Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Carnival of Education

Check out the Road Trip! theme.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fulham Put Kibosh on Hodgson Replacement Rumors

I didn't see the article that prompted this response, but apparently the rumors that Hodgson would be replaced are without merit.

If Fulham remain in the Premier League, I think Hodgson will be around for a good portion of next season. If they get sent down, it is a matter of some speculation and perhaps rightfully so. But to consider sacking him now is a bit premature.

Eduwonkette's Question about Professionalization of Teachers

About two weeks ago, eduwonkette had this post on a topic that I have written about a fair bit over the past week or so, the professionalization of teachers. Eduwonkette asked these questions:
* How do the processes of diagnosis, inference, and treatment in education differ from those in medicine and law, and what are the implications of these differences for "professional accountability?"

* How does the state of our knowledge about educational diagnosis and treatment differ from that in other professions?
I cannot answer as to how doctors work on individual cases, other than in a general sense, but I can speak to the legal side of things.

A client comes in the office door with a particular problem. The problem is disrete to them, although they may not, indeed probably are not, the first to experience a similar problem. But each case has a series of facts and events the provide the foundation of the legal problem. The lawyer collects these facts, deduces what other facts may be helpful and then goes to work. Lawyers look at the law, statutes, ordinances and regulations to see if one of those are helpful in discerning how to solve the legal problem. Lawyers may also look to case law, both in the local jurisdiction and even nationally for analogous case that would indicate how that particularly type of legal problem was solved. Lawyers may even to look to cases that involve different subject matters but have a fact pattern that can be made analogous to the current issue. The goal is to look for a pattern of who similar fact patterns were decided and then pursue a similar course of action, with similar arguements.

But the professional judgment of a lawyer also means that they take each case, and treat each client, separately. There may be one or two facts, quirks or twists that are unique and it is the uniqueness of those facts that can be determinative of the outcome of a case.

Doctors do something similar. An illness or injury presents itself in similar fashion in many patients. For example, the flu or a broken arm. These type of cases lend themselves to a common treatment that has proven effective. Like a lawyer looking for common cases and a common solution, doctors look at common cases implement common treatments. However, like each law case, each patient is different, and it is those differences that a doctor has to discover and account. Perhaps you flu patients has an auto-immune deficiency, or is allergic to certain kinds of medicine. Perhaps the boy with the broken arm has brittle bones for a genetic reason. These quirks lead to different treatment plans.

Which brings us to teachers. In essence, a professional teacher would be required to operate much like a doctor or lawyer, when presented with a group of individuals students. Like medical patients whose normal status is healthy, most students would be able to learn in a common manner. However, like lawyers expereince and doctors to a lesser extent, each case must be examined on its own merits and judged accordingly. In a professional context, with teachers as a legally recognized profession, we would have to trust that teachers have sufficient knowledge, skill and professional judgment to examine each child individually, to diagnose the "treatment" necessary and apply that treatment properly. This would mean more than just simple subject matter knowledge, but knowledge of different teaching methods, pedagogies, interventions, remediation and assessment, as well as knowledge of child development, etc. The teacher would have to know and be able to diagnose which little quirk, twist or fact in each child might require a different intervention or treatment. Thus the teacher would need a level of training and minimum competency to demonstrate those skills and knowledge.

Which leads us to Eduwonkette's second question. I am not sure that we are quite there as a society where we have enough data to begin to diagnose problems and prescribe "treatments" or interventions. There are in my mind two reasons for this inability.

First, we don't necessarily have the data systems in place to be able to a) test for potential causes of problems--i.e. like a test that can determine possible reasons for a student's lack of success or b) track the development of a student over time, either a short period or time or a long period of time. I think we have the capability to have such systems--although reliable tests may be a bit further off. But I think we lack the tools to give to a professional teacher to enable her to diagnose a problem, let alone prescribe a solution.

Second, many of our treatments lack the assurance of working even in "ordinary circumstances." By this I mean, there is not even reliable data on the effectivness of many of our common teaching methods, let alone any methods that could or would be described as extraordinary. As such, we can't be sure which treatment to use or whether that treatment would work.

Of course, in law and in medicine, not every prescribed course of action is relevant or effective. But through long periods of work and in the case of medicine decades of scientific struggle, practicioners have learned what works and in what circumstances it works. Yes, some trial and error was part of it, but there is a body of knowledge out there that can be tapped to find information on the outlier, the extraordinary case. Right now I don't see that for education.

In many respects, education as a legally recognized profession is going to have much mroe in common with the law than with medicine. However, there are aspects of both that are present. But simply at this time, I don't see that we have the necessary tools for teachers to exercise professional judgment and certainly lack the resources to give to teachers to act on their judgment.

In the end, I think only teachers will be able to do this.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Something You Don't See In Soccer Everyday

A goal keeper scoring his first professional goal on a free kick.

Landon Donovan

Let's face it, the man is a goal scoring machine. He has scored eight goals in five games, with a brace last week and a hat trick this week. He looks great in form and has really shown that he is worthy of his salary.

However, his exhuberance after scoring is not winning him any fans either here or abroadh. To celebrate scoring a goal is natural. I have to admit that I like some of the funny little dances (although Sasha Kljestan's "Hong Kong Phooey" dance really didn't do it for me), the belly slides, the knee slides, the shirt doffing (or the new trend of hand written undershirts with tributes of one type or another), the energy that some players put into running around the pitch after scoring, etc. I don't like the taunting of a crowd (see Santino Quaranta), but I can sort of excuse that. What I cannot tolerate and what I have seen Donovan do in two successive weeks is taunt fellow professional players after scoring.

I didn't like it last week when Donovan taunted Houston's Patrick Ianni (who was lying on the ground at the time) after scoring. But while I didn't like it, I could forgive Donovan for one indiscretion. But this week he hasn't learned his lesson and decided to taunt the entire Chivas USA bench, not once but twice, in a display that Chivas coach Preki called "crap." It is utter rubbish and shouldn't be tolerated. I think the MLS needs to send a message, particularly to Donovan but also to the rest of the league by fining Donovan for such behavior.

There are two reasons for this. If Donovan continues on his scoring trend and the rumors turn out to be true that he could go to Europe either this summer or more like in the January 2009 transfer window, then everytime he acts in this manner, he dminishes his transfer value. Right now, with his performance in the MLS and to a certain extent internationally, Donovan might be worth high seven figures or low eight figures in transfer fee. Such a fee is a veritable mint for the MLS and indicative of an American player commanding high salaries abroad.

Second, Donovan diminishes the game in my eyes with these antics. A certain amount of trash talking is expected in profesional sports--it is part of the game. But as a professional, you have to act like a professional. I respected Ianni for getting up and walking away. I respected the Chivas players for not rising to the taunt and allowing Preki to be the point man. These players acted like professionals--Donovan is acting like a 15 year old who is too big for his britches.

A few thousand dollar fine (say $5,000) should be enough to get Donovan to remember to behave. Another incidnet should be followed with another fine and a few game suspension.

Garber needs to come down hard on this behavior BEFORE it becomes the norm. It cheaps the game and it cheapens the players.

Lots of Really Smart People Talking about A Nation at Risk

Collected by The Education Gadfly.

Are their deniers about the problems expounded by A Nation at Risk? Sure, just as there are people who have taken advantage of the "crisis" to line their own wallets or to hawk their wares/snake oil.

There are problems in education, this cannot be denied since we know for a fact that all is not well in the nation's schoolhouses. But not all is so bad.

MLS As Seen by the Brits

The Financial Times (London) takes a look at the MLS. I thought this a pertinent note:
He [MLS Commissioner Don Garber] hastily adds: “We remind ourselves all the time: we have not cracked the code for soccer in this country. We’re so much younger than the other sports here. If we continue to grow, if this country continues to change, I have no doubt we will be as successful as the other major leagues in the US.”
Another items from Stephen Goff noted that on Sunday, five MLS matches drew more than 20,000 spectators a piece.
Last season the MLS averaged nearly 17,000 spectators a game. That’s more than the fabled North American Soccer League managed in the 1970s, and about the same as basketball’s NBA and ice hockey’s NHL draw today, though admittedly the MLS plays fewer games.

Garber describes 2007 as “the best year in the history of soccer in this country. If you can get up to a game in Toronto, you’ll say, ‘I cannot believe this is Major League Soccer’. It feels like an English football match, from how they cheer to what they do. Nobody’s getting up to get a hot dog and beer, like at other sports matches in the US.” Toronto sold out every game last year in spite of being the league’s worst performing team. Seattle and Philadelphia have large fan clubs even though their teams don’t exist yet.
Toronto sells, Seattle and Philly may be able to sell out their stadia pretty easily when they start play. Having been to lots of soccer matches, there is really nothing like DCU's Barra Brava fan club rocking RFK (and I can't imagine what they would do in a Soccer Specific Stadium). Yes, the fan base is growing and for a league that is 13 years old and that almost no one gave a chance to survive, MLS is showing that it is a real league, with real potential, real attraction and a real future.

To compare MLS with the English FA or Spanish, German or Italian leagues is patently unfair. MLS competes at some point in their season with MLB, NBA, NHL and the grandaddy the NFL. When an MLS team draws more in its regular season than a team from NBA or NHL does (when those leagues play more games) in the same market, you probably won't hear about else where, but it will be huge. Of course, the MLS will need bigger stadiums to make that happen.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Huge Win for Fulham

Amazing game, now that I have finally seen it. I can't believe the Whites were able to take all three points on the road against Manchester City. First, to come from 2-0 down after a somewhat dismal first half. To be honest, the season looked over in the first half. Fulham appeared lost, unorganized and beaten all over the field.

The start of the second half looked like an entirely different match. What ever Roy Hodgson said at halftime apparently worked. Fulham were attacking the ball, looked a much more active and working harder. The only question was whether there was enought time.

Around the 66th minute, The eventual hero of the match Diomansy Kamara came on to replace David Healy. The move for more offensive effort by Hodgson was evident. Kamara has had impact over the past several matches in the attacking thrid, and has scored goals as well. Three minutes later, Hodgson's move looked like a stroke of genius as Kamara put on in the net on from a position with his back to the goal. With Kamara's goal Fulham seemed to come to life and effort at an equalizer became almost frantic.

Ten minutes later, left back Paul Konchesky sent a ball into the middle toward Simon Davies who was brought down in the box and a penalty awarded. Danny Murphy took the spot shot but Manchester keeper Joe Hart (who it must be admitted had a very good game) guessed right, but Murphy was able to put the rebound into the twine. In ten short minutes, Fulham had gone from 2 down to level. A point on the road at this stage would have been terrific. Fulham was frantic though, not content to take the point and run the risk of having their relegation destiny in other club's hands.

The climax of the match came as Manchester's Benjani and Petrov each had chances to score. The Whites were swarming attempting to get another goal and two more points. The fourth official indicated three minutes of extra time. Literally in the last minute, Kamara blazed in behind the Manchester back line, running on fresh legs one on one with Hart and Kamara made it look like he was in a training session and slotted the ball into the net. The whites and the few hundred Fulham fans went nuts amid the stunned silence at City of Manchester Stadium as Fulham had pulled off a stunning upset in the final 23 minutes of the match.

Literally after the restart the final whistle was blown.

The win puts Fulham one win from safety on goal differential. To be safe, Fulham will have to win out, with matches remaining againt Birmingham City next week ( a six point match) and away at Portsmouth.

Fulham sit two points behind Birmingham and three behind Reading. Reading earned a draw yesterday against Wigan, giving them one more point, as did Birmingham against Liverpool. But the draws left the goal differentials for those teams the same. A win next week agains Birmingham and a loss by Reading would put Fulham into safety on goal differential over Reading.

Next week, Reading faces Tottenham at home.

The final week's matches has Fulham away at Portsmouth, Reading away at Derby County and Birmingham hosting Blackburn.

Three days after their match with Portsmouth, Pompey will play in the FA Cup final against Cardiff City. Reading has the easiest match on paper, but Derby has played pretty well of late because they have nothing to lose as a team, but everything to gain as individual players looking for Premier League employment next season. Derby probably wouldn't mind having Reading join them in relegation thanks to their own effort.

Fulham have their destiny in their own hands to a certain extent, by winning they give themselves a chance to remain in the Premier League. But they also need the help of Tottenham, Blackburn and Derby County. Should be an intersting two weeks.

Friday, April 25, 2008

We Must Win

Too right for Fulham. A Lose and any points by Birmingham/Bolton/Reading means mathematical relegation.

More Soccer Funny Truisms, Triumphs and Heartaches.

Fathers, sons and soccer--the game is important to lots of people.
Emerging from the Wilderness Years (1919-2008) has prompted a bewildering range of emotions about the central role these perennial long shots have played in my life, particularly in my relationship with my father, who passed away last August.

Legendary Scottish soccer coach Bill Shankly (on whom Mr. Duvall's character was modelled) was once quoted as saying: "Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that."

For Shanks this was a truism -- he was once outraged at having been accused of taking his wife to see an unglamorous Lancashire side, Rochdale, for their anniversary. "Of course, not. It was her birthday. Would I have got married in the football season? Anyway, it was Rochdale reserves," he grouched.

In some respects this was true of my father, a man who took his future wife to a minor English soccer match on their second date, the first having been to a wrestling bout.
Despite the funny aspects, the writer goes on to point out the pivotal role that a long-shot Scottish team (Queen of hte South) has made it to the Scottish Cup final the year his father passed away.
I'm left to conclude he was something of a jinx on the Queens. He passed away last August and they have been virtually unbeatable ever since. When they won the quarter-final game I found his e-mail address on my Black-Berry -- I've been unable to delete it -- and sent him a note to let him know we made it. I think he got it -- at any rate, it didn't bounce back as undeliverable.

Maybe it's just as well he wasn't around to watch the semi-final against Aberdeen last Saturday. He had a notoriously nervous stomach and this was a white knuckle ride. Three times Queens led against their more illustrious opponents, three times Aberdeen equalized. Then, with half an hour to go, Queens scored a fourth and Aberdeen had nothing left to give.

So we're off to the final in Glasgow next month, my six-year-old son James and I. We'll both be wearing our Queens' jerseys with pride, just as I did half-a-lifetime ago when I first went to see them with my own Dad. It's only a game but as any sports fan knows, in many ways, it's much more important than that.
People often scoff at soccer, but substitute Boston Red Sox or Chicago Cubs for Queen of the South and you get how people feel about soccer around the world--with as much passion and as much heart as any american fan.

Fox Soccer Channel's Bobby McMahon on North American Sports

I thought this jab by McMahon was just laugh out funny:
The North American disease strikes again. The hockey play-offs are on and the great North American tradition of rioting when you win gets underway. Surely this must lead to a European ban for all NHL clubs? If you ask me this is why hockey/baseball/basketball/gridiron football will never catch on in the rest of the world. If you can’t even get your reason for wanton destruction right, how can you ever expect normal thugs and hooligans to relate?
No self-respecting English football hooligan would riot when his team WINS--that is just plain wasteful of a good riot--eventually his club will lose thanks to cheating/bad refs/name-your-conspriacy-theory. that is when you riot.

The Teacher Led School--The Law Firm Model

I find myself caught up in this subject and to a certain extent riffing off the writing of Marc Dean Millot.

My last post on this subject toward the end discussed a comment on one of Millot's posts dealing with how a teacher led school would look and to a certain extent operate. The commenter thought that a teacher led school, managed by "professional teachers" educated, trained, licensed and regulated like a legally recognized profession such as law or medicine, would look either like an in-house legal department at a corporation or like a private law firm.

The comment immediately got me thinking about a trend in law firm management of hiring a non-lawyer manager answering to a committee of partners rather than the traditional model of a "managing partner." The reasons for the trend include ideas that managing a large entity takes specialized skills, skills that a law firm partner may not have. But running a law firm is a business that does not necessarily require a law degree or actually practicing law, thus a move toward professional managers.

But the idea of a school managed by a committee of teachers with a "director of operations" in intriguing. Having spent some time examining this idea in the context of a law firm, here is what such a school would look like and operate--and it can be done without a full-blown move to a full professional standing for teachers--but it could help the move in that direction.

For those unfamiliar with law firm structures, in general, over a certain size, most firms look and operate pretty much alike. The culture may be different but it works pretty much the same. At the top are the senior partners. These individuals have years, even decades of experience both as practitioners and as "draws" for clients. Next step down are junior partners/senior associates. The different between the two is largely based upon their compensation, partners get a share of the firms profits, senior associates get a salary. But functionally, they operate as the front line, day to day lawyers in the firm, generating a lot of billing, business and work product for the firm. At the bottom are junior associates, usually within 3-4 years of graduating law school. Their job, in addition to doing a lot of the grunt work of lawyering, the research, drafting, calendaring and general scut work that has to be done by lawyers, is to learn the legal trade, usually under the guidance of everyone above them. Finally a law firm has non-lawyer staff, paralegals, secretaries, IT staff, accounting, HR, etc. These non-lawyer professionals run the day to day affairs of a firm in order to allow the lawyers to lawyer.

A teacher run school, in this model would have a similar breakdown.

The method by which this could be accomplished is by using a state's charter law. A group of teachers could apply for a charter with a school along a law firm model. In the model, there would be senior teachers on a managing committee, say 8-12 in total. Each of these senior teachers would have three roles, not unlike senior partners. First would be management of the school. Whether this is delegated to a staff person or handled by committee, they would be ultimately responsible for the schools bottom line--fiscally and educationally. While there may be other senior teachers at the school, this small committee is responsible, just like the management committee of a law firm, for the overall success of the school.

Second each managing teacher would probably be a "department head" responsible for a discreet area of the school's mission. Be that math, science, history, English, Literature, what have you. Most law firms have lawyers who head a "practice group" a groups of lawyers practicing in the same general field. There is often overlap in the membership of these groups, just like having a teacher who teaches both Physics and calculus. Ultimately, these practice group heads are responsible for the success of the practice groups, accountable to the management committee.

Third, each senior teacher is a classroom teacher. Most senior partners at a law firm are among the most successful lawyers in the firm in terms legal experience and at bringing in business. To attract students, these senior teachers need to be the "rainmakers," enticing parents and students with their skill in the classroom and their ability to deliver. They would have the autonomy, judgment and ability to get students to perform to teh best of their ability and to develop other teachers to do the same.

Skilled senior lawyers also know that their success depends on the quality of junior lawyers (the associates) in their firm. Senior teacher will also have to collectively ensure that their junior teachers receive the additional training, practice, supervision and development to continue to build on the school's success. As such, a senior teacher may not spend their entire day as the front line classroom teacher, this would be left to the mid level teachers who would carry the brunt of the teaching duties, so that senior teachers are working to develop the junior teachers as professionals.

At an operations level, I would envision say 20 or so well-known, well-respected teachers in an area banding together to build such a school. They would have some "name draw" and also understand the mechanics of developing curricula, programs and other needs of the school. They would identify/recruit mid-level teachers for day to day teaching and start recruiting junior teachers to flesh out the school's teaching staff. As a charter school, they have a stake in the schools's success, which while not financial, is predicated upon the school's ability to teach successfully.

Finally, as in a lawyerly model, the teachers at this school would develop a code of professional conduct by which to evaluate the reasonableness of their own and their colleagues work. More on that in a different post.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wal-Mart unit limits rice purchases

Wal-Mart unit limits rice purchases on large 20 poiund bags of imported long grain rices, which have been hit by price spikes.

Smaller bags are unaffected according to the company.

The Professionalization of Teachers, Part V

The issue of the professionalization of teaching has come across my radar again, thanks to Marc Dean Millot, who writes at Edbizbuzz, a blog associated with Education week. Two weeks ago, Millot posted this item on the professionalization of teachers, meaning the movement away from a labor union model to a legal, medical or accounting model where teachers have a legally recognized, self-regulatory body.

I have long thought this to be a much more sensible approach to treating teachers like professionals. However a self-regulatory body that governs the right of teachers to teach in a given state is a difficult step to take and would require significant changes in how teachers are trained, retained, managed and compensated. Millot makes this point:
As a matter of law, professional work involves three key attributes. By these criteria, teaching is no profession, but should be.

The first two are joined at the hip. Members of legally recognized professions owe a special duty of care to their clients – based on their specialized knowledge and expertise. They are personally liable for their decisions, and so enjoy the autonomy necessary to exercise their professional judgment.

Public school teachers have no specific duty to their students beyond assuring their safety. They are not legally responsible for providing their students with what each needs to know and be able to do at grade level (see here). They have a very restricted range of discretion in what they can do for any student, and requirements to follow state, local and school policies that might even make it harder for a kid to learn.

The third attribute is self-regulation. Society makes the practice of many trades a privilege rather than a right via some kind of licensing and/or testing requirement. Barbers, real estate brokers and teachers are licensed based on a test. Lawyers, doctors and accountants are as well, but their exams are devised, administered and scored by a governing body elected by members of that profession. The privilege to practice law, medicine and accounting is granted by these bodies, and only these bodies can withdraw the privilege.

For his error in surgery, a Doctor may be fired from his hospital practice, thrown onto the street by his partners, sued in civil court for malpractice and tried for murder under criminal law. But only his professional body can take away his privilege to practice medicine. This is not true of teachers. They do not control their own licensure or professional discipline.
However, what is interesting is that development of the idea and its impetus will not come from the current crop of teachers nor the teachers making their way through education schools. No, I see the change being driven from without the education establishment, from groups like Teach for America, whose corps members are not beholden to the education establishments myths and beliefs. Whether that comes to pass is another story.

Millot wonders if teacher would be willing to trade automony for an accountability that could be uncomfortable--i.e. professional malpractice. Millot's second question cannot be answered by teachers so easily. To be honest, teaching is not nearly as under paid as one would be led to believe, at least in some parts of the country. (See a post I did over here, about teachers in my home county of Frederick Maryland.) However, with the legally recognized professions, such a medicine and the law, there is potential to make serious funds. But to be real, most lawyers and doctors don't make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year right out of law/medical school. Some do, a lot do, but in reality, most don't. (I don't as an attorney). I think that if teaching became a profession where teachers are able to exercise independent judgment about their students and be capable of providing that student with what they need to succeed, then the compensation will follow.

There was this comment, which I thought to be a brilliant couple of observation:
This is an interesting comment. My sense is that in the end some of the strongest resistance to the idea of teachers as professionals will come from school administrators and governing boards.

Given current school structures, teachers would be more analogous in-house legal staff than to lawyers in a private firm -- though you could imagine teacher-run schools that were similar in structure to private law firms.
First, there will be intense opposition by administrators most directly. I think governing boards, i.e. school boards far less so. But the biggest resistance will come from the very entity designed to "protect" teachers--the unions. Generally professionals are considered independent workers, even if they work at a firm. As such, they are not subjec to the same rules under the National Labor Relations Act and Fair Labor Standards Act and unable to unionize. (Some lawyers and doctors can unionize, but their working conditions do not grant them a great deal of autonomy outside of the defined field. Thus doctors on staff at a hospital could unionize, but most don't). So if teachers became a recognized profession, they would have to forgo the collective bargaining rights they currently enjoy and exercised through the union. The power of the union would be greatly diminished and that is unacceptable to the union, despite the fact that teachers as a group might support the idea.

The second observation about the difference between in-house and firm attorneys is interesting. I would like to tackle the "firm" analogy. I think teacher run schools could be very effective or they could be disaster, it all depends on the teachers themselves. There is a lot more to running a school than might appear at first glance. What would be necessary is to hire a professional to run the administrative side of the school. Whether you call that person a principal or a director of operations doesn't matter.

One of the more interesting developments in the legal world of late is the rise of the non-lawyer manager. In the past, law firms were managed by a "managing partner" who often spent more time running the business of the law firm (particularly at larger firms) than being a lawyer. The problem of course is that lawyers are generally not trained to be businessmen. In recent years, there has been a trend amoung some big firms to hire a professional business manager to allow the firms lawyers to actually lawyer as opposed to run the business side. The business manager still answers to the partners or a committee of partners of the firm, but it puts people in management for whom management is their profession rather than their "second hat."

A teacher run school could look the same way, assuming the teachers were professionals. You would have a management committee made up of senior teachers, who among other things manage the schools over all goals, mentor younger teachers, ensure staff developement etc. A business manager or director of operations would see to day to day management matters, i.e. getting the bills paid, getting the lunch, maintenance, security, safety and logistical matters addressed, allowing teachers to actually do their job--teach.

The idea intrigues me a great deal.

Food Shortages and Prices

Colin Carter and Henry Miller writing in the Orange County Register are discussin rising food prices and how they affect poorer countries more than more prosperous countries.
Price hikes at the supermarket are an inconvenience to consumers in rich countries who are faced with spending more for their milk, eggs, meat and breakfast cereal, but few actually go hungry or are malnourished. In poor countries, however, the doubling of grain prices that has led to an increase in food prices of 60 percent to 70 percent during the past year has been cataclysmic. If a family's income in Africa is a few dollars per day, a grain price shock results in skipped meals and children going hungry.

Food prices have risen relatively faster in poor countries because their populations eat a simpler diet rich in staples – that is, they consume more grains directly, so there are few links in the food-supply chain that can absorb price increases.
So what has cause them, well the United States and Europe have caused a fair share of the damage.
Skyrocketing grain prices are partly due to wrong-headed policy choices in the United States and Europe, where irrational exuberance about biofuels has led to the diversion of vast amounts of cropland from growing food into inefficient fuel production. In December 2007, the U.S. government passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which raised the mandated volume of renewable fuels (mostly corn-based ethanol) for 2008 from 5.4 billion to 9 billion gallons, a huge increase over a short time. Because the law of supply and demand trumps anything the Congress can produce, we should not be surprised that the price of corn has risen by about 50 percent since December.

A whole bushel of corn yields 2.8 gallons of ethanol, so that to meet the congressional mandates, this year the United States will need to devote more than a quarter of its corn crop to ethanol production. Generous government subsidies for ethanol and mandatory minimum use of so-called "renewable" fuels have removed from the world marketplace a quarter of U.S. corn, which is by far the largest source of this commodity in world markets. Moreover, the price increases caused by politicians' intoxication with corn-derived ethanol has spilled over to wheat and other crops that can substitute for corn.
This is sort of a basic economics question.

There is a finite amount of grains, including corn, wheat, rice, etc., that can be grown in a given year. Therefore the question is really about the allocation of resources amount its particular uses. A bushel of corn can be used to feed people or feed a machine to make ethanol, but not both things. When the allocation of resources is governed by market forces, generally the allocation will be the best balance. But when the govenrment gets involved, by, for example, mandating a certain amount of bio-fuel production, there is a fall-out and that usually means higher prices for someone and there are substantial portions of the world population cannot absorb those prices.

Conflict is inevitable in these conditions, one only hopes that bio-fuel happy governments will come to their senses sooner or later.

I Always Thought Conservation Was a Good Thing

Particularly when conserving water during periods of drought, but apparently not in Atlanta. What do residents get when the conserved water in teh recent drought? The thanks of the local water utility who now seek a 15% increase in fees because they lost money by people conserving water.

How stupid is that?

Fun Education Type News

Popular Mechanics has a story about a high school robotics competition.

These devices are impressive and the student-designers/engineers have a very bright future.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lampard: Chelsea Deserved Tie

I am not so sure that is accurate.
The Blues were heading for a 1-0 defeat thanks to Dirk Kuyt's 43rd-minute goal but John Arne Riise nodded a Salomon Kalou cross into his own net in the 95th minute.

'I think we deserved definitely to get the draw at the end,' Lampard said on ITV1.

'They had chances, we had chances.

'It was a battle and we carried on to the end.'

Goalkeeper Petr Cech, who kept his side in the tie with a number of vital saves agreed, claiming the goal made up for bad luck he believes Chelsea have suffered in their two previous semi-finals at Anfield.

Battle May Be Hurting Democrats

You think?

A Look Inside HIllary's Campaign

I have always thought her campaign to be poorly run and consultant heavy. Michelle Cottle supports my view:
Rife with big egos and competing centers of influence--veterans of Hillary's First Lady days, relative newbies from her Senate office, Bill's '92 people, Bill's '96 people--Team Hillary has never been a comfortably cohesive group. In happier times, discipline was easier to maintain. But, as this race has grown longer and rougher, the staff's nerves and relations have been badly strained by persistent financial troubles and constant turf wars, not to mention one increasingly unmanageable ex-president. Some days, it's hard to remember that, just six months ago, the campaign was regarded as a highly disciplined machine. More and more, it resembles an unruly rock band plagued by dysfunction and public infighting. From Williams's arrival to Solis Doyle's demise to Penn's ascent, fall, and return, the ebb and flow of power in Hillaryland over the past few months has left multiple people acting like they are in charge--and no one really in control.
Cottle points a big finger at Mark Penn who not only lacks interpersonal skills, but the inability to maintain a cohesive strategy. Cottle concludes:
And so the jockeying and layering and squabbling grinds on, even as Hillary's chances of capturing the nomination grow ever more remote. From the outside, the struggle for control of a campaign that likely won't be around much longer may appear absurd. In Ballston, however, the sense of looming loss seems only to feed the fury, as advisers grab for what may be their last chance to right the ship. Whether driven on by dedication, desperation, or delusion, some of Hillary's not-so-happy warriors find themselves unable to give up the fight--not just against Barack Obama, but also against each other.
With any demise of Hillary Clinton's presdintial campaign, if it occurs will be the inability of any of these people to ever work together again. More bad news for the Democrats because some of these people are smart operatives who might do very well with the right candidates but probably won't be given the opportunity.

A Promotion for Gen. Petraeus

Could happen to a better man.

A Good Question from Rick Moran

Rick Moran asks a really good question: Hillary Clinton received 62% of the white vote. Barack Obama received 89% of the African American vote. The question facing superdelegates is: how can they run a candidate who loses the white vote by almost 2-1 in a state they absolutely must carry to win the election?

The battle rages on and the Superdelegates have an ever tougher job.
Pajamas Media » Blog Archive » Hillary Stays Alive

Wal-Mart's PAC Mentality

The Center for Public Integrity takes on Wal-Mart's PAC matching program.

The PAC match program is nothing new and really doesn't seem all that wrong. But CPI just wants to raise a question. The FEC has routinely ruled that such PAC match programs are permitted.

The Carnival Of Education: Week 168

Now open at the Ed Wonks.

Also open is the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Ouch!! Injury Time Own Goal Saves Chelsea

In the first leg of the Chelsea-Liverpool Champion's League semi-final, Liverpool's Norwegian defender John Arne Riise headed a cross into his own net, giving Chelsea a goal to even up the series.

Teh unbelievable turn of events puts Chelsea into the driver's seat heading to the second leg at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea has not lost a match in 100 games. Liverpool will need a win and at least a 2-2 draw to advance. A 1-1 draw will force extra time and possibly penalties.

Soccer by Ives has video of the disaster.

Does Riise have security protection now?

Own goals happen but this one could cost Liverpool a spot in the Champion's League final.

My Latest Watchblog Post Is Up

Over here. It is an updated version of this post.

Check out all the writing at Watchblog, it is worth a look no matter what your political persuasion might be.

Report on Davis v. FEC

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog has a report on the Davis v. FEC case heard at the Supreme Court yesterday. As Denniston puts it, the Justices seemed to be unable to muster sympathy for either side, the self-funded candidates or the Congressional effort.
In fact, so much doubt had been expressed about the so-called “Millionaire’s Amendment” that the Justices seriously explored what, if any parts, of it could be salvaged.

The part of the law that seemed most in jeopardy gives opponents of self-financing candidates a chance to call on a political party for a lot more financial support — even though that is denied to the wealtheir candidates themselves. Also, a provision compelling self-financed candidates to make repeated public disclosures about their spending seemed to be in some trouble, too.

The reason for the pervasive skepticism during the hour-long argument in Davis v. Federal Election Commission (07-320) was that several of the Justices voiced concern that Congress might have been trying to influence the content of the political messages that get conveyed during a congressional campaign — a potential First Amendment problem. A move by Congress to “level the playing field” appeared to be interpreted as a reach to control those messages. Most tellingly, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., questioned whether Congress in enacting the Amendment genuinely intended to stop the corrupting influence of money in politics — the only rationale the Court has accepted for campaign finance regulation.
To be honest, I had not considered the increases party spending matter. Under the campaign finance laws, a candidate can only get a limited amount of coordinated party expenditures (although the party can make unlimited independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate). An opponent of a self-funded candidate can get more party suppport, which means that outside agents (the parties themselves) are subject to different rules--a sort of equal protection argument by proxy.

The public disclosure rules are probably toast--it is the most clear cut equal protection argument out there. Whether other provisions get struck down is a little bit more of an open question. As I noted before, the whole Amendment, can be attacked on equal protection grounds, but also on the grounds that if Congress' goal is to limit the influence of so-called "special interest" money in politics, increasing the contribution limits for one candidate seems like an illogical method of accomplishing that goal.

Prof. Hasen thinks that the Court will strike some parts of the law and uphold others.

The Center for Competitive Politics report notes suprise in Justice Kennedy's line of questioning regarding the party coordinated expenditures as well as the fact that the Court seemed to dismiss what many commentators thought was Davis' weak standing argument. But if the Justices are pre-disposed to consider the increased disclosures as the injury, such a move to ignore the standing issue is not surprising.

Bob Bauer doesn't have any post-argument comments up yet, but his pre-argument post which included this comment:
Here is irony: if the Amendment can be traced to soft money at all—and if soft money is broadly defined to mean all money raised and spent beyond the law’s established limits—then the Amendment legalized a form of "soft money." Now a candidate with a millionaire opponent could qualify for a special limit, elevated well above the one within which other candidates have to operate. This is the only other choice on hand for describing of this law: either it has nothing to do with soft money, or if it does, it authorized for certain candidates, with certain opponents, access to a freshly created class of soft money donations.
Bauer presented this in context of commenting on this article.

A transcript of the hearing is here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Nation At Risk Turns 25

Former Governor and Los Angeles Schools Superintendent Roy Romber discussed the matter and his groups new report, A Stagnant Nation: Why American Students Are Still At Risk. Romer talks about the executive summary which talks about time, teaching and standards recommendations that have not been adopted.

With the 25 Anniversary of A Nation At Risk, there is going to be a lot of handwrining, worry and a whole lot of spin about the state of American education today. Some of the concern is justified. For example, I do think our school year is too short to accomplish all that our policymakers and curriculum experts think appropriate. I do think we need to radically alter the methods and professionalization of teachers. I do think that we are short changing the students on both ends of the bell curve, although for students on the lower end of the curve that is less so.

But I don't really share in the mass fears of a fundamental breakdown of American education. There are a number of reasons for my faith, but most of it boils down to two important points.

First, the American public is not satisfied with the status quo. When that becomes the norm, then change is bound to occur. There is not doubt that such a change is occuring. Witness the explosive growth of charter schools. Once relegated to the worst of the inner city school districts, charters are now sprouting up in the suburbs. When that becomes much more common place, the silent indictment of the traditional public school will become a massive death knell of education policy as we have known it.

Another key indicator is the growth of homeschooling. Once the providence of the intensely religious, it is now common place. Without question, the ability for homeschoolers to communicate, collaborate and share via the Internet has made homeschooling practical and possible for average Americans who are not satisfied with the quality of schooling their children receive. That homeschoolers routinely and significantly outscore their public school peers indicates clearly that you don't have to be a Columbia Teachers College graduate to help educate your kids.

So as the public begins to move away from simply accepting the public school system you will see policies shift, slowly at first, but more and more rapidly. Keep an eye on Louisiana where Repbulican Governor Bobby Jindal has a chance to really push through significant education reform in his state that could be a model for changes elsewhere.

The second major reason for my faith is that there are many educational entrepeneurs who are challenging the status quo for all sorts of ideas. It is not just charter school advocates, but groups like Teach for America, who are really making people sit up and consider that you don't have to be an ed-school graduate to be a good teacher and you don't have to be a lifelong educator to be an effective school leader. As more and more of these educational entrepeneurs like Wendy Kopp, Michelle Rhee, and others of their ilk begin to draw in people from outside education to help them manage educational problems there will be more change and much of it for the better.

I don't expect change overnight, reform doesn't work that way. But I am confident that we as a nation will make it better. The change will not come from teh top though. No matter how much our leaders like to think they can solve problems, it is the parents, the students and the people outside the traditional educational heirarchy that will make the biggest difference over time. They see educational problems differently, either in the concrete and personal matter of parents or the problem solver who sees an opportunity to make a difference and does so.

While policy makers and pundit wonder "what it all means" somebody out there right now, maybe even reading this post (but probably not the writer) has an idea that will change things for the better. It is a statistical fact and my belief. This nation is simply too ingenius for it not to be true.

Steve Verdon on the "Food Rationing"

It is not nearly as bad as it was reported, according to Steve Verdon. One reason, the mandated switch to bio-fuels:
Still, there is a problem with food prices right now. They are going up, and going up quite a bit. One reason for this is the switch to biofuels due to government mandates. The subsidies for using corn for ethanol production has helped drive up the price of corn. This in turn causes people to substitute away from corn to various substitutes which are also going up in price.

These factors combined are why we are seeing riots in various places around the world and also why there are signs of problems here in the U.S. Green fuel initiatives that have pushed biofuels are a big mistake.


And yet, biofuels were supposed to be good for the environment and break the grip of the OPEC oil cartel and put a dent in the petro-dollars flowing to terrorists. Nevermind that oil is at its highest price in nominal and real terms. That biofuels would lead to these kinds of problems was obvious. If biofuels were indeed a cheaper alternative to oil, then economies would have switched. I don’t care what kind of lame-brained conspiracy theory you adhere to regarding ExxonMobil or other oil companies, the switch would have occured. What this means is that biofuels are more expensive that oil as an energy source, and that forcing a switch would mean we end up worse off.
Verdon makes some other good points.

But we are still left with a situation where food prices are going up. While there is no government rationing of any sort in America, there are food shortages elsewhere.

Are we on the verge of resource conflicts? Probably not, but anytime someone steps up with a solution, think about this: Bio Fuels were supposed to be a solution for the energy crisis, but oil based fuels continue to rise in price. Which if bio-fuels were supposed to work, the supply of oil would have increased and the price decreased.

Yeah, after paying $50 for a tank of gas (just under 13 gallons) this morning, it is hard for me to see how those bio-fuels are working in my favor, in either gas or food prices.

Porn On Military Bases

It is as common as salutes or the daily raising of the flag. Yes, America's military men and, yes, some woment consume porn. Apparently that annoys Rep. Paul Broun, as Radley Balko reports:
Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., (profiled by Dave Weigel here) wants to ban the sale of Playboy on military bases.
“Allowing sale of pornography on military bases has harmed military men and women by escalating the number of violent, sexual crimes, feeding a base addiction, eroding the family as the primary building block of society, and denigrating the moral standing of our troops both here and abroad,” Broun said.

Broun said he wants to bring the Defense Department into compliance with the intent of the 1997 law “so that taxpayers will not be footing the costs of distributing pornography.”
Except taxpayers aren't actually funding it:
Exchange officials noted that tax dollars are not used to procure magazines in the system’s largely self-funded operations.

Which triggered this stunner from Broun's office:
But Broun’s spokesman John Kennedy contended that taxpayer dollars are involved — “used to pay military salaries, so taxpayer money is, in effect, being used to buy these materials,” he said.

That line of argument would open up all sorts of other possibilities.
Lots of possibilities.

By that argument, of course, military members or other government employees (inluding Broun himself) would not be permitted to do all sorts of things with their paycheck that any privately employed person would be entitled to do, including purchasing porn.

But what makes Broun's argument all the more ludicrous is that there is no link between porn and violent sexual attacks on bases or sexual harassment. Indeed a sexual harasser need not even own porn, consume porn or buy porn on base to be be an offender.

Stupid is as stupid does.

So what?

The USA breathless pants that President Bush's disapproval rating is highest ever. But history is a far different judge.

Onyewu Helps Standard Liege to Jupiler League Title

U.S. international Defender Oguchi Onyewu's club Standard Liege has won the Belgian First Division title for the first time in 25 years. Goff has video (the third link)

While Onyewu probably has a couple of years on his contract, I imagine speculation will begin about a move back to England, or Germany. His return to form has helped his club without a doubt (he has scored and assisted on goals in the run in for Liege). If he has a good World Cup qualifying round this summer, a move to a higher profile league is likely.

Good for him.

Eddie Johnson and Michael Bradley

Soccer By Ives had this Q&A post and this one caught my eye:
MLW- After Japan/Korea 2002, many (including myself) thought C Mathis was headed for great things. Personally, I figured he was a lock to be starting up front in 2006...we all know what happened.

In your mind, what player who is playing well at present, seems to be a sure things, has the potential to implode and not even be named to the roster in 2010?

IVES- The thing with Mathis is that even after the 2002 World Cup there were already signs that things weren't all great with Mathis, so the rapid demise of his career wasn't a complete shock.

I think Eddie Johnson is the easy candidate for this one. Here's someone who showed some flashes at an early age, keeps getting chances on the club and national team level, but continues to disappoint. You keep waiting for him to flick a switch and suddenly be a star, but it wouldn't shock me at all if he's completely off the national team radar come 2010.
I will admit that I thought Eddie Johnson was a good acquisition for Fulham, but now I think that it was a waste of funds. Johnson made a splash in the MLS, but he is clearly not ready for major international play.

The issue for me is not his skills, for he has them and he has displayed them on occasion. My problem with Eddie Johnson is his work ethic on the field. He apparently showed something to Roy Hodgson and Bob Bradley in training in order to get the starts, but he has never displayed the talent and work ethic of someone like Clint Dempsey or Michael Bradley. Without Cristiano Ronaldo-level skills (which Johnson surely does not have), he has to put in much more work on the field than he has in order to justify his position.

In some ways, although I wish it were not the case, relegation for Fulham might actually be the best thing for Johnson. He will not get picked up by another Premier League side, so if he is to remain in Europe, he will have to stay with Fulham in the Championship league. That may push him to work harder on and off the field and perhaps get a loan opportunity next year.

Like Ives, unless Johnson doesn't improve his work ethic quickly, he will be lucky to survive the first round of World Cup qualifying with Bob Bradley. If not, Johnson's international career with the U.S. is over by the end of this year.

Then there was this question:
MALDONADO- I heard on the bbc gossip there has been intrest in michael bradley from manchester united. Do you see any possiblities in that happening?

IVES- Is there interest? Yes. Is it something that will happen? I wouldn't bet on it. There is at least one other high-level club with more interest in Bradley than Man U and if signs with that club you will certainly hear shockwaves. Regardless of what happens, I see Bradley signing with a top five club at a top four league (England, Spain, Italy, Germany).
The worst thing in the world for Michael Bradley right now would be going to Manchester United. He would be riding the pine and if he saw minutes with United it would be few and far between. There are simply too many talented midfielders at United to the move to be of benefit to him.

A better possibility might be Chelsea. All indications point to a mass exodus of players this summer from Stamford Bridge and I think that Roman Abramovich and the next Chelsea manager (Avram Grant won't be the manager next year even if Chelsea win the Champions' League) will be looking for dynamic central midfielder who can score goals here and there. Bradley has the tools and with the guidance of a better manager, will develop into a solid Premier League starting midfielder (although probably not in his first year).

I think the Premier League is the most like spot. Bradley is tall, strong and quick. He is used to physical play and can dish it out as well as take it. Germany is also a possibility. I think Spain and Italy are lesser choices.

Fulham Hopes to Avoid the Drop

After Saturday's loss to Liverpool at Craven Cottage, Fulham's hopes to avoid relegation, while not snuffed out completely, certain dimmed a great bit. Even a point against Liverpool would have kept hopes alive. But as striker Erik Nevland noted, the Whites will need to get three wins in their final three matches to avoid relegation and even that may not be enough--Fulham may need the soccer gods to smile upon them as well.

Fulham face Manchester City this weekend, Birmingham City in two weeks and close out the season against Portsmouth. Of absolute vital importance is the Birmingham City match, a true six point match in that Fulham can over take Birmingham with a result against Manchester and a win over Birmingham. The bottom five teams are as follows:

16. Bolton 32 Points and -20 Goal Differential
17. Reading 32 Points and -28 Goal Differential
18. Birmingham 31 Points and -17 Goal Differential
19. Fulham 27 Points and -26 Goal Differential
20. Derby 11 Points and -59 Goal Differential

Derby are of course done, already mathematically relegated. I am hoping that Americans Eddie Lewis and Benny Feilhaber can get picked up as squad men on a team staying up, but who knows.

To leap frog Birmingham City, Fulham need three points against Manchester City and a win as well over Birminghma. That would give Fulham 33 points which if Bolton and Reading both lose their next to matches, would put Fulham 1 point above safety. A win and a draw would not be enough.

Bolton will play Tottenham away, Sunderland at home and Chelsea at the Bridge to close out their season. After a somewhat shocking win against Middlesbrough away, I wouldn't put a win against Tottenham completely out of the question. Bolton can beat Sunderland at home, and a win at Stamford Bridge has proven difficult even for the top clubs and after 100 games without a loss, Chelsea dominate at the Bridge.

Reading will close out with Wigan away, Tottenham at home and Derby away. Wigan is something of a toss up match and Derby's squad is playing for jobs in teh Premier Leage and despite their already relegated status. Tottenham at home is also something of a toss up.

To keep from relegation, both Bolton need four points, a win and a draw in their final three matches. That would give them 36 points, which assuming Fulham win out to get 36 points, Bolton would sit at 16th with a better goal differential. Reading on the hand would need two wins in three matches because a slightly poorer goal differential at this point, although wins would improve that goal differential.

But both scenarios are premised on Fulham winning out, which would require two road wins agaisnt Manchester City, who looked decent against Portsmouth over the weekend and Manchester are playing to maintain their current position for next year's UEFA Cup. Portsmouth on the other hand is in the FA Cup final which will occur just three days after the match with Fulham. Thus Portsmouth may be resting key players, making an away win all that more important.

The test will be Manchester this weekend. A win there will make the scenario likely. A loss combined with a win or tie by Reading will mean almost certain relegation.

Politics--Bill Clinton Style

Wow, I just realized that I had not written a post on the Presidential election in a week (nice break for me), but this one I just couldn't resist, Bill Clinton is doing more damage to his wife's campaign than any Obama or McCain operative could hope for.

It seems impossible, but if Hillary wins the nomination, Bill Clinton may be John McCain's best weapon.

Hollywood Sci-Fi Sucks

Erik Sofge looks at Hollywood's latest sci-fi and notes that the reliance on comic books as inspiration may be part of the downfall.
Hollywood has never been a safe place for smart science fiction. Since square-jawed actors first stepped into soundstage rockets, geeks have watched countless classic sci-fi novels beaten into 90-minute pulp, often filled with useless comic relief, bizarre romantic subplots featuring implausibly attractive research types, and a bold corruption of core scientific principles. Either that, or the movies just didn't make any sense—the 1984 David Lynch film adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic Dune was so incomprehensible to the uninitiated that some theaters passed out a glossary of the film's lingo to moviegoers.

Even among sci-fi scripts that weren't pulled from the pages of classic novels, the influence of Flash Gordon was hard to shake. The “What if?” thought=experiment premises that were the hallmark of great sci-fi gave way to decisions over how much clothing a Martian lady should or shouldn’t wear ("less" usually won). But failure, like most things, occurs in degrees. There was a time when big-budget science fiction wasn’t completely brainless. In fact, some of it was good, even brilliant, and a source of inspiration for generations of researchers. From 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Terminator, the promise (and the apocalyptic threat) of technology was sometimes presented with a surprising level of authority and thoughtfulness. The plotlines still veered toward pulpy melodrama, but by respecting the science, these films helped shape the years that followed.
Sofge notes that the rise of the graphic novel has sort of coincided with the death of really good sci-fi in movie theaters.

That is not to say that comic book based movies are lacking in any appeal, just look at the box office numbers. But some of the best movies, Spiderman 2 for example, dealt with real human emotions and problems, just placed into the context of the "super hero." Note Dr. Octupus' horror at what he had done or Peter's struggles with his "normal" side and his Spiderman side. But Sofge is corrent when he writes:
There’s a reason to pick on these movies. It’s not that they’re claiming any level of realism. But superhero movies, with their alrflagrant, built-in disinterest in getting any aspect of science or technology right, have taken a bite out of science fiction’s market share. Not only do they appeal to much of the same demographic, but they vie for the same studio funding, and the same creative personnel.
But comic book movies are easier to write (someone else has largely done most of the work) and there is something of a built in audience with a deep background knowledge (see the joke in the first X-Men movie about black leather vs. yellow spandex for Wolverine).

Now not all the blame for the dearth of hard sci-fi can be placed at the feet of Hollywood. To a large extent movie goers are not looking for depth and meaning in their films (at least not all of us), so if a movie provides a two hour escape in a darkened, air-conditioned theater, I don't mind paying $8.00 so long as the plot is moderately engaging and the characters and dialogue are not inane.

But I do wish for science fiction that is real science fiction. I remember when James Cameron's The Abyss came out, I thought it was brilliant, so brilliant that I frequently skipped class to go see it first in the full run theaters and then in the sticky floored $1.00 theater. I still think it one of the best science fiction movies around, in part because it was real, it was thinking and it dealt with real people, with real personal problems, looking for real solutions to a deadly situation.

There are writers out there who are really advancing the vision of hard science fiction, but what makes such things movie possible are the characters, based in a real science environment. Take Battlestar Galactica now on the Sci-Fi channel. The driving force of the series is the interaction and the development of the characters. They, human and Cylon alike, drive the story with how they cope with their various situations and the blurring of the lines between human and Cylon. The Cylon's have very real, very human problems despite their appearance as either humanoid or machine. BSG also possesses some odd anachronisms, like clunky telephones and Ship to Ship communications, along side things like a faster than light speed drive (but one that requires some "spin up" time).

Still, I think that the comic book fad will fade in time (there is a finite number of possibilities) and like all these fads it will cycle back sometime in the future.

Follow Up on Food Rationing Story

The last post was about the possibility of food rationing in this country, a concept I thought rediculous given the fact that retailers, as opposed to the goverment, were limiting the number of items a person could purchase.

However, it does give a thought--could this be the path to curing the obesity problem in America?

Not that I condone any sort of governmental program that tells me what I can and cannot eat--absent a real food shortage.

However, don't be surprised if such an idea comes up on the campaign trail.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Food Rationing in America

That is the headline in the New York Sun Food Rationing Confronts Breadbasket of the World. Sounds omnious right? Well, take a look at the lead:
Many parts of America, long considered the breadbasket of the world, are now confronting a once unthinkable phenomenon: food rationing.

Major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice, and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply. There are also anecdotal reports that some consumers are hoarding grain stocks.

At a Costco Warehouse in Mountain View, Calif., yesterday, shoppers grew frustrated and occasionally uttered expletives as they searched in vain for the large sacks of rice they usually buy.
"Retailers are limiting purchases" is far different from rationing. Rationing is, by definition, a governmental limitation on the the amount of food that a person can have. We had gas rationing in the 1970's and rationing during World War II. The issue was not so much a matter of a dearth of supplies but that people would hoard things because they can buy something that is non-perishable, or relatively non-perishable at a lower price.

Retailers know that the price of these staples, like flour, rice, etc are going to go up, either in response to demand or more likley because wholesale costs are going up as a result of increased energy, fuel and other fixed costs that underlie the price of such goods.

Retailers often limit the amount a person can buy on certain items. For instance, when there is a sale on say Coca-Cola 2-liter bottles for $.99 a bottle, there is often a limit of five or ten. A retailer imposed limit on a product is not rationing.

However, are we looking at food shortages or price spikes or a combination of both.

Can We Now Stop the Anna Kournikova Comparisons

Danica Patrick wins Japan 300 to become the first woman to win an IndyCar event. The trophy is nearly as tall as she is.
Win No. 1 was a long time coming. Patrick finished a career-best seventh in the standings last year when her best finish was second in the race at Detroit's Belle Isle. Her first IndyCar race was in 2005 at Homestead-Miami.

"I've been asked so many times when and if I can win my first race," she said. "And, finally, no more of those questions."

Patrick was welcomed by her family near the podium.

"There was a lot of "I love you,' and 'congratulations,' Patrick said. "My dad said it was the best day of his life."

Michael Andretti, co-owner of Andretti Green Racing, called his driver a "fantastic person."

"I'm thrilled for her that the monkey is finally off of her back," said Andretti, co-owner of Andretti Green Racing. "We have all believed in her and she proved today that she is a winner. Frankly, I think this is the first of many."

At the 2005 Indy 500, Patrick nearly won the pole and became the first female driver to lead the race. She wound up fourth, the best finish by a woman at Indy and a result that helped her claim rookie of the year honors.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Clint Dempsey on the Liverpool Home Fixture

This weekend, Fulham FC will face Liverpool at Craven Cottage. This fixture last year turned out to be the match that kept Fulham in the EPL for this season. While it won't be the difference maker this year, it is an important match. American Clint Dempsey scored the game winner last year that kept Fulham up and he talks about it here.:
“Not playing games when the team is struggling is always tough to take,” he told the Evening Standard. “You always want to be in the team fighting, you want to be the guy that is in the trenches. You want to be a guy who is able to go in, make a difference and have a say on the outcome. So any time you go onto the field, you have the opportunity to do that.

“That's all that was on my mind: going out there and trying to make a difference. Try to help the team win any way that I can, whether it's an assist or scoring a goal. It just so happened that I was able to score the goal and we were able to get the win.

“It was a great feeling and it made coming over here and going through all the trials and tribulations worth it. Because even though I wasn't a regular starter and I only came on as a sub, I still felt I had a successful season because I was able to help the club stay up and at the same time get my first goal."
After last week's away win at Reading, Fulham are hoping to continue to get results that will keep them up. A result, particularly against Liverpool this weekend, means Fulham will be able to keep the safety zone in sight. Fulham play Birmingham City on May 3 week in their final "six point" match so the match becomes important this weekend.

Liverpool may put out a less than top flight sqaud as the Champion's League Semi-final against Chelsea is on Tueday, but Liverpool can still field a quality side. Hopefully the Fulham fans will help on Saturday.

Bolton, sitting two points above Fulham travel to Middlesbrough tomorrow. Birmingham City who is four points ahead (really five because of goal differntial), is visiting Aston Villa. A win by Fulham and a loss by Bolton would put Whites ahead on points. A draw by Bolton and a Fulham win would have Bolton ahead on goals.

With four matches to go, Fulham have a fair chance, but they will need results. A loss to Liverpool won't spell their doom, but it would require Fulham would have to win out and hope.

DC United 1:2 Columbus Crew

Last night's match put Columbus Crew at the top of the Eastern Conference and DC United at the bottom (Well Toronto is officially, but they have a game in hand over DC). With just 1 win in four matches, United are off to a poor start and it is actually worse than the conference table implies.

Last nights match against Columbus has demonstrated a number of glaring weaknesses, but some possibilities as well.

First, Emilio needs to ride the pine for a little while and earn his place back in the starting line-up. I know that maybe hard to do when he was a 20 goal scorer last year. But his performance in the league matches has been less than attractive and I expect more from him. I am thankful that the Front Office decided not to renegotiate his contract for more money. Just about everytime he got the ball with his back to goal last night he was unable to turn it to United's advantage. He was dispossessed with alarming regularity and/or gave the ball away. I don't know if it is a situation where he is just not strong enough to deal with the physicality of MLS central defenders or his form is just off, but until he can prove he has it back, it is time to ride the pine.

Second, the midfield is a shambles of players lacking cohesion. Individually, the players are doing well, in particular Gallardo and the ever steady Clyde Simms. But as a group, they don't seem to be communicating or if they are, they aren't getting together mentally. Gallardo is new to the league, but he has brilliant vision, but the problem is that his vision is about 3 second ahead of action by the rest of his team. Which leads me to

Third, the pacing of the game last night was horrid. It is evident that Gallardo is used to working much faster than the rest of the squad and it shows. I don't think the lack of pace is a fitness issue, but rather it appears to be simply more evident that United are just not working as fast as they can or should. For example, switching the field of play from one side to the other is just simply too slow to penetrate a compact team, which is what Columbus was presenting last night. Without crisp and quick ball movement, you can't spread a defense out. Of course, even if United were able to move the ball around quicker, they didn't seem all that capable of exploiting any resulting gaps.

Fourth, I have to say that our goalkeeping is a real problem this year. Carvallo seems lost and Zach Wells isn't getting it done. I know it is not fair to Carvallo or Wells to be compared to Nick Rimando or Troy Perkins, but such comparisons are hard to avoid. Rimando dominates the box with his presence and it is part of the reason why Real Salt Lake are much improved this season. Perkins on the other hand is not as dominating physically, but his positioning was far superior, he seemed to know exactly when to stay on his line and when to leave it. Wells on the other hand does not apparently have the respect and trust of his central defenders (the Gonzalos) and doesn't have the smarts with regard to his positioning. I would hope that he can improve that in the next couple of weeks, but unless his performance gets better, it is time for Soehn and Kevin Payne to go shopping for a keeper--even a loan from Europe would help.

Fifth, I understand why Soehn might want to get Dyachenko back onto the field in order to demonstrate that one bad performance is not an end to the season, but Dyachenko looked lost last night. He probably needed to sit for another game or two.

But there are possibilities. As I mentioned, Garllardo is turning out to be a wonderful acquisition. I had my doubts about him initially and some of those doubts have been expressed. But I like the fact that he hasn't really slowed down his thinking and match pace. He can hold the ball, make smart plays with the ball and off the ball. As long as he is the dominant force on the team and makes the rest of United catch up with him, I think United will get on another one of the mid-season tears, string together another long series of results and challenge again for the Supporter's Shield and the playoffs. On the other hand, if he "slows down" to the current DC United level, we could in for a long season.

Gonzalo Martinez impressed me a great deal last night, more so than in previous matches. I liked it at the end of the match with him pressing forward. I think he is much more comfortable on the ball, although I wish he would have unleashed a few shots from 25 yards out or so since I think Wil Hesmer was dozing a little.

While I think Ben Olsen is a briliant player and I can't wait for him to return to form, I think it is likewise silly to believe that he is the answer to the United's woes. Will be provide some leadership--absolutely. Can he add some skill--no doubt. But the longer he is out, the more likely it is that he will not mesh will into the line-up as the current mix of starters and first tier subs get playing time together.

What I would like to see is for Soehn to start looking at a system that capitalizes on Gallardo's vision and movement. A midfield that moves and shuffles around. I think Gallardo, Fred, Quaranta, Simms, McTavish and later Olsen need to be mindful of what can happen when you shake things up in the midfield. Columbus was more vulnerable when Gallardo was out on the wings moving into the center than vice versa, if Soehn can exploit that with a system that features such movement regularly, United can start getting more done.

Earlier in the week I talked about the discussions regarding Soehn and his job security. I think he made the right responses in terms of his work in reaction to Real Salt Lake, but he was let down by his players. He still needs to work with them to get them to mesh, but the only fault I can find is playing Dyachenko last night.

Player Ranks



Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In Memorium--Virginia Tech

Today is the one year anniversary of the Virginia Tech Massacre and the Virginia Tech Day of Remembrance. Read the bios of the victims.

In particular, my fraternity, Phi Sigma Pi lost family members. Erin Peterson was nearing the end of her initiation period when she was killed. Phi Sigma Pi's Virginia Tech Chapter has a special memorial to her.
Erin's funeral on April 24th was attended by well over 1,000 family and friends, including over sixty Alpha Rho Brothers whom wore their brother pins and purple and gold ribbons in a show of unity. Erin was laid to rest in the shirt she rightfully earned but never had a chance to wear during life: her letters. She was posthumously inducted into Alpha Rho Chapter with the rest of her initiate class.
It may be hard for people not in our Fraternity to understand, but even though I never met Erin and indeed have had little contact with the Virginia Tech Chapter since my active collegiate days, some of the best Brothers I know came from that chapter and I have spent some wonderful times in Blacksburg. Their pain is my pain, their tears, my tears.

Phi Sigma Pi has a saying, Brothers for Life. And even in the after life.

This post will remain at the top of the blog today.

Millionaire's Amendment Case Next Week

The Supreme Court will hear the millionaire's amendment case next week, and in advance, MSNBC has a pretty good article on the subject. What is ironic about the millionaire's amendment is how closely it is tied to McCain-Fiengold and it was not an amendment that McCain authored. But leaving aside that quirk, Davis v. FEC will focus on the Millionaire's amendment as it applies to House candidates only, but a successful challenge to the House portion will spell the imminent doom to the Senate provisions (which are a bit more complex).
Davis’ appeal raised two questions: whether the “Millionaire’s Amendment” violates the First or Fifth Amendment in attempting to “equalize resources” between House candidates, and whether, if that goal is a valid one, the specific financing provisions achieve that goal. In responding to the appeal, the Federal Election Commission told the Court that the case involves a third critical issue: did Davis have “standing” to bring his lawsuit? FEC contended that he did not, because he had identified no actual or imminent harm to his candidacy. Rep. Reynolds, it noted, did not receive any increased contributions or coordinated party spending under the Amendment, so there was no injury to Davis’ campaign. The FEC also suggested that the case may be moot – another factor that could deny the Court jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court on Jan. 11 took on the case, but noted explicitly that it would not decide whether it had jurisdiction until it held a hearing on the merits.
In law school I wrote a paper on the Millionaire's Amendment that focused on potential treatment of the provision based upon the Court's previous jurisprudence regarding contribution limits and the prevention of corruption or the appearance of corruption.

As for previous cases regarding limits, I don't think the Court would be concerned. The Millionaire's Amendment increased contribution limits and the Court had previously ruled that it would not interfere with a legislatures determination of a contribution limit unless that limit was so low as to prevent a candidate from being able to raise funds to run a viable campaign. (This was pre-Sorrell that I wrote the paper). With more money available, striking down the increased limits on that ground wouldn't fly.

But the Court had also noted that it would not probe the legislatures decisions on different limits unless the limits amounted to a difference in kind. Here there would be more punch to an argument against the Amendment since it would be readily apparent that one candidate would be operating under one limit and another under a limit three times the size of the first. Even a candidate who is self-funding is permitted to raise money from other contributors.

There is a rather obvious equal protection argument present in the different limits matter, but I didn't make that argument due to a lack of space (we had a pretty strict page limit to deal with). But it seems patently obvious that forcing one candidate to operate under different rules simply because he exercises a personally protected right while permitting another to operate under different rules presents a parity question.

The primary, indeed only reason, the Court has upheld contribution limits is to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption of the candidate due to large campaign contributions. Whether the reasoning of Buckley still applies is a matter of some dispute. In 1976, the average cost of a House of Representatives campaign was about $80,000. The maximum contribution from an individual at that time was $1,000 per person per election or $5,000 from a PAC. Thus a person could "max out" at $2,000 or about 2.5 percent of a campaign cost and a PAC could max out at $10,000 or 12.5 percent of a total campaign. Those are sufficiently high enough amounts that the appearance of corruption could be present (I don't but it completely, but at least statistically I can see it.). Today a political campaign for a House seat will run about $1 million. A maxed out individual contributor can give $4,600 or about 0.46 percent. A PAC can give about 1 percent.

Under the increased limits for candidates facing millionaires, the max limit is $6,900 for an election. (If a candidate faces a millionaire in the general, he can only raise increased funds for the general election, not the primary and general). Not only is there a difference in kind, but it seems to increase the appearance of corruption by the simple operation of a higher limit.

More fundamentally though, the Millionaire's Amendment treats personal wealth and political wealth differently. Under the campaign finance law, a candidate, usually and incumbent can raise money at any time and they usually do, building massive war chests which are used to scare off opponents. The Millionaire's amendment does nothing to offset that advantage. But even these politically rich candidates can raise money under increased limits if their self-funded candidate outspends them. (The amendment limits the increased contribution limits fundraising until the non-self-funded candidate achieves parity with the millionaire). Thus a candidate who is not self-funded facing an incumbent with a $5 million war chest must raise money at the standard limit--putting them at a severe disadvantage.

Davis is focusing on a slightly different provision. Under the Millionaire's amendment, each time the self-funded candidate spends over a certain amount, he or she must make an initial disclosure of exceeding certain thresholds. For the House candidate, the threshold is $350,000 for the initial disclosure. Then when the candidate spends another $10,000 or more, he/she must make an additional disclosure within 24 hours. Davis has argued that the additional reporting requirements force him to disclose strategic and financial information before his opponent was required to do so. For example, if Davis spent $50,000 of his own money, he would have to disclose that. But if his opponent spent $50,000 out of his campaign war chest, he would not be required to report that until the regularly scheduled reporting time.

The increased reporting requirement is a pretty good argument since I think it would encompass as least a real injury and it sufficiently raises the equal protection argument. However, it is rather limited and might be grounds for the Court to simply strike the increased reporting requirement and leave the limits question for another time and another case.

However, in the Sorrell aftermath, there may be sufficient support among the Justices to put an end to the non-sense of such increased regulation of political spending. In general, I think a strict and relatively immediate disclosure law would be sufficient. Absent that, I have had other thoughts, which can be read here that would serve to limit the pre-occupation fundraising, including treating personal and political wealth in the same manner.

Why Soccer Won’t Work in America?

Because of Chucklheads like this guy.from Laurie of the MLS Blog:
“The fact is, I think, that soccer doesn’t fit the taste of the American sports fan, who likes a finite chance of success or failure on every play,” Steinberg said. “It doesn’t have the type of pacing, like a lot of scoring. There is continuous play without scoring and the game is not susceptible to commercial breaks. Americans like fast burst of action and scoring. I would suggest tinkering with soccer, but I know that’s sacrosanct.”

– Leigh Steinberg, “the top sports agent who represents N.F.L. and N.B.A. stars,” who says that “soccer’s failure to earn the embrace of big-time TV coverage in the United States has doomed it to second-class status, perhaps forever.” As quoted in the NY Times soccer blog,
This guy Leigh Steinberg represented the U.S. 1994 World Cup squad but doesn't represent soccer players now, at least as far as I can tell.

Tinkering with soccer, um, no. And that is not just a purist talking, but a person who has seen NASL, MISL, WUSA, and the MLS. First, you can't tinker with the game and then expect to see FIFA approval and international play. Second, Steinberg assumes that America doesn't or can't get soccer. That assumes a certain amount of stupidity in Americans that frankly I find offensive.

I think the MLS model is pretty good. I would like to see a plan to move away from the single entity in the next 10-15 years and I certainly want to see an increase in salary for players and thus some depth to the squads. But all leagues struggle in their infancy and now in the 13th year, I think MLS has survived its infancy and has a solid model.

Steinberg is right about one thing though. We need a classic rivalary and one that evolves and it not based upon personalities. The LA Galaxy/Chivas USA Derby is great for the LA area, but we need to see a national rivalry or at least grow a couple more interesting regional rivalries. the addition of Philadelphia to the scene could create a great NY/DC/Philly rivalary.

American sports fans don't thrive just on scoring, they thrive on the intensity of the competition. What has made the NFL such a great commodity has been the parity in the league and the long standing rivalries amoung clubs. As teh MLS grows and those inter-club rivalries begin to form and regularly produce quality games that are exiting in and of themselves, then you will see MLS really take off.

What makes the MLS great now is the relative accessibility of the game, the players and the clubs. Making another NFL or NBA simply is not in the cards and shouldn't be. But that does not mean American soccer cannot thrive.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

DNC Sues McCain For Attempting to Get Out of Public Financing

The suit has been filed today and it is something of a campaign finance geek's dream:
Seeking to severely wound John McCain's presidential efforts, the Democratic National Committee on Monday filed suit in federal court that could force McCain's campaign to give up millions of dollars in fines after applying for, then ultimately declining, federal matching funds and the accompanying spending limits. But because of a more than two year-old feud between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House, the organization charged with overseeing campaign finance law - the Federal Election Commission - has become almost totally incapacitated and is powerless to resolve the dispute.

The Democratic complaint centers on McCain's certification for public matching funds, which the FEC would give to candidates who agree on spending limits during the primary that max out near $54 million. After putting together an early winning streak, McCain decided not to accept those matching funds - he would have been eligible for $5.8 million in funds as of December 20, according to the FEC. Democrats, though, contend that McCain used the promise of matching funds to obtain a loan that kept his campaign afloat at a crucial juncture.
So the DNC thinks that John McCain pledged the public matching funds that he was supposed to receive to guarantee the loans. But this information refutes that entirely. Currently McCain owes just under $3 million on his loans, which he has the ability to pay if necessary out of his cash on hand.

So the question is why file this now. The fact of the matter is, no matter what, the Democrats need to get an answer before the general election season begins and without an FEC to make a decision, the courts are a poor device to get something done. Clearly something else is going on, but what?

Update: Forgot to include the link to read the complaint at the DNC site.

Should DC United Fire Tom Soehn

That is the topic of The DCenters post from yesterday. DCenters answers, no, not yet.

Well let's take a deeper look at Soehn this year, because I think a lot of this analyis is based solely upon the trouncing the DC United suffered at the hand of Real Salt Lake over the weekend. I think this is a poor reason to consider firing the coach given that DC United have never played well at RSL, no matter what, including the time when Peter Novak was the head coach. But the conversation has started.

DC United's season got off to a quick start, without an adequate pre-season thanks to the Champions Cup. This is not Soehn's fault, unless by fault you mean that DC United was in the Champions Cup for the sole reason that they had the best record in the MLS last year thanks in part to Tom Soehn. Them's the breaks of being good.

So Soehn did not have an opportunity to really focus on his more inexperienced players and get them up to speed by constantly working with them on the training pitch against his best XI. Now, of course, it is his job to evaluate talent and use that talent in the best possible manner, but when your evaluative sessions are cut short by travel to Jamiaca, Mexico and back, along with pre-game training sessions focused on getting ready for a game as opposed to long term pre season workouts which RSL and Kansas City had a full pre-season, it is hard to really develop a full feel of how players work together, which combinations of players can produce which kind of results and styles of play during a match. In many ways, parts of the DC United roster have been robbed of a true pre-season.

Let's also take a look at history. DC United had a very poor record (relative to past years) in the first months of the 2007 season and yet went on a tear in mid-season and finished by winning the Supporter's Sheild. While getting dismissed early in the playoffs did not put a proper cap on teh season, DC had nothing to hang its head about last year. This year we are off to a poor start again. Perhaps the trouble is that DC United is not a team that starts a season well. That may be a problem of management, scheduling, talent or what not. I don't know the root cause of that problem, but it is a problem United faced last year under Soehn and he was able to pull the team out.

DCenters notes that two questions are somewhat up in the air:
Is the coach adapting and improving when things are bad? There's a time to stay the course, but even if you know what you want to do, and it isn't showing up on the pitch, you need to adapt to get results. The line between persistent and obtuse can be a small thing.

Is the team performing better or worse as time goes on? Changes made in training or personnel must show up in better results on the field, or they are useless.(emphasis in original)
D notes that we should reconsider after Thursday, when DC United hosts the Columbus Crew. To be sure, Soehn has to make some corrections prior to Thursday's fixture. But by the same token, DC will have a short week to prepare for the Crew and making another assessment in a short week does something of a disservice to Soehn. If DC United comes out and puts a shellacking on the Crew, a great deal of thought will be focused on the Crew getting slammed because of the "revenge factor" and the return of some regualars rather than any changes Soehn made in the intervening days.

The MLS season is 30 matches long and only three matches have been played, which as resulted in a loss to KC just a couple of days before playing Pachuca, a blistering win over Toronto and a shelling at RSL. I don't think you can find any pattern in those games that would indicate poor coaching or managing. Soehn is something of a victim of schedule and circumstances.

I don't want to excuse Soehn for the RSL failures, he made big mistakes in player assignments and even formation. But the big question is how will he learn from those mistakes. If DC United are still hot and cold in mid to late May, then it might be time to call for Soehn's ouster, but until then, the rumor mill does nothing.