Friday, December 30, 2005

Where does this woman get off??!!!

Kathleen Parker posted a little diatribe over at online site for the posting of opinion. That is important as you will see.

What starts off as another tribute to the Internet:

Not since the birth of the printing press have our lives been so dramatically affected by the way we create and consume information - both to our enormous benefit and, perhaps, to our growing peril.

What is wonderful and miraculous about the Internet needs little elaboration. We all marvel at the ease with which we can access information - whether reading government documents previously available only to a few, or tracking down old friends and new enemies.

Quickly devolves into a flaming and fisking of everything blog:

It is this latter - our new enemies - that interests me most. I don't mean al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden, but the less visible, insidious enemies of decency, humanity and civility - the angry offspring of narcissism's quickie marriage to instant gratification.

There's something frankly creepy about the explosion we now call the Blogosphere - the big-bang "electroniverse" where recently wired squatters set up new camps each day. As I write, the number of "blogs" (Web logs) and "bloggers"(those who blog) is estimated in the tens of millions worldwide.

In one breath she praises blogs:

Although I've been a blog fan since the beginning, and have written favorably about the value added to journalism and public knowledge thanks to the new "citizen journalist,"

in the next she disparages blogs.

I'm also wary of power untempered by restraint and accountability.

I admit, there are some people who blog in an irresponsible manner and over time, those people will lose their readership for they have little interesting to say. I will also freely admit that many bloggers do little to no fact checking, which does tend to undermine the efficacy of blogs as a legitimate news source.

Having said that, many bloggers write about that which they know quite well. Take Allison Hayward over at Skeptic's Eye. She writes a great deal about campaign finance--because she used to work as a campaign finance attorney at the Federal Election Commission!! She has llikely forgotten more about campaign finance than any of the "carpal-tunneled wretches, overworked and underpaid, who suffer near-pathological allegiance to getting it right" (who regularly don't) journalists Parker praises.

I love this little gem:
Bloggers persist no matter their contributions or quality, though most would have little to occupy their time were the mainstream media to disappear tomorrow.

Unlike her who gets paid to write this tripe, many of the bloggers I know have real jobs. Those who do original reporting often have to rely on donations to keep their sites going since the mainstream media seems incapable of credentialing, let alone paying a blogger to report.

I mean no disrespect to the many brilliant people out there - professors, lawyers, doctors, philosophers, scientists and other journalists who also happen to blog. Again, they know who they are. But we should beware and resist the rest of the ego-gratifying rabble who contribute only snark, sass and destruction.

You can't have it both ways. If she means no disrespect to people who blog part-time, then why write this column at all. She writes part-time, according to the bio blurb at the bottom of the column. What makes her so damn superior?

But the irony of the whole situation is that Parker chose the very medium, the internet, to post her thoughts on the revolution that is citizen journalism. Her day job appears to be "director of the School of Written Expression at the Buckley School of Public Speaking and Persuasion in Camden, South Carolina." Director of what?? So this is her credential to be columnist? What separates her from the millions of bloggers, that her writings are "syndicated?" The fact that linking is a different form of syndication is somehow less worthy than what she does?

After spending several paragraphs comparing bloggers to Lord of the Flies, she ends her piece:
We can't silence them, but for civilization's sake - and the integrity of information by which we all live or die - we can and should ignore them.

What would happen if no one read Parker on Townhall, would Townhall drop her as a columnist? If this is her best, one can only hope--for civilization's sake.

The Ten Worst Americans of All Time

Hat Tip: Michelle Malkin

I thought this a brilliant challenge, one ripe with possibilities. Be sure to Check out the Post at All Things Beautiful which has lots of links to various people's list. I have decided to take the challenge myself.

10. The Current New York Times Editorial Board. In the past, the name New York Times was synonymous with quality journalism, with great reporting that could be relied upon for its factual accuracy. That time, when the paper earned the title, the Paper of Record, has long disappeared. In an age when sensationalism sells and the 24-Hour news cycle, the New York Times has sold out, trying to remain the paper of record by trying to scoop every news story, it efforts have resulted in the paper becoming little more than a nationwide tabloid, full of half-truths, innuendo and unsubstantiated rumor. This list of factual errors is too long to document and its credibility may never be recovered.

9. Chief Justice Earl Warren. Now the Warren Court did a lot of great things for America, including helping end Jim Crow. But the Warren Court did something as a matter of practice that we as a nation are paying for now--they legitmized the process of legislating from the bench. Today we pay the price by the bitter Supreme Court nomination hearings we must endure, the charges and counter-charges of "judicial activism" and vitrolic debates about what a Supreme Court nominee did or has done in the past and how that will affect their future rulings. The tragedy of the Warren Court is that despite all the good they did, their legacy is marked by how we treat and view the the court system today, not as an impartial arbiter of last resort, but the first place to go when you don't get your way and you are too lazy to lobby the legislature.

8. Justice Billings Brown--None other than the author of the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court opinion. Interestingly, the opinion itself is quite short and does not contain the phrase "separate but equal. In discussing the purpose of the 14th Amendment, Brown wrote:
The object of the amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either. Laws permitting, and even requiring, their separation in places where they are liable to be brought into contact do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other, and have been generally, if not universally, recognized as within the competency of the state legislatures in the exercise of their police power.

The Plessy decision set race relations in this country back 40 years and paved the rocky road to race relations today.

7. John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln's assassin lead to the ascension of Andrew Johnson to the Presidency, which led to the first impeachment of a president and, oh, yeah a radical Reconstruction which damaged sectional politics to this day. Had Lincoln survived to complete his second term, he may nor may not have succeeded in healing the wounds of the Civil War, but he more than likely, from his stature as the President who led us through the Civil War, been able to control the Radical Reconstructionists, making the transition a little easier.

6. Nathan Bedford Forrest. A Southern Civil War general who was effective if not particularly brilliant in wartime. However, his post-war activites get him on this list. Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan. Enough said.

5. Jesse Jackson. This "reverend" had made race relations a joke in this country. Jackson's crusade to get American corporations to pay reparations for involvement in the slave trade, an activity that was legal 200 years ago, has cost American's millions of dollars and countless hours listening to his tirades. Jackson's knack for showing up at the most inopportune time to take any event and spin a racial angle makes us sure that we will continue to see his name, despite ourselves.

4. Timothy McVeigh. This monster shattered the heartland and murdered hundreds, including scores of children. A domestic terrorist, whose dispute with the government ended in actions still difficult to comprehend, surely deserves a special place in Hell.

3. Aldrich Ames. This traitor's greed led to the deaths of dozens if not hundreds of American operatives in the USSR. By selling the names of CIA operatives and Russian moles to the KGB, he signed the death warrants of many for a few thousand dollars.

2. John Walker Jr. Another traitor who was by many degrees worse than Ames. Walker sold American cryptological secrets to the Russians, putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk had we gone to war with the USSR. But what makes Walker higher on the list is that he recruited his son into his betrayal.

1. Richard Nixon. Nixon's paranoia and penchant for power have led to a situation where the trust in government has been eroded. Watergate led to the era of "gotcha journalism." Nixon's actions in the Pentagon Papers case, his legal troubles following Watergate and the distrust he sowed whereever he went symbolize all that is bad in the American government. His actions led to one of the most profound constitutional crises in our history. The stain on our history is felt today, with distrust of the government, the limitations on political speech and fear. Despite his successes, Nixon will always be remembered as the only President ever to resign in disgrace.

There is my list, thanks.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Top News Article |

Talk about a way to pay for college, from Rueters via Brietbart

Because chances are, Alex Tew, a 21-year-old student from a small town in England, is cleverer than you. And he is proving it by earning a cool million dollars in four months on the Internet.

Selling porn? Dealing prescription drugs? Nope. All he sells are pixels, the tiny dots on the screen that appear when you call up his home page.

He had the brainstorm for his million dollar home page, called, logically enough,, while lying in bed thinking out how he would pay for university.

The idea: turn his home page into a billboard made up of a million dots, and sell them for a dollar a dot to anyone who wants to put up their logo. A 10 by 10 dot square, roughly the size of a letter of type, costs $100.

Check out the homepage here.

Blog Reviews--2006 Blogging Resolution

One of my blogging resolutions for the upcoming year is to write a review of and hopefully interview the writer of, a blog that I enjoy reading. To be honest, there are no criteria for my blog reviews, save one--I must enjoy reading the blog.

Whether the blog is entertaining, informative, cutting or soft, or all of the above, I hope that I can start to draw the attention my 3 or 4 readers to other blogs I find interesting.

Generally, those blogs that I review will be listed in a separate blog roll to the left. Some are already linked, others will become so as I move forward. I offer nothing to those blogs I review/interview other than a link or two and I receive nothing. The choices of who to interview are mine and mine alone, although I will always ask the interviewee if there is a blog they think I should review/interview.

The format will be generally the same for all reviews/interviews. I will give my assessment of the blog, focusing on those traits I find worthwhile and mentioning those things I would advise the writer to improve on, if only from my viewpoint. The Interview Part comes with the 9 Questions. I will send to the interviewee a series of 9 Questions, some of which will be standard to all interviews, but also including questions that are specific to that blog, topic or person.

For those who will be reading this weekly series, I hope you enjoy. Be sure to read those blogs too. They have something to say, and it is worth reading.

Time For A .xxx Internet Domain?

From Modern Practice - Time For A .xxx Internet Domain?

Let’s face it -- adult content, including explicit sexual pornography, runs rampant on the Internet. Internet users can implement specific searches looking for such content, and normally they will find what they are looking for. Other times, people inadvertently will stumble onto such explicit content when searching for something else; indeed, a domain name may give one the impression that the site is suitable for a general audience of all ages, only to turn out that it displays graphic sexual content that is inappropriate for minors or adults not wishing to view such content. So, what to do?

One proposed concept has been a .xxx Internet domain for sexually-oriented Web sites. Just like .com is designed for businesses, .gov for government, and .edu for educational institutions, the idea behind .xxx is that there would be a specific domain name category for adult Web sites with sexual content. In that way, an Internet user easily could judge, based on seeing a .xxx domain name, whether the user truly wanted to visit such a site to view adult content, or if the user wanted to avoid visiting and seeing such content.

Of course, this is a real concern. The ease of obtaining pornography on the internet has always been the justification for a number of legislative proposals, some of which were found unconstitutional. I have no problems with rules that limit the access of minors to pornographic matieral, but I draw the line at any law that bans the activity. If we call something pornographic, even if it isn't really, we can use that label to justify any activity.

But this proposal is a little different. It will not prohibit pornography any more than current laws, but serves as a regulatory device to accomplish both a filtering technique for concerned parents, and free up domain names in the .com realm.

But, of course there are critics:
The proposal has had its share of critics. Some of them claim that a .xxx domain would provide legitimacy to the pornography industry. Supporters claim that a .xxx domain would make it easier for people to filter out content they do not want.

I fully believe that a .xxx domain will make filtering a lot easier and quite frankly easier to enforce. If you are engaged in adult entertainment and you use the web to distribute it, you must use a .xxx domain. If you don't you are subject to fines, etc.

But the concept of denying this regulation because you fear legitimizing the porn industry is simply ludicrous. Wake up and smell the sex lube!!! The porn industry is a legitimate multi-billion dollar industry employing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who pay taxes, vote, and contribute to the economy. Porn is not going away--thankfully, and it is a real business.

Instead of burying our heads in the sand and hoping porn goes away, we should find ways as adults, who have a duty to protect and educate our children, to limit their access to adult material on the web. The .xxx domain will help us do that, while still allowing the business and its consumers to continue doing what they do, as is their right.

You choose: Civil liberties or safety?

You choose: Civil liberties or safety? --

A good question. As I had written before, this dilemma of domestic surveillance poses a real problem for me. I expect my government to keep me safe, but sometimes I wonder about the price. But if most Americans are okay with the surveillance does that make dissenting opinions irrelevant, even if they may be right?

2-Year-Old Boy Is Found Drunk After Mother Goes Into Labor

I know when a woman goes into labor, she is not thinking about much else, but this story reminds me to take care with who I leave my children with.

2-Year-Old Boy Is Found Drunk After Mother Goes Into Labor - New York Times

Elected Judges Recusal Standard?

The American Democracy is founded upon the principle of separation of powers. At the federal level, this is accomplished, of course by the three co-equal branches of government. The two elected branches, the Presidency and Congress, are balanced by an unelected judiciary, which is appointed in combination by the Presidenct and Congress. We are all familiar with the arguments against unelected judges ruling from the bench.

Yet, at the state and local level, not all judges are unelected. Indeed, in many states, such as Ohio, even the state supreme court judges are popularly elected. Arguably, such judges would be more responsive to the people, in touch with the latest concerns of the electorate, and thus more likely to be, for lack of a better term, more judicious in their rulings. But not all is good with elected judges.

If a judge is elected, she must run for election, which of course takes money. Even with campaign finance laws that limit contributions, some judges receive massive amounts of money from lawyers that will appear before them, corporations in the state, and other interest groups who care about who sits on the bench. And here is the eternal question, do such fundraising activities and being beholden to the interests that helped get you elected, affect the judges necessary ability to remain impartial, particularly when campaign contributors appear in your court room?

Such an issue is the topic of a recent posting at the SCOTUS blog.
Should an elected judge, who accepts large campaign donations, sit on a case that directly affects the financial or business interests of the donors and their associates? Put as an ethical question, the answer would seem to be obvious: No. But the Supreme Court is being asked to rule on that question as a constitutional issue: does the due process clause create a duty to recuse in such a situation?


The new question of recusal of elected judges is raised explicitly in a newly filed case from Illinois, involving a justice of that state's Supreme Court, and a ruling in which he cast one of the deciding votes that scuttled a huge verdict against a private insurance company -- a company closely linked to major campaign donations to that justice. The case is Avery, et al., v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (Filed on Tuesday, it does not yet have an assigned docket number. It probably arrived too late to be decided this Term, if granted.)

Here is the specific question the Avery petition poses: "May a judge who receives more than $1 million in direct and indirect campaign contributions from a party and its supporters, while that party's case is pending, cast the deciding vote in that party's favor, consistent with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution?"

The petition concedes that the Court "has never directly addressed the requirements of recusal under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause as a result of the appearance of impropriety and the effect on public perceptions of the integrity of the ocurts caused by large campaign contributions to judicial candidates."

Here we stand, at the cusp between conflict of interest and Constitutional law. I have long argued that the thought of an elected official being "bought" by a campaign contribution is utterly laughable. But recusal is another matter all together. Courts have a method in which a judge should recuse herself if she has a financial conflict of interest, such as being a stockholder in a company with a case before her court. But should the same duty to recuse also hold true for campaign contributors? What about the case of the Ohio Supreme Court, where all judges are elected and all could have received a contribution from a particularly large contributor with a case that could come before it? How and where do we draw the line?

The Avery case has implications as far as state's rights as well. Let us assume the Supreme Court takes the case(not a forgone conclusion, although given the uniqueness of the question, a distinct possibility). The Court may rule that state judges have to, by the due process clause, recuse themselves from any case involving a campaign contributor. The resulting chaos could only be effectively avoided by making all judges appointed and not elected. In essence, teh Supreme Court would be saying the states, do it our way or you will have to figure out how to handle the potential problems of judges have to recuse themselves from so many cases.

I, for one, don't believe it is necessarily a conflict of interest for a judge to hear the case of a campaign contributor. But I can see the opposing argument and they have a compelling case. With all the problems inherent in a judicial election, I am surprised that such elections continue in an age where campaigns are expensive, requiring more donors than in the past and where we live in a society where lawsuits are commonplace and becoming more so.

I am sure that SCOTUSblog will stay on top of the developing case.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

N.O. Cop Shooting Victim Had Long Record

Via Breitbart

The victim of a shooting by New Orleans Police had a long criminial record according to Police Superintendent Warren Riley, but Riley offered no details.
An internal review will officially determine whether proper procedures were followed, Riley said, but he said all witness accounts indicate the shooting was justified. The officers who fired at the man have been reassigned pending an investigation.

The head of an independent watchdog group agreed that the shooting appeared to be justified, but said the death is another black mark for a beleaguered department.

While it may turn out that the shooting was justified in the circumstances, the fact that the victim had a long record is irrelevant.

Intellectual (lack of) Diversity

Ironically, from the San Francisco Chronicle comes this story by David Davenport.
MARK 2005 as the year that the dirty little secret of higher education became part of the public conversation. Most of us on college campuses have long known that there is little intellectual diversity in higher education, especially when it comes to political ideas. But we learned to live with it as part of the artificial bubble that characterizes much of campus life.


Yes, people are now standing up to say that higher education, which has pioneered in every other kind of diversity -- ethnic, gender, same-sex benefits -- lacks diversity in the very heart of its mission: the development and transmission of ideas.


What seems to be new is a perception by students that professorial political opinions are now very much a part of the classroom, even in a course on Chaucer or biology. Professors once took pride in disguising their own views and making the classroom an objective laboratory of ideas. Now, some argue, in a postmodern world where everything is political, how can politics not be engaged in the classroom? As a result, a survey of students at 50 top universities showed that nearly half the students feel faculty use the classroom to present their personal political views, and that political discussions seem "totally one-sided."

What seems likely to me is a market correction. I have long considered higher education in America to be one of the few truly competitive education markets around. As time wears on, the consumers of education, the students and their parents, will begin to make demands on the market that will force either a return to the time when professors did not make their personal political views known or a greater intellectual diversity among the faculty. I would prefer the latter, but the former is acceptable as well.

Just Answer the Question

One of the fundamental basics of answering questions is to just answer the question presented, no more, no less. Apparently, that principal has not funnelled down to college applicants.

Kim, over at No. 2 Pencil has reported on a growing trend--sending more than just your paper and your money for college admission:
One admission officer notes his favorite example, "the student who not only sent everything about himself, but included details about his siblings, apparently to show he was from 'good stock'." I don't think that matters in college - not even for the agriculture majors.

Carnival of Education is Open

Visit it over at the Ed Wonks.

These are my favorite pieces from this week:

Quincy, at News, the Universe, and Everything, has a story of a teacher who must take a course he taught for nine years to get his certification--talk about bureaucratic stupidity.

Diane Weir, a school board member in Massachusetts, describes what it takes to be a school board member.

Reform K-12 talks about the statistical problem of modern accountability. I like accountability, but we need to fix how we measure school performance.

Democratic Sweep in 2006?

I wouldn't bet the farm on it. Much ado has been made in the press about a Democratic version of the highly successful 1994 Contract with America. Such unified platforms are rare in off-year elections and hinge on a number of factors that are not present.

First, unified platforms need to have an "enemy" to focus on, one that has increasingly frustrated Americans. In 1994, there were many obvious failings by the Clinton White House and the Democratically controlled House of Representatives. Between the nationalized health care fiasco and the House ethics problems, there was much to be maligned by the GOP.

In 2006, the Democrats have such an opporunity due to missteps by the Bush Administration and the ethics problems of the House GOP as well as the floundering leadership in the Senate. (Will the Senate GOP Conference finally elect Mitch McConnell their leader and be done with it!!). The domestic surveillance issue seems to be one ripe for the picking, but I wouldn't count on the issue going much further and the Democrats can't either.

So the Democrats have the first requirement and enemy. Arguably, many Americans are frustrated with the current Administration and may protest vote, thereby punishing the GOP.

The next requirement for a unified platform is quite simply, unity. On the small issues, like student loans or minimum wage, the Democrats are pretty unified. But on the big issues of the day, no unity at all.

On Iraq, the ploethora of opinions on the Democratic side of the aisle is so bad, that Nancy Pelosi actually attempted to spin the dissension as a good thing. It is not. If the Democrats are trying to sell themselves as a viable alternative to the GOP, they will need to do a better job reminding people that they have a defined position upon which most of their leaders and rank and file agree. Without agreement on this particularly important issue, there is nothing to appeal to middle of the road voters to abandon the course.

While the war presents an extreme problem for the Democrats to find some sort of unity on, issues that hit a little closer to home also present conundrums for Democrats seeking to take control of Congress in 2006. One big issue is entitlement reform. With the three main entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, representing nearly one half of all federal spending in 2004, Democratic consitutencies among the elderly and the poor want these programs to grow or at the very least stay the same, the fiscal consequences will all but guarantee losses for Democrats.

While the GOP doesn't have a plan beyond the President's proposal for private accounts and changes, the Democrats don't have the luxury of a divided opinion or no opinion on reform. Despite all the rhetoric from the Bush Administration regarding the overhaul of Social Security, the Democrat never put forth their own plan, leading inevitably to the belief, true or false, that the Democrats support a status quo. While we as a nation can't agree on what should be done to reform these budget busting entitlements, we can agree that we need to do something. Silence from the Democrats is deadly.

On immigration, Democrats also fail to seize any initiative and devise a unified strategy. With rising concerns about immigration, even the House GOP is largely opposed to the President's proposals regarding immigration policy, Democrats would be able to craft a position that would set them apart, making their position clear, instead--silence.

The Democrats have called their plan, Campaign for Change. A great marketing play, but there is no substance. Alledgedly, the House Democrats will come up with a plan during their winter retreat in January, but unless they can get a consensus on the big issues of the day, their plan will carry no weight with voters. The Democratic platform is a shambles of silence and simplicity, with nothing that distinguishes them from the pack. Without a reason to change, most people are subject to mental inertia, it simply requires too much energy to change.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Carnival of the Capitalists

Is up over at Multiple Mentality

Photo-A-Day Project

As inspired by JenFu Cheng, I have decided to undertake a project beginning on January 1, 2006 to post one picture I have taken each day.

Of course, you may wonder why I am doing this. There are several reasons.

1. I want to force myself to take a look around my life, my neighborhood and my world to take in the surroundings. I want to experience it and I want to share it.

2. Photographs can present just a quick snapshot of something, open to interpretation by anyone and each person sees something different.

3. We bought a digital camera to take pictures, but aside from vacations and special events, it gets almost no use.

4. I liked JenFu Cheng's project and thought it would be a neat idea.

Many of the pictures you will see will be of family, friends and daily events in my life. Granted, much of my life is pretty damn boring, but I believe that I see beautiful things everyday, but just blow by them in a fog, centered on my own life and troubles.

So beginning January 1, be sure to check this space for pictures.

New Year's Blogging Resolutions

As the New Year approaches, the time for resolutions come as well. As this blog is just a year old, I have spent my time off during the Christmas break trying to think about ways to improve this blog, make it more readable and hopefully more interesting.

In reviewing the blog for this past year, I have noticed that my blogging subjects, outside of the immediate news tends to the haphazard. I will often mix law, campaign/politics, education, and other matters in a big jumble, often on the same day. I have also lost track of the Weekly Listen, not providing as much information on what music I am listening to at the time. Most people don't really care but, I do and perhaps other people do as well.

But while the blog may lack organization, I don't have the money right now to move off the Blogger platform to get my own domain name or have categories of postings. I also realize that I post a great deal about the news of the day, things that capture my attention and that I don't want to ignore. Those posts are going to continue.

I also want to undertake a particular effort, one that is much more personal in nature on this blog. I will explain the Photo-A-Day Project in another post.

So now that it has taken this long, here are my three resolutions for Going to the Mat in 2006:

I resolve:

  • To publish substantive posts (500-1000 words) on the following subjects on the following days and limit off-topic posts to news pointers and short, 1 paragraph reactions:
    • Mondays--Campaign Finance/Election Law

    • Tuesdays--School News/Education Policy

    • Wednesdays--Campaigns and Elections

    • Thursdays--Legal Developments outside of Election Law

    • Fridays--Anything Goes

    • Saturdays--Music/Book Reviews

    • Sundays--Week In Review--What I think of as the big story of the week

  • To undertake the Photo-A-Day Project--a daily posting of a photo I have taken, preferably in the last 24 hours

  • To publish a review (complete with an interview, if possible) of a blog I like every week

Although it is not the new year yet, I hope to begin implementing these resolutions now.

Education Forecast--Charter Management Organizations

Checker Finn at the Fordham Foundationlooks back at 2005 and gazes into his crystal ball for the new year.

Among his predictions comes this one:
Third, the charter school movement, aware now that it has mortal enemies on all sides and that school quality is the only valuable currency going forward, will bestir itself to strengthen its forces and hasten development of organizations capable of running—and replicating—high-performing schools. This is already evident on the philanthropic front, where we see an accelerating push to start and expand effective "charter management organizations" (aka CMOs).

This development is due. Many people blast people like Chris Whittle, but like it or not Whittle is a visionary on this score. The biggest drawback of the current charter school model is that it remains very isolated. Not isolated in terms of geography, but isolated in terms of the fact that each school largely stands alone in the face of an educational establishment seeking to minimize their growth; alone before bureaucratic hurdles requiring more and more legal expertise, expertise they cannot necessarily afford or obtain; alone before even greater demands for accountability and transparency at all levels and from all stakeholders.

Whittle recognized that organizations with some scale can achieve cost and transactional savings that small organizations cannot. Granted, Whittle spoke of larger school districts, but the same thinking applies for charter schools, which are, in effect, school districts unto themselves.

As charter management organizations grow, and they will grow, they will be increasingly able to do something that individual charter schools cannot do--go toe to toe with local school boards and state legislatures. These local and state government entities will no doubt become increasingly hostile to charters who are siphoning off more and more students, thus more and more control/power. The danger will come because these school boards and legislatures hold in their hands the requisite power to permit or deny the very existence of charter schools.

The political battle will be joined, not for existence and recognition, but survival and growth.

In addition to the political/regulatory hurdles facing these CMO's, there are a couple of major concerns that will need to be addressed. First, a CMO, by its very nature places an additional layer of bureaucracy into the charter movement, a movement that has flourished on a low-overhead approach to educational spending. These CMOs, whether for-profit or non-profit will have to be funded in some method that eats away at funds (which has been the criticism of Whittle's Edison Schools, a for-profit company). Yet regardless of their business structure and nature, CMO's will have to justify their existence and they must take care not become the monster charter opponents will portray them as.

Second, the organic growth of CMO's will likely follow one of two tracks. The first a more centralized CMO, with curriculum development, school design and central control over the schools comprising its organization. This CMO will probably begin as an association of one or two schools, but then grows organically, opening more schools. This is a model envisioned, in part, by Whittle and others looking to build for profit CMOs.

A second model will look more like a trade association. The trade assocaition model pools its resources for common tasks, such as group wide legal and political issues, school management research and training and curriculum research and development. The individual schools would be members, driving a more decentralized associational set up, which leaves individual schools to meet their goals, without much interference from the association staff.

Both models have their advantages and charter management organizations have hurdles to leap, but make no mistake, they are coming and it is about time.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Variable Value of Teachers

Hat Tip: Darren at Right on the Left Coast

Over at No. 2 Pencil, Kim has posted a couple of quotes by NEA president Reg Weaver, who was speaking to a crowd in Arkansas, arguing that charter schools and merit pay for teachers are "bad inputs" into a system focused solely on outputs, i.e. test scores.

Reg Weaver, the head of the nation's largest teachers' union, rails against the current focus on "output":
On Monday, Weaver balked at focusing on students’ standardized test results. “In many instances they want us all to focus on outputs,” he said. “An output is nothing more than a test score, and as long as they get us focused on a test score, then they cause the public and many legislators not to deal with the inputs.”

“Inputs,” he said include not only class size and adequate funding but qualified and certified teachers, safe and orderly schools and state-of-the-art technology.

Is the public really not interested in inputs? Or have they had it with inputs, like state-of-the-art technology and fancy teaching programs, that might be pricey but haven't been shown to be related to those important outputs? I don't think any parent would not want a school to be more safe and orderly, but they might balk at laptops for all if the school still doesn't teach kids how to read.

This series of comments and the whole question of inputs versus outputs fails to grasp what is most important when you are talking about education, the actual skill of the teacher.

Robert Heinlein wrote a great analogy in his book Starship Troopers (the book is 20 times better than the movie), about whether value was a constant or relative concept, which seems applicable here. Essentially, the argument is this. When making an apple pie, you have a series of inputs, apples, flour, sugar, spices, and a few other things. A great chef can take these ingredients and create something truly spectacular, a magnificent apple pie, with a value much better than the sum of its parts. Conversely, a poor chef can take these same inputs and without skill in the process of making an apple pie, create an inedible mess, with a comparative value far below the value of the individual parts.

If one measure the value of the chef's effort merely the time and sweat they put into making the apple pie, it is entirely possible that the poor tasting apple pie would be equal in value to the great tasting apple pie, something we know is not true.

Teaching children, while very different from making apple pies, can be similarly viewed.

A safe, organized school, the child, classroom technology, a demanding curriculum and even parental involvement are all inputs into a system called education. As with the chef/apple pie example, a skilled and knowledgeable classroom teacher can take all of the inputs, and using her skills, knowledge, experience and training, produce something truly magical--a well educated child, ready for college, work, or whatever. By the same token, a poor teacher, lacking skills, knowledge or experience, will certainly not produce as well an educated child.

Not a big surprise, right? But the current system of pay espoused by the NEA and AFT is based upon a notion that all teachers have the same value as an agent of change, based solely on the time they spend on educating our children, when clearly, intuitively, we know they do not. As we saw from the apple example, some chefs and teachers, by virture of passion, superior training and experience lend more to the process than a chef/teacher lacking in those qualities. But a system of pay that favors time over skill will always treat the good teachers the same as bad teachers.

If we were to take the apple pie analogy a step furhter, let us place the good apple pie and the bad apple pie in competition with each other. Under the NEA model of economics, these pies would be of equal value. After all, the inputs were the same and because the time and effort of the chefs are considered equal inputs, the result is always the same in terms of value. But clearly, this system flies in the face of logic. We can tell, even by the subjective nature of one's taste in deserts, that one pie is better than the other.

Such a concept easily moves into the education world. We know for a fact that some teachers are better than others. In the schools, a good teacher is a education multiplier. She can take the same inputs and the outputs will be superior. A bad teacher actually reduces the value of the inputs.

For those who have a background in economics, you can see where the NEA falls on the economic spectrum. The NEA generally espouses a socialist system of pay, in which teachers with the same number of years of experience get paid the same amount--no matter their actual skill, read value, in their trade. Thus a teacher is a merely another input into the system (Weaver even says so), but in reality, the teacher is the functional aspect of the system, not an input.

A teacher is not a constant value input into the education system any more than a chef is a constant value input into an apple pie. The value of a teacher is a relative variable and until we can find a way to increase the relative skill of all teachers, the variable value will continue to fluctuate wildly. The reason why incentive and merit pay attract so many adherents is that such a scale accounts for the variable value and worth of teachers.

This is the trouble with education reform, we don't necessarily know where to start, but focusing on only one end of the educational process is short-sighted at best, and disasterous at the worst. Do inputs matter, as Weaver argues? Yes, but they are not an absolute value and we need to be more congnizant of the relative value we place on teachers. We should be rewarding those who produce better outcomes with incentives to continue that performance.


As a former member of the United States Navy Ceremonial Guard, I have spent many long, often cold days in Arlington National Cemetery.

Although the Cemetery is beautiful, befitting the fallen heroes residing in peace there, certain times of the year are better than others. I personally love Memorial Day weekend, when flags are planted before each headstone. But the picture below (hat tip: Michelle Malkin) also provides a great vision.

Be sure to read Michelle's post, as it contains brief text about how these wreaths get to ANC.

NY Transit Union Leader Lunacy

From the Philly Inquirer comes this little gem from New York Transit Workers Union President Roger Toussaint:

"Had Rosa Parks answered the call of the law instead of the higher call of justice, many of us who are now driving the bus would still be in the back of the bus," he said.

When I first read that quote, I had to re-read it. Could this greedy little punk actually be comparing their illegal strike with a civil right icaon? Rosa Parks illegal act was about equality and civil rights, Toussaint and his cronies (who by the way are being paid, while many New Yorkers are not) engage in an illegal act over money!!!

Toussaint called the strike early Tuesday after the MTA insisted that future employees pay 6 percent of their pay toward pensions. Current workers contribute nothing. Toussaint said yesterday that he would consider calling off the strike and start negotiating again if the MTA dropped the pension issue.

Look, I want to earn as much money as the next guy, but when you are complaining about a pension contribution that nearly every other person in the country has to make, why do you think it is so bad. I have no pension plan, only a 401(k), to which I contibute 5 percent of my pay and my employer matches (which is how pensions work). Why should the city of New York fund 30 plus years of your retirement on the backs of its taxpayers when union members contribute nothing.

Toussaint said he would CONSIDER calling off the strike if the MTA dropped the pension demand. Sorry bozo, it doesn't work that way. Call off the illegal strike, then negotiate. Mayor Bloomberg is right, you can't negotiate about an illegal act and you shouldn't be rewarded for an illegal act that even your national union does not support.

The Philly Inquirer has a comparison between the NY strike and a Philly transit strike a couple of years ago.

See Megan McArdle, who has a word document of the comments posted to a now defunct comments page of the NY TWU blog.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I'm a Year Old Today

One year ago today, I started this humble little blog. Amazing!

To everyone who reads this blog now, has read the blog in the past and I hope will read in the future-Thank You!!!

As I start year two, I have noted that I am writing on more topics that I had originally thought I would. I guess you can get addicted to this process. Most of you will note that I generally blog on weekdays. With two small children at home and no wireless internet connection (which I hope to change soon), home blogging is hard.

I have fun and have read massive amounts of blog entries by others, with my favorite writers on the blogroll to the left. Please visit those sites.

Again Thank You!!!

Blogs and Sex

According to the Philly InquirerIn the blink of an eye, blogs became big and claimed that

How big have blogs become?
Bigger than Jesus. Bigger than sex.
More than twice as big as sex, actually, the CEO of Blogpulse found when he typed the words blog and sex into the Google search engine. That big.

I am not so sure that blogs are bigger than sex. As N.Z. Bear put it, if blogging is bigger than sex in your world, you may be doing the blogging right, but you clearly are not doing sex right.

Politics - Overhaul of state electoral system sought -

Hat Tip: Prof. Hasen

The Sacremento Bee is reporting on a effort by a couple of state legislators to overhaul the entire electoral system in the country's most populous state.
Under the legislation to be submitted next year by Democrat Joe Canciamilla of Pittsburg and Republican Keith Richman of Northridge, a "citizens assembly" would be created to come up with a new electoral system and place it in the form of a constitutional amendment on the November 2008 ballot.

A draft of the bill doesn't mention what kind of changes might be proposed. But Canciamilla and Richman said in interviews that they strongly favor such changes as proportional representation, independent redistricting, term-limit modification and campaign finance reform.

First, why a "citizen's assembly?" Is that not what a legislature is? I can see the need to have such an assembly if the current legislature is unresponsive to the demands of the public. But I suspect that electoral reform is not high on the agenda of most California voters.

"I think the confluence of gerrymandered districts, short term limits and campaign finance have resulted in legislators being unwilling to do anything other than vote for the agendas of the special interest groups that are going to help them get re-elected or elected to their next office," Richman said.

Fine, their list of potential reforms is interesting, so let's examine some.

Why, whenever there is any proposal for a "reform" of the "electoral system" does campaign finance get mentioned. Don't get me wrong, the California campaign finance system is....complex would be a polite term, downright stupid and confusing is more accurate. (Want an example, PACs file campaign finance reports electronically, but are still required to send paper copies!!!. Want another example, camapaign finance reports are filed with one office, but interpretations about the law are provided by a different office. You could get different answers from different offices--it has happened to me). I suggest the legislators examine my ideas for a campaign finance system.

But this idea intrigued me:
Although the draft legislation does not recommend any specific changes in the electoral system, those involved say they are interested in exploring a proportional voting system along the lines of the parliamentary systems of Europe.

The New America Foundation was asked into the conversation as a result of its research on a newly created proportional voting system in British Columbia. The foundation's Lesher said one example of proportional voting would feature multiple-seat districts in which voters might be asked to select four candidates each in 10 state Senate districts rather than just one each in the current 40 districts. Accompanied by guaranteed representation for any political party that reached a minimum threshold, Lesher said such a system could result in more urban Republicans and rural Democrats being elected in districts that are dominated now by one party or the other.

The theory being given for the change is to reduce the polarization in the current Assemby resulting from the current rules. The idea of a proportional representation system is interesting, but the mechanics and details of the system will present both drafting and constitutional questions. I haven't done any detailed research on teh matter, but I seem to recall some Supreme Court cases dealing with proportional representation.

One interesting impact to study would be the impact of a proportional representation system on the parties. In European countries, the parties tend to be much more powerful. Lots of interesting stuff to consider in this light.

One thing this citizen's assembly needs to rein in is the use of the ballot question process. In California, it has become a joke and has done more to hamstring the government in the state than any other facet of their governing system.

Too Many People in College?

Hat Tip: Carnival of Education

This week at the Carnival of Education, Half-Sigma argued that too many people are going to college.

My conclusion is that America is overeducating its youth, and we should cut down on the number of people attending college. A good start in this direction would be for the government to stop funding higher education and to cut out the student loan program.

Half Sigma makes a number of daring assertions, so be sure to check it out.

In some respects I think that there are too many people going to college who are fundamentally ill-prepared for college. My evidence, look at the lengthy listings of remdial math and english classes in major colleges and universities and the enrollment in those classes.

I for one believe that college can be the greatest egalitarian institution in our nation. Work hard in high school and you will get into a good college. With all of the programs out there to help people pay for college, there is no reason why a determined, prepared student, regardless of their background cannot succeed.

Carnival of Education Now Open

Check out the Carnival of Education - The Winter Hibernation Edition over at Circadiana

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Persons of the Year

Over the weekend, Michelle Malkin blasted the choice of Time to select Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono as their persons of the year. I have no quibble that Bono has not used his celebrity to advance the causes he cares about--and from all reports his campaign is not about advancing his already considerable world celebrity--he really is knowledgeable about African issues. The Gates' have funded dozens of high profile charitable efforts, including forays in to my personal favorite--education reform.

But here is my question, if Time's criteria for Person of the Year for 2005 was the charity of these three people, when then were Americans as a whole snubbed. Between billions in private donations to relief funds for the Asian tsunami, the several billion dollars donated to hurricane relief this year, the flood of in-kind gifts of food, clothing, shelter and supplies that cannot be easily valued, and the fact that even now Americans continue to donate to charities at an ever increasing rate, surely the giving spirit of the American people would top the list of "charitable people."

Sure, highlighting the generosity of the American people doesn't make for as attractive a cover photo, but it makes Bono and the Gates look like absolute pikers in comparison. America is the most generous nation in the world, and we should be given we are the wealthiest nation in the world. For all the talk of capitalist greed, that capitalism has saved the world--go figure.

Domestic Surveillance and Classic Liberalism

What are classic liberals to do? The dilemma posed by the domestic surveillance issue present the toughest quandry for classic liberals/libertarians. For myself, I am torn between the individual liberty side of me and the military/security side of me.

I believe that my individual right to be safe in my own home and to be secure in the knowledge that my communications, mail or otherwise, are not be reviewed by the government is paramount. Further, those same concerns extend to other law-abiding citizens of this country. We each have a right to be secure in our privacy.

In addition, I know that I can protect myself and my family against direct threats to me. However, there are limits to my ability to protect my family and myself. Those limits include an inability to stop most crime, to protect myself against terrorist attack and attacks by foriegn powers. I have neither the resources nor the skill to take on those tasks.

The government, in a classic liberal sense, must be limited in the roles it undertakes, particularly when those roles infringe upon or even touch upon individual liberty. But one key role a government must undertake for those it serves is to protect its citizens against criminals, against terrorists (a criminal of a different stripe), and against foreign powers. The government is uniquely suited to perform that role.

In order to perform its protective function, the government must have the tools to perform their mission. Effective defense of citizens no doubt includes the gathering and analysis of information, including communications. Defending Americans often requires watching them from afar, even watching their activities electronically. Thus we have the rub, such activities by there very nature infringe on protected rights.

The law and order side of me would say that if you are engaged in criminal activity, you have forfeited some of your rights by stepping over the line between acceptable and criminal behavior. However, we still live in a country of laws and the government still has to prove that you are a criminal. So, in order to respect the tension between governemtnal need and individual rights, we have the courts a neutral arbiters.

Here is where I wonder what went wrong in the Bush White House. In the days immediately following 9/11, there was understandably a push to ensure such attacks do not occur again. In that regard, the police, FBI and intelligence agencies needed to collect information, but do so secretly to prevent tipping our hand. Why then take the drastic step of domestic terrorist surveillance without a warrant.

I am no expert on the procedures to obtain a warrant, but I suspect that in emergencies warrants can be gotten in relatively short order. Furhter, warrants need not become public information. Courts, when dealing with issues of extreme privacy or security, often take steps to keep proceedings nominally public but still respecting rights of individuals involved. The government could have just as easily said, "we are watching suspected terrorists and we don't want them to know we are wathcing. Please keep this surveillance warrant secret." The court could have responded, "OK, but you need to renew the warrant in 60 days" or something of that sort.

We have courts for the purpose of balancing interests. I want the government to protect me and my family, but I also want to make sure that government doesn't exercise its powers too broadly. I am having a tough time drawing a line, as are most Americans I suspect. But that is what makes this question so hard, so important and so worthy of discussion.

For a legal analysis of what the law regarding domestic intelligence surveillance is, please see Professor Orin Kerr's analysis at the Volokh Conspiracy. The analysis is lengthy, but a great primer on the law. George Will today has his thoughts in the Washington Post, in which he asks, why the White House didn't simply ask Congress for exanded authority.

Indeed, implicit in Kerr and Will's arguments is the fundamental nature of our government, that few powers assigned the government are plenary in nature. Plenary, as Will noted, means "complete, entire, perfect, not deficient in any element or respect." While it is likely true that the President has plenary powers to conduct wars on behalf of the nation, the Constitution assigns the power to declare war to Congress. Could Congress have not been more express when granting the President the power to fight terrorism by declaring an actual war on terrorism through the passage of a declaration of war, as opposed to the rhetorical flourishes used to describe our activities to date.

While legislation passed by Congress in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 has many of the hallmarks of a declaration of war and the granting of broad authority to the preseident to prosecute a campaign against terrorists, it doesn't actually say, "We are at war with terrorist and the President is hereby free to find, capture, kill or other wise eliminate such terrorists. Instead the language is more restrained, i.e. defend America against terrorist attacks.

I have often railed against Congress in this space for being too vague, for being to wishy-washy to actually say what needs to be said. In this case, the President's problems relating to this domestic surveillance comes because both he and Congress failed to follow the Constitutional paths laid out by the Founders and seek a declaration of war.

In this dispute, I really want to come down on the side of the President's power to conduct this surveillance. I imagine that there will be some justification found through some analysis of vague segments of law unknown to most Americans until now. But this problem could have been, should have been avoided, by following Constitutional procedures, i.e. getting a warrant. Even in war, we are a nation of laws.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Despite Negative Image, Shoppers Still Flock to Wal-Mart

Recently, dueling polls have found that one-third of Americans may hate Wal-Mart but 85% of Americans still shop there. In short, Americans may not like Wal-Mart--the Corporation, but they love Wal-Mar--the store.

Not long ago, Wake Up Wal-Mart commissioned a Zogby poll to find out the public's opinion about the retailing giant. The Zogby poll indicated that

The debate about whether or not Wal-Mart is good or bad for America is occurring. In a comparison of two statements, just over 39 percent of Americans agreed that Wal-Mart is “good for America” (statement A) while 56 percent agreed that “Wal-Mart is bad for America” (statement B).

Statement A – I believe that Wal-Mart is good for America. It provides low prices and saves consumers money every day.

Statement B – I believe that Wal-Mart is bad for America. It may provide low prices, but these prices come with a high moral and economic cost for consumers.

Further results indicate that 6 in 10 American adults believe that Wal-Mart is seen as a retail monopoly that threatens the American economy. Interestingly, 63 percent of Americans agree that the impact of the Wal-Mart business model should be investigated by our nation’s elected political leaders.

Leaving aside the asinine statement that Wal-Mart is some sort of monopoly needing investigation by Congress or the Federal Trade Commission (which investigates anti-trust violations), the Zogby poll couched a fair number of questions in relation to Wal-Mart's main competitor, Target. For example:

Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree that Wal-Mart has a more negative public image now than compared to last year?

1. Strongly agree 36
2. Somewhat agree 29
3. Somewhat disagree 17
4. Strongly disagree 11
5. Not sure (Do not read) 7

Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree that Target has a more negative public image now than compared to last year?

1. Strongly agree 4
2. Somewhat agree 10
3. Somewhat disagree 27
4. Strongly disagree 28
5. Not sure (Do not read) 31

Now comes a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press which has some conflicting results, or at least results that call into question some of Wake Up Wal-Mart's conclusions.

According to Pew, despite Wal-Mart's apparently poor public image, four out of five Americans think Wal-Mart is a good place to shop. Nearly 7 in 10 believe Wal-Mart has been good for their community and nearly 2/3 of Americans think Wal-Mart has been good for the country.

Fully 84% of Americans have shopped at Wal-Mart at some time in the past year. For the poorest of Americans, Wal-Mart is the place to shop, with 86% of Americans with incomes below $30,000 having shopped there in the past year, 53% have said they shop there regularly. When you consider that the 2004 poverty level for a family of four is $19157, according to the Census Bureau, it seems as though Wal-Mart is better for the economy than any single government assistance program.

Wal-Mart has a negative image. Given that Wal-Mart is the only company on the list below who has two organized groups aligned against them, such a negative image is not surprising. Also, Wal-Mart is the most nationally recognized company on this list (compiled by Pew), with fully 95% of Americans knowing the company well enough to form an opinion.

Exxon/Mobil and Halliburton are favorite corporate whipping boys of the press. Pfizer is likely a victim of bad internal policies, but nonetheless, Wal-Mart has been taking a beating in the media.

While American's may think that Wal-Mart has a bad public relations image, they don't seem to be voting with their feet to shop somewhere else. This is a not a partuclarly suprising phenomenon.

People can, more and more, separate political and economic issues. In the months following the 2000 and 2004 elections, Democrats expressed wonder at why poor people would vote contrary to their economic status. By the same token, people have a very low opinion of Congress as a body, but still love their Congressman.

In the same vein, these polls are telling me that while they may think Wal-Mart as a corporation may have some problems, those problems don't extend to their decision making about whether to shop at Wal-Mart. All the bad press in the world is not going to change that calculus so long as people can purchase cheaply those items they want or need.

The Six Degrees of Separation for FEC Appointee Lenhard

You are going to love this post by Ariana Huffington--who is just full of conspiracy theories about the Bush Administration appointment of Robert Lenhard to the Federal Election Commission.

And particularly his aisle-crossing appointment of Democrat Robert D. Lenhard -- a choice the Washington Post called "controversial."

You see, Lenhard was one of the lawyers who mounted a challenge to the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. As a lawyer, Lenhard wasn't able to overturn McCain-Feingold before it took effect, but, as an FEC commissioner, he'll be able to do the next best thing and try to gut it.

But that's not why I'm obsessing (if I got worked up every time Bush picked a fox to guard a government henhouse, I'd never get anything done!). No, the thing that has my mental wheels in overdrive is the fact that Lenhard is the husband of Viveca Novak -- the Time Magazine journalist whose loose lips may end up saving Karl Rove from joining Scooter Libby on Indictment Row.

Imagine that: Novak provides Bush's Brain with a possible get-out-of-jail-free card and -- just weeks after she tells Fitzgerald things Rove's lawyer desperately wants the special prosecutor to hear -- Bush taps her hubby for the FEC post.

Now I'm not saying that one is payback for the other. But it sure is convenient. It may not be a case of quid pro quo but, if you were to make a list of things that would begin to repair the damage done to the credibility of the media, this sure wouldn't be among them.

Okay, let's take a look at the reality.

First, by tradition, although certainly not required, the President will often consult with opposing party leaders when making selections to the FEC. In this case, Bush consulted with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who together forwarded Lenhard's name to the White House.

Second, by law, the President cannot appoint more than three members of the same party to the FEC. Thus, while Commissioner Toner still has time on his term, and Commissioner Mason is being reappointed, the President could only pick one more Repbulican. President Bush chose Hans von Spakovsky as the next Republican nominee. Thus the president had to select Democrats to fill the vacancies of Scott Thomas and Danny McDonald.

Third, Lenhard's name has been circulating long before the whole Valerie Plame, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby mess began demanding attention. I don't really think the White House has some sort of conspiratorial payback in mind for Lenhard on account of his wife. Anyway, why anyone would consider a spot on the FEC as a "political favor" or "payback." The FEC, the whipping post of Congress, is a place where only masochists want to work and only sadists would repay favors by appointing a "friend."

Forth, people, and I mean the reform community, have a problem with Lenhard because he worked on the McConnell case opposing the campaign finance bill Lenhard would have to enforce as a Commissioner. This is the reason why the Washington Post finds him controversial--because the reform community finds him unacceptable.

Nice Job Ariana. Conspiracy theories like this are always good reading.

Linked to the Skeptic's Eye and OTB Traffic Jam

The Owner's Manual: #108 Best of Me Symphony

The Best of Me Symphony, a carnival featuring material at least 60 days old, is up. This is a chance to see some good writing on topics that may or may not still be timely.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Banned for Suspicion of Wrongdoing

Former 100-Meter world record holder Tim Montgomery was banned from his sport for two years earlier this week. Montgomery has said he will retire rather than sit out his suspension.

Under the rules of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which monitors U.S. national and international level athletes for the use of banned substances, and the World Anti-Doping Agency, any athlete caught using performance enhancing steroids or other banned drugs, like amphetamines, faces a suspension from national and international competitions for a minimum of two years. A second offense carries a lifetime ban from competition.

I love this structure of punishment. It forces athletes to play clean or face drastic penalties. However, there is a problem with Montgomery's ban--He has never tested positive for a banned substance.

Instead Montgomery was banned from his sport for two years due to circumstantial evidence compiled in the BALCO investigation and the testimony of another American sprinter, Kelli White, whom Montgomery claims he does not know.

In order to participate in national and international events, athletes are called upon to surrender certain rights to privacy in order to ensure the integrity of the sport. Athletes voluntarily agree to these limitations, which include off-season, random drug testing, in order to compete at the highest levels.

Fine. But if the USADA or the WADA want to ban an athlete for violating the rules, they must PROVE the allegations, not just make the allegations. If some has evidence that an athlete has violated the anti-doping rules, that does not mean that person has violated the rules. Is it grounds for requiring at new drug test, sure, but not a ban.

Here is some of the evidence offered to the Court for the Arbitration of Sport:
  • A blood test conducted Mexico in 2000 which allegedly shows a doubling of testerone in Montgomery in one day.

  • Documents for the criminal investigation of BALCO which "individually or when linked together established Montgomery's doping"

  • Hearsay admissions made by BALCO President Victor Conte to criminal investigators which implicate Montgomery.

Circumstantial evidence at best.

The panel at the Court for the Arbitration of Sport wrote that it accepted the testimony of Kelli White, and in combination with the circumstantial evidence, thus imposing the two year ban on Montgomery. See pages 15-21 of the CAS finding

Don't get me wrong, if Montgomery broke the rules, he should be thrown out on his head. But it seems to me that if there is all this circumstantial evidence against Montgomery, the USADA or the WADA would have been able to get one positive test.

The CAS made a big deal of the fact that Montgomery and his counsel did little to offer an alternative explanation or attempt to discredit Kelli White. While from an American court perspective, this is not necessary. But the CAS can probably take Montgomery's silence as evidence of wrongdoing.

This whole thing bothers me. I don't know if Montgomery took banned substances or not. The evidence seems like he did, but if the USADA or WADA is going to ban a person from their profession, there needs to be a little more hard proof.

For some potential fallout--check out this article about how Montgomery's ban could impact Baseball.

Linked at OTB Traffic Jam

Better educated but less literate -

From the Baltimore Sun today:

More Americans are getting college degrees than they did about a decade ago, but skills in reading and analyzing data among the well-educated have dropped significantly, according to a national report on literacy released yesterday.

This is a disturbing trend. But, to be honest, this is not particularly surprising. Unless people are asked to regularly think outside their normal area of expertise, very few people develop the problems solving and analytical skills necessary for broad intellectual activity. A degree is not a substitute for a broad education.

Today, in my opinion, more and more college education is about job training, not true liberal education.
"I think these results are really unexpected," said Mark Schneider, the U.S. commissioner of education statistics. A former university professor, Schneider was particularly concerned about the results.

"I think it is a wake-up call to the research and university community," he said. He expects that further analysis of the data will show whether the decline in high-level skills in the college-educated population is among recent graduates or those who have been out of school five or 10 years.

I would hope that the decline is in those who have been out of school longer, but I suspect that the Department of Education is not going to find any statistically significant difference.

If you are wondering what the survey tested, here is a taste:
The survey, done in 2003 by the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education, interviewed 19,000 people age 16 or older in their homes, in much the same way the census is conducted. They were asked to read prose, do math and find facts in documents.

The study was designed to assess not whether people can read a novel, but whether they are competent in the skills they need to be productive citizens. Participants were asked, for instance, to add numbers on a bank slip, identify a place on a map or read directions for taking a medication.

Among adults who have taken graduate courses or have graduate degrees, only 41 percent scored as proficient, compared with 51 percent a decade ago.

Proficiency was measured by the ability to read lengthy, complex abstract texts and analyze information in documents.

Participants' performance was scored as below basic, basic, intermediate and proficient. Below basic included people who were not literate.

However, the report is not all bad news. It would appear that college education does close the achievement gap between blacks and whites:
One positive finding of the National Assessment of Adult Literacy was that African-Americans are making significant gains in reading and math and that blacks as a whole are reaching higher levels of education. For instance, the report showed that the average rate of prose literacy, or reading, among blacks rose 6 percentage points since 1992.

A Marine's Perspective of Iraq

Hat Tip: The Instapundit

Yesterday, the Washington Post published this op-ed, entitledThe Truth On the Ground by a Marine officer.

The common wisdom seems to be that Iraq is an unwinnable war and a quagmire and that the only thing left to decide is how quickly we withdraw. Depending on which poll you believe, about 60 percent of Americans think it's time to pull out of Iraq.

How is it, then, that 64 percent of U.S. military officers think we will succeed if we are allowed to continue our work? Why is there such a dramatic divergence between American public opinion and the upbeat assessment of the men and women doing the fighting?

I wrote about this divergence, here. I argued that the cause of this diveregence among others is related to the all-volunteer nature of the military, which has caused a shift in political outlook. Captain Ed, had a different view, including the view implicitly targeted in this op-ed--that the portrayal of the Iraq war by the media has led to the divergence of opinion.

Open optimism, whether or not it is warranted, is a necessary trait in senior officers and officials. Skeptics can be excused for discounting glowing reports on Iraq from the upper echelons of power. But it is not a simple thing to ignore genuine optimism from mid-grade, junior and noncommissioned officers who have spent much of the past three years in Iraq.

Indeed, it is often the grunts on the ground that have the most cynical view of any conflict, after all it is they who are doing the bleeding and dying. But when you have such overwhelming optimism amoung the ground-pounders, it would seem that the national media is turning a blind eye to the belief in success.

However, there could also be another reason for the optimisim among the military related to their professionalism. A professional, all-volunteer army works from a very goal and mission-oriented mindset. This is different from a conscritpted army that thinks first and foremost about survival. The American, professional army believes that it must accomplish the mission set for them by the political leaders. Further, because the military, the American military, views every mission as achievable, thus the optimism about completing this mission.
It is difficult for most Americans to rationalize this optimism in the face of the horrific images and depressing stories that have come to symbolize the war in Iraq. Most of the violent news is true; the death and destruction are very real. But experienced military officers know that the horror stories, however dramatic, do not represent the broader conditions there or the chances for future success. For every vividly portrayed suicide bombing, there are hundreds of thousands of people living quiet, if often uncertain, lives. For every depressing story of unrest and instability there is an untold story of potential and hope. The impression of Iraq as an unfathomable quagmire is false and dangerously misleading.

It is this false impression that has led us to a moment of national truth. The proponents of the quagmire vision argue that the very presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is the cause of the insurgency and that our withdrawal would give the Iraqis their only true chance for stability. Most military officers and NCOs with ground experience in Iraq know that this vision is patently false. Although the presence of U.S. forces certainly inflames sentiment and provides the insurgents with targets, the anti-coalition insurgency is mostly a symptom of the underlying conditions in Iraq. It may seem paradoxical, but only our presence can buffer the violence enough to allow for eventual stability.

To be honest, most civilians cannot fathom the devotion to mission and country necessary to serve in the modern military. Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen, no matter what their rank, are never going to become rich in the service. Most enlisted may serve for a variety of reasons, including GI bill benefits. But at the core, everyone in uniform has chosen to be there because, at some level they believe in the necessity of service. While they may not admit it, most enlistees and officers implicitly understand that they may be called upon to place themselves between the civlization of America and the chaos they face.

Civilians also cannot fathom the surrender of personal freedoms in the service of one's country. But that is the price of a free society.
Everyone in uniform does not share this sentiment. Thirty-six percent of military officers are less confident in the mission. But these officers will continue to work as hard as the rest of us toward success because they, too, are professionals. With men and women such as this, the United States has an excellent chance of success in Iraq. We can fail only if the false imagery of quagmire takes hold and our national political will is broken. In that event, both the Iraqi people and the American troops will pay a long-term price for our shortsighted delusion.

Professionals do the job assigned, to the best of their ability. Effete snobs whine about such tasks. The professionalism of our military, no matter what their personal views on the war may be, will ensure our victory.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ten Days Before Christmas--Some Thoughts on Freedom

Today should be celebrated as freedom day. Today, for the thrid time in 18 months and two years after the capture of a brutal dictator, now on trial, the Iraqi people take to the polls to select a full-term parliament. Today is a day to celebrate all that is great about democracy--particularly in America.

Why you may ask? Today is the 214th Anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. For those on the Left, that is the Frist Ten Amendments to the United States Constitution. The Framers made a mistake in not including them in the origianl Constitution, so what did they do, they fixed their mistake. They used the very system they created to correct an oversight. What brilliance, what genius is this?

Today, however, the assualt on our Bill of Rights continues:

  • Everyday, we have more and more restrictions placed on our freedom of speech. On college campuses, students endure speech codes. "Reformers" aim to place restrictions on what and how much we can say about politics and candidates.

  • The concept of religion and spirituality is being systematically removed from our national psyche--because the ACLU says religion in public is bad.

  • We cannot abide recitation of Christian holidays because we might offend a Jew or Muslim, but we can say Happy Hannukuh--because celebration of a minority faith is good, but celebration of majority faith is oppressive.

  • Kids can't say prayers in school because, well then it looks like schools are endorsing religion.

  • Gun ownership by law abiding citizens is becoming illegal because we can't have law abiding citizens defending themselves against gun-toting criminals.

  • We have witnesses assaults on private ownership of property carried out in the name of economic development.

  • In the name of national security, we have spying by our government on our library reading.

The Bill of Rights represents the best of our aspirations to limit governmental involvement in our personal lives. But as this country has progressed in the march through time, we have forgotten about the basic privileges our Framers fought and died to provide us. We have abandoned our principles of individual freedom and liberty in our country at a time when we seek to expand those same freedoms overseas.

We pride ourselves on being a nation of laws, not men. But we have failed to adhere to the most basic of laws in this country--the Constitution. On this, the 214th Anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, we should reflect on our freedoms, or lack thereof, while we celebrate the freedom of a new democracy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ratio of Rights to Responsiblities

This Sunday past, George Will had a fabulous Op-Ed in the Washington Post talking about the Supreme Court case dealing with the Solomon Amendment. For those who generally don't know or care for that matter, the Solomon Amendment essentially tells any college or university that takes federal money must allow military recruiters the same access to students as they do for other employers.

A group of law schools has challenged the amendment, arguing that by allowing military recruiters on campus, the law school must endorse the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy the military maintains regarding gays in the military. Their case does not seem likely to carry the day as the Supreme Court was openly hostile to their argument.

But Will was seeking to expose the hypocrisy behind the law schools' argument. At the start of the article, Will coins the fabulous phrase, "ratio of rights to responsbilities."
The entitlement mentality produces petulant insistence on an ever-higher ratio of rights to responsibilities. Unsurprisingly, this mentality flourishes on campuses, where tenured faculty and privileged students live entitled lives supported by the taxes and generosity of others. The mentality was on vivid display in the Supreme Court on Tuesday when an association of 36 law schools and faculties asserted an audacious entitlement. (emphasis added)


During oral arguments last week, the schools had many occasions to wince. Regarding the schools' theory that any conduct can be imbued with "communicative force," Justice Antonin Scalia wondered whether the schools might also justify banning military recruiters during a war the faculty disapproved of, because allowing the recruiters would be tantamount to the schools' endorsing the war.

Or because the professors object to the military's barring women from combat or using land mines. The possibilities are as numerous as the professors' reasons for interposing their moral sensibilities between Congress and its constitutional power to "raise and support armies."

Furthermore, more than four other justices probably share Scalia's incredulity concerning this implication of the schools' argument: When an individual or institution gives as a reason for violating the law the fact that he or it wants to send a message, the violation acquires First Amendment protection. By such reasoning, a school barring blacks from campus could say its conduct is infused with an expressive purpose, hence shielded by the First Amendment.

See the schools want to practice their own kind of "morally acceptable" discrimination by banning one government agency--the Departmet of Defense. All other government agencies are welcome of course, but just not the war-mongering military.

Whatever you may think about the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy ( and I think it is a dumb policy), the fact that Congress has the right, routinely exercised, of attaching strings to the money it provides to states, universities and other institutions, remains the law of hte land. Arguing that it "compells one to endorse the policy" of a disfavored group is simply stupid--see even law professors can be dumb.

See these law schools want the "right" to continue to accept federal money and then discriminiate against the disfavored military. In Will's terms, they want the right to the money without the responsibility that goes along with it.

Even law schools have abadoned the idea that rights and responsiblities are two sides of the same coin. If our law schools, guardians of the development of the law in America, have forgotten this key lesson, how then do we expect others to remember that with the rights we have come responsibilities. If you want federal money, you have to follow federal rules, the money right carries with it the recruiting responsibility.

Linked at OTB Traffic Jam

Reading as Opposed to Literature Class

Hat Tip: Ed Wonks Carnival of Education #45

Tim Fredrick posed a question as to why kids don't like to read. He answered his question with the concept of choice, i.e. that kids have no choice in their school reading material, thus are uninterested in reading. As Tim writes:

It's time we English teachers end our tyranny over books and allow students to read books of their choosing. This requires that we restructure our classrooms and how we teach. This is good! It allows us to focus on the skills of reading - the skills we should be teaching in order to help students become better readers in life -- and to continue reading even when it is not shoved down their throats.


Put an end to ...
(1) book reports - even the "fun" ones that we know aren't fun at all unless you already love reading and ELA class
(2) reading quizzes
(3) tests about a book
(4) reading a book because it was the teacher's favorite
(5) reading a book because somebody (Lord knows who) decided it was "good"

Save students from bad English teaching!

My question is, when did the teaching of reading--a skill, become the teaching of literature--a subject matter? There is a vast range of reading skills because reading is more than just fiction, plays and poetry. Effective readers also know how to read and interpret science, history, and yes, even mathematics. But because kids only real exposure to the skills of reading (at least when I was in school oh so many years ago) was in English class.

The problem with teaching reading skills is the simple fact that the teaching of reading occurs almost exclusively in the English Classroom. English is a vitally important subject which should include reading instruction. But so too should history classes, science classes, art classes, etc. Each subject area has certain reading skills that need to be developed, but aren't because reading skills are not taught in that class.

For example, reading science texts takes a different set of reading comprehension skills, since connections must be followed carefully. In reading literature, inference and assumptions need to be examined to understand the author's intent. We have assumed that because English, as a subject involves lots of reading and writing that it is the only place where reading skills can be taught. Simply hogwash.

As for Tim's point about providing choice in literature class needs to be addressed. Such an idea is fine--to a point. Students need to have a little structure and I don't think that requiring reading of Shakespeare, Twain, Homer, Poe, Whitman, Checkov and Chaucer and many other writers from around the world and history is a bad thing--literature is about exposure to different stories, cultures, and texts. Letting kids have completely free rein about the books the read will not accomplish what a literature class should--critical thinking about a text.

Reading skills should not be the sole purview of the English teacher, but every teacher of children.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

WatchBlog Post

My latest post is up over at WatchBlog.

The Four C's of Redistricting

As has been widely reported, the Supreme Court will hear the challenges to the mid-decade Texas redistricting done by the GOP. While there are lots of questions being asked in this case, the concept of redistricting has become even more of a problem in the recent round of line-drawing. Questions about the constitutionality of mid-decade redistricting, partisan redistricting, and even incumbent protection redistricting have begun to occupy the minds of many, even outside the normally close community of watchers. But all the hubbub may be for naught, as the issues of redistricting are largely political in nature, and beyond certain basic guidelines, such as the requirement of equal population in districts, there is little a court can do to rein in some of the more egregious problems.

In the future, more challenges to the redistricting methods are likely to come from states without a referendum or initiative process, because there is no mechanism to easily force the issue onto the legislature. But that still leaves the question for the courts to decide, that is what is the proper set of criteria to be used in redistricting. The problem is that consensus on proper criteria may be difficult and it may come down to an engineer's triangle solution, and an answer that only the state legislature may decide because the courts cannot.

An engineer's triangle is concept explained to me by an engineer friend. Generally engineers are often presented with the main issues to satisfy, better, faster and cheaper. The rule is you can only choose two. In reality, of course, an engineer is looking for a midpoint to all the competing interests, but when push comes to shove, sometimes you can only have two. Thus, if you want it better and faster, you can't have it cheaper too.

In redistricting, the main concepts boil down to four "c's", that is:

  • Continguous--the concept that all parts of the district must be connected together, and barring an actual physical island, you cannot have parts of districts isolated from each other.

  • Compact--this is the idea that you want to have the requisite number of people in the smallest amount of geographic space possible.

  • Community based--this is a tricky one, because community can be actual housing communities, towns and neighborhoods or what is often referred to as communities of interest, i.e. racial groups, or rural voters vs. Suburban vs. Urban voters.

  • Competitive--Districts drawn so that no one political party has such a competitive edge that the only real election of consequence is the dominant party's primary.

There may be other criteria that a state might consider, such as political subdivisions like counties ought to be considered together, but those are simply one of these four C's with another label.

I believe that all districts must be contiguous, otherwise, you may end up with an electoral map that has nothing to do with reality in any sense of the word. So all districts drawn must be continuous. This criteria also has the benefit of being easily enforced by court directive. Any district with isolated pockets, again absent an actual island, would be invalid and sent back.

Taking contiguity out of the equation, you are left with an engineer's triangle of compact, community-based and competitive. You are going to choose any two.

Let's assume that we want to have competitive districts that are compact. Keeping in mind that we are seeking to have districts that are also contiguous. The result may very well be that you have a spoke-like effect around major cities, with districts that include both significant Republican enclaves of the suburbs and exurbs, even rural areas, combined with urban minority and racial minority groups. The result is a district with nothing in common between major blocks of voters. Such a district will compromise the ability of the electorate to come to a consensus on a candidate and compromise the elected officials ability to effectively represent the district. But you will undoubtedly have a competitive district.

But what if you choose to have competitive districts that keep communities of interest together. You will no doubt get districts with great blobs of population connected by narrow tendrils of voters. You will also bet districts that may span hundreds of miles in length in larger states.

Finally, if you want districts that are compact and keep communities of interest together you get districts that are not competitive. Because of the human inclination to seek out those who are like ourselves, people of similar interests and outlooks tend to congregate together. You get communities that are so lopsidedly partisan that to get a competitive district with these two criteria is almost impossible.

Notice that I have said nothing about party or race or any other demographic information unrelated to communities. Therein lies the rub. Redistricting is a partisan activity, controlled by the party in power. Traditionally, these are questions that courts often leave to the political branches, the political question doctrine. But with the vicious skew of most Congressional and state legislative districts, the redistricting process is beginning to affect the ability of people to elect a person of their choice.

That last phrase is important since courts have used that phrase when dealing with racial gerrymandering. While discrimination against voters because of their race is clearly unconstitutional (the whole purpose behind the 15th amendment), is it likewise unconstitutional to deprive voters of their power to elect a person of their choice based on partisan affiliation? What happens when a district is so overwhelmingly partisan that the only election of consequences is the majority party primary and the primary is open only to registered voters of that district? In effect you have eliminated the ability of members of the minority party to vote at all.

I don't know what prompted the Supreme Court to take up this case again. But these questions are important, perhaps more important than any faced by our government. If we are to make our government work and be responsive to our needs, we must find a way to make them accountable and it starts with the manner in which districting is done.