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 http://www.khake.com), 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.