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Mail 444 December 11 - 17, 2006







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Subject: Letter from England

BBC survey of Litvinenko coverage and other stories: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6166097.stm

UK military costs--Mike Jackson's comments <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1968609,00.html

Metropolitan Police (London) unlawfully tapped the phone of one of their senior officers: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6166063.stm

US was bugging Princess Diana's phone calls the night she was killed: <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1968664,00.html

Education news in the UK <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1968699,00.html>  <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/cash/story/0,,1968317,00.html

Vandals, yobs, and liberalism <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/6164599.stm>  <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/politics/story/0,,1968663,00.html> <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1968575,00.html>  <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/politics/story/0,,1968668,00.html>  <http://www.guardian.co.uk/christmas2006/story/0,,1968709,00.html

Economics news <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,,1968298,00.html>  <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,,1968281,00.html>  <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,,1968290,00.html>  <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1968426,00.html>  <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6163931.stm>  <http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article2062475.ece

Comment on intellectual property rights <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,,1968312,00.html

Firefly convention <http://news.com.com/2061-10802_3-6142354.html

Bjarne Stroustrup interviews in MIT Technology Magazine <http://www.techreview.com/InfoTech/17831/>

Commentary: It was a miscellaneous news bag this week, which is probably a good sign. At the university where I teach and do research, the big issue this semester has been student retention. The University of Sunderland awards PhDs and MPhils in addition to taught masters degrees, which ranks it above most American state colleges, but not quite on a par with American teaching universities. It was formed in 1992 from a polytechnic, but the original goal of providing a quality *university* education to half the population has fallen by the wayside. In fact, only Sunderland and Plymouth of the 1992 ex-polys now have as much research funding as they did in 1992, and the programs available have been cut back dramatically over the years, so that the UK Government is finally becoming concerned with the large and growing areas of the country where students lack access to mathematics, science, and engineering education. (Not concerned enough to spend money, though.) Something to remember is that UK universities are private, but the only payers are the UK Government, foreign students, and a few post-graduates, so in the end, the UK Government is responsible for the state of the system. Meanwhile, private employers complain about the poor quality of university graduates. (Again, not concerned enough to spend money.)

The problem with retention is seen particularly strongly in the lower half of the university system. Those institutions draw from students who lack a family experience of quality education, and seem to lack the discipline and wisdom to take advantage of the opportunity. When I assign readings for discussion sections and tutorials (and base assessments on them), 75+% of my students don't bother until the end of the semester (if then). When I point out that the class credits are based on full-time study, so that they should be working three hours outside of class for each contact hour, I still get complaints about the amount of work. And meanwhile, half the students cut lectures and tutorials.

The research community knows how to improve retention, and it isn't by providing trivial courses. It's not hard. Spend a few minutes helping them think through what they want from an education, so they have the motivation to keep going. Assure them that everyone has difficulty with advanced subjects, and it's not untrained talent and raw intelligence but motivation and drive that matter in the end. Take advantage of the Hawthorne effect--if you go an extra mile with the students, they will go another mile on their own.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw> Weblog at: <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php>

I see that Tony Blair has had enough of diversity as a goal and is now saying that if you want to call yourself a Brit there are some common standards. My first reaction is amazed admiration. Is this likely to have any real effect?

Maybe there will always be an England? I hope so.


Subject: Blair tells immigrants to accept British values

Dr Pournelle

Link to the Blair story: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20061208/wl_nm/britain_religion_dc_2  The Prime Minister said, "Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain Britain. So conform to it; or don't come here. We don't want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed."

Blair proposes that all immigrants must pass a test on the English language. To qualify for gov't grants, ethnic or religious groups will have to show that they promote integration.

Respectfully h lynn keith



Subject: The world's top destroyer of the environment, 


"Meet the world's top destroyer of the environment. It is not the car, or the plane,or even George Bush: it is the cow.

A United Nations report has identified the world's rapidly growing herds of cattle as the greatest threat to the climate, forests and wildlife. And they are blamed for a host of other environmental crimes, from acid rain to the introduction of alien species, from producing deserts to creating dead zones in the oceans, from poisoning rivers and drinking water to destroying coral reefs." <snip>



I recall 30 years ago and more, Possony saying that the main source of methane in the atmosphere was the flatulence of cows...




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TuesdayDecember 11, 2006


Subject: Teacher Pay Reforms

Dr. Pournelle:


"Education research convincingly shows that teacher quality is the most important schooling factor influencing student achievement."

"Second, research shows that teachers are responsive to monetary incentives."

I'm floored. Boy, that must have taken some really intensive research...

Tx, Rich

Research also shows there is zero correlation between "credentials" and success as measured by pupil performance, and essentially no correlation between teacher pay and school success: private and religious schools have notoriously low pay but far higher education success rates.

Education research shows that all education research recommends higher pay for educators (including classroom teachers, but even more for administrators) and no NEA sponsored research looks at actual classroom results.

Thrown them some more money. It's for the kids. The teacher's kids: she wants to put them in private schools.


Subject: The Wire

>I can't recommend The Wire enough.

>The Wire is the best sociological exposition of what's wrong with the drug war, the schools, and the inner city in America, period. Get the DVDs from NetFlix or just buy them, starting with Season 1. Season 4 just concluded (focused on education; I recommend staring out with Season 1, though), and will be out on DVD soon.



>- Roland Dobbins

The Wire is a gritty, realistic, well-acted view of the inner city, in particular of Baltimore. The writers are former Baltimore Sun columnists and ex-Baltimore cops. They deal with all the institutions of inner city life, police, politicos, the streets, the churches, fractured families struggling to maintain, the crime and drug scene, the schools. The acting is uniformly excellent, the view of reality clear-eyed. They’ve just completed their fourth season. Each season, while involving all the institutions, has focused on one facet. Season one was the waterfront, season two police, crime, and the ‘war’ on drugs. Season three, the political institutions. Season four, the schools. To the limited extent I know Baltimore, the portrayals are accurate.

This in an HBO cable presentation. If you have digital cable with On-Demand capabilities the seasons get replayed periodically. Currently all of season four is available on Time Warner cable. For best effect, though, you want to see the seasons in order, so perhaps best to wait for the DVDs. Seasons 1-3 are available from HBO at http://store.hbo.com/family/index.jsp?categoryId=1885652

Also if you have the On-Demand capabilities there are several ‘making of’ type features with it that are worth watching as well. In fact, in this season they pioneered making the episodes first available On-Demand, with the first broadcast a week later. I now see that Showtime has gone them one-better making the whole season of their series on domestic terrorism “Sleeper Cell” available at once even as only the first in the series has actually erred. It’s beginning to look like demand-push is the future of cable television – and what kind of bandwidth will THAT take once everyone’s doing it?

The show has been mostly ignored by the awards presenters, which is a comment on the awards, not the show. The makers openly speculate that the high percentage of African-Americans in the cast is what turns off the awards people.

-- Cecil Rose

We saw part of the season climax last night. I agree: it's realistic.


Subject: OCRegister.com - O.C. native dies in Iraq

Dear Jerry:

This one cuts close to the bone. My stage play, "Memorial Day", which I wrote in July 2004 and which was showcased last year at the Masquers Playhouse in Point Richmond, has a similar incident as the key event. A high ranking female officer killed by a roadside bomb. Mine was Army and an MP, but otherwise the circumstances are way too close for comfort. Of course, given the recent history of the US military, it was only a matter of time.

Still, it's weird. I feel like I lost a friend; one I never met, of course. And, because I advocated equal status for women in the military long ago, I also feel a little bit responsible. One of the things I do every Sunday is to read all of the obits of the troops who died that week. Someone has to and everyone should because this is the true cost of this lousy war; the Butcher's Bill.


Francis Hamit



Subject: Accurate interpretation?

Good morning;

I came across this response to an online question, <http://www.metafilter.com/mefi/48654#1189388>  and wondered whether you agree with the summary. I value your insight on such matters.

Thank you jay

Mixed bag. Some comments are accurate. Some are egregiously stupid. Many are just mixed up people saying whatever comes to mind. I would not use it as a reliable source.


Subject: [Fwd: Why Nerds Are Unpopular]

Below is a section from an essay, "Why Nerds Are Unpopular". I suggest you read the entire piece at


Julie http://walkingprescott.blogspot.com 

 As far as I can tell, the concept of the hormone-crazed teenager is coeval with suburbia. I don't think this is a coincidence. I think teenagers are driven crazy by the life they're made to lead. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance were working dogs. Teenagers now are neurotic lapdogs. Their craziness is the craziness of the idle everywhere.

When I was in school, suicide was a constant topic among the smarter kids. No one I knew did it, but several planned to, and some may have tried. Mostly this was just a pose. Like other teenagers, we loved the dramatic, and suicide seemed very dramatic. But partly it was because our lives were at times genuinely miserable.

Bullying was only part of the problem. Another problem, and possibly an even worse one, was that we never had anything real to work on. Humans like to work; in most of the world, your work is your identity. And all the work we did was pointless, or seemed so at the time.

At best it was practice for real work we might do far in the future, so far that we didn't even know at the time what we were practicing for. More often it was just an arbitrary series of hoops to jump through, words without content designed mainly for testability. (The three main causes of the Civil War were.... Test: List the three main causes of the Civil War.)

And there was no way to opt out. The adults had agreed among themselves that this was to be the route to college. The only way to escape this empty life was to submit to it.

Teenage kids used to have a more active role in society. In pre-industrial times, they were all apprentices of one sort or another, whether in shops or on farms or even on warships. They weren't left to create their own societies. They were junior members of adult societies.

Teenagers seem to have respected adults more then, because the adults were the visible experts in the skills they were trying to learn. Now most kids have little idea what their parents do in their distant offices, and see no connection (indeed, there is precious little) between schoolwork and the work they'll do as adults.

Julie Woodman


Subject: [Fwd: China to Beat USA in Pollution by 2009]

Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says China will surpass the United States in carbon dioxide emissions and China is embarked on an internal propaganda campaign to blame the rest of the world.

Read more at:




Subject: Hydrogen efficiencies


A good brief analysis of the efficiencies (or lack thereof) of hydrogen:

http://www.physorg.com/news85074285.html <http://www.physorg.com/news85074285.html>


No group of professionals meets except to conspire against the public at large. Mark Twain


"Guerrilla Intellectuals"

A discussion from another conference. It was mostly about economics and deflation, but I wrote:

Is not the housing bubble, like the education cost bubble, due to the unintended consequences of trying to provide equality?

Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac were created to help people buy houses, but they have injected so much money into the system that it is increasingly difficult for anyone to afford a house, while the taxes go up with the "value" (except in California where Proposition 13 has enabled me to keep my house rather than move to Muscatine Iowa or Resume Speed Michigan). Similarly the Federal loan programs injected so much money into the higher education system that the costs rose to absorb the money and now the middle class mostly graduates in debt.

I was able to go to college on the GI Bill, supplementing the GI Bill with "board jobs" (work as a waiter in a restaurant; the pay is one meal for each hour of work; you can keep any tips you get). The government ended the board jobs as illegal, while college costs soared beyond what I could have afforded, and housing bubbles ran rents through the roof.

My wife, 11th child of an invalided (Black Lung, and this before worker's comp) coal miner was able to work her way through college as a secretary in an insurance office. We were able to get my sons through school without their having to borrow, but my books make money: seven best sellers it took to pay for all that. My daughters in law still owe money for their educations.

The intent was to make things easier but the practice was to drive the costs to the point where you need either great wealth, extreme poverty and minority status, or to borrow money to get an education. This can't be a good trend.

There is no reason for colleges to cost what they do, and we all know it. But then there is no reason to spend what we do on public education at lower levels either. Yet the teachers, faced with the housing bubble, have a point when they say that without higher pay they can't afford a house...

Speculators and bubbles, but isn't it mostly an enormous increase in money supply?

Jerry Pournelle

That prompted this response from Randall Parker

"Guerrilla Intellectuals" 

The way higher education should be done:

1) High resolution video record a couple dozen people each teaching the same college course (e.g. calculus, freshman physics, freshman chemistry, partial differential equations, etc).

2) Make those video recordings free or very cheap to download on the internet. Sell them as DVDs too.

3) Put automated tests on the web where anyone can test their ability to do, say, calculus, freshman physics, etc).

4) Have testing days where you can go to a room and say what you want to be tested in (e.g. calculus, freshman physics, etc). Proctors in the room prevent cheating. Tests are designed by the American Chemical Society (which already has standard tests for subjects like freshman chemistry), the American Physics Society (or whatever it is called) and similar professional societies. Then pay a fee and sit down at a PC that shows you the test questions (variations thereon generated automatically with different numbers and such) and you write in paper to figure out the answers. Then you enter the answers.

5) At the end of the test they tell you if you passed and with what score and that score goes into a database. You then can say you passed freshman chemistry or organic chemistry or inorganic chemistry or linear algebra.

6) Repeat process until the American Chemical Society or similar professional societies say that you have demonstrated your understanding of a bachelor's degree worth of chemistry, physics, math, mechanical engineering, accounting, or other useful topics.

Granted, this does not work so well for topics like Dramatic Arts. But it would save probably $100,000 for each person who wants to earn a degree in an objectively measurable topic.

Tutoring? That costs extra. Do you need it? You'll ask yourself hard questions and try to find people to study with instead.

Randall Parker

I recall that as similar to what I was thinking in the 70's when I did some of my High Justice series of stories, and what Charlie and I were after in Higher Education. I still think it's a good idea. Why don't we try it?




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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Twilight for the Kimono.


- Roland Dobbins


On Teacher Pay

I submit that what we see in the lack of direct correlation between teacher pay and student success is that we have two trends working against each other. Higher pay will get you, I am willing to say, better teachers. However, more insane red tape will also drive those away. I believe, based on my observations during my attempt to become a teacher, that the software you are expected to run in public schools is enough to drive many good teachers into worse paying but less stressful jobs. Certainly the classes I was required to take were teaching things that I know from my military experience are not how people behave and work. As I've said before, I know from experience that it is vital to treat all of your subordinates the same. Predictability is not optional when you are teaching behaviors. Infraction A should always yeild punishment B, swiftly and unerringly. It is against the law to treat students in that manner.

What results would you expect if you were to teach a class and certain students were allowed to do things others were not, and you were not allowed to explain to the class the reasons for this? I've seen promising soldiers ruined by officers who treated them as better than their peers. Can't say that I would believe kids three and four years younger would be better able to deal with the dangers of being treated too well. That's a pretty sophisticated subject for somebody my age to face.

Next, add in multiple sources of rules. We can clearly see that Federal, State and Local rules and laws can take effort to reconcile. Now add in that courts get into the act and impose rules such as a maximum percentage of minority students who are allowed to be under disciplinary control at once, or how many days per semester students of various categories are allowed to be suspended.

Enough. I have enough hubris to think I could be a pretty good teacher. Certainly I've had good results when teaching soldiers, I've had good evaluations due to my emphasis on mentoring and teaching my job to anyone who sits still, or at least much of it. I've been shot at without returning fire because the rules forbade it. Yet I suspect I'd have trouble meekly swallowing some of the things I watched in the same high school I attended. Having to drop matters to go play in the big sandbox may have been the best possible result for me. At least there I could get frustrated and tell somebody off in a suitable military fashion without being fired and blackballed.

A Serving Officer


Subject: Re: Metafilter

I think that your emailer's question (regarding the Metafilter post about the Space Shuttle) was not so much about the entire thread, but the specific post which was linked. I got the impression, from your reply, that you were discussing the entire thread. Is this a mistaken impression?

-- Mike Powers

You are right. Sometimes I get in a great hurry. Apologies.


Subject: Heroic Afghans


At base people are all the same.

It has just been disclosed that the Bactrian Treasure which was hidden from the Russians and the Taliban is still in Afghanistan. It consists of 22,000 pieces of gold and jewelry, and is the Afghani equivalent of the UK's crown jewels.

This does not affect my settled policy of inviting anyone, recent arrival to the UK or not, who objects to my taking my ease in an alehouse to swim to a State more suited to their views. Their alternative options being more immediate, unpleasant, and certain.

John Edwards.


Jeane J. Kirkpatrick

Reading her "Dictatorships & Double Standards", in Commentary, I came across the following:

"In his essay on Representative Government, John Stuart Mill identified three fundamental conditions which the Carter administration would do well to ponder. These are: "One, that the people should be willing to receive it [representative government]; two, that they should be willing and able to do what is necessary for its preservation; three, that they should be willing and able to fulfill the duties and discharge the functions which it imposes on them."

I find this particularly appropriate to the present condition in Iraq. It is strange how our leaders fail to learn from history. Also, the talk about democracy, as if it were achieved simply by holding elections, is missing the point which John Stuart Mill identified so aptly and Ambassador Kirkpatrick identified so clearly.

Charles Simkins

Precisely. But our modern intellectuals don't study hard. As Dean Paul Bohanin once told me, the one thing you can count on about eggheads is that we pay attention and do a lot of close reading. Alas, that is no longer true.


Subject: Nerds in school

One of the central theses of Mr. Graham's essay is that being smart in high school is incompatible with being popular:

"I know a lot of people who were nerds in school, and they all tell the same story: there is a strong correlation between being smart and being a nerd, and an even stronger inverse correlation between being a nerd and being popular. Being smart seems to make you unpopular."

First, I, like Mr. Graham, experienced a wide spectrum of the high school popularity landscape - I played D&D (nerd) and was captain of the wrestling team (jock). I strongly agree that there is a strong inverse correlation between being a nerd and being popular. I also agree that there is a correlation between being smart and being a nerd. However, I do not agree that being smart makes people unpopular.

When I look back 20 years to high school and try to characterize the qualities of the popular crowd, I see that intelligence has a positive correlation with popularity. In my high school, the popular crowd was comprised entirely or nearly entirely of people with average or higher than average intelligence. People of lower than average intelligence (half of the population) were significantly underrepresented in the popular crowd. Do it yourself - how many dumb jocks in your school (not in movies) were in the most popular crowd? Dumb jocks might make the "B" list, but rarely the "A" list. Try to pick the five most popular people from your high school class -- how many of them were of less than average intelligence?

Looking back, I also recognize that the popular crowd typically shared several other characteristics: (1) physical appearance; (2) social ability; (3) involvement in school activities; and (4) formed friendships mainly within the popular crowd. Physical appearance - popular people typically appeared healthy and attractive. Social ability - popular people had good social skills and were capable of interacting with diverse people on a wide variety of subjects. Involved - popular people typically were actively involved in one or more popular school activities, particularly sports. Friendships - popular people typically did not spend significant time socializing with unpopular people.

Nerds can be defined by the same characteristics (intelligence, appearance, social ability, involvement in school activities, and friendships). Nerds typically are more intelligent than average. Nerds typically are not healthy looking, and therefore are correspondingly less attractive. Nerds have poor social skills, sometimes exemplified by their insistence on steering all conversations to nerdish topics. Nerds are almost never involved in school sports, and are either not involved in extra curricular activities or are involved in unpopular activities such as the chess club. Nerds typically socialize primarily with other nerds.

The good news for nerds is that there is, contrary to popular belief, a good deal of social mobility. Nerds typically already have one of the defining characteristics of the popular set -- intelligence. In order to climb the social ladder, nerds really only need to do one thing -- join and participate in a sport. Participating in sports makes people healthier, and healthier people are more attractive (why do you think men are attracted to women with glossy hair?). Participants in sports will form friendships with other participants and will develop social skills. Accordingly, simply by participating in sports, a person will improve four essential popularity characteristics. In fact, Mr. Graham's essay reflects exactly this point - his popularity increased after he joined the soccer team.

Intelligence simply does not make people unpopular. To the contrary, intelligence is a strong predictor for success in the popularity game as it is in so many areas.

René Daley

I was considered nerdy in the high academic achievement high school I went to. I suspect that social popularity is more a matter of interests than anything else. I simply didn't find most of my classmates interesting and I found what they liked to do was boring. This doesn't make for popularity.

When I finally got off my duff and went out for boxing, that solve the bullying problem once and for all, but I was never popular otherwise. It was an all boys school and I was a senior at 16, so I missed much of the socialization issues. I'd been raised by wolves anyway: both my parents were executives in the city during WWII while I was out on the Capleville farm with no adult supervision from about age 8 on.


Subject: Guerrilla Intellectuals and Randall Parker's idea


You probably already know this, but:

All jobs that are considered critical have testing like this in place - some examples:

1. Professional Engineers
2. Bar Exam
3. board certification for doc's
4. Pilots
5. Radio Operators
6. Amateur Radio Operators - a hobby, but with equipment that can do harm

The list goes on an on. Items 1,2, and 3 above have been front loaded with requirements for formal education, but they were not always so. Politics of course.

My point is, not only would it work, it does work.


Sure. When I started at Boeing in the 1950's about half the engineers had no degrees and many started as draftsmen right out of high school. By the mid-60's though there were almost no new engineering certifications of people without degrees.

And of course Adams and many others studied law as apprentices, not in law schools.

But if you insist on quotas and affirmative action and make "discrimination" a crime with heavy penalties, then personnel departments have little choice but to tick off credentials, degrees, certificates, in order to justify hiring one person over another.

It's worse in education where many utterly incompetent people have to be given jobs for quota reasons, and accumulation of  "credential requirements" -- meaningless "workshops" and "sensitivity training" and the lot -- are far more important that knowing the subject matter.


From another conference:


If the story of the world's economy were made into a movie, the title of that movie would be "Desperately Seeking Demand". It's crazy the measures that marketeers have to take these days to get consumers to buy their stuff.





Swarming the shelves

Nov 9th 2006

How shops can exploit people's herd mentality to increase sales

A TRIP to the supermarket may not seem like an exercise in psychological warfare-but it is. Shopkeepers know that filling a store with the aroma of freshly baked bread makes people feel hungry and persuades them to buy more food than they had intended. Stocking the most expensive products at eye level makes them sell faster than cheaper but less visible competitors. Now researchers are investigating how "swarm intelligence" (that is, how ants, bees or any social animal, including humans, behave in a crowd) can be used to influence what people buy.

At a recent conference on the simulation of adaptive behaviour in Rome, Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani, a computer scientist from the Florida Institute of Technology, described a new way to increase impulse buying using this phenomenon. Supermarkets already encourage shoppers to buy things they did not realise they wanted: for instance, by placing everyday items such as milk and eggs at the back of the store, forcing shoppers to walk past other tempting goods to reach them. Mr Usmani and Ronaldo Menezes, also of the Florida Institute of Technology, set out to enhance this tendency to buy more by playing on the herd instinct. The idea is that, if a certain product is seen to be popular, shoppers are likely to choose it too. The challenge is to keep customers informed about what others are buying.

Enter smart-cart technology. In Mr Usmani's supermarket every product has a radio frequency identification tag, a sort of barcode that uses radio waves to transmit information, and every trolley has a scanner that reads this information and relays it to a central computer. As a customer walks past a shelf of goods, a screen on the shelf tells him how many people currently in the shop have chosen that particular product. If the number is high, he is more likely to select it too.<snip>


Subject: cow farts

Many years ago, I told my grandfather, a rancher, about this and he laughed at me and said “cows don’t fart more than maybe once a week.”

The methane in fact does not come from cow farts, it comes from cow burps, from the stomachs in which the fermentation takes place.

Gerard Knorr

Possibly. Not sure that makes a LOT of difference...







CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


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Thursday, December 14, 2006

We have a several letters on education.

Subject: Guerrilla Intellectuals and Randall Parker's idea 

The professional certification tracts show some encouragement for this plan. Some programs have little value as the testing was not well thought out (many who passed the MCSE simply studied "brain dumps" of the exam questions and answers), but others provide value to those who hold them.

Moving education in the direction proposed would allow the market to establish the value of the different programs. I can see programs taught by actual experts in a field as being much more valuable than professional teachers with no real world experience. Lots of self study augmented by good tutors and seminars.

-- --- Al Lipscomb



Subject: Education


Some comments regarding the discussion this week on matters related to education:

- Despite all the technology that is now available, much of Unversity education is done the way it has been for 500 years: Learned men standing at the front of classrooms, lecturing, giving reading assignments, handing out problems, going through the solutions, grading exams and papers. Maybe, in a few cases, powerpoint slides have replaced chalk boards. But the basic mode of delivery is the same. So is it this way because this works best, or is it this way because no one has made a determined effort to "reengineer" education?

- Even as the cost of higher education has spiraled upward, the basic mode of delivering content seems not to have changed that much (see above). Beyond that, I have been told that a growing percentage of lower level university courses at big name schools are being taught by low paid adjunct professors, often the same adjuncts that are also teaching down the street at the local community college. That being the case, one has to wonder what has happened with all that tuition money.

- Further to Phil's point about certification for critical professions, I'd point out that a common career path for many high skill professionals involves (1) getting a degree, which indicates having "mastered" a common body of theory, and (2) a period as an apprentice professional, sometimes followed by (3) a final certification exam.

In the case of medical professionals, completing the course work in medical school does not make you a doctor. Before you can practice, you have to do a low paid residency (i.e. work as an apprentice doctor). Advanced specialties require futher time as an apprentice. No one learns brain surgery from a textbook and lectures.

For those who want to become a professional engineer, the path is a 4-year degree, and passing the EIT exam, followed by 4 years of relevant experience before you are allowed to sit for the PE exam.

One might argue that, in the sciences, getting a PhD is somewhat like a stint as a low paid research apprentice.

As far as law goes, I believe there are still a few states which allow you to go the apprentice route before sitting for the bar exam, and do not make a law degree an absolute requirement to be a lawyer. I also note that there recently has been some discussion of the real need for a third year of law school - the preception is that that final year, which is just as expensive as the previous two, is mostly a time for partying and networking.

Learning by doing, under the guidance of someone skilled in the art is still a pretty good way of learning. But given the technical sophistication of some fields, I don't find it outrageous to suggest a benefit to taking some college courses as a prelude to being an apprentice. What that degree should cost, and whether or not there are more cost effective ways to acquire the really necessary prerequisites is worth discussing.

CP, Connecticut



I'm at work checking personal email when I should be working so thanks for pulling me off-task. However, I thought it was important to toss out a science teacher's perspective on this issue.

I have felt that the NSTA has been more and more of a "business enterprise" in years of late as opposed to an organization that helps to improve science education in our nations schools. My opinion has been validated by the continued "familiar faces" at various NSTA conventions over the years. Additionally, I'm shocked at how the NSTA continues to rob science teachers with the overpriced admission to conferences and events all in the name of improving science education. The reality is that those science teachers who attend NSTA events, at least from my district, have often had to find ways to scrape up funding for travel, lodging, and admission to these kinds of events because they can be so expensive. In my opinion, NSTA has become a "trade organization" with the goal of being a conduit for corporate growth in science education. The vast majority of seminars I attend at NSTA conferences are done by corporations pushing their products as way to improve science education as opposed to tried and true methods that can deal with our mission.

It doesn't surprise me that NSTA has denied distribution of "An Inconvenient Truth" to be honest. It might be interesting for readers of this email to know that NSTA had no problem distributing a series called "A Search for Solutions" which highlights science, how science works, and the connection between science, technology and engineering. This came out a few years ago and was produced in large part by funds from Conoco-Phillips. Their name is all over the thing. This was mentioned on the web page from Borowski.

From an a science teacher's perspective, our careers aren't drifting on the winds of enlightenment, education, and connection for all our students. It's a world where politics and commercialism reign supreme. The challenge is to see through the egocentric needs of many who are in "power" and do what we really need to do in the classroom: Expose our students to the wonderful world of science and how it can lead to an enlightened state of existence for those who choose to take it.

More in days to come. For now I have lessons to prepare.

All the best -



Dear Jerry,

>>Higher pay will get you, I am willing to say, better teachers. However, more insane red tape will also drive those away.<<

This is a fundamental economic insight. Call it "The Serving Officer's Law". Its existence is proven by examining the legal profession.

>>Predictability is not optional when you are teaching behaviors. Infraction A should always yield punishment B, swiftly and unerringly. It is against the law to treat students in that manner.<<

It's against the law to operate the legal system this way, too. Ignoring Serving Officer's Law long enough leads to many more Serving Officers' laws, all enforced by firepower operating identically to the former random result selection system.

Best Wishes,


And see below


Joanne Dow for December 13 begins

"The poet Ali Ahmad Sa'id (b. 1930), known by his pseudonym "Adonis," a 2005 candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, left his native Syria for Lebanon in the 1950s following six months' imprisonment for political activity. In 1973, he received his Ph.D. from St. Joseph University in Beirut; in 1985, he settled in Paris, where he now works as a writer and literary critic. Among other occupations, he has edited the modernist magazine Mawaqif (Viewpoints), and translated some of the great French poets into Arabic." He is also another Moderate who is coming forward and stating that the Mohammedan world has fatal flaws.

One of his more telling comments comes near the beginning of the interviews, "In our case, political rule was based... Ever since the struggle over who would inherit Prophet Muhammad's place, political rule was essentially based on religion."



The rest of her letter, and her previous diatribes, can be found here.


Subject: Decreasing CO2 levels

It seems like CO2 emissions trading would drive technology to take carbon out of the atmosphere. Maybe the best approach would be a prize for research that would lead to long-term development of CO2-decreasing technology, and emissions trading to support stuff we could do today.

One of the big problems here is the nature of political coalitions. The coalitions that can easily be built to support decreasing CO2 emissions include people who oppose nuclear power and want to see tight restrictions on industry and forced conservation for ideological reasons. That coalition can raise the issue of global warming, but it probably can't propose any workable solutions without tearing itself to pieces.

--John Kelsey

Indeed. If the goal is to decrease the level of CO2 one might think it would be a good idea to address that directly. The idea periodically surfaces, but the envirocrats ruthlessly beat it down, and Big Science does nothing except apply for more grants. You hunt ducks where the ducks are. You hunt grants where the grant money is. IT's not science, but it's a living.

Yet, there is a lot of CO2 out there, and it might be worth while looking at how to get rid of a good bit of it.


Subject: Educating, Teaching and Learning


As a mom homeschooling a 12-year old, budding ornithologist, and a mom of a community college freshman, I thought I'd weigh in on the recent education discussions.

First, a story.

On Monday, a group of homeschoolers went skating at the local county park. My ornithologist hobbled in on skates to announce that a hawk was flying around in the rafters. Moms, a dad with a camera, and lots of kids went into the rink to observe the bird and make some educated guesses as to what kind of hawk it might be.

The mini-ornithologist and three others said: Cooper's hawk. I was holding out for a juvenile Red Tail.

While we all eventually left the rink, we went home to field guides; a couple of us emailed experts in the area, and we ultimately concluded Cooper's hawk was the correct answer. And, we made sure we notified those with power about the situation so the hawk would be safe and have food and water.

One mom observed: This is what homeschooling is about; it starts with PE and ends up with a science lesson.

I have to say that as a "professional" teacher with degrees and certification, homeschooling has been some of the best teaching and learning I have ever experienced. My world is filled with parents who eschew the public system that demands all children pass the same test, in the same year, on the same material, at a certain minimum level.

I have met a 14-year old taking a Spanish class at a local community college. I know of another homeschooling group that has just finished refitting a golf cart into a solar-powered vehicle. My child and I spent the fall volunteering with a bird bander who has 50 years of experience.

Indeed, this kind of learning and teaching is not for everyone. However, what a joy to have the world as my classroom. How exciting to be able to take my student into other disciplines using a door from the Avian world. (Did you know Martha Washington had parrots at Mount Vernon?!)

Then there is my college freshman. She is barely passing Bio 101. Why? She works hard in Lab and does well. It's the lecture and the inevitable tests that have strangled her. From all her descriptions, the Bio prof is on automatic pilot. He provides exactly what he wants the students to know and tests on that body of knowledge.

Now don't get me wrong, every discipline has core material that students need to learn. However, droning on with PowerPoints isn't going to cut it in today's world. There also seems to be a disconnect between Lecture and Lab. And, when our freshman comes home from Bio Lecture with information from class, we often discover it's about five years out of date.

Memorize and spit is one form of education that works well for a certain part of the population. I, however, agree with CP from Connecticut. Mentoring and hands-on experience produces the best kind of worker and workfoce. Allowing people to follow their abilities is a gift.

Our plumber the other day was one of the happiest guys I have met in a long time. He is in his mid-20s and LOVES his job. "I get to play with tools everyday," he told us. "I meet new people. I like what I do."


Unfortunately, he'll meet a lot of people who won't have one ounce of respect for his position or his work because he doesn't have a DEGREE. And, there are lots of kids in school now days who would love a shop class; who have limitations in one area, but excel in areas that go unsupported by the system.

And then there is this: How many people WITH DEGREES are running around this country unable to read, write or work?

Best wishes,


There's a lot of that going around. We neglect "drill and kill" in primary school, where rote learning of the Addition and Multiplication Tables is vital, and where some drills in phonic decoding is required for about half (perhaps more) of the population including some bright kids; then in the colleges we often put the kids in the hands of either graduate students who don't want to teach but have to do it in order to get on with their graduate research, or professors who retired on salary a long time ago.

If you have not read Jacques Barzun's TEACHER IN AMERICA, I urge you to do so; and if you have, read it again. It may help.


For those who don't know, Sue is a bit more than just a Mom who homeschools, but then most of this readership is a bit overqualified for being "just a" anything. If nothing else, this forum allows some exchanges of ideas and encouragement.

It is exceedingly unlikely that the United States will remain a First World Country for two more generations. Our schools are not producing people who know how to maintain a First World economy, our work ethics are not inducive to that, and our teachers unions are in active opposition to any reform that might produce quality education among the people.

Our only hope is that the wealthy -- and some teachers -- know this and send their own children to private schools or teach them at home. This will help stave off the Long Night, and perhaps, just perhaps, our grandchildren, in reaction to the horrors we have made, will do something meaningful.

Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for Western Civilization as it commits suicide. Liberalism tells us we are doing the right things in our schools, although we aren't doing enough of it. More of the poison is their remedy. Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for Western Civilization as it commits suicide. I know many of you are weary of my saying this, but it must be said often enough that it gets through. Liberalism is not the answer, and more liberalism and diversity will not save us. We know how to build and maintain a First World -- i.e. Western -- civilization. We are actively destroying it, not rebuilding it; and our intellectual leaders, liberals and Jacobins, cheer as we do it.

Hang in there, Sue. You did not light the torch and you will not see the bonfire; this generation is destined to be the torchbearers for a future without our madnesses.




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday, December 15, 2006

Apologies. For reasons explained in VIEW for Saturday, I didn't get anything done here today. There is a lot of mail. We'll try to do some catchup tomorrow.









This week:


read book now












CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now








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