29 January 2011

American exceptionalism

One of the biggest jokes on the planet. Whatever the truth once was, how can you read stories like this and not feel the fetid breath of history (as in "He's history!" blowing down the nape of your neck.
Last month, the results of the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, tests were announced. It was the first time that Chinese students had participated, and children from Shanghai ranked first in every single area. Students from the United States, meanwhile, came in seventeenth in reading, twenty-third in science, and an especially demoralizing thirty-first in math. This last ranking put American kids not just behind the Chinese, the Koreans, and the Singaporeans but also after the French, the Austrians, the Hungarians, the Slovenians, the Estonians, and the Poles.

I'm sure we're ahead of somebody.

aren't we?

there is, of course, a slight trick to these results. Reassured?

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27 January 2011

Myths: Lots of people watch Fox News

We all know that Fox News' ratings are huge because of all the ranting and pandering that goes on appeals to a huge number of people.

Well, actually, not. Few people actually watch the network. Here's a small reality check from Conor Friedersdorf subbing for Andrew Sullivan:

And let's be clear on the size of the Fox News audience. In 2008, 59,934,814 Americans voted for John McCain. During election week, Fox News as a network averaged 3.54 million viewers. (Perhaps liberals would have more success trying to persuade the other 56,394,814 Republican voters.) That same year, Oprah Winfrey's show – just the one show – averaged 7.3 million voters (reported here as a ratings slump). Yes, among a certain demographic, Fox News is a huge ratings success. So is Rush Limbaugh. But where is the evidence that this rating success has translated into electoral victories or a friendlier policy environment for conservatives? There is none.

Define the demographic right and I probably could show you that Sententiae is a roaring success.

Of course, even fewer people watch the other news networks.

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26 January 2011

Check out North Carolina

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24 January 2011

Budget crisis

The state of North Carolina is in deep financial trouble. One way to balance the budget is to not spend money so the University system is facing some very stiff budget cuts. These are the kinds of deep cuts that will seriously effect the system's ability to actually teach students something worthwhile. In fact, one possible solution our administrators here at Appstate have come up with, right after "firing a whole bunch of instructors" is to reduce the number of courses required for a major.

You have to think about that for a minute. NOWHERE have they suggested we cut the number or pay of administrators, NOWHERE have they suggested we get rid of administrative structures that don't strictly support the function of teaching students and research.

Why would that matter? Here is a little tidbit from the local political reporter Scott Mooneyham in discussing the budget:

All involved might want to take a hard look at how a decade’s worth of similar budget flexibility has affected the 16-campus University of North Carolina system.

Just in case Gov. Perdue, Tillis and Berger have forgotten, during a five-year period of that budget flexibility, the number of university administrators grew twice as fast as the number of students.

Why wouldn’t they? The motives and incentives of the decision-makers -- the university administrators -- became too heavily weighted toward rewarding those like themselves.

Meanwhile, the state’s budget writers had literally and figuratively passed the buck. In the process, they lessened public accountability.

Save administrators! Cut back on classes! Fire instructors!

want to drive on a bridge designed by an engineer from a school that reduced the number of classes for an engineering degree?

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19 January 2011

Without Comment

[from Andrew Sullivan]

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Slavery, the Civil War, and our need for myths

I tell my classes, when I am in the mood to, that almost all they know about the Civil War is wrong, including their idea of a Rebel Yell. Yet we all need our comfortable little myths. The Old South has more than its fair share (Gone with the Wind and "Birth of a Nation" just for starters).

Here is an attempt, probably unsuccessful, on the part of the Washington Post to demythify some of it.

"Heritage not hatred" is the latest motto of the unreconstructed. I know better.

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16 January 2011

My ex-Southern homeland

Loudoun County, Mosby's Confederacy, Northern Virginia. From Winchester to Arlington, and depending on how you want to count it, Washington itself. My home town.

I was born in Leesburg and grew up on a farm in a community whistling 'Dixie' and saluting the Stars and Bars. I had an accent peculiar to Northern Virginia, though I believe I have lost most of it. It was the Old South in a great many ways. I suspect my brother the Confederate Nut still thinks it is.

Alas for tradition, no. At least not according to this article from the Washington Post. It contends that various cultural signs point to a marked downgrading of its Southerness due to all the outsiders who have moved in. Considering what I have grown into, and my current attitude about the South in general, probably a good thing.

just as long as they stop tearing up the countryside for their damn ugly houses.

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09 January 2011

The King James Bible

Having grown up hearing the King James translation of the Bible read out almost every week and often enough reading portions of it myself I still find myself unconsciously using Bible metaphors in my language. Not long ago I led our little Episcopal book club in reading a book on the history of the translation. It is a powerful force in the shaping of our language and for me and my fellow Episcopalians our faith.

So I was pleased today to read this little essay in praise of the King James Bible. In the godless New York Time no less.

since King James was a notorious homosexual it has always amused me to see the anti-gay crowd thumping their King James translation while fulminating.

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06 January 2011

It was about nothing

My view of the Tea Party. Even the Republican party does not take them seriously. As soon as the individuals lumped inaccurately together as the "Tea Party" had served their purpose it was and continues to be ignored. The Conservative movement in the form of the Republican Party has always treated its shock troops this way.

From Ross Douthat, who may someday mature into a real pundit:
Hugely depressing, but hopefully hugely instructive as well. The pledge to cut $100 billion was always more of a symbolic sop to the Tea Parties than a real step toward fiscal discipline. The question for the new Republican majority has always been whether it will make any serious progress on entitlement reform and tax reform, not whether it will find inevitably-marginal ways to trim discretionary spending. You can’t have fiscal responsibility if you keep entitlements, tax expenditures and defense spending off the table, and the fact that these realities have been exposed in the very first week of G.O.P. control, thanks to the peculiarities of the fiscal calendar, is probably good news for fiscal conservatism. The sooner we get certain fond illusions out of the way, the better.

Yes. The sooner we get rid of the illusions the better.

the tea partiers will go the way of the dodo ... and the soccer moms.


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05 January 2011

It is not only looks that can deceive

What about voice? What if a dark skinned scruffy looking fellow had an absolutely beautiful voice? Would he still be a dark skinned scruffy looking fellow?

Or would your opinion change? If you couldn't actually see him?


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02 January 2011

History is Bunk

At least in the state of Virginia which has adopted history texts written by a non-historian for the ignorant chosen by the inept. Here's an snippet of an editorial in today's Washington Post:
Among the mistakes: wrong date for America's entry into World War I, incorrect tally of states that joined the Confederacy, gross understatement of casualties at the battles of Bull Run. "I absolutely could not believe the number of mistakes - wrong dates and wrong facts everywhere," said Ronald Heinemann, one of the historians who reviewed Five Ponds Press's "Our Virginia: Past and Present." Reviewing another of the publisher's books, historian Mary Miley Theobald concluded the mistakes were "just too shocking for words." The unusual review of the books followed the disclosure by The Post's Kevin Sieff in October that "Our Virginia" included the statement (quite incorrect) that thousands of black soldiers fought for the South during the Civil War.

This is embarrassing on so many levels. Just for the record, when in the final desperate days of the Confederacy Gen. Lee pleaded with the politicians to let him recruit slaves with the promise of freedom the politicians told him no way. Then the Confederacy was put out of its misery.

It seems to be a collision between political and financial constraints. I.e. the books were cheap and they didn't ruffle any ideological feathers.

you get what you pay for.


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