Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rush to Judgment

Let me begin by saying that I am a big fan of Rush Limbaugh. He, almost daily, offers insights that enlighten the political and social dialog. But in the last two days he has said two loopy things that have me worried.

Yesterday (or Monday) he said that the U.S. stock market is up in September because the Federal Reserve is buying stocks to prop them up before the elections in November. This clearly is nonsense. The Fed is prohibited from such equity speculation. After a while Rush tried to back off this statement (after his e-mail inbox went viral?) by saying that he meant that the low interest rates that the Fed was charging banks was essentially inflating the money supply which was then being used to buy stocks. Even this is not totally true. Most of the money that banks borrow overnight from the Fed (for essentially the doughnut) is then reinvested in government securities for a small marginal profit. However, the huge dollar amounts of these money flows still make a healthy return for these banks nonetheless.

Today, he opined on Obama’s comments in Albuquerque on how Obama’s Christianity taught him to be “his brother’s keeper.” Now, this reference comes from the Old Testament when God asks Cain where Abel was and Cain says, “Am I my brother’s keeper.” (Rush sounded very much like he had been reading a reference to this incident on the Powerline blog. See here.) However, Rush called this concept the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” said by Jesus Christ in Matthew 7.12). This mixing of religious dogma was later backtracked by Rush (after another e-mail storm?) but he never really dumped the Golden Rule reference.

Now these brain farts were so unlike Rush that I am concerned that something is afoot. I won’t speculate on what it is here, but, if something transpires in the near future, remember you heard my concern here first.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Radical Change

Our nation’s shameful K-12 education system is in the spotlight this week. President Obama has called for radical change … see here. I think that many education reformers are in the process of verbal fibrillation insofar as their suggestions for improving things. They, as expected, are generally calling for more spending, more competent teachers, smaller classrooms, more responsible parents, longer school sessions, and better testing standards. Some of these things I somewhat agree with, but, unfortunately, many are also arm-waving canards that will accomplish nothing.

I have been tutoring in the public school system for the last three years and have had an opportunity to observe a microcosm of our education system from the inside … so I have a modicum of credentials … and therefore humbly offer my suggestions on this matter:

1) Deemphasize (or eliminate) educational degrees. Any pedagogues who did or do not spend 90% of their learning experience within the subject that they are teaching does not deserve to stand in front of a blackboard. Teaching how to teach makes little sense if the recipients do not know their subjects to a fair-thee-well.
2) Cut the administrative overhead in our education system. The budget of Arne Duncan’s Department of Education has doubled this past year. We are now spending over $160 billion a year on this bunch of bureaucrats who teach not one single student and who, with shameless pomposity, spend most of their time trying to justify their bloated salaries. At one time, many years ago, New York City (NYC) had more school administrators than the entire country of France. I’m reasonably sure that this situation has not improved in the interim.
3) Cut the fiction that classroom size has anything to do with results. Class sizes in the Far East are often two to three times what they are in this country and educational results there are usually much better than they are here.
4) Create and enforce rigid, standardized testing for teachers that assesses them on their competency within their subject. The result of this test should be used not only as a basis for hiring, but also used partly to determine their salary. The remainder of their salary should be based on the change in the standardized testing scores of their students … not on how long they have been teaching or how well they are liked. Department heads should also be evaluated on how well their stable of teachers performs.
5) Eliminate the recently created national student tests … since there is no guarantee that they will work as promised … and the penalty for a sub-standard result is too great. Force all states to develop their own testing process. Reward the states whose tests produce better educational outcomes so that poorer performing states can adopt them.
6) Utilize, nay emphasize, tried and true software programs (on the internet or in the classroom) to improve students’ subject comprehension. This past year I used such a program to teach a problem student his multiplication tables. It worked better than I had any hope for. However, this cannot be a hands-off experience. It must be carefully monitored. The fact that it may be “software” does not necessarily make it good. All such software must be peer-reviewed and back-tested.
7) Textbooks should also be peer-reviewed and back-tested. I have found egregious factual errors and agenda-derived propaganda in some of the textbooks I have had to use. Such substandard stuff never should be allowed in our classrooms.
8) Bring back personal discipline to our schools. Stricter dress codes, tighter truancy standards, reduced grade inflation, increased failure rates, and stronger hall monitoring should convey the message that schools mean business. Helicopter parents who insist on unreasonable special treatment for their precious ones should not be indulged by our legislators, our courts, and/or our school administrators/teachers.
9) Any teachers’ union that strikes for irrationaly higher pay or benefits (e.g., NYC's “rubber rooms”) should lose its rights to arbitration. In fact, eliminating teachers’ unions entirely (at least for a while … until the pendulum swings back the other way) might not be a bad idea. (I also would have everything that Albert Shanker, the late President of the United Federation of Teachers union, ever wrote burned on a pyre of the thousands of other go-nowhere books by “education reformers” preaching the new math, phonic spelling, etc.)
10) This seems a small point but I think that the scrapping of cursive writing training in early education has introduced enormous inefficiencies for students in note taking, creative writing, and test answering. Bring it back.
11) I could be wrong, but I kind of buy the idea that the women’s movement and the resultant transposition of the best and brightest women out of K-12 education and into the corporate world is one reason for our deteriorating educational system. This sea change obviously can’t be reversed, but I have an alternative idea. Why don’t we tap the great reservoir of talent in our retired and out-of-work communities and encourage them to enter pedagogy? I, myself, have taken this step and I believe that there are many more who are brighter and more energetic than I who could augment our teaching ranks with their specialized knowledge and work experience. This of course would require a change to our rigid teaching certification processes … but why not, if it is the right thing to do?
12) Lastly, the most radical idea of all … let’s start privatizing our public school system … an expansion of the charter school concept. This might cut property taxes in half and dramatically reduce local, state and federal income and sales taxes. Let the free-market system start working to weed out inferior educators and schools. Now this is a very complex subject and would need to be solved without political agendas (an unique approach), but I feel confident that the money would be there to provide scholarships to the very poor under such a system. In 2006-07 the national average educational spending per student was $10,900 whereas the average spending per student in the New York metropolitan area is currently around $27,000 (see here). Public schools are a social experiment that did indeed work well for many, many years but seem to have stopped doing so for at least the last quarter century. Radical change is due, indeed required.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Which Witch?

Christine O’Donnell , the Republican candidate for the Senate in Deleware, admitted a number of years ago on the Bill Maher Show that she had briefly dabbled in witchcraft when she was in high school.  The question then is: was she Glinda, the Good Witch of the South?  Or perhaps, was she the Wicked Witch of the West?  Nah, that title already belongs to Nancy Pelosi ... who, instead of having a house fall on her, is crushing the House.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The X Factor

Male chromosomes are described as X-Y’s whereas female’s are X-X’s. The tides that are sweeping clean the political seashore have been variously described as the Tea Party Express or an anti-incumbency fervor or Palin’s picks. However, I have yet to hear any talking head attribute chromosomes as a major contributor to these surprising primary upsets, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Linda McMahon in Connecticut, Meg Whitman in California, etc., etc. And I strongly suspect that this gender-bending will carry over to the general elections in November. (Remember, you heard it here first.)

One only has to listen to talk radio for a few days to realize that the preponderance of emotional call-ins who decry what is happening in Washington are coming from women. Yes, many men are upset with what has transpired, myself included, but it seems to be the “Momma Grizzlies” that are the most distraught. If one has ever watched a wildlife movie in which the smaller female bear ferociously attacks the much larger male bear to protect her cubs, you will understand this phenomenon. Mothers seem incensed that Washington is besmirching the future prospects for their offspring. Interestingly, many of our erstwhile political pundits, Carl Rove and Joe Scarborough included, seem to be tone-deaf to this building symphonic crescendo. Therefore, if many of the above mentioned X-chromosomers win in November, Sarah Palin will have again shown her political adroitness by coining the term “Momma Grizzlies.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Sarah Shourd (arrested about a year ago for wandering over the Iraq/Iran border with her two male companions) has been released by Iran on $500,000 "bail."  The exact circumstances surrounding this release and the future disposition of this case are confusing, much like the country Iran.  See here. The questions that I would like to have answered by our media would be:

- How much was this "bail"?  Was it the full amount or just 10% as is customary in the United States?
- Who paid this money and under what conditions?
- Must Ms. Shourd return to Iran for her trial ... or if she does not return will this money be lost?

However, my primary purpose here is to decry the American press's continued blind acceptance of the semantics of our antagonists.  I strongly suspect that this money paid to the Iranians is really a ransom ... particularly if Ms. Shourd is to leave Iran and not return.  And if this is a ransom payment, then I also condemn our naive press then giving Iran credit for compassion when it is really blatant and dastardly greed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Flagging Democracy

My two children went to school in Amherst, Massachusetts and I realized, even back then, that tinfoil hats were a hot item there. My white son, in his youthful liberal zeal, tried to join a black students’ group and was told to “take a hike.” He also wore a Pravda tee shirt to his graduation.

Now, thankfully he is older and wiser, but it seems that the Amherst ivory-tower dingbats have gotten even more loopy. A year or so back the Amherst Town Meeting voted to invite Gitmo detainees to relocate there. Even a very liberal friend of my daughter (and UMass graduate), who lives with her family in nearby Belchertown, was rightfully incensed at this decision.

Now this same town’s Board of Selectmen recently decided that it was “inappropriate” to fly the American flag there to honor the anniversary of 9/11. I therefore believe that it is equally inappropriate to spend any more of our Massachusetts tax monies as viand for the fuzzy-brained skittering cockroaches in this town who call themselves professors. Perhaps we can even ask them to start educating our children instead of indoctrinating them.  What say you?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Buddha's Pest

It's a good thing that the followers of Buddha are a peaceful lot.  Otherwise imagine what would have happened when the Taliban (whom I recall are Muslims) in Afghanistan destroyed the gigantic statue of Buddha there about ten years ago.  Watch it happen here.

As they say, everything in life is relative.

Peck’s Bad Boys

When I was a naughty child, my grandmother would often call me “Peck’s bad boy,” an impish character from early dime novels … or “skeezicks,” an equally mischievous character from the “Uncle Wiggily” series of children’s books. I don’t recall being that puckish, but clearly I was getting under her skin. And my punishment was often mild and loving.

Today we have grown-up versions of Peck’s bad boy populating what remains of our newspapers and the wall-to-wall frenetic coverage on our cable news networks. These recent headline grabbers, Reverend Terry Jones of the threatened Koran-burning, and Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf of the Ground Zero mosque are annoying 15-minute-of-famers who I would prefer not intruding into my life. They are ticks sucking on the juices of our world’s popular culture, much like Lady Gaga, Al Sharpton, and that bloated comb-over of a tick, Donald Trump, who couldn’t resist entering the current 9/11 mosque fray.

I kind of wish my grandmother could return and make them all sit in the corner.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Message ...

to Obama, Biden, Reid, Pelosi, those in Congress, all the POTUS's advisers, and those Republicans about to be elected in November ... the thing on the right is an elbow.