Sunday, April 28, 2013

Marriage is seen not as a common good but as a personal "capstone"


Here’s an instructive little soliloquy on marriage, by Andrew J. Cherlin (polic policy and sociology. Johns Hopkins), “In the Season of Marriage, a Question: Why Bother?”, link here

He discusses a now well-vetted Pew Research study of marriage and income from 2010. Latest work is on gender roles in marriage, report (Modern Parenthood" as if "modern family" is here)

It seems like college educated men and women delay both marriage and having children until they have “made it” on their own, and tend to view marriage and family as a “capstone”. Even so, given the prevalence of pre-nups, they seem to have doubts as to whether they can make it for a lifetime.

Less educated or lower income people are more likely to have children because they see lineage as essential.  But they see marriage itself as optional, something that happens later, often not  with the first child.  The so called “marriage penalty” may affect them, as typically everyone has to work anyway.

For years, gays and lesbians (particularly men) were simply outside the box.  But in middle class professional cycles, the greater discretionary income and, sometimes, more time available for overtime (compensated or not) could create tensions.  Did this add to the notion that marriage, maybe even procreation, was “optional” for everyone?  The religious right sometimes says that, although in most work environments people are already set in their lifestyles. 
  
With same-sex marriage there may develop a flip side:  if the need for adoption is so great, maybe same-sex couples will be expected to pick up the slack children born without (straight) marriage.   

Friday, April 26, 2013

Investors should prod utility companies about electric grid reliability, resilience from terror and solar storms


I've discovered some more utility stocks (Dominion Power and Pepco) in my motther’s estate portfolio, and I do see an opportunity to do some good with it.
  
I’ve reviewed a few books recently that raising alarming warnings about the ability of the US and North American power grids to stand up to potential big solar storms and possible terrorist attacks (which would not necessarily require nuclear weapons – see the Books blog (for example, April 13, 2013, Michael Maloof’s “A Nation Forsaken”). 
  
Most of these warnings come from the “right wing” but some sources, such as “college history professor” Newt Gingrich (formerly R-GA, in the House in the 1990s, and a candidate in the GOP primary in 2012) sound more credible and mainstream.
  
Electric utility companies, like any public trade companies in our system, are under fiduciary duty to the shareholders to maximize earnings and profits.  Indeed, they have done well and been stable over the years (not all investment advisers agree with this).  My own father bought a lot of them in the 1950s, and as a result, yes, it was a lot easier to pay for Mom’s care a few years ago. 
  
But utilities have been criticized for neglecting maintenance, leading to longer power outages as residential and commercial real estate development expands, while older neighborhoods are plagued by older and weakening trees.
    
I know that electric power was not as reliable in Arlington VA after I returned from Minnesota in 2003 than it had been in the 1990s.  But in other cities where I’ve lived (Minneapolis and Dallas), systems are newer and problems were much less frequent, despite more severe storms (hint: fewer trees in the Midwest).  I almost got a job with the north Texas utility through a contractor  (mainframe programming) in 1988.  One of the positions related to the Glen Rose nuclear plant being brought online.  I have a feeling that these jobs could have been long term and pretty stable.
  
There is a trade group and company ((the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, link here)  that has sometimes published reassuring statements, but these seem tangential to the most dangerous threats (like electromagnetic pulse (EMP)., or geomagnetic storms associated with solar coronal mass ejections near solar flares). 
  
Some of the concerns (even raised by the Department of Homeland Security)  include the lack of ability to manufacture big transformers in the United States and the time it takes to get them from overseas, difficulty in transporting them by rail or truck, and inadequate shielding or grounding of power system components.   (In 2003, it took ten days for Dominion to move all the transformers it needed to northern Virginia to bring up all power after Hurricane Isabel, which really didn’t do that much damage.)  More attention does seem to have been given to cybersecurity and software reliability.
   
It would seem possible for a shareholder to demand (from Dominion and Pepco) more specific information on what is being done or should be done to counter threats like EMP.  Let’s hear what they have to say. 

Shareholders ought to force this issue out into the open. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Is shale "fracking" leading to strip-mining?


I got an email from Truthout today claiming that Fracking is leading to more surface-mining for sand in areas like Wisconsin, and claims that sand mining leads to cancer among workers.  “Small farmers who have lived for years in the peace and quiet of the country watch hundreds of trucks roll by their houses every day as bluffs are blasted down to great piles of sand”.

It would help if activist web sites would send me links to published text, not just stories as if I could reproduce them in entirety on my own blogs.  Is that what they want? 
   
I couldn’t find this specific story on Truthout yet, but I did find a page, dated April 25,  2012 “Fracking in Depth”, going to many articles, (website url) here

The site seems very slow today. 

When I’ve driven through fracking country, I haven’t seen many fracking wells; sometimes they can be confused with certain kinds of cell phone towers. 

The “jury” is still out this one.  Sand mines and quarries are common; there’s one east of Cumberland, MD on Polish Mountain, visible from I-68;  there’s one near Gore, VA (beyond Winchester), and a lot of them along a stretch of I-287 in northern New Jersey. 
   
The Truthout email came with a desperate plea for donations.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Suspect in Mississippi connected to "ricin plot" released; defense claims person framed by social engineering; charges dropped


CNN is reporting this afternoon that Paul Kevin Curtis, a previous suspect in the mailings of ricin to some federal officials, including the president, has been released, but possibly with bond. CNN has a preliminary story here.
  
Chris Cuomo (himself an attorney)  on CNN says that he would not have bond if charges were dropped or the wrong suspect.  But a female spokesperson connected to the defense says that he was framed by the use of his pet saying, “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner in its continuance.”  (The longer text is on Wikipedia, here.).
    
ABC News is reporting that federal prosecutors in Mississippi have admitted that they could find no physical evidence of ricin in Curtis’s home or car and no Internet searches related to it on his computer, link [website url] here.)
     
The female “friend” on CNN (with close ties to the defense attorney) was claiming that he was framed by the repetition of his pet phrase in the letters.  It does seem rather frightening how some law enforcement can be fooled by someone with a grudge against an “enemy”, using social engineering and catch phrases – if this woman’s story pans out.  (Maybe she was the attorney.)   It's as if someone grabbed my "Do Ask Do Tell" and wanted to pin it to some sort of crime.   

Update: Later Tuesday

The federal government has dropped the charges against Curtis, and has focused on another man.  The Huffington Post has the story here.  Curtis is said to be writing about about conspiracies, and likes to impersonate Elvis Presley.  There is a Mensa angle to the story, as explained in the Washington Post here

This is a rapidly changing story.  Expect more arrest(s) soon in the major media.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Public debate on post 9/11 security omits many important areas, and it gets "existential" (as Newt Gingrich points out)


Greg Miller and Scott Wilson have an article, “Vulnerabilities persist in a post-9/11 world on the front page of the Washington Post Sunday, link here
  
The discussion ranges over a number of issues, including security of large public events, monitoring of disaffected immigrants who travel back and forth, and the expanded use of security cameras everywhere (as in the French film “Paris Under Watch”, Movies blog,  April 19).  There is no question that Americans face impediments to quality of life because of the security issues, at least when traveling and attending events.  On the other hand, many of the privacy concerns (like the current flap over CISPA) seem largely theoretical for most people.  But there remains a troubling question about the role of the Internet – whether it facilitates attacks or facilitates law enforcement more. 
  
There’s one aspect of the big picture that the reporters didn’t take up in the article.  It is true that the weapons in the Boston attack were crude, using technology that might well have worked in the 1950s (it’s not completely clear whether the devices were set off by cell phones or timers).   But there are other weapons, like RF or flux guns that produce an “EMP” effect that could be used in unconventional ways by criminals or terrorists, not mentioned in the article.  I discussed Michael Maloof’s book “A Nation Forsaken” on the Books blog on April 13, where some of these threats are described, and they have been written about by some conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich (who was at least a credible GOP candidate in the 2012 primaries) and Roscoe Bartlett.  Objectively speaking,, it is far from clear that these sorts of dangers are as credible as a minority of engineering reporters claim (otherwise, they would presumably have been used, at least overseas, as in the Middle East). But, as a matter of policy, we need to find out quickly.  Are we doing all we should to protect our power grid, transportation, and even consumer goods (automobiles and electronics)? 

There's also the issue of "radiation dispersion devices" that have not received much media attention in recent years (as they did right after 9/11). 
  

The events of this past week make the focus on "just" background checks and assault weapons bans in response to domestic mass shootings (admittedly, a particular kind of terrorism) rather inadequate in the big picture.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Are kids getting lazy at solving mathematics problems "on their own"?


This morning, YouTube (because of “tracking”, no doubt) flashed in front of me a recommended 15-minute video posted by David Preston in 2007, “Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth” , in which math teacher and physicist M. J. McDermott discusses the silliness of avoiding the old fashioned methods of multiplication and long division in arithmetic in teaching grade school students.
   

Dr. McDermott vouches for her experience with her own children, and launches into an examination of a couple of grade school textbooks apparently popular in the Seattle area, called “Current Investigations” and "Everyday Math”.   She works through some multiplication and division problems trying techniques like “cluster math”, “partial products”, “lattice method”, and “partial quotients”, all of them based on commutative and associate laws in algebra. But they all avoid the supposed tedium of the usual methods.

Now I never had any problems with the old-fashioned way of multiplying and dividing, somewhere around fifth grade. 

I would wonder about the use of these "evasive" methods in classes where students have to pass standardized tests and teachers are evaluated on student performance.  I would think that teachers would want to stick to drill in the older methods we all learned in the 50s.  They're pretty straightforward.  
  
McDermott also noted that current texts are encouraging the use of calculators, and that kids are reaching college without the comfort in doing computations, or even in working alone on problems.  (Mark Zuckerberg was very much an outlier.)  She also laughed at the way math texts were giving full color world tours.  I noticed when I was subbing that algebra texts were very colorful, with engineering-related maps and pictures of bridges, the Pyramids, sports stadiums, and the like.  I think that sports (especially the geometry of baseball park outfields) offer a lot of math teaching opportunities.   

When I was subbing, most math, physics and chemistry classes used graphing calculators.  Sometimes a calculus test would be in two parts, the first part without calculators, the second part with.  (On my own calculator, above, the battery would always fail in about a month.)

I'll be reviewing a book by math and science educator Arvin Vohra soon. I wonder what how Salman Khan teaches multiplication and division on his informal Khan Academy videos.  I'll check later.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gender equality in open society: the issue filters down to something very personal


On Monday morning, April 15, Robert Samuelson offered an op-ed in the Washington Post, “An economy that is tearing our society apart,” link here.  He  mentions the books "Coming Apart" by (libertarian)  Charles Murray (Books blog, March 14, 2012) and a "Third Way" paper by David Autor and Melanie Wasserman, in Third Way "Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education", link.

It is true that in the modern economy with the emphasis on information and people skills, women outperform men in many areas.  I can remember that trend all the way back to my own school days in the 50s.  Boys tended to be good students only when the were very good students, sometimes at a price in other areas.  

At lot of his concern boils down to the loss of viability of the one-income two parent family.  That was the “norm” during my tween years of the mid 1950s.  I can remember a Ladies Home Journal article (why was I even reading these?) around 1957 that asked, “Who would you rather have a college degree, you, or your husband?”  Betty Friedan was about to happen. Nobody grasped how quickly women would advance in the workplace, and later the military.   Young men would have  another concern soon.  If they didn’t go to college, they would get drafted, or if they were in the service, more likely to serve as grunts on the front lines.  Korea had died down, but Vietnam was already simmering. And Sputnik had been launched.

In fact, during the policy squabbles of the 1990s and Clinton years, some socially conservative pundits argued for the “family wage”, as in an article, “A Mom and Pop Manifesto” by Henry Hyde in Policy Review in 1995. Still, this sort of thing was usually cast in purely economic terms. Now, the loss of earnings leverage by a primary breadwinner is seen as a chicken and egg problem.  Another sidelight is that the “marriage” penalty would tend to apply more to working couples both of whom earn about the same. Today, we see a growing demographic problem, as women delay commitment for career and both sexes wait until later in life to try to have children. (That is being discussed on ABC's "The View" as I write this.)    
   
But the aspect of this problem that strikes me the hardest is personal.  As a boy, I was not very competitive (either in physical or athletic performance or "attractiveness") as a “male”.  I could not envision how having a female “depend on me” could be sexually interesting.  I was not old enough to grasp the idea of lineage or why having children is important to people.  In fact, I skipped that whole conventional process of emotional socialization. 
  
There’s another corollary of this problem.  Marriage is predicated on the idea that partners will remain “interested” as they both age, but particularly if something unfortunate (medical, accident, natural disaster, war, crime) happens to one of the partners to disfigure that person.  That concern extends further, in the expectation that even those who are at some cosmetic or other disadvantage will find love.  With my own pattern of upward affiliation, that notion is anathema to me. I can see from the accounts of some particular tragedies in the past few years, it seems to be a particular problem for a lot of people (sometimes in conjunction with bullying), sometimes particularly for gay men.   Yet, at an intellectual level, I understand how this capacity “needs to be there” in people for a “free” society to sustain itself; otherwise it can fail to take care of itself.  It does sound like the heart and soul of “family values”.  Indeed, collective smugness can invite enemies.  People typically don't like to see the culture suddenly change the rules that affect their perception of "interest".  This is a troubling area.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Does the EB-5 program just auction the right to live in the United States? Varying perspectives

To follow up on my story Monday about GreenTech and Watchdog on my main “BillBoushka” blog, I’ll mention an op-ed in the Washington Post on p A17, Tuesday April 16, 2013, “Give me your huddled fat cats”, link here
  
It’s not hard to guess the tone of the op-ed, about the EB-5 “visa-for-dollars” program.  He says that it is immoral for the government to sell the right to live in the United States to the highest bidder.  He is also critical of the concept of TEA (“targeted employment area”), which, though supposedly favorable to rural areas (like in Mississippi), is an invitation to pork.  He says that the jobs created tend to be for middlemen and don’t address the real needs of our country’s infrastructure. 
  
The Washington Post, on the facing page, offers an editorial about GreenTech and Vriginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, a perspective  that is more balanced in tone.  It’s important that innovative companies raise the capital that allows them to prove themselves.
  
Remember, as noted in Mark Zuckerberg’s op-ed last week, many high tech executives say they need some of the highly proficient technical talent available overseas.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mark Zuckerberg weighs in on H1-B visa debate, and the "mores" of a knowledge economy"


Mark Zuckerberg has an op-ed in The Washington Post today, “The keys to a knowledge economy”, link here.
  
The major political issue that he addresses is immigration policy.  Congress should be more disposed to allow highly educated immigrants to stay because they tend to create jobs, especially in technology, for Americans.  He writes that the supply of H1-B visas runs out very quickly each year once made available.


He also notes that our moral sense has changed.  When, a few decades ago, we had a “resource” economy, we tended to view the world as a zero-sum game (which explains why there is an economic concept called “real estate”).  The world was bound to natural resources, machines, and most of all manual labor, the last of which was a real preaching point from my own father back in the 1950s.  Whole systems of “right and wrong” seemed tethered to this fact.  So were political ideologies, especially Marxism.
  
Mark mentions teaching a class on entrepreneurialship at a middle school.  He says writes that his political activity is bipartisan.  (See coordinated story on “BillBoushka” blog April 3.) 


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

In the US, gun control will be much less effective than in Britain or Australia


Will background checks and various assault weapons bans, still being debated hotly now, really work? 
    
A quick check of Wikipedia of the history of gun control in both Britain and Australia, as often mentioned by Piers Morgan, shows that not only was private ownership of firearms greatly regulated, but that the public had to turn in a lot of guns (in Australia there was a vigorous buyback program had to be paid for by a slight tax increase),  No one is thinking about confiscation or buybacks I the US now – or are they?  
  
Background checks would not have prevented many of the recent tragic incidents, as in most cases weapons had been purchased legally.  Still, the measures under consideration would prevent some incidents. 
  
The problem is that in the U.S., there are so many weapons already in the hands of criminals.  The possibility that some homeowners may be armed has proved to be a deterrent or has assisted in apprehension in some cases, as in a couple of incidents recently in southern Maryland.
  
From a constitutional viewpoint, there seems little doubt that some reasonable regulation of weapons is constitutional (despite the recent experience of the District of Columba).  The government  (that is, Congress, or any state legislature) can obviously ban the personal possession of nuclear weapons.  So it can obviously ban the possession of the most dangerous of conventional weapons normally accessed only the military or specially trained law enforcement.

  
There are interesting questions as to the “slippery slope” problem.  If lack of “purpose” is a justification for a particular law, how does it play out in speech areas?  

There is no easy solution. 

Update:

ABC's report on the Senate compromise on background checks is here

Today, both ABC and CNN reported "stings" showing the easy purchase of guns for cash, untraceable, at gun shows.  The Toomey-Manchin bill is further described here

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

E-books as texts may save students money -- but then the profs can monitor them


Here’s a new one for teachers, at least in high school and college.  If students are issued digital textbooks (on Kindles, Nooks or iPad’s),  teachers or profs can monitor them online to see if they read their assignments, as with the New York Times story here.
  
As expensive as texts have gotten, the use of the “library” approach with tablets seems tempting.  
   
I can remember, in college English literature, having about fifty pages of poetry to read for every class twice a week.  The professor sometimes would give pop “card quizzes”..  I remember flunking one on Thomas Carlyle’s “Sartor Resartus”, a new kind of book. 

Where texts really get heavy is in subjects like organic chemistry.  Imagine this technique in medical school.  You can’t “fake it”. 
  
Of course, when you get to graduate school, you whole grade comprises only a final exam.  

Monday, April 08, 2013

Northern Vriginia paper takes a moral stand, almost demanding volunteerism


While at the dentist’s office this morning, I picked up a copy of the Fairfax County Times (VA), March 20-31, 2013, and found an editorial (“Our Opinion”), “Volunteer Times”,  link here
  
The article talked about a volunteer appreciation dinner, but turned rather moralistic toward the end, when it noted that only about 25% of the people (adults?) put in 90% of the volunteer hours.
  
It also gave some examples of what is needed – teaching a seven year old to hit a softball – even though it won’t bring you fame (like it does Bryce Harper?)  
  
I have not been volunteering in a formal way recently, as I am very busy “producing” my own content (details on other postings).  When I was working in a conventional way, there was always a lot of {unpaid) oncall and overtime, and little time “for people”.  I really have become more conscious of this since retiring. 
  
Recently, social critics, mainly on the conservative side, decry the deterioration of “social capital” in the modern world of hyperindividualism.  People (like me) don’t join organizations and heed the leadership of others the way they used to.  That seems like a curious observation given enormous media attention to fundraising for people with medical issues (breast cancer) and disabilities (including Alzheimer’s).
  
Yet, I have often found the “volunteer” world, when I approach it, is bureaucratic, just like the world of “work”.  Some screen volunteers and try to socialize them.  Some opportunities require background checks, references, and even wearing uniforms.  This may sound crass, but I don’t need that kind of experience right now.
  
I did have very satisfying experiences in the 1980s volunteering with the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas as an AIDS “buddy”.  I continued that in the 1990s in Washington with Whitman Walker and Food and Friends, and sometimes ran into “bureaucracy” and politics.  It seems to always happen. Also, the real needs in the HIV word today are very different from what they were in the 1980s.
  
There are several angles to this  “Fairfax Stone” story, and they don’t always quite mesh.  One issue is the idea of “social compact” – in a world with sustainability concerns, we are evolving new ideas about what should be expected of every citizen (and sometimes these are “old” ideas that existed in different environments of urgency).  The debate over national service and even military conscription fits into this discussion. 
  
A second idea is very personal.  I found “socialization” to be potentially humiliating as a youngster, and have done best in life when I do my own things my own way.   There’s a problem, in that I don’t get emotional satisfaction out of personal contact with someone who is not “intact” (and I encountered that problem way back in 1962 when I was a “patient” at NIH).  And the world kept me away from people for years; suddenly it wants me back, and it’s not that easy.  As I’ve noted, I was somewhat shocked and ambushed by some of the “intimate” situations that came up when I worked as a substitute teacher.  Behind this dialogue is a “chicken and egg” problem involving marriage and family itself. 

The social experience seems more personally valuable if "I" know that everyone else must experience it.  But that gets back to a "virtue" argument, where the perceived righteousness (religious or not) gives social altruism meaning and a sense of reward.  There is risk in altruism, sometimes physical (like driving or going into "bad" neighborhoods); sometimes there is sacrifice.  But there is also a flip site; the increase social capital with others can increase security in the long run. 
    
A third idea combines these and involves one’s own sense of “purpose”, even as Pastor Rick Warren would describe it.  “It isn’t about me”, but then it is.  I have to get my own “stuff” done, and being on a schedule set up by others can derail me.  I’m struck by the sense of service and humility (frankly) in Mary Neal’s book “To Heaven and Back”, which I will soon review.  

One volunteer idea that will interest me (I did it in 2004) is helping with chess tournaments intended to attract lower income students.  But I want to get my own tournament form back.  The chess world has changed, just like everything else (follow the recent Washington Post articles about college chess).  

I think we should note, that as a long term "homeland security" concern, smugness among individuals can become downright dangerous, and add to the notion that other groups of (sometimes disenfranchised) people should become enemies.  

Yes, the picture of a dogwood tree is in Fairfax county, McLean, near the dentist's office.  

Update: April 21

The Mount Olivet Methodist Church in Arlington VA has a soup line on Saturday afteroons, and it often looks long even to passing auto drivers.  
 See also a comment about this (volunteerism) on April 19, 2013 on the books blog in a review of Arvin Vohra's book on education.  

One can also ponder this story in the Washington Post, April 21, by Michael Laris, about a  VA homeless man, housed by a friend, who fell through the cracks because of the sequester, link.  Do people have an obligation to step up personally when public sector  systems fail? 

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Libertarian arguments about "personal" drug legalization not getting traction at the federal level.




Back in the 1990s, there were a few libertarian taglines, such as “End the income tax and replace it with nothing”, and particularly, “Let’s end this war on drugs”.  You can put anything into your own body that you want.  Not a good idea.  But, what sense does it make to ban marijuana and allow tobacco? 

True cigarette smoking is ugly.  I’m glad that fewer young people do it.   It can make you go bald in the legs.  I’m glad I don’t see it in bars and discos now.  But, a home, no substance use by an adult should be illegal.  We all know the argument that it creates a black market, drives up prices, and actually encourages street crime that would not occur otherwise.

And some states (like Colorado now) want to experiment with legalization, even as the fibbies remain intransigent. 

The Washington Post, normally liberal on social issues, has run a couple of columns against legalizing marijuana.  Jennifer Rubin, in the Post blog this morning, discusses the laws signed by by Chris Christie (GOP governor of NJ) and proposals from  Sen. Rand Paul to reduce sentences or replace them with treatment for non-violent offenses, in order to prevent producing hardened criminals.  That’s not legalization – and I even remember George McGovern’s dismissal of legalization arguments all the way back to the 1972 presidential campaign.  Rubin’s link is here.

She refers to an article by Pete Wehner, an official in the Bush administration, who argues that the GOP should take Nancy Reagan’s position of “just say No to drugs”.   But he wanders into a conveniently collective argument, quoting Plato (and John Donne) that no man can truly stand alone, and that people and “families” need support in the public area.  The trouble with bringing up that point should be seen as an “upslope”.  That’s what people said about homosexuality in the past.  And, true, there is always a legitimate question about when people feel incentivized only when they see others pay their dues.   

Friday, April 05, 2013

Georgia teaching indictment shows dangers of NCLB; more on Teach for America, automated essay-grading


The media has overflowed with stories about the scandal in Georgia of teachers indicted for participating in a cheating scandal, apparently motivated by the idea that their jobs depended on keeping their test scores up. 

 A typical story is here.  There are accusations of racism in the scandal. But it's pretty obvious that the case shows how the requirements of "No Child Left Behind" and "teaching to the test" can backfire badly.  How can students trust teachers as role models after this?


In Georgia, as in many states, most felonies are presented to a secret grand jury, where defendants do not have the right to defend themselves (this happens at trial, but it might happen as a preliminary hearing).  I don't know whether the defendants knew they were being investigated for criminal charges.  In many states, there are some procedures that guarantee that defendants know.  States vary in how well they can protect the public from frivolous prosecution (remember the North Carolina lacrosse cases).  My impression is that Virginia is one of the fairer states.
  
Earlier, PBS had reported some irregularities in the administration of Washington DC’s former chancellor Michelle Rhee, in its film on Frontline, “The Education of Michelle Rhee”, TV blog. Jan. 9, 2013. 
All of this is interesting to me because, for a while during the previous decade, I did seriously consider becoming a full time mathematics teacher as a “career switch”.  Although I’d love to have worked up to AP calculus, the real need was at the bottom end, where there is a lot of drill. 

Is it a good thing that I skipped all of this?  There are complicated reasons that I did, that I’ve covered before.
  
One day in April 2011, I saw a young man, presumably well-dressed, on the Washington DC Metro, riding on the Orange Line into Virginia,  looking at some pages of what looked like partial differential equations.  I thought, is that more advanced than is even possible in a high school AP course?  Maybe a proof of a theorem?  Maybe electrical engineering?  He then dropped them on the floor and had to recover them before leaving the train.  Sort of like the opening scene of a spy thriller?  

Update:  April 6

The Washington Post, in an article by Michael Alison Chandler, reports that "Teach for America" is only slowly being embraced by Virginia and probably other states, as a source for reliable new teachers, here

And the New York Times has a curious report by John Markoff on the ability of new computer software to grade essays or "free response" answers, link here. I can remember reports in the Washington Examiner by George Mason English professor and AP high school English teacher Erica Jacobs writing about spending days in an auditorium in Kentucky grading AP essays.   

It would seem that the same concept could be applied to evaluating blogs or even whole books before publication/  

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Liberal columnist shows that GOP would remove ObamaCare and replace it with nothing (what about the income tax, then?)


On April 3, young (“liberal”)  columnist Ezra Klein posted (on his WonkBlog) an interesting perspective in the Washington Post, “The Republican Plan for Replacing Obamacare Doesn’t Replace ObamaCare”, link here.  It eliminates it. The link is here

I was a little surprised at some of Ezra’s points about GOP proposals.  One is that allowing individual consumers to cross state lines to buy individual health insurance would not be a good thing?  Why?  Because it would prompt a “race to the bottom” and insurance companies would locate in a state with the least regulation (the way credit card companies locate in Delaware – the Blue Hen State --or South Dakota.  But the GOP sees Obamacare as undermining federalism, undermining the normal regulatory powers of the states (an argument we heard a lot about recently on another issue, DOMA). 

Wouldn’t "Cato-backed" tort reform be a good idea?  Klein fears that real victims of medical negligence would not get taken care of.  Maybe.  It seems like people who can stay out of the hospital at all generally are better off, for a lot of reasons (not the least of which is hospital-born infections).

Should individuals have the same ability to purchase health insurance with pre-tax dollars as employers?  (I thought they would under Obamacare.)  Should employers be in the business of providing group insurance?  I think employers might be more profitable and globally competitive if they didn’t, and if  everyone was on the same footing in getting individual and family coverage (Germany and Switzerland, according for Fareed Zakaria and Sanjay Gupta, offer interesting ideas on how to do this fairly and efficiently).  Furthermore, group insurance encourages employers to  become nosy about employee personal habits.  We heard the flak recently about CVS’s requiring monitoring of employee “numbers”.  I wondered about this back in the 1980s when AIDS broke out.

The most controversial proposal from the GOP may be to shift Medicare to essentially “Medicare Advantage” for everyone.  No, I don’t appreciate sales calls for M.A., and I particularly don’t welcome invitations for employment selling it myself (I’ve gotten them, unsolicited).

And the GOP wants to leave the “pre-existing conditions” problem in the hands of the states.  Again, race to the bottom.

And health savings accounts (which could really help with dental) sound a bit too much like slowly privatizing Social Security (which I think we will have to do anyway).  The well-off and intact can benefit from these, but not the Biblical poor. The Republicans like "rich young rulers".  
   
There is a basic moral problem here.  In a society that values human life for its own sake, how to the genetically and circumstantially fortunate share the medical cost of those who are less fortunate?   It’s easier (especially for liberals) to do this through government and public institutionalism than through family and personal attention.  

Picture: Banks in Wilmington, DE, visible from Amtrak (Feb., 2013)

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

XOM "gets out of things" on Arkansas oil spill


Since I have enjoyed having some Exxon in my own portfolio since the mid 1970s (my financial advisor sold it early this year), some of the Arkansas spill report may be bad karma. Exxon is excused from cleanup fines for the oil spill in Arkansas, because technically it wasn’t “oil”.  The story on “RT” is here.  

A residential neighborhood in the town of Mayflower, AR (a bit northwest of Little Rock) was soiled badly by the spill, according to the Fox News story here 

The incident will certainly help opposition to the Keystone Pipeline project.  Given the nature of the product spilled, it will raise even more questions about Canadian shale and tar sands products.

Nevertheless, Marcellus shale and Canadian resources offer North America energy independence, and probably the opportunity to become a net energy exporter, making the economy stronger and national security for both the US and Canada more straightforward in coming decades, as the Middle East becomes less critical economically than it was during the days of the oil shocks.  Remember the 1973 Arab oil embargo?
  
Will this come down to a question of western lifestyles again? 
  
Wikipedia attribution link for Ozark Picture I was last in the area in 1983.