Wednesday, February 23, 2005

What Pollsters Do when it is not election season

The polling firm of Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas conducted a study for Washington College asking survey respondents, in a hypothetical match-up Presidential race between George W. Bush and George Washington, who would you vote for?

The fact that this survey is being done is humorous enough, but the results kind of blew my mind. In an amazing display of party loyalty, 62% of Republicans said they would vote for George W. Bush. But never fear, George Washington would still win in a walk, with close to 60% of the vote, Democrats and Independents overwhelming supporting the First President. Of course, Washington never had to campaign in modern times and the electoral college may not favor the First president by such a wide margin.

The survey covers a lot of different topics about the First president, including some troubling findings that many young Americans are sorely lacking in basic knowledge of the colonial icon. Check out the press release, which has links to the poll results, at the link below.

Washington v. Bush: Electoral Showdown

No More Five Year Plans

From an the Baltimore Sun, the University of Maryland system is searching for ways to free up classroom space in an already overcrowded system by pursuing the radical idea of getting students to graduate in 4 years.

For a student to get 120 credits in four years (the minium required for graduation), a student would have to take 15 credits a semester or roughly 4 to 5 classes as semester to graduate in four years. Here are some of the ideas being kicked around:

Add a penalty to tuition for each credit over 132.
Encourage students to take 12 credits or nearly a semster's worth of work via internships or online courses. (more on this later)
Freshmen who enroll in the spring will be encouraged to take 12 credits online or at a community college.

Of course, onesolution would be to make the minimum course load for full-time students be 15 credit hours a semester, or alter the manner in which part-time students are taught. But that would be logical and logic and higher education don't necessarily mix.

Now the issue of internships is a tricky one for me. I believe in the value of internships to put the academic work a student has done into real world environment. Further, internships provide contacts for future employment. But too often internships turn out to be little more than cheap labor for the company/organization bringing the internship in. Care must be taken in internship organizations to ensure that the work done by interns is relevant to their education. While a certain amount of scut work should be anticipated, the bulk of an internship needs to be substantive learning.

One regent has this comment: "Regent Joseph D. Tydings said he believes the policy encouraging students to take nontraditional courses could help them after they graduate. Tydings said he hopes professors would work with their students to find internships that could lead to jobs."

He "hopes professors" would help students with internships. While I have no doubts that some professors would help, unless you make it part of their job, some professors will not help. I also fear that schools will try to expand internships for credit because of the sheer economics of the matter, i.e. they get money for the tuition without significant classroom/professorial time, meaning a higher profit margin. The employers get free labor and the student does get something--we hope.

There are several other issues raised by the proposal. One of which is the concept of red-shirting athletes. Under the red-shirting policies, schools may place a student-athlete on a red-shirt, which allows the athlete to not lose a year of eligibility, but still train and workout with the team. This usually means that such students would be on a five year plan, particularly because for most student athletes, they only take 12 credits during the sports season.

The schools will have to address this issues and others in any plan that places a premium on four year graduation. - UM system tells students to hustle through

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Debate on Advanced Placement

The attached article appeared on Washington Post online today and talks about an important educational issue in high schools, namely Advanced Placement classes and exams.

A quick disclaimer is in order, I took four AP exams in my senior year in high school in Enlish, Biology, Physics and American History-a grueling three days to be sure.

I firmly believe in the value of AP classes, if properly taught, as a good preparation for college, but not necessarily as a substitute. My AP experience provided me with a foundation for success in college in terms of academics. (I went to college after an enlistment in the Navy and the Navy provided me the necessary discipline to succeed, AP provided me with the foundational knowledge). Most AP courses provide a great deal of knowledge but little in terms of the critical thinking necessary to succeed in college.

I am not sure of the motivation of my contemporaries, but when AP was marketed to me and my family, the appeal was that the class was harder, thus more likely to keep me engaged as well as providing possible college credit. Looking back, I think my parents were wise to have me involved in AP. The danger of schooling for me was boredom. Most regular and even honors classes in public high school offered little challenge to me and my contemporaries in AP courses. Because the regular and honors courses had to be tailored to appela to the middle, the less prepared students struggled to keep up and the more advanced students struggled to find relevance for their time. AP course, by their nature, were selective and tailored only for the more advanced students. There were pre-requisites or instructor approval needed to register for the course. The courses were hard in that we covered more material in a shorter time frame than other courses.

Having said that, AP today has become something different entirely. AP courses for schools and school systems are as much, if not more of, a marketing tool as they are an educational service. Looking at the websites of school districts, they proudly note the number of students taking AP or IB (International Bacculaureate) courses as well as the number of subjects being offered. While I would like to believe that American secondary education is opening doors for more students, the statistics don't prove me out. Parents are often misled and improperly look at the size of an AP program at a high school as a measure of the school's quality. The two have little in common.

Second, by opening up AP courses and exams to more students, the standards must certainly fall. In each of my four courses of AP in high school, only AP biology had more than 14 students and AP Bio had 18. I saw, generally, the same core of 10-12 students in each class, the top of our gradutating class (of about 400, so about 2-3% of the graduating class was in AP courses). In order to prepare us for college, the school purposefully challenged us and we had proven that we were capable of doing college level work. Was the system at our school a little elitist? I would have to say yes, but for the top 2-3% of us in the graduating class, we were demonstrably the elite-- we needed the challenge. Were it not for AP in my senior year, high school would have been a waste of my time except for playing soccer.

By opening the program to more and more kids, you are no longer catering to the top 2-3% or even the top 10% of seniors. But you present a larger cross section of students, which generates a bell curve of abilities and preparation, meaning that the course must then be tailored, whether consciously or not, to the lower or middle cohort of the curve, robbing the value of the AP program for the best and brightest.

Third, the issue of more broad-based AP programs results in an even greater injustice to kids who go on to college--if they pass the AP test with a 3 (in some colleges 4) or better, then they get some academic credit for the AP course. This means that one mission of a college or university (in my mind), to provide well-rounded citizens is further underminded. Most AP courses are aimed at what colleges refer to as "core curriculum," meaning the liberal arts of college education. Students are opting out of English 101, basic American history, biology, and other core classes that provide a basis of education for everyone. The result is they colleges and universities are not producing well rounded inviduals, but rather specialists incapable of working beyond their own tiny focus of study. There is no integration of thinking between subjects. The final result is that the value of a Bachelor's degree is degraded.

Fourth and finally, High School AP classes are nothing like college courses. Typically, high school classes meet every day. College course may meet only twice a week. In high school there are parents, teachers and other pushing you constantly to keep up with the work. In college there is no one but yourself. In high school, you learn the material over the course of probably 150-160 school days or 21-23 weeks, in college, you have 15 weeks at best to learn the same if not more material.

In short, there is a huge gulf between AP and college courses. Sure the subject matter is the same, but the manner in which it is taught and the skills to succeed in the course are vastly different between the two.

Yes, I took AP classes and there were very few of us in my high school that did. However, looking back now, I got more of a foundation of knowledge out of the classes than the academic credit. I still had to take English 101 (actually I wanted to since I hadn't done any writing for four years in the Navy). I still had to take lab sciences and I took a lot of History.

In short, AP classes are no substitute for proper college courses and they shouldn't be advertised as such.

Critic Responds on the AP Debate (

This Week's Listen-- 3 Doors Down--Seventeen Days

This week, I got back to my roots, so to speak, back to more pure rock. I first got interested in 3 Doors Down a few years ago when I heard them on local radio station DC 101. I very much got into the fairly straight ahead rock music and strong lyrical content with some hints at a military past of at least one of the band members.

Their latest release, Seventeen Days, shows a band going through an evolution into a band with staying power. Although they have gotten stuck in a rut of mid-tempo songs with a faster beat chorus, the songwriting remains strong. The lyrical content of the songs on this CD reflect a more meloncholy mood, which to a certain extent brings the CD down a little from their debut "The Better Life" and their sophmore effort "Away from the Sun." But the subject matter is a little more expansive.

Their first single off the CD, Let Me Go, is a solid effort, but to be honest the bridge just seems out of place in the song, as well as being a little too predictable. Other songs suffer from the same malaise.

For the longest time, I could not place vocalist Brad Arnold's voice in my memory, it sounded like someone else, but I couldn't put my finger on it, unil this CD. In "Landing in London," 3 Doors Down features Detroit rock mainstay Bob Seeger, and I finally had it. At times, Arnold sounds a lot like Seeger. Now when bands bring in singers to feature, I generally look for a singer that serves as a counter to the bands vocalist, but here Seeger does a great job. The song however, is a little more Seeger and 3 Doors Down. I was a little dismayed at that, but the song will no doubt be released as a single in the near future.

One troubling aspect of the CD is that 3DD and Arnold have mistaken volume for passion. There are times when Arnold's voice moves into the scream/sing rather than the singing of past albums, which is too bad, because Arnold can sing well.

On the plus side, I think that the band is growing musically. The texture of the guitars, coupled on occaision with synthesizers and orchestral strings makes the melodies a little more sophisticated. The drum tracks have also gotten better, no disrespect to Brad Arnold (the band's original drummer), but the addition of Daniel Adair is well received.

So finally, my favorite tracks:

"Right Where I Belong" is a rocker to start the CD off. Great guitar work, and great pacing. I love the lyrics and the pure straight ahead rocking style.

"It's Not Me" Normally I don't like second tracks (call it a mind block), but 3 Doors Down has rarely disappointed and in this case again they don't.

"Father's Son" Probably not particularly radio friendly, not that the lyrics need a radio edit, but the story is dark and little worrisome. The story that inspired this song must be interesting.

I would not recommend this CD for first time 3DD listeners, but it is a great peice for a band that could be around for a long while.

File Under Obvious

A new study of San Diego Schools has found that teachers in poorer schools with more minority students earn less than their counterparts in schools with more affluent students.

What a shocker!!!! Color me so surprised at this finding. Of course that is going to be the case. The attached story also mentions that teachers at more affluent schools tend to be more experienced and better educated. What the story fails to do is fully indict the teachers unions for this problem.

The story alludes to budgeting difficulties for school systems, but the real culprit is the teachers unions who build in incentives for senior teachers to leave their jobs for teaching positions at more affluent schools, leaving assignments at poor or minority schools for their less experienced and lesser trained colleagues. Because the teachers unions insist on strict seniority rights, school boards and principals have no ability to assign teachers based on the needs of the school system and the students.

Again, teachers unions have demonstrated that, despite rhetoric to the contrary, all they are concerned about is power--not the kids. > News > Metro -- Study: Teachers at needy schools earn less

Friday, February 18, 2005

Getting Rid of School Fundraisers

One New Jersey lawmaker is fed up with all the school fundraisers that ask kids to sell items from pizza kits to wrapping paper.

"Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, is proposing legislation that would let schools send out just one fund-raising packet per family each year, and only to students in sixth grade or above.

Gaffey, co-chairman of the General Assembly's Education Committee, said children shouldn't have to come up with the money to pay for their experiences in the public schools. He has also proposed legislation this session to eliminate fees for sports and extracurricular activities.

"The school budget ought to include moneys for these, and everybody's aunts and uncles and grandparents and parents shouldn't be besieged with fund-raising requests seemingly throughout the year," he said. "

The logic doesn't follow. If the school budgets had the money for all the things these fundraisers are designed to support, there would be no need for the fundraisers. Once again, government is not doing what they should to fund public schools, so parents and teachers (not the unions) are stepping into the void to make sure their kids get the things they need to make their education worthwhile. - AP Connecticut

An All Too Common A View

Marsha Sutton in San Diego provided an analysis of what is going wrong with San Diego Schools. From what I have read about schools in general across the country, her insights are all too common a problem.

When school Boards hire a superintendent like Alan Bersin, they must surely know what they are getting. Bersin, five years ago, shook up the education establishment by doing something almost no one in public education does these days--he put the kids first. He didn't pander to the school board, the teacher's unions or anyone else but students and their parents. The result--his contract has been bought out and the programs he championed are being dismantled.

So why does this happen? In my view the school boards are getting too involved in the mircomanagment of schools. Like most agencies with power, school boards want to expand their power and influence. Unfortuneately, most voters let them do so, there is no check on their activity. It appears in San Diego that if a the Board doesn't like a principal, or the principal gets too popular and becomes a threat to the school board, they reassign him. A move that guarantees parental anger.

By Bersin's plan to improve student achievement foundered on the shoals of school politics. But as Sutton reminds us:

"Kids don't wait for egos to be stroked and feelings to be massaged. They need attention and they need it yesterday. There isn't the time to pussyfoot around and soothe ruffled feathers.

Patience is needed for the adults, but urgency is required for the kids. And adults should remember why they are there - to provide the kids with a decent education."

The rapid increase in education politics means that the kids get lost in the shuffle. It is time for the school boards, the teachers unions and politicians to realize that the failure of our children to lead the world in educational achievements lies not with the kids, but with the adults. Now if only these adults will stop acting like three-year-olds, we can get something done.

Education - Voice of San Diego

Firm cancels student ID deal

Last week, I post a comment on Big Brother in the Elementary School. Looks like the political heat cause the school to cancel the deal. | 02/17/2005 | Firm cancels student ID deal

From Instructivist: Totalitarian shadows

Now I fully believe in finding qualified teachers to instruct our young people, but I would prefer that the teachers embrace all points of view. I fully expect the administration to provide qualified teachers with differing points of view. Teachers must have qualifications to teach, but according to this post by Instructivist, there is a troubling trend--teachers political views must conform to the views of those in charge.

"...the national accrediting agency for education schools and departments has said that it's acceptable for prospective public school teachers to be evaluated on the basis of their political beliefs."

Hat Tip to Joanne Jacobs

Instructivist: Totalitarian shadows

Duh!!!! What Took You So Long

For many years, I have used the Metro, Washington, DC's subway system. Until my current job, I rode the Metro everyday and complained about it everyday. A couple of months ago, it was reported that the Metro Board of Directors did not ride the Metro. One was even quoted saying something like if she did, she wouldn't make her meetings on time, etc.

Metro has serious problems with its service and customer service. These problems have been well documented. As the system approached 30 years of age, it finally dawned on the metro Board to have an advisory panel of people who actually ride the subway. Duh!!!

"The focus on riders follows a similar pledge by transit officials in November to get "back to basics" and reconnect with users who ride crowded trains and who have suffered through a series of breakdowns, accidents and other service problems."

The funny thing about the Metro system is that it makes terrific money, probably on the scale of tens of millions of dollars a day. But the managers of the system can't seem to get their head out of their butts long enough to realize that many serious problems exist. Put this way, if Metro were a real business, it would have replaced its management about 20 times in the past 10 years.

Rider Panel to Advise Metro on Service (

Promises, Promises on Teacher Pay Raises

Once again, during the budget process in state legislatures, states are again promising to spend more on teacher salaries, with the intent of trying to bring them up to where they should be.

However, as this article points out about Virginia teacher salaries, given teachers a raise is much easier said than done, so why bother. Of course, it is politically popular to promise such raises, but no particularly realistic.

The funny thing is that the article talks about Fairfax county, the 12th largest school district in the United States. This is a county whose school budget this year is about $1.8 billion, which includes a roughly 9% increase over last year's budget. The superintindent has said he will ask for another 9% increase next year, bringing the total budget for the school system only to almost $2 billion. A big increase to be sure, but why. Are there more students expected, sure, about 200. With a 9% increase next year in funding, the school system is asking for about $700,000 more per new student. Lets see, the average salary for a Fairfax county teacher is about $40,000, at that rate, a 3% pay raise equates to $1200. For an addtionally $700,000, you could give 583 teachers a 3% pay raise.

The Washington Post estimates that to give all the teachers in Fairfax county at 3% raise would cost $28.5 million, or a measly 1.5% of the budget of $1.9 billion. By the way, a 9% increase of a $1.8 billion budget comes to $162 million, so the pay raise would take just 17.6% of the budget increase. A 9% raise for the average teacher would be $3600 per year. Such a payraise would cast the county some $85 million or about 52% of the funding increase for next year.

It seems to me that Fairfax county, one of the richest counties in the country needs to figure out how to pay its teachers more, or soon none of hte teachers will be able to live in the county. It doesn't make sense to have such a massive budget increase and not have a similary massive pay raise.

Teacher Raises Dwindle in State Formula (

Why Not?

Yesterday Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay called the Bush Administration proposal to increase the wage ceiling for Social Security Taxes, calling it a tax increase on the wealthy.

I certainly don't buy into the Democratic rhetoric that the Bush Administration and the GOP are all about tax breaks for the rich. The richest 1 percent of Americans pay probably 20 percent of the income tax revenue in the country, so a tax break for them is justified since they are footing a larger share of the bill than anyone else.

But in this case, I think the Hastert and DeLay have this one wrong. Most taxes are about the redistribution of wealth to pay for necessary government programs. In exchange for their tax breaks, which will be made "permanent," the wealthy need to consider giving a little up in Social Security taxes. It is better to pay now, than later when the costs of supporting the elderly go up.

Raising the wage ceiling is not a silver bullet, but with the Bush plan, they need to come up with some way of regaining some of the lost income for the system. This is one way to do it.

Idea to Raise Social Security Wage Limit Criticized (

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Don't Destroy but Don't Coddle

From USA Today earlier this week a "surprising" story that the youngsters raised in the 80's and 90's, the product of a "self-esteem" generation crumble at the first sign of adversity or criticism. This whole problem could have been avoided if we had not embraced the concept of bolstering the self-esteem of kids.

Now before I start to get comments that I just want to make kids miserable, let me say that I believe that praising a child for a job well-done, a solid effort is a positive and should be done. But any failure is an opportunity for learning and parents and educators should take the opportunity to instruct the child. Criticism is important method of improving performance. "But empty praise — the kind showered on many kids years ago in the name of self-esteem — did more harm than good."

A little story from my own childhood may help. My father taught me how to play chess, a game we still enjoy playing together. However, as a kid, my father, would play to his level, which was more advanced than mine. As a result I would lose, often and regularly. But each time I lost, my dad taught me a lesson, about chess and about life. The chess lesson was easy. The life lesson was usually left unspoken, that no matter how well you do (and I improved over time) you can still fail. Failure is a part of life, what takes courage and real self-esteem is not thinking you are a failure, but realizing that you got beat and you need to learn a lesson and apply that lesson. Maybe the next time, you may win or lose, but you have to keep trying.

The Inflated Self-Esteem problem presented itself to me during college. One of my jobs during school was as a tutor at the writing center. I would tutor students, who allegedly came from strong academic backgrounds who had trouble putting together a coherent sentence, let alone a paragraph or entire paper. When I critiqued these papers, I would often get a response along the lines of "isn't that your opinion?" I suppose that in some respects it was, but good writing has objective factors like being able to spell or subject-verb agreement.

The degredation of the value of a bachelor's degree is a result more of self-esteem generation and their parents changing the way schooling is done. As my children age, I sincerely hope that they understand that failure is a part of life and you have to work hard to succeed, not just participate. I want my children to keep trying, even if they get knocked down, I have more pride is a child that doesn't quit, even after failure, than a child who thinks they are entitled to win. - Yep, life'll burst that self-esteem bubble

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Guns and Alcohol don't Mix, but Cars and Alcohol Do

The Virginia General Assembly, that legislative body that brought you the Droopy Drawers bill and the "No Porn in Your Car bill" has passed legislation that would make having a .02 blood alcohol level while hunting a misdemeanor. That level is 1/4 the legal limit for DUI.

Now I think that guns and alcohol are a very bad mix, since alcohol, as we all know impairs judgment and probably impulse control. So I don't have a problem with the general idea of the law--I think it a good idea.

My problem is the disparity between guns and alcohol and cars and alcohol. Admittedly, the original sponsor of the bill, Sen. Kenneth Stolle (R) wrote the bill with a level equal to that of the DUI level, a BAL of .08. Seems logical to me. But his colleague, Sen.Thomas Norment (R) successfully proposed an amendment to lower the level. What????

Both cars and guns in the hands of those who are drunk are deadly instruments. The operational differences between the two are irrelevant, they both kill. The disparity makes no sense.

Gun Rights advocates actually have now problem with the original bill (by the way it is already a crime to hunt while drunk, there was just no standard in the law). But they have a legitimate issue with the disparate treatment of hunters and drivers. There are often far more drunk drivers on the road (and more innocents potentially involved) than drunk hunters.

To the Virginia legislature--you are quickly becoming a joke with some of your decisions. You need to tell the Sergeant at Arms to go out and requisition some common sense.

Va. Hunter Drinking Limits Eyed (

Greed Kills Hockey

The NHL became the first major sports league in U.S. history to cancel a season due to a labor dispute. What is at issue, $6.5 million dollars per team per year--that right's right, small potatoes to these organizations.

To be sure both sides have given up a great deal, but the fans have given up more and that has cost the NHL more than it can ever recover--fan goodwill. Fans will have lost over 1200 games, a Stanley Cup run that has been exciting in recent years and trust in teh league and players.

I used to like the NHL because the game is exciting, and it remains one of the few sports still available for middle size guys. You didn't have to be a 6 foot 7, 300 pound behemoth to play or a 7 foot tall stick either. But the greed of the players and the owners has gone beyond repair in my mind. Call me a simpleton, but if you are only $3.25 million apart over the course of an eight-month season, what is your problem. Greed--everyone wanting a bigger piece of hte pie.

Now, with the season canceled, the league faces a bigger problem. With fans dismayed and disappointed at the turn of events, the league is going to have a tough time selling their product again--and the players are going to have to help. That is the irony, in order to justify and cover what ever salary cap comes into play, the league, the owners and hte players are all going to have to work hard, together, to convince fans to come back to the arenas and watch the games. Otherwise, the league won't make enough money to cover operating expenditures, player salaries and other costs. Oops!

I understand the need for each side to protect its interests, but if you want a good example of a league and the players union cooperating, look at the NFL. The league continues to make more and more money each year. Teams that spend the most money on salaries, don't always win--see the Redskins. In fact, the new England Patriots, arguably a dynasty, have a much smaller payroll than Philadelphia.

I believe a salary cap makes the league more competitive and a more competitive league means that games are more exciting and that is what draws fans in to the seats.

So the the NHL Owners and Players union--get your head out of your ass, agree to a $45 million dollar salary cap with bonus for exceeding attendence goals and get to work.

NHL Cancels Season as Final Push Falls Short (

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

This Week's Listen

This week I started listening to Diana Krall's The Girl in the Other Room. My father first introduced me to Krall's music and from minute one, I fell in love with her voice. Her voice is so smooth, warm, and sensual. Having seen her live in Paris DVD, I must admit that while not a dynamic performer in terms of movement, she is perhaps one of the most powerful singers in jazz today.

This album, like many of her others, contains music written by others, like "Stop This World," but the bulk of the work is written by Krall and her husband Elvis Costello. The music is soothing (not something to listen to if you have a long drive ahead) and again Krall's voice is pure heaven. What is fun about this album is the cover tunes. Krall does a wonderful job with Tom Waits' "Temptation" and Joni Mitchell's "Black Crow." But not having heard the originals in a long time, I can't compare. Krall's version is good solid musicianship and vocals, I find now fault. However her other cover tune, Bonnie Raitt's version of "Love Me Like a Man" lefting me wanting more. I don't know if it is so much that I like Raitt's version so much more or if I just never thought of the tune as one for piano. This is not to say that Krall's version is not technically proficient, but I just think it is a song for guitar.

I have a thing for quiet piano as a relaxation method and Krall doesn't disappoint. She is a talented musician and when combined with outstanding pros like Jeff Hamilton on drums and John Clayton on bass (both of whom are in the Live in Paris recording) Krall really shines.

Now for my favorite tracks

"Departure Bay" it is not the music so much as the imagery of the lyrics in this track. Krall and Costello do a wonderful job of setting a scene and giving me an idea of a place-real or imagined.

"I've Changed My Address" The combination of pacing, piano and vocals makes this song, in my mind, a classic. I hope it lasts beyond Krall.

"Abandoned Masquerade" Can't put my finger on why I like it, but I do. Some songs just have that effect.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Big Brother in the Elementary School

One of hte few issues that I truly get riled up about is education. Typcially, I come from the point of view that the more education the better. I am also interested in technology that will make schools either safer, more accountable and/or more effective. All three in one aspect is good.

The article, appearing on, talks about an ID technology that allows for an elementary school to track their students through chips in their ID cards. What a superb idea!! I understand some of the privacy aspects as being real challenges, but knowing that you kids are where they are supposed to be is always a good idea. The parents who complain about invasion of privacy have no concept of what good parenting is supposed to be. A good parent is intrusive in their child's lives. Granted, a child should have some modicum of privacy, with a little more granted by the parents as the child ages. As a matter of course, children are not entitled to an unlimited right of privacy, particularly in the school setting. The limitations are both practical and legal. A child in school is expected to be in class, on time, and at least in theory ready to learn. On teh legal side of matters, a child may have his/her locker searched, and under certain circumstances and in certain states, they are subject to search themselves. However, kids do have some privacy rights, but an attendance monitoring system is not one of those instances. Kids, and their parents, have a reasonable expectation that the ID badge will not be tied to the schools computers that contain address, academic/grading, or other personal information, but they have no expectation that attendence records be completely private.

State and federal rules regarding recordkeeping, grading, and other forms of paperwork teachers and school administrators must complete, any method to ease their burden and free them up to teach is a welcome relief. In a moderate 25-30 kid classroom, calling the roll may take as much as five minutes and that means five minutes not spent teaching. If the system talked about in this article is reliable, by all means, I think is should remain in place. - Parents protest radio ID tags for students - Feb 10, 2005

Press About Blogs

I blog at work, and as you will notice from my blog, a lot of it has to do with politics and the things I like. I do not blog about my job or about my work, on purpose--because I like both. I also, occaisionally blog from home. Based on this article, perhaps I need to be blogging more from home than I have been.

Free Expression Can Be Costly When Bloggers Bad-Mouth Jobs (

Madame President?

Yesterday the USA Today had a poll showing Hillary Clinton leading the Democratic pack in the hunt for hte Presidential nomination, not that there is much of a pack, but that is beside the point. Yesterday, Chris Core on WMAL in Washington DC, discussed the possibility of Sen. Clinton or any woman being President.

On a personal level, the concept of a woman president is an idea whose time, I believe, has come. There have been many nations with women leaders, Great Britain, Israel, India and others. True, no super power has ever been led by a woman and as the only one left, the United States is the only, but also the best option.

The possibility of a female president in my lifetime excites me, but I wonder from whence will the lady come. To be certain, Hillary Clinton is the most likely candidate right now, and whether she admits it or not or the Democratic party admits it or not, she is running. But Hillary Clinton carries a lot of baggage with her, including a great deal of negative baggage from her time as First Lady. On the other hand, her recent moves to moderate her stances, means that she may be looking to distinguish herself from her husband and embrace the views of others.

So who is to stand in her way. Well, Condoleeza Rice comes to mind almost immediately among Republicans. Can you imagine a Rice/Clinton race. As Dick Morris points out, Rice may be the only obstacle to Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman President. Rice, in addition to being appealing to the GOP base, would accomplish much in her election. She would be the first woman AND the first African American elected president, although I think Rice would take more pride in the former rather than the latter. Being an African American woman would shatter so many myths and put to rest so much historical baggage, that American may finally start to move forward on racial issues.

Second, Rice's candidacy would undercut Clinton in three key demographics--blacks, Hispanics and women. No doubt about it, there is a significant enough segment of blacks who would vote for Rice merely because of her race, simiarly so would Hispanics. The woman vote would be split, with conservatives going to Rice and liberals to Clinton. The independent women could break either way. I doesn't take a political genius to understand that a Condi Rice candidacy would doom any Democratic run in 2008, regardless of who was on the Democratic ticket.

Rice's story is compelling, one of will and education triumphing over conditions. Growing up in the segregated South, Rice experienced and overcame so many more obstacles that Clinton. She, through sheer work and force of will, has entered a rarified atmosphere of national and world leaders, a testament to her smarts and toughness. There are efforts around to draft Condi Rice into the race in 2008, but that may take time.

Some Condoleeza Rice Sites

Thursday, February 10, 2005

11 year Old Sex Education Advisor? What were they thinking?

Yesterday on the way home from school, I heard a disturbing conversation that the Montgomery County (Maryland) School Board had appointed an 11 year old Sex Education Advisor to provide student input on the sex education cirriculum the County was considering.

Putting aside my concerns about some of the aspects of this curriculum, the wisdom of putting an 11 year old girl on the advisory panel completely escapes me. I whole-heartedly support the idea of having student representatives on advisory panels since they will be the group of people responsible for learning the material. But an 11 year old, possibly pre-pubescent child has no place on a sex education panel. If the county appointed a 16, 17 or 18 year old student, I wouldn't have an issue, but this appointment is the height of stupidity.

Montgomery County probably leads the state in matters of educational theory. The appointment of and consideration by an citizens advisory panel of proposed changes to currucula is a laudable goal and, I think, in some aspects, responsible government. However, the over use of such panels is a waste of goverment funds.

For more information on the sex education curriculum in Montgomery County, see here. For the criticisms of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, which discusses in particular the sex education curriculum, go here. In don't agree completely, or even mostly, with the thoughts of hte CRC, but at least they make some very good points.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

More Intolerance in Northern Virginia

The lastest dust-up in Northern Virginia regarding the "indoctrination" of the homosexual lifestyle in public high schools has the local politicos going nuts over a high school student's one-act play about a homosexual football player. This brouhaha comes against the background of the Virginia State Assembly voting to approve a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Additionally, this mess comes on the heels of a recent letter to Fairfax County high schools by a school board member requesting high school principles teach homosexuality as a choice.

Reading the story from the Washington Post I am struck by the amazaing and brazen intolerance exhibited by so-called leaders in the region. A teenager, wanting to write play about tolerance and acceptance, finds herself in the middle of media storm that she could not have expected.

At the heart of the matter is a lack of trust that adults have toward teenagers. Many adults assume that teenagers lack the sophistication to understand what is happening in the play as opposed to their own lives. Merely because a play happens to deal with the subject of homosexuality is not an "indoctrination." Perhaps the best point made about the whole issue is made by the play's apparently eloquent author, who said, "I try to promote tolerance in a school where there is not enough among teenagers and am in turn flooded with the intolerance of their parents. People who are negatively commenting on my play are proving my point."

They are indeed. We as a nation pride ourselve on our freedom of expression and principles of equality. We preach these ideals across the globe, encouraging Palestinians and Israelis to seem themselves as equals and accepting differences. We want, even demand, the same from Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites in Iraq. Yet at home, many of our leaders can't seem to understand that liberty means the ability to live you life in the manner you deem best for you, within certain guidlelines. One of those guidelines cannot be a rule prohibiting or treating as improper, a particular sexual orientation.

The play, from its description ( I have not seen it) seems appropriate for its audience of high school students. It would probably not be appropriate for elementary school students, but then all sexually related material is inappropriate for elementary school kids. Would this furor being around if the play asked the audience to accept the football player as bi-racial, adopted, or a member of any other class of people who are in the minority? Not likely.

so let's recap some anti-day happenings in teh past couple of weeks:

1. Pressure from the Education Secretary forces Buster the Bunny to not visit with Vermont lesbians--buster is a cartoon.

2. Fairfax county high schools are encouraged by a rouge school board member to teach homosexuality is a choice despite the dearth of scientic proof to support such a concept.

3. Virginia State Assembly votes to amend the state's constitution to ban gay marriage.

4. People get up in arms over a play about accepting who you are, even if that happens to be gay.

For a nation that preaches tolerance and acceptance, it looks like we need to practice what we preach.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

One More Reason Why Democrats Have Stalled

In a Roll Call article by Chris Cillizza, it has become even more apparent to me why the Democrats are on the losing end of things right now. With Howard Dean as the incoming chair of the DNC, Democratic consultants are worried about their place in the new DNC, assuming there is one.

"While a number of consultants contacted for this story professed no ill will toward Dean, they did acknowledge that some members of their profession have concerns about the incoming DNC chairman."

Of course, for a group who professes no ill will, none of them have the spine to put their name with their comments. Doing so may put them out of favor with Dean and Democratic leaders. I understand the need to keep your business running, but please-show a little courage and attach your name or shut your trap--discretion is often the better part of valor.

"While Dean has softened his rhetoric somewhat in the DNC race, some Democrats are waiting nervously to see whether his proposed reform includes a house-cleaning of consultants who have reaped the financial largess of a committee that raised and spent $400 million last cycle."

For a committee that spent $400 million last cycle, including a great deal to these consultants, it seems as though they didn't get any return on their investment--at all. While some of the blame can be placed on less that engaging candidates, the message created by these consultants cannot escape blame. A shake-up is what is needed. A little creativity can't hurt.

“The bigger concern is what he is actually going to mean to the party’s brand.” That sentiment was echoed by several other party consultants and strategists, none of whom would allow their name to be used for this story."

Again, no backbone. But it would seem to me that the party's brand is part of the problem. Dean is not nearly as liberal as his presidential race would indicate--just look at his record as governor. Fuhtermore, of all the candidates who had been mentioned, only Martin Frost plays in the same fundraising arena as Dean. If moving to Dean means moving to a new message, that must be a step in teh right direction because the current message of the Democratic party is not cutting it.

Getting a chairman who is not part of the Washington political elite is exactly what the DNC needs. If perchance, Dean shows an independent streak when it comes to consultants and their opinions; if Dean shows that he is willing to challenge the status quo and the groupthink mindset, then the Democrats can't do any better right now.

Some Fret Over New DNC Head

Amazing What a Little Democracy Will Do

The New York Times reported on the 4 hour meeting yesterday between Israeli and Palenstinian leadership, the first such meeting in 5 years. When Yassir Arafat died, and the Palestinians elected a new leader, the promise of a Democratic peace seemed much more likely. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice may have helped a little in getting this meeting going, but the real reason for the meeting is that President Mahmoud Abbas has a constituency that he must answer to, as does Israeli Prime Minister Sharon.

The Palestinians and the Israelis are no doubt tired of the fighting and Democratic peoples do not like to fight wars. As long as Abbas and Sharon have to answer to voting constituencies, there will be talks. Furhter, so long as Abbas continues to denounce terrorism as a policy, I think there is a historic opporntunity in the next two to three years for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority--perhaps even a Palestinian state.

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Israeli and Palestinian Leaders Meet for 1st Time in 4 Years

Why Is Private Accounts Such a Bad Idea--It's Not New

As I wrote my previous post, I was struck by a thought--private accounts are not new and government investing is not new. All over the country, states manage pension funds through private investement. In fact, one of the largest, if not the largest, institutional investor is CalPers, the California pension fund manager. Calpers is a defined benefit plan, like Social Security, based upon age, years of service and a few other variables. They provide financial and health benefits. Members of the pension plan pay into the system, at a rate of $2.2 billion in 2003-2004. Those funds are then managed by the CalPers board in an attempt to increase the revenue through investments. I 2003-2004, the plan earned some $24.2 billion in investment income. The system did lose money in investment incomein 20000-2002, about $21 billion, but have obviously made that up.

If they system works for California public employees, why can't it work for all Americans? By the way, CalPers was created by the California legislature in 1932, which is about the time the Social Security Program was making its way through Congress. Hmmmmm.....

by the way, are you worried about corproate scandals and malfeasance affecting public investments. Never fear, if the federal government becomes the largest institutional investor in the country, you can bet that it will have the clout to ensure proper corprate governance among the companies it invests in. CalPers has a corporate governance program where is contiually seeks to improve the corporate governance practices of the companies it invests in. The influence is huge and the program, proven over time.

I'm Not the Only One

Many a Democratic friend of mine have accused me of being blinded by loyalty to President Bush on the issue of Social Security. They say, "you are just a lock step Republican, doing what the President says, believing his words." My response, when feeling charitable is to say that I supported the idea when President Clinton raised it and I support the idea of reform now--I have no change in position. When I am feeling a little angry or snippy, I will let them know that the current Democratic strategy of being "anti-Bush" rather than pro-idea is a losing strategy that cost them the White House.

In a column appearing in Roll Call today, columnist David Winston (a Republican pollster) made a couple of points about the "anti-Bush" strategy:

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) took an obstructionist position on Capitol Hill and in the presidential campaign, refusing to even acknowledge that Social Security is in crisis. He lost those voters 65 and older by 5 points after Al Gore won the same group by 3 points in 2000. For the past four years, whatever Bush proposed, then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) opposed and took his party with him. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is the result.

As I have said on a number of occaissions, the American voter will only follow an "anti" campaign so far. The vast majority want some sort of idea as an alternative. For a long time, the Democrats have held a monopoly on Social Security as an issue. But like education and Medicare, the GOP is not ceding the battleground. There is no doubt that President Bush has a tough fight ahead of him, but when a solid majority of Americans (65% according to Newsweek) say that Social Security is facing a crisis, the Democrats will do well to understand American concern and offer something other than platitudes about FDR's legacy.

It does not take a genius to figure out the math. At some point, before my three year old daughter goes to college, the Social Security system will be paying out more than it takes in--at current levels. I have concerns about President Bush's plan for private accounts, but right now that appears to be the only valid option on the table. If the Democrats want to put a real proposal out there, they should. Americans love a good debate and when the issue is as important as this one, they will get involved--but only if there is a real debate between ideas.
Viewers Back Bush, Not Irresponsible Democratic Policy

Monday, February 07, 2005

This Week's Listen--Vanessa-Mae

A few months ago, I picked up a CD by a quartet of classically-trained, string-quartet hotties called Bond. While their music is good and the fact that they look they way they do helps the music go down a little, Bond was my first experience with the so-called Classic Crossover.

Last week, I picked up a CD by another great classic-crossover artist--Vanessa-Mae. A young-violin prodigy, at age 27, she has already had a career that has spanned a decade, Vanessa-Mae has a little different take on Classic-pop fusion. She does both the classic-crossover and classical recordings--as she puts it, "abandoning the 'academic' restraints of ow far I can decorage and individualise within the 'classical' tradition."

I picked up the Storm CD and was immediately impressed. Rather than hiding her work behind some synthesizers and overblown arrangements, Vanessa-Mae's violin stands at the forefront of the music on most tracks. Other tracks, such as Happy Valley and The Blessed Spirits provide a bit more traditional orchestrations and chorale music. What is impressive about her technique, is the ability to play very fast notes as well as hold great tone on the longer notes. From production standpoint, I don't think the CD holds together particularly well, although individual pieces are quite terrific, some are included for fun, in particular, the (I) Can, Can (You) piece is a lively take on the French Can-Can--I expected to see Moulin Rouge Can-Can dancers come out.

I like the work as a whole, but I have come to learn that the classical world does not take kindly to artists like Vanessa-Mae and Bond. That is too bad. To be sure, artists such as these may be trying cash in, but I can't fault them musically for that. I think that Vanessa-Mae is talented and could have a long career ahead of her, particularly since she has proven that she can do the classic classical.

My Favorite Tracks
Storm Based on Vivaldi's Four Seasons, the frenetic pace of the piece almost overshadows the speed of Vanessa-Mae's playing. The flurry of notes is impressive when one considers that they are not all played on one string.

Leyenda is a Spanish, Latin tinged piece with some excellent acoustic guitar work. Again, Vanessa-Mae plays with speed, but there is a mix of slow tempo work included. A nicely textured piece.

Happy Valley includes a terrific chorale element, in Chinese I think, that overshadows to a certain extent the violin, the piece is joyous and uplifting.

I Feel Love is a vocal peice with Vanessa-Mae providing some breathy, simple vocals. The music is dreamy and pleasant, with longer notes played well. As singer though, Vanessa-Mae should consider some voice lessons.

All in all a good album, one worth the funds expended to buy it.

Superbowl Commercials

Of course a lot of people watch the Superbowl for the game (which was a good one, although the Eagles perhpas blew their chance by taking up a shocking amount of time in the 4th Quarter drive that ended with a TD seconds after the 2- minute warning--but enough of the sport commentary). A lot of people also watch for the commercials. I must say that I am supremely disappointed.

The car company ads sucked, particularly after Ford pulled their ad (see my post from last week). The only one I though hilarious was the Ameriquest ad where the fellow, trying to be romantic and cook a good meal for his significant other has trouble with the cat, who spills the marinara sauce, creating a red puddle, the man grabs the cat with a knife in one hand and holding the cat in the other, his SO walks in to that scene. The tag line, something like, "don't judge too soon" or something like that. I thought it was great, but I am surprise the PETA has gone nuts over it (at least I haven't seen anything.).

Leave it to Budweiser and Anhueser-Busch to come up with the heart-string ad. A group of soldiers walking through the airport gets a standing ovation from the passengers in the terminal. I personally am glad to see something like that, although it doesn't happen enough. When I was in the military, no one gave the troops a second thought. Today, I am proud to see soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen treated with the respect they are due. These men and women do a fabulous job, for crappy pay, in crappy conditions and until now--no recognition outside of the military.

Aside from that, I didn't really see any ads that stood out. In their quest for a vanilla Super Bowl broadcast, the Fox network did a good job. Thankfully the game was entertaining.

For the First Time

Morton Krondake, in Roll Call, has finally raised, perhaps for the first time, a proposal by Sen. Lindsay Graham to increase the cap on wages subject to Social Security taxes.

Since most Americans do not make $95,000, they are unaware that only the first $95,000 of someone's salary is subject to the 12.4 percent tax rate. Thus, in what Democrats could conceivable argue is a true upper class tax break, the very rich do not pay into the system more that $11,780 a year. Assuming Sen. Graham is able to convince the rest of Congress to raise teh salary cap to $200,000 and lower the rate to 11.4 percent, the few people out there making $200,000 would pay almost $22,800 per year into the system, a difference of $11,020 or double what the truly rich pay into the system. With the increasing salaries in this country, such a move is guaranteed to bring in more money.

If President Bush were to support such an idea, he could kill two birds with one stone. First, he can increase the amount of revenue being brought in through the Social Security tax by increasing the salary cap. Second, he can honestly say, with a straight face, that although there was a cut in the tax rate for all Americans, the super-rich are actually paying more than the average Joe--a PR move sure to deflate the sails of the Democratic leaders.

Democrats Yield Social Security Initiative to Bush

Georgia Remap Ahead?

Appearing the same day as the NY Times article, it looks as though Georgia Republicans are going to do a Texas. However, "Democrats were quick to warn that the GOP could be opening a Pandora’s box, and hinted that they could retaliate in kind in states where they control the Legislature."

It is the retaliation by parties for redrawing of lines mid-decade that is contributing to the increasingly bitter tone. However, as it stands right now, there is no constitutional prohibition on mid-decade redistricting. However, that could be changing, keep an eye on a Texas case, Sessions v. Perry, that the Supreme Court kicked back to the lower courts last year and is now making its way back through the courts. The case involves the question of mid-decade redistricting.

Georgia Remap Ahead?

Changing Redistricting Laws

Below is a link to a New York Times Article on the efforts to change the redistricting laws in this country. The manner in which state legislatures draw lines has become, in my opinion, one of the biggest crimes against democracy. The system has created a set of practically untouchable incumbents who then control the process to protect themselves and ensure their re-election. One of the most descriptive comments about the current system is voiced by Univ. of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Nathaniel Persily, "There is a problem when the turnover in the United States House of Representatives is lower than it was in the Soviet Politburo." A pretty damning comment if I have ever seen one.

Most Americans are unaware of the impact of the redistricting rules. The manner in which the state legislatures determine the lines for the House of Representatives and the state legislative districts can determine the make-up of the House delegation and the state legislature for an entire decade. The manner in which most of the lines were drawn in 2001 and 2002 was designed to ensure, usually, the re-election of the incumbents of both parties, regardless of which party controlled the legislature--with some obvious exceptions like Texas and Pennsylvania. Another by-product is th entrenchment of the party structure. As the state legislatures draw lines to encure re-election, they do so by increasing the partisan majorities in each district. The result is that the districts become so one-sided that the only election that counts is the primary--an election that, at least in most states, only a small percentage of voters takes part. The effective result is the disenfranchisment of minority and independent voters from the electoral process.

I for one, living in Maryland, hope that the legislature embraces a different model. I personally like the Arizona model of an independent redistricting commission. Check out how Arizona does it here. If the movement to change the laws can gather enough momentum, it can mean a massive difference in the 2012 elections.

The New York Times > Washington > States See Growing Campaign to Change Redistricting Laws

Friday, February 04, 2005

Democrats Planning Retreat

As part of their effort to combat the drubbing they took in the 2004 elections, House Democrats are heading to a planning retreat where they hope to develop and agenda and platform that talks about national security, faith, Social Security and values.

From the Roll Call article

"House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer who will chair the panel on “red districts,” said: “Democrats must put forth a strong vision on national security and reassure Americans that we share their values of faith, family and responsibility."

Here's the problem with that agenda. It assumes that they can find a way to distinguish themselves in voters minds. They will need new ideas-- not mimicry of Republican ideas to win--oh and a good candidate at the top of the ticket would help.

So let's take a look at Democratic ideas as currently reported.

Social Security--on this issue, the Dems are the anti-Bush. Right now they have no plan of their own to combat the impending demise of hte program. No matter what timeline you subscribe to as the end date of Social Security--the end is coming and no one can deny it. The Dems need a message on this other than the one that cost John Kerry the election--i.e. we don't like Bush's plan is not going to be enough to win.

Faith--no one doubts that many Democrats are men and women of faith. I think Joe Lieberman is probably one of hte most devout men in Congress. Likewise, I am sure I can find many other representatives who are equally forthright about their religion. The problem of faith for the Democrats is not that they don't have it, but that they don't as a party embrace the fact that other people have it and it means something to them. This country,particularly the media elite who are identified, rightly or wrongly, with the Democrats have gone out of their way to ensure that there is a complete separation of public life and religious life. Most Americans cannot stomach that--not withstanding the fact that it runs counter to our history. If the Democrats want any traction on this area, they are going to have to stop saying "religion in public life is bad" and embrace teh fact that you can have religion in public life without violating the First Amendment.

Family--When the Democrats talk about family, the issue of abortion inevitably comes up. But that is not what this issue is about--nor is it necessarily about gay marriage although that is part of it. Rather, I think for most Americans the issue of family has more to do with getting the government out of the business of telling Americans how to raise, educate, and care for our children. If the family unit is a valuable as government declares it to be, why can't I determine, for me and my family how best to raise our kids. There are hundreds of examples I can find that can demonstrate how govnernment intrudes in our lives unnecessarily and many of those intrusions have been teh result of Democrats thinking they know better than I how to raise my kids. Which leads me to

Responsibility--For a long time, people have viewed the Democrats as the party who has beleived that government should take care of everyone. I don't really think this is a fair characterization of Democrats as a whole, but it is an image they have been saddled with and if they are going to win, they will need to shake this yoke (to mix metaphors--sorry). I am not sure what the Democrats can do in this arena to make themselves different from Republicans. If they recognize that Americans need to take more responsiblity for their lives, they will be countering their beliefs on other matters, like Social Security reform, Medicare reform, tort reform, etc. They cannot have a platform based on individual responsiblity without acceeding to these other demands that are necessary to increase personal responsbility.

So where can the Democrats distinguish themselves. Were I a Democratic stragegist, I start with the areas where there are clear differences of outlook and just start working there. If you have ideas for better national security or a better Social Security reform, put them out there. Give the public a choice between options not just a choice between Bush's plan and not Bush's plan. Stop treating voters like idiots. The American people know how to weigh options and choose the best for themselved and more importantly the country.

Democrats need to make long term changes to their strategy and utilize better tactics to win. Good luck.

Buster the Bunny, Gay Marriage and the Idiot in Fairfax County

Below is an op-ed peice regarding Buster the Bunny on PBS and an episode--not be seen--that touches on a lesbian couple and their children. The author, Debra Chasoff, makes a strong point--we are a nation that seems to grapple with the concept that different family types are here to stay, but we can't seem to accept them.

This editorial and the Buster the Bunny brouhaha comes at a time when there is movement afoot for a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to a covenant between a man and a woman. Then there is the idiot in Fairfax County Virginia who, as a member of the school board, without the board permission, asked high school principles to talk about homosexuality as a choice. Adding to the mix is a Virginia state legislator who is introducing legislation that would require asking prospective adoptive parents if they are gay or not. His raionale--he says that gay couples usually break up within five years. Apparently he has not seen the divorce rates in this country.

To be honest, the government has zero business telling anyone that their lifestyle, the people they love or are attracted to or how a family is structured is somehow wrong. My only concern about gay parents is that they teach their child to be a proper, well-educated, law-abiding citizen. The fact that the family is different doesn't change that fact.

Government needs to learn that there are limits to their need to intrude in our lives or pigeon-holing us based on one or two characteristics. Being gay has no more impact on the ability to parent effectively any more than being heterosexual.

The syllogism in this scenario is this:

Major Premise--All gays are bad parents
Minor Premis--you are gay
conclusion--you are a bad parent

The major premise is false--I am sure there are plenty of gay parents out there who are great parents with great kids. I know, without much effort I could find one.

Minor premise-- is inapplicable because it is just a state of being--neutral without any bearing on parental ability or any other ability.

Conclusion--it is just plain dumb and obviously false.

Let's wake up and realize the world is full of variety and each person has a place.

Bluster Over 'Buster' (

The Michael Jackson Trial

Okay, I have tried to resist-but I just can't any more. I have to say something about the Michael Jackson trial. Leaving aside issues of whether he is guilty or innocent--itself an intriguing question since one could argue that the man has not made the mental transition into adulthood and thus might be incapable mentally of understanding right from wrong.

No, the article noted below talks about his choice of wardrobe. Since the days before Thriller, his fashion choices have always been a little suspect in my opinion, but now that he is on trial, there is all kinds of talk about his wardrobe.

While truly odd in many respects (and I am one that would usually encourage people to be themselves), this is one time when Jackson's defense lawyers need to put their foot down. Jackson, depsite his penchant for the outlandish, needs to come to court in a proper suit, prefereable black, dark blue or grey, a proper shirt and a tie. The author of the article seems to think that it may be helpful for Jackson to set himself apart. But strongly disagree, Jackson needs to present himself as a responsible adult who would not do the things he is accused of. He does not need to come off as a would be, modern day emporer who lives and plays by his own rules (i.e. what is the deal with the guy carrying the umbrella--I imagine he is well paid--but really!!)

One final note--can you imagine what jury selection is going to be like?

Michael Jackson,Tailoring His Defense (

Thursday, February 03, 2005

My Fantasy for Social Security Reform

Not that I want to jump on the bandwagon of talking about Social Security Reform, but I had a dream last night to reform the social security system.

First, we have to get the President and Congress to agree that Social Security is a matter of national security--which it is--sort of.

Once delcared that Social Security is a national security problem that demands secrecy in it proceedings, you go and get 25 people, lock them in a hotel, make them work 12 hours a day and talk to each other every day. This group of 25 people will have six monhts to come up with a plan that they will present as a group. They will work in secret (like the Framers did in Philadelphia). They will have access to any an all data that can be found by the Library of Congress, experts and people.

the end product a plan, produced without all the grandstanding and partisan politics. The proposal they issue will be signed by everyone--no partisan labels, no majority, no minority but a panel of 25 experts.

The plan goes to Congress for an up or down vote. No amendments, no debate, just a yeah or nay. If the plan fails, send the group of 25 back for a few more weeks. Then another up or down vote.

That is my dream--but it will probably stay just that--a dream.

The fact of the matter is that we are not going to be able to generate reform anytime in the near future because there will be too much posturing and pandering. Furthermore there are not enough people in Congres that have the balls to stand up and say, passing this legislation is more important than getting re-elected.

This is the case whenever there is something difficult to do. Not enough members of Congress remember that they are representatives elected to make the tough decision and that sometimes you have to say to your constituents this is one of those things that we have to do, like it or not, re-elect me or not-but this is what I'm going to do.

But alas, balls and spines are a rare commodity in politics.

The Devil's Advocate--Can Bite Me

I have had with the concept of the "Devil's Advocate" for the sake of being the Devil's Advocate. There are peopole out there who get off on being argumentative.

I know there are times for a Devil's Advocate (can we come up with a better name). After all in my future business of being a lawyer, that attorney has to play that role sometimes, to poke holes in a theory or get information. That's fine because it has a time a place.

But I don't need some smartass to take up time in my day being argumentative for hte sake of being argumentative. Now I like a good debate and will gladly debate anyone with an opinion. But don't take a stance contrary to mine just to argue. There are so many other topics out there we can talk about, like who will win the Super Bowl, politics, the weather, the speed that paint dries, anything. I don't need an argument in every conversation.

Don't ask me a question or my opinion and then challenge me when you feel the same way I do. If we agree on something, say so and we can talk about details, but don't become a Devil's Advocate unless I need one.

Ford Pulls Lustful Super Bowl Car Ad (

While not denying their trauma, this story is just another example of how people are so full of themselves that they feel the need to complain about anything that offends them. The ad is probably quite funny.

Hey, I love soccer and I don't see this kind of hoopla in America for the MLS cup game--I am offended. The Super Bowl should be pulled from the air.

That is their arguement carried to its logical extreme--Pretty stupid .

Ford Pulls Lustful Super Bowl Car Ad (

The Narrow-Mindedness of People

It is smucks like Fairfax County (VA) School Board Member Stephen Hunt that give me heartburn about the current state of education in this country.

As written in the Washington Post story below, Hunt sent a letter to county high school principles that he thinks the teaching of the homosexual lifestyle as a normal option is wrong. Hunt's comments, "Children are being taught that homosexuality is normal and natural. It is neither...To state that it is normal or natural is to promote the myth that accompanies the homosexual activist rhetoric," is just the latest example of what happens when some close-minded jerk is elected to the school board.

Hunt's comments would suggest to young men and women that they should hide who they are because it is not what Hunt considers normal. I don't know why some people have a homosexual orientation and we should not be teaching our children that who they are, if it be gay or straight, is something to be hidden or ashamed of.

As my daughter ages and comes to the time when she will start going to school, I fear that reactionary idiots like Hunt will be influencing her.

The good news in the article, at least Hunt appears to be in a significant minority on the school board.

Schools Official Assails 'Gay Lifestyle' (

State of the Union--My Take Aways

Listening to and watching the State of the Union last night, I was struck by a couple of things about the President's speech.

First, while there were some aspects of agenda setting with a small laundry list of proposals, I think the President did a good job focusing on one or two things. When the President delivers a speech that is focused on a couple of topics, he is a much better speaker. He has the ability to explain to people the issues and his vocal delivery carries well when the speech is focused. I personally don't like SOTU speeches that are nothing but a long list of proposals that lack a thematic core.

Second, the President is getting better as speaking. His style is a little more polished and he appears to be more comfortable talking about programs and ideas. Previously his good speeches dealt more with concepts and values, but as should be expected, he has become more adept at dealing with details.

Third, he is visionary. The messages he has carried in public speechs, from before the campaign, through the election to now have been focused on what I call the long view. President Bush knows that he is not a detail man, but he has a vision and that vision is long-term. He knows that, barring some sort of negotiating miracle, there will not be Social Security reform this year, but he is forcing Congress and the American people to address an issue that is long term, somehting that neither Congress nor Americans are good at. President Bush is also pushing the growth of freedom and the expansion of liberal democracies across the world. This is not an easy task nor is it one that can be accomplished in the short run. Sure, one or two successes is a good building block, but you have to approach this task with a view to the distant future, not next year.

Being visionary doesn't mean you have to have the most original idea. I think most Americans and people across the world intuitively know that freedom is a good thing. But it takes vision to focus a nation on such an ideal for a long term.

Fourth, and finally, President Bush is clearly trying to govern a whole nation. Some of hte laundry list of issues he highlighted are clearly targeted to demographics that are not normally Republican--inner city youths, blacks and immigrants were all clearly targeted. Some on the left will call it pandering, but there is no doubt that young African American men face a crisis and the fact that a white Republican president chooses to focus, and prominently discuss, their problems is more attention than they would normally receive.

All in all a good speech. Light on the details, but most SOTU speeches are, there is simply not enough time to go into details.

A Win for Campaign Reform (

David Brodedr's column today hightlights some important changes as a result of the change in campaign finance law. Speaking of what the national party organizations did in the 2004 elections with their expanded small donor bases, it appears as though, once again, the GOP is on the cutting edge of political developments, if not driving them. Where's the proof?

Prior to the 2000 elections, the GOP had been diligently working on expanding a base of small donors--those people who give less than $500 per election. Most political commentators, particularly those on the left, failed to realize the most import concept of a small donor. Someone who gives $75 when they make $30,000 a year is now much more personally invested in the outcome of the election since his/her contribution represents a much more significant percentage of their disposable income. Thus small donors will do two things--they will be sure they go vote and they are more likely to talk to their friends about politics.

So with a growing base of small donors to mobilize, what did the GOP do next, they starting investing that money--not in big TV ad campaigns that do little these days to move voters. Rather the GOP began building a highly effective grassroots organization. The GOP realized and learned a lesson from past elections--campaigns, like war, is not won in the air. Certainly air power helps, but it is the ground-pounders, the foot-soldiers who win wars and win campaigns. Broder points out that the investment in grassroots organizing has paid off.

Here's the beauty of the matter and the pay-off for Republicans. The GOP has built a strong grassroots organization, an organization that can be tapped by other candidates, for governor, for Congress, for the state legislature.

The Democrats are about 3 elections behind in their strategy. To be sure, they have embraced the small donor, but they still rely on two methods of campaigning that are no longer successfull--television and hte unions. More and more people get their news information from sources other than TV--and certainly not network TV, but that is where the Democrats spent money in 2004. Likewise, Democrats still rely on the unions to mobilize voters. But with fewer union households-this is a recipe for disaster.

One bit of irony. Democrats have been blasting President Bush for his policies that, they say, encourage corporations to outsource work to overseas operations. Democrats, Broder implies, need to learn the lesson that "local volunteers recruited by the Bush campaign proved more adept at turning out voters than the out-of-state workers hired by independent groups to whom the Democrats "outsourced" much of their precinct work. " That seems obvious to me. People will trust their neighbor more than some hired gun--it is just human nature.

A Win for Campaign Reform (

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

What I am Listenting To This Week

Since I am generally listening to a great deal of music, I thought I would start to share what I listen to. Each week, I will put a link to the artist I am currently listening to over on the left. I don't consider myself a professional music critic, but I like to listen a lot. This is not an invitation for you to go out and practice copyright infringement--so don't ask me to send you any music I have saved.

This week I am listening to Los Lonely Boys's Self-titled album.

Probably many people have heard their single "Heaven." While it is a solid, radio-friendly song, I don't think it is their best work on the album (more on that later). I think what I like most is the mix of styles and the mixture of English and Spanish lyrics. On the styles, there is everything from almost hard core blues to more Tejano feel and the poppy groove of Heaven. Certainly, the music is to a certain extent guitar driven, but don't forget to pay attention to the excellent harmonies in the vocals.

Okay for my favorite songs on the disk. I like the mellowness of "More Than Love," the raunchy guitar crunch of "Onda," and the Spanish inflected groove of "Dime Mi Amor," in that order.

If you get it, I hope you enjoy it.

It's My Obscenity--Now Leave Me Alone

I very much hope that most people do not hide from their sexuality. No matter who you lust for or what your fetish is, I hope that you embrace it for it is part of who you are. For those of us who like our porn, no matter what your personal kink may be, there may be hope that our entertainment may be protected a little better than we thought. So if you get your jollies online, in a DVD, on a blog or with that special him/her/inbetween, enjoy it. In a recent case, United States v. Extreme Associates, a judge in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania found the obscenity statutes unconstitutional as applied to Extreme Associates and dismissed the government's case.

What grounds you say--privacy and sexual liberty, that is the right to get our sexual thrills in the privacy of our own homes. The reasoning is based on the Lawrence v. Texas case in which the Supreme Court held that the Texas sodomy laws are an unconstitutional infringement on personal privacy and sexual liberty. For a very good analysis of the decion and its implications--see Julie Hilden's piece on

So go ahead, enjoy your kink, revel in it, after all, at least according to Judge Lancaster, it is your constitutional right to do so.

Spending, Budgets and Government Responsibility

Montgomery County (MD) Executive Doug Duncan( was chided by the County Council for mismanagement of county construction projects.

Normally, I would not use this blog to comment on local news issues, but this item comes on the heels of a report by the Government Performance Project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts that graded the effectiveness of state government to manage their fiscal matters in an effective manner. Only Virginia and Utah earned A grades with most states getting a B.

Montgomery County is an example of a local jurisdiction that can't seem to get its priorities straight. As the Washington Post pointed out, the county, in 2003, passed $86 million in new taxes. For most county residents, they received their property tax assessments which grew at about 50-80% for most people. In fact, the property tax assessments means teh county will get an infustion of $250 million or so in property tax alone. Each year, the tax bills get higher and higher, but at the same time, governments are providing less effective service or hoarding money for projects that should not be the governments business.

The state of Virginia is posting a $1 billion (that's right, billion) surplus. But the chances of that surplus of funds being returned to its rigthful owners (the taxpayers) is remote. If Maryland had a surplus (which it doesn't), I can guarantee the state legislature would not return the money, but rather spend it on some boondoggle, instead of investing it in say, education or transportation--you know a normal state responsibility.

To all elected leaders who spend tax money---it is not your money, you have a fiduciary responsibility to manage it properly if you don't you are violating your oath of office.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A Little Persepctive

I have read from time to time, usually from liberal or liberal leaning blogs, newspapers, and other sources, about the deaths of American Soldiers in Iraq. I would like to provide just a little perspective on the matter.

Currently, the number of American dead in Iraq is around 1,500. Each death is a tragedy to be sure, but in my experience the family of those who died feel a number of things, sadness to be sure, longing, perhaps even a little rage. But they all feel proud. I wish to salute each and every family for their sacrifice.

However, while 1,500 dead in something like 18 months is actually pretty low considering the conditions in which they serve. Check out some Uniform Crime Statistics compiled by the FBI for some comparison. While the analogy is a little weak, lets just do a comparison.

Death of U.S. Soliders in past 18 months (estimated)---1,500
Number of murders in America in the Year 2003---------14,408
Number of children (under 18) murdered in 2003---------1,333
Number of infants (under age 1) murdered in 2003---------225

If the left wants to morally indignant about deaths, lets start with being morally indignant about the number of kids killed in this country. The 1,500 soldiers who died bringing freedom should not die as representatives of a nation that has 225 babies murdered.

Who mourns for the dead in this country?

Iraqi Elections Make American Voters Look Weak

I have to admit, five months ago, I was not sure that the Iraqi elections would ever take place. I also didn't think that Iraq was a place that was ready for a electoral democracy. I am glad to say that I am wrong.

Intially, when the concept of elections came up, I argued with many colleagues that in a nation that is not used to elections, you cannot come in as a liberator and go from a dicatorship to a democracy in less than two years. The western liberal democracies have evolved over the course of hundreds of years and yet, we still don't get it right all the time. (On the irony scale--the United States instructing a country on how to run an election is almost laughable considering some of the dumb things we have done.)

Having seen what was happening in Iraq on Sunday, I am left with the impression that the Iraqi people truly have embraced the concept of democracy. They turned out in droves and that made me proud. Proud that we have helped a people find and embrace freedom. That is not to say there is not a lot of work to be done, but the true spirit of freedom is taking the first steps, even when you can't see the path before you. Freedom means that you may make mistakes--you are by definition free to do so--but it also means that you as an individual may be able to see beyond your own self interest to a greater tomorrow--a gift for future generations.

If you don't think the Iraqi people can look beyond their own self-interest, please note that many voters went to the polls despite threats of violence, they walked past, and perhaps even stood in line in front of, walls and graffiti that said if you vote you die. That is what standing up for what you believe is right. Americans often don't go to vote if the weather is bad, raining or too cold. Iraqis go vote with death threats right before them--that is strength of ideals.

So in signing off, I would like to bow deeply to the Iraqi people who voted on Sunday. Welcome to the brotherhood of democracy. You may be the youngest democracy in the world, but you are a full brother in that growing fraternity. Freedom and democracy are hard work, but they are worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears.

Good luck.

Been a While

It has been a while since I posted something to this blog--the pressures of work, family and school have gotten in the way, but here we go. I will try to get back into the mode of more regular posting.

Stay tuned--I have got lots on my mind and it will likely come spilling out over the next few days.