troubled at all about Barack Obama’s complete lack of foreign-policy experience or his short three years in the Senate, two of which he’s spent running for the top job...

And on experience, the Newsbusters note that the Paper of Record doesn’t bother checking its own. In a July 1984 editorial, the New York Times wrote a stirring defense of finding running mates from outside the established political class, especially to find a woman to join the ticket — and wondered why mayors didn’t get more interest from presidential nominees...
[Quote from June 1984 NYT Editorial]
Presidential candidates have always chosen their running mates for reasons of practical demography, not idealized democracy. One might even say demography is destiny: this candidate was chosen because he could deliver Texas, that one because he personified rectitude, that one because he appealed to the other wing of the party. On occasion, Americans find it necessary to rationalize this rough-and-ready process. What a splendid system, we say to ourselves, that takes little-known men, tests them in high office and permits them to grow into statesmen. This rationale may even be right, but then let it also be fair. Why shouldn’t a little-known woman have the same opportunity to grow? We may even be gradually elevating our standards for choosing Vice Presidential candidates. But that should be done fairly, also. Meanwhile, the indispensable credential for a Woman Who is the same as for a Man Who - one who helps the ticket.
They're right: such sage words must obviously only apply to Democrats. Republicans can't pick people like that.

LookitUp: what do Sarah Palin and Teddy Roosevelt have in common?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Some of my favorite quotes by Margaret Thatcher

"Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country."

"Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and importance, although difficult, is the highroad to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction."

"Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy."

"I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left."

"I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end."

"I am in politics because of the conflict between good and evil, and I believe that in the end good will triumph."

I bet if Thatcher had been an American, she'd have gone to Alaska and shot her own moose.

(courtesy of eQuotes)

Hurricane Watch Again

Looking at the latest model runs for Hurricane Ike, I am not happy. The models are slowly moving westward, pushing the eventual recurvature of the storm well into the Gulf of Mexico. I had planned on calling for my POD to come back from the storage depot so we could begin arrangements, but I am putting that on hold until I have a clearer picture of what's what.

I did a quick Google trying to see if anyone had done analysis for which model has been the most successful over the last five years in predicting landfall from 96 hours out, given the parameters of a storm originating outside the Gulf of Mexico, passing between Florida and the Yucatan and into the Gulf in the months of September and October. Now I know 96 hours out is a large uncertainty, but I'm curious as to which model has done the best job all the same. I'm sure some wonk in the energy analysis section of a major Wall Street fund has this, if not some PhD candidate at a major meteorological school. Upside: many drilling rigs will not have fully restarted production and will be in a position to resecure and evacuate in short order.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Why Does Campaign Experience Count?

The Volokh Conspiracy - Why Does Campaign Experience Count?:
Th[e] argument seems a bit tautological: A candidate who runs for President has sufficient experience to be President because he ran for President. Any candidate who runs a successful campaign is qualified due to that success, and that a candidate's lack of experience will be cured if only we support him or her so they can campaign long enough to be qualified. It also suggests that any candidate that has not imploded by November is, ipso facto, qualified for the job.
Last night I watched Part IV of John Adams on DVD. McCullough's portrayal of Washington is that of a man deeply sensible to his role in history, howbeit reluctant --he honestly did not want to be President. The man whispered when he took the oath of office because he did not want to seem proud (nb not just actor's prerogative, that's how it went down). Washington exhibited gravitas, a virtue sorely lacking in today's politics. To be qualified for President because one basically "wants" to be President --this would have been anathema.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Making Ice Cream While Gustav Menaces

Okay, I'm out: I live near the Gulf Coast. Naturally, I am concerned about Hurricane Gustav. At least where I am, it's nothing like the lunacy in Louisiana (and I should know, the Mrs. and I were part of the Katrina evacuation [long story]), and even places in Texas like Jefferson County are ordering mandatory evacuations, although they are far from the actual landfall site. How do I know? Because I get my weather info here. But since there's not much to do between the model runs, I make homemade ice cream.

Today's flavor: Red Hot Walnut. I use a Cuisinart 2 Quart ice cream machine . (Yes, I sprung for stainless.) It doesn't fib about "twenty-five minutes to ice cream" but I've learned it is absolutely essential to have all the components cold before mixing, including the hand-mixing bowl; in fact, I keep the main tub in the freezer at all times just to be sure.

Red Hot Walnut Ice Cream
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 7/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup milk (I use skim b/c I'm also using condensed milk)
  • 1 small package chopped walnuts from the local grocery store
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground cloves
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Powdered cayenne pepper
  • Red food coloring (optional)
Procedure: well ahead of time, make sure all ingredients are brought down to temperature in refrigerator (NB don't be tempted to freeze the condensed milk, it'll take forever to get out of the can). Mix milk and sugar in mixing bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add heavy cream, condensed milk, and vanilla extract, mixing by hand or at low speed (if you go high the cream may whip, which isn't what we need). Add the nutmeg and cloves and ground cinnamon; taste for calibration purposes.

At this point, you have Not So Red Hot Ice Cream, with a baseline of essentially zero 'bite' or 'heat". It would be perfectly acceptable to start the freezing now, but where's the fun in that? Instead, add the cinnamon oil a bit at a time --and I do mean "bit," as in a few drops at a time and mix and taste. Do not add a whole little bottle unless you like Ultra Hot. A little goes a long way. When the proper level of "bite" has been reached, then begin adding the cayenne pepper one tablespoon at a time. Again, you will need to taste-calibrate until the desired heat level is achieved. See how the cinnamon "bite" and the cayenne "heat" compliment each other.

When mixture is adjusted to final taste satisfaction, add food coloring if desired, one drop at a time, until desired coloration is achieved. Transfer mixture to ice cream maker and turn ON. Go watch TV. After twenty-five minutes, go check. If consistency is that of soft-serve, add the walnuts. Otherwise, go back and wait another five-ten minutes and check again. Serve immediately, or else transfer to airtight freezer storage medium and freeze for an additional two hours for hard-pack (nb remove from freezer 15 minutes prior to serving, or else have a heated scoop at the ready).

One could conceivably use actual Red Hots in this recipe. One could also conceivably use Hot Damn, but that should be added in the last five minutes of the machine-freezing process, and it should be throughly chilled in the freezer prior to addition (remember that alcohol has a lower freezing point than the rest of the mixture; adding it in the early stages will interfere with set-up).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wow! McCain has actually managed to upstage Obama

From what I saw of Obama's speech, and from the commentary (even on Fox News), it looked like the Senator from Illinois hit a home run last night with his speech. Even though boring ol' McCain was going to try to steal the spotlight with his VP pick, nothing would stop the Obamamentum now, nothing!

--well, that's what I thought. I didn't actually think the Republicans had a clue on how to really win an election (not since Lee Atwater died). And then this morning, I wake up to the news that McCain has pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, mother of five, youngest governor of her state, married to a native Inuit, strong conservative values (the Republican base is doing handsprings and backflips right now), and a woman.

Every news channel is the same right now: Palin Palin Palin. I don't think we'd be seeing this level of buzz if JMcC had picked boring ol' Romney, or Pawlenty. Not even if Joe Lieberman would have been picked do I think the noise level could be higher. Palin Palin Palin. And not a word about last night's Obama speech.

Wow. Hope she doesn't have ties to Senator Ted Stevens. That would be an insta-crisis.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hillie Cries "Uncle"

--but she didn't look super-thrilled about it. I guess that was the precondition for her campaign debts being paid off or else down.

Wonder if Bill will stay on-script tonight?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Of Yard Care And The August (Not So) Doldrums

In my corner of the Great Southwest, there has been rain. Rain aplenty. It began about two weeks ago with a large tropical system. I believe that kick-started the cycle that had died out in mid-July: daily afternoon downpours three to five days a week. It's a feature in this part of the world. Needless to say, the grass has been growing aplenty along with the rain.

We are at that most horrible of times, the twice-a-week mowing season. After four days, the grass has grown sufficiently to justify mowing. There are problems with this, however. First, no one wants to mow twice a week at this time of year. Second, gas is much more expensive than it used to be. Third, it rains just about the time you think about mowing, and then you have to take a day to let the ground dry (unless, that is, you like huge ruts in your front lawn). Very quickly, the grass in one week can get to unmanageable heights.

For the commercial crews with their commercial mowers, this isn't as big of an issue. But I cut my own grass. This gives me exercise, plus it lets me control the quality. I use a mulching mower (a Murray 22"), and very high grass creates a dilemma. I can continue the enviro-friendly mulching and take forever to cut the lawn and leave huge streams of mulch in my wake; or, I can bag it and spend time emptying the bag (no zipper!) and feel guilty about wasting landfill space, but spend much less energy pushing the mower. (NB the Honda self-propelled is in storage, and it has no mulching blade and no bag --but it would go through high grass in an instant.)

"Why not just cut it shorter to begin with?" At this time of year, it doesn't make a huge difference. The grass will grow that quickly anyway, unless you scalp it, at which point you risk killing your lawn altogether (or letting invasive species like centipede and Bermuda in). St. Augustine looks great, but my next lawn is going to be Bermuda because it doesn't grow so quickly, or as tall.

I bit the bullet and got out the bagging kit, just to do a time comparison. I was surprised by my results. Contrary to my initial beliefs, I found that bagging took marginally shorter time overall than pushing a mulching set-up slowly through very high grass. The time loss from emptying the bag was not as significant as the time savings from being able to zip over the lawn quickly. Moreover, I found my misgivings about the small bag size were overblown, I did not have to empty with every other pass as I had once feared. And the lawn looks very very tidy indeed.

"But you cold-hearted brute, you're wasting landfill space!" Au contraire: I took the bag and emptied it into my vegetable beds for mulch. Less work than filling a bag, and no guilt. Grass clippings in large amounts make great mulch, and while the week's takings from my lawn don't go far, I have discovered that I can cruise my subdivision on Tuesdays and Fridays (the days before garbage pick-up) and easily grab 15-20 large garbage bags of clippings in less than an hour. If I had a trailer I could easily make it 30 or even 40. Not that I would do that every week, but once a month is more than sufficient to keep the weed levels down in the beds.

So there it is: until the grass quits growing so quickly, I'm going to be bagging it and throwing it all into the beds. The lawn is growing well enough that it can do a while without the self-fertilization of mulch.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Am I this paranoid, or is Obama really this naive?

Clinton Creates 'Whip Team' To Quell Anti-Obama Protests
In an unusual move, Hillary Clinton's staff is creating a 40-member "whip team" at the Denver Democratic convention to ensure that her supporters don't engage in embarrassing anti-Obama demonstrations during the floor vote on her nomination, according to people familiar with the planning.

"Is it typical for a losing candidate to have their own whip team? No. But it's also not usual for a losing candidate to get 18 million votes either," said [an unidentified Clinton staffer].

Plans for the squad were finalized last weekend. Although some former Clinton staffers balked at policing their own supporters, its ranks were filled by people itching for a floor pass -- not an easy get for Clinton's troops at the Obama-run convention.
News flash to Barry O: your super-delegates are still free to change their minds. You're losing ground in the polls and today you opened yourself to a huge mud-bomb. And you're letting Clinton's people patrol the floor during the floor vote???

Nah, I'm just paranoid. Nothing to see here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Am I still asleep, or do I see Hillary's Perfect Storm a-comin'?

Pajamas Media » Will Rank-and-File Democrats Vote for Obama? --These are the very same points I was (unsuccessfully) trying to make to my best old buddy and Bush Derangement Syndrome sufferer BJ, who continues to believe that Rove & Co. are out to 'steal' this election from the majority. ("Third time in eight years, go Chimpy!") None so deaf as those whose ears are full of Moveon. But cannot elect a Democratic president by themselves. They should ask McGovern, Carter, Mondale and Dukakis what happens when rank-and-file Democrats abandon the party for more realistic and appealing candidates. (And they should ask Uncle Bill what happens when they come back.)

But it was a comment I made later last night to another pal that is haunting me this morning. "You watch: Bill's tap-dancing on the word 'qualified candidate,' Hillary's lockdown of prime speaking time, the continued lack of payoff of her campaign debt, these are all signs that she's still got one more ace to play. Probably on Friday, one major poll will conveniently point to McCain being either in a literal tie or slightly ahead of Obama. At that point, her surrogates begin calling the supers and asking them not to vote Obama, but rather to abstain on the first ballot. She can then step forward and say that all the delegates should decide in an open vote whom they really want.. I mean, you've already got Moulitsas publicly having cold feet, and he's the freaking leading edge of the Prog online movement. Buyer's remorse, my boy, buyer's remorse --but Auntie Hillie can still make things all better, doncha know..."

So I wake up this morning and lo! McCain has taken a five-point lead among likely voters. The calls probably started last night. So what if it's Zogby, if anything that's more ammo for Hill, because Zogby has a bad habit of overstating Democratic strength, not Republican.

Popcorn! I must get more popcorn!

UPDATE: And again this morning!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Okay, now I feel old; plus, comments on funerals

Not that any of these were entirely unexpected, but my network of connections got hit with three funerals this week. The first was the wife of my good friend Anthony. (I was the best man at the wedding.) The second was that of Mrs.' s cousin's husband, Stacey, who was sent home several weeks ago in the final throes of Stage IV colon cancer; that was Saturday. And while scouting the obit notices for word of the first two, I came across the obit for the father of my good pal Richard, who was also dead of cancer (I hadn't known how far gone he was).

And so I came into a situation that most people (outside the mortuary industry or a mass tragedy) never face until they are Old: multiple funerals in one day. Today it rained and poured and my friend put his dad into the ground after singing an a cappella "Ave Maria" that brought half the congregation to tears. The other service, alas, was simultaneous with this one and I could not attend. My friend Anthony is struggling to cope and I'm going to do the Gentile equivalent of "sitting shiva" with him.

Funerals are strange things, at times. Everyone feels awkward, or sad, or both. There are always the few who try to bring laughter to fend off the pain of grief. (I'm one of these.) And then there is the casket. I was very surprised to see the preacher open it at the end of the service; generally, this is what the visitation/wake accomplishes. It is a well-known detail amongst my friends and family that, in the event of my demise, any open-casket arrangement must be set up so that I am making moose antlers at the mourners. I am not kidding. Either pose me right or shut the damn lid.

Also, the preacher (being a good evangelical) took about ten minutes during the service to do Come To Jesus. Eternity occupies us all during a funeral, but I like to think my commitment to Jesus comes from genuine self-reflection, conscious and rational choice, and love above all --and not because I'm suddenly afraid of if I'm going to spend the next world someplace where the thermostat is stuck on "broil." I ought not to throw stones here, for some this could have been a saving message of grace out of despair. Yet that one portion of the service left me strangely cold.

It also reminds me of the futility of being over-sad at a funeral. No, I'm not arguing that grief is unnatural or unwarranted or unbecoming. Grief is part of healing. But in the end, funerals are for the living and not the dead (at least in the Protestant tradition). To the dead, it is sound and fury signifying.... what? That your relatives cared enough to spend a ton of money on a single-use landfill and the accoutrements? Death reminds us of life: that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We ultimately cannot know what it is to live until we know death. We do not nor ought to worship death, but respect it nevertheless as part of life. If we profess to know no God or gods, and no stage of existence beyond our own mortal selves, then death is the final release from pain, from sorrow, from hurt, and we should be glad. If we profess faith, then we see death as a stage on our journey into the Eternal. No matter which way you slice it, death itself has an upside. And so, whenever I see people carrying on hysterically at a funeral (not today, things were quiet), I am saddened.

Smile, then, be of good cheer. Cherish the memories. Relish your life the more. For this, too, shall pass.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Odometer Rolled This Morning at 3:56 AM

Still too young to worry about annual visits to the proctologist.

Not too young to worry about triennial visits to the cardiologist.

Too much grey in the beard, but Mrs. Mojo likes it, and Just For Men/Beards won't hold, so there.

Otherwise, numbers on a calendar. I certainly don't feel like the odometer rolled over to show a bunch of zeroes with a new first digit.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

When Professors Go Bad

Professor Moons Room Full Of Students.

I would never do that. No matter how tempted.

For on those occasions I remember that the Lord graced us, warts and all, with Dr. Reinhold Aman and Maledicta.

Walk like an Egyptian...

Bad Bad Teachers

Randomly careening through CNN, I came across Bad Bad Teachers. I decided to take a peek. Wow. Some of these teachers are bone-ugly. One must conclude that only the advantage of a fiduciary relationship would make the impossible possible. Even scarier: I began browsing the archives for my state. Thankfully I didn't run into any old friends. But the number of incidents from my local school district is enough to make me wonder what they teach in administration classes about hiring and background checks, and how to assess job candidates in particular.

There has and always will be a certain amount of impropriety associated with education. A lot more of it is reported now than in the past. There are several reasons for this. First, modern forensic techniques have made it easier to go beyond "he-said-she-said." Second, there are more options in place (and legal requirements) for reporting violations. Third, the media makes its bread-and-butter on these stories now, so what does happen will get reported.

However --and perhaps this is not such a good thing -- the shift towards a more child-centered approach in education (as opposed to, oh, I don't know, common sense?) may have had an unintended consequence in suggesting to students that the quickest way out of a bad spot is to yell "assault" and get the adult in trouble. I personally know of at least one case where the accused was exonerated by overwhelming evidence on his behalf, yet the investigation proceeded on the basis that he was already proven guilty and he was treated as such. This is in no way to be construed as my saying that most accusations are baseless, or that we should treat accusers with anything but objectivity and dignity befitting any regular person. Still, careful is as careful does.

As usual, there is no one thing to blame. Administrators need to be diligent, use their guts to assess job applicants, and treat every case that comes before them with diligence, objectivity and circumspection. Teachers need to know that the rules are there for a reason, that breaking rules has consequences, and that they should never ever put themselves in a spot where their own careers may be endangered. In a litigious age, those are the breaks.

Georgia On My Mind

The Anti-War Left has been outspoken in their silence on this issue. Perhaps they feel that, as Americans, they have no moral legitimacy to criticize anyone but Americans. I might actually understand that, in a vague Washingtonian way (the man, not the cesspool), save that many of these same people were united in their support for American intervention in Haiti and again in Kosovo. Kudos, however, to those that protested both: at least you're consistent, if slightly wrong-headed.

It is Kosovo that has been on the minds of several "devil's advocate" websites. The argument runs that American involvement in Kosovo (which you may recall involved bombing Serbian troops and targets near civilian areas) set the precedent for Russian involvement in South Ossetia. I'm not impressed. The Serbs had a clear track record of anti-minority violence (cf. Bosnia and Croatia), and while they weren't the only ones, they were the major perps. I have yet to see documented evidence of widespread Georgian activities in the realm of "ethnic cleansing." Plus, American ground troops didn't march on Belgrade after the withdrawal of Serbian ground forces from Kosovo.

But it is Bush's very low-key response that has me most worried. A paranoid man would say there's some sort of deeper scheme here. These Georgians are US-trained, US-backed and prospective members of NATO. The damage from ignoring this aggression, in diplomatic terms, is incalculable. What must the Ukranians think? The Baltic states? Poland? The only possible scenario I see here (aside from "It's all for the oil companies! Chimpy strikes again!!!" litanies from the lunatic fringe) is that Putin and Putin Jr. (he gets to use his real name when he shows he isn't a Putin puppet) have made Georgian gains a precondition for Russian acceptance of an imminent American military action elsewhere. One might speculate as to where, but the obvious choice here is Iran. Yet there are other possible targets: North Korea (talks again at a deadlock) and Pakistan (tribal areas reverting to Emirate of Waziristan).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dog Days Of Summer

Light posting for a bit now. The last summer term is over, I am doing chores around the house. Wee One is trying to get over a nasty chest cold which keeps recurring, much to everyone's lack of sleep. But at least there's time during the day for napping.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It utterly amazes me how idiotic BoingBoing commenters can be...

I was reading this article and the comments just blew me away. "Al Qaeda doesn't exist." "Military force is useless in preventing terrorism." And so forth. (The Rand Corporation came up with the intial report?!? Geez, I used to respect them...)

You would think that the kind of people who read BoingBoing would have brains --they're presumably IT and techie types. Of course, many of them have that curious genetic predisposition to worship youth and edginess for their own sakes, not for any practical reasons. (Most of them also could be classified as having legitimate Bush Derangement Syndrome, which is far worse than any right-wing paranoia that circulated regarding Ma and Pa Billary.)

Naturally, I felt compelled to respond to the comments. I'm anonymous there, but that's because a) I'm too lazy to register, and b) my Deluded Fool quotient for BoingBoing is very close to "capacity" and I'm probably removing them from my feed (just as I removed Gates of Vienna). My comments may not even be allowed --not that I was obscene or ad hominem, but sites like that have a tendency to only allow straw-man opposing arguments.

But the gist of my post was as such:

  1. Most of the "ZOMG ur right it's all a Bush plot to keep us at war foreverz n make Halliburton a ton of $$$" crowd would have thrown negotiations out the window and, instead, would have been screaming for increased use of police force --even the use of the military -- against American citizens on American soil, were we to be talking about an early 1990s scenario where McVeigh et. al. didn't stop at Oklahoma City, or where Eric Rudolph's accomplices had bombed more than a small handful of abortion clinics in the South. (And, IIRC, they did scream for more use of force --not one cry for negotiating with the right-wing fringe). Negotiations with right-wing extremists are never an option with this crowd (or would they have been content with allowing abortion-free zones in entire states of the country?)

    2. Negotiations without the implied use of force are worthless. Witness the following: Oslo (Arafat bargained in bad faith), Iran-Contra (Khomeini reneged on reining in kidnappings in Lebanon), SALT II (Brezhnev knew that Carter wouldn't respond to pre-planned Soviet violations --he hadn't responded to SALT I violations), Paris (N. Vietnam knew that [secret] Nixon pledges to S. Vietnam regarding security were shaky or hollow, thus did not evacuate troops from rural countryside south of 17th Parallel). And the granddaddy of them all: Munich (Hitler predicted France and Britain would not go to war over Sudentenland). Negotiation without force equals appeasement.
Negotiate for your own security, not mine.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

How, Once Again, I Was Ahead Of The Curve And Am The Greatest!

RealClearPolitics - Articles - A Step Back From Enviro Lunacy: "$3 a gallon gas didn't change anybody's mind about energy issues. $4 a gallon gas did. " That was today.

Now, compare this with comments I myself made elsewhere over two months ago: "We are still in the relatively inelastic range of the demand curve. You get gasoline up to $4.25/gallon in Houston, or $5/gallon in Los Angeles, and I’ll posit that you’ll see the beginnings of serious declines in consumption." I was off by about 25¢, but I still claim it as me own.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Raising Taxes? It Only Sounds "Fair"

Income Taxes and the Rich: read the whole thing, although the charts tell the quick version of the story. Also, very few people remember what F. Scott Fitzgerald noted back in the Twenties: the rich are not like you and me. Faced with huge tax increases, the rich will maneuver their assets into non-taxable areas, leaving less revenue for the government than before. While in theory that may be good (since non-taxable assets include municipal bonds and school notes, things that we should theoretically want to support), the reality is that so long as government spending rises unabated (thank you, both major parties!), the government should do what it can to maximize revenue --which means lowering taxes and not raising them.

Of course, they could just cut spending....

Monday, July 14, 2008

Random Thoughts of a Monday

  1. Kerry was ahead of GWB this time in 2004 by 7-10 points. Result: lost election.
  2. Gore was ahead of GWB this time in 2000 by 7-10 points. Result: lost election (yes, he did, the Miami Herald recount proved that conclusively, get over it or else I'll bring up the large number of illegal aliens voting in California).
  3. Dukakis was ahead of GHWB this time in 1988 by 1-3 points. Result: trounced badly in general election.
  4. Mondale was behind Reagan this time in 1984. Result: Mondale carried his home state plus DC, and that's it.
  5. Bill Clinton was ahead substantially this time in both 1992 and 1996. Result: Clinton wins.
What can we learn from this? A) Polls don't work well for Democrats; and b) only Southern Democrats can be comfortable with polling leads (look at Carter and LBJ).

I don't know what I did this weekend, but I've been having vertigo attacks ever since. I'd put it down to delayed electrolytic imbalance (I helped throw 15 cubic yards of mulch Saturday morning) but I've had nothing but low-carb Gatorade to drink the last two days and I'm still woozy. Forced to cut short this afternoon's lecture, I was so dizzy. Hopefully another day or two of easy going will put things right.

My students didn't mind. They have a work-day tomorrow, as I'll be attending a workshop. Also, they had their first exam of the term over the weekend, with the usual results.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Hazards of Online Exams

I've been very very busy the last few days. The start of any term is hassle enough, and I'm teaching an extra-full load for a 5-wk summer term: three classes, back-to-back-to-back. In addition to guiding the new padawans through the rigors of Blackboard Vista, I'm also cleaning up one of my more egregious SNAFUs.

At the end of the first summer term, finals ended July 3rd. Generally, grades are due the next day at my campus, but this term they were due later owing to the Independence Day Holiday. In my (misguided) generosity, I elected to allow my students to take their online finals as late as Saturday the 5th, secure in the knowledge that grades weren't due until Monday. Little did I know that the master enrollment program automatically cut off student access to first-term online courses at the end of the last day of finals --I thought it didn't do that until final grades were posted.

The emails began flooding in on Friday morning. "ACK! Professor Mojo, I can't even get online to your course, let alone take the exam! HELP!!!!" My inbox was stuffed with variations on a theme. And there was nothing that I could do about it until after the weekend (or, at least, nothing I felt comfortable doing without prior approval from my sysadmin; I've gotten old enough to realize that some things really should get approval before execution, lest Heads Roll and Voices Get Raised...)

So I've spent the last few days dealing with the clean-up, contacting students individually to reassure them that they weren't going to fail until they had a chance to take the final. And explaining to my chair what happened and why I assigned what was a record number of incompletes for one term (in terms of percentages of students enrolled). I'm preparing a statement of explanation to submit to my dean when the inevitable query comes down the pipeline. None of this is made any easier by having to submit all of the paperwork in actual paper and not electronically.

Moral: don't be kind to your students.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Two articles for your consideration

On Campus, the ’60s Begin to Fade as Liberal Professors Retire
To quote The Man, "read the whole thing." The Times, as usual, shows its stripes by vaguely casting the discarding of ideological imperatives as something that will be missed. I submit that it will not. Also, the writer does not mention whether the study cited as proof of ideological mobility registered any increase in the number of conservatives and/or libertarians.

But on the whole, this is a good thing. There are some serious left-wing screwballs in the academy. While that in itself isn't bad (and in a true ideologically diverse world, it's actually good), the fact that they achieved positions of power and drove conservatives out of academia and into the private sector --where they were less willing to support higher education-- was a huge negative. I promise to take you fishing, Professor Sandinista, if you vacate your tenured position sooner rather than later.


The Negative Influence of Education Schools on the K-12 Curriculum
This one's a bit long, so only edu-nuts such as myself (and Mrs. and Tantan and Nana and maybe Noni and a few others) will want to read the entire article. But I was saying something along the author's lines ten years ago. The problem with pedagogy research is that most of it is inherently not scientific, and attempts to make it moreso run into the inevitable ethical dilemma about messing with the minds of children --yet no qualms are raised when new theories are put into practice without being tested first.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Comme il pleut (plus a dessert recipe involving cantaloupe)

That's what I love about this part of the country: for no other reason than because it can, tremendous downpours occur in the early afternoon. Thus I am saved from having to mow or weed for the rest of the day.

I'm not complaining terribly about the rain. So much of the Southwest is in severe drought --though to hear one commentator say it was worse than the Dust Bowl seemed so much hyperbole --overwrought hyperbole, even. The rain is here today, and I rejoice. My spring tomatoes (with the exception of some brave Carmelos and Goliaths) have gone the way of all plant flesh, as have almost all the squashes and zucchini, yet the cucumbers hang on bravely, and the cantaloupes surely need the moisture. (The eggplants and okra haven't really come on so strong yet...)

Speaking of cantaloupe: I picked one the other day by accident and it was under-ripe, tasting like an unsweet honeydew. I rescued it by tossing it with white and brown sugar, plus a generous dose of cinnamon. Next time I may try it with fully-ripe cantaloupe --and use warm honey saturated with cinnamon as a dressing and serve with a sopapilla and ice cream. (No, this isn't just a sopapilla served with fruit: I plan on tossing the honey and the melon together before garnishing the rest of the dish.)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Another June Wedding; or, Seven Reasons To Bring An Infant To A Wedding

--no, Roy, no photos.

My wife's cousin got married over the weekend. As it was black-tie-optional, I decided I would actually wear a tux. I did lament that somehow I ended up with my father's Texas flag vest (mine is XXL, his is XL), and so I had to go with a relatively tame checked print vest. (I was expressly forbidden in the name of family unity from wearing this one.) And so off we went. Wee One came as well, for reasons best not outlined in a public forum. It turned out to be a Very Good Thing.

As my wife was a member of the wedding party (she was doing the Bible business), we had to arrive early for photos. Now at my own wedding (of blessed memory), I allowed my wife to think that she was letting me put my foot down when I said that I would only pose for a limited number of photos: us, us + immediate families (each side), wedding party. Everything else would be "action" shots, i.e., I don't pose for pictures, get used to it. Such was not the case at this event. Every conceivable shot under the sun was being taken, much to the delight of Mother-of-the-Bride and the photographer, whom I surmised had sold MotB on The Whole Nine Yards. This dragged on for quite some time. Wee One slept, I sat in the back and checked phone messages.

Guests began to arrive. The noise level gradually rose. Just as the organ music started, Wee One began to fuss. I fulfilled my oath as Daddy and whisked her out the door at the rear of the sanctuary. And so I discovered why Bringing A Baby To The Wedding was one of the best ideas Mrs. and I ever conceived:

  1. It is much quieter in the outer foyer of churches.
  2. One gets to see the bride in that most candid and penultimate of moments: just before she walks down the aisle with her father.
  3. One gets to hurl wisecracks at the bride, if one is on personal terms. (NB this can earn you retribution from equally-witty Fathers-of-Brides, e.g., "Yes, my boy, take a good look at your little girl there and my little girl here, because in twenty-five years that's gonna be her and you're gonna be me!")
  4. One gets to be snarky about the entire ceremony with other parents of infants, without fear of disapproving stares from neighbors and relatives.
  5. One can scratch, cough, hum and text-message without fear of interruption or disapprobation.
  6. Change a diaper in mid-service? No problem!
  7. Big loud slurp of one's 64 oz. soda that one bought on the way to the wedding and conveniently stowed on the baby's stroller? Go for it!
The ceremony was remarkably brief; the homily lasted only three minutes or so. We were in and out in no time flat. Or would have been, except that Part II of the Photo Shoot That Would Not End was now in full swing. Wee One had gotten playful and so I brought her into the sanctuary to see Mommy and jump on the pews. Eventually she wore out and by then the photographer ran out of film --that's the only excuse I can say, because suddenly everyone was being told to get out and head for the reception at the country club.

Open bar. Man I love country clubs. And as I had on my tux, I felt no hesitation in calling for a martini. ("No, I do not want Stoli, real martinis are made with gin, my good sir! And not too dry: if I wanted my gin without vermouth, I'd have called for a Churchill!") Wee One was incredibly well-behaved, and a good time was had by all.

General wedding observations: young people should not get married --at least in terms of Having A Big Church Wedding. They go overboard with the preparations, the wedding party members aren't nearly mature enough to carry off the decorum, and it ends up looking and feeling more like senior prom. The groom's party members certainly carried it off in that manner. The bridesmaids and other young female attendees were more conservatively attired than the ones at the previous engagement, but my general caveat about shoes still applies.

A tip to you younger men out there: it is generally worth your money to invest in a tuxedo at an end-of-year-clearance from some place such as Al's Formal Wear. With the exception of some of the more extreme styles, tuxedos never go completely out of fashion, you are always ready for a formal dinner, and if you go out on a Friday (or Saturday) night to the theater, you ooze class --and you give your best gal a chance to completely doll herself up, and most younger women enjoy that immensely, so you earn points. Trust me. Also, splurge for your own dress shoes and spend a bit of time breaking them in. You'll never have to pay shoe-rental fee for your friends' weddings, plus you know they'll still feel alright at the end of a long evening. Boots are acceptable with a tux only in the South, Southwest and Mountain states, and they need to be exotics and highly shined.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wherein we commend The Living Room Candidate website to our readership

The Living Room Candidate. This online display by the Museum of the Moving Image contains a significant cross-section of television campaign ads for President dating back to 1952. I use it regularly in my second-half American survey courses. I curse that I cannot link directly to individual ads, however.

If I could, however, I would today link to the 1980 campaign (Carter vs. Reagan vs. Anderson, for those of you who didn't come to class today). Two commercials jump out at me as being relevant. The first is a "Democrats for Reagan" spot highlighting Senator Edward Kennedy's comments about Carter during the primary. I see identical ads coming this fall featuring Senator Clinton. The second is a Re-elect President Carter spot emphasizing how Carter reads the Bible every day with his wife. I cannot see any Democratic candidate even thinking about airing such an ad today. [Disclaimer: many Democrats are decent, church-going folks, just as some Republicans are atheist or agnostic. Philips is a German and he have my pen.]