View 686 Friday, August 05, 2011
Roberta ‘s sprained knee has recovered enough to let us take a walk around the block – two blocks, actually, since we go down past Ed Begley Jr.’s house – he drove past in his electric car, which is powered from the solar panels on his house – and although the official weather for the area is “hot as blazes” it was actually cool and pleasant in the shade, and not bad in the sun. Nice breeze. Studio City is a village, and it’s a good place to walk.
There is at least one crow fledgling in the flock of five that we saw. I keep hoping there are other flocks of crows here, but I am never sure. Last autumn there was a flock of eleven. Not now.
Studio City is a mostly single family residence area, and while there has been some expansion with large lots subdivided into two huge houses, and other single family houses like ours expanded, the area can support much larger flocks. I can remember when our part of Studio City had two flocks of about 40 crows each. Every couple of days they would gather for what I called a “cawing contest.” One flock would settle into a tree. The other would choose a tree across the street. Then, for about an hour, they would make as much racket as they could. By some complex system of rules some crows would fly from one flock to the other, and as the contest continued, eventually one flock would noticeably outnumber the other. Then the losing group would all fly over to the winning flock’s tree, and they’d all fly off together.
I never understood the rules, but the other day while hiking up the hill with Paul Schindler, former editor of BYTE online, I told him about it, and he wondered if there were any permanent transfers of members from one flock to the other, thus promoting genetic diversity. I didn’t know, and since there aren’t enough crows to have cawing contests now, I can’t watch to see if the early transfers from one flock to the other mostly involved fledglings. It’s an interesting hypothesis. Crows flock, but they basically raise their young in single families in summer. When the young begin to fly the elders conduct them around teaching them the crow business for a few days, then the kids are pretty well on their own. In the old days that meant joining a flock, and it may be that the cawing contests were meant to attract this years’ fledglings to one or the other flock.
West Nile Virus has thinned the Studio City crows from two flocks of 40 or so to perhaps 20 total (that’s a guess, and probably optimistic: I hope there are that many). There was another outbreak of this formerly unknown disease amounting to I think three cases in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The toll on bird population was much higher. I suppose there are some people, particularly those with big trees suitable for use in a cawing contest, who found the large flocks irritating, but I miss them. I wish we could come up with some way to immunize our crows, but I don’t suppose that will happen.
On Bunny Inspectors and why I don’t implement comments:
I recently had mail from a reader who took me to task for my frequent mentions of Federal Bunny Inspectors.
For those who don’t know, these are Federal Inspectors employed by the Department of Agriculture to enforce laws requiring you to have a Federal – not local, not state, but Federal – permit to sell rabbits as pets. Actually it gets worse: they also go about investigating stage magicians including local amateur stage acts to see if there is a rabbit involved in the act. Interestingly, if you kill the rabbit in the act, or sell them for meat, or even feed them to snakes, no Federal license is required. Only if you use them in the stage act, in which case you must have a license and proper transportation equipment, and yes, highly paid Federal civil servants actually roam the land looking for magic acts that may or may not employ rabbits. And you get to pay interest on money we borrow from China to pay these civil servants including their medical care and retirement benefits.
My correspondent told me that this was a tiny amount of money. His subject was “orders of magnitude” and he in essence accused me of innumeracy. I pointed out that this was intended as symbolic of a greater problem, and his remark was
I do understand the concept of symbolism. I understand it as an inferior substitute for reasoning.
At this point I must have taken leave of my senses, because I answered that by saying that my point was that a country that can’t cut this kind of spending can’t cut anything else. And of course that got me
Not necessarily. Larger programs are more heavily defended, but also more heavily attacked.
For instance, the F-35 jet engine
Which ought to be sufficient explanation for why I don’t open this place up for general comments. I would spend my life in conversations like this, in which the object is to score points. That can be fun, but it’s not a terribly productive way to spend time, and I never seem to have enough time nowadays. It’s bad enough when I’m tempted to answer mail.
And alas, it remains true: if we can’t manage to eliminate Bunny Inspectors, we aren’t likely to eliminate programs like Head Start, which are popular and which everyone, everyone I know anyway, wishes mightily would work. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t wish Head Start would work. Indeed, if Head Start did what we all hope it would do, it would save us a lot of money. The trouble is that Head Start doesn’t work. There are literally hundreds of studies, all conducted by people who very much want Head Start to work, and none of them are able to find any objective means of demonstrating any effect of Head Start lasting more than a year or so. Ten years after Head Start its alumni have grades, dropout rates, crime rates, and anything else you would like to measure that are indistinguishable from those who did not experience Head Start. Charles Murray, who fervently wishes Head Start would work, has been in program assessment work much of his life; he’s one of those who searched avidly for any data showing success. There isn’t any.
If we can’t eliminate Bunny Inspectors we aren’t going to eliminate Head Start. If we can’t get rid of Department of Education SWAT Teams, we won’t be able to get rid of much of the imbecility of “No Child Left Behind” AKA “No Child Gets Ahead.”
John Derbyshire, a sometimes correspondent whom I admire considerably, rails that the US Education System is already working about as well as it can.
Pretty much everything any politician says about education makes me want to go up to whoever said it, grab him by the suit-jacket lapels, and shake him forcefully up and down while screaming in his face: “DON’T YOU GET IT? YOU’RE AN INTELLIGENT GUY—WHY CAN’T YOU SEE WHAT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR NOSE?”
Case in point: Three years ago New York City hired the Rand Corporation to raise public-school students’ test scores by paying cash bonuses to teachers whose classes performed well. More than $56 million in bonuses was handed out.
Results? There weren’t any. “Researchers called the experiment a bust,” reports the New York Post. You could have knocked Mayor Michael Bloomberg down with a feather. “I would have thought it would have had a bigger effect,” he gasped. That was the point where the lapel-grab impulse seized me.
He has other instances.
And he’s both wrong and right. Given the criteria we are using for whether or not education works, he’s pretty well right, and certainly right in that throwing more money into this imbecilic system of education isn’t going to bring about noticeable improvements.
But our criteria are based on Lake Wobegon, when in reality, half our children are below average. Bill Gates may finally have figured this out: for many years he said that every American child deserved a world class university prep education in K-12. I haven’t heard him saying that recently. Perhaps he understands that condemning the below average children to a world class university prep education condemns them to years of pure hell.
But that’s another essay, and I’m running low on time.
My point is that if we can’t make obvious cuts in useless actions of government, we aren’t ready to tackle really tough problems. We have to have a mechanism for trimming out the ridiculous so that our supposedly intelligent legislators can actually look at the hideously expensive and well intentioned programs that are not working.
© 2011, jerrypournelle. All rights reserved.