Monday, August 29, 2011

So, About All Those Bad Teachers

The general - though misguided - consensus is that public education is a failure. And the general cause of this failure is assigned as "bad teachers." That seems to be the mantra of every education reformer from Michelle Rhee to Bill Gates. And, of course unions and tenure get a pretty good shot.

In response, teachers will often acknowledge the presence of bad teachers and the weaknesses of due process for "bad teachers" but assert that there are far more complex issues at stake - particularly the lack of accountability for students, parents, and administrators. Few people outside the field have ever experienced the challenge of trying to promote learning to resistant adolescents. And even fewer have knowledge of just how many bad teachers are out there or why they might be "bad teachers." It's worth noting, for example, that education does have a self-selecting system of attrition. In that, I mean 60% of new teachers leave the profession in the first three years. Thus, they quit - as opposed to sticking it out and keeping that "easy job for life."

And, then, every once in a while the curtain is pulled back for just a moment, and one honest soul provides some insight into the schools where all the bad teachers are blocking achievement from these children thirsty for education. Such is the case with the recent expose "Confessions of a Bad Teacher" from John Owens, an editor with a long career in the publishing industry who decided to step into the classroom to "make a difference."

He got quite the education.

Google and the Loss of Existing Knowledge

Researchers have long noted that the human brain compartmentalizes and categories all new information it encounters. This organizing stems from the reality that learning new material is rather arduous. That is why our learning curve is so steep - it takes us year or more to simply be able to make words ... but acquisition of new words from that point is exponential. Thus, we use old information to make sense of new information - and, so, the more we know the easier it is to learn.

This physiological reality is not lost on teachers of reading. The most important technique for any effective reader is to access existing knowledge to make sense of new information. Ultimately, I encourage my students to become "people on whom nothing is lost." They need to access a great deal of new information in short time periods - and it's easier if their brains already have some place to put it - something to which the new info can be connected. And from the time of Roman orators, we know the growth in rhetoric and literature and science was intrinsically linked to previous information. Roman students spent vast amounts of time memorizing the classics. Abraham Lincoln spent vasts amount of time copying the speeches of Cicero by hand. All told, their brains and their abilities to think critically grew exponentially.

Thus, I worry about this latest generation - the Google generation. Google and the internet are wonderful innovations that have made life infinitely more efficient. Yet, current students are the first group who have legitimate reason not to commit information to memory because they can simply look it up. Think about how they know many of their friends phone numbers simply as #4 on speed-dial - or even worse simply by the name in the directory where they can often voice activate "Call Steve."

This is a problem.

The less we commit to memory on a daily basis, the less are brains are enabled to form the categories and make the connections that lead to higher level critical thinking and, even, innovation. Thus, I would assert that it is still a good idea for students to memorize a speech or monologue or sonnet from Shakespeare. It's still a good idea for students to write in-class essays from memory with no access to the book or their notes. It's still a good idea for students to study spelling and memorize their times tables.

In fact, it might not just be a good idea. It might be an imperative.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

New Postings on GatherNews

I've got a new forum for some of my writing. At this point, they're featuring articles for me in the areas of news and politics. The platform is called GatherNews - it features news/commentary on trending topics. Currently, I have four pieces published, and you can find them here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Can I Have the Answer Key?

It's a time-honored tradition in education that there is no reason to reinvent the wheel when it comes to lesson plans, especially tests and quizzes. My files are open to anyone who needs anything, and years ago I organized a computerized folder and file system for my department to share materials more easily. Of course, all teachers make their classes unique, and thus I may ask a question or focus on a piece of information that others don't. Thus, we do have to revise and adapt all test materials to the expectations our specific class.

Years ago there was a veteran teacher at my school who, like me, had a knack for creating units - especially tests - and she had materials for practically everything. However, she was old school and tough as nails. So, inevitably another - often younger - teacher would use one of her tests in a class and then ask for the answer key. Her answer was always the same. "If you need the answer key, make one. And if you can't answer all the questions, you have no business giving this test." Upon delivering this curt response, she'd turn back to what she was doing, sending her colleague out the office door with tail firmly between legs.

Now, I've never been able to be so hard-nosed ... but I understand. Instead I will hand over the key, and then recommend that the teacher look over the test and edit out any questions which weren't specifically focused on in that particular class. And, of course, many teachers will simply assert that there is no reason to take the twenty to fill out a key if there is already one completed. But, still. Don't you wonder sometimes?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back to School Movies

As school gears up and all the drama gets going, it's worth taking some time and checking out the best movies about high school. I recently received one list of the top back-to-school movies of all time. While the list isn't bad, I certainly would challenge the number one ranking of Rodney Dangerfield's Back To School, especially because it comes in ahead of The Breakfast Club. Alas, we all have our opinions, and there are many worthwhile teen flicks on the list.

It's, of course, no surprise that the bulk of the movies were released during the 1980s - the Golden Era of teen cinema. However, there have been some great teen movies lately, namely Easy A. And, in a great nod to the 1980s and teen cinema, I recently watched Topher Grace in the film Take Me Home Tonight, which isn't quite a teen film, but a pretty good movie that captures a lot of the 1980s and the teen angst that sometimes extends past adolescence and into the first few years out of college.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Engineering and Trades Up, Banking Down

In the past few weeks, I've encountered numerous stories about increased hiring by corporate industry giants such as Seimens Technology and GE. At the same time, Bank of America, HSBC, and UBS are all announcing large scale layoffs over the next couple years. So, perhaps last decade's trend of the best and brightest math and science minds going into finance for a quick score has crested, and we may see a return to engineering colleges and a new rise in innovation. Additionally, the stories at Seimens and GE indicate that they are seeking skilled labor as well. That will mean a rising need for technical workers. It's doubtful that politicians and education leaders will have enough foresight to prime the pump for this growth. But I'm hoping.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back in the Swing of Things

Today was the first day back for students .... and it only took a second for me to feel the energy and be ready for the year. This is the first year I am not teaching College Prep English to juniors - as I am now teaching our first dual-credit, or concurrent enrollment (CE), class offered in English. Seniors can now sign up to take Intro to College Composition and Intro to College Literature. They are required to take the Accu-Placer test to qualify for the college credit. And students are allowed to take the class even if they don't qualify for credit.

The CE model is long overdue, and I am excited to teach it. The class will enable students to receive credit at both the high school and a local community college at the same time. Thus, the model is similar to AP, but the students don't have to take the exam at the end of the year for credit. And, the credit is awarded automatically as long as the receive a C or better in the class. The credits must be accepted by any state university or college in Colorado, and should transfer to any schools which have reciprocity with Colorado.

Now, clearly these classes are not the rigor of my AP Language and Composition. But not many freshman comp classes in college meet the rigor of AP's curriculum. Thus, any student who can write well enough to earn credit at a state two-year or four-year college should be able to get the credit in high school. Overall, this approach is necessary and practical for the needs of many high school seniors.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sandwich King Spreads the Love

The Food Network's Newest Star Jeff Mauro "The Sandwich King" premiered his new show this morning at 11:30, and he left no doubts about the judges decision last week to award Jeff with his own show. Presenting an engaging personality and quality recipes, Jeff effectively introduced his show by revealing the secrets of the perfect Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich. Flipping back and forth between his time in the studio kitchen and a feature trip to the Italian beef restaurant of his youth, Jeff's show was a lot of fun. Shooting on location from Johnny's Italian Beef in Elmwood Park, Illinois, Jeff introduced the idea of the sandwich with stories of visiting the shop after a day at his Chicago Catholic school. He explained the way the sandwich is prepared, as well as the atmosphere of the scene, with most people eating the sandwich standing up. I could practically smell the "juice" as Jeff took a trip to Italian beef nostalgia.

In the kitchen Jeff walked through the steps of recreating this Chicago staple at home by starting with a pot roast, and then cooking up a nice pepper and onion relish to put on top. As most people don't have a meat slicer at home, Jeff recommended the roast which could simply be pulled apart for the sandwich. While the roast was cooking Jeff also presented a unique creation he calls a Focaccianini = a panini sandwich using a nice mortadella, cheese, and homemade fig spread. Because he doesn't have a panini press in the kitchen (who does?), Jeff pressed the sandwich on a griddle with a bacon press. Great tip and amusing idea. I loved Jeff's description of the mortadella - "the rich man's baloney" - and his comment that every house should have a pound of it on hand. When the beef sandwich was ready, Jeff walked us through creating the au jus, or as Chicagoans call it, "the juice." The sandwich looked - and practically smelled - heavenly.

The Food Network has come a long, long way from the early days of single camera cooking lessons with simply a chef, a studio kitchen, and a recipe. In fact, there's ample evidence to the argument that the Food Network is producing some of the best television on the air today. Jeff's show neatly juxtaposed his work in the kitchen with a little slice of life with the visit to Johnny's. Additionally, the multi-camera editing and split screens created an entertaining montage of shots of Jeff cutting up and preparing the onions and peppers. It was a refreshing change from the often laborious shots of cook's cutting veggies and trying to fill the time with banter - not that stand-up specialist Jeff is ever at a loss for words. But, overall, the producers made some nice editing decisions in giving America its first "taste" of The Sandwich King.

Nice show, Jeff.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sports & Energy Drink Stupidity

Sports and energy drinks are not a healthy choice. Sports and energy drinks do not "enhance performance." Sports and energy drinks have no business in the hands of children. Sports drinks are awful - and I am regularly shocked at how many American's are ignorantly "drinking the Kool-Aid" of the sports drink myth.

At a large baseball workout and practice session for my nine-year-old this morning, I was amazed and disturbed by the sheer numbers of children sipping Gatorade, Powerade, and energy drinks in between drills. The practice was at an indoor air-conditioned training facility, and no child ever ran more than about thirty yards. The rest of the time was spent on throwing mechanics, fielding drills, and hitting in batting cages. And, these kids were sucking down sports drinks. Worst of all, the parents are pushing it on these kids.

There is no situation I can imagine when children have gone through such a physically grueling workout that they need to "replace electrolytes" and sugars ... not to mention consume dyes and artificial colors and flavors. Gatorade was originally created for the Florida Gators because of the extreme fluid loss their practices and games. What is being sold today - often now containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) instead of the original fructose or sucrose syrup - is nothing but chemically dyed and flavored sugar water. In practically any situation where children are exerting themselves, water is sufficient to replace fluid loss. For more intense workouts, athletes would better serve their bodies by eating an apple or banana - and maybe a complex protein like nuts - along with plenty of H2O after a workout.

Quick quiz: How much sugar does the body need on a daily basis? The answer is none. There is never a need for a person to ingest additional sugars. Thus, this misguided ignorant consumption of sports drinks is harming children more than helping them re-hydrate. Of course, the greater crime is the parents allowing their children to ingest energy drinks. The most disturbing example was the young player who was sipping a NOS-Grape "High Performance Energy Drink" during breaks. This insane-ly over-sugared stimulant contains carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, taurine (an amino acid used as a stimulant), L-carnitine (amino acid), caffeine (stimulant), inositol (a sugar ), ginseng (stimulant), sucralose (chlorinated sugar), and Red#40 and Blue#1 dyes. On the side of the can are the following words CAUTION: POWERFUL - Not recommended for children. Giving this drink to a child is a disturbing degree of negligence and downright stupidity on the part of this child's parents.

Granted, a number of kids like my son were simply taking a sip from the water fountain or simple water bottles when they were thirsty. Yet, the preponderance of kids sipping dyed, sugar water at a casual sports practice gives me little hope for the health of the average American.

Stop drinking this garbage.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Government and Jobs

I have to laugh at politicians - especially in the GOP - going back and forth about their beliefs regarding government and job creation. Half the time the political leaders - especially governors such as Rick Perry of Texas - are claiming they "created jobs," and the other half of the time they are claiming the government doesn't and can't create jobs. That latter position, of course, excludes all public service as well all the private sector jobs that come from government contracts, especially infrastructure spending.

Of course, the GOPers will respond that their create jobs by getting out of the way of the business sector. The reality is that policies can be more business friendly - as companies will seek incentives and subsidies to relocate or build a factory or train new workers, etc. However, as we've see over the last decade, a pro-business policy - especially tax and regulation policy - doesn't mean it's pro-jobs. In fact, corporate profits, executive pay, dividends, and cost cutting are proving that the new rule is "pro-business" often means job losses.

GE is moving thousands of jobs to China - even as the President has reached out to their leadership about creating jobs at home. Of course, GE's job is to make money, and they are free to do it wherever they can. Yet, if their policies have a negative on growth in the US and negatively impact American communities, we should not treat them so favorably. That's why I think any tax cut/deduction/rebate ought to be tied specifically to numbers of local jobs produced. If you cut jobs at home or locate them elsewhere, you lose the tax incentive.

Seems pretty obvious ... but I can already hear the pundits shouting it down.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stock Market Yo-yo

And, of course, the stock market plummeted again today. Apparently investors are worrying about the possibility of another recession. So, they are selling stocks.

Could we simply ignore what the stock market is doing and simply focus on the issue of jobs. The US economy will not contract and slip into another recession as long as business owners start hiring - or at least stop laying people off. The economy is driven by consumer demand - and consumers only spend when the have money. So, if companies committed to maintaining employment levels and maintaining wages, consumers will continue to spend. That will, very simply, stave off any contraction in the economy.

If any business owner and investor is worried about a recession, he or she can simply not contribute to the problem by not cutting jobs or wages. He can contribute to the solution by hiring back some of the nine million people laid off since 2008.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Huntsman for GOP Presidency Nod

Watching the Republican debate last week, I was - like many voters - profoundly disappointed in the field .... with one exception. John Huntsman was the one candidate who came across as honest, forthright, and genuine. Unlike Michelle Bachman who "wished the United States had defaulted" or Newt Gingrich who was offended by questions about his record or Ron Paul who (God love him) simply misunderstands national economics in the twentieth century or Mitt Romney who seems to be running from his record and confused about who he is, John Huntsman is the one man who presented a practical and clearly stated philosophy and who is "standing by his record" and "running on his record."

Huntsman can honestly defend his support for the deficit reduction bill and TARP and the stimulus plan. He can openly acknowledge his support of cap and trade legislation on climate change - especially because he can point out it was the Heritage Institute's idea. He can stand by his position on civil unions - because even that should be seen as conservative. He can look at conservatives and say, "Hey, this was our idea" and it's still a good one even if the Democrats embraced it. That's the same thing Mitt Romney should have said about the individual mandate. Instead of running from it, he should have stood his ground and said, "Hey! This is a conservative idea. This started with the Heritage Institute. It's still a good idea - even if Obama adopted it."

So, as an unaffiliated independent - one who is moderate with a strong fiscal conservative foundation who has much to criticize about the Democrats at the federal level - I will say this: In a contest between Huntsman and Obama today, I would be likely to vote for Huntsman. In a race between Obama and anyone else on the stage, my vote would go with Obama running away. If the GOP really wanted to appeal to the independents, they'd go with someone like Huntsman - or Johnson out of New Mexico.

But they won't. So, at this point I am stuck with the Democrats.

NCAA Academic Standards

In a move that is either a late but much needed - or more likely a symbolic but meaningless - act of reform in the higher education field, the NCAA voted to raise the base academic standards that it requires for its athletes. The board implemented a tougher baseline standards for schools to remain eligible for post-season play. Though the plans are still broad and won't be fully enacted for three years, word is the new standards would have barred Ohio State from post-season play in recent years - and the move would also limit their scholarships.

This action is way overdue - and probably won't be that effective. But it may be progress. As I've argued before, it is absurd that the NCAA and associated schools can sign TV contracts for billions of dollars and then claim tax-exempt status because of "their educational mission." The idea that the University of Texas has an "educational mission" for its football and basketball players would be laughable - if it weren't so pathetic and corrupt.

Considering 95% of the NCAA athletes playing basketball and football will never play professionally, the educational mission must take precedence. For sports outside of the big two, the rate is 100%. Thus, it may be high time for higher education to start paying its dues in terms of the revenue it generates if it is not going to accomplish the basic task of providing an education.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Do Special Needs Need Vouchers

The battle over the proposed - and now suspended - voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado has generated some serious discussion about the needs of students and the right of choice in schools and how tax dollars are spent. As I've noted before, Douglas County struck some as an unusual place for a voucher program - as it is one of the richest counties in the USA, and it's students are not trying to escape failing schools. Thus, the issue is all about freedom of choice - though Colorado already has statewide open enrollment. Thus, the issue is really about using public dollars to choose a private and/or religious education. However, in the testimony for the district's plan, one interesting claim was made by a woman who claims her son's special needs require a private school. So, that's a new angle.

Resident Diane Oakley appealed to the district to pass this voucher plan because her son has special needs - Asperger's syndrome. Oakley claims she needs the voucher to pay the $17,000 tuition at a private school called Humanex Academy - as that is the school that can meet the needs of her son. I am curious about this assertion. As a public school teacher, I know that her son's diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome qualifies him for special service under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Thus, in Douglas County Schools, he would have a case manager and a specialized instruction program to assist him in fully accessing his right to a free and public education. Certainly, a well-funded school system like DC is going to have all the necessary support for students with special needs. And, if a public school cannot provide for a students needs under the law, families can file suit for additional support. Thus, I am wondering why this parent believes that only this private school can meet her son's needs.

Over the years I have had numerous students with Asperger's Syndrome, as well as numerous other conditions such as ADD, ADHD, anxiety disorder, sensory processing syndromes, etc. At every school I know, there are qualified personal to assist students with these struggles. I've had students with these conditions - including Asperger's - in my basic level classes that have been team taught, and I've had them in my honors and AP classes. Thus, I have no doubt that public schools - especially high quality schools like DC - can provide every angle of support to assist students in accessing their education. However, occasionally parents will feel like their child needs even more than the school provides. At those times, students do pursue private alternatives. However, that decision is personal, and I'm not sure the public schools have to support that perspective. Certainly, any parents can file with districts if they believe that the school can't provide for a legally recognized disability.

Thus, the idea of a voucher being necessary for special needs students is questionable in my opinion.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Next Food Network Star

In the most exciting, competitive, and entertaining season yet of the Food Network's reality TV challenge to be the next "Food Network Star," the title of rising star on the Food TV scene went to Jeff Mauro. Jeff beat out eleven other competitors in a weekly test of food skills and camera challenges to earn his own show on the Food Network. Jeff created a compelling and marketable vision as "The Sandwich Guy," and his consistent commitment to that vision throughout the competition is what solidified the win for him. From his top notch cooking flair as an executive chef to his engaging stand-up comedy persona, Jeff proved to have what numerous judges and panels throughout the show deemed "star quality."

Though I don't watch a lot of TV - especially reality TV competitions - I truly enjoy the high quality lifestyle programming that is the trademark of the Food Network. Thus, last year on vacation my family became engrossed in the weekly Sunday night food cook-offs that led to Arti Sequeria winning the title of Food Network Star. Her show Arti party is still running on Sunday mornings. This year's competition was engaging from the start with quality cooks and dramatic personality clashes. But, ultimately, it was Jeff's skill and charm that earned him victory. From the beginning, my wife and I had pegged Jeff and other finalist Suzie as the two people we wanted - and expected - in the finals. We were not disappointed. Suzie was a great competitor and truly deserved to go as far as she did - but there was no doubt that Jeff was the next Food Network Star.

If you haven't yet checked out the show that launched the career of Diners, Drive-in, & Dives star Guy Fieri, you missed the exciting run of the Food Network's next great personality - Jeff Maruo, The Sandwich Guy. Jeff's show airs next Sunday morning, and it will contain his trademark line - "You're only a couple steps away from turning any sandwich into a meal, and any meal into a fantastic sandwich."

Congratulations, Jeff. Can't wait to see your show.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Paying College Football Players is Absurd

Denver Post sports columnist Mark Kiszla hit the "debt ceiling" of absurdity in today's Sunday commentary by asserting college athletes should receive a stipend. Acknowledging the situation of the Ohio State player selling his ring for money, Kizla interviewed two Bronco's players - Hall of Famer Floyd Little and second round draft pick Von Miller. Little completely opposed the idea, while Miller allegedly said a stipend "would be nice." Ultimately, Kizla's piece goes completely over the top with some of his reasoning. The image of players begging for $20 to get a haircut after having $20000 - $50000 in bills comp-ed is beyond reason.

The obvious response to Kizla's defense of these poor, struggling football players is: Where the heck are the kids' parents? What is their responsibility for making sure their child can get a haircut, go to the movies, and have a snack - especially after other citizens have foot the bill for their kids education. Kiz naively assumes all college football players are poverty-stricken refugees from public housing. Then, he features Von Miller who grew up with middle class parents who are small business owners. After getting a free ride from tuition, Dad can pony up for a Von's haircuts and movies. Can you imagine how much the Miller's grocery bill dropped while Texas A&M was feeding and housing him for four years?

Kiszla also assumes the Ohio State player who sold his ring needed the $8000 for haircuts - rather than beer money and club cover charges. When I was a student at the University of Illinois, I knew more than a dozen Illini players. None were hurting for money on the weekends. As a high school teacher, I've had dozens of students go on to play college sports, including football and basketball. None had trouble with daily living expenses.

Playing college football is not a job, and these players are already being compensated. They not only get a free education and a reasonably comfortable living situation, but they are given a free opportunity to compete on a national stage for millions of future earnings. Once they make those millions, do any feel a responsibility to pay back the university for spotting them? Of course not. They use the university as much as the university uses them. And if anyone is going to pay a stipend for these kids, it shouldn't be the colleges footing yet another bill. If Von Miller and his NFL buddies think it "would be nice" for players to get a stipend, maybe they can create a charity fund from their signing bonuses. At this point, Von could sponsor quite a few players for $300 a month.

The idea that these players deserve a monthly paycheck is unsupportable. The belief that they need it because they can't afford a haircut is downright outrageous.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Douglas County Vouchers Unconstitutional

The Denver District Court has pulled the plug on the controversial voucher program that was implemented by the Douglas County School District in Colorado earlier this year. In a 68-page rule Judge Michael Martinez ruled that the program - which allowed a percentage of district funds to be used by students for private schools - violated Colorado's Constitution which specifically prohibits any use of public funds from supporting religious schools. Thus, the 304 students who had applied for - and received a portion of - a voucher of roughly $4,000 will not be able to proceed in their plans to attend a school other than a public school on the taxpayer's dime. The suit was filed by, among others, the ACLU and a group of Douglas County residents who opposed the program.

The program raised intense debate over the last year as proponents argued from freedom of choice on the parts of parents - who are taxpayers - and opponents who argued it violates the law. To be clear, Colorado's state Constitution does, in fact, literally forbid the use of public funds for religious schools. Thus, this is not simply a debate over whether the US Constitution literally or figuratively creates a "separation of church and state." Additionally, this case tested boundaries precisely because of the socioeconomic status of the students involved. Generally, vouchers have been proposed to help poor students escape struggling schools. However, Douglas County is the sixth wealthiest county in the nation, and its schools are not in any way struggling. Well, that's not true - they are struggling for money in one of the most tax-averse parts of the country. But the quality of the education is not in dispute. It's merely the freedom of choice.

As I've noted before, I am not completely rigid in my opposition to the use of vouchers. For me, education reform is all about whatever works. To that I would assert that Douglas County schools are, in fact, working. Yet, I do believe in freedom of choice - though Colorado schools do have open enrollment laws that apply statewide. And, I won't dispute that school reform darling Finland uses a voucher-style system. So, this particular program is awkward for a variety of reasons - and I don't support change for change sake or the idea that freedom and taxpayers' rights know no bounds. Thus, my gut overall is that this program is unnecessary and not in the best interest of public education or education reform. Supreme Court, get ready.

For the most part, the students were choosing religious schools, which clearly and literally violates Colorado's state Constitution. However, some parents filed for the money because they claim their child's special needs require a private school. That's a discussion for a later post.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Care About America? Buy American

Apparently, ABC News and Diane Sawyer have keyed in on the idea that one of America's biggest problems is that Americans don't buy products made in America .... and, of course, America doesn't make enough products. In a recent report, Sawyer explained that if Americans simply focused on making sure that they shifted their spending by $20 week to specifically buy American products, the result would lead to the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Certainly, choosing to buy American is not a bad idea. And, it's not that difficult.

I tend to agree with this sentiment. That's why I have never owned one of them "foreign" cars. Every car I've bought from the time I was sixteen has been a Ford, Chevy, or GMC. And, of course, I hear a lot of the flak from other consumers about the superior quality of German or Japanese cars - but I don't buy it. And, don't try to explain that your Honda Civic was "made in America." If it's not an Ford, Chevy, or GM, then the profits are going abroad, and it's not helping the American economy. I apply the same logic to food purchases as often as I can. When my family goes out, we often do so in my own town. When I fill my tank, it is always in Greenwood Village. Whenever I can buy produce at a farmers market, I do so. It helps the local economy - and the local tax base.

Thus, my conclusion is that if any American voter out there is truly concerned about the state of our economy or debt or deficit or unemployment, then he should make a concerted effort to by American and buy all natural and local whenever he can.

Scarborough Tells It Like It Is

Whenever people wonder how I can claim to be a conservative - or how I could vote for the GOP - I could simply point to someone like Joe Scarborough. The amicable, pragmatic, and wise host of the show Morning Joe is precisely the type of moderate conservative that I support - and he represents the GOP I used to believe in. If Joe Scarborough were running for office in my district, I'd campaign for him, and if he were running for President, I'd feel great about the future. Joe Scarborough is quite simply a pragmatic and rational conservative who puts the American people above politics. He did it in Congress, and he continues to promote that view as a commentator. And he's got moxie to go with his political insight. Here's a little of that Joe Scarborough snap:

"Michele Bachmann's first answer was, I wish the federal government had defaulted. Had defaulted! A week after Americans lost--some of them perhaps lost half of their pensions. Lost half of their 401ks. When trillions of dollars went down the drain with Americans suffering, she said that and got applause, and if anybody thinks that guys like my dad are going to be voting that way...they are out of their mind and they are too stupid not only to prognosticate, they are too stupid to run Slurpee machines in Des Moines...Michele Bachmann is a joke. She is a joke. Her answer is a joke. Her candidacy is a joke...Iowa, if you let her win, you prove your irrelevance once again."

Tell it like it is, Joe.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sit-com Community is a Great Find

Last spring two freshman boys in my Honors English 9 class recommended that I watch the new sitcom Community which recently finished its second season. As I don't generally watch much prime-time television - and I find most sitcoms these days mind-numbingly bland - I was unfamiliar with the show. However, the boys insisted that I would like it. Their argument centered around how much each episode derives from allusions to contemporary pop culture - especially from the 1980s. Because I was impressed with my students understanding of allusion - and awareness of it in this show - I recently rented the first season. And, I was not disappointed.

Community represents all that can be great about television and specifically about the sitcom. The premise of the show is a study group from an introductory Spanish class at a community college which seems to be somewhere in California. The group consists of six community college students - but the initial focus was on lead character Jeff Winger - who is a disbarred lawyer returning to college for a degree after his initial bachelor's was discovered to be falsified. Jeff - incredibly smart, witty, and superficially jaded but with a heart of gold - forms the study group in order to get in the pants of tough girl Britta Perry. The rest of the group coalesces out of random associations - and the dysfunction is hilarious. Without getting into story lines, suffice it to say, each episode brings a new challenge for the group that starts small but eventually envelops all characters and their unique situations.

It's been a while since I've seen a show this intelligent and wacky at the same time - reminds me of early Scrubs or early Spin City. And the allusions which were mentioned by my students are the key to the brilliance. This satire of contemporary American pop culture, viewed through the lens of the the industry that has grown out of higher education, is insightful social commentary - and it's probably one of the best shows on TV right now.

Check it out.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

S&P Blames GOP

Interesting insight in a quote from the S&P Ratings Board on why they downgraded US Treasury debt - "Compared with previous projections, our revised base scenario now assumes the 2001/03 tax cuts, due to expire, now remain in place. We have changed our assumptions because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenue."

Strangely, that hasn't been getting much press. I would have guessed the liberal media would have heavily promoted that. And, it looks like a moot point anyway, because in the sell-off investors continued to go to T-bills, even though other countries still have AAA-ratings. Guess we still are the big dog. At least the market got up today and regained some sanity. Overall, the Dow has way too much influence on our psyche anyway. Even as the market moves along - fast or slow - wild swings in daily trading bring about talk of doom and gloom. And even as the Dow was rising the last two years and companies were posting record profits - which in turn drove up their stock prices - unemployment and the misery index remained high.

Thus, I am curious the proposal to put a minor - like .0025% - tax on stock transactions? Some are proposing it as a way to cut down on speculation and the wild swings in the market. It could raise some revenue at the same time it regulates the uncertainty. Ultimately, it'll be a no-go - but it's a reasonable idea.

Friday, August 5, 2011

T-Bills and the "Full Faith and Credit" of the USA


How about that market play yesterday and today?

Isn't it fascinating that yesterday, amidst all the hysteria, investors sought refuge in T-Bills ... still ... even when returns went slightly negative for a short time?

Do you think that will convince radical pundits, extreme think tanks, and truly naive congressman to never, ever, ever f*%# around with the "full faith and credit" of the United States government again?

I would certainly hope so - but I doubt it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Are Taxes Wrong?

One of my favorite bloggers, Darren at RightOnTheLeftCoast, occasionally posts about how the safety net programs of the US government are not Christian. In this post, which links to an article of similar mindset, he argues it again. If you check the comments, you'll see Darren and I have hashed this out on various occasions, and we simply disagree. However, I am somewhat baffled by his line of thought in some areas.

For example, I am curious about his occasional references to taxes as money "taken forcibly" or under the "threat of violence." This sentiment has been voiced by longtime TeachersView commenter Steven, who opposes all taxes - and pretty much all government - on the basis that it stems from threats of violence and confiscation. In his recent post, Darren says taxes and social programs are "not Christian" and other times he's said taxes, because they are taken against some citizen's wills are "not moral." I am wondering about the issue of taxes and morality.

Of course, Darren argues it's not Christian for the confiscated money to be given to the poor. Is it then also "not Christian" and "immoral" to use that money to inflict violence against other nations and peoples? Is using tax money to fight wars that not all people support wrong? Immoral? Un-Christian? Or are we just picking and choosing what we think is OK to use that "forcibly taken" money?

Darren also wondered what the Pope would say about taxes and social programs in terms of morality and Christianity. The pope has publicly condemned the War on Terror. So, clearly, using taxes to fund that would seemingly be un-Christian - especially since man was called upon by Christ to "turn the other cheek." However, the Pope hasn't publicly condemned "taxes" or "Social Security" or "unemployment compensation" or "food stamps." And, of course, Christ never said that "individuals" should be charitable but governments shouldn't. He made no distinction. I have a hard time believing that Christ would have admonished the Roman government if it had a safety net. He said pay your taxes.

Are taxes, as I believe Darren is arguing, immoral? If so, is by nature the Constitution immoral. For one of the first and primary powers given to the government in the Constitution is the authority to "levy taxes." The people went a step further with an amendment to specifically "levy taxes" on income. Thus, the authority to collect taxes is a founding tenant of the Constitution. And, as I've argued before, Christ had no opposition to taxes. Though he did exhort corrupt tax collectors to not take more than was due.

Just wondering.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Artistic License and the Disappointing Harry Potter Conclusion


Movies are rarely - or so rarely to mean never - better than the books. The only two major films that I recall being better than the book from which they are derived are Dances With Wolves and The Godfather. Thus, I had no great hope for a truly masterful final movie in the Harry Potter saga - one which honored and satisfactorily concluded the story. None of the previous films impressed me much - and some, like Goblet of Fire with a strangely aggressive and menacing Dumbledore, really disappointed me. Yet, I went to see the final installment of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - and I felt somewhat flat afterward.

I just don't understand the artistic license that the screenwriter and directors of the Harry Potter films have taken with the story. Why do they change scenes for seemingly inexplicable reasons? Why do they think they can tell a better story? Why does Rowling agree to such changes. Why? Of course, I understand some of the justifications. Some scenes simply don't translate well onto the screen - some scenes are too expensive or not visual enough. Sometimes directors want just a little more action - and sometimes they just want to make the product their own (even though it isn't).

But what was up with that final battle? How disappointing. Why were Voldemort and Snape in the boathouse (?) instead of the Shrieking Shack? Why wasn't Nagini balled up and protected in the giant orb? What was up with Snape crying his memories into tears? These sort of minor changes just make no sense - and some come across as actually quite stupid.

Why was final battle during the day? And why were Harry and Voldemort fighting outside - and all around - Hogwarts? And what the heck was that flying dive off the tower? What did Harry say - something about "ending as it began?" Whatever. And when Harry and Voldemort both hit the ground, how does it make sense that they crawl and struggle for their wands. Accacio wand, anyone? Voldemort crawls for his wand? Really? What the ...? Ultimately, that final battle between Harry and Voldemort was epic in the book - and as bland as any Tom-Cruise-movie-fight in the film. Boring. Boring. Borrr .....

The final conversation between Harry and Dumbldore was so pivotal and emotional in the book - and it left me quite flat in the movie. Thus, I walked away from the saga feeling a bit let down. And, of course, I haven't watched most of the movies for all the same reason. Yet, I did have hope - and it wasn't terrible. Just not all that great.

I am, of course, a traditionalist and a purist, meaning I don't really like change that much. Especially change for change's sake. I guess it's the conservative in me.