11.22.2007

Thankful is such a pitiful word sometimes . . .

The Jehova's Witnesses were here a minute ago. I told them I am an atheist and they asked me how I came to it. I said nothing more than years of theology. One of them laughed and said, "Of course! That will do it every time."

I wondered what she thinks she studies. Are their heads just so upside-down that nothing can fit?

I am thankful that it is my choice to talk to them - or not. Thankful that it is the act of men and women, not gods.

9.06.2007

Thank God and Greyhound You're Gone

Sun-Sentinel:
The Rev. D. James Kennedy, a pioneering Christian broadcaster and megachurch pastor whose fiercely conservative worldview helped fuel the rise of the religious right in American politics, died Wednesday. (September 5,2007) — Dr. D. James Kennedy, founder and senior pastor for 48 years of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (CRPC) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., passed away peacefully in his sleep at approximately 2:15 a.m. at his home with his wife and daughter by his bedside, following complications from a cardiac event last December.

NYT:
Mr. Kennedy stayed largely in the background as men like Mr. Falwell, Mr. Robertson and James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family spoke to Americans about the need to curtail abortion rights, gay rights and the teaching of evolution. But over the last decade, he, too, grew more openly active, creating the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, which held conferences that taught people to how to get involved in the political process. The center closed in April.

Me:
Kennedy's attack on Science.
Of course he probably did many things during his lifetime that were worthy of our admiration. I only know that the kind of poison represented by the program is deadly to free will. Reverend Kennedy wanted to take back America for a certain group of morally superior people. I suggest that he was far more Hitler's heir than the people he, Behe, and Coulter attack.

8.25.2007

Murdoch and the WSJ

Those of us who have heard that Fox News takes daily political direction and believe it think the situation should be exposed. Others say that there is no evidence that Fox does anything more than run from fire to fire gawking and pumping up fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Here is an article that provides a pedigree for what is happening today. It is _Bending to Power_ by Bruce Page in the Columbia Journalism Review.

It appears to me that between the Moonies and Murdoch, neo-conservative manipulation got a tremendous boost over the past few years. When global warming skepticism proved to be so easily planted in the psyche of a substantial portion of the public, it became clear that critical thinking skills are sadly absent at all levels of society.

FUD produced by the Wall Street Journal will have the same effect on the grey-suited and well-educated that Fox News has on "angry middle-aged men who scream at the TV." In fact it will be more insidious because they honestly feel their education confers mental fitness.

8.22.2007

Who would have thought Ben Stein is an idiot?

Why would Ben Stein collaborate with the production company that created this abortion ? It looks like a good education doesn't armor one from errors in thinking. OMG what an obvious statement. Just look at the smorgasboard of autodidacts around Bush. Smart, well-educated people who will do anything to have the last word. They are the Strangeloves of today, inventing convoluted solutions to problems that exist only in their huge, echoing brainpans.

Ignoring the U.S. District Court decision that found the ID folks from the Discovery Institute to be disingenuous and liars, somebody is throwing actual money into producing a movie about how science is somehow screwing free thought.

Forget the philosophy. Forget the science. Forget the religion. What they did was lie when they should have told the truth. As far as I'm concerned, there is no thoughtful consideration of alternatives involved. I vote for the side that tells the truth.

This reminds me of the stranger who was observed swimming in a lady's swimming pool last week. When confronted, dripping wet in her driveway by police, he denied the illicit swim.

8.07.2007

But is it Science?

When a Federal District Court judge says information bearing the imprimatur of the Discovery Institute is NOT science, it is a good bet he is right.

Generally when a publisher classifies a book, it is for purposes of clarity within the ontology. When the Discovery Institute people classify their books it is for the purpose of destroying the integrity of the structure of knowledge.

If libraries can't deal with the issue, they have a problem discriminating honesty from dishonesty. The judge said that the Discovery Institute people are disingenuous and dishonest. Just how does that translate into a "different point of view?"

resources:
http://webpages.charter.net/tomeboy/bias.html

6.02.2007

Trust and Authority

One of the most amazing things I see today is the use of the adjective environmentalist as a pejorative. The funny thing is that nobody I know isn't an environmentalist in one way or another. Yet there is a substantial stream of invective that tries to cast it as a religious movement.

My conclusion is that the invective is cast by a group that understands the world in religious terms alone and can't unshackle themselves from their common sense beliefs.

I'm using common sense in terms of believing only the evidence of one's senses.

This was brought home to me today when I read an article - I am posting the abstract with the issue information for those who wish to read the whole article:

Science 18 May 2007:
Vol. 316. no. 5827, pp. 996 - 997
DOI: 10.1126/science.1133398

Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science
Authors: Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg

Resistance to certain scientific ideas derives in large part from assumptions and biases that can be demonstrated experimentally in young children and that may persist into adulthood. In particular, both adults and children resist acquiring scientific information that clashes with common-sense intuitions about the physical and psychological domains. Additionally, when learning information from other people, both adults and children are sensitive to the trustworthiness of the source of that information. Resistance to science, then, is particularly exaggerated in societies where nonscientific ideologies have the advantages of being both grounded in common sense and transmitted by trustworthy sources.

Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


So you can see that it is to be expected in populations where practical knowledge is highly valued as well as faith-based organizations or groups of young people. This is why we have such a terrible time convincing people that the world is old and anthropogenic warming is a fact. We have to bring them up to speed by filling in gaps in their education. This assumes they are willing to learn.

Probably the majority of people who do accept evolution as a fact do so because they accept authority in a different way than the people who do not accept natural selection. Trust and authority. These two words are my mantra in Internet and Society classes. Without developing the ability to discern the good from the bad, a person has no signposts and wanders in search of meaning.

Trust and authority are key because you just can't know everything. Let's take the example of deciding whether to believe a group of climatologists versus a single geologist's view of global warming or a political appointee's statement versus the head of meteorolgy at NASA. The political appointee has more than one doctorate and is a highly respected manager at NASA. However, he owes his job to the administration.

Here is what we know for sure. The Bush administration's appointees have been broadly accused by hundreds of employed scientists of intimidation and coercion. Evidence has been offered. This is countered by accusing the other guy of being an environmental nut and a liberal. The problem as I see it is that the scientist is working inside of his specialty and will continue to do so as long as he does a workmanlike job. The political appointee is beholden to his master alone no matter what his academic credentials may be. So I see this as a pretty clear cut example. The evidence points to the side of the employed scientist and against the political appointee.

5.25.2007

Saving for your child's education

A good education is expensive. Marketwatch agrees with me.
"It's a totally unnatural act to pay for school," said Patrick Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, which represents more than 1,000 of the nation's private schools. "Everyone wants to believe that their high local taxes are paying for good public schools. But by the time kids get to middle school and parents are spending time around the school, they get very nervous."

Comment: The truly sad thing is that in terms of education, the elementary school is where the problem starts and can be most easily fixed. Continue reading . . .

Then, the crunch comes. Private high schools offer precious little financial aid to cover yearly bills that run almost $17,000 nationwide and are often closer to $30,000 in New York, Los Angeles and other urban centers. Depleting cash, scrimping on expenses, borrowing against home equity and relying on grandparents and other relatives is standard.

So it looks like the folks at the Wall Street Journal have a pretty good idea about how much it costs. I guess it's no surprise. They probably aren't planning on having their kids deliver pizza for a living. They may even take the future knowledge based economy seriously. Imagine that.

By now you know I think we don't spend nearly enough on public education. I know that common NCLB wisdom says that money has no bearing on it, but if that were true, wouldn't those smart folks at the Wall Street Journal, the Bush family, and the rest of those who so benevolently rule send their kids to an inexpensive but well run school somewhere?

No? You mean the social benefits of Phillips Academy are worth the cost of a new Mercedes to Daddy? :-D

Really it's a matter of value-added services. The teachers have lots of contact with the kids. They invite them to visit their homes too. I remember how surprised I was when I found out that pblic school teachers tear the address labels from the magazines they take to school. I don't do it, but everybody I know does.

There are serious extra-curricular activities like debate, journalism, theater, and electronics in addition to sports. Sports are not considered a suitable alternative lifestyle unless they are golf or tennis.

Teachers have specialized educations in their subjects. Most of them have Masters and many have Doctorate level educations. They actively encourage inquiry and debate in their classrooms.

Perhaps the most important factor is mentioned in the quote above. Many of the parents of these kids are willing to sacrifice a lot to send their kids to these schools. That translates into a huge driving force behind the child.

It is a matter of odds and keeping track of what works. It has worked for them for generations so they just keep on doing the same thing.

5.12.2007

Why Wikipedia is a success

This isn't about Jimmy Wales' sex life. Sorry! It is about tearing down walls and rearranging furniture in a house that is growing at an ever-increasing rate.

The volume of information, particularly new information, is such that it can't be created, edited, or distributed in what people born prior to 1970 consider a normal way. If the Internet was not around, it would have to be created.

This isn't about paper or the movement of paper. It is organizational and it is about money. Paper output can keep up with scholarly output and it can be shelved, but can it be paid for and accessed?

Needing knowledge and finding appropriate knowledge is an increasing problem for people. The cost of access and the lack of authority is key.

My train of thought leads me to the possibility that Wikipedia has to be non-authoritarian because an editorial structure that guarantees objectivity is too heavy. Authority and trustworthiness may not be a part of Wikipedia's editorial function. I don't mean to say that there is a complete lack of it. I just think that the kind of ex-cathedra pronouncements Wikipedia's critics look for is not going to appear under any circumstances.

I expect that authority may be replaced by oversampling. Just as a Walkman oversamples a track to replace gaps, oversampling could play a role in building knowledge rules.

The Trinity. Scale, Trust, and Findability. Which is the greatest?

5.04.2007

Seeing No Progress
Some Schools Drop Laptops

Today, the New York Times published an article about schools that have Decided to get rid of their one-to-one laptop projects.
There is a litany of reasons: cheating, pornography, hacking, and repair costs. But the worst by far was the fact that student's test scores didn't go up. I don't know why cheating and pornography are mentioned in the same breath with the project's failure to reach objectives, but an analysis of the failure should be attempted.

*** Update 5-12-07 - It turns out that the average usage for all schools was only 10 minutes a day for BOTH math and reading.***

Since I am in Broward County, I will quote the portion of the article that deals with us first.
Two years ago, school officials in Broward County, Fla., the sixth-largest district in the country, shelved a $275 million proposal to issue laptops to each of their more than 260,000 students after re-evaluating the costs of a pilot project. The district, which paid $7.2 million to lease 6,000 laptops for the pilot at four schools, was spending more than $100,000 a year for repairs to screens and keyboards that are not covered by warranties. “It’s cost prohibitive, so we have actually moved away from it,” said Vijay Sonty, chief information officer for the district, whose enrollment is 37 percent black, 31 percent white and 25 percent Hispanic.

The program was initiated three years ago, then two years ago it was abandoned. The repair cost was only 1.4% of the cost of the laptops annually. I wonder if that included theft? The six thousand laptops were given to students at schools where online education was absent from classrooms and the teachers unprepared to teach using the appropriate tools. Note that I said "online education", not technology education.

What is not surprising about the article is that students are not scoring higher on tests. This is because teachers are teaching the same way, using the same material and the same lessons they were prior to having computers.

The reporter states that many districts sought to "prepare their students for a technology-driven world and close the so-called digital divide between students who had computers at home and those who did not."

In the very next paragraph we have this from Mark Lawson of the Liverpool New York School District:
The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.

I don't know if it's obvious to you, but what I see is a disconnect between two stated learning objectives that should be naturally connected. Maybe the first isn't really a learning objective, but it expresses the hands-on use of a tool (like a pencil) in pursuit of knowledge. The idea is to teach "through" the box, not to use it like a supplemental textbook.

The article goes on recounting disaster stories. Schools that have two sets of classes for haves and have-nots, huge repair bills, and the dreaded time consuming computer glitches. It concludes with a quote from Tom McCarthy, a teacher who says that the art of thinking is lost when you can give up after you find the first reference online.

*Grins in an evil fashion* Can you tell why I have the grin? I just have to wonder why a computer causes a child to satisfice when doing research. I have to wonder why a computer is responsible for any off-task behavior at all.

My classroom has a computer for each child. A web server delivers lessons and content. A web server is used to store student created projects. The Internet is used to bring content into the classroom from all over the world to enrich the experience. I can see every screen as I walk around the room and talk to the students and off-task behavior is no worse or better than any other classroom. Sometimes students even cheat.

But what my students don't do is idle their brains. Saying the art of thinking is lost typifies an abysmal misunderstanding of tool usage.

2.24.2007

It CAN'T be Done
No, Not Never

Last Monday my identity was rejected at the San Francisco airport (SFO) and I'm glad I got there early because it took a while to convince them I was me.

I have always traveled using my nickname as opposed to the name on my driver's license and it looks like it's the end for Bob. *snif*

The attached clip from Boston Legal addresses the issue but my purpose for putting it up is not that. It is not Homeland Defense that gets up my nose. Watch the show and then read the rest of the post.

James Spader gives an impassioned speech about ignorance and the bureaucratic mind that actively pulls at reality, making it unravel. Why? Because it can.
Link to the Video via the Unofficial Apple Blog 'cause it isn't interdicted.

Last week somebody ran a query to create what amounts to address stickers for test booklets. There are over two hundred sixty thousand students. They didn't all get tested but the number of test booklets is still awesome in the fifth largest school district in the U.S.

The person who ran the query didn't quite get it right and left out a set of students that should have been included. These students are identified by a coded field in the DB2 table the district uses.

Instead of running another query and making a set of stickers for this group of students, they said "No" and made the staff of each school write the information on the booklets by hand. At our school it was several hundred.

This is the issue. One person running a report versus hundreds of people toiling for hours. One person adding a field to create unique records versus a confusing milkshake database. One person running an absentee report versus thirty thousand teachers writing postcards when a student fails to show up for class. One person creating a scheduling program that integrates with student records versus a huge whiteboard with post-it stickers for each subject and class that ends up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in delays, conflicts, and repeated classes for which credit cannot be given and abominations like giving a student a schedule that has four math classes simultaneously.

2.13.2007

Are All Schools The Same ?
Marat vs Lavoisier

Evidently there are plenty of people who think so and they are willing to apply the same solutions to every single one of them.

I wonder if that won't cause a problem commensurate with the current situation.

What if a school only needs the equivalent of a new fuse? Remember this is being done in the name of economy. The tools are crudely wielded by citizen zealots as if they were part of the French Revolution.

Thus the title of the essay. Marat denounced Lavoisier several times calling him "the greatest schemer of our times." Lavoisier took positions without pay, yet Marat was certain Lavoisier was taking advantage of the people of France. Can you say paranoid nutcase?

After the Revolution, it was recognized that France had beheaded a great scientist. Joseph Louis Lagrange commented, "It only took them an instant to cut off the head and a hundred years may not produce another like it."

One can visualize elderly ladies rocking and knitting while the heads roll. "Praise the Lord! Another dirty evolutionist!"

2.07.2007

Bush lets Dr Strangelove die...
like a vampire hit by sunlight

Around 2:14:00 the Senate committee hands off from Bill Nelson to John Kerry. Nelson was being chummy with the NASA guys. They were saying that they would soon have no capacity to do earth observation from space because of a 30% reduction in earth science research in administration budgets.

Kerry goes after the admin's science adviser Dr. Strangelove (Bill Brennan) just after that. Funny because when the guy could have responded with specific documents and timetables he couldn't because they don't exist so he has to respond with stuff like "Ve haff plans for informink der Congress and the Amerikan pipples..." and "Long live der F├╝hrer!"

If you are a Dr. Strangelove fan, you know that when he is under stress, the Doctor reverts to his "Nazi Scientist" roots which is pretty similar to what happened in Washington this week.

David Kennedy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian thinks that the science behind natural selection is at fault for causing the bizarre experiments of the Third Reich but he is seriously wrong. Hitler's "Nazi Scientists" were just doing what the boss told them to do and trying to make it *look* like science.

Does that remind you of Administration spokesmen? It should because it is what they do for a living. It should remind you of the guy at NASA who told the Hubble website writers that every time they used the phrase "Big Bang" they had to make sure it was accompanied by a disclaimer saying that it was just a theory. One of many alternate theories of the creation of the universe. You know the others, right? The giant turtle theory, the big tree theory, the pouffy-hair guy pointing his finger theory, the four sacred mountains theory, Mother of the Shining Ones theory, Ometeotl and what-have-you.

Dr. Strangelove is in charge of the "Good Science Theory" propounded by his boss President Bush. The litmus test for evil henchmen consists of a trinity of statements. First, Every Cell is Sacred, second, CO2 makes plants grow and that's all, and third, there is no such thing as natural selection so dinosaurs and people must have lived together.

Dr. Strangelove froze up and reverted to his Nazi roots in a Congressional hearing. There was nothing he could do because the Supreme Leader shot himself in the foot and couldn't run interference. Yes Reverend Kennedy, you, the President, and your friends are closer to being Nazis than angels.

2.02.2007

While the Administration's Education supporters run for the hills . . .

The National Review printed a "Run Away, Run Away" article about NCLB and the American Enterprise Institute resurrected Charles Murray (Bell Curve) to begin a measured retreat from the Bush education policy.

So when the entire world says the place is getting warmer, some of the Administration's REAL friends show their true colors in support. Washington is full of fair-weather friends, but with friends like Senator Inhoffe, you really don't need enemies.
Oklahoma Republican senator James Inhofe has been one of the lone bright spots in Washington when it comes to media accountability, specifically on the issue of global warming. He's continuing his hard-hitting approach Wednesday with a congressional hearing examining how the media has been been trying to scare the public into siding with climate change alarmists:

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, will hold a full committee hearing tomorrow (First week in December 2006) on "Climate Change and the Media."


Global warming, according to Senator Inhoffe, is bogus garbage foisted off on the public by a bunch of envronmentalists whose motivation stems from their mistaking the planet for GOD. The benefit they will derive from their interference in our lives? Some kind of stuff. Ahem. Well, something at the very least.

You can't simply say that the the people he quotes are all on the payroll of Exxon-Mobil and that simple fact makes them unreliable. I mean really! Look at those environmentalists, they are religious fanatics! That should be sufficient reason to doubt them. Just look at them. All nasty and healthy. Probably a bunch of lousy vegans.

By the way, you lousy vegans, his friend Pat Robertson is muttering about God and plagues.

1.31.2007

Bush's glass wastebsket

Kristen Hellmer, of the Council on Environmental Quality, part of the Executive Office of the US President, said the CEQ had been cooperating with Congress. When asked about allegations of political interference in scientific documents, she said: "We do have in place a very transparent system in science reporting."

Full article.

As to the force applied on people who speak out on global warming:

"After that speech and the release of data by Dr Hansen on December 15 showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century, officials at the headquarters of the space agency repeatedly phoned public affairs officers, who relayed the warning to Dr Hansen that there would be 'dire consequences' if such statements continued, those officers and Dr Hansen said in interviews," the Times reported.

Full article Hansen works at NASA. You know, the place you can't say "Big Bang" without adding, "It's just a *theory*, you know."

Granted, New Scientist is not the source I would like it to be, but the articles are properly linked out to their sources.

1.30.2007

Believe in Magic:
"I did not alter that scientific report!"

"Snicker, snicker."
Last Friday night we went to see Frank Caliendo at the Palm Beach Improv. He does an awesome impression of the Decider.

Today Senator Waxman said the White House has documents that prove they have been deliberately altering documents that deal with scientists' professional judgments surrounding global warming.

"We know that the White House possesses documents that contain evidence of an attempt by senior administration officials to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming and minimize the potential danger," Waxman said.
CNN

What's going on here? Didn't we find out about this back in June of 2005? Don't you remember the whistle blower who ratted on Philip A. Cooney, chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality for altering a report? The whole thing came out in the news and is well documented.

Maybe we believed the scientist Myron Ebell from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who defended the editing as necessary for "consistency." Ebell tried to offer a dodge saying that the report was cleared by several governmental agencies. Unfortunately a "whistleblower who resigned in March from the government office that coordinates federal climate change programs, made the documents — showing handwritten edits by Cooney — available to the Project on Government Accountability and, in turn, to news media."


Or maybe we believed the White House representative when she said, "He's not a cleared spokesman..."

Cooney was hired by Exxon within a week.

So what does this have to do with today?
This:
WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 — President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.


The NYT

Need I say more? What's next? A government news agency called The Newserator.

1.29.2007

Expulsion Improves School Scores

A story at the Independent Online in Britain says some schools are allowed to get rid of troublesome students in order to improve their annual evaluation (like NCLB):
Ministers privately support the exclusion of large numbers of "challenging" pupils by Tony Blair's flagship academies, a senior government official has revealed.

Story here.

Of course we knew it was being done to us at my workplace. But nobody has ever acknowledged it or done anything about it. It seems Britain has a similar situation.

Why do I think it is happening? The signs? How about a December influx of new students with police records? We really didn't need to wait until report cards were printed to know we were being hustled again.

We may not be the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, but it is possible the advances our students made would be recognized by the community. The kids work hard and deserve a pat on the back.

1.21.2007

More Magical thinking

Not true, of course but it's like the Frito Bandito kind of magic. Presto! I make your research into my research!

In the Bush Administration's latest sally into reality, they have purloined stem cell research, rewritten it, and relabeled it _Advancing Stem Cell Science Without Destroying Human Life_. Touting recent research as "..creating potential alternative sources for pluripotent ES-like cells.." the report cites the January issue of Nature Biotechnology that stem cells found in human amniotic fluid have many of the same qualities as ES cells (Science, 12 January, p. 170).

Unfortunately, it is not the case.

The researchers who authored the journal articles have objected to the Administration's characterization of their findings calling it a "..clear misrepresentation of our work."

According to The Wall Street Journal, presidential aides are drafting a possible executive order favoring alternative sources. Perhaps the President could get his friend the Supreme Being to take time out of His busy schedule and alter His work to suit the Executive Order.

The report did not state specifically that the Administration's representatives scuttled back into Fantasy Land with their prize, but it's a good bet they did.

1.14.2007

National Review: "Let's distance ourselves . . ."

Michael Petrilli's article "Leaving My Lapel Pin Behind Is No Child Left Behind’s birthday worth celebrating?" is a moving farewell, but he can't let it go. He says that supporting NCLB is a statement of belief in the "subtext" of the law as a "belief system." Perhaps I exaggerate somewhat, but that's how I read it.

I can't think of anything that gives me more satisfaction. Unless it would be a statement affirming the actual subtext as handed down by the Moses of privatization, William Bennett. He who would have denied internet access to public school students. A statement that public schools have as their goal preparing students as minimally qualified workers for the jobs of yesterday would be nice.

Petrilli cites a list of "powerful" ideas that embody 1990s education reform.
First, that every child has the capacity to achieve a minimal level of proficiency by 18 (not 22.)
Second, that school systems need threats in order to work.
Third, education bureaucracies and licensing rules impede good teaching.
Fourth, creating commercial alternatives to public school education has "all kinds" of benefits. (I can't THINK of anything funnier to say that that.)
Fifth, the federal government NEEDS to be involved in education in your community.

No, I don't think you can distance yourself from NCLB and still "embrace" the core values of a destructive subtext. It reminds me of people who say that Adolph Hitler never told his minions "... exterminate all of the Jewish people you can find." Who cares which words he used or how he used them? His people understood what he wanted them to do and they did it.

A final observation. When you discover your strategy and tactic has failed, you don't position more of your resources there. Reauthorizing the dysfunctional values represented by NCLB would be that kind of "surge."