Monday, September 28, 2009

What Can And Cannot Be Taught

The American Spectator : Who Is College Material?: "[Y]ou can teach facts. You can teach skills. But you can't teach intellectual curiosity. If students haven't caught the bug after twelve years of elementary and secondary school, if they don't prize knowledge for its own sake, nothing their college professors do or say is going to remedy that lack."

True true true.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

UPDATED: Teen Unemployment At A New High

UPDATE: The dead end kids: unemployment for Americans aged 16-25 has now hit over 50%. Of course, any linkage between the minimum wage and entry-level jobs doesn't exist in the eyes of the New York Times, except if Wal-mart is somehow involved.

Oh What a Time to Be Young! - Economix Blog - wherein they tapdance around the "why," putting on the decision by older Americans to keep working. I thought they didn't like trickle-down theories in Manhattan! But they don't make any observations whatsoever (surprise surprise) about the hikes in the minimum wage that push entry-level jobs out of the market or into the underground sector.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Question Michael Moore MUST Be Asked . . .

The Question Michael Moore MUST Be Asked . . .: "The interviewer should have asked Moore if the crews on his films own the projects they work on for him [or work for capitalist wages." HEH!!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

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

[First Exam Weekend has come and gone in these parts. The last few days, I have been dealing with the inevitable ones who didn't listen to instructions, and who are in Deep Trouble over Things Which Have Incurred The Wrath of Professor Mojo. As is tradition, here is this post marking the occasion:]

"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!").

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.

[FALL 2009 UPDATE: actually, I had very good results this time out. Yes, there were failures, and inevitably the majority of those were students who refused to heed my warnings about the cut-off timer and/or would not write their required mandatory "I-told-you-on-Day-One-there'd-be-one-on-every-exam-and-without-it-you-won't-pass-this-class" essays. But more students passed and passed well than did not pass. I hold that as evidence that I am Doing Something Right.]

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

If True, I Would Not Be All That Surprised

Corruption: Banks Lending UNSECURED To Terrorists? - The Market Ticker: wherein we learn that one of the accused terrorists (the one from Denver) arrested this week had managed to run up over $50,000 in credit card bills, despite being a foreign national with no tangible assets. Even worse, some of those charges may have been terrorism-related. Even more worse, the entities that gave him the credit cards without a second thought got bailout money from our government!!!

Not confirmed fully, but I can't say I'm surprised. Credit card companies deserve NO bailout for engaging in stupid behavior. My Banker Buddy (who I've fished and hunted with for over twenty years) and I saw this coming years ago. You flood the market with free credit, you shouldn't be surprised when a lot of it comes up toxic. But to think that Persons Up To No Good could've gamed the system and that the stupid companies who enabled them are going to get rewarded! --that is just pathetic.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Letter to Yale University Opposing Removal of Mohammed Images from Book -- NCAC

Letter to Yale University Opposing Removal of Mohammed Images from Book -- NCAC: read it and take note: if violence is allowed a "hecklers veto" over academic freedom, it will not end. It is craven appeasement. Would Yale University Press refuse to publish a book on the civil rights movement if white supremacists threatened violence over pictures of Bull Connor's men attacking peaceful protesters? Would they refuse to publish a book on World War II if neo-Nazis threatened violence over pictures of concentration camps? I fully support the sponsors of this letter, even the usually-suspect AAUP.

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Today is National Constitution Day.

I recommend reading it in its entirety: U.S. Constitution.

Today I talked about the role of the 14th Amendment in the Progressive Era. You can hear the barn door creaking open if you read between the lines in
Muller v. Oregon: "While the general liberty to contract in regard to one's business and the sale of one's labor is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, that liberty is subject to proper restrictions under the police power of the State." (208 US 412)

"I HATE Illinois Nazis..."

Actor Henry Gibson dead at 73, spokesman says - I also liked him on Boston Legal.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Man, I'm Old!: Beloit College Mindset List for c/o 2013

Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013. I look forward to this every year.

Read all of it. Here are a few that stood out for me:

  • "For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald, Gene Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead." In order: never a dance fan, Pan Am food made me sick, I preferred Polaroid to Kodak, I AM the original Thing Two, the Legendary Stockholm Concert is still amazing, print media has been dying for years, Rick Berman is still haunted by the ghost of Gene (and Majel, too, as of late), and I have been listening to Sheer Heart Attack in my workout rotation for a few weeks now and my appreciation for that man's talents only increases with time.

  • "Rap music has always been main stream." To our everlasting shame and mortification! And I can say that as someone who listened to "Straight Outta Compton" by NWA when it first came out. It was better when it wasn't. (No we are not going to have a lengthy discussion on rap as music form.)

  • "The KGB has never officially existed." How soon the Cold War is forgotten.

  • "There has always been a Cartoon Network." Wow. I can remember being p.o.'d that Dexter's Lab was beaten out by The PowerPuff Girls for Best Cartoon Cartoon. Of course, they both got their own series. Justice Friends, Assemble!!!!!! Oh, and thank you for JuneBugs every summer (until they consigned all the classic cartoons to Boomerang) and for Dragon Ball Z.

  • "Members of Congress have always had to keep their checkbooks balanced since the closing of the House Bank." Congressman Rangel...paging Congressman Rangel...

  • "CDs have never been sold in cardboard packaging." Sure they are, just go to your local bank. --I say that only half in-jest. I lived to see the CD come and go as a medium of choice. Flash technology and high-speed Internet downloading have rendered this obsolete in most respects. CDs, however, have the advantage of permanence, for all practical purposes.

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Friday, September 11, 2009


If you're going today to plant a tree, do so in memoriam. If you're going to do community service, start by saying "I'm doing this for those who cannot."

Me, I'm not going out. You see, I belong to a community service organization. We do service projects every month, not just one day in September. I don't need a government leader to tell me to go do something --I already am.

Who Said This? And What Does This Mean?

Too late for Obama to turn it around?:

Why has the Democratic Party become so arrogantly detached from ordinary Americans? Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers (one reason for the hypocritical absence of tort reform in the healthcare bills). Weirdly, given their worship of highly individualistic, secularized self-actualization, such professionals are as a whole amazingly credulous these days about big-government solutions to every social problem. They see no danger in expanding government authority and intrusive, wasteful bureaucracy.


[A]ffluent middle-class Democrats now seem to be complacently servile toward authority and automatically believe everything party leaders tell them. Why? Is it because the new professional class is a glossy product of generically institutionalized learning? Independent thought and logical analysis of argument are no longer taught. Elite education in the U.S. has become a frenetic assembly line of competitive college application to schools where ideological brainwashing is so pandemic that it's invisible. The top schools, from the Ivy League on down, promote "critical thinking," which sounds good but is in fact just a style of rote regurgitation of hackneyed approved terms ("racism, sexism, homophobia") when confronted with any social issue. The Democratic brain has been marinating so long in those clichés that it's positively pickled. 

It's Camile Pagila, noted feminist scholar and (almost needless to say) leftist bête noire. She speaks truth to power (you go, grrl!). Valid points, all of them. Elite schools have become the salons of the Left, catering to an aristocracy increasingly out-of-touch with ordinary people. And it's not just the elite schools: a trickle-down effect, if you will (bad when talking about economics, evidently, but good when talking about ideas), has made these influences felt all the way down to local schools and public education. This is my world.

And while she doesn't pull punches talking about Republicans (nor should she --Republicans should harken to
Nietzsche: that which does not kill you will make you stronger), she gives ample evidence to a point I like to make in my classes:

Throughout this fractious summer, I was dismayed not just at the self-defeating silence of Democrats at the gaping holes or evasions in the healthcare bills but also at the fogginess or insipidity of articles and Op-Eds about the controversy emanating from liberal mainstream media and Web sources. By a proportion of something like 10-to-1, negative articles by conservatives were vastly more detailed, specific and practical about the proposals than were supportive articles by Democrats, which often made gestures rather than arguments and brimmed with emotion and sneers. There was a glaring inability in most Democratic commentary to think ahead and forecast what would or could be the actual snarled consequences -- in terms of delays, denial of services, errors, miscommunications and gross invasions of privacy -- of a massive single-payer overhaul of the healthcare system in a nation as large and populous as ours. It was as if Democrats live in a utopian dream world, divorced from the daily demands and realities of organization and management.

Prof. Paglia should come right out and channel Marshall McLuhan. The Right has been effective lately because they understand (for the first time in a very long time) the media --this time, the use of the Tea Party Movement and Facebook and Twitter. And thus it has been since the time of Zwenger and Paine. The faction that best communicates with the common voter is the faction that holds power. McKinley, TR, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Obama: modern Presidents who gained power by understanding how best to use mass media to seize a moment and make it their own. The faction behind the learning curve remains so at its peril --witness the Republican cluelessness viz. the Internet for so long.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

On Brisket

I like to think of myself as a decent producer of barbeque. I own a smoker that has a side-mounted firebox, and I maintain a cord of hardwood specifically for barbeque production.

Brisket is easy in principle, yet it can take a lifetime to master. On paper, nothing could be easier: you take a hunk of meat, you throw it on a smoker, you take it out several hours later, and Wah-La! Oh, if only!!! There are many things that can go awry for the novice. First, you need a half-way decent brisket to start. The biggest difference between what the Barbeque Gods are making and what you are making is that they have access to better briskets. Let's face it: if you're going to Kroger's and buying the 99¢/lb stuff that's on special, it's probably not as good as one you would buy for twice that at any decent meat market. AND FOR THE LOVE OF PETE DON'T BUY ONE THAT'S PRE-TRIMMED! Rub: keep it simple. Salt, red pepper, black pepper are your basics. I like garlic powder, onion powder, and a bit of dry mustard as well. Remember that the smoke is doing most of the flavoring.

Next is the set-up for cooking. Brisket as barbeque has to be done slowly. S-l-o-w-ly. Too quick (hot) and it's going to be flavorless and overdone on the outside. Of course, you can overcook one, and with the cheaper ones especially the longer you go the tougher they can become. But the main problem here is temperature control. You can't do slow-and-low over a direct fire. You need a side set-up, one with the smoke going only indirectly towards the meat. This also makes fire maintenance easier. And it also makes having a water pan an easier proposition. No water pan equals drippings everywhere, also equals hotter drier fire equals drier overdone meat. Beer in the pan is optional, as is beer in the belly.

Wood: don't bother with fancy wood, this is beef. Hickory, pecan, oak or mesquite. Mesquite burns very hot, so be judicious in loading the fire box. Time: An hour per pound is a good guide if your heat is about right (190-210 Fahrenheit). A meat thermometer is always nice. Wrapped or unwrapped: I've been going unwrapped of late and I think that's why I've been doing lack-luster (IMO) briskets lately. Wrapping doesn't keep out as much smoke as you might think, and it keeps the outer portions from drying too quickly. I quit wrapping because 1) I'm lazy and 2) it's always a pain draining out the juice. I may solve that by making drainholes.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Teen Unemployment At A New High

Oh What a Time to Be Young! - Economix Blog - wherein they tapdance around the "why," putting on the decision by older Americans to keep working. I thought they didn't like trickle-down theories in Manhattan! But they don't make any observations whatsoever (surprise surprise) about the hikes in the minimum wage that push entry-level jobs out of the market or into the underground sector.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

No Wonder The Mrs. Thinks I'm A Gibbering Idiot When I Talk To Her

Men lose their minds speaking to pretty women : "Talking to an attractive woman really can make a man lose his mind, according to a new study."

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Again: Doesn't Anyone Think About Unintended Consequences?

Danish Think Tank Calls to Focus on Geoengineering Solutions to Global Warming:

The Copenhagen Consensus Center, a controversial Denmark-based think tank focused on the environment and international development, proposed Thursday that world leaders should focus on a geoengineered solution to climate change in the near term rather than mandating cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The group, headed by statistician Bjorn Lomborg, issued a report by five economists that suggested it made more sense to spend money on marine cloud whitening research and green energy development than to protect forests, clean up diesel emissions or significantly raise the price of carbon.

"You need to find a short-term way -- meaning the next 50 to a hundred years -- to deal with climate change," Lomborg said, adding that making artificial clouds by spraying seawater into the atmosphere could address global warming at a cost of $9 billion. Theoretically, these clouds could reflect sunlight back into space and, therefore, curb global temperature rise. "If it's that simple, we would want to do it. We need to check out if it's that simple."

Didn't I say a while back that there were dangers in going this route? You'd better know damn well what you're doing. All this bell-ringing and shouting is going to convince people that a unilateral "simple" solution --one that could be done by even a second- or third-rate power-- will solve all our problems at a blow. Unintended consequences, folks, unintended consequences...

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why People Don't Like Teachers Unions

Joel Klein vs. New York City teachers : The New Yorker: it's long but it's very worthwhile reading.

As some of you know, I used to teach public school in a state where teachers unions are effectively outlawed/emasculated/whatever ---teachers have no legal right to strike in this state. I always hear teachers complaining about how horrible the system can be, how awful a lot of administrators are, how entirely disagreeable their lives are --and yet year after year there they go back into the classroom. I can sympathize to a point. But time and again we get reminded of the other side of the picture, where teacher unions run the show. Contra the assertions made by some of the Rubber Room Residents, I will testify that there are many mediocre teachers out there. Even in this state, it's such a hassle to get out a bad teacher that the path of least resistance is to send them elsewhere along the food chain.

And let's be totally totally honest here: teaching, when you're good at it, is a sweet sweet gig. And even if you're not that good at it, it's not so bad if you know how to get along and keep everyone happy (read: pass all the kids, don't be a pain in the ass to your bosses). Teacher unions upset the applecart by reminding people of what they should be ashamed of (teachers are underpaid considering how much you'd have to pay to babysit those youngsters all day) and using that to make exorbitant demands. The kids are generally forgotten. And the public turns against the teachers, which is ultimately a terrible thing.

I'm not saying administrators are all universally enlightened. As I've often argued before, something about getting a masters in education with emphasis on administration turns roughly 83% of good teachers into total morons. Sad, yes. I have seen some good admins but I have seen some gosh-awful ones. It's the Peter Principle at work. So yes, unions do occasionally have the point that someone needs to be out there standing up to the admins. But along the way they became as bad --if not worse-- than the very evil they were trying to remedy. And the kids are the ones who pay the price.

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Revenge of the Unintended Consequences!

Alert over new wave of exploding fridges caused by 'environmentally-friendly coolant' | Mail Online: "Luckily no-one was hurt when Kathy Cullingworth's fridge exploded but the damage bill was £10,000. A series of violent fridge explosions is believed to have been caused by leaks of 'environmentally-friendly' coolant." Really, is it me or is no one checking these things out ahead of time???

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