Friday, January 27, 2006

What would you pick?

Harris writes some fine pieces for Tech Central Station. Today he has written a fantasy featuring aliens and Mozart. The theme is: what single thing created by man would best represent humanity for eternity? Harris opts for music:
...the aliens want me, and me alone, to decide what human monument will be spared from the otherwise universal destruction awaiting our species and all the cultural objects that we have created in our brief tenure on this obscure planet. For example, the aliens offer me the choice of saving the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Eiffel Tower, the Sistine Chapel, or the Washington Monument, the Empire State Building, or the Taj Mahal. But whatever item I select, it alone will continue to survive, and it alone will remain as evidence of the best that such a bad lot as us could do, despite our bestial failings.

What monument of humanity do I choose?

Without a moment’s hesitation, I respond, “Why, obviously, the opera, The Marriage of Figaro, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.”

What would you choose? I'm still pondering. Music is an awfully tempting choice. Monuments, achievements, art works, buildings, conquests, discoveries, inventions...what would it be?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I love stories like this XXXVIII

You can't make this stuff up! All of the middle schools in West Virginia, 157 of them, are planning to supplement their Phy Ed programs with...a video game! Yes, it's true:
Game players move their feet on a special mat to correspond to arrows that scroll on the TV screen. The player must tap the same symbols on the mat at just the right time to do well.

So how much is this costing?
Each school is to receive a game console, at least two dance pads and software at a cost of about $740.

What is the rationale for getting kids to "exercise" by playing a video game?
The game is not meant to replace physical education and health classes. Rather, it is one more option that may appeal to students who often dislike other sports.

"If we can get children to change their behavior at a young age they hopefully will grow up to be healthy, active adults, which would have a positive effect on health care costs," said Carl Callison with Mountain State Blue Cross.

Ooohhh! So it's a public health issue! Right!

Do you wonder why I believe that pretty soon the guvmint will control the production of food to such an extent that it will be illegal to eat a Snickers bar?

Oh, dear!

Conservatives get into the act of overloading email servers, too. After an op-ed piece by Joel Stein appeared in the LA Times, he was email-bombed by loads of putative conservatives, as Deborah Howell was by liberals at the Washington Post.
Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin quickly nominated Stein as "one of the most loathsome people in America." The Irish Pennants ( site slammed him as "slime" but gave credit for honesty, adding:

"At least he is straightforward slime."

Stein said that, despite the fact that his e-mail address was not made public by the paper, he had received some 100 "hate e-mails" by noon.

I love stories like this XXXVII

Dress codes in school news yet again:
HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) - A male high school student can wear a skirt to school after the American Civil Liberties Union reached an agreement with school officials.

The ACLU announced the deal Tuesday. It will allow a Hasbrouck Heights School senior to wear a skirt to protest the school's no-shorts policy.

The district's dress code bans shorts between Oct. 1 and April 15, but allows skirts, a policy 17-year-old Michael Coviello believes is discriminatory.

"I'm happy to be able to wear skirts again to bring attention to the fact that the ban on shorts doesn't make sense," Coviello said in a statement.

A few years ago, before my wife and I decided to home school our kids, I attended a series of Neenah Joint School District school board meetings, nine of them, if I remember correctly. One of them featured a high school girl who had been disciplined for wearing a head scarf. The school rule, ostensibly, protects against weapons being stashed in head scarves. The girl, Barbara Polcin, stood up during the public commentary period and talked about her experience and about her hope that Neenah High School would change it's dress code to allow head scarves. The school board, naturally, passed the buck to the principal of Neenah High School.

This is what I wrote in a letter to the editor:
To: The Editor, The Scribe

Your article about Barbara Polcin's appearance before the school board gave an unfortunate impression of Ms. Polcin's mother. You quoted "Polcin's mother of Polcin" as saying, "She stands up for what she believes is right," followed immediately by, "I hope it's a phase she'll eventually grow out of." I cannot believe that Barbara Polcin's mother would wish that her daughter stop standing up for what she belives is right; but that's the impression given in your article.

I attended the school board meeting at which Barbara Polcin spoke with such energy and eloquence about her experiences with the Neenah High School dress code. If I were Ms. Polcin I would wear a bandana to school every day. And every day when I arrived at school I would march directly to the office, remove the bandana, and leave it in their keeping. After school I would retrieve it and put it back on. Perhaps I would go so far as to wear a new bandana every day. Friends could help the cause by wearing bandanas to school, too. Nothing would make a more tangible statement that the school's dress code regarding headwear is picayune, petty, pea-brained, and pettifogging than a huge mound of bandanas piled on the main office desk every morning. To add piquancy to the demonstration the bandanas could be doused with musky perfume to represent the cloying sweetness of the school's concern for student safety.

Gandhi would have called it "civil disobedience."


Steven W. Erbach

VDH on our oil addiction

Does the debate over our reliance on foreign oil make your head spin? Victor Davis Hanson helps to clear it up in this piece. He shows that the various political factions contribute to our precarious situation: liberal, conservative, libertarian, and religious despot alike. He also prescribes a course of action that would, I think, solve our own oil dependency problem:
If the left would push nuclear power and more drilling, and the right would push more mandatory efficiency standards and alternative fuels, the United States could cut its imports and collapse the world price.

Too bad that this is another political pipe dream. Though I could see conservatives pushing alternative fuels more than I could believe that liberals would push nuclear energy. I do think that gasoline would have to reach $5 a gallon in the U.S. before anything substantive – other than price controls – is done.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Loony Left shuts down the Washington Post

Last week Deborah Howell, an "ombudsman" for the Washington Post, wrote a column on the Abramoff scandal. In that column she said that Abramoff gave money to Congressmen in both parties. She acknowledges that that was a misstatement. What he did was to direct his clients, the Indian gaming casinos, to give money to members of Congress in both parties. Howell explains:
My mistake set off a firestorm. I heard that I was lying, that Democrats never got a penny of Abramoff-tainted money, that I was trying to say it was a bipartisan scandal, as some Republicans claim.

She quotes some of the more "printable" emails she received out of thousands, so many that the email server at the Post was shut down:
"Yes, the WAPO needs an enema, and Howell should be the first thing that gets medicinally removed."

"You Deborah Howell, stop lying about Democrats getting money from Abramoff. Democrats do not control anything in Washington, so why would he waste money bribing them. Think and do your research, and stop being an idiot."

"This rag must be something that I pulled off a barscreen at a sewage treatment plant. Howell is simply a paid liar. How this creature endures itself is something I don't understand. What a piece of flotsam."

Relax, the Democratic Party is in good hands.

I love stories like this XXXVI

Oh, my God! Iris-scanning at a grade school?
When a parent arrives to pick up their [sic] child at one of three grade schools in the Freehold Borough School District, they'll [sic] need to look into a camera that will take a digital image of their [sic] iris. That photo will establish positive identification to gain entrance into the school.

Funding for the project, more than $369,000, was made possibly by a school safety grant through the National Institute of Justice, a research branch of the U.S.
Department of Justice. "The idea is to improve school safety for the children," said Phil Meara, superintendent, Freehold Borough School District, on Monday. "We had a swipe-card system that operated the doors, but the technology was obsolete."

I have now, officially, seen everything.

I love stories like this XXXV

This is a follow-on to ILSLT XXIV, the Jeff Fraser expulsion story. One of the blogs that contains comments on this affair pointed to this story from the Wall Street Journal from last November. It contains some wonderful examples of school administration bureaucratese in reference to one Laura Iacovacci, a 16-year-old student suspended from Paramus High School in Paramus, N.J., for the heinous crime of blogging unkindly about other students:
Ms. Iacovacci said that when she returned to school, she was called to see the principal, Lina Gudelis, who showed her a fat stack of pages she had printed out from MySpace. Ms. Gudelis suspended Ms. Iacovacci for three more days. She wrote in a letter to Ms. Iacovacci's parents, "Please be advised that should Laura continue to participate in harassing behavior, either verbally or in writing, including websites, she will be suspended and may be transferred out of the classes she shares with the recipient of the harassment."

Ms. Gudelis, the principal, declined to discuss Ms. Iacovacci. But she said it is appropriate for schools to hold students accountable for their online writings. "Unlike a conversation that might take place on an email or on the telephone, these sites are accessible to the public. So, yes, it can be harmful to students when others are posting things about them that are hurtful," she said.

The story quotes Thomas H. Clarke Jr., a San Francisco attorney, who says that
a handful of courts have examined cases in which schools disciplined students for off-campus writings, taking into account factors such as whether the student published threats against the school or other students, and whether the materials were accessed on campus by students or administrators. While some courts have ruled against schools that tried to punish students for their Web sites -- even when the content was vulgar or threatening -- others have decided that online writings can be subject to school restrictions. "The courts are all over the place. Trying to find consistency among all these different rules and opinions is extraordinarily difficult," Mr. Clarke said.

There have been moments in court when the students have triumphed:
Still, some schools have run into trouble in their efforts to rein in student bloggers. New Jersey's Oceanport School District this month paid a $117,500 settlement to 17-year-old Ryan Dwyer after a district court ruled that the school district violated Mr. Dwyer's First Amendment rights by punishing him for a Web site he created in April 2003, which blasted his middle school and some faculty members. Mr. Dwyer wrote on the site, among other things, "MAPLE PLACE IS THE WORST SCHOOL ON THE PLANET!" and "The Principal, Dr. Amato, is not your friend and is a dictator." The site also included a message board where other students could post messages, but Mr. Dwyer warned students against using profanity or threatening language. Within days, though, one student posted a comment that referred to a teacher as "that dirty Jew." Another wrote of the school staff, "we gotta pull the plug on them."

The school suspended Mr. Dwyer, benched him from the baseball team for a month and excluded him from a class trip to Philadelphia. Mr. Dwyer took down the site, but he and his parents sued the Oceanport School District, saying the punishment was a violation of his First Amendment rights. Earlier this year, a district court sided with the Dwyers, ruling that Mr. Dwyer could not be held responsible for other students' comments and that his own postings, if insulting, were not grounds for punishment by the school.

Jeff Fraser was expelled from Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, IN, for writing a satirical "book". I have not yet laid my hands on a copy, electronic or otherwise.

But the school is now catching flak from at least one school board member and a libertarian candidate for the school board. The school board member is Jon Olinger, a member of the Fort Wayne Community Schools Board. He posted a comment on the Indiana Parley blog:
This appears to be a classic case of school administration being devoid of common sense. I don't know what the cause of this infliction is, but NWAC schools does not have a monopoly on it. Ocasionally a decision is taken by school administration, such as this, that makes me wonder...what were you thinking...

Monday, January 23, 2006

They're going through with it!!

Last June my friend, Nick, forwarded me this press release:
For Release Tuesday, June 28 to all other media

Weare, New Hampshire (PRWEB) Could a hotel be built on the land owned by Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter? A new ruling by the Supreme Court which was supported by Justice Souter himself itself might allow it. A private developer is seeking to use this very law to build a hotel on Souter's land.

Justice Souter's vote in the "Kelo vs. City of New London" decision allows city governments to take land from one private owner and give it to another if the government will generate greater tax revenue or other economic benefits when the land is developed by the new owner.

On Monday June 27, Logan Darrow Clements, faxed a request to Chip Meany the code enforcement officer of the Towne of Weare, New Hampshire seeking to start the application process to build a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road. This is the present location of Mr. Souter's home.

Well, it looks like they're going ahead with it. This story from ABC News gives the details:
CONCORD, N.H. - Angered by a Supreme Court ruling that gave local governments more power to seize people's homes for economic development, a group of activists is trying to get one of the court's justices evicted from his own home.

The group, led by a California man, wants Justice David Souter's home seized to build an inn called the "Lost Liberty Hotel."

They submitted enough petition signatures only 25 were needed to bring the matter before voters in March. This weekend, they're descending on Souter's hometown, the central New Hampshire town of Weare, population 8,500, to rally for support.

The petition asks whether the town should take Souter's land for development as an inn; whether to set up a trust fund to accept donations for legal expenses; and whether to set up a second trust fund to accept donations to compensate Souter for taking his land.

The matter goes to voters on March 14.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I love stories like this XXXIV

The worthy administrators of Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, have expelled senior Jeff Fraser for writing a satirical book critical of said administration:
Fraser, a 17-year-old senior and founder of the Allen County Teenage Republicans, wrote a book titled “Carroll” that was modeled after Jon Stewart’s book “America.” The book blasted the administration for its lack of diversity, criticized teachers and their methods and singled out a few students in what was meant to be a satire...

This story caught my eye. Immediately I thought of looking for Fraser's book on-line. A quick Google search for 'Jeff Fraser Carroll' turned up nothing. I located the web site for the Allen County Teenage Republicans, but I wouldn't recommend going there. Lots of links that lead to popup ads, and the Search feature doesn't work. Worse, there's no news about what's happened to Fraser or his book.

I then thought of looking for blogs that might mention Fraser. I found one on BlogSpot: Blogger Mike Sylvester is a libertarian candidate for the Northwest Allen County School Board and he says he's going to write an editorial on Fraser's predicament. I left a comment asking if he knew where to find a copy of "Carroll."

I then wrote to Kelly Soderlund, the reporter from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette who covered the story.

I finally found the blog for the Allen County Teenage Republicans which is run by Fraser himself. I asked him directly if there was a copy of "Carroll" available on-line. I'm hoping that I'll eventually be able to get my hands on a copy. I'm curious as to what could possibly make the administration expel the kid.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Makes me want to see it

Before I read Lee Harris' review of 'Brokeback Mountain' I figured that I'd never see it. There have been many movies that have gotten terrific reviews that I've never seen. For example, 'Midnight Cowboy' starring Jon Voigt and Dustin Hoffman. I was 16 when it first came out and too young to see it. After that I jokingly refused to see it because I'd been denied because of my age.

But Harris' review of 'Brokeback Mountain' got to me. I don't know if I'll go see it in the theatres, but I won't pass up the opportunity to rent it or check it out from the library when it gets there. I recommend that you read the review, too. It might appeal to you.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Recent commentary: 20 abortion questions for Samuel Alito

What should senators ask Supreme Court candidate Samuel Alito?

(published 16-Jan-2006, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Well, I definitely know what Senators Kennedy, Schumer, Leahy, et al WANT to ask: “Would you vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade?” That’s the zenith of the modern Democrat party’s political firmament. No other issue has nearly the pathos, the passion, the gut-wrenching political fund-raising potential of abortion. Since they won’t ask it directly we’ll be treated to questions about why, o! why would Alito be in favor of strip-searching 10-year-old girls. But that’s only until they can think up some sort of veering approach to THE QUESTION; as if Justice Alito – in the glare of the TV lights and under the bleary-eyed ... um ... bilious ... er ... BALEFUL! That’s it! The baleful gaze of our Congresscritters – will somehow forget where he is and say what he really thinks. Hey! It could happen! I can just see the one-word headline in the tabloids: “OOPS!”

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Best commentary in a year

Mark Steyn has written a stupendous piece on the decline of Western civilization for I am normally a determined optimist. For example, I choose to believe that Iraq has a good chance of becoming a pluralistic democratic state. Oh, I know the smart money says there'll be a civil war as soon as we leave; but I feel that the risk is worth it.

Steyn's essay, however, certainly doesn't leave much room for doubt that Western society, especially Western Europe, is headed for extinction. Why? The birth rate, for one:
...the United States, hover[s] just at replacement rate with 2.07 births per woman. Ireland is 1.87, New Zealand 1.79, Australia 1.76. But Canada's fertility rate is down to 1.5, well below replacement rate; Germany and Austria are at 1.3, the brink of the death spiral; Russia and Italy are at 1.2; Spain 1.1, about half replacement rate. That's to say, Spain's population is halving every generation. By 2050, Italy's population will have fallen by 22%, Bulgaria's by 36%, Estonia's by 52%.

Steyn points out that
As fertility shrivels, societies get older--and Japan and much of Europe are set to get older than any functioning societies have ever been. And we know what comes after old age. These countries are going out of business--unless they can find the will to change their ways. Is that likely? I don't think so. If you look at European election results--most recently in Germany--it's hard not to conclude that, while voters are unhappy with their political establishments, they're unhappy mainly because they resent being asked to reconsider their government benefits and, no matter how unaffordable they may be a generation down the road, they have no intention of seriously reconsidering them. The Scottish executive recently backed down from a proposal to raise the retirement age of Scottish public workers. It's presently 60, which is nice but unaffordable. But the reaction of the average Scots worker is that that's somebody else's problem. The average German worker now puts in 22% fewer hours per year than his American counterpart, and no politician who wishes to remain electorally viable will propose closing the gap in any meaningful way.

Very, very interesting article, well worth your time.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Is it just me or... you think NASA is an enormously bloated and sleep-inducing bureaucracy? This story about the observation of a meteor strike on the moon was very interesting, until I read this:
However, as Nasa plans to return to the Moon by 2020, the agency says it needs to understand what happens after lunar impacts in order to protect astronauts.

2020??!! What's the holdup? Doesn't anyone remember how incredible it was to go from John Kennedy's go-ahead to landing on the moon in just 8 years beginning from scratch? Now the bureaucratic, limp-wristed, hand-wringing, namby-pamby pansies at NASA need 15 years to get back there after all the stupendous progress we've made in space.

"Protect astronauts." Can you imagine how many of the current crop of astronauts would give their eye teeth to go to the moon? Do you think any of them are wetting their pants over being struck by a meteor while on the moon's surface? Sheesh! Double sheesh!!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Just surfing III is a terrific site for handy web design tools. The webmaster for the site, Nico Westerdale, is also an artist who's come up with a puzzle masquerading as performance art. It's the first phase of the QWERTY project:
[It] consists of a computer connected to a monitor which is placed on a plinth. The computer has the usual 101 keys connected to it, although these keys are not arranged on a keyboard. The keys are connected to the computer by 700 meters of wire. The keys are distributed about the building, attached to the walls and ceilings.

The exhibit was on display some years ago, apparently. I can't seem to pinpoint when it actually existed. But it doesn't matter! The QWERTY project has been virtualized. Go to the site and navigate the rooms and corridors of the building to find the keys of the disconnected keyboard. Type in a message to become part of the performance. Of course, it may take you a few hours just to type a few words...