Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Keep teachers out of education colleges 

Particularly if they're run by nitwits like this dean of an education college.
Follow me on a little imaginative journey: You and I have invented the wondermeter, a device that captures bold ideas and original insights. Using the wondermeter we are able to measure the daily wonder production of Oregon.

Um, OK.
As it turns out, every Oregonian has at least three bold ideas and original insights a day. The population of Oregon is almost 3.6 million. According to the wondermeter, at least 11 million bold ideas and original insights erupt in Oregon every day. That's approximately 4 billion bold ideas and original insights a year. Four billion.

Wow, really? Three a day? Every single one of us? I mean, sure, somebody might have hit the trifecta today, but all of us?
This discovery leads us to wonder what happens to all this genius.
It died listening to you, I suspect, but let's continue.
Does it evaporate into thin air? Do great ideas and original insights end up on the cultural compost heap of lost dreams and faded hopes? Are we squandering our most precious natural resource?
No! No! We mustn't!
All Oregonians should have a right to fulfill their untapped potential.
They do, sir. It's called "the pursuit of happiness". It doesn't mean they will fulfill it, they just have the right to try.
The news that Oregon's middle- and high-schoolers are not doing well on standardized tests is disappointing, but it may also be pointing us in the wrong direction. More scientific discoveries have taken place in the last 10 years than in the previous 600. To reduce learning to the measuring and mismeasuring of antiquated knowledge is a huge strategic error that will result in considerable suffering and a weakened economy.
Let's suppose your Future Shock story is true. How is it that we could discover all this new stuff in the last ten years and not discover new ways to measure what our kids are learning? Not all antiquated knowledge is useless, by the way. Just because some dead guy figured out gravity long ago doesn't make learning physics a "huge strategic error". And not everything discovered in the last ten years will withstand the test of time. Think "digital audio tape."

Some truths endure.
It is said that Oregon loves dreamers.
We hate 'em here in Minnesota. We'd shoot 'em if we weren't busy blowing mourning doves out of the sky.
What would an inclusive, high-performance education system look like for Oregon's dreamers?
Can you feel it coming? Here's his big insight.
Here are some suggestions: Coordinate all the state's educational assets.
Ah yes -- we need more centralized control, unless you have Republicans in the Dept. of Education, in which case you want local control.
There is a disconnect between higher education and K-12 education, there is a disconnect between the public sector and the private sector, and there is a disconnect between universal education and education for economic productivity. Instead of a competitive model, let's imagine a cooperative model where all the state's assets are used.
And in a competitive model, a useful asset would lie idle? No, as shown time and again, education works best when one is impelled to innovate by the force of competition, the threat of loss of students, funding, jobs. This guy goes on for another 200 words to describe "partnering" and "retention" and so on, without recognizing that the market for and of education has considerable "churn" and will cause some schools to fail, some teachers to not make the grade. The churn is what provides accountability, which is anathema to this education dean.
Accountability is one of the current buzzwords in education, but accountability is too often translated into test scores. I am suggesting an accountability that goes far deeper. We are accountable for the welfare of our citizens. Oregon's dreamers deserve opportunities to make their dreams real. Wonder is our most precious natural resource; we dare not squander it.
Accountability does go deeper. It goes to the bottom line, if you allow bottom lines to define success and failure of schools. It goes to parents who can vote with their feet when their child's school's report card doesn't measure up.

Accountability isn't test scores. It's choice.

(Hat tip: Joanne Jacobs. )

Preparing less prepared students to think 

I'm not sure if I agree with the idea of having philosophy taught in two-year colleges like Bergen Community College.

Theirs is an unusual program. It thrives at a two-year community college in an era when students are increasingly practical-minded and career-oriented, perhaps for good reason. Philosophy majors can expect to make a dismal 21 percent below the mean annual earnings of concentrators in other fields, according to the "College Majors Handbook."

But over the past three decades, Cronk and his cohorts have built a department practically from scratch, discovering along the way how to make abstract, ephemeral topics enticing. It's a testament to what love of a discipline, scrappy management, and respect for students with a wide range of backgrounds and abilities can do.

..."I'm grateful that you were the one who introduced me to philosophy," writes Jennifer Anderson, who took "Eastern Philosophy" and "Basic Logic," in an e-mail to Dlugos. "The passion and enthusiasm you have for what you know and teach is obvious.... It made me want to question things, pushed me to learn how to question things, and helped me to realize that while it may be likely I won't ever have any completely indisputable answers, the questioning is what will keep my mind turned on."

...In part, Cronk, Redmond, and Dlugos simply believe that philosophy is deeply relevant to everyone. Aristotle's "Ethics" is "about becoming happy; the pursuit of happiness," says Cronk. "Almost everybody is interested in that."

"Philosophy is sort of like plumbing," offers Redmond. "Not everyone needs to be a professional plumber, but it's certainly helpful to have some basic skills."

Dlugos adds: "Philosophy is training for the career of being a human being."

Having been a philosophy minor in college -- and only didn't become a major because my attraction came too late to be able to graduate in four years -- I'm inclined to agree. Yet the purpose of a public, two-year institution would seem to be for something different than a liberal arts associate degree.

I would be very interested to know what becomes of Bergen CC Philosophy Department's graduates. Perhaps they go on to a four-year college elsewhere using the thinking skills they've learned at BCC. That would be a wonderful outcome. But I also wonder whether one could find them in jobs that may pay less, but that they find somehow more satisfying.

We forgot Julie 

At the Jasperwood convention discussion turned to the most beautiful actress ever. This is the sort of thing they discuss at the Algonquin roundtables, right? Longevity was a key factor, and much of the discussion turned on Audrey Hepburn versus Sophia Loren. Loren won.

I was not satisfied that we had exhausted the choices and brought the question back to my equally esteemed breakfast bagel brigade here in the Cloud. Chris came up with two choices worth mentioning. Angie Dickinson has certainly aged well -- she made an appearance on Celebrity Poker a few months ago and I was most impressed, and she's from North Dakota, so should get points there from James and Mitch -- but she was not quite the actress the others in the discussion were.

The other was Julie Christie, who appears in an otherwise forgettable Troy to still be fine. Two words: Shampoo. Afterglow. Case closed.

In my confusion I also googled and found Julie London singing. Enjoy the voice, but wait for the last five seconds. Golly.

Pointy-haired president opens the door slightly 

Our president has decided to hold "open office hours" after one of his management-by-survey forays. Geddaloadadis.
These will be informal one-on-one meetings. It is important to note that these meetings are not designed to replace the formal reporting, consultation, complaint and grievance processes that we already have in place. They are simply an opportunity for us to meet and discuss your thoughts about the university. Out of courtesy to others, these meetings will be limited to 10 minutes and an individual will only be allowed to schedule one appointment each year.

Dilbert: "I just had a good meeting."
Dogbert: "Maybe it just didn't last long enough to reveal the incompetence of the attendees."
Dilbert: "That's what I call a good meeting."

(If anyone has this comic in a graphic, please mail it to me.)

The monetary history of Gilligan's Island 

I love stories where economics is applied to odd, humorous places. This one is particularly funny.
...why do any of the other stranded castaways (on the TV show Gilligan's Island, now out on DVD -- kb) treat the millionaire's government money as valuable while stuck on an island where no such government can enforce its value?
Why should anyone care about this? Well it goes to the question of Iraqi dinars.
After the invasion of Iraq, there was no more central bank printing dinars and no more Iraqi government to put the fiat behind its fiat currency. The American military started handing out US$20 bills and expected the Dinar to fade from existence. Instead, to the chagrin of the occupation force, the Dinar's value doubled against the Dollar in two weeks. Statues of Saddam Hussein were being toppled, but his face was still on the preferred currency, and gaining in popularity. Some saw this as patriotism: a silent protest by the occupied population against the invading force. But we need only look further north, to the Kurd-controlled areas, to find a more economic explanation.

After the first Gulf War, Iraq changed its currency from the so-called Swiss Dinar to the more recent Saddam Dinar. When a government changes its fiat currency, it announces a transition period during which the old bills can be brought in and exchanged for the new. After the window closes, the old notes are declared worthless.

To no one's surprise, the rebel Kurds did not visit the Iraqi government to make such an exchange. They just kept using the old money. It was familiar, hard to counterfeit, and in its post-fiat status, it was no longer inflationary: that is to say, the relatively fixed supply of notes made the currency a better store of value than the new Saddam dinars being printed (and printed and printed) further south.

The Swiss Dinar may have been the first successful post-fiat money.
Another reason for Hugh to change the ad.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Clueless on vegetarians 

Elder believes that I can be caught eating munching tofu on a stick. One word: tempura. I actually love fried tofu. Lileks really should have made this for me last Saturday. If I had, I would have told him where the door handle was.

Today's hero... 

... is Radley Balko.
The afternoon's drama came toward the end of the panel, with this skinny kid sitting in the front row, who happened to be donning a bright red t-shirt with the Soviet hammer and sickle. I wanted to call him out from the start. I just felt a little crass about it. But as the panel wore on, it continued to gnaw at me. It dawned on me that I or the lefists on the panel would have had no problem calling the kid out if he'd been wearing a t-shirt with neo-Nazi regalia. And he applauded vigorously when the lefties spoke, and sat on his hands when the rest of us spoke, meaning of course that he wasn't wearing the shirt with any sense of irony.

So when he finally raised his hand during the Q&A, I decided that --what the hell -- I might as well point out how silly he looks advertising a belief system rooted in slavery and murder. [I]recommend[ed] to the kid that he read Anne Applebaum's Gulag, the Pulitzer winning book which documents the horrors of the Soviet work camps. He didn't seem to get it.

So I added, "I know Soviet chic is hip right now, particularly on college campuses. But you really ought to think about the message you send by wearing that shirt. It has all the charm of a swastika."

With that, Hillsdale poly sci Professor David Bobb added, "you're associating yourself with the deaths of 100 million people..."

The kid then interrupted Bobb, with obvious agitation, "Yes, I know all about the history of the Soviet Union."

To which Bobb replied, "Oh, so you know that you're being insulting."
The kid covered the t-shirt shortly thereafter.

UPDATE (8/31): Keith Halderman has reading suggestions for the student.

And so it begins 

As the fall starts, so too are the announcements of events on campus. Here's one that smacks of the uses people see as appropriate to a campus announcement list and the public:
SCSU will present a premiere showing of �Wellstone!� a film by Hardworking Pictures of Minneapolis on Monday, October 25 at 7:00 in the Atwood Ballroom. The film explores the origin of Paul and Sheila Wellstone�s politics, Paul�s controversial road to the Senate, and the legacy of a life of progressive populism. The film will be shown on the 2nd anniversary of Paul and Sheila�s death, and one of the film makers will make a special introduction of the film. All parking lots will be open for the public after 6:30. (Thanks to Public Safety for this generous accommodation.) This event is sponsored by NOVA, College Democrats, Democracy Matters, People United for
Peace, Women�s Equality Group, and Campus Advocates Against Sexual Assault.

Note it says "SCSU will present" when it is in fact a few of the leftist groups on campus. Nice of them to think they speak for all of us. I guess this is the follow-on to Carry It Forward by the same group. I have some ideas for theme music.

Thanks indeed to Public Safety for screwing up parking that night for students who might have paid to attend class here.

Life outside academia 

I have been made to wonder about life outside my own profession by a few events this past week. School opens next week and preparations like making sure the textbooks are in and software installed in labs proceed. J.V.C. ponders a life without teaching students with the same feeling I had when I contemplated the same thing a couple of years ago.

But what really grabbed me this weekend was hearing Big Trunk discuss his reactions to the vicious attack laid against him and Rocketman by Jim Boyd at the StarTribune. Hugh Hewitt, in town this past weekend, has written effectively about this attack, considering it legally actionable. The STrib has practically admitted Boyd's first attack was wrong by giving Trunk and Rocket a second article on the subject, which Boyd then attacks again. No Illusions applies the appropriate Fisking to the second Boydulent* article.

What strikes me about this is the viciousness of Boyd and its effect on its targets. I have not known Trunk and Rocket very long; I did not know them before our admission to the Northern Alliance, and even then not much until the radio show began. Rocket has some street edginess to him, but Trunk is simply a happy guy whose only fault IMO is a bit of perfectionism. (A bad segment on a book interview on the show seems like it'll about kill him.) Yet you could see this weekend that this battle with Boyd had been taken personally. On the air yesterday he reminded that the two of them work with clients in the Cities and that having an editorialist call them frauds and members of a "Republican smear campaign" was more than just bullshitting at a bar. That fact is what led the STrib to permit the "tennis match" of articles to have a second volley. The fact that Boyd had to come out of the closet and reveal himself as a censor as well as an editorialist -- "We have a responsibility to separate legitimate political opinion -- and the latitude is great -- from deliberate smear." -- shows that the usual minions that write such attack pieces -- say, the teachers' union attacks on Cheri Yecke -- were absent in this debate. I do not recall any attempt by Mr. Boyd at preventing character assassination then, do you?

It's different for us inside academia. Taking an extreme position can often enhance reputations. Writing another piece on the effects of third-degree price discrimination doesn't get you noticed; the striking, unorthodox conclusions like "minimum wage increases increase employment" will. In the battle for ideological diversity at SCSU I am routinely slammed by members of the faculty. I long ago decided this was not a liability but an asset; much like our friend David Strom, being a happy conservative, being able to laugh at yourself and not be a sourpuss not only attracts allies but defuses opponents. Indeed, happiness and willingness to shine light on the preening, censorious buffoons of our leftist academicians was one reason why this school tried to adopt a speech code for its faculty email list, eventually leaving it like one of those desiccated hulks of old Usenet groups that flamewars left behind. (It was foreseeing that event that led me to create this blog almost two years ago.)

But that's an advantage that being tenured brings; indeed, a purpose of tenure is prevent the silencing of debate. And compared to the Boyd-Powerline fight, a debate over a discussion list on a public university campus is trivial. Boyd's scurrilous attack on Trunk and Rocket demonstrate what happens when you don't have the protections of the ivory tower. Seeing it personally this weekend reminded me how sheltered I am.

*--"Boydulent", adj., 1. An attack piece written by an editorialist that engages in ad hominem argumentation without benefit of facts in response to commentary by conservatives in a leftist newspaper. 2. Pungent, redolent leftist commentary.

And there was no life before Mike Tyson 

Continuing its annual tradition, Beloit College has released its Mindset List for the Class of 2008. Our incoming traditional first-year students were born in 1986. Some of the highlights (there are fifty of these):

Friday, August 27, 2004

Why can't this be my class? 

Be sure to come out to the Fair for our radio show this weekend. I'm on for the Sunday show (yes, we're twice as nice for the Fair!), but tomorrow's edition has James and Hugh visiting us. The APB on Boydot is still in effect. Show sounds so good, I think I might go down anyway. If you miss us there, catch us on the stream. 12-3pm each day. Have a nice weekend.

Ready-made economic analysis 

I need to get back to my habit of doing a Friday macroeconomy review. First, you should read Jon Henke's review of the Kerry attack on the Bush economy. Next, consider this graph (taken from Ed Yardeni's economic site), which I've edited a little bit:

I've added red lines for the election years. As I've said before, what matters to voters, in my view, is both whether you are performing above the average, and the direction of change for the economy. Even with the latest figures putting Q2 growth at 2.8%, the trend is up, and we're above the 1990s average of 3.0% annual growth.

It perplexes some why the consumer confidence level is so high. (Yes, I know about the Michigan index, but don't sweat the month-to-month wiggles. Sentiment and expectation indices are both up strongly versus year-ago levels.) But it shouldn't. As Henke points out, the data is still positive for jobs despite the weaker payroll figure last month. The data on the diffusion index still shows that over 60% of industry groups in the USA are expanding payrolls on a year-over-year basis, that job losses are concentrated in a few industries. If you're coming out of a bubble, you should be still stripping some excess labor from overbuilt sectors. Not surprisingly, most are in manufacturing.

So, despite the naysayers, the economy is charging ahead. I'm sure the news cycle, flush with Swiftvet talk, is looking at the latest polling data through the eyes of political advertising. I say instead that a Bush surge is to be expected from the economy, and will last through November. Tradesports is currently showing the Bush electoral college vote (a new contract they introduced this week) at 268 bid, 276 ask. I'm buying.

BTW, they also run individual state winners on Tradesports. Bush has just jumped over 50% in Florida, within a whisker in Wisconsin, and from 50/50 to 60/40 in Missouri. Still only 30% in Minnesota -- I might wish to buy some of that to show support.

P.S.: While Kerry's unfavorable rating has gone up to 40% of voters, what is more interesting is this:
Compared to previous elections, are you more enthusiastic about voting than
usual, or less enthusiastic?
Democrats/Democratic Leaners
  • July 30-August 1 73% more enthusiastic, 21% less
  • August 23-25 60% more enthusiastic, 30% less

Republicans/Republican Leaners

  • July 30-August 1 62% more, 27% less
  • August 23-25 60% more, 30% less

Further evidence that the DNC convention bounce has dissipated completely.

Even universities hate ratings 

Or at least, so says OpinionJournal today.
Mount Holyoke President Joanne V. Creighton, who wrote this for USA Today in 2001: "Not only should we refuse to give lip service to this specious and oversimplified labeling of our institutions, we should resist labeling our students with numbers, too. There are insidious parallels between the bogus ranking of colleges and universities by U.S. News and the ranking of students by their SAT scores. "

Insidious, indeed. The academy is increasingly reluctant to acknowledge distinctions in merit. This plague of indecision is yielding larger numbers of co-valedictorians and co-salutatorians and often puts students in the dark about how they really stack up against their peers. Grade inflation hasn't helped. "We're all different" has somehow morphed, within the protective confines of the ivory tower, into "we're all equally good."
The editorial makes two good points. The second one is, why don't the universities come up something better? Well, they don't because the only value to ratings is when you can make meaningful cross-college comparisons, and nobody is going to do that from within the academy. The first point, however, is why students keep buying these guides when they aren't supposed to be any darn good? This sounds like an answer:
Critics love to note that the best place for a budding physicist may not be ideal for an artist. They're right, of course--but these aren't the kids plunking down their $9.95 for the U.S. News rankings. Most high-school seniors don't know what they want to do with their lives. They're often looking for something generic: the best place to go to stretch their minds and find their interests.
And for students who want a different kind of ranking, take a look at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's Choosing the Right College.

Tuition for nothing and your chicks for free 

Stephen posts an empty-headed editorial from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about costs of university being transferred to students. Stephen wonders:On the one hand, the Journal-Sentinel have not discussed the vanishing art of working
your way through college. Have the summer-replacement factory jobs gone missing to such an extent that students are no longer able to earn their tuition with such a summer job, and a part-time job during college? At one time, within my lifetime, that was possible. On the other hand, the writers have missed the expense-preference behavior of the court intellectuals in Madison.
They should consult our own administrators.

You've done this too? 

Gather round, children, and listen to the story of Lileks' loo.
You buy a plumber's snake, because you're pretty sure you don't have one already. (Note: you do.) You put the snake down the pipes and turn the handle, thinking I bet the Roto-Rooter guys have motorized ones. With cool flame decals on the side. Not only does this fail to clear the obstruction, but to your horror the snake is now stuck in the pipes. You will have to sell the house and move. The Roto-Rooter man will die laughing when he shows up - not because it's so amusing, but because every other job today had the same thing! People actually think those snakes work? Go online! Do a Google! Do you find "mysnakeworked.com" or "thankheavensforplumbersnakes.com"? No? There might be a reason!
To the lady at Barnes and Noble yesterday why I was laughing so hard I was spilling my latte?

Three snakes. Yes, three.

I so suck at home repair.

See, you could have used me! 

Congrats to the Leftovers for winning at Keegan's last night.

Hugh and Peeps will be looking to the free agent wire. You know who to call. You know the number.

Fatter cigars, James, I'm telling you. Kills the Guinness. Emboldens the spirit. Reveals the secret of the stitches on a baseball.

Size up your school 

News from the state Department of Education yesterday came of districts not making "Adequate Yearly Progress" in their meeting of educational standards. The department is also handing out school report cards at the State Fair. Follow that last link to find a report card for any public school in the state (here's an example, for the public school around the corner from my home). They've slightly changed the format this year -- I regret their removing ACT scores and National Merit Scholars -- but there's plenty of good information there for people willing to take the time to read.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

You could have had me 

I'm listening to Hugh Hewitt right now, and if you're here because you followed Hugh's generous linkage, thanks for stopping by. But I have to say, I feel once again like the last kid taken in pick-up basketball -- normal when you're a 4' 9" 14-year-old with a jumpshot more questionable than Iverson's. I sent Elder a note about the trivia contest, but he demurred because he has Mike MST3K Nelson. Fine, see if he can answer any IS-LM trivia. And now tonight Hugh is practically begging the Powerboys for help rather than using the Generalissimo.

Yoo hoo! Over here!


Conflation -- a St. Cloud Times tradition 

The local fishwrap runs a lead editorial today that demonstrates it will not be neutral in the Sixth District House race. As I reported earlier, the Democratic challenger Patty Wetterling bowed out of scheduled debates that she had previously agreed to due to an "emergency wedding" (thank, Hermit!) Sort of the "dog ate her lunch" kind of thing. The Republican incumbent Mark Kennedy had made time for the debates and had attended the functions anyway. Nowhere in the Times' description of that event did Kennedy say anything negative about Wetterling's failure to appear -- the actuals that KNSI, the local radio news station, broadcast indicated that he would do his best to reschedule the debates as long as they did not interfere with his work schedule. (The Times did go out of its way to describe one hostile questioner, devoting five of eleven grafs to that one question.)

This didn't seem to matter at all to the Times' editorial board. After chastising Wetterling's schedulers mildly while retyping Wetterling's letter bowing out -- practically free advertising -- they turn their attention not to Kennedy but other Republicans.

Four days later, Republicans responded publicly with the kind of partisan rhetoric that turns voters off.

"It's clear that given her inability to answer basic questions about agriculture at the Farmfest candidate forum, Patty Wetterling has apparently decided to drop out of three candidate debates," said Randy Wanke, Republican Party of Minnesota communications director. "Patty Wetterling either doesn't know the issues or doesn't want voters to know what her positions are on issues that matter."

This is a snippet from the Minnesota GOP's website and probably part of a press release (that is not indicated on the site, but I would guess that from how it's written.) A little tough, perhaps, but it may smart more because it's accurate. The same reporter who covered Kennedy's appearance, Larry Schumacher, pretty much said the same thing about her performance at Farmfest. MPR quotes her as responding to a question on WTO with this inspired insight:

Like any other trade issues we have to look at the detail, as you said. I would have to hire a really good person to answer this question.
The AP report said the same thing.

Kennedy, a two-term Republican, discussed farm issues down to the finest detail while Wetterling appealed for understanding as she gets up to speed on issues new to her.
Now, if you were Kennedy, would you really want to duck debates with this woman? If she was a boxer, she'd be a walkover. And the Times editorial goes on to quote his campaign director, Ryan Christian.

There's no question Congressman Kennedy looks forward to engaging in a frank and open discussion of the issues. We committed to four debates, three this week and Farmfest. We've had one, but the Wetterling campaign decided we shouldn't have
the others.
To this statement the Times says

Both [statements] are long on accusatory rhetoric, short on civility and, most importantly, lack any response to Wetterling's proposals for later meetings. Given all that and knowing how much district residents deserve to see Kennedy and Wetterling debate, we suggest the two candidates meet over coffee and set their debate schedule.

What did Christian say that was accusatory? That Wetterling decided not to have the other debates? Well, she did decide that. What is it that was uncivil? Nothing in either Republican statement says that they don't want to debate -- if the reports of Farmfest are accurate, I would think Kennedy is licking his chops at another opportunity to show Wetterling's inexperience with issues outside of child advocacy.

I have had colleagues trying to get Kennedy for activities in September and October, for everything from issues forums to a hunting trip. The answer is always the same -- if he has business in DC, that's where he'll be and he won't schedule anything else.

The Times is trying to conflate Wetterling's inexperience -- minimally, her inability to manage her schedule, and perhaps her inexperience in political debate -- with Kennedy's policy of letting nothing interfere with his work in DC. It does so by reaching for a GOP-MN press release and calling it an attack made by Kennedy, which is by no means clear. It then tries to tie that to a statement by Kennedy's political director which has not a smattering of vitriol. The Times does so because it cannot help itself in supporting any Democrat, especially one with a touching personal story like Patty Wetterling, even when it means supporting a candidate that is not ready for prime time.

Come to think of it, "not ready for prime time" also describes the Times' editorial board.

I'll tee 'em up, and Stephen will knock it out of the park 

This was my tee, and this was Cold Spring Shops running down the field. He ties together several pieces, arguing in the end that
the idea of a "long march" to capture the institutions might have been an error. Once one has the institutions, one has to fortify them. Fixed fortifications are more easily bypassed and left to wither than stormed directly.
Academia as the Maginot Line of the Left. I like that thought.

That fumble cost you an 'A' 

Today's Washington Post reports that student-athletes are getting course credit for their participation in athletics.
A Washington Post survey of physical education courses taught at the 117 schools that field Division I-A football teams found that nearly three dozen universities award academic credit for participation on intercollegiate sports teams. Eleven football teams in the Associated Press preseason top 25 poll have players earning academic credit for practicing, including defending co-national champion Southern California...

If I have to say anything about this, go read a different blog.

Huskies and Eagles and Bears, oh my! 

According to Matthew Bargainer at Liberty and Power, the pursuit of politically correct mascots has led to their homogenization.
From the tomahawk-chopping Atlanta Braves to the often suggestively truncated South Carolina Gamecocks, there has been no dearth of outrage about the schmucks in the ridiculous costumes. And why not? The logic of mascot-induced indignation is clear: the University of Illinois's Chief Illiniwek is bad because he denigrates Native Americans, while the University of Mississippi's (semi-retired) Colonel Reb is bad because he glorifies the Old South. Got it?

Bargainer points to this article in the WaPo about how few good mascots are left.
...in smaller counties, mascots are more likely to be tied to local people or customs or to reflect an odd choice that struck the fancy of an administrator long ago. A case in point can be found at Virginia's Fluvanna County High School, whose teams are called the Flying Flucos. The name comes from a comment by a sports announcer, said Fluvanna Superintendent Thomas W. Smith. "It's very popular here," Smith said. "It's not something that people normally forget."

But in the Washington area, where high schools open nearly every year in some suburbs, principals present their students with a small group of crowd-pleasing names. Mascot images are pulled off Web sites that offer hundreds of images.
So new schools, which are springing up around DC like dandelions, are all getting rather bland names, so as not to offend.
"When I personally heard Freedom High School, I thought Eagles," said Christine Forester, who will lead Loudoun's Freedom High, which will open next year. "I always thought of eagles as majestic and soaring."

Students had other ideas. Some wanted to be the Freedom Patriots. That mascot was already claimed by Loudoun's Park View High School. Then someone suggested "Freedom Fighters." That called to mind an image that Forester wasn't quite comfortable with.

"You have to think: How does it strike people?" she said.

The students were eventually presented three choices: Hawks, Flyers and Eagles. Eagles narrowly won over Hawks.

And creativity lost.

I'm the professor from New Hamster 

There is a review today on OpinionJournal of a book titled "I'm the Teacher, You're the Student" by Emory historian Patrick Allitt. Here's the table of contents and an excerpt; there's a big warning at the bottom not to excerpt anything, so go and read. Pretty entertaining. The WSJ review describes the book as a look at the life of a professor teaching an undergraduate class. Students are ill-prepared for university life because they are trained to take standardized tests, Allitt argues.
But the ignorance, laziness, sense of entitlement and lack of basic rhetorical skills are stunning. One student thinks that "books" and "novels" are the same. Another identifies the Granite State as "New Hamster." Few are familiar with the rules of language, many spell poorly and all are confused by tenses and apostrophes and complain bitterly when Prof. Allitt marks them down for grammatical errors.

...What's the matter? The problem, as Prof. Allitt sees it, is that the skills required to ace the SAT and post a high grade-point average are not the best preparation for a rigorous liberal-arts curriculum. Our secondary schools, public and private, have not only substituted Maya Angelou for Robert Browning but guided their charges in perfecting the art of passing multiple-choice exams, not drafting essays. No wonder they cannot write, or organize their thoughts, or marshal an argument, or identify the decade in which the Civil War took place. No wonder they confuse Theodore Roosevelt with his cousin Franklin D.

That's a standard complaint. I was visiting with a sociologist from a nearby school last night and she argued that both the writing and the work ethic of her students had deteriorated over the last ten to fifteen years. Sure, but the SAT and GPA were just as binding a constraint for admission to a good school thirty years ago as they are today, and there's no question in my mind that the quality of the student has declined since then.

The reviewer then strays into his own opinion, with which I vehemently disagree.

I came away from "I'm the Teacher, You're the Student" with a lingering sense of absurdity about college. For the career-minded, or for young scholars who know exactly where they're going, the training that a school like Emory provides is probably worth the cost. But what is the point of requiring future poets to master calculus or dragging engineers to Restoration comedies? To sharpen the intellect or stimulate the appetite? Maybe. But I am tempted to guess that, on the whole, it's in one ear and out the other.
At the time you take the class, certainly this is true. But often in education the subject matter is less important than teaching the habits of good scholarship, of critical inquiry. There's something you learn in calculus not about math but about how to think. I can't quote Shakespeare, but learning to read Shakespeare made me a better reader. The retirees who listen to Prof. Allitt when he moonlights as a lecturer "pant for knowledge, ask eager questions, argue passionately among themselves" -- when did they learn to pant, to ask, and to argue? At shuffleboard? Or in a literature class forty years ago, the books of which they have long forgotten?

Sometimes it requires a little faith to be a professor. Not every seed bears fruit immediately. But still you water and weed, and wait. In New Hamster.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

My favorite was #4 

Ten questions for a hatemailer who also turns out to be an academic, from Mike Adams (hat tip: J-squared)
Dear Professor Levitt (njlevitt@hotmail.com):

I am writing to compliment you on the eloquence of your recent response to my friend Mike Bayham, who writes a column for GOPUSA.com. Mike wrote a recent editorial on John Kerry that irritated you so badly you decided to write him with the following response:

I think turd eating, s*** sucking mother f***** fits you just about right (although your mother was hardly worth it; my Lab Retriever up and caught the clap when he f***** your mama).

The height of polemical eloquence? Perhaps not. But then thrice-used scumbags like you hardly demand much recourse to the thesaurus. Die before you plan to, and in much pain.


Well �NL,� unfortunately for you, Mr. Bayham did an e-mail trace and found out out that your name is Norman Levitt, that is Professor Norman Levitt of the Math Department at Rutgers University.
Then come the ten questions, which I guess were mailed to Levitt who sent this answer:
There are lots of people I don't like and who don't like me� I must say, however, that of all the fools and knaves currently polluting our culture, the scurviest are the two-bit, loudmouthed, spirochete-ridden flacks who peddle horses*** on behalf of the scumbag GOP.
Glad we cleared that up, fella.

JB, you've got some work to do.

Who's on track 

Pertaining to my post yesterday on ostracism, Hube's Cube notes:
Thankfully, my school district still utilizes tracking. Our student population is approximately 60%-40% white-black, but the sad thing is the upper tracks are woefully devoid of many black students. And even among those few in the upper tracks, I've personally witnessed the phenomenon that Lee and Cosby have denounced: extremely bright young black boys and girls who purposely do not do well for fear of being hassled by their peers. It is quite frustrating for teachers -- teachers, who, by the way, constantly are vigilant for black students to move "up" to higher tracks.

UPDATE: Fixed link. Blogger foo.

Where academics spend their money 

Steve Gigl is shocked!
University employees have donated $63,510 to Kerry�s campaign and $2,150 to Bush�s re-election bid through June, according to data compiled for The Minnesota Daily by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington.
That's consistent with the pattern we've reported elsewhere in academia. A quick check for SCSU at Open Secrets showed $600 in contributions to Democrats and $0 to Republicans.

Young Republicans the product of bad parents? 

We all rebel against our parents at some point. I have two children ten years apart, and they both do it in their own ways (though Littlest Scholar is far harder on Mrs. B than on me, because they are closer). This Christian Science Monitor article about young conservatives getting ready for the fall elections certain has that flavor to it, but it goes to a place I'm uncomfortable with.
Why are youth embracing conservatism? There are two reasons, says Ryan Thompson, editor in chief of Young Conservatives (http://www.yconservatives.com/), a weekly Web publication with a staff of about two dozen young writers nationwide.
"There [are] legitimate people out there that really believe in this, and I think that's because some parents in some respects are a little more protective because they know what they did during the '60s generation," says Mr. Thompson, who expects to begin his freshman year at Hillsdale College in Michigan this fall. "Then, there's also some [for whom] I think it's a rebellion, almost. You see the excesses of that generation. And people, when they see the excesses of one generation, they go to another side."

If liberal parents are not enough cause for rebellion, liberal school environments may also spur conservative-leaning students to new extremes. Thompson says some conservative students are "ostracized" in high school.
OK, and we've already noted these things in our discussion of Bryan Henderson and the Protest Warriors. It's the stuff of John Hughes mov... er, never mind. But then the article suggests that because the older generation hasn't taught the younger students the right values, the students are attracted to conservatism? Dunno: you read this and tell me.
J. Stanley Oakes Jr., president of The King's College, reflected on the principles behind the students' politics.

"When you think about universal principles," he said, "my generation ought to be transmitting them to you and they have done a lousy job."

That failure to transmit values explains a lot about the attraction of today's youth to conservatism, says Thompson. He attributes his peers' conservatism at least in part to a general yearning for parental instruction.

"There's a lack of guidance out there for certain, out there among adults, that I think is a problem," he says. "People are getting kind of sick of this 'do what you want' kind of society."
Maybe this is my libertarian streak coming through, but I don't think people are sick of "do what you want" when it means freedom. Perhaps they've learned that liberty and libertine are two different things, and maybe they've learned that what their parents had in the 1960s wasn't freedom (though I'm persuaded by some of what Murray Rothbard* said of the 1970s being a movement towards greater freedom), but looking to a philosophy of the state as a substitute for parental instruction is not just immature. It's sick.

* -- I'm sure Mitch and the other NARNers will fry me for that link. Fine, it'll make good radio.

You think they knew? 

Jay Matthews says that one of the by-products of all those standardized tests students have to take and the new rules for accountability is giving parents the ability to gather data on their children's schools and make comparisons to nearby districts.
I think parents like her are an important part of the effort to make schools better, and we ought to remember that they are becoming even more influential as
we hand them a whole new generation of weapons -- the results of all those achievement tests the state and federal governments are making the schools give our children.

Take as an example what Budd has done with some new testing data sitting out there in cyberspace, ready for use. She looked at two large and important Washington area school districts, Anne Arundel and Fairfax counties, which are using different textbooks in their math programs. She says she has found a remarkable discrepancy in results.
I recall discussing this by-product with former education commissioner Cheri Yecke, who said she had someone in the Dept. of Education come forward one day and say, in essence, "look at all this cool data". Cheri's answer was, how do we get it into the hands of parents. It's coming soon; the data has been delayed but when it's up there you will be able to get some good information about how schools are performing. Let a thousand websites like this one from Virginia bloom in Minnesota!

What you don't hear can hurt you 

FIRE finds another acorn. This time, it's a case at Rhode Island College.
Professor Lisa B. Church, who was a coordinator for RIC's cooperative preschool program, was not even present when two adult participants in the program allegedly made comments that another adult participant considered racially "offensive." Professor Church refused to punish the offending participants based on a third-person report of constitutionally protected speech, or to make the private altercation into a school-wide issue. Yet due to a complaint filed with RIC by the offended person, Church faces formal hearings for her decision.

The planned hearing stems from an incident on February 19, 2004, in which three mothers of students enrolled in RIC's preschool engaged in a heated conversation about welfare and race. The argument ended abruptly when one mother took offense to statements made by the two other mothers that allegedly expressed negative opinions of interracial relationships and the belief that certain minority groups' rights were valued over the rights of whites. The offended mother angrily left the preschool and reportedly ignored attempts at apologies. Professor Church did not witness the conversation.

The school's attorney has reversed himself, first arguing that the school was not above the law and that the case appeared to run afoul of the First Amendment, then changing course five days later. The school's affirmative action officer went further, saying that the school may hold a different standard for discriminatory conduct than the law permits and that the disciplinary hearing with Prof. Church "is not a court of law."

The standard here is absolutely ridiculous. She does not hear the statement made between three students and does not decide to violate the students' academic freedom to speak on the possible ties between welfare and race. Instead her own constitutionally protected rights are violated by the administration.

Siddown and shaddup 

Craig Newmark notes that faculty at Wharton are now being more the stickler about students coming to class and behaving decorously. You mean, when you are in a meeting with your boss you can just get up and go potty whenever you want? I tell my students on the first day of the guy that hired me, who would tell his classes about the woman who broke her leg the night before the final exam and couldn't come up to the third-floor classroom to take the final. Could she have a make-up test? No, he said, that's not permitted in the syllabus. The young co-ed was carried into the classroom by a male friend; upon completion of the exam, she whistled and he came and took her away. In twenty years I have not had a similar story to tell, but not for lack of trying.

Property rights trump 

I've read Random Penseur's interesting post on Kenya vs. Zimbabwe. What came to mind while reading it were the Index of Economic Freedom rankings for these two countries (Kenya; Zimbabwe.) Here's what the report says about property rights in Zimbabwe:
According to the U.S. Department of State, �[judicial] cases involving high or prominent ruling party or government officials usually do not reach court, regardless of the magnitude or egregiousness of the offense.� The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that the government ended its land reform program�a program that consisted of expropriating commercial farmland from white owners to give it to black peasants�at the end of 2002. Apart from being a massive violation of property rights, this program led to massive starvation since the peasants do not have the means to work the land. Since June 2000, reports the U.S. Department of State, �the Government has orchestrated a campaign of violence and intimidation against the judiciary�.�
When countries refuse to establish clear rules of the game and abide by them, GDP suffers. A colleague and I are working on research in this area right now looking at the IEF measurements. I'm probably less sanguine over Kenya than RP, because its new government doesn't seem to be much better that the virtual dictatorship under Moi, and it seems to be getting worse by the day, despite the government's claims that it will respect property rights. Zimbabwe is surely a marker of how not to go, but I don't see Kenya moving away.

This is no secret: When governments engage in corrupt practices and disrespect property rights, they also tend to hold corrupt elections. Watch this one in Ukraine.

Scholarship to highest bidder 

Within the Armenian diaspora community there is a well-known story of the attempt to purchase a chair for scholarship of the Turkish version of the story of the Armenian genocide. I don't wish to go into details on this, but Peter Balakian -- whose book, Burning Tigris, was reviewed here during my travels earlier this month -- was instrumental in exposing the hoax that was perpetrated at Princeton (a similar attempt occurred at UCLA).

My NARN colleague Captain Ed has found that something similar is occurring regarding the study of the Vietnamese diaspora -- and found as well the hand of John Kerry.
[T]he Joiner Center failed to follow the protocols outlined in its research grant when selecting candidates for the Rockefeller Foundation fellowships offered for the grant. Among other actions, the Joiner Center allegedly failed to publish notices of the grant's availability until just before the deadline for applications expired, failed to advertise in any of the required scholarly journals which targeted the American Vietnamese community, and in general made it almost impossible for the scholars of that community to know about the paying jobs in time. The effect of this failure is to keep Vietnamese who emigrated to the US as adults in the Diaspora from taking part in the program, as younger members of academia already had some access to the grant information up front.

Why? Because the Joiner Center and UMass already had scholars in mind to study the forced migration of the South Vietnamese people. And half of those scholars came from the People's Republic of Viet Nam -- the same Communists who tortured and massacred the refugees into fleeing Viet Nam in the first place, after the fall of Saigon.
Something very fishy about that, and Ed reproduces a letter of praise for the project from Kerry. We cannot stress enough what the nature of the Vietnamese diaspora (and the democide perpetrated against its people) was like. The local Vietnamese community was furious with the handling of the grant applications. The Center, however, is a creation not for the study of Vietnam itself but of Vietnam veterans; the center's own publication has a decidedly anti-war tilt and doesn't seem to be designed really to look at Vietnam refugees. Small wonder, when the Center announces that it is trying to examine "new histories" of Vietnam and put them into high school classrooms.

Looking over its site for about half an hour as I did this morning, I cannot help but be struck by the leftist nature of the Center, and the fact that it invited PRV scholars to help study their own countries atrocities doesn't seem odd in the context. That Kerry would side with a center like this, given his history, also is unsurprising. I interviewed for a job at UM-B once (it's only about 55 miles from my hometown) and never was I more struck by a leftist campus, even more than the one I work at now. It was then, and seems to be now, a place of comfort for anti-war vets like John Kerry .

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Reporter anthropologizes about economists 

I like reading about economists, but unfortunately that often means I have to view them filtered through the eyes of reporters. So this article is driving me nuts. It describes two DC policy economists, both pretty smart guys, one more liberal than the other and working at policy shops that fit their place on the spectrum. Which leads the reporter to write dreck like this:
Economists are as plentiful in Washington as gators in the Everglades. This is the great swamp of statistics, the place where raw data is assembled, processed and analyzed for the purpose of creating rational economic policies. Statistics become ammunition in partisan wars. Each side accuses the other of using old, deceptive or irrelevant numbers. It would be easy for a citizen to decide that no one is telling the truth, that it's all just a game. But at the core, there's a legitimate debate about the interplay between the government and the private sector.

No, that's not really it at all, most of the time. We all look for better data, of course, for the survey nobody else has that has asked just the right questions of just the right people. But the nature of economic observation is such that two people can see the same data and arrive at different conclusions. We don't get pure data -- it's always grabbed "in the wild" and encrusted with a thousand influences the likes of which we do not know and only imperfectly control for. And that's far more often the argument than this "legitimate debate" nonsense.
...today's economists have to keep an eye on the rest of the world. Indeed, to a remarkable degree the morning's conversation keeps veering into questions about foreign economies. The economies of nations are now inextricably linked. As jobs are outsourced to places like India and China, American workers often are thrown into unemployment.
Has the writer ever bothered to read The Wealth of Nations? It wasn't all about England, you silly twit.
Indeed there's a good reason economics is called the dismal science: No one is really sure of anything. Most of the statistical measurements of the economy were devised in an earlier, simpler era, pre-globalization, when you really could get a pretty good sense of the country by looking at, say, durable goods orders.
By the time GDP (actually, GNP, but I won't bore you with that) was established in the 1940s -- and with it all the measurements the writer now inveighs against -- we were already globalized. Bretton Woods was already three years old, and the IMF and World Bank it created had taken form.

I'm not sure of anything except that you are a dismal writer.

There is also a telling lesson, that maybe does show us the difference between the liberal economist speaking here to the conservative economist:
"You have a real faith that the truth will out," he says to Hassett. "I'm not as optimistic as you are."

Not optimistic in the power of truth -- is that what defines a leftist? I hope not.

Ah, he's back 

Winston, that is.
The new term starts next week, and I have already attended some meetings for the Freshman Indoctrination course, meetings which confirmed my fears that the course was designed primarily with an ideological agenda in mind. It's amazing what people will say when they assume they are in a room filled with like-minded comrades. I am definitely expected to use this course as a means by which to "liberate" my students from the conservative thought of their parents. For some reason, it is assumed that all students have conservative parents, and that their high school cirriculum was likewise conservative. Frankly, I'd love to know which high schools are still presenting a positive reading of Christopher Columbus. According to many of the teachers in the room, he remains a hero in most American history textbooks.
Must have been Minnesota. Winston is talking about the course he described here, which I commented on here. He reports that he and J.V.C. will be crossblogging the experience of being lower-middle income students in the humanities. We'll follow that conversation closely and comment when needed. As the economist looking over their shoulders, it's the least I can do. (Winston, please turn on your RSS feed.)

Getting ready to cut that check to the bookstore? 

For subscribers of the Wall Street Journal, you might want to look inside today for a story we covered before: the presence of stiffer competition in textbook prices. A few of interesting tidbits in the story:

And more and more students are buying their textbooks online. For those unable to read the article from the WSJ, here are the two additional sites mentioned to buy textbooks (besides Amazon, BN and Half.com).
Thompson Higher Education's Digital Discounts
Pearson Education SafariX Textbooks Online.

What is in a color? 

I had an office manager here when I first started as chair who loved the color purple. Files were purple. Flyers. Everything she signed was purple. I'm not over it yet: The current staff is instructed to not use purple. I don't hate the color, but I got sick of it and didn't want to see it again for awhile.

Good thing I'm not a student. The Boston Globe reports that teachers are using purple instead of red to grade papers because "red is definitely a no-no."
"I do not use red," said Robin Slipakoff, who teaches second and third grades at Mirror Lake Elementary School in Plantation, Fla. "Red has a negative connotation, and we want to promote self-confidence. I like purple. I use purple a lot."
No, you ninny, we want to promote good writing, as this parent agrees.
Ruslan Nedoruban, who is entering seventh grade at his Belmont school, said red markings on his papers make him feel "uncomfortable."

His mother, Victoria Nedoruban, who is taking classes to improve her English, said she thinks papers should be corrected in red.

"I hate red," she said. "But because I hate it, I want to work harder to make sure there isn't any red on my papers."

Red has other defenders. California high-school teacher Carol Jago, who has been working with students for more than 30 years, said she has no plans to stop using red. She said her students do not seem psychologically scarred by how she wields her pen. And if her students are mixing up "their," "there," and "they're," she wants to shock them into fixing the mistake.

"We need to be honest and forthright with students," Jago said. "Red is honest, direct, and to the point. I'm sending the message, 'I care about you enough to care how you present yourself to the outside world.' "
Miss Jago, you would get to teach my daughter. Betsy Newmark thinks it's another example of Hard America, Soft America.

Monday, August 23, 2004

University Program Board: Fair and balanced 

We just received the following exciting announcement:
The University Program Board National Events Committee presents the following events during Homecoming Week.

Wednesday, Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m. in Ritsche Auditorium: "2004 Presidential Debate: the Candidates, the Issues, Analyzes & Predictions". Speakers are Betsy Hart for the Republican Party and Peter Fenn for the Democrat Party.

Tuesday, Oct. 19, 3 & 9 p.m. in the Atwood Theatre: "Fahrenheit 9/11"; the film will also be shown on Wednesday, Oct.20 at 4 p.m. in Ritsche Auditorium prior to the debate.

Both of these events are free of charge.
So four Democratic speakers, one Republican. No word yet on whether the SwiftVets ads will be shown prior to the debate. I'd guess "no".

Spike gets Cos 

It appears Spike Lee is also questioning the effects of ghetto culture on education, and saying some tough things.
"We cannot have a generation of young black kids growing up not being able to read or write. More importantly not wanting to know how to read and write. Because, somehow, in the twisted mentality we have today � which is really pumped out by gangsta rap � these kids equate getting an education with trying to be white. (Long pause.) Which is genocide.

"Intelligent kids dumb down because they don't want to be ostracized. They don't want to be called a white boy or a white girl. Or a sell-out. Or an Oreo. Somehow, they equate ignorance with being black and being real and being street. Being ghetto has become a badge of honor. And that's more than insane. That's bananas."
David Beito, whose post led me to Lee's statement, wonders when words will lead to action. Here's one possible answer: Suppose you ran a school in a predominantly minority neighborhood, and you actually tracked kids by ability level. Suppose, moreover, that you let everyone -- including parents -- know you were doing it. Because intelligent kids have been ostracized in America regardless of their skin color or ethnicity, one answer could be to put them together, let them excel in one room where ostracism would not be within the classroom. Between classes? Perhaps, but how much worse could that be than now?

But of course, that would run afoul of those who think self-esteem means mindless egalitarianism in the classroom.

The seven-year program 

Stephen wonders about a college athlete who almost needed a seventh year to complete his four years of NCAA eligibility.
Consider, however, the eligibility follies inherent in transferring, sitting out, then petitioning for additional eligibility ... with none of it for pay. Note also that the young man's academic progress (or lack thereof) is not newsworthy. One would think that he would be able to have finished a degree at Illinois by now, and suited up as a senior at large.

Tugging on Superman's cape 

It appears the the PowerLine guys tripped somebody's trigger at the StarTribune. Rocketman and Trunk have challenged the STrib editorialist to a debate at the Fair next week during the NARN's first Fair day. I would strongly suggest a look at this page about where in fact the Mekong River flows, and where the delta begins, for all participants in the debate. I know there's a geographer who reads here -- when someone refers to the Delta, do they not mean the area lying between the nine rivers that snake to the ocean fed by the Mekong? Otherwise, where does the Mississippi River delta begin? St. Louis?
A delta is a low, watery land formed at the mouth of a river. It is formed from the silt, sand and small rocks that flow downstream in the river and are deposited in the delta. A delta is often (but not always) shaped like a triangle (hence its name, delta, a Greek letter that is shaped like a triangle).
Just want to make sure I don't screw that up with estuary.

UPDATE: (8/24): This is too funny. The boys report that a deal may be in the works afther the STrib was pummelled with over 300 mails.

More time to teach to the test 

This is humorous: Because of high-stakes testing, schools in Maryland are opening earlier.
Not so long ago, school districts throughout the country waited until after Labor Day to summon their charges back to class. Not anymore. With standardized test scores increasingly determining a school's success or failure, more districts are starting classes earlier in the summer to give students additional time in the classroom before state exams.

Waiting until Labor Day -- or even a week before -- would be far too costly to Prince George's students, said schools chief Andr� J. Hornsby. The extra week gives teachers more time to cover the material their students need to know by the time state standardized testing begins in February, Hornsby said.

No doubt teachers will be requesting a raise for the additional time taken. Question: was there anything magical about opening after Labor Day before? Is there any reason to believe that students might need to study more now than thirty years ago?

Simple but true 

Milton Friedman explains why some prices should rise, via John Ray.
'WHEN THE PRICE of a thing goes up,' wrote the British economist Edwin Cannan, in 1915, 'a good many people ... abuse, not the buyers nor the persons who might produce it and do not do so, but the persons who are producing and selling it, and thereby keeping down its price ... It certainly would appear to be an extraordinary example of the proverbial ingratitude of man when he abuses the farmer who does grow wheat because other farmers do not ... But have we not all heard the preacher abuse his congregation because it is so small?'
While I am thinking of that notion, I should remind faculty and high school teachers looking for a good book with which to teach economics painlessly (i.e., no graphs, no Ben Steinesque lecturing) of The Invisible Heart. In its first chapter the protagonist Sam Gordon states:
"By the way," Sam was saying, "that 531 billion barrels of reserves and the 16.5 billion barrels of consumption were actually for 1970. If nothing else had changed, we should have run out of oil around thirty years later. But by the time the year 2000 actually rolled around somehow reserves had somehow climbed to a trillion barrels even though the world was using about 26 billion barrels annually. We suddenly had almost forty years worth of consumption left."

"How could that be?" a student asked.

"Self-interest. When the price of oil jumped up later in the '70s, consumers found ways to use oil more efficiently and producers found new reserves. So we're even farther away from running out of oil than we were in 1970. Never underestimate the power of self-interest. ".

Let me see you limp! 

The Random Penseur has a job ad that will make you wince -- and you'd better wince if you want that job.
The University of Toronto is strongly committed to diversity within its community. The University especially welcomes applications from visible minority group members, women, Aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, members of sexual minority groups and others who may contribute to the further diversification of ideas.
I'm surprised the Department of the 3.7 GPA hasn't picked up this word "visible" yet.

It's not just how you study 

Two untenured science professors at Benedict College in South Carolina were fired for refusing to adhere to a grading policy that makes effort 60% of the course grade for freshmen. The policy applies only to the first two years of school (the sophomore year applies a 50/50 formula), and then the students are allowed only in the junior year to be "judged strictly on academic performance." The professors, Milwood Motley and Larry Williams, had gone along with it for awhile, but finally could not accept the consequences of the policy.
Motley, who came to Benedict five years ago from the Morehouse School of Medicine, said he was uncomfortable with the concept from the beginning. But he went along with it grudgingly until he was confronted with an academic dilemma: giving a passing grade to a student he believed had not learned the course material.

Awarding a C to a student whose highest exam score was less than 40 percent was more than he could tolerate.

�There comes a time when you have to say this is wrong,� he said.

This spring, he defied the SEE policy, as did department colleague Williams. Neither has tenure. Williams would not comment for this story.

�I did it (awarded grades) strictly on academic performance,� Motley said. �They told us to go back and recalculate the grades, and I just refused to do it.�
Despite a faculty grievance committee vote to recommend reinstatement, college president David Swinton refused.
�The record makes it abundantly clear that Dr. Motley has committed this infraction,� Swinton wrote in a July 13 letter to the chairwoman of the committee. �Moreover, the transcript of the hearing reveals that he admits to refusing to comply with college policy and states that he would not comply if reinstated.�

Swinton said professors have some leeway in calculating what goes into effort, factoring in attendance, completion of assignments and class participation.

The students �have to get an A in effort to guarantee that if they fail the subject matter, they can get the minimum passing grade,� Swinton said. �I don�t think that�s a bad thing.�


�If anybody manages to do effort for two years, they are going to learn something and develop the study habits that they need as a junior,� he said.

The Harvard-educated Swinton acknowledged he would not implement such a policy at a more selective institution and does not know of a similar policy at any other college.

But he said Benedict is unique. Founded in 1870 to educate freed slaves, the college has been a haven for students who must overcome barriers to obtain higher education. Many are the first in their families to attend college.

With its open-admissions policy, Swinton said, many students arrive at Benedict with poor study habits and weak high school records. His job, he said, is to help them succeed.
Since the institution is already under censure from the AAUP, it suffers no additional penalty (like "double secret censure") for the actions taken against these professors.

I'm not sure what to make of this case. When Prof. Motley says "Trying to learn is not sufficient", that appeals to me. While I certainly sympathize with any claim for academic freedom, it appears that in this case the school (I hesitate to call it a college when it freely admits it's using the first two years as remedial high school) has a mission for at-risk students. That is, they not only knew they were going to bring students who could not pass university-level exams, they were actually promulgating a mission to attract those students (via open-admission). If the faculty members had understood this when they arrived and later decided they couldn't do it, I think they should have slipped out the door. It depends on how the school presents itself to prospective faculty, something about which we can only speculate. Regrettably, if you had read only the Chronicle article (subscribers only), you might miss this part of the story.

UPDATE (8/26): See also Heavy Lifting do a better job of fleshing the economics.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Complicate until reaching desired conclusion 

I've done a few posts on how models of economics predicts a rather sure electoral victory for President Bush, and one of the models most people point to is that of Ray Fair, a professor at Yale. I've met Prof. Fair a few times; one of his students was one of my professors long ago, and since I wrote my dissertation on political business cycles I had to read many of Fair's papers. To have seen a presentation by Fair is to have seen someone use a rather old-fashioned form of econometric analysis (anachronistic to many younger macroeconomists) in a very methodical fashion to whatever solution it takes him. If the method is executed correctly and if the answers given are not absurd, he takes them as valid. As he should.

Unless, that is, if you are a New York Times interviewer.

As a professor of economics at Yale, you are known for creating an econometric equation that has predicted presidential elections with relative accuracy.

My latest prediction shows that Bush will receive 57.5 percent of the two-party votes.

The polls are suggesting a much closer race.

Polls are notoriously flaky this far ahead of the election, and there is a limit to how much you want to trust polls.

Why should we trust your equation, which seems unusually reductive?

It has done well historically. The average mistake of the equation is about 2.5 percentage points.

In your book ''Predicting Presidential Elections and Other Things,'' you claim that economic growth and inflation are the only variables that matter in a presidential race. Are you saying that the war in Iraq will have no influence on the election?

Historically, issues like war haven't swamped the economics. If the equation is correctly specified, then the chances that Bush loses are very small.

But the country hasn't been this polarized since the 60's, and voters seem genuinely engaged by social issues like gay marriage and the overall question of a more just society.

We throw all those into what we call the error term. In the past, all that stuff that you think should count averages about 2.5 percent, and that is pretty small.

It saddens me that you teach this to students at Yale, who
could be thinking about society in complex and meaningful ways.
(Emphasis mine.)

Eugene Volokh has the rest. T-jic puts it well:

So this guy does research, and says "there are two or three main variables that predict phenomena X", and someone - effectively speaking in the editorial voice of the NYT - is "saddened" that he'd dare teach this to students who should be thinking about society in "complex and meaningful" ways.

This is an amazing clash of rationalism, on the one hand, with irrational totem-worshipping, on the other. The NYT writer is effectively saying "your 'facts' may prove one thing, but I think that the world is complex, and therefore needs complex models, and any model that merely explains actual phenomena, but does not reflect my world view is illegitimate, and it saddens me that you would explain this predictive tool to others, instead of ideological models that I like but aren't as efficient".


Yeah, and then the reporter doesn't even have the decency to follow up with Fair's own note to try to explain this in a manner that is very much Fair -- he offers up every reason his model could be wrong, and arrives at the following.
If you experiment on the site with alternative vote predictions, you will see that no realistic economic values can bring the predicted vote share to even
about 53 percent. (Remember that there is only one quarter, 2004:3, for which actual economic data are not available.) This means, given the standard error of 2.4, that if the equation is correctly specified, the probability that Bush loses is very small. The bottom line is that the equation has to be misspecified in order for Bush to lose. And this is where the pitfalls come in. Regression analysis can only take us so far; possible pitfalls are always lurking.
So yes, he could be wrong, but that would mean that all the other correct predictions of the model were just luck, something which is possible but again with low probability. That the model predicts victory for the candidate he does NOT prefer matters little to Professor Fair.
I am not attempting to be an advocate for one party or another. I am attempting to be a social scientist trying to explain voting behavior.
And to this, the interviewer is utterly clueless.
But in the process you are shaping opinion. Predictions can be self-confirming, because wishy-washy voters might go with the candidate who is perceived to be more successful. ...

Another note on novice politicians 

Another reported weirdness in the campaign for the 6th Congressional District (see my updated post below for more). Again from Hot Talk with the Ox this morning (Ox was gone, so Don Lyons at the helm), it appears the Wetterling campaign backed out of two debates with incumbent Mark Kennedy scheduled for August 24th in St. Cloud and August 25th in (not sure I heard this right) Elk River. It appears the challenger had realized there would be a conflict with family plans for a wedding for her daughter (scheduled to occur later in the month). According to someone at the Kennedy campaign, the debates were planned in early July. Don read a letter from Wetterling's campaign office offering alternative places to have "meetings". I can't find a copy of the letter on her site.

There's nothing wrong with this, though it's sloppy and a bit rude to bail on the debates for next week at such a late moment when the wedding probably wasn't an unexpected event. It does suggest again, however, some inexperience in running the campaign. Late Money Isn't Like Yeast -- it better be coming with a few professionals, or that bread will be toast shortly.

The road to hell is paved and Dunn 

Remember Kerri Dunn? The police didn't forget.

A former Claremont McKenna College professor accused of spray painting racist slogans on her car and then blaming students for the vandalism was convicted Wednesday of attempted insurance fraud and filing a false police report.

Kerri Dunn, 39, a former visiting psychology professor, showed no emotion as a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury in Pomona rendered its verdict. Dunn faces up to 3 1/2 years imprisonment when she returns to court for sentencing Sept. 17.

The jury, which deliberated four hours, was not asked to determine whether Dunn vandalized her own car. Instead, the panel was asked whether she had made false statements to the authorities and her insurer about the damage.

Claremont McKenna's president pronounces herself "grateful to have a resolution." K.C. Johnson notes:

At the time, Stanford sociologist Lee Ross said that regardless of who vandalized Dunn's car, "doing this may actually have accomplished some of her goals, if her goal was to make people feel that racism was present and that there was danger of white backlash." He continued, "Sometimes people invent facts because they believe that the conclusion that it would lead people to is true."

This is the educational philosophy of some extreme pro-"diversity" groups nationally, notably the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which argues that working-class and middle-class students need a college education designed to purge them of their ingrained sexist and racist beliefs. It's nice to see this line of thinking didn't carry the day in the jury room.

Let's repeat that: "Sometimes people invent facts because they believe that the conclusion that it would lead people to is true."

Christmas in Cambodia, anyone?

Egregious nonsense 

The case of a student who claimed failure to give him extra time for reading for his third-year medical school clinicals was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act has been defeated in appellate court. The court's ruling on a 2-1 decision noted that the plaintiff, Andrew Wong, had made it to the third year of medical school.
The level of academic success Wong has achieved without special accommodation precludes the possibility that he could establish that he is disabled. Wong is not less able to 'learn' than most people. His record proves the contrary.'
The minority opinion however, disagreed with this:
The apparent problem in this case is that Wong worked too hard and succeeded too well.
Reminds me of a story that I think Jim Bouton told in Ball Four of Joe Pepitone once being thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. He was thrown out by 20 feet and remained on the ground after the tag. The second baseman asks "Joe, are you alright?" "Yeah, but better to look hurt than stupid." Wong's lawyer should take that advice, given his comment on the ruling.
"If you have one leg, but you're able to climb El Capitan, that doesn't mean you're not a disabled person,'' [Hunter] Pyle said. "But that's what these judges are saying ... if you get far enough in school, you're not disabled."
The word missing is "learning", as in "if you get far enough in school, you're not learning disabled."

Midnight smak 

So J.V.C. gently jibes me about posting from Armenia and says he has nothing to offer from his trip to Manila, and then he produces thoughts on SpamJam and Jollibee. Ah yes, the days of Kiev with Kentucky Beirut Chicken and Kitaiskiy Smak. At the latter, you brought your own containers for takeout. I had to learn how to tell the taxi "wait here" while I fetched dinner.

Best I saw in Armenia this trip? "Breeze", with neon sign advertising "Thai seafood European". We had no idea there was striptease inside. No wonder everyone looked at us sitting on the patio.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen has a more serious but still fun look at how to eat while travelling.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Smile of the day 

From whom else but Mike Adams? He offers to debate the usefulness of gun laws for women at women's center programs.
I am writing to offer my expertise, free of charge, to Women�s Centers around the nation that are interested in combating violence against women.

� It is my opinion that the response to the problem of violence against�female students has lacked a diversity of viewpoint. Specifically, there has been a lack of discussion about the possible benefits of gun ownership among women, particularly those who have been harassed, stalked, or otherwise victimized in the past.

As such, I would love the opportunity to visit your campus to talk about the following:

*The benefits and responsibilities of gun ownership in general.
*The desirability of concealed carry permits for women.
*The basic rules governing the use of deadly force.

Since I am traveling extensively in the coming year, I believe that I will be able to coordinate a visit to your university sometime in the coming months. Again, the lecture would be provided at no cost to the university.
I request that Dr. Adams offer this speech to some other schools that might be more grateful than the ten women's centers that either have not answered or declined his generosity. Adams explains the other programs offered in lieu.
Oh well, at least I tried. After all, most of these centers will be sponsoring the Vagina Monologues later this year. That should be enough to scare most of the men away. So maybe they don�t need guns after all. Maybe I just need to see things from a woman�s perspective.

"Dear Water Boy, We Hate You, Signed, Everybody" 

Apparently while I was away a small education dustup occurred over a letter signed by the "Class of 2004" of Stillwater Area High School to their local state Senator Michele Bachmann, who had sent a letter of congratulations to the class on their graduation. The letter, read on Joe Soucheray's radio program, rejected the Republican legislator's congratulations.
We as students feel that your ideas about education are too exclusive for the great diversity of thought found in this country and our schools today. Your belief that "students learn history that is consistent with and supportive of basic fundamental American principles as stated in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution," is simply too narrow of an outline for our social studies education. In fact we find your standards overall to have an usual focus on conservative values and leaders and a general ignorance of the darker, less honorable periods in our history to be considered fair and balanced. After all, we can not celebrate our accomplishments and ignore our failures. When you state that it is essential that "our children are taught American values like sovereignty, patriotism and free market enterprise," we would say that that is a close minded approach to education which we as students reject. America is about diversity of people and opinion; it is about freedom to have healthy discussion about the positive and negative aspects of our nation. To teach clearly conservative values disguised under the names "patriotism" and "free market enterprise" to young people with moldable minds is simply slanted and unfair. Our education should not be influenced by the right wing "question nothing" fervor of the times. And when you say that "parents have the right and responsibility of training their child in the way they should go," we respond that we should have the right to be exposed to a wealth of ideas about America in order to form our own opinions.
We could have ourselves a fine debate about the merits of the letter, as Joe has and are Scholar the Owl at Minnesota Education Reform News and MinnBEST (and M has to get some award for worst editing job by a blogcopier; hello Fraters!), but I want to call attention to another point.

I am doubting the veracity of this letter as representing the "Class of 2004". Soucheray is good at sniffing out this sort of thing and I have no idea if he factchecked this or not, as it was read when I was out of the country. If he did, someone put that in the comments and I'll amend this post. But I have not seen this anywhere else, and given some people want to make hay from it, I think it needs to be raised.

The letter by the students is dated July 7. Senator Bachmann's letter is dated solely as June 2004. According to Stillwater AHS's own site, graduation was on June 5 with the last assembly of the seniors the day before. Unless she postdated her note and wrote it in May, I would think it unlikely that the students had any more than three days to have a) read the letter; b) written a response; and c) distributed it to the Class of 2004. How could they? This is not a small high school but the fifth largest in the state. How would they have collected signatures from -- let's be democratic -- one-half plus one senior of the students? At the graduation? At the senior party? Then why does the letter bear the date July 7? Afterward? How? By mail? And given how the letter shows up at Soucheray's desk (probably direct from Bachmann's) and her visibility in Minnesota, why would this letter only show up on Soucheray's show? Having one kid already through high school, I think it's likely that if a group of students really did this they would want some media coverage.

If I'm wrong on this, the students who put this together are invited to tell me how they accomplished what must have been the Herculean feat of getting 350-400 signatures at least to give legitimacy to sign as "The Class of 2004."

I don't want to suggest that somebody, say a teacher's group, put them up to this or faked it because if they did the media coverage would have been far wider. I think it's most likely a few students, hiding behind the cover of "Class of 2004", perpetrated a bit of a hoax. That's too bad, because if they had signed it with their names as 2004 SAHS graduates, as individuals rather than as part of a class, I'd applaud them for taking the time to write their concerns to Senator Bachmann. The fact that I disagree with them doesn't diminish that sentiment one bit.

Odd political note 

Sorry for the delay today -- many loose ends remain after travel.

Local radio host Dan "Ox" Ochsner said this morning that he was surprised that there was not more local DFL primping of a visit to a St. Cloud VFW post by former Senator Max Cleland and one of the Swift Boat vets who supports Kerry. (Here's the Times piece, but remember they move the archive daily, so you go to the homepage and fish for it tomorrow.) Now we're no St. Paul, so we don't usually get the likes of a big rally that our NARN brethren have. We're kinda the Medina Ballroom of political theaters (could be worse); we takes who we can gets. And frankly, Max Cleland is one of the bigger names we've had through here. (Hey, he got above the fold in the local section; Bush below.)

So Ox was asking why we did not see candidates such as Patty Wetterling standing alongside Cleland and the SwiftOne. I thought that was interesting. And indeed, when later in the day I saw the poster being used to advertise the talk, the name in big letters was Max Cleland's -- John Kerry's name was four points smaller, and only as a modifier to the identity of the Swift boat person. None of the other political lights of the local DFL were mentioned either, though occasional NARN caller Joe Repya made an appearance in the Times story:
"There are some very angry veterans out there about (Kerry's) anti-war actions. I am not one of them," he said from his home before Cleland's St. Cloud visit. "This is not about the Vietnam War. It is about who can best lead America in the war on terror, and based on his Senate record, I don't see how any veteran can take him seriously as a presidential candidate."

When your own party elected officials can't even get their name in the article about your rally, maybe others aren't taking him seriously either.

Short note: The inclusion of Repya in the article suggests that some folks at the Times do take the concept of "balanced reporting" seriously. Bigger market papers, nota bene.

UPDATE (8/20): KAAL in Rochester indicates Wetterling did appear there with Cleland at the AFL-CIO convention.
Wetterling is turning her own personal tragedy into a run for congress.

"I have worked for 14 years to advocate on behalf of children and families and to build a safer world for kids. I feel this is the next step where we can be that big strong voice for kids in our nation's capitol."

Her full speech is up on her own site, which suggests she's moved ahead to want to be that big strong voice for unions, too.
We all know that big corporations do not look out for the interests of working
families. And we all know that an unregulated, free marketplace does not
concern itself with individual workers.

This is why teachers need a better education in economics, because this is tripe. She even notes this in her own speech.

Half of our nation�s gross national product is generated by small businesses.

60 percent of the jobs in this country are created by small businesses.

So her answer? Give more money to the Small Business Administration. She says this to the AFL-CIO, mind you, none of whose members work for small businesses. And who created SBA?

The Eisenhower Administration, in 1953.

Wetterling is still a novice at this.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

How much is that promise in the window? 

About $2 trillion. Details here. (Hat tip: Newmark's Door.)

OK, I'm officially pooped and I have two engagements tonight plus concluding a debate about Little Scholar's education with Mrs. B. Back hinkshaptee.

Be careful with that data, it's dynamite 

A week ago Chumley at Plastic Hallway was infuriated by how his newsfeeder was providing him a report on jobs:

(St. Paul, MN) -- For the first time in at least four years, the state has more job openings than a year ago. State labor analyst Steve Hine says despite the 28-percent increase, the number of vacancies in Minnesota is still short of where it was prior to the recession that started in 2001.

Excuse me? First off, since when are we in a verifiable recession? Second, if there is a recession, why peg 2001 as the start date? Third, why aren't we celebrating like crazy a 28 percent increase?
The recession date, of course, has been the subject of debate, though it appears to have started in early 2001. But its ending is also in 2001, if you're going to use the official figures. I've looked at the data for a long time and I can't reasonably claim NBER made a mistake either way. So if the story says there's a recession starting in 2001, it probably could say the recession also ended that year.

The original information about the increase in job vacancies indicates nothing like what's in Chumley's newsfeeder. And I should point out that Hine, rather than a run-of-the-mill "state labor analyst" is actually the head of the data unit there at DEED. What he probably said was it was the biggest increase seen since 2000 -- which is when they first started these surveys. The use of the data, while true, makes it sound as if Hine said that, which I doubt he would have unless he was asked "Was this the highest level of vacancies ever recorded?" The correct answer would be no, they were higher in 2000. Having been interviewed for the Quarterly Business Report a few times, I can tell you that answering journalists' questions about anything to do with numbers requires careful handling.

The base question, though, is whether the economy in Minnesota looks good. Today's local paper carries a story with one of my former students showing how it has been finding jobs. The story's headline? "Job prospects increasing for college graduates."

Good for you, Chumley, you've helped my local paper.

"I said go get milk and BOLOGNA!" 

While I was away you all went and had yourself a nice little political scandal in New Jersey. Frankly I could care less, but this comment by Margaret at Our House strikes me as dead-on.

In that light "I'm gay," sounds like a request for public sympathy and clemency for his actions from a legal standpoint. The "gay defense" here is about as compelling as the "twinkie defense" was and nobody, gay or straight should buy it.

(Line in title from a little seen play called "The Last Days of Harvey Milk", not to be confused with that Jay Mohr thing.)

Can't believe she said that 

We have an administrator at SCSU who tickles me with her talks in public. She is an old hand of the university and talks like the natives, so I think from time to time the university sort of uses her as a spokeswoman. It's strange yet refreshing, because she is quirky and says things spokespeople usually don't say. So when I read this piece in the local paper (still has screwy archiving), I have this impression her bosses in the administration probably winced.
Students at St. Cloud State University and St. Cloud Technical College will pay 15 percent more for tuition this fall. The College of St. Benedict and St. John's University will increase tuition by 7 percent.

The increases, which have been a given at the public schools for at least four years, continue to shift the burden for higher education from taxpayers to students. The trend has pushed some students to work more, take fewer classes, take more time to graduate or finish school with more debt.

But rising costs haven't deterred students from going to college.

The technical college, which starts fall semester today, is projecting a 3 percent enrollment increase. About 3,000 students attend the college.

Freshman applications at St. Cloud State were up more than 3 percent at the end of June. St. Ben's and St. John's are expecting 993 new students, which is typical for the schools.


"Traditionally, when they make cuts like that, generally they look at who can generate revenue, and we can," said Diana Burlison, associate vice president for administrative affairs at St. Cloud State.

In fiscal year 1999, 70 percent of St. Cloud State's operating budget came from the state and 30 percent came from tuition, Burlison said. By fiscal year 2005, tuition collected from students contributed to 50 percent of the budget, she said.

The public's view on higher education has changed, Burlison said.

"I think there's a shift from higher education being a public good to it being a private good, that people who use it should pay for it," she said.
Amen, little sister.

Armenia: More than a country, it's a weight loss center! 

Sorry to have been away from the blog these few days, but after a visit to the villages over the weekend and some suspicious park food Sunday night, I was laid low by some food poisoning early Monday morning. (I know the difference between simple traveler's diarrhea and food poisoning, folks, and this was not your garden variety TD.) The fact that I was to get on the plane to return to St. Cloud the following morning -- have I told you about public toilets in Armenia? No? You should be grateful -- meant this was a first-order crisis. Easy access to antibiotics and some medicinal tea saw me to the plane, and with little fanfare I got home last night. "My God you lost weight!" my wife exclaimed when she saw me. I think she thought I was kidding about the illness when I sent her a note Monday night telling her I couldn't write much.

I'll have some other things up later today, but jet lag, which is always worse for me east-west than west-east (why?), will eventually catch up with me and I'll catch up with you and so on.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Bush tickets available 

Mitch tells us that there tickets to the Bush rally on Wednesday.  Avaiable until 9pm tonight and tomorrow only while supplies last.  Address:  1445 Energy Park Drive, Saint Paul.  Here is the Mapquest: for the address.  Go get 'em at Bush-Cheney headquarters.  (For St. Cloud readers, I bet if you go over to the GOP office in Waite Park you can score one.)

Hospitality, an Armenian village meal, and the Vernissage 

Not only am I studying remittances here, I'm part of them. Like almost any diasporan coming over here, I brought gifts for people who live here. In a village not too far from Yerevan is a family who arrived here from around Beirut after World War 2. The mets mayr, or grandmother of the group (also called der geen, or head woman), was my grandmother's older sister. Her oldest son is now the head of the family along with his wife, now the der geen and with the same name as his mother. Here is a picture of me with them (the older couple to my right), two of their sons, their daughter, and assorted grand and great-grandchildren from my visit to them yesterday.

An average pensioner in Armenia gets a check for about $15 a month, when the government does send them. They don't always come on time, and sometimes governments fall in arrears. The family trade is building, and all three sons -- the third is also a remitter, working in Russia -- provide for all of these people. Driving back from their place last night we had to slow to let cows cross the road, incongruously in front of an old factory also built by Stalin at the end of WW2. It has not been opened for years.

Village hospitality being what it is, I was treated to a feast unlike anything you will experience in America. I arrived mid-afternoon and as I came through the door a table was spread with food and drink. Knowing that many toasts were coming, I prepped with tahn, a thinned yogurt with some mint and salt. Lining the stomach helps. It also helps to provide them an alternative to vodka, which they are surely going to offer and on which I am not going to survive, so I brought out the 12-year-old Jameson's. Many toasts were made, much family history was shared, photos of our families were exchanged, and a few Franklins.

Another thing that happens when you go abroad is the shopping for souvenirs. A very good friend, a professional translator trained in business, helped today to shop for the list my wife sent me with. Here the local weekend bazaar is called the Vernissage. Someone explained to me that this French word is often used to describe one getting a private showing in an art gallery, but the experience here is anything but private. It is like a flea market with aggressive sellers; there are not many antiques but loads of crafts and some really cheesy tourist whatnots. The usual begging hands were there as well -- there is still some here, but I must add there is much less now than two years ago, and nothing like the begging in the bazaars in the Middle East -- and often a woman or man will be walking with something to sell as well. Last time here I had focused on the many fine pieces of jewelry, because the stones here are remarkable. On this trip I looked instead for some embroidery and lace for family back home. The prices were remarkable and the ladies selling them were clearly offering me weeks worth of work for $50 or less. My parents are in the antique business and I've been known to dicker furiously around the world, but it was hard to do with these women. And one woman who had chased us around with her lacework, too small and not really what I wanted, caught us buying from someone else and scolded us in Armenian. Vernissage is an experience for those who think they've seen it all in the Turkish bazaar. It's different, more laid back and at the same time more demanding.

More friends to visit tonight and then a set of exit interviews tomorrow. See you then.

Brain drain or brain gain? 

This is a recent article about the issue that I've been working on in Armenia these last two weeks. The issue:
Migrants have long been ignored as a resource. Instead, they have often been perceived either as an economic burden on countries of destination or as a potential loss to their country of origin through "brain drain." There is another side to this story. Migrants are helping to maintain important social and economic linkages between the developed and developing worlds that alleviate poverty in very significant ways. Flows of remittances and the return of migrants with new skills can offset the loss of migrants and may even lead to a "brain gain." Modern communication and cheaper transportation make it easier for migrants to maintain links with their home countries, creating opportunities for investments and the sharing of know-how.
Labor moves to its highest-valued use, and increasingly, borders are irrelevant. If you enact crappy economic policies, your best people may leave -- but their families stay here, and they receive money from their best and brightest. Indeed, families may find their best investment is in the brain of their brightest children whom they will send away in short order.

The danger is whether governments can ever do anything that "helps" remittances. That's the debate I'm in with others right now. More after I return from here.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Burning Tigris -- conclusion 

As I mentioned in part 2, I did not want to read in too much detail the stories of the 1915 Genocide itself, for they can be quite gruesome.  Balakian did not offer as many details as he could have, but the pictures he draws with a minimum of breast-beating are graphic enough.  I thought of the families I visited today, relatives of mine (I'll write about that separately), and the history they went through.  The anger towards the Turks is still palpable among older Armenians here, belying the notion that the Genocide is remembered only among its old diaspora.  That certainly was not true today.

Anyway, what makes Balakian's book quite different is the focus on the U.S.' reaction to the Armenian question at the time of the Genocide.  In particular, when Woodrow WIlson went to Versailles to help write the treaty, he was clearly aware of the Genocide -- not only had it been in all the newspapers of the time, but his friends were the same missionaries who had established the missions that were reporting back the horrors to the newspapers.  Balakian tells the tale of how little by little American policy and then American attention turned from Armenia and human rights to Turkey and oil. 

On this, I think the book is quite weak in asserting that oil lied at the base, rather than simply seeing that Wilson had been outmaneuvered by the Europeans and made a fatal mistake in not declaring war on Turkey, thereby forfeiting a place at the table to negotiate the peace with Turkey after World War I.  Even so, the Treaty of Sevres had given Wilson an opening to draw boundaries between Armenia and Turkey which would have been much greater than its area today.  There were four provinces agreed even by Ataturk to have been historically Armenian.  These included ports on the Black Sea port of Batumi and the historic city of Kars and Lake Van.  But Wilson first dithered, and then took ill with a series of strokes and could not get the mandate he wanted passed by the Senate.  By this time Armenia had little choice but to negotiate a deal with the Soviet Union; the Turks had taken the four provinces to the west of the Araxes and the Russians did not desire to fight for them on behalf of the Armenians. 

It's not clear why Balakian chooses to pursue the oil angle, nor why he does not spend more time on Europe's indifference to Armenia's plight after the war. Europe has later on decided to recognize the genocide, with France leading the way.  The issue burns for many diaspora -- there is in fact a fairly strong Armenians for Kerry group that are convinced Kerry will do more for recognition of genocide than Bush has (on this, alas, Bush has indeed been quite unhelpful as it hopes to keep Turkey a friend in the GWOT.)  But I think Demon Oil is a touchstone of the leftist faith that Balakian could not let alone.   He leaves open the question of why Wilson did what he did, for which I think we should be grateful, but he's pretty clear that he thinks "greed" is the cause.  It's a shame the last chapter had to detract from the rest of this excellent book.  There is after that an epilogue of genocide denial in the second half of the 20th century, which is again an area which Balakian knows and explains well. 

Friday, August 13, 2004

Soorj meditations 

My wife sent to me a link from a webcam about three blocks from my hotel room Live From Armenia that you may enjoy.  It has been blistering hot here for most of the week and the smog had developed over the week.  I can't tell you exact temperatures: There's a law that says if it is over 40 degrees Celsius workers must be allowed to go home.  So the thermometers here seem to be stuck on 39.  But last night as we were going to dinner a huge wind kicked up out of the west and cooled things off.  I was sitting with my back to a window that faced the wind, and I was a little concerned.  But by the time we left the restaurant the wind had stopped, and all of a sudden you could see Ararat, just as you can from the webcam this morning.  Enjoy!

We left the restaurant early because we were annoyed with the lack of deserts at a restaurant that prides itself on sitting around with coffee and a sweet, followed by a cigar and brandy.  Armenian brandy has been one of my means of plying my way into the good graces of the NARN, as the Elder is ga-ga for the stuff.  Be sure to buy the brands from the Yerevan Brandy Factory, the oldest in the country (bought several years ago by Pernod-Ricard, the French company -- I guess the French needed to learn how to make good brandy.)  But the experience isn't quite the same without some good paklava or kadaif, and there was none in the restaurant.  We went back to the hotel which has a Viennese-style cafe and a passable Sacher torte.

Soorj haigagan, or Armenian coffee, is probably known to most people as Turkish coffee or Arabic coffee, but there are differences.  Arabs often include cardamom in their coffee as a carminative, to relieve the bloat after a big plate of kebab and kufta, etc.  Unfortunately the spice works on me a little differently; suffice to say I should not use it in polite company.  Turks like more sugar in their coffee than Armenians generally.  I prefer none, particularly if I'm having all the honey in good paklava or kadaif.  Paklava (you call it baklava most likely) and kadaif are similar in taste, but the pastry for kadaif is stringy, like a soft angel-hair pasta noodle but made of the same dough as fillo.

Anything that one does in Armenia with talking to people comes with soorj.  Last night while having the coffee and torte a priest walks up and starts looking over my friend's copies of the IHT.  Amazingly, he does not seem at all concerned that they were next to my friend, who loves to keep the back copies for the NYT crosswords.  He starts to ask the priest something and the priest answers in English with a noticeable Boston accent.  It turns out the man has lived here for five years, teaching at the seminary and leading a youth group.  We ended up talking over soorj for an hour about Armenia, America and the Boston Celtics.  (He had not heard we got Gary Payton.)

Most people are remarking on two things these days.  First, there are loads of cafes here, much more than when I was here in 2002.  Locals are complaining that there are too many, but that all are full.  Well, I say, how can you have too many cafes and not enough seats at the same time?  Secondly, in a related point, the price of apartments has gone up substantially.  When I lived in Kyiv several years ago my flat was $3000/month for 110 square meters (a little more than 1100 sq.ft.)  Here a similar apartment two years ago went for $2000.  One of my counterparts, a US government contractor, was in such an apartment and the landlord wanted to raise his rent.  He refused and moved.  The apartment rented within a week after he moved out, to an Iranian Armenian -- most likely for much more. 

The priest last night told us two other stories that match the increasing economic activity here.  First, he used to lead retreats for youth on any day of the week and had no problem getting them to come.  (Armenia is the opposite of the U.S.  -- here, teens rebel from their parents by going to church.)  Now he must schedule on the weekends because the youth cannot come during the week -- they are working.  Second, in Soviet times apartment blocks were built as one big block facing the four streets, but the center of the block was left as a courtyard.  You enter apartments by walking into the courtyard first then into the door and up to the flat.  The courtyard was a social center, and kids could play there under watchful gaze and without traffic.  Land values have risen enough now, however, that new buildings are going up in the courtyards, filling the hole of the donut as it were.  And traffic jams abound now, and parking is far more difficult. 

William Saroyan once said that it didn't matter where you scattered the Armenians, that anytime two or more met they would just build a new one.  Here, in a country in which a little more than three million Armenians live (out of near eleven million Armenians worldwide -- 1.4 million in the USA), there are signs Saroyan is being proved right.  I just looked outside my window and there are six construction cranes.  I'll drink to that!

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Burning Tigris, Part 2 

Armenians commemorate their dead from the genocide on April 24th, called Martyr's Day or Genocide Memorial Day, after the Armenian intelligentsia of Constantinople in 1915 were deported en masse from the city and massacred in the desert. Most people in discussing the Armenian Genocide refer to the period after 1915. But as Balakian points out, massacre of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey was a recurring event dating back at least to the 1840s and hitting a previous peak in the 1890s and Sultan Abdul Hamid II. My own family history of immigration to America is rooted in the earlier massacres, as my grandfather's family began to leave after the 1894-96 sacking of Armenian towns in the east of Turkey (he came from Malatia a few years later, following his older brother), and my grandmother sent to a Beirut orphanage after her father had been killed and her mother and family kicked off their farm in the Musa Dagh region (the area later storied for Armenian resistance of the Turks in Franz Werfel's The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.) And Americans were aware of these events almost from the start due to the efforts of the New England Protestants that are the center of Balakian's story. For instance, this letter by Dr. Julian Hubbell of the American Red Cross in 1896 from Arabkir, a city near Malatia which had been razed:
Nearly the entire city of Arabkir was in ruins, only heaps of stones where houses had been. Out of eighteen hundred homes but few remained; the markets as well as the dwellings were destroyed, and the people, plundered and destitute, were crowed into the few remaining houses, down [infected] with the typhus. We were told that six hundred had already died of the disease, and the [Armenian] people's physician, the only one in this part of the country, was in prison. (p. 88)
Likewise, during the massacres in Adana 13 years later, Balakian discusses the reports of British vice-consul C. H. M. Doughty Wylie on seeing Turks commit massacres of Armenians both in the city and on the trains leaving the city while Abdul Hamid's supporters were trying to create a counterrevolution against the new democratic government. Order was restored and the Armenians were disarmed. Then under provocation that was later shown could not have come from the Armenians, the new government's troops went in and killed many in the town, and then continued to Alexandretta to the mountains and, among others, my grandmother's farm. 15,000 to 25,000 died. And the Turks were emboldened by Western inaction, Balakian writes:
...Again, as in the case of the Hamidian massacres, no justice or punishment was served in the wake of the Adana massacres. And it was this impunity that further devalued an already marginalized group. While there were heroic bystanders and rescuers ... there was no foreign intervention. The irony that the warships of seven nations -- England, Fance, Italy, Austria, Russia, Germany and the United States -- were stationed just miles away off the cost and did not intervene only dramatizes the failure. (p. 157)
I could spend a great deal of time discussing the 1915 genocide itself, but it is well-tread ground. Balakian does a very good job covering these events and in particular dealing with Western reporting at the time, but that is also covered by anyone familiar with the history of U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morganthau and there are plenty of places on the web to learn about these. (It's hard to put that together with the dialup connection here, so I'll have a summary post next week with that assuming you are interested.) But I would like to issue one more part to this review in a couple of days to cover the less-well told story of the trials of the Young Turk leaders of the genocide in 1919-20. I will also summarize my feelings about the book by then as well.

UPDATE: Put in some links, including those of my family history from my personal website. If you're interested.

Notes for Armenian drivers 

Just a couple things to get off my chest here.

  1. Dear Armenian Drivers -- the thing on your steering wheel is not a brake. It is a horn. You can tell this by the audible sound it makes. The brake is that pedal between the accelerator you love so much and the clutch you think makes another great sound. The horn and the brake are not substitutes. Pedestrians throughout the country thank you for your attention.
  2. What the hell is it with black Volgas? Does the spirit of the KGB invade the driver with an attitude of get-the-hell-out-of-my-way-you-peon? I have not seen one yet that did not menace.
  3. Cab drivers -- turn down the radio. I am trying to talk to my colleague. When you see us moving our lips but hear nothing but your crappy pop, that is not because we are mimes.
Your kind attention to these matters is greatly appreciated. Sh'norhagalootyoon.

Monday, August 09, 2004

How others see us 

One of the drawbacks of travel into the developing world is your dependency in the Marriotts and Hyatts on your news from the satellite. My choices for news on the TV are CNN International and BBC World. Other than the pronunciation of "BBC World" (I bet Captain Ed can do a mean impersonation) there is little to recommend the channel. For one thing, they don't know how to fill the time before the top of an hour so they show a countdown. Can there be anything more boring that watching a clock count to zero? Yes -- they can make it count to :03 and then make you guess the rest. Utterly dreadful. There's oodles of sports coverage -- of tennis and FYUTball, which is soccer to those of us with better living standards. Not that I dislike the game itself; I can really enjoy the Euro Cup or Champions League games. I just don't understand the reporting about it. I suppose that's how they feel about baseball, poor buggers.

But the most discouraging part of this is the coverage of the U.S. election. If last week's Victor Davis Hanson did not convince you that Europe is pulling for Kerry, you should watch CNNi or BBCW. Both reported Bush's slip of the tongue during the bill-signing last week. I'm not sure why it's news in America -- I can only surmise it is news in Europe and elsewhere to provide a little comic relief at the expense of Europe's bete noire. The coverage of Ahmed Chalabi's arrest warrant is very favorable to him; it takes all of 10 seconds, a minute-plus into the report, to tell us that he is being investigated for holding counterfeit Saddam dinars. This is followed by living proof that Darwinism isn't perfect, in the flesh of Charles Schumer discussing how we could have had bin Laden if only we had not talked about .

The International Herald Tribune, which is a joint of the WaPo and the NYT, seems to take the most biased articles of both papers. Krugman gets to appear in the paper this weekend, calling Awad Allawi a thug. Today's issue has a headline blaring "U.S. failing to slow nuclear programs" in Iran and North Korea. (So how will we slow them? Rapprochement?) Allawi's trip to Najaf is below the fold. BBC will debate later tonight with he is Iraq's strongman or the U.S.'s puppet. No other choices.

Maybe "they hate us" because we show them only self-hatred in our international paper and our international press?

Just now Christiane Ammanpour was on talking about Sudan. I used to be, well, infatuated with her. Now that requires the mute button.

UPDATE: Plastic Hallway thinks that maybe this "Europe loves Kerry" thing is overdone.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

And behold, there was Ararat 

I thought some readers would like a few pictures of Armenia. It's an historic place, with nothing more historical to non-Armenians than Mt. Ararat. You may realize that Ararat, a national symbol to Armenians, is over the border into easternmost Turkey, and the border is closed due to continued tensions between Armenians and Turks. So one can get close but not go to the mountain. That we did yesterday, going to the monastery at Khor Virop. Ararat, of course, is the mountain on which Noah's Ark landed after the Flood.

Here are a couple of shots. The first is of the monastery itself. While we were there, a family that had driven from Yerevan had a memorial ceremony for a relative who had recently passed away.

The second is of Ararat and Masis (a.k.a. pokr Ararat or "little Ararat") with Khor Virop in the foreground as if a sentinel.

Between the two lies the Arax River which separates Turkey from Armenia and Armenians from their heritage. My friend Raffi has more interesting pictures and the story of Khor Virop.

Burning Tigris: Part 1 

(I am trying out mailing my blogs to publishing, since my connection is pretty foo.)

I had the pleasure of hearing and speaking with Peter Balakian up in St. Cloud a few years ago.  He is a poet, and a professor of English who had interest both in poetry and Holocaust studies was instrumental in bringing him to campus.  His book at the time was "Black Dog of Fate", a more personal memoir of growing up as the child of diasporan Armenian parents.  There are many such books like Black Dog, but what gave it a degree of specialness was the attempt to tie his personal reflections of learning the genocide from his family to the history of the genocide itself.  Balakian has been a stalwart combatant of the denials of the genocide by historians funded by the Turkish government.  That work is reprised in an epilogue to Burning Tigris, and those unfamiliar with it should read that epilogue.  Those who've followed the Armenian question before probably will revisit old ground.

I say that in part because one of the objectives of Burning Tigris (whose subtitle is "The Armenian Genocide and America's Reponse") is to emphasize America's early role in calling attention to the "Armenian question", which was what to do about the crimes committed by the Turks dating back to the 1840s against non-Muslims in the Ottoman empire, of which Armenians had been the largest minority group.  The book opens in America with a history of the New England Protestant groups that sent missions to Ottoman Turkey.  They soon quickly turned from the Turks to the Armenians, who practiced Orthodoxy.  (The Apostolic Church, as you might guess, wasn't too pleased.)  Thus Protestant groups from America as well as from Europe were in a position to witness the genocides, and vigorous protests began in America as early as the 1890s, well before the start of "the genocide" of 1915.

Balakian is a storyteller first, and he does a great job weaving historical elements into a description of the American response to the earlier periods, focusing on the relationship between Ohannes Chautschumian and a group of Boston social reformers including Julia Ward Howe, Alice Stone Blackwell and Isabel Barrows.  Chautschumian was an Armenian priest who studied languages, eventually coming to America and studying at Harvard Divinity.  Howe and particularly Blackwell championed the cause of the Armenians in America as a result of their conversations with Chautschumian.  The story is at points personal and poignant, as Alice and Ohannes were attracted to each other personally.  (Balakian does not describe the relationship in great detail, which was rather a relief, but he does say they would have married had Ohannes lived long enough for this to happen.)  The point Balakian makes though is quite clear:
The Armenian human rights movement had homes in many cities ... but Boston seemed to be its center, and Alice Stone Blackwell, Isabel Barrows, and Julia Ward Howe were at its epicenter.  Almost every major newspaper in the United States covered the Armenian massacres with regularity, but the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, and the Boston Transcript covered the massacres, the Friends of Armenia [an American group formed by the three --kb] and various relief projects to a greater extent than any other papers in the country.  But it was the Woman's Journal, the organ of the American Woman Suffrage Association ... that would cover the Armenian crisis in greater depth and with a more activist perspective than all the rest.  (p. 94)
The Armenian plight was for these women tied up with women's rights, and certainly with Armenian families -- where the leader of the home is always the eldest female, the mayrig -- the two causes found common ground. 

It is a fascinating point that he makes here, that one of the first international human rights movements of the US was the Armenian question.  It therefore comes as a great mystery why, when the Young Turks committed their greater genocide in 1915, the Americans and Europe did not react more forcefully.  It is this which the book promises to get to next, and where I'll pick up next time.

Friday, August 06, 2004

IEM good, PAM bad? 

An excellent article at the Mises Institute is asking this question and points out an excellent arbitrage opportunity:
The first time I looked at TradeSports.com -- an Irish sports gambling site that operates through an international exchange of contingent contracts -- they were putting the chances of President Bush's re-election at 60% (i.e., a $100 BUSH WINS contract was priced at $60). The clients of TradeSports.com spend real money on real contracts, taking real risks in pursuit of real reward. The virtual prediction market site, NewsFutures.com also offers contingent contracts on President Bush's re-election chances, but both purchases and pay-offs are done with play money. Their "market" gave Bush only a 49% chance of re-election. This was in the spring of 2004. One obvious empirical test would be to compare how close the different sites come to predicting the actual election results -- will the local knowledge of the local American website outperform the profit-driven predictions of the international gamblers?

As I write this, in the summer of 2004, I can't yet know. What I do know is that an 11-point discrepancy in contract prices couldn't last if both markets were based on the risk of real money. If both markets really paid a hundred dollars for their $100 contracts -- and if they were both active enough to allow a large number of such contracts to be traded -- then arbitrageurs could guarantee a certain return in November. By buying the cheaper contract in each market -- the $40 BUSH LOSES in one market and the $49 BUSH WINS contract in the other -- they could guarantee a $100 pay-off for an $89 expenditure (ignoring transaction costs). Note that the arbitrageur doesn't need to have any opinion of Bush's re-election chances: he is, after all, betting both ways. All that is necessary for the arbitrage profit opportunity is a disagreement between the two markets: a discrepancy in their prices.
Anyone going to trade this?

And what is the implication of this for the
Policy Analysis Market?

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Red Army fender bender 

When people ask me by email -- working a little better now -- how things are different here in Armenia, I say relative to what? There are a few new buildings here as I mentioned before. People still seem to me, however, to have the same sense of loss. Loss of what? Let me explain.

I watched an auto accident on Independence Square two nights ago. A fender bender in which the car ahead, merging into the circle, was spun by the one behind. Two very large men in the second car come out and practically charge the first car. Police come; roughly 100 people are milling around waving hands, theatrically gesticulating. It looks like the scene of a traffic accident in Rome from some 60s Hollywood movie. A big police vehicle comes. Not one cop but eight. Why? And where is the ambulance? For that matter, why isn't Jerry Lewis in this movie?

What is lost really is a sense of order, a sense of proportion. Small things seem huge. The really big things here -- an economy improving but nobody believing it, a sense that poverty is getting worse despite numbers to the contrary, a peace that seems to endure, a government that seems impervious to claims of corruption -- none of this is discussed. So they spend much time instead worrying about a fender bender.

We went up "Barbecue Street" to a restaurant last night and ate overlooking the Hrazdan Gorge. Beautiful views of the city, people eating with families. I observe one table order three bottles of vodka. Another gets a bottle labeled "Red Army", with a bottle cap giving it the shape of an artlillery shell.

That strikes me as strange and sad. But I can't figure out quite why.

I'm starting "Burning Tigris". I tried to read more last night but I fell asleep quickly. No vodka assisted this effort, only jet lag. More later.

Furniture Street becomes Casino Street 

It was a long and relatively uneventful flight to Yerevan. I have had problems getting my laptop connected at the hotel. But a young man just came to my room, did it his way rather than my way of hacking with scripts, and he had it done in five minutes. Local knowledge is a great thing. Regrettably, this is a modem line. I am so spoiled.

I arrived on the overnight flight that got here Weds. morning around 4:40am. Armenia is one of two countries to have electronic visas available, and I tried it. You have to copy the thing to paper and show it to the passport control people, but I did and next thing I know I'm stamped and on my way.

It used to be that the drive from Zvartnots airport to Yerevan center was on a road known as "Furniture Street" for all of the small furniture stores that lined the road. They are now gone. Garish lights guide you down the road past at least a kilometer of casinos, each with a bouncer and a hostess in front. At 5am. The government apparently tossed all the card shops out of Yerevan while I was away, and they went to the highway out of town instead. No word on where one now buys furniture.

Need to work right now. Back when I can.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Great weekend (except for Nomar), back Wednesday 

I need to get out of here, pack and head out to Armenia. There are lots of pictures of the great Patriot Picnic hosted by the Northern Alliance at Plastic Hallway, and the Frats got Mitch consuming tubular meat. Wish I could thank everyone who attended, but the Elder has a good rundown.

I saw all three games of the Twins-Red Sox series this weekend, including trying to make my daughter a baseball fan yesterday. Leave it to the Sox to ruin a great Sunday game with a play Littlest Scholar would be embarrassed to make in 5/6 grade softball. (Error was on Kapler, btw, not Cabrera, and if you heard someone on the CCO broadcast screaming this, that was me. LS is used to her daddy's occasional meltdowns.)

Anyway, I'm out of time and not fully packed. I'll post from the road when I next get a connection.

Who gets to teach in Saddam's Iraq? 

A group of intellectuals, including Chomsky and the family of Edward Said, is circulating a petition to stop "the assassination of Iraqi academics, intellectuals, and lecturers." While not directly blaming the U.S. for this, the signatories claim the Geneva Convention requires that Coalition forces be held responsible, lest Iraqi academia "be left without a qualified teaching staff".

Who do you suppose were the academics of Iraq under Saddam?