Consummate dilettantism!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Demise of Education

If you want to know precisely why and how modern educational doctrine has become so rotten, look no further than the words of its advocates. This astonishingly vapid 12-page "scholarly" study from Educational Researcher, with its meticulously-detailed bibliography and citations, contains absolutely no meaningful content. There is no presentation of rigorous or statistically analyzed evidence, much less any evidence at all; the author makes a claim based almost solely on intuition. It is thoroughly unpersuasive and indeed downright frightening. Here are some particularly interesting bits:

A first step in learning to listen, as Delpit also points out, is to
stop talking, to stop insisting that we know the answers, and to
stop asserting them. Alcoff (1995) contends, “the effect of the
practice of speaking for others is often, though not always . . . a
reinscription . . . of hierarchies” (p. 250). To break this cycle of reinscription, educators and educational researchers need to learn “to speak by listening” (Freire, 1998, p. 104). Some of what we hear from students offers inspiring evidence that we should ask more.
From century-old constructivist approaches to education we must retain the notion that students need to be authors of their
own understanding and assessors of their own learning. With
critical pedagogy we must share a commitment to redistributing
power not only within the classroom, between teacher and students,
but in society at large. Keeping in mind postmodern feminist
critiques of the workings and re-workings of power
, we must be willing to take small steps toward changing oppressive practices, but we must also continually question our motives and practices in taking these steps. Like the few educational researchers who have included student voices in arguments for how to reform education, we need to include student perspectives in larger conversations about educational policy and practice. Like critics positioned outside the classroom, we need to find ways of illuminating what is happening and what could be happening within classrooms that the wider public can hear and take seriously. And finally, we must include students’, as well as adults’, frames of reference in conversations about educational policy and practice; we must take seriously their frames of reference and the assertions made within them as one among several impetuses toward change.
If, as Heilbrun (1988) contends, “Power is the ability to take one’s place in whatever discourse is essential to action and the right to have one’s part matter” (p. 18), then students are currently without power in a system that claims to serve them.
A first step in learning to listen, as Delpit also points out, is to stop talking, to stop insisting that we know the answers, and to stop asserting them.
A first step in learning to teach our children is to cut the crap, insist that we actually instruct them, and abandon nonsensical nonsense like this.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Damn the Media!

I don't like Michelle Malkin all that much, but she hits it on spot in her latest piece about the "youth riots" now occurring in France. The media's coverage of this issue might have led one to suspect that, as the AP puts it,
Youths, many of them Arab and black children of immigrants, again appeared to be lashing out at police and other targets seen to represent a French establishment they feel has left them behind.
Malkin brutally lampoons this stupidity with sarcasm and wit and video footage, and succeeds brilliantly.
The poor, harmless misguided youth of unnamed ethnic origin in France are now peacefully demonstrating against oppression by…shooting at cops with hunting weapons. Scores of them. Some 80 police officers have been injured

Monday, November 26, 2007

A $100 List of $10 Words

$10 words are words hardly ever used by anyone. Every so often, someone will insert one of them into his writing, usually for effect. Herein is presented a $100 list of 10 $10 words, compiled by yours truly.



-the act of being evasive or ambiguous

-dark and gloomy

-having the ability to induce sleep

phantasmagoria (adjective - phantasmagoric)
-fantastic sequences of images


-after a meal

-one skilled in table talk

-to destroy

Thursday, November 22, 2007

People are Surprisingly Uninterested in Politics

If you take a look at Amazon's top 50 bestselling books, only #23, (Alan Greenspan's The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World) and #40 (Clarence Thomas' My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir) are mildly political, and even these are as much personal reflections as political essays.

I found it surprising.

As Regards Compulsory Voting

There's a fairly good counterblaste to my piece below here. I link to it so as to provide a different perspective, as though anyone reads this blog.

A Bit of Overlooked History

I enjoy discovering little bits of history that have been forgotten, or ignored, or dismissed in pursuit of larger trends. Courtesy of Google Books, I've happened upon this fascinating piece of information regarding public debates on religion in the Middle Ages. It is a fairly brief chapter (2 pp) taken from a book about Judaism, and it concerns a particular debate in Barcelona in 1263; you may read it in full.

The first line of this article from 1956 in Commentary magazine provides a summary:
P[ublic] debates on religion between Jews and Christians were a frequent occurrence in Europe during the Middle Ages, when the representative of the Church ... was most often a converted Jew
There's an article from Wikipedia here which names such an occurrence a "Disputation." It's fascinating stuff.
A significant category of disputations took place between Christian and Jewish theologians in order to convince Jews to convert. Often the Christian side was represented by a recent convert from Judaism. Christians believed that only the refusal of the Jews to accept Christ stood in the way of the Second Coming. The only way for the Jewish side to 'win' was to force a draw by drawing the Christian side into a position in which it was necessary to deny the Old Testament to win, committing heresy. According to Michael J. Cook, "Since 'winning' a debate could well jeopardize the security of the Jewish community at large, political considerations certainly entered into what Jewish disputants publicly said or refrained from saying. ... Official transcripts of these proceedings, moreover, may not duplicate what actually transpired; in some places what they record was not the live action, as it were, but Christian polemical revision composed after the fact."
Christians, then, would "debate" Jews with appeals to theology. The article additionally says the following with regard to the debate in Barcelona in 1263:
1263 - the Disputation of Barcelona before King James I of Aragon: between the monk Pablo Christiani (a convert from Judaism) and Rabbi Nachmanides. At the end of disputation, king awarded Nachmanides a monetary prize and declared that never before had he heard "an unjust cause so nobly defended." Nevertheless the Dominicans claimed the victory and Nahmanides was exiled and his report of the proceedings was condemned and burned. A committee appointed by the king censored the passages from the Talmud they deemed offensive.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mandatory Voting

I've been thinking this over, and to my mind it seems like a good idea. The basic premise is that voting (both Presidential and Congressional, though not necessarily local) be made mandatory. The problem with voluntary voting lies with the concept known as self-selection bias. It's a simple idea. If all of the people in a given country are asked to vote, only some will; those who vote are naturally more politically active and older, and as such will skew the results. For example, if older people were predominantly Democratic, and younger people were predominantly Republican, then most election results would likely be biased in favor of Democrats.

I suspect, however, that many people will initially recoil in horror at the thought; after all, forcing people to do, well, anything seems by nature wrong. Most people who think this also have no problem with mandatory taxation (which is essentially theft, albeit a theft we've accepted). If mandatory taxation is not immoral, why mandatory voting? Indeed, mandatory voting is perfectly moral with respect to government, as only governments, in the words of the Declaration of Independence,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
are legitimate (with a few important exceptions; Hitler's popularly supported Nazi Germany was in my mind illegitimate). When 60% of the population votes and chooses leader A, whereas a majority of the population as a whole favors leader B, then leader A does not strictly have the consent of the governed.

Another objection to this argument is that some people have grievances against the government and do not vote in protest and principle. I would argue that this problem can be remedied by allowing voters to select no candidate on the official ballot form; they would, however, still be forced to come down to a ballot center or file an absentee ballot and vote. Thus, those adults who do not vote out of laziness would probably select a candidate (circling a name is not very difficult), and those who do not vote out of principle would be able to legitimately abstain.

Some might object that lazy and uneducated voters, forced to select a candidate, would make a stupid decision. This is a legitimate objection. I suggest that the ballot form contain a clearly visible disclaimer, to the effect of
If you do not wish to vote, either on principle or on a lack of knowledge regarding the candidates and issues at hand, you may abstain by checking the line marked "Abstention" below.

The only other problem that I can foresee in enacting this sort of legislation is that it's unconstitutional (though I'm not a law scholar). I can foresee a few activist judges proclaiming otherwise, but such a striking law would have to be a constitutional amendment for legitimacy. I don't think that, with the existence of government, there are any moral problems with such legislation (after all, a constitutional amendment banning smoking would indeed make it unconstitutional, though not immoral), but I could be wrong. Leave a comment!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Improving State of Our Nation

Read this powerful article in Commentary. It examines the predictions made regarding the state of cultural decline in the 1990s, and then analyzes why they went wrong. One particularly important paragraph is as follows:

Culture itself, finally, exhibits an ebb and flow as surely as economies pass through cycles of ups and downs. In The Great Disruption (1999), Francis Fukuyama cited historical examples of societies undergoing periods of moral decline followed by periods of moral recovery. In our case, too, he argued, the aftermath of the cultural breakdown of the 1960’s had already triggered and was now giving way to a reassessment and recovery of social and moral norms. Such “re-norming” will not occur in every social class all at once; in some instances it may take hold in one stratum but not in another. That is partial progress, but progress nevertheless.

Exhibiting unrestrained pessimism at the state of the union is, as the authors point out, probably unwise.

70 Columbia Professors on Ahmadinejad

70 Columbia professors criticized President Lee Bollinger for criticizing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, dictator of Iran. This is absolutely disgusting. Volokh's analysis is spot on.

My question: Say that a Columbia department sponsored a forum, to which it invited a virulently homophobic, ethnically bigoted political leader -- who was also big on using the power of government to suppress dissent -- on the quite plausible theory that he's an important leader and it's valuable for Columbia students to learn such people. Imagine someone like David Duke, perhaps, only ideologically worse and more powerful. And say a University official forcefully but substantively criticized this leader's speech at this forum, while of course allowing the leader to talk.

Do you think these Columbia faculty would or should condemn the University official's behavior? Oh, wait, that's exactly what happened here, except the person wasn't named David Duke.

Or would the faculty only condemn the University official's speech if the speech had the political effect of lending some support to a separate political cause (the war in Iraq, not criticism of Iran's human rights record and foreign policy), which is "a position anathema to many in the University community"? Would they have instead praised the official's speech if it advanced some separate political clause that was beloved by many in the University community? If so, then what does their criticism have to do with "academic freedom," as opposed to politics?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

No Posts Until Wednesday

I'm writing a 20-page Intel paper due Tuesday, and I haven't quite started.

Wish me luck!

Keep yourselves (all three of you) busy by checking out the recently added political/humor links to the bottom right of this page.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Big Oil + Big Tobacco + Big Enviro

Read this post at the Wall Street Journal's Informed Reader blog. It's really very funny how anti-tobacco campaigners criticize the tobacco industry for funding a relatively small amount of research (in comparison with the tremendous amounts of money from the government (most disgustingly, I might add) and other sources poured into the coffers of the anti-tobacco lobbyists and researchers) regarding the effects of secondhand smoke, and then go ahead and smear the industry and the science in "support" of their claims, regardless of the actual evidence behind them.

Such dire warnings have helped fuel widespread public smoking bans in recent years, but tobacco researcher Mike Siegel of Boston University says the claims are largely distorted. Dr. Siegel agrees that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure causes measurable changes to blood flow – but research shows that those changes are temporary, with circulation returning to normal within a matter of hours. “It is certainly not correct to claim that a single 30-minute exposure to secondhand smoke causes hardening of the arteries, heart disease, heart attacks or strokes,” he says. “The antismoking movement has gone overboard.”

Perhaps the most revealing quote is one from an anti-tobacco advocate:

Other researchers say public-health messages sometimes have to be simplified in order to have an impact. “When you take the science and put it in the public domain you can’t include all the caveats,” says Stanton Glantz, a tobacco researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.

I'd have more sympathy for these people if the tobacco industry's right to freedom of speech had not been systematically denied for about 40 years, and if its products had not been under continuous assault by the government (which has no business in this matter, as the government's costs in health care (in which it should also not be involved) for smokers are more than made up for by egregious tobacco taxes*) and radical anti-smoking (and anti-industry) activists (who have by now infiltrated our nation's public schools), often on the government payroll.

There's a similar pattern here with respect to the global warming debates. Though the amount of money going to global proponents hugely outweighs that going to skeptics by a factor of 1,000, and though the amount of political campaigning and lobbying on behalf of so-called "environmentalists" outweighs that on behalf of the tobacco industry by a factor of 3, some are simply not content. Any viewpoints contrary to the usual mantra of "we're all going to die" must be crushed, violently if necessary, and must be smeared in the press and by our politicians. Anything less is immoral, nay, sinful. The money that does go to the skeptics is both useful (indeed, there is evidence for this point -- see here) and necessary for free scientific discourse (whatever your opinion on global warming or its magnitude), as I can't imagine the EPA funding much research skeptical to global warming.

One final word from a prominent catastrophic global warming proponent (Steven Schneider of the NOAA), eerily similar to the above quote by the anti-tobacco researcher:

We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

*“Cigarette Taxation and the Social Consequences of Smoking,” NBER Working Paper No. W4891 (October, 1994).

Monday, November 5, 2007

Quote of the Day

Conspiracy 101.

"It's obviously a grand income-redistribution scheme by Charlie Rangel to raise taxes on working Americans so they can take more people off the tax rolls and pay for Hillary Clinton's plan to take over health care," said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Agricultural Subsidies

The New York Times has been delivering a series of attacks on agricultural subsidies, with this opinion piece only the latest iteration. Thankfully, the paper has managed to stir debate on Capitol Hill, and not soon enough; the subsidies have to go. This is one issue on which both environmentalists and business conservatives can agree.

Here are all the reasons I can think of for trashing the subsidies.

1. They cost money.
And lots of it. The latest bill demands $288 billion for America's needy super-farmers. At a time when we're fighting two wars, this is absolutely unacceptable.

2. They bankrupt third-world farmers.
This is really a shame. What basically happens is that our surplus subsidized corn goes over the border into Mexico. Mexican farmers can't compete, so they're driven out of business, increasing third-world poverty. This wouldn't happen to the degree that it now does in the absence of subsidies.

3. They increase obesity.
When grains are so stunningly cheap, it makes economic sense for the poor to prefer high fructose corn syrup over healthier foods.

4. They kill family farms.
I couldn't care less about this, but some environmentalists apparently do. (What's more "environmental" than food produced by a family on a small farm?) Apparently, large farms aren't very good environmentally. (I'm not persuaded either.)

The only good argument in defense of agricultural subsidies is that as they make food so cheap and readily available, they basically eliminate hunger in the Unites States. This is partially valid, but I'm sure that as competition is restored (and governmentally created monopolies fall), farming companies will have to work harder to keep prices low. If we simultaneously remove free trade barriers, third world farmers will be able to send their crops into the Unites States more readily, and prices will naturally decrease.

Soft Money Nonsense!

This is an essay I wrote for school. I am now sharing it with the world in the hope that it will not languish in obscurity. It concerns soft money, and it is written as though soft money were not illegal.

I will begin with a definition of soft money from this website; soft money is
money that is given to a political party but is not given specifically to support a particular candidate. This money is supposed to be used for purposes such as voter registration drives, administrative costs and general political party expenses, but is often used by the parties to help particular candidates.
Now read the essay.

It is especially problematic that so many in our society seem to take it as an article of faith that no one individual, or group of individuals, can have more influence on government than others. Witness former Senator Warren Rudman’s assertion that those who fund political parties “affect what gets done and how it gets done.” Well, yes; that is generally the case, that is how things generally work, and that is how things should generally work. Is not the purpose of free speech to influence its recipients, regardless of the relative abilities of individuals to speak well? For one to deny this assertion, one would have to argue that all inequalities, even those accrued through perfectly honest means, are objectionable with respect to government. If a group of people assemble and, with their newly gained weight, decide to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances” with respect to, say, the rights of blacks to vote, no one, or so I would hope, would object to the fact that this group bestows more power and influence on its constituent members than other citizens possess on their own regarding this issue. Why should other groups of concerned citizens not have this ability? Furthermore, why should this principle differ when it is the KKK rather than the NAACP doing the lobbying? While the government does perhaps have an interest in limiting monetary contributions to candidates for higher office (and, in so doing, preserving the integrity of the electoral process), it does not have an interest in limiting contributions to governmentally independent political parties. A fear of political corruption extends only to certain things and not to others. Trade-offs must be made - though there is indeed some risk of corruption from money donated to political parties (as some of it will undoubtedly go to candidates themselves), the risk is allayed by concern for free speech. (The risk of corruption from monstrous donations to individual candidates is much greater, and so free speech is limited in this instance.) To say otherwise would be to embark upon a slippery slope, one which would logically lead to regulation of all political speech (after all, those who are passionate for their cause are (justly) the most influential), donations to politically involved interest groups (who in truth represent actual citizens and not mere faceless and greedy CEOs), and assemblies of concerned citizens, who, in their involvement with the electoral process, must surely be said to be greedily usurping the ability of other citizens (albeit ones not as involved with the issues in question) to themselves redress the government. Free speech doesn’t mean “equal speech,” it means free speech! On what grounds can one possibly limit monetary contributions to political parties (and thus the extension of the influence of those parties, hence free speech)?

This is to be taken apart from the practical implication of “banning” soft money. As our elected officials haven’t yet learned, it’s impossible to kill free speech and its functional equivalent, “soft” money. However much I detest the politics of billionaire financier George Soros, he has every right to donate limitless sums to political parties, as I and all other citizens do. The fact that I have less money than does George Soros is absolutely irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whence the free speech comes and in what quantity. Since the government has attempted to stifle his political speech, Soros has resorted to setting up arrays of 527s groups which spend his money with impunity and with far less oversight than the Democratic Party would have. Additionally, soft money tends to increase competition. Incumbents, with their obvious visibility, will be challenged less easily by upstarts if the monetary playing field is more “equal.” Grass-roots state efforts to register voters and communicate political issues are often funded by soft money. Naturally, then, if there is less opportunity for the non-incumbent party in a Congressional election to gain influence, then incumbency will obviously play a greater role in determining elections.

Thus, the fear of political corruption, well-founded as it is, is best remedied with limits on the ability of Senators and Representatives to set earmarks and engage in other activities which allow them to favor or disfavor certain groups.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


I finally get to use the phrase! Anyway, this article is a potent and quite humorous counterblaste to the mush that today substitutes for the college admissions process. As a high school senior myself, I can personally attest to its validity.