Monday, December 31, 2007

Election Guide 2008

In case you missed it, as I did, yesterday the NYT offered this useful guide to the issues and where everyone stands.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

50 Most Loathsome

Warning: This will make you laugh until milk shoots out your nose. Unbelievably vicious riff.

December Morning

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Too Close to Call

Although I question the usefulness of a caucus that polls the desires of 100,000 white midwesterners, it's fun to think that three Dem candidates are in a statistical dead heat there, with Edwards (maybe) beginning to pull ahead.

Of some concern is the fact that the Dem candidates have spent about $23.7 million on campaign advertising alone, with some estimating $150 per caucus-goer in Iowa. To put that in perspective, $23.7 million was the amount authorized last year by the DOD for defense-related projects to benefit the Hudson Valley. It was the amount offered by the Department of Human Services to help children and families with HIV under the Ryan White AIDS Resources Emergency Act. And in a funny kind of coincidence, it was the amount of money given to the University of Iowa by NIH to conduct clinical trials of vaccines for infectious diseases over the next seven years.

In other words, there are more meaningful uses for that kind of money.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Talk Time

The NYT has this fun graphic depicting the amount of time each candidate spoke during debates this fall. Not really fair to the second tier candidates, and it clearly pays to have fewer candidates running in your party.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Wondering whether Benazir was a good guy or a bad guy? Here's an analysis from someone in the know.
She was a bad guy -- not because she was evil per se, but because she, of ALL the people who played a role in the politics of the region, had the best chance of rising above the tribalism and sectarian bullshit and moving her country forward into the 19th century, at least, if not the 20th or 21st. She went to Harvard, and Oxford, or maybe Cambridge, but you get the idea. She was smart, and had a world vision, and commanded respect locally and globally, and talked the talk.

But instead of walking the walk, she and her husband stole $684 million and built castles all across England while giving crap back to her starving countrymen and tacitly encouraging the psychopathic two-party (two tribe, really) political system that has now taken her life. So be it.

The x Files

PZ sends this Washington Post article about a quick fix for math teachers who don't have the skills they need to teach algebra to elementary students--a math consultant in the school who works with them so that they understand the concepts before they teach them. Sounds like a good idea, especially if it's paid for with an NSF grant. Here is the study cited, which says, among other things, that
Future U.S. middle school teachers' mathematics knowledge was generally weaker than that of future teachers in South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, and in some areas, Bulgaria. Taiwanese and South Korean future teachers were the top performers in all five areas of mathematics knowledge.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

One Chopped Himself in Halves, I Wish

Tancredo's out, leaving the rest of the field to protect us against whatever the hell he was protecting us from.

Home Again

We're back! Global warming sent us running from the ski vacation to Bill's house near Akron a day early--one day of not-so-great skiing followed by rain. Our housesitter left a note saying that traveling down our driveway was hazardous and heart-attack-inducing at least one day while we were gone--sheet ice all the way down. Four-wheel drive does nothing in such conditions. . . .

Tomorrow we host DZ and family for a holiday dinner, with a brunch for friends and family Friday. I'm incubating a virus that I'm fighting off with sheer bravado. It was a fun trip with lots of socializing, much good food, late bedtimes, gray skies.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Holiday Fun

Before we leave for Holiday Valley, Gail Collins has a fun quiz, and I have the rest of the Republican Holiday Song.
Republican Holiday Song
On the twelfth day of Christmas,
my Party sent to me
Immigrant apartheid,
Shades of Willie Horton,
Christian-nation fat boy,
The guy who married Jeri,
Ann's buddy Duncan,
The ghost of Terri Schiavo,
Nativist Tancredo,
Mad. . . Dog. . . McCain!
Gay-basher Keyes,
Gold-standard Gyno,
"Big-Lovin'" Mitt,
And. . . a fem-bot named Giuliani!!!


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Day Seven

Republican Holiday Song
On the seventh day of Christmas,
my Party sent to me
The ghost of Terri Schiavo,
Nativist Tancredo,
Mad. . . Dog. . . McCain!
Gay-basher Keyes,
Gold Standard Gyno,
"Big-Lovin'" Mitt,
And a fem-bot named Giuliani.

Tomorrow: The Whole Pie.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Day Six

Republican Holiday Song
On the sixth day of Christmas,
my Party sent to me
Nativist Tancredo,
Mad. . . Dog. . . McCain!
Gay-basher Keyes,
Gold-standard Gyno,
"Big-Lovin'" Mitt,
And a fem-bot named Giuliani.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Day Five

Republican Holiday Song
On the fifth day of Christmas,
my Party sent to me
Mad. . . Dog. . . McCain!
Gay-basher Keyes,
Gold-standard Gyno,
"Big-Lovin'" Mitt,
And a fem-bot named Giuliani.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

More Lists

It's the end of the year and time for Top Ten Lists. Here are some from TIME that were fun. Some are only online and not in the magazine itself.

Another Day, Another Nut

Republican Holiday Song
On the fourth day of Christmas,
my Party sent to me
Gay-basher Keyes,
Gold-standard Gyno,
"Big-Lovin'" Mitt,
And a fem-bot named Giuliani.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Third Day

Republican Holiday Song
On the third day of Christmas,
my Party sent to me
Gold-standard Gyno,
"Big-Lovin'" Mitt,
And a fem-bot named Giuliani.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Day Two, Nothing Changes

Republican Holiday Song
On the second day of Christmas, my Party sent to me
"Big Lovin'" Mitt
And a fem-bot named Giuliani.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Is it just me, or is this year's crop of Republican candidates the worst ever? They make Reagan look brilliant and Nixon sound honest. There's not one that I'd want selling me a car, much less running my country. On the flip side, the Dems seem a pretty viable bunch, with occasional lapses. Granted, I'm biased. But OMG.

Republican Holiday Song
On the first day of Christmas, my Party sent to me
A fem-bot named Giuliani.

To be continued. . . .

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


This one has both antlers. The one-antler guy has vanished, perhaps due to hunting season, perhaps not.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Consensus v. Majority Rule

I've written before about the difference between the political board and the professional, or corporate, board. In NYS, and perhaps in most states, school boards are encouraged to work toward consensus, which is a management model, not a democratic one. Interestingly, it is also a Quaker model, and a model historically used by the Haudenosaunee people of upstate NY.

Consensus decision-making is egalitarian and requires universal participation, both of which are good things. The main issue for school boards (and businesses), though, is that it builds commitment to a decision--if everyone agrees to a greater or lesser extent, then everyone is automatically behind the decision and must (in theory, anyway) therefore support it publicly.

The negatives, as I see it, are that consensus building is time-consuming, that it often results in halfhearted decision-making, and that it tends to lead to groupthink, which is not necessarily the same as genuine thought. (One classic example is the so-called "Abilene Paradox.")

I think consensus decision-making does not fit with a political model of board governance. If a board member truly represents a constituency, he or she cannot reasonably alter that to suit the whim of the group. That's a paradox all of us on BOEs face as we try to make decisions for the districts we serve.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Just Another Pretty Face

SAZ writes the following:
I thought you might like to regret with me this scientific paper from PNAS last month:

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 104 page 17948
Predicting political elections from rapid and unreflective face judgments

Charles C. Ballew, II* and Alexander Todorov*

*Department of Psychology and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540

Edited by Edward E. Smith, Columbia University, New York, NY, and approved September 25, 2007 (received for review June 10, 2007)

Here we show that rapid judgments of competence based solely on the facial appearance of candidates predicted the outcomes of gubernatorial elections, the most important elections in the United States next to the presidential elections. In all experiments, participants were presented with the faces of the winner and the runner-up and asked to decide who is more competent. To ensure that competence judgments were based solely on facial appearance and not on prior person knowledge, judgments for races in which the participant recognized any of the faces were excluded from all analyses. Predictions were as accurate after a 100-ms exposure to the faces of the winner and the runner-up as exposure after 250 ms and unlimited time exposure (Experiment 1). Asking participants to deliberate and make a good judgment dramatically increased the response times and reduced the predictive accuracy of judgments relative to both judgments made after 250 ms of exposure to the faces and judgments made within a response deadline of 2 s (Experiment 2). Finally, competence judgments collected before the elections in 2006 predicted 68.6% of the gubernatorial races and 72.4% of the Senate races (Experiment 3). These effects were independent of the incumbency status of the candidates. The findings suggest that rapid, unreflective judgments of competence from faces can affect voting decisions.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


Lisa sends these photos from Afghanistan, where her Alliance runs an armchair ESL program. Pretty remarkable. Kabul is not exactly Baghdad.
Women faculty members leave their burkas at the door outside of the computer lab.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mitt Romney, You're No Jack Kennedy

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim- -but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end--where all men and all churches are treated as equal--where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice--where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind--and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe--a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so--and neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test--even by indirection--for it. If they disagree with that safeguard they should be out openly working to repeal it.

I want a Chief Executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none--who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require of him--and whose fulfillment of his Presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.

This is the kind of America I believe in--and this is the kind I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we may have a "divided loyalty," that we did "not believe in liberty," or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened the "freedoms for which our forefathers died."

And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers died--when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches--when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom--and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died McCafferty and Bailey and Carey--but no one knows whether they were Catholic or not. For there was no religious test at the Alamo.
--JFK, September 12, 1960

Thursday, December 6, 2007

His Future's So Bright, He Has to Wear Shades

Here's Andy Cuomo's new website, designed to tell all NY'ers exactly to whom their elected officials are pandering--oops, I mean for whom they are bringing home the "bacon"--and who is filling their coffers at the same time. It's a work in progress, but the potential is there for it to be quite useful and educational. There's a lot of information here that's available elsewhere, but here it's all nicely combined and easy to access.

And of course, we all notice that AC is getting a lot more favorable press than ES. Loved his dad; that's the best I can say for the guy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Snow Day

SmileyCentral.comWe had our first snow day yesterday, mostly due to blowing snow and whiteout conditions. I get no days off, but I managed to come down with some horrible stomach bug with fever and headache, so after a halfhearted morning of work, I took the rest of the day off. Paul and I watched Netflix movies. O had neighbor Quinn over for the whole day--they sledded, played computer games (in tandem, with O on her computer and Quinn on mine), and made a godawful mess in the kitchen mixing up various concoctions, none of them edible. Today it's business as usual--O sledded down to the bus stop, Paul plowed and drove off to Newfield, and I'm at my desk.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

More on Texas

The NYT editorial weighed in today on the de-evolution of Texas standards. I checked the Austin paper, which reported on this when it happened, November 29, ending this way:
Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which sent the original e-mail to Comer announcing the event, said Comer's situation seems to be a warning to agency employees.

"This just underscores the politicization of science education in Texas," Scott said. "In most states, the department of education takes a leadership role in fostering sound science education. Apparently TEA employees are supposed to be kept in the closet and only let out to do the bidding of the board."
You can't imagine the power of the TEA board over the education of children nationwide. Think you have local control? Think again.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Required Reading

Jonathan Tilove, who usually writes about race, writing about misogyny and its connection to Hillary hatred. Everyone, pro or con HRC, should read this.

As Texas Goes, So Goes the Nation

SmileyCentral.comWell, not entirely, but in the world of textbooks, where Texas wields a mighty dollar figure, it's always haircurling to read something like this. It seems that the TEA's Director of Science has been pushed out of her position due to her stance on evolution.
The [Texas] standards, adopted in 1998, are due for a 10-year review and possible revision after the 15-member elected State Board of Education meets in February, with particular ramifications for the multibillion-dollar textbook industry. The chairman of the panel, Dr. Don McLeroy, a dentist and Sunday School teacher at Grace Bible Church in College Station, has lectured favorably in the past about intelligent design.
The ramifications for the textbook industry are ramifications for the states as well.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Follow Up

When I signed off on November 30, we had no heat, my car wouldn't start, and I'd killed my computer. We have heat now, although our bedroom is iffy (it's the highest point in the house and the farthest from the boiler/furnace, and it tends to get the most air in the pipes). My car starts every time thanks to the Sears battery I had put in on Friday. And Paul rescued the computer by giving me a new user name and moving everything laboriously over to the new site. So things are looking up.

We do, however, need to replace Paul's car, which needs more work than it's worth to pass inspection. He's looking at Hyundai Elantras (a complete circle for us--my first car was a Hyundai), having determined that gas mileage is more important right now than all-wheel drive.

Obamarama, Once More

As Iowa approaches, the worm has turned, and all kinds of people who couldn't imagine it before are considering the possibility of an Obama win. Frank Rich talks about what a disaster that would be to the GOP, which doesn't even seem to have a plan B. And Robin Toner talks about his appeal to women.

Electability is a huge part of all this. Although I fear the horror of a Clinton-Giuliani or Clinton-anybody campaign, I think she's tough enough to survive it. I'm not so sure about the soft-spoken Obama, plus I'm worried about what a brutal and ugly fight will do to race relations in this country. But maybe the GOP won't dare to get ugly. Yeah, right.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Combatting Fraud In 2004, the worst case of fraud and theft in any school district in the United States was uncovered in Roslyn, NY, by a school board member who worked for Home Depot. The scandal dragged on for over two years and involved the superintendent, the business official, account clerks, board members, and who knows how many others, to the tune of $11 million.

Now, in a district like Dryden, you would be fairly likely to miss $11 million right away. Be that as it may, the state's answer to this is to mandate a six-hour workshop on finances and fraud for every BOE member in New York. That's what I did today, in Horseheads, having put it off until the very end of the year.

The workshop leaders were game and pleasant, but the information could not have been duller, and I cannot get past the sheer injustice of requiring any kind of all-day training of a volunteer. BOE members already go to New School Board Member training, which is not required but fairly useful, by which I mean that assuming you're new, you might learn perhaps one piece of information per hour. And I don't doubt that the message of today's workshop, which was approximately "You are the stewards of the taxpayers' money," is one we should repeat to ourselves more often around budget season. But this new joyful mandating of training for volunteers (Paul has "required" training for ZBA, which he has thus far ignored) is just another way for the state to spend taxpayers' money, provide consulting jobs for people who have paid their dues in other ways, and justify the existence of arcane departments in Albany. Do you suppose now that we're attending six-hour sessions that there will never be another financial scandal in the schools? It's kind of hard to assess the usefulness of this, don't you think? But, then, assessment isn't really Albany's strong suit.