Saturday, March 5, 2011

Designing Women

If you're the kind of a know-nothing, who takes your set of uninformed beliefs as normative, you would most likely mock things about which you know nothing because, after all, figuring out what actually is going on is hard work and you might learn something. Professional interior design has very little to do with picking out furniture, that's why interior design programs 
develop[] student creativity in the design and planning of interior spaces by emphasizing the process and communication of design as well as the product of design. Students learn to integrate the art of design with the social sciences concerning the interaction of people and their environment, the history of design, and the physical sciences relating to the effects of materials on the physical health and comfort of inhabitants. Insight into professional practice is enhanced through internship experiences.
Being glib is how someone who is supposedly left-leaning finds time to bash unions, blame teachers and other workers, and generally insist that the society exists to maximize the profits of the few rather provide the greatest good for the greatest many.  Rather than having well-educated professionals who would know how to do this and that plus who have had at least the rudiments of a liberal arts education, which is a key to creating folks capable of realizing Neoliberals hate people, Yglesias and his fellow travelers want to create a world in which an army of badly educated folks fight it out for the privileged of  rubbing bunions of rich peoples feet and rearranging their furniture.

Friday, March 4, 2011

They Hate Us Because We're Free, to be Asshats

Over to Balloon Juice there is a post and heart rending video of people, some of whom are elected officials, who hate America verbally assaulting a religious group which
[o]n February 13, members of a faith-based charitable organization gathered in Yorba Linda, California to raise funds to support women’s shelters, help the homeless and combat hunger.
I watched some odd movie today in which various dead people, including Paul Henried and John Garfield, had their immortal souls judged by Sydney Greenstreet. One of the dead was regular sort of a fellow who took all manner of pleasure from doing this and that, including walking down the street, Greenstreet argued that this was the proper way to live in the world. In the ordinary, the argument ran, there are extraordinary pleasures. For my money, nearly everyone thinks like that, except for the sundry and various losers who make life unpleasant. Perhaps because the they, like John Garfield's character -- who might be saved by his equally dead but unknown tom him mother, find themselves beneath contempt. 

Buyer's Remorse

The last cycling jacket I bought was an Adidas from PricePoint for 26 American plus shipping. I've had it for three years and it works great and is waterproof.  Like many cyclists, I sometimes think it would be nice to be bedecked in Rapha's high end gear. This is no longer the case. Here's a discussion of buyer's remorse, with pictures, and it cured me of the Rapha desire.

It's worth while noting that modern industrial capitalism thrives on the mind's infinite wants, about which the Stoics warned, while early observers of the Industrial Revolution made clear that should the former gain ascendancy over the latter, the jig was most assuredly up.

Foxes and Hedgehogs

Matthew Yglesias reads a Kevin Drum post in which Drum argues
[G]aps arise early and persist. Schools do little to budge these gaps even though the quality of schooling attended varies greatly across social classes. Much evidence tells the same story as Figure 1. Gaps in test scores classified by social and economic status of the family emerge at early ages, before schooling starts, and they persist. Similar gaps emerge and persist in indices of soft skills classified by social and economic status. Again, schooling does little to widen or narrow these gaps.
And Drum suggests,

If we spent $50 billion less on K-12 education—in both public and private money—and instead spent $50 billion more on early intervention programs, we’d almost certainly get a way bigger bang for the buck

Yglesais concludes that
[t]his, however, is why I’m genuinely confused about the extent to which the current debate tends to construe people like me and my colleagues on the CAP education team as the enemies of K-12 teachers. If it’s true that we don’t need to shake up the K-12 school system because what happens inside K-12 schools doesn’t alter socioeconomically determined achievement gaps, then the policy remedy is random across-the-board cuts in K-12 school spending.
If, in other words, teachers are all that matters we need to fire teachers if teachers don't matter at all we need to fire teachers and why would anyone think that all he wants to do is fire teachers.

Neither explains why the 50 billion ought come from education, which didn't cause the inequality, instead of from, say, corporate welfare, the defense budget, or what have you.  And neither seems to realize that if we decreased socio-economic inequality and continued to improve educational opportunities then the end result would be yet even better for all involved.

Educational reform needs to be understood as part of a larger effort dedicated to shrinking economic inequality and improving educational  opportunity which includes helping teacher be more effective, by limiting class size, including teachers in the conversation instead of bullying, ignoring, and scapegoating them, understanding that administrators play an important role in creating a successful or unsuccessful school as well as factors outside of the control of anyone in the school system, to say nothing of the various missions schools fulfill and the various audiences and interest groups inside schools to which we can add students.

In short, the reason people think that Yglesias et alia unfairly blame teachers is that they unfairly blame teachers.

Arne Duncan or Size Matters

Dana Goldstein reports on her confab with the current Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who said:
"I don't know the specific numbers, what's real and what's just positioning on both sides. But class size has been a sacred cow and we need to take it on."

Echoing Bill Gates, Duncan suggested paying highly-effective teachers $20,000 to $25,000 more for teaching up to five additional students, and giving parents the choice as to whether their kids are placed in such classrooms. He acknowledged that small classes are currently very popular among parents. "These conversation's haven't been had," he said. "I don't think parents have been given the choice. It's provocative...but we're talking about selectively raising class sizes amongst your greatest talent."
Do you remember when firing people in the pursuit of increased profits went from firing people to downsizing the corporation to rightsizing the corporation to outsourcing and so on?  Remember how it was hard-headed MBAs trained in how "business" operates best that stripped away the business socially useful function of job creation acted as "consultants" destroyed various business and then retired rich. Sort of like Mitt Romney. Neither Arne Duncan nor Bill Gates have ever taught a course; neither has any in-depth experience with matters educational both are or were successful in the world of business who have used either basketball networks or personal wealth to elbow their way into a discussion. 

A big point in Ravitch's admission of error and her recent attempt to expose the nonsense of the Conservative and Neoliberal model of education reform is that people like Duncan and Gates, who -- to repeat -- have no real understanding of teaching, bully and ignore teachers in the interests of their pet, if not quack, theories of educational improvements. It would have be nice, in other words, if Goldstein or any other educational reporter would ask Duncan or Gates how closely they are consulting with working teachers? What role do they see for teachers in the "conversation" about class size? How do they plan on including teachers' voices? And so on.  Who cares what Duncan and Gates thinks about education?

He's Like Bukowski, Without The Talent

Charlie Sheen, it seems, wrote and perhaps writes poetry:
I.D. Blues
By Charlie Sheen

“Excuse me, aren’t you…?”
“Hey, you look just like…”
“Oh my God, that’s…”
“Sorry to interrupt your dinner, but aren’t you…”
“Look, I never do this, but, my wife thinks you’re…”
“My friend is so convinced that you’re…”
“I’m so embarrassed, but, aren’t you…?”
“I know you must be tired of this, but…”
All eyes held in stare, all mouths locked open in shock, as he pulled the latex Charlie Sheen mask from his head, revealing the rotted skull of President Lincoln.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Here in Wisconsin: Missing The Point

New polling in Wisconsin suggests that nearly everyone thinks Walker is a making several different kinds of mistakes. Over to TPM, Josh Marshall suggests that for older folks
[t]here's a fairly straightforward explanation for this. Back then older voters had formative political experiences from the 30s through the 50s. Today they're based in the 60s through the 80s. Straightforward doesn't mean it's accurate. But I think that's at least part of the explanation.
The problem here is that the decades of union bashing haven't bothered anyone all that much.  I suspect, although I cannot possible prove, that Walker's negatives are so high because, particularly during his recent budget talk -- during which I actually went outside and tried to shovel water because that pointless act was less frustrating than listening to him, he is a creepy little liar and its increasingly clear to folks that they have bought a George W in a poke. If you see what I mean.

She Said/He Said

Megan McArdle on the various estimates of how many jobs the Republicans' crazy budget cuts will lead to, they are, she wrote,
certainly troubling.  But like Ben Bernanke, I find these estimates somewhat high.
Ben Bernanke on the job losses
“Our sense is that the 60 billion dollars cut spread out in the normal way would reduce growth. But we think given the size it’s one to two tenths [of a percentage point reduction to gross domestic product], about a couple hundred thousand jobs,” he told the House Financial Services Committee. “It’s not trivial.”
In the midst of a recession, it seems, the only forbidden act is tax increases, decreasing public employees' take home pay, destroying jobs, rejecting job creating investments, and related etc are a okay, because?

Here in Wisconsin: Delusional Edition

IN this morning's Wisconsin State Journal State Senator Glenn Grothman, further to the right than Walker and -- as we will see -- half as bright, characterizing the protesters thusly:
They are slobs, he said. But I don't hate these people for bing slobs. I don't mind nice slobs.
He claimed that he
really think[s that] five years from now most of these people will have a real job and be voting Republican.
The mind boggles. See also.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Andrew Sullivan Good For Nothing

He writes:
The Council has more authority than the Pope - something non-Catholics also sometimes forgivably fail to understand.
Since Trent, General Councils can only be called by the Pope and their findings are only valid if the Pope ratifies them.  In other words, nope dope.

Here in Wisconsin

Scott Walker's budget and speech, in case you haven't heard, were written by Charlie Sheen, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin. As such it is a model of honesty, wisdom, and showed a clear way forward.

Andrew Sullivan Good For Something

I found these cartoons, which mash up The New Yorker and Charlie Sheen, via Sullivan and they are funny as all get out.

What is really odd is that Sheen sounds like Glenn Beck, or maybe that's not odd at all.

Oh, For Dumb

Matthew Yglesias on class size:
I don’t really think there’s a ton to be said about the class size issue—an effective teacher could be more effective at the margin on a per capita basis if she has fewer students, but an effective teacher could also teach more kids at the margin if she had more students.
Yes, she could unless, of course, at certain number of students the aforesaid teacher can no longer intereact with her students effectively and, go figure, the class becomes unruly or even worse, she loses sight of the fact that a student is lost in space. Had there been fewer she catches and teaching continues.

Unlike Yglesias and most educational reformers, like much saner Dana Goldstein who still gets the class size issue wrong, I've taught, talked to actual teachers, and read stuff by other teachers about teaching, as opposed to reading things by reformers about teaching, and practical experts agree size matters and smaller is better.

He really needs to stop talking about teaching.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dismal Science

Frequent commentator John Rove makes the point that economics has long been known as the "dismal science" following Carlye's characterization of Malthus' totally wrong prediction concerning food production and population growth. The inevitability of famine and death was, he argued, part of God's plan for humanity. Malthus decided that the best way to deal with the problem was to curb population growth and increase industry, which is to say less sex and more work.

In 1776 Smith published The Wealth of Nations in which, among other points, he argued that maldistribution led to a situation in which men of great wealth could exchange the "maintenance of a thousand men" for a pair of diamond buckles and in so doing out of concupiscence and wrongly directed amour propre destroy their own political power. Malthus could have, in other words, argued for a more just distribution of the things of this world in keeping with Christ's ethical teachings, Malthus was -- after all -- a curate.  He could also have taken a look around the "Low Countries" and elsewhere and seen the work scientists and states dedicated, for reasons both humane and not so much, to improve crop yields.

Although others disputed Malthus gloomy and anti-human views, his methods, relentlessly focusing on the wrong set of "facts," ignoring the innovation all around him, and trying to rob life of its sweetness, are an important part of the methods of economists who, you know, want to rob life of its sweetness, ignore reality, and, generally, argue that things have to get worse because the system that we now have is "natural" and fiddling with it to produce a more just outcome is to go against laws of nature.

I wonder what thesef laisser faire folks think of the law of gravity, which -- as I understand it -- shows that things in nature tend to fall down.  We shouldn't build skyscrapers or try to fly because, after all, it is a natural law that things fall down and to fiddle with that is to violate natural laws, to say nothing of improving crop yields and birth control.

I remain with Aristotle, at least on the zoon politikon thingy.

Best Students?

I really enjoyed Stiglitz's Freefall and found it very persuasive about the causes and cures of the current economic mess and its associated political skulduggery. I do, however, want to take major issue with one minor aspect of his argument.  On page 276 (paperback) he writes that he "saw too many of our best students going into finance" and laments that [w]hen [he] was an undergraduate the best students went into science, teaching, the humanities, or medicine." Given that the majority of his text is an indictment of these "best students" ability to act in their own best interests, to say nothing of the common good, and his dissection of the greed, stupidity, cupidity, lack of foresight, insight, or any sight that led to the crises, it's difficult to figure out what he means by "best students."   The self denominated Fabulous Faz isn't really what I would call, for all of his Stanford education, an example of the best America's higher education has to offer.

This characterization of the crooks and liars who created the mess that is now being exploited by dolts like Walker to further ruin everyone else's life, actually makes fixing things harder as it tends to ratify the dangerous notion that Lloyd Blankfein's nonsense about doing God's work or the inflated sense of self worth of nearly everyone involved in causing the catastrophe. As this manifesto makes clear, after having failed miserably the miserable failures still think that are John Galt.

It is also the case that lots of people went into the non-financial sector and did really important work and none of them, so far as I know, undertook to destroy the international economy in the bizarre belief that society exists to improve their personal bottom line.  Sure some of the so-called quants may well have been able to do something else but they lacked one personal quality that, for me -- in any event, attaches necessarily to the modifier "best": an interest in creating a better society.

My claim would be that the best students continued to go into the traditional fields in the rather sane hope that they would leave the world better than they found it while earning enough to come home to a the refreshing beverage of their choice and significant other.

Monday, February 28, 2011

History and Hegemony

It's a tough being a global economic exploiter:
Two Chinese mining managers in Zambia are scheduled to go on trial for attempted murder next month, accused of shooting and wounding thirteen miners during a 2008 riot over wages at a Chinese-owned coal mine. That riot, in October, 2010, was followed last month by another burst of unrest in Zambia when hundreds of miners at NFCA Mining, in a long-running dispute with Chinese management, burned and vandalized company vehicles and shattered windows. It is all part of a low boil of unrest that has persisted over the past few years, as Chinese-owned enterprises have injected money into Zambia’s mining sector.
Just a few years ago the mining managers would have been Americans. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out and whether the Chinese learn to avoid the arrogant errors of profit maximizers abroad and at home. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What's a School

I was talking with a Teach for America teacher and he told me an anecdote about how the "worst" teacher in his school was indispensable because she had an amazing ability to resolve any and all disciplinary problems. It's not clear to me how someone gifted at maintaining order and, consequently, helping other teachers teach more effectively doesn't raise someone out of the category of worst. teacher. ever. into the category of necessary for the school's smooth running. Figuring out why complex institutions fulfill their socially beneficial functions requires thinking about, you know, the various roles and skill sets necessary for making complex institutions run smoothly, albeit inefficiently.

I take, in other words, exception to Matthew Yglesias' claim that,

there’s plenty of room around the margin for people to disagree about the best way to conduct these kind of evaluations. But as I’ve been saying, it’s only within the context of believing that teacher quality is important and measurable that it’s possible to coherently make the case for the importance of teachers and investing in them. Weingarten has the right instincts on this,
 because of the clear notion that "teacher quality" is something "measurable" in a straight forward kind of way and that this dispute is "around the margin," whatever that might mean in plain English. I also take issue because it's not clear he read the article with sufficient care. To wit:
Critics say that removing teachers is nearly impossible because of the obstructions that unions have put up. Administrators also bear some blame. Most evaluations are perfunctory — a drive-by classroom observation by a vice principal — and hearings to prove incompetence can be long and costly.
One reason it's hard to fire teachers, one could argue if given to overstatement, is that administrators, who are not members of the union, are lazy and incompetent and fail to fulfill their important role even as they get more money than teachers and have more say over how schools function. Another way to think about it is that figuring out who is a good, bad, or indifferent teacher is a complicated undertaking and that we should be working with administrators to see to it that they have the time and resources necessary to monitor and judge teachers' quality instead of blathering on about measurement and quality.

In Ms. Weingarten’s proposal, which she presented at a meeting of union leaders and researchers in Washington on Thursday night, teachers would be evaluated using multiple yardsticks, including classroom visits, appraisal of lesson plans and student improvement on tests.
All of which is another way of saying that the evaluation will be much more than "testing" those things that are "measurable."  As I read this, Weingarten is willing to work with administrators to see to it that they do their jobs because, after all, union members, which is to say teachers, want students to succeed and, oddly enough, they also want a decent salary and protection for from irrational supervisors. She is not falling into line with the simplistic notion that the non-crisis in our educational systems can be fixed if we would just measure little Johnny and Janey and then fire the teacher if the measurement isn't what Yglesias thinks it ought to be.

History is a Discipline

Megan McArdle argues that had unions opposed increased productivity
 in 1810, we'd all still be working in cotton mills and dying at 45.
This is an odd argument on several grounds but its central claim is incoherent when you consider the processes through which life expectancy increased.  Increases in longevity are most often the result of decline in infant mortality and this was certainly the case of late 19th century America. Other causes of longer lived folks, improved nutrition and medical care - for example, have nothing to do with economic productivity in the industrial sector.  Better roads and railways, created, sustained, and supported by state intervention in the market place as one example, improved standards for medical professionals and acceptance of the germ theory of disease in the late 19th early 20th for another..  Public hygiene movements, that transformed cities form filthy and disease ridden, used the state's power to recreate cities and, again, have nothing to do with economic productivity. Clean food and drug, air and water acts have nothing to do with economic efficiency or productivity and are responsible for improving the conditions in which people live and work. Humanity's response to the problems created by the exploitative economic relations concerning resources of people lead to intellectual and material improvements: history isn't written in the passive voice.

In this case, as in nearly all cases of improving the material and intellectual position of humanity in a social situation, people decided to overlook economic efficiency because people matter more than profits or things. And its was people acting in the interests of the common good, which is to say clean cities and longer lives, that lead to this improvements. It was also the case that there was an admixture of pure and impure motives for urban renewal: social hygienist were often fans of Eugenics and agents who wanted strong states often transformed cities for reason of their security as well as public health. Lots of American urban reformers of the left and the right spring to mind of the first and Hausmann's Paris for the second. As medicine improved its professional profile, midwifery declined. Nonetheless, let's not throw healthy babies, clean cities, and related whatnottery out with soiled bath water.

Right now this very moment, in the interests of economic efficiency and increased productivity,extractive industries are polluting and working on returning us to the 19th century so we can all die young.

Just as was the case with Baumol's argument about productivity and increased wages things don't just happen they are made to happen by people interesting in making them happen for reasons good and ill. The only reason to ignore the fact that people make their own history, albeit not in a context of their own creation - to paraphrase some old windbag or another, is if you want people to think that the miserable world created  by Neoliberalism's commitment to market fundamentalism is "natural" instead of being foist upon us by unpleasant  men and women who wish that the greatest number of us  suffered for the increasing few.