Monday, May 31, 2010

Fewer younger teachers with tech skills. Whee!

Harold Myerson has an interesting blog posting in the Washington Post on Memorial Day morning, while kids enjoy their last Monday holiday (so soon before final exams in high school). It’s “Fewer teachers! Whoopie”, link here. on Post Partisan.

The Post had thrown cold water on an Obama teacher bill that might have reduced teacher layoffs and cut into teacher’s union seniority rules. The paper had argued that layoff totals are overstated. But Myerson comes back and maintains that the failure of Congress to promote the idea of job preservation by ability will cost teach savvy younger teachers their jobs, and drive out many promising teachers who are really connecting with kids.

Recently the New York Times had reported that there are fewer job offers in school districts for young teachers that any time in the past. All of this is counterpoint to stories run by conservative papers (like the Washington Times) that the bureaucracy of teacher licensure is discouraging stronger people from going into teaching.

The Cato Institute has reprinted a New York Post piece "No, We Don't Need a Teacher Bailout"; by Neal McCluskey, from May 27, 2010, link here.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

On Memorial Day, columnists consider the role of women in combat, and their sacrifices

Robert McCartney has an interesting column in the Washington Post Metro section Sunday May 30, “An equal opportunity to sacrifice: Women have equal opportunity to serve in the military – and to sacrifice their lives”, link here.

The column is timely because of recent events, such as upcoming accommodation of females on submarines, as well as, at least tangentially, the move to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” for gays in the military.

It also calls to mind the history of conscription, before 1973, which applied only to males. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of male-only conscription on 1981 in Rostker v. Goldberg (American University Law School copy of opinion here ).

The idea of equal exposure of women to the risks in combat challenges our ideas about individualism (and modern experiences with self-sufficiency) when compared to moral arguments about the essential nature of human socialization, including that by gender, for roles in the family. These latter arguments force human citizens to accept the idea that in some situations the welfare of the group is more important than that of an individual, or else a sustainable democracy could not be possible. That is certainly counter-libertarian.

On CBS "60 Minutes" on May 30, 2010 Andy Rooney sounded a bit cyncical as he said that our honoring of fallen veterans this weekend is a bit hollow; their lives were taken.  It's only that by accepting the idea that sometimes the group comes first that the pain of an otherwise potentially shameful notion of sacrifice is averted.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

BP "top kill" fails; lower marine riser package to siphon and capture oil is next

Major media outlets have reported that the BP “top kill” method failed to sufficiently constipate the Deepwater Horizon Leak, and now it is going back to a technique that accepts the leak but siphons most oil into tankers. No, it’s not very sellable. The technique is called “lower marine riser package” or LMRP.

BP says that the LMRP should take 4-7 days to prepare. But a smaller version had been defeated by methane hydrate "ice" crystals at extreme depths (capable of adding to runaway greenhouse effect some day according to various History Channel megadisaster programs).
BP has been planning to drill a relief well, which it says will be ready by August.

CNN has been following angry tweets from viewers, and Ali Velsi tonight said that for the first time CNN is reporting Breaking News on real danger to the planet. Remember the movie “Dune” (1984, based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel) where the third planet was “Geidi Prime”, which was covered in oil and ruined by fossil fuel exploration (even mountaintop removal).

It’s unclear how this news will affect the oil markets Tuesday.

Wikipedia attribution link for NOAA map of fishing closures here.

 Is it Chicken Little time?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Credit default swaps originated with Exxon Valdez; more on BP's sins

There’s a long history of changes in the settlements after the Exxon-Valdez 1989 disaster, including a ruling by the US Supreme Court in 2008 (a “Bush” court perhaps) to limit Exxon’s punitive damages to actual losses ($507.5 million).

In 1994 Exxon had obtained a $4.9 billion line of credit from JP Morgan. Ultimately, through a financial chain reaction, the European Bank or Reconstruction took out an insurance policy on XOM’s defaulting, a money maker for everybody, and what amounts to a credit default swap.  The story from Minyanville appeared today on Yahoo! finance.

So, 60 Minutes notwithstanding, credit default swaps have been around a while; they didn’t start with Dr. Michael Burry (although introverts who sit behind computer screens and figure out what’s going wrong in the world before everyone else does, or who figure out what can go right, often make a big difference in how things turn out – look at the “power” that Facebook has).

On CNN’s LKL yesterday, there was talk that “ordinary investors” like retirees with oil stocks in mutual funds should not be penalized for the “criminal negligence” of the few in the oil industry (including 11 deaths, meaning that criminal prosecutions could result in involuntary manslaughter charges). But investment, by its very nature, since it depends on ownership rather than direct labor, carries all the responsibilities and liabilities that go with “property rights” as libertarians see things.

Today the CNN news staff has called the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill the worst in US History, link here.

There is some optimism today that the “top kill” procedure is starting to work.

Barbara Starr has a CNN report on the question as to whether the US Navy and Coast Guard should take over managing the spill and closing it.

Daniela Perdomo has an article on leftist AlterNet, “10 Things You Need (But Don't Want) To Know About the BP Oil Spill: How the owner of the exploded oil rig has made $270 million off the disaster, and nine other shocking, depressing facts about the oil spill.” Link here

At noon Thursday president Obama announced a six-month extension of the offshore drilling ban, and some suspension of drilling operations, link here.

Wikipedia attribution link for Coast Guard picture of controlled burn in the Gulf.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Seed" schools, public boarding school in Washington DC, a new innovation

On Sunday May 23, CBS “60 Minutes” presented a segment on the concept of a “Seed” school, which is a public boarding school in Washington DC, constructed in large part by private grants but operated as a public school (and charter school). Admission is by lottery. This may be the one of the first public boarding schools in the country (that is not a reform school).  The official name is the Seed School of Washington DC at 4300 C Street, SE, Washington, D.C. 20019
There is another SEED school in Baltimore.

A large percentage of students will go on to college. Discipline is strict, with no personal computer use, dress codes, and lights out every night. Middle school offers two periods of English and two periods of math every day.

Selection for employment, especially for the residential portion of the school ("student life assistants" for night), would certainly become a sensitive matter.

The text of the CBS story "How the SEED School Is Changing Lives; Inner-City Boarding School Is Achieving Academic Breakthrough" is here.

The Seed Foundation has a website here.   Visit the "day in a life" link particularly here.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Our culture war: is "earned success" the new paramount virtue?

President Obama’s commencement speech at Arizona State University on May 13, 2009 included a passage that sounds a bit like Rick Warren’s “It’s not about you.” That is to say:

“You're taught to chase after all the usual brass rings; you try to be on this "who's who" list or that Top 100 list; you chase after the big money and you figure out how big your corner office is; you worry about whether you have a fancy enough title or a fancy enough car. That's the message that's sent each and every day, or has been in our culture for far too long -- that through material possessions, through a ruthless competition pursued only on your own behalf -- that's how you will measure success." Such ambition "may lead you to compromise your values and your principles.”

That inspires a long Outlook section essay on p B1 of the Sunday May 23 Washington Post by Arthur C. Brooks. It’s titled “On one side, the forces of free enterprise. On the other, an expanding and paternalistic government. It’s time to choose.” The link is here. (That's right: the piece appeared in the Washington Post, when it sounds more like a fit for the Washington Times.)

Brooks winnows down his core virtue to “earned success.” That may be measured somewhat in money (particularly if you’re on of Donald Trump’s apprentices), but it is something broader: a sense that one has made an individually-crafted contribution to society. It has to something to do with self-concept and even “station in life”. The title of a music composition and recent CD by young composer Timothy Andres, “Shy and Mighty” (reviewed on my “drama” blog recently) would seem to express the concept.

Gains from inheritance (a particular evil from the viewpoint of the extreme Left) or from redistribution of wealth (anathema to the Right) do not benefit the sense of well-being as gains from one’s own work. Okay, that’s almost basic objectivism (not all the way to Ayn Rand).

But then we find ourselves looping back to Rick Warren and his religious warning that we are often not in control of things they way we think we are. Some of our hard-earned successes were enabled by sacrifices of predecessors that we may not even know about. So we get back to social pressures to identify with and belong to the group, sometimes in a statist manner (as often described by the Left), or familial, especially the “natural family” idea well known on the Right.

I am struck by the tone of Brooks’s article. It’s as if everything of value in life is the result of individualized productive effort, and family were almost a trivial afterthought, and certainly just a matter of choice (or maybe a corollary of the “axiom of choice”). Perhaps that is what the president is getting at. Life is a lot more complicated than that in the best of circumstances. So may we also need to think about the phrase “pay your dues.”

Many of my postings about this web of concern is on my main BillBoushka blog under the label “rules of engagement.”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Texas social studies texts set the tone for publishers for the rest of the nation

The Texas State Board of Education, the largest purchaser of textbooks, including social studies books, adopted controversial standards, under the guidance of departing chairman Don McLeroy, a dentist and Christian fundamentalist.

One of the most controversial proposals was to rename the “slave trade route” up to the 19th century as the “Atlantic Triangular Route”. Another was to present America as essentially Christian in character (denying that complete separation of church and state was really intended) and to present the views of Jefferson Davis as equal to those of Abraham Lincoln. He also wanted to elevate the status of Senator Joseph McCarthy, responsible for so many purges in the 1950s. He would replace the word "imperialism" (a favorite buzzword of the Left in the 1970s) with expansionism, and emphasize groups like the Moral Majority in the 1980s.

Terry Moran has reported that Texas is one of two states that do not want to sign on to the idea of national standards for textbooks.

California has said that it will not buy texts according to the Texas standard, and digital publishing technology may be reducing the influence Texas has on what other states buy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

So you can't trust BP, and you can't trust the Euro

So, we can’t trust BP. The estimates keep getting bigger, and their dispersants don’t work, etc.

Here’s a CNBC interview by Lee Brodie on oil stocks.

The sane position seems to be, hold onto it. In the long run, it will still do well. Outside of BP, oil stocks have been hammered recently because of fear of regulation, problems in the euro (which makes it more expensive to buy overseas), and fear of future mishaps.

Oil and energy stocks are important components of portfolios of many retirees, who may feel exposed to the “moral hazard” personally of oil accidents. I bought Exxon in 1975, and had a substantial stake personally at the time of the Exxon Valdez spill in March 1989. At the time, I was working in one of the more unusual episodes of my employment career, a small health care consulting company about to go through a merger.

And on Friday May 21 New York Times reporter Ian Urbina raises one of my pet topics, "conflict of interest", in a story, "Conflict of Interest Worries Raised in Spill Tests", link here.  The federal government is going to use a lab at TDI-Brooks International (link) at College Station, TX, to do the pollution tests for litigation, but the same lab works for many oil companies.

On the markets, Anthony Faiola, Howard Schneider and William Branigin report that Germany has “cooperated” with a Euro-rescue plan; the reporters claim that Germany’s actions were primarily responsible for the Street’s tailspin Thursday (story).

But stocks continued their losses early Friday. MSN flashed a “breaking news” about the Dow falling below 10000 over global jitters, but when one went to the link, the market had just climbed back to 10000!

Will markets calm down now that the Senate has just passed the Financial Reform Bill (Moody story here)? Note the discussion of proprietary trading. The text of the "Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010" appears to live here.  Apparently this is S 3217 with govtrack link here.

Tech Ticker on Yahoo! has an interesting video saying that we need to worry about both inflation and deflation simultaneously!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

NYTimes reports teaching job market has shriveled up, to a shocking degree; what happened to career switching?

Just a few years after some states were supporting “career switcher” programs to get people into teaching in the wake of “no child left behind”, now education graduates face a failing job market, according to a front page New York Times story on May 20 by Winnie Hu, “Teachers facing the weakest market in years”, link here.  But of this is happening following shocking teacher layoffs (although in Washington DC many laid-off teachers may get their jobs back).

Amazingly, for instance, Jericho, NY has 963 applicants for five jobs in special education.

All of this occurs in an era where there is talk of greatly raising salaries of the best performing teachers, and the government supports service programs like Teach for America. Yet TFA found its applications increase to 46000 for 4500 openings.

Just three years ago, George Washington University in Washington was selling Med programs and telling applicants in math and science that it would be easy to place career switchers into jobs.  And in some cases, a few years ago school districts in Virginia would sometimes permanent hire math teachers before they had finished course work for licensure.

It would be interesting to see how the situation affects substitutes next school year. Will more school districts or more states hire subs only from licensed or previously full-time teachers?

But over the years, particularly in the 1970s and 80s, teaching didn't enjoy a good reputation as a stable career because of economic dislocations and stagflation in urban eras during past economic downturns.

Can Arizona really block electricity to CA if CA citizens boycott?

Well, all the boycott talk in the southwest because of the new Arizona immigration law has gotten silly. Citizens can boycott an area as private persons (this happens all the time – I remember the silly “lettuce boycotts” staged by the Peoples Party of New Jersey in the early 1970s). Could a state cause power companies within its boundaries not to sell power to another state to retaliate? Is this a legitimate exercise of the quasi-libertarian idea of “states rights”? I hope not, and I recall how that theme was thrown around in the 1950s (when I was in high school) to divisive effect.

The Phoenix papers (Arizona Central) have a story by Ryan Randazzo “Arizona electricity regulator pokes Los Angeles over boycott call”, link here.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Mogollon Rim (near Flagstaff), not too far from where Travis Walton says he was abducted by a UFO in 1975; I visited the area in December of that year and first discovered Daniel Fry’s “Understanding” outside of Phoenix.

Monday, May 17, 2010

WHO releases study on cell phones and cancer, debated on CNN LKL

A study by the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found no conclusive link between cell phone use and brain tumors over ten years, according to a story on Reuters today May 17, link here. The study tracked 13000 users over this period.

However, on Larry King Live on CNN Monday night, several speakers called for guidelines recommending that cell phones be kept away from the head and body with speaker phones, and that people needed to be studied for even longer periods. One woman told a story of her husband, still alive after surgery for a glioma after twenty years of heavy cell phone use.

The Wireless association linked to a story about the study on its site tonight (url).

Another spokesperson on LKL mentioned that Bluetooth devices attract only 1/1000th of the power compared to the cell phone itself.

The Larry King show on CNN has many comments on its website here

Genetics still may be an important factor in brain tumors. I had a maternal uncle who died of a similar tumor at age 61 in 1976. I’m 66, but I suppose I could have a vulnerability.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kagan replaces justice (Stevens) who was lax on eminent domain

The Washington Times ran an op-ed by James W. Ely, Jr. on May 13 on the too often overlooked subject of eminent domain and its abuse. The link is here.

On September 8, 2009 I had reviewed the book by Carla Main “Bulldozed: “Kelo”, Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land”, which itself became the subject of defamation litigation. The book had related a notorious (Hitchcock’s title, please) case in Freeport, TX to a case in Connecticut, Kelo v. City of New London (2005). The editorial discusses Justice John Paul Stevens writing on the case, and his apparently na├»ve faith in developers and disregard of the property rights of ordinary homeowners.

Ely (perhaps writing his own “Book of Ely” – sorry, that’s Eli) notes that Elena Kagan’s record (outside of gays in the military and the Solomon Amendment) gives little indication as to how she would rule on a case like this. Hopefully her sensitivity to the rights of college students and freedom from discrimination parallels a respect for individual property rights. I wrote my own book on that idea back in the 1990s, but it isn’t easy to make it catch on.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of New London waterfront district (CCSASA).  

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Case of Georgia teacher, just acquitted, carries an important lesson: it can happen to any parent or teacher!

The case of former kindergarten teacher Tonya Craft in Georgia calls attention to the risks people can take when they enter teaching. It’s easier to talk about since a jury acquitted her of all 23 charges.

The 2001 film “Just Ask My Children” (dir. Arvin Brown) had shown how overzealous prosecutors can coach children into testifying against parents or teachers suspected of “misconduct”, sometimes because someone else has a vendetta against them. Craft says she conferred with adults who had been involved in the Bakersfield, CA cases (the movie starred Gregory Smith [“Everwood”] as one of the kids just grown who recants). Craft describes this as “the perfect storm” and a witchhunt. Minor children will tend to give “consistent” testimony if “coached” and pressured by prosecutors.

We have to think about the risk we expect people to take when they enter teaching. Even when they have children and families. Just look at what sometimes happens.

Craft plans to go to law school. I wonder who pays her legal bills, even though she was acquitted. There is still some injustice. She lost her home and her job and her children because of a wrongful prosecution. She will file to regain custody or her children. Can she get them back?

The defense attorney explained that, whatever her constitutional rights, she had to take the stand.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Small business expert looks at why Amish businesses succeed so consistently

CNN Money “Small Business” has an interesting piece “Why Amish businesses don’t fail” (Geoff Williams), link here. The basic reason seems to be “family” and social cohesion.

Some Amish businesses do use some modern communications technology, including fax and email.

Research Erik Wesner has written a book “Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive” (Jossey-Bass, 2010), and he found that Amish entrepreneurs believe “The smarter you get, and the more technology you use for your business, the more impact it has on families”. He talks about the “in person” cohesion of people raising barns together and group singing, and compares it to the broadcast but superficial forms of communication in the digital age.

The article has a video, which is cropped and doesn’t show all the information for sharing.

(Check this blog Oct 3 2006).

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Do homeowners' "strategic defaults" on upsidedown mortgages threaten economic recovery?

CBS “60 Minutes” on May 9 covered the practice of many homeowners who can afford their upsidedown mortgage payments of walking away from them anyway, a practice called “strategic default.” Up to ten states, including (apparently) Arizona (where the report was centered) do not allow banks to go for deficiency judgments after foreclosure, and some homeowners believe that they can work off the hits on their credit scores in a few years. There is no (“psychologically feminine”) shame (or masculine guilt), it’s just business. Big companies do it (as a default on Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan).

The practice, if it becomes widespread enough, could stall economic recovery and precipitate a “W-shaped” recession.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Wikipedia attribution link for Phoenix picture

Friday, May 07, 2010

The stock market could be erratic for some time to come; keep it conservative, please

Nick Godt has an important MarketWatch story on Yahoo! on the expected volatility of stocks ("Stocks have miles to go before they sleep), and they could be in for real corrections, as in this link posted Thursday night.

Friday investors seemed to take more confidence as the jobs situation seems to be improving. However some of the jobs are temporary, relating to 2010 census taking.

“Conservative” portfolios were relatively little affected yesterday, however. Does a crisis in some smaller countries in Europe mean that everything will spread to debt-ridden US quickly? Is this a sustainability question?

Investigators are looking in to a human error where a broker mistakenly tried to sell 16 billion instead of 16 million shares, causing the sudden drop mid-afternoon Thursday. The computers did not catch it immediately, or did they. This reminds us of the programmed trading issues with the Oct. 1987 crash.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Pew Research Institute issues reports on "the New Demography of American Motherhood"

The Pew Research Center has released a report “The New Demography of American Motherhood”, by Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn, with primary link here.

The study shows that US new mothers are older than they were in 1990, and now 41% are unmarried. A particularly interesting finding is “White women made up 53% of mothers of newborns in 2008, down from 65% in 1990. The share of births to Hispanic women has grown dramatically, to one-in-four..” Pew also has some explanations of the trends. 47%, when asked why they had the first child, said, “it just happened”.

The full PDF is here.

The survey questions on p 29 as to what is “good for society” are provocative.

This is not exactly the “demographic winter” of the Right, but it does deserve attention.

Update: June 28

AP has a story on increase in childlessness in the US at New Channel 5, June 25, by Hope Yen.  Improved career opportunities are leading to delayed childbirth and perhaps to a disconnect between the satisfaction of marriage and children. Link here.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

ExxonMobil makes statement about assistance to BP for Deepwater Horizon Incident

ExxonMobil has issued a press release, dated April 30, regarding the British Petroleum BP-Deepwater Horizon Incident in the Gulf of Mexico, link here.

Exxon says it has “offered the use of a drilling rig as a staging base, two supply vessels, an underwater vehicle and support vessel and has provided experts to respond to BP’s request for technical advice on blowout preventers” and that it supports “Tier 3 spill response and cleanup cooperatives, such as Marine Spill Response Corporation, Clean Gulf, and Oil Spill Response Ltd., to provide personnel and equipment, such as dispersants, fire boom and radios.”

Exxon was responsible for the Valdez spill in 1989 off the coast of Alaska, which was apparently the result of negligent behavior by the skipper.

In the meantime, fears continue to mount that loop currents could carry oil into some of the Everglade marshes in Florida and even around Florida into the Atlantic Ocean as far north as North Carolina.

XOM stock has been relatively steady or declined only slightly during the disaster.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred on April 20. BP stock ADR’s did drop about 20% (from 60) in the days following the catastrophe.

A BP refinery in Texas City, TX (on the Gulf) exploded in March 2005. In 2006, BP had to shut down operations near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, due to corrosion in its pipelines.

All of this puts the president, with his recent swing to support offshore drilling and more production, in a difficult position.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA space photograph of spill area, here.

Update: May 8

MSNBC has a story, "Report: Gas bubble triggered rig blast; Gulf spill likely bigger than Exxon Valdez, claims expert", link here. The report talks about methane hydrate crystals in the sea bed, that could cause enormous greenhouse gas emissions.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

New data on 1970 Kent State tragedy leads to some ironies

The Washington Times ran a special “New light shed on Kent State killings; shots fired at Guard, declassified files indicate”, in a story by James Rosen, with link here.  

The story suggests that protests planted by the radical Left for several days in order to provoke the retaliation by the guard. Particularly interesting is discussion about attacks against the ROTC building, in the days of the Vietnam era draft. Student deferments had ended, however, and had been replaced by the lottery. But the opposition to ROTC then reminds one, ironically, of the opposition today because of the Solomon Amendment related to the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy.

I remember the May 4, 1970 incident, two weeks before I drove to Indiana from New Jersey, through Ohio, for a job assignment.

Wikipedia attribution link for Kent State picture here.

Monday, May 03, 2010

DC Catholic school sets example on volunteerism

Susan Kindle ran an article Monday April 26 about quasi-mandatory community service in the school systems, “Seeds of volunteerism planted early at D.C.’s Gonzaga College High School,” link here. The article is about a Catholic school, but in some school systems “mandatory service” has raised cries of “involuntary servitude” among some libertarian-oriented people, and this was sometimes said back in the 90s.

The story refers to the Father McKenna Shelter, a church-run shelter for homeless men, and the opportunity of students to volunteer during lunch or after school or on weekends. The article says “Long before schools across the country began requiring community-service hours for graduation in an effort to teach compassion and social responsibility, Gonzaga students were living it.”

Social responsibility” seems to be the catch-all common denominator term, underneath “personal responsibility”, which is predicated on chosen actions. Social responsibility refers to things that cannot so easily be chosen or turned down.

There have been political movements in history to force "it" upon people. Consider Chairman Mao’s “cultural revolution” of the 1960s, and how some people on the far left called it “absolute justice.” Christianity has always focused on the ability of man to achieve complete justice on his own.