Saturday, July 27, 2013

Trend for high school students, even in Honors, to fail math finals continues

The failure rate for Montgomery County Md. high school students in mathematics finals continues to be shocking, according to a Metro story by Donna St. George in the Saturday Washington Post, here
The failures were high even in honors courses.

I don’t know how many of these exam questions were multiple choice (as on the SOL’s in Virginia).
Having worked as a substitute teacher, I find this story shocking.  I know high school and college age students in local churches, and have not heard of any problems like these, and do not believe these students would encounter these failures.
I had written in some detail about failures in final exams in all subjects May 28, 2013.

The spread of grades shown in the Post story today resemble the grades I gave to my “Math 2” class at the University of Kansas at the end of the fall semester, in January 1968, just before I received my M.A. I Mathematics and would be drafted into the Army three weeks later, when I would find myself struggling with Army Basic at Ft. Jackson, S.C.

The failure for geometry was worse than algebra in some cases.  Maybe some students cannot grasp the idea of a mathematical "proof".  
The algebra course that I taught had been regarded as “remedial”, for students not up to college admission standards in algebra.  The grade counted, but an additional 3 credit hours would be added to the graduation requirements. 

I recall grading the finals while on a bus to Denver to visit a roommate-friend, and turning in the grades on my last morning on campus before flying back East before entry into the Army.  Was I acting like an “a-hole”, giving F’s to students who could lose student deferments and get drafted and become vulnerable to infantry in Vietnam, which I would escape because of my education?  Today, the story is troubling.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

Cumberland Landing in Tidewater Virginia seems to be a forgotten historical landmark concerning slavery and civil rights

Lately, I’ve been trying to visit some of the important sites in the history of the Civil Rights movement.
One rather obscure site would be the old Foller House in New Kent County, Virginia, which was apparently close to the York River on some farmland not far from today’s Route 637, which runs off Route 249, about 15 miles east of Bottoms Bridge on I-64 (on the way to Williamsburg from Richmond).
A Library of Congress site with many of the old photos is here
The site is mentioned in the display at the America History Museum, a section for the new National Museum of African-America History which is supposed to be open in full in early 2015.
Another site showing the famous photo of the slaves is here. It was taken in 1862 during the “Peninsular Campaign”.
Apparently these were “contraband slaves” behind Union lines, a real problem for landowners then (link ).

The house does not seem to exist today.  There is a Baptist church, some homes, farmland, and a private hospital for children.  The site of the home may be near the “caboose” on hospital property. 
It would sound as if private interests would want to reconstruct the house and operate it as an attraction. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

NYTimes: Conservatives are Janus-faced on the issue of family size and having more children

Eduardo Porter has an important perspective on the “Business Day” page for the New York Times today (Wednesday July 24, 2013), “Pro-Baby, But Stingy with Money”, link here.  Porter refers to a December 2012 piece on the same topic by Ross Douthat, “More Babies, Please” which in turn referred to a Pew Research study that showed that the US had dipped to its lowest birthrate ever in 2011 (link given here Nov. 30, 2012)

Porter’s main point is that conservatives may talk like they are pro-baby and may tend to have more children, but they are likely to oppose more government programs to help families with children.  Ironically, it’s the singles (and often LGBT people) who would have to “sacrifice” to provide more public money to families with children – a point that “conservatives” actually miss.  The singles may get particularly hard later in life by eldercare demands.

 US Fertility dropped after the baby boom as more women worked as professionals, and then gradually recovered.  But it is true that it has tended to drop during hard economic times, and is creeping back lower because there are fewer immigrants from high birth-rate countries.  And many countries in Europe are quickly learning the economic challenges of a low birthrate, aging population.

Douthat had alluded to the idea that as countries get richer, many people are loathe to make “sacrifices” for future generations.  It may be that they are already making the sacrifices for eldercare for their previous generations.  That logic sounds suspicious, and would suggest that as a matter of course, many adults don’t naturally want children unless there is a social pressure to have them.

Yet that sort of thinking seems to be behind Russia’s recent “crackdown on homosexuality” (or pro-gay speech), discussed on the LGBT blog Monday  The fear is that many men will decide that the don’t want or need children, and that having to support a nursing mother isn’t sexually interesting any more.  Again, there is something to this:  it’s interesting to you if you know that everyone else will or has to do it.

Certainly, the disconnect between marriage and having children in public thinking (and the less insistence on gender as well as psychological complementarity) has a lot to do with the sudden growth in public acceptance of same-sex marriage

This sort of thinking was common a half-century ago, but we didn’t see it.  Now, it is a direct challenge to individualism and modern ideas about choice and personal responsibility that goes with it.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Upward mobility varies by "social capital" in a geographical area

In some cities or metropolitan areas, it is much easier for people from lower income families (or no families) to move up the economic ladder than others.  Cities or areas in the Southeast and Midwest tend to be much more stagnant.  That’s the subject of a front page article by David Leonahardt in the Monday July 22, 2013 New York Times, link here

Leonhardt compares cities like Atlanta with Seattle, which average incomes are comparable.  But in Atlanta, regardless of race, there is less upward mobility.
One problem is that housing is not as economically integrated in southern and some Midwestern cities.  People of different classes don’t mix as much socially.  And some cities have seen outward migration of employers who effectively recreate economic segregation.  Compare relatively well-off areas like Minneapolis-St. Paul or Pittsburgh, where this happens less, with Detroit or Cleveland.  Conservatives will say that inflexible labor unions have a lot to do with it.

Even in relatively prosperous cities like Dallas, there has sometimes been unhealthful interest by employers to flee to one area (like north of the city, to use the Richardson or Plano school districts). This was particularly the case when I lived there in the 1980’s.

I could add that cities with strong LGBT communities, which tend to cross lines, may tend to have better upward mobility. On the other hand, this may be true in areas with extremely strong religious life, like Salt Lake City.
One interesting observation is that upward mobility deteriorates when people are less involved with religious or civic organizations, even if that resistance comes from hyper-individualism or resentment or organizational bureaucracy or “political” squabbles (which are so common in many main-line churches in big cities, leading to the “fired pastor problem”).   Libertarian author Charles Murray had noted this in his book “Coming Apart” (March 14, 2012 on the Books blog). 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Author Malcolm Gladwell wants college football to stop -- what about the pros?

Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Outliers: The Story of Success” (reviewed on the Books blog, Nov. 27, 2008) has been calling for colleges and universities to end their football programs, because of the apparently inevitable and progressive head injuries that will occur for many players, inevitably leading a significant portion of former players to develop brain damage and dementia even by middle age.

He calls being a football fan “morally problematic”, and bad karma.

It’s a good question, as to what would happen to the NFL and pro football if his ideas were followed.

He suggests that influential alumni, such as Stanford graduates who run Google, could influence universities to change their thinking. Zakaria showed statistics indicating that the values of football program for many state universities is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  
He also discussed the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) as a school whom he had approached.

Some schools have reduced the number of practice sessions and tightened safety equipment rules but no one has seriously considered abandoning college football.
The New Yorker has a video where Gladwell makes his proposal, here

Katy Walman has a story for Slate here  leading to another New Yorker article.

What happens to the NCAA?

I have only been to a few football games in my life, at William and Mary, at KU, and then at the Minnesota Vikings (in the Metrodome) twice, and once in Dallas (in the old Texas Stadium in 1984, where I happened to sit next to the visiting St. Louis Cardinal linemen and wondered about what it would be like to go through life playing a contact sport that required you to be 300 pounds, when in my world something like 6 feet four and maybe only 180 pounds is considered desirable).
I resisted being “made to play football” as a little boy back in the 1950’, and was viewed as a sissy and as evasive.

Update: Aug. 17  The Wall Street Journal argues "mend it, don't end it" in considering Gladwell's cliaim, here, the Saturday essay, "In Defense of Football: It's a rough, somewhat dangerous sport, but critixs exaggerate football's risks".  It become a tool of male socialization. 

Update: Aug 29 (still 2013)

The NFL and ex-players agreed to a $765 Million settlement, story here. The media interviewed some ex-players with severe disabilities -- the consequence of how we "entertain ourselves" with a secular religion (sort of "Hunger Games").  And ESPN is reported to have canceled a deal with PBS Frontline reporting on the problem.  

Update: Aug 25, 2014

UVa English Professor Mark Edmundson writes in the Washington Post on Aug. 24 Outlook, "Yes, let your kids play football", link here. His take on helmet safety is merely pragmatic. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Fear of profiling could explain Trayvon's behavior, but Florida law "protected" Zimmerman

There is a lot of disconnect in the media debate over the verdict on the tragic George Zimmerman shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL in February 2012.

Many commentators note that most “upper middle class white people” have no personal concept of what it is like to be profiled by police or perhaps by “volunteers” or vigilantes in some areas of the country, especially inner cities and some areas in the South.

Their point seems to be that Trayvon could have “counterattacked” believing he was being pursued, almost as an analogy to the game of chess (and I find no pun here in the names of the opponents in a chess game).

In most states, in someone like Zimmerman acted inappropriately and initiated a confrontation and a death results, he probably would be convicted of manslaughter.  But apparently not in Florida, where self-defense in a “stand your grand” environment seems like an absolute, affirmative defense even in a
“last moment” situation.

As a practical matter, there is a risk for any private citizen carrying a firearm.  If he or she initiates a confrontation resulting in someone else being shot, he or she could be guilty of a crime in most states.  That’s an argument for remaining unarmed when transiting in most public spaces.  But that may not work for some people who must walk in isolated areas where they are more vulnerable to crime.  There are two sides to this issue.
The jury does seem to have followed Florida law in acquitting Zimmerman, even of manslaughter.  The Florida legislature needs to revisit its self-defense rules.  The law might work differently to this case in the civil suit area, if Zimmerman’s behavior is seen as reckless and contributing to a wrongful death.  It probably won’t get far as a criminal federal civil rights case.
In my own life, I feel I have been profiled more as a "sissy", based on stereotypes.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

More "field observations" on the power grid stability issue "on the road"

I concluded this little road trip, much of it about the power grid issue, today, by just paying a peek-a-boo visit to Virginia Transformer in Roanoke, for a picture. 

The property, of course, has warning signs (as well it should), but it seemed small in size for a plant or company that makes large hardware.  I would have expected to find a property the size of another Oak Ridge.  Well, not quite.

As I passed by and circled the cul-de-sac to leave, the cathartic climax of Josh Goban's postromantic song "I Believe" was blaring from my car radio on Sirius XM -- Th Blend.  Ironic indeed.
The general area, north of downtown, seems to be industrial and has other electric and utility-related companies around, some with help-wanted signs for technicians.

I can remember that after Hurricane Irene in September 2003, some sections of north Arlington VA did not have power for nine days, because of the difficulty in getting replacement transformers.  (Where I lived was only out about 14 hours, but was out three days after the 2012 derecho.)  Imagine how long we could be out after a major geomagnetic storm.

Again, it’s a national security problem.  We’d rather see more manufacturing of critical infrastructure components in the Shenandoah Valley (or maybe Tennessee  Valley) or perhaps in the Laurel Mountains than in India.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Oak Ridge lab encouraged to provide AMSE museum an exhibit on power grid security and space weather issues

I made a day at the American Museum of Science and Energy and took the highly structured tour (three hours) at high noon of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory grounds, which are immense.

Most of the tour involves the history of the Manhattan project and the development of the various components of the first atomic bomb.  There are or were various buildings (Y12, K25, X10) where major components of this work were done.  Particularly interesting is the way the “Fermi” device worked, where a critical mass was achieved by workers’ manually inserting plugs of uranium into a honeycombed matrix surround by graphite and lead.

This would have been demanding and dangerous work, in hot plants in the days long before air conditioning. Women did a lot of the work.

And in those days, people couldn’t talk about their work, even socially.  They lived in little prefabbed homes. 

And much of the land was taken from farmers suddenly by a delayed eminent domain.

The three hours rather reminded me of my day at an “intentional community” north of Richmond, discussed here April 7, 2012.

I talked about the Washington Post article (discussed here Sunday July 14) at the museum and one of the stations (K12) on the tour.  Since ORNL has published papers on the risk to the power grid from solar geomagnetic storms and possibly terrorists (EMP), I hope that AMSE will cover the issue soon with an exhibit at the museum. 

I will make a return visit if they do.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Washington Post presents major article on dangers to power grid from space weather

The Washington Post  Business section Sunday led off with a front page story by Brad Plumer, "When Space Weather Attacks", link here.

This is the first major article I have seen in a "mainstream" newspaper that takes this potential threat to our way of life this seriously.  The Washington Times has discussed it before, as have some conservative politicians, especially Newt Gingrich, mentioned in the article.

I have tweeted about this to the Post and WJLA before.  I wonder if that helped.

The article suggests that power could be out for months or a year for some sections of the Northeastern US (especially NYC) were a "Carrington" sized event to occur.

Utilities say they will have much more robust infrastructure built in about four years.

A Carrington-sized coronal mass ejection may have missed Earth by only a week in July,  2012. And 2013 and 2014 are supposed to be the most active solar years.

One major problem is that there are simply not enough large transformers in the US on hand, and they are difficult to transport.  Many transformers are made in India and Mexico.  Making more of them in the US, especially close to population centers, sounds like a major homeland security issue to me.  The Obama administration seems to be waking up to this, and takes it more seriously than EMP.

Utilities have ways to redirect some power to reduce the effect of geomagnetic storms and "ground shorts".  The article really did not understand how this would work.

There might be only about 30 minutes notice from satellites that a severe coronal mass ejection from a solar storm (or "solar flare" -- a bit of a misnomer) was coming.

The aftermath could have enormous social and economic effects.  Would people in less affected areas be expected to house those less fortunate with "radical hospitality"?

Would the Weather Channel produce a "severe solar storm warning" like a tornado warning?

See the "Book Review" of Maloof's "A Nation Forsaken"  April 13, 2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Libertarian" gun activist may have been asking for it, but implications of Park Police raid are disturbiing

Well, if you flagrantly break the law and brag about it on YouTube, police may indeed show up at your home and break down the door. And it can be special police, like US Park Police (as in this case), or Metro Transit, or DOD. 
“Libertarian” Second Amendment activist Adam Kokesh found that out when Park Police raided his home in Herndon, VA after he toted a shotgun at Freedom Plaza, in violation of District of Columbia law. (I’m not sure if it’s more than the usual “brandishing a weapon” which is also illegal in Virginia, and frequently appears on weekly Arlington County police reports.) 
The latest Washington Post story, by Justin Jouvenal and Trishula Patel, is here.  

Kokesh as not charged until after the raid, but now faces charges of possession of halluconigenic mushrooms while possessing a firearm. (Was this federal law?) 

I wondered, if a poisonous mushroom grows wild in my yard and I don’t see it, and own a gun, could I be arrested?  What if a bird plants a wild cannibas plant?  There’s plenty of wild grape, but I have no idea what else. 
There have been cases of people being arrested and prosecuted for pot growing on their property when they didn’t know about it, or said they didn’t. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wal-Mart challenges D.C.'s "living wage" law proposal with a threat

Wal-Mart is challenging the idea of “super-minimum wage laws”  (or “living wage”)by saying it will not build three of six new superstores planned within the District of Columbia, unless the City Council backs down on its ordinance demanding a “super minimum wage” on $12.50 an hour (instead of the federal minimum wage of $8.25 for the District and $7.25 nationwide (Wiki here). The Washington Post story by Mike DeBonis is here.

The controversy illustrates the “conservative” argument that higher minimum wage or living wage law reduce openings, or probably drive more companies into aggressive telemarketing and commission-sales schemes, annoying the public.

Back in the early 1970s, as I came of age, there was a mentality in the “far left” that middle class or “salaried consumers” who bought goods made or sold by low wage workers were part of the “oppression”.  Barbara Ehrenerich had documented low-wage work (including Wal-Mart) in “Nickel and Dimed” (2001). 

This is my first blog posting at age 70!

Update: It appears that the DC mayor will veto. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Did "child safety seat" laws actually lead to more child deaths in hot cars?

Petula Dvorak, a social issues columnist for the Washington Post, took a libertarian position today in her column “Accept a technical assist and keep kids in car seats alive”, link here

What is “libertarianesque” is her critique of local and state laws requiring that parents put kids in safety seats in the back.  If a parent has more than seven items in her or his short term memory, it’s just possible to forget the child.  But had the parent placed the child in the front, she would of course see the child before leaving the car on a hot day.

The same goes for pets.

The case in point concerns a recent case in Arlington where a woman was charged with felony child neglect.  It can happen to anyone.

But there are devices, as from First Years Company, that will sound a warning of a mass in the  seat if the person leaves the car. 

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Smithsonian American History Museum demonstrates the basic on electricity, hints at vulnerability

I did find a comprehensive exhibit Saturday afternoon about the history of the electric power grid in the lower level of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  There was a historical display of the controversies early in the history of the industry, as the development of AC, and there is an exhibit of the generators and transformers in NYC (some were flooded during Hurricane Sandy) and the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls.

There’s also a map showing how lit up the US is at night.

With all the talk from the right wing (Newt Gingrich, Roscoe Bartlett, Michael Maloof, some materials in the Washington Times), and papers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (TN)  about vulnerability to terrorism (EMP), which might occur with smaller local flux devices as well as nuclear blasts and even solar storms, one wonders just where the truth is on power grid vulnerability.

A quick check of the web finds some companies (Virginia Transformer, and Howard) that make the large transformers that some say are vulnerable.  Not much is written what the companies themselves say – that would deserve some research.  The companies have some plants domestically, particularly in the far West (Idaho) and south (Mississippi), but apparently there is a plant in Roanoke Virginia.  I seem to recall, after moving back to the DC area from Texas in 1988, a story about a major layoff in the Shenandoah Valley from one of these companies.  It appears that there are considerable manufacturing facilities in Mexico and India.  National security would seem to require that a lot of critical manufacturing be done in North America, at least.
Wikipedia has some good information on how Faraday Cages work – just look up the article for many examples (a microwave oven is one).  It would sound perhaps fairly straightforward for homeowners to protect a lot of critical electronics.  It protecting the big hardware items that sounds like serious business. 

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Obamacare: Who should be responsible for the medically vulnerable? Prevent bankruptcies; note some doctors still "cash only"

On CNN this morning, an observer noted that the single biggest purpose served by Obamacare is to eliminate personal medical-expense related bankruptcies.

When I worked for RMA, a debt collection agency, near St Paul MN in 2003, I might have moved to the medical collections area had I remained there instead of coming back to Virginia, since I had a background in health care.
Younger and healthy people may well pay somewhat higher premiums to insure the sick.  There is some self-interest served because accidents can happen to anyone, hidden medical issues (like testicular cancer) exist, and people can become casualties of crimes or terror attacks.  Nevertheless, many “ideologues” resent the idea of people being forced to pay for other people’s care, especially for maladies related to “behavior”.
If we value human life as such, that just leaves the responsibility for the less “fortunate” medically speaking to families.  Is that what the GOP wants?
You can’t say this often enough.

CNN also covered today doctors who don't take insurance and insist on cash only -- it's 6% of physicians in the US.  I hadn't heard of this.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Obamacare delays employer mandate: progressives criticize imbalances in Obamacare; GOP refuses to accept "socialism" still

Ruth Marcus, taking some hints from progressive-liberal Wonkblog editor Ezra Klein in the Washington Post, opines today “The real hurdles in Obamacare”, on p. A17, link here

One basic problem is that the individual mandate doesn’t have a lot of teeth.  The “invincibles” (except when on bicycles or motorcycles or behind the wheel, sometimes) may not sign up, because the penalties are low.  And the employer mandate is rather an add-on, like suspenders.  Klein is right in that there are better ways to define compliance barriers than the number of employers. 

I wonder.  If I hire a tech savvy college “kid” as a contractor to help me with my upcoming video (I just might have to some day), should I have any responsibility for this?  He or she is probably still on the parents’ policy under Obamacare.  But I would “care” enough to want to think he or she has insurance.  I don’t have the scale to provide it.

Unions and trade groups often arrange insurance, like in Hollywood, which is one reason why production outside their organizations gets perceived as threatening.

If you are a “kid”, don’t think you’re “invincible”!  I have one friend, a pianist who is also a bicycle enthusiast.  Can you imagine how a collision with an auto could affect his career?   Fortunately, I know he’s pretty careful and very skilled on the bike – but every time I drive around my own neighborhood, I see plenty of kids who aren’t (riding the wrong way). 

On balance, there are plenty of good reasons everyone should have health insurance.  It’s not just socialism.  Republicans who object to Obamacare should ask themselves, if they object to the “healthy” helping pay the premiums of the “unhealthy”, and value human life, who will pay for the care.  Extended families?
The Obama Administration has the mandate on employers for a year (MSNBC story here).

IT consulting companies have been doing a lot of hiring to set up the exchanges by 2014 and help employers with the mandate.  I hope the slowdown doesn’t also slow IT hiring again. 

Picture: A bar in the Capitol Hill area of Washington DC.  Do you know what the 18th Amendment did?  

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Demonstration for Fourth Amendment, against NSA metadata snooping and for Edward Snowden held July 4 in Washington DC

There was a major demonstration July 4 at McPherson Square in Washington DC against the NSA “metadata snooping” and the government’s pursuit of leaker Edward Snowden.

I heard about it entering the Ballston Metro in Arlington VA from two women wearing demonstration shirts.  I was on the way to Smithsonian Folk Life festival first.

The speakers were quite emphatic that it is wrong for government to collect data about people’s connections through monitoring, even if “content” is not read.

At one point, the crowd recited the Fourth Amendment as a kind of responsive reading.

I like the poster about "research porn". 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Auto insurance and umbrella coverage: why does Internet libel (hard to underwrite) need to be covered at all? Also, crack down on reckless biker behavior

Judging from a cursory examination of auto insurance companies on the Web, it appears that it is common practice that extended body injury and property damage liability maximums (over $1 million, which sound reasonable in today’s economy with its health care costs) are available only with “umbrella policies” which also attempt to cover perils unrelated to auto accidents, such as libel and slander.

It is also common that such policies are not available to “entertainers”. In the Internet age, that's a rather nebulous term. 

It’s hard to fathom what those provisions mean in the web-enabled world, where there is so much incalculable exposure to libel and slander liability in social media, and also in self-published blogs (whether left open to everyone or available only on friends’ lists or with permission).

Liability insurance for Internet content is a murky subject.  In September 2008, I covered the topic on my main “BillBoushka” blog and will probably look at it again soon. 

So it seems odd that property and auto insurance companies would bundle it with others policies, when it is so hard to underwrite the unknown risk associated with “amateurism”, even though that risk in practice is rather low. It would make more sense to offer expanded coverage only for liability specifically associated with the “physicality” of an automobile or home or real property.

Allan Moore mentions the “Facebook” issue but seems to dismiss it as trivial It is not. 

As Moore explains, this issue is important for families or individuals with significant assets or income -- even more so when there are teen drivers.  

One practical risk I think is particularly significant is hitting a cyclist or jogger going the “wrong way” when trying to make a right turn into fast moving traffic.  Or possibly hitting a cyclist passing on the right in a bicycle lane when trying to make an otherwise legal right turn.  Possibly in these cases a judgment would not prevail.  But the law needs to be much more protective of motorists from “wrong way” traffic or from reckless behavior by cyclists, motorcycles or even pedestrians when motorists are not in a position to see them in time with normal care and caution. (Of course, don’t be touching your cell phone or doing anything else when in this situation.)

I’m rather surprised that these questions don’t get more coverage in the mainstream media. So I’ll cove rit!

Property companies also typically offer endorsements for identity theft costs.