Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I love stories like this, LXXXVI

More role-playing, this time at Arizona State University. It was part of required sensitivity training to qualify for a job as a resident assistant:
“They were basically saying that if you don’t feel the same way, you’re wrong,” [ASU Senior Ryan] Visconti said. “It got to the point that if you weren’t a minority or gay, you were supposed to feel guilty and that everything was given to you in life.”

Here's a glimpse into the sensitivity training:
To start the role-play, participants were handed coded index cards that indicated their race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Participants were then told to visit different “life stations” and create their “perfect life.”

The stations included booths for housing, banking, church, jail, transportation and employment.

At each stop, Visconti said he was given scripted responses based on his gay Hispanic identity [card]. He was told he could be a landscaper and live in a ghetto apartment or be unemployed and homeless. Meanwhile, students assigned white identities were encouraged to be business executives.

But Visconti said the students who designed the roleplay overlooked their own stereotypes, such as the notion that white men don’t have to work for wealth because society gives them a free ride. Or the idea that Christian churches are filled with bigots, and people who support traditional family values such as heterosexual marriage are hateful and narrow-minded.

Is it really true that the people that develop sensitivity training believe that one can only identify unfairness and injustice if one has been treated unfairly or unjustly? That white people, of course, have no concept of such things? These sensitivity trainers must yearn for consistency in human relations; the notion that everything only makes sense if one feels the way they do.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Why oh Why Are We Ruled by These Idiots?

That quote is attributed to Brad DeLong. It's featured in a new article on TCS Daily: Plato's Republic or Milton Friedman's Market? What's the upshot? "Government tends to make things worse, not better":
"How can policy be improved? My first recommendation is that policymakers should pause and truly absorb the fact that government generally cannot be counted on to correct market failures efficiently by itself. Second, it is important for policymakers to acknowledge that the few microeconomic policies that have improved efficiency – which the federal government eventually grew to support – stem from market-oriented approaches." – Clifford Winston, Government Failure vs. Market Failure

Milton Friedman got it right, and Plato got it wrong.

That is the message that I take away from Clifford Winston's exhaustive survey of the actual results of well-intentioned government policies aimed at correcting market failures. He looks at policies designed to address all of the ills that economists and others have identified with markets – monopoly power, imperfect information, externalities, and so on. Government tends to make things worse, not better.

It's just a short little article, worth reading for the value of the lesson: trust not to governments. Remember what the late Harry Browne said: Government breaks your leg, hands you a crutch, and says you're better off.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

You don't hear much about Maine...

...but now we should listen closely:
Maine revolts against digital U.S. ID card

By Jason Szep
Thu Jan 25, 8:27 PM ET

BOSTON (Reuters) - Maine lawmakers on Thursday became the first in the nation to demand repeal of a federal law tightening identification requirements for drivers' licenses, a post-September 11 security measure that states say will cost them billions of dollars to administer.

Maine lawmakers passed a resolution urging repeal of the Real ID Act, which would create a national digital identification system by 2008. The lawmakers said it would cost Maine about $185 million, fail to boost security and put people at greater risk of identity theft.

Maine's resolution is the strongest stand yet by a state against the law, which Congress passed in May 2004 and gave states three years to implement. Similar repeal measures are pending in eight other states.

For the rest of the story click here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Things that everyone should read

These three articles were written by Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve. They appeared last week in the Wall Street Journal's on-line OpinionJournal.com. Everyone should read these. They deal with three "simple truths" about education:

1) Half of all children are below average in intelligence. We do not live in Lake Wobegon.

2) Far too many people of above-average intelligence go to four-year colleges.

3) Our future depends crucially on how we educate the next generation of people gifted with unusually high intelligence.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Update: anthro-centric global scare-mongering XXIII

A very pungent and trenchant blog entry on the Weather.com imbroglio. This was written by James Spann, a meteorologist working for an Alabama ABC-TV affiliate:

The Weather Channel Mess

January 18, 2007 | James Spann | Op/Ed

Well, well. Some “climate expert” on “The Weather Channel” wants to take away AMS certification from those of us who believe the recent “global warming” is a natural process. So much for “tolerance”, huh?

I have been in operational meteorology since 1978, and I know dozens and dozens of broadcast meteorologists all over the country. Our big job: look at a large volume of raw data and come up with a public weather forecast for the next seven days. I do not know of a single TV meteorologist who buys into the man-made global warming hype. I know there must be a few out there, but I can’t find them. Here are the basic facts you need to know:

*Billions of dollars of grant money is flowing into the pockets of those on the man-made global warming bandwagon. No man-made global warming, the money dries up. This is big money, make no mistake about it. Always follow the money trail and it tells a story. Even the lady at “The Weather Channel” probably gets paid good money for a prime time show on climate change. No man-made global warming, no show, and no salary. Nothing wrong with making money at all, but when money becomes the motivation for a scientific conclusion, then we have a problem. For many, global warming is a big cash grab.

*The climate of this planet has been changing since God put the planet here. It will always change, and the warming in the last 10 years is not much difference than the warming we saw in the 1930s and other decades. And, lets not forget we are at the end of the ice age in which ice covered most of North America and Northern Europe.

If you don’t like to listen to me, find another meteorologist with no tie to grant money for research on the subject. I would not listen to anyone that is a politician, a journalist, or someone in science who is generating revenue from this issue.

In fact, I encourage you to listen to WeatherBrains episode number 12, featuring Alabama State Climatologist John Christy, and WeatherBrains episode number 17, featuring Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University, one of the most brilliant minds in our science.

WeatherBrains, by the way, is our weekly 30 minute netcast.

I have nothing against “The Weather Channel”, but they have crossed the line into a political and cultural region where I simply won’t go.

I love stories like this, LXXXV

Master-slave. For some school administrators and teachers, it is vital to instill at least a soup├žon of the degradation and shame felt by the slaves; so vital that role-playing master and slave is de rigeur for grade-school curricula. This story shows ... well, I was going to say "a healthy backlash", but it doesn't, as you'll see:
Clarksville, TN, school officials say they have ordered teachers to end a role-playing exercise on slavery for elementary students.

The exercise was halted after a teacher complained one student took her role as a slavemaster too seriously.

Teachers would divide their classes into slaves and masters on one day and then reverse the roles on the following day.

The students were not divided by race. Afterward, the students would write essays about "how it felt to be marginalized."

Does your gorge rise, too, at the thought that 5th graders need to be taught what it feels like to be marginalized? Of course, it was a white kid that ruined the fun for everybody:
But Ringgold teacher and Montgomery County Commissioner Lettie Kendall, who is black, became concerned about the exercise after a white student refused to do a math assignment, saying she didn't have to because she was a master.

Gad! The teachers and administrators want to teach the children what it feels like to be marginalized but only if the kids wind up feeling degraded and marginalized to the precise degree to which the teachers and administrators feel is correct and proper. Well, I feel that the whole role-playing idea is brainless. More reading and writing, less inculcation of the feelings of marginalization.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Recent commentary: Kagen and manners

What do you think about the controversy surrounding Rep. Steve Kagen?

(published 22-Jan-2007, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Well, my mom voted for Mr. Kagen, so I won't be too hard on him; but I'm certain she would admit that he was rude. It's as if his wife had given him "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior" and he read with eager anticipation the chapter on proper etiquette while waiting to shake the hand of the President of the United States in the receiving line. Imagine his disappointment at discovering that he was supposed to say, "Good evening, Mr. President, good evening, Mrs. Bush". Obviously, he had an attack of the dreaded disease that strikes adults who can't stand the thought that their mothers were right about manners: retro-adolescence. This disease is marked by shivery thrills whenever one insults a lady directly to her face. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that, after dinner, Kagen got his wife to stuff some of the dessert into her purse.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Anthro-centric global scare-mongering, XXIII

Good grief! Somebody claiming to be a scientist wants to stifle scientific inquiry!
Weather Channel Climate Expert Calls for Decertifying Global Warming Skeptics
January 17, 2007

Posted by Marc Morano - marc_morano@epw.senate.gov (8:50pm ET)

The Weather Channel’s most prominent climatologist is advocating that broadcast meteorologists be stripped of their scientific certification if they express skepticism about predictions of manmade catastrophic global warming. This latest call to silence skeptics follows a year (2006) in which skeptics were compared to "Holocaust Deniers" and Nuremberg-style war crimes trials were advocated by several climate alarmists.

The Weather Channel’s (TWC) Heidi Cullen, who hosts the weekly global warming program "The Climate Code," is advocating that the American Meteorological Society (AMS) revoke their "Seal of Approval" for any television weatherman who expresses skepticism that human activity is creating a climate catastrophe.

The writer of the blog entry quoted above (it's from the Minority side of the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works) suggests looking at the comments on Cullen's blog.

Anthro-centric global scare-mongering, XXII

Snow and ice in San Diego. That's the big story today. The picture you see above is of a fountain in San Diego, friends ... frozen solid. The news is full of images of snowy roads in Los Angeles, snow-bedecked palm trees in Malibu, cars spun out on the highway in the Antelope Valley:

Somebody help these people before they hurt themselves!

I lived in Hollywood in the mid-70s. One of my clearest memories is of a stretch of 90-degree days in January. Looks to me like global cooling has descended upon the Left Coast! Perhaps this will contribute to a lowering of the average temperature for the year which some bold weather forecasters have predicted will be higher than normal.

Nowhere will you see the weak explanation that global warming has caused this freak snowfall. It's only when the temps are high or there are lots of hurricanes do the global warming johnnies stick their noses out. Talking global warming when the oranges are freezing doesn't get them very far. Hard to raise money for the climate control cause when people are freezing their buns off.

I just wish that the news outlets would have asked global warming "experts" about this snow-in-sunny-California phenomenon. They seemed perfectly willing to weigh in when we had all those hurricanes in '05. Of course when '06 was so quiet, none of those worthies offered an explanation. Bah!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Recent commentary: Don't control health care prices

(published 28-Jan-2007, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Governor Doyle, California Governor Schwarzenegger, and Senator Edward Kennedy have all been demanding more government control of health care. None of these worthies think beyond their next election nor do they remember what happens when government sets prices. As with gasoline price controls in the 70s, price controls on health care will mean that more health care services will be "consumed" at the lower price, leading inexorably to shortages. In the real, non-price-controlled world, if a product is popular, manufacturing ramps up and more providers market it. The price goes up, too, in response to demand until an equilibrium is reached. That is, demand and price find their own level: there's plenty of product to go around, it's just cheap enough for people to keep buying it, and manufacturers can continue to make a profit. Since the price will not be allowed to go up with price-controlled health care services, the supply will simply dry up and the lines will form, just like gas lines in the 70s. Then somebody will have to decide who gets to see the doctor and who has to wait. We can see this happening in Canada, where health care is "free". Canadians come to the U. S. for surgery. Why? Because they can get it when they want it. Need has nothing to do with it. Now before you lynch me, consider: people starving around the world need food. Why can't they get it? Oftentimes it's their own governments that prevent it. If we get "universal" health care, just how do you imagine our government being able to GUARANTEE new life-saving drugs, plenty of doctors, no waiting for an office visit or surgery ... all for cheap? Get the government out of health care! If you think it's expensive now, wait until it's "free"!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

"Creepy" is right

James Taranto in yesterday's Best of the Web Today highlighted a story from the New York Post that featured a grilling of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by Senator Barbara Boxer of California:
The Mommy Party

At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, Sen. Barbara Boxer quizzed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Iraq strategy. The New York Post is rightly appalled at what Boxer had to say:
"Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price," Boxer said. "My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young."

Then, to Rice: "You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family." . . .

The junior senator from California apparently believes that an accomplished, seasoned diplomat, a renowned scholar and an adviser to two presidents like Condoleezza Rice is not fully qualified to make policy at the highest levels of the American government because she is a single, childless woman.

It's hard to imagine the firestorm that similar comments would have ignited, coming from a Republican to a Democrat, or from a man to a woman, in the United States Senate.

Part of the reason this is shocking, of course, is because it breaches feminist etiquette. If Boxer had said this to a male official who had no children, it wouldn't have carried quite the same sting--though it would still be creepy.

We've remarked frequently upon the tendency of war opponents to infantilize American servicemen--by demanding, for example, to know why President Bush hasn't "sent" his daughters to fight in Iraq, as if he had the power as their father to order them to enlist.

In truth, members of the military are adults who have made an adult commitment. They deserve to be respected for their maturity, not patronized as victims. It dishonors them to use their sacrifice as a political cudgel.

This "infantilization" of military volunteers also paves the way to re-establishing the draft. If opponents of the war can only victimize our servicemen and women enough by making it appear completely unfair that their volunteer service can lead them to death in Iraq, then the next step is to make military service "fair" again.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I love stories like this, LXXXIV

I really don't, though. Consider the plight of Washington, DC, GFCAMC (Government-Funded Compulsory-Attendance Matriculation Center) students. Per student spending in DC is among the highest in the nation. The 2004 Census of Governments Survey of Local Government Finances — School Systems reported that the District of Columbia spent $12,801 per student, the 3rd highest in the nation (behind only New Jersey and New York), up from $8,377 per student in the 1992 U.S. Census data.

But this story makes one wonder who's zoomin' who:
Mayors seek to gain control over schools
By NANCY ZUCKERBROD, AP Education Writer

Sun Jan 7, 7:14 AM ET

WASHINGTON - The statistics tell a sorry tale about the public schools in America's capital. A majority of fourth- and eighth-graders are failing to read or do math at basic levels. Roughly four in five schools are not meeting achievement goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Just 43 percent of students graduate from high school in five years.

The new mayor, Adrian Fenty, got an earful about the situation during last year's campaign.

So he is doing what a dozen other city leaders around the nation have done: trying to gain control over the schools. For Fenty, that means convincing the city council and Congress to support his plan to require the superintendent to report to him and to further limit the authority of the elected school board.

Clearly it isn't more money that makes quality education. But the politicians will step in and try, once again, to re-write economics to force a failing program to succeed.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The bogus 100-hour orgy

You may have read that incoming Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has called for a lot of bill-passing activity in the first 100 hours of the new 110th Congress. I have been receiving stirring emails from DownsizeDC.org regarding this 100-hour "orgy", particularly regarding the proposed legislation to limit grassroots lobbying. Jim Babka, the President of DownsizeDC, wrote on Wednesday of the letter he received from former Federal Election Commission chairman, Brad Smith, on this topic:
Here's what former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith (an excellent critic of the campaign finance laws) had to say right after I corresponded with him saying the public needed to hear from him on this issue . . .

The Grassroots Lobbying Fraud - Shutting America Up

by Brad Smith

Included as part of the lobbying reform bill incoming Speaker Pelosi has promised to deliver within 100 hours is a provision which is simply not getting enough attention.

The lobbying bill seeks to, among other things, require groups to account for and disclose their efforts at grassroots "lobbying." This is a very dangerous development and should be opposed with all the white heat one could muster to attack McCain-Feingold a few years back.

Grassroots "lobbying" isn't "lobbying" at all, in the conventional sense. There is no "lobbyist" waiting to buttonhole members. Rather, grassroots lobbying means efforts by citizens, citizen organizations, and other groups to contact other citizens, and urge those citizens to contact their senators and representatives on an issue.

There can be no corruption here - the ultimate result is citizen to officeholder contact. If that pressures office holders, it is the result of citizen concerns. If those citizen concerns are shaped by a "grassroots lobbying" campaign, that is exactly what the First Amendment is all about - the right to speak to fellow citizens.

Why do officeholders want to know who is funding opinion shaping efforts in their districts? Simple - they want to know who to pressure, who to retaliate against. There are a limited number of consultants, pollsters, and ad firms with the capability to run a full scale campaign, and they are acutely subject to political pressure. Many citizens have legitimate reasons for not wanting their support made known - think of it as why we have a secret ballot at voting time.

Moreover, you can bet your bottom that "disclosure" will not be the end of this. Disclosure is almost always the entry drug to outright prohibition. After all, it is disclosure that demonstrates the extent of "the problem" (whatever that is - here it is apparently citizens talking to citizens behind the backs of members of congress).

This is a fight that needs to be joined, and fast.

Brad Smith is right. You can do both the "fighting" part and the "fast" part right now by sending messages to Congress on both of the following campaigns . . .

If you think Congress shouldn't pass nearly 400 pages of dense legislation without reading it, understanding it, or debating it, tell Congress to slow-down Speaker Pelosi's 100-hour legislative orgy by clicking here.

If you don't want Congress to mute its critics by regulating groups like Downsize DC, then tell them no by clicking here.

One last thing before we go. We plan to be very, very aggressive in 2007. We plan to make this our break-out year. So we need to keep increasing our funding. We NEED more monthly credit card pledges. You can support this organization for as little as $3 or month. Everyone who starts a monthly credit card pledge will be listed on the roster for our upcoming "One Subject at a Time" legislation. Please start your monthly credi t card pledge or make a one time donation toward our January budget by CLICKING HERE.

Yes. We're asking you to do three things today. We hope you can. The theme for 2007 is AGGRESSIVE ACTION. Let's be aggressive!

Thank you for being a DC Downsizer.

Jim Babka
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I love stories like this, LXXXIII

In the latest from the government-funded compulsory-attendance matriculation centers, it's a 12-year-old special education student that's been arrested now. She's been charged with disorderly conduct:

Young Girl Facing Charges After Wetting Pants

(AP) DANVILLE, Pa. A 12-year-old special education student in Montour County was charged with disorderly conduct after authorities said she deliberately wet her pants at school.

Her mother told the Press Enterprise it happened because her daughter was frightened by the principal.

The story goes on to say that "school officials are at their “wit’s end” with the girl, and they believe her actions were deliberate." Well, even if they were, wouldn't, say, suspension be more in order than having her arrested and charged? Work with me on this.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Nannying gone mad

This story comes from the Daily Mail of Great Britain. It's only a matter of time before the Dairy State follows suit, I think:
TV ban on adverts for cheese, the latest 'junk food'

Last updated at 08:41am on 3rd January 2007

Cheese is to be treated as junk food under new advertising rules for children's television.

Commercials promoting it will be banned during children's TV programmes and those with a large proportion of young viewers.

The rules, which come into force this month, are part of a Government drive to reduce children's exposure to foods high in fat, salt and sugar.

Much to the disgust of its makers, cheese is to be regarded in the same light as crisps, sugary cereals and cheeseburgers.

In fact, under the criteria used by the Food Standards Agency to determine junk foods, such products are actually regarded as healthier than cheese.

The ban follows evidence that TV commercials have an indirect influence on what children eat and are contributing to obesity in the young.

The Food Standards Agency model assesses the fat, sugar and salt content in a 100g or 100ml serving of food or drink.

But the British Cheese Board points out that a typical portion of cheese was 30 to 40g - not the 100g used in the agency's model.

Most cheese would be exempt from the ban if a typical portion had been used in the calculations, according to the board.

It pointed out that cheese was one of the most 'nutritionally complete' foods.

The National Farmers' Union described the decision as "nannying gone mad".

'To suggest there is anything inherently harmful about cheese is absurd,' spokesman Anthony Gibson said.

'There is no such thing as a bad food. It is just how much of it you eat, in what balance and how much exercise you take.'

He said the new rules were 'of no use to consumers', adding: 'It may very well put them off eating healthy things.'

I love stories like this, LXXXII

Actually, I feel more ambivalent about this story than about the large majority of the government-funded compulsory-attendance matriculation center stories I post here. On the one hand I feel wickedly gleeful about the weak insufficiency of the excuses offered by school administrators for their schools' poor performance on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests. On the other hand I'm opposed to the national No Child Left Behind Act that led states to agree to administer these tests.

But on The Gripping Hand (thank you Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle) you gotta love the creativity of the administrators trying to get their schools' "grades" changed. From the story in the Dallas Morning News:
None actually claimed a dog ate their homework.

But the Texas schools that appealed their subpar state ratings this year offered up a remarkable variety of explanations and excuses – some sensible, others more notable for their creativity.

Schools blamed their performance on everything from an errant fire alarm to a student going into labor – and, in one case, parent sabotage.

"There are certainly some appeals that we think have very little merit," said Criss Cloudt, the associate commissioner for accountability at the Texas Education Agency (TEA). "But we look at each one closely."

In all, 160 schools or districts appealed their ratings this year – a fraction of the more than 9,000 ratings TEA hands out annually. The agency approved 62 appeals, often moving a school one rung up the ratings ladder: unacceptable, acceptable, recognized and exemplary. The Dallas Morning News obtained copies of each district's appeals letter and the agency's yea-or-nay response.

One school wanted to re-assign the ethnicity of "several" black children who passed the tests to Hispanic so that it could earn a higher rating.

Another wanted to eliminate the score of one student "was exhibiting violent behavior" and who brought the average down just enough to slide the entire school's rating into the next lower category.

Then there was this:
At Jane Long Middle School in Bryan, a fire alarm went off during the social studies TAKS exam. Bryan officials argued that the alarm had distracted the school's black students, whose scores had fallen short of the acceptable bar.

Remember the phrase, "the soft bigotry of low expectations" that President Bush has used so often? It's a favorite of James Taranto and it led to a comment on that last paragraph in yesterday's "Best of the Web Today":
We'd love to hear the explanation for why the alarm distracted only black students.

And how about that case of parental sabotage?
Perhaps the most extreme one-student appeal came in Rio Vista ISD, near Cleburne. A fourth-grader who consistently got good grades had answered "A" to every multiple-choice question on a practice TAKS test. According to school officials, the student's parents had encouraged the child to sabotage the TAKS.

"My mom says [the principal] and the school are rewarded for doing well on the TAKS test and they shouldn't be rewarded because they haven't done a good job," the child told a teacher. According to the appeal, that student was the difference between acceptable and recognized.

My uneasiness about high-stakes testing twangs loudly on reading:
Esparza Elementary School fell short of recognized status because one too many low-income students failed the science test.

The district argued that one of those failing students shouldn't have been considered poor because the student's father had gotten a new job that paid more. The district even sent the father's pay schedules to TEA in an attempt to have its rating boosted. TEA didn't bite.

What is not explained in the article is what happens to those schools that fall in the standings. So I went to the TEA web site to find out more (emphasis mine):
Under the accountability provisions in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, all public school campuses, school districts, and the state are evaluated for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Districts, campuses, and the state are required to meet AYP criteria on three measures: Reading/Language Arts, Mathematics, and either Graduation Rate (for high schools and districts) or Attendance Rate (for elementary and middle/junior high schools).

If a campus, district, or state that is receiving Title I, Part A funds fails to meet AYP for two consecutive years, that campus, district, or state is subject to certain requirements such as offering supplemental education services, offering school choice, and/or taking corrective actions.

School choice, eh? No wonder school administrators fight so hard to get under-performing schools' ratings changed. School choice is anathema to the unions.

NCLB is a voluntary program. That is, if a state wishes to get its slice of the federal pie it has to toe the line and meet federal standards. Of course, a number of states, led by Wisconsin, filed suit to get relief from some of the federal requirements. I commented about this in April of last year. The suit was filed after states found out that the cost to comply with the requirements was greater than the amount they'd receive from the NCLB. Some interesting insights into this conflict can be found here.

So, if the state and local school districts want federal funding, they have to follow federal rules. I'm for rejecting federal funding on those grounds, not accepting the federal swag and then trying to get the rules changed through law suits.