Saturday, May 26, 2007

Looking for a cheap McMansion?

McMansions are this generation's equivalent to the big-finned car. 5000 or more sq ft for a family of four. Architecturally uu-ugly yet an auspicious display of wealth. My brother lives in one outside of Philly. I can get lost in the thing for days. He's good natured about the ribbing I give him about it.

Are they on they way out? From a recent article:

"Meaning the inventory of McMansions is likely to grow. And grow. And grow. Could we one day see a landscape with large white elephants lingering on the market?

"I find it difficult to see how we won't," Lawler says."

McMansions are despised by elites but it's interesting to note that the last Gilded Age produced their own form of the McMansion which were considered uu-ugly in their day. In the small town I grew up in the the 1960's they were tearing down the old Victorians. These houses are now considered beautiful landmarks.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

College Credentialing and the Vaildity of Standardized Exams

I commented on the role of colleges in credentialing and the role of standardized exams in predicting success.

Both of these topics are the topics of two bloggers.

China and Darfur has a good piece on China's contribution to the Darfur crisis. An interesting tidbit:

"This funding came through our investments in companies such as Fidelity, which has major holdings in PetroChina and Sinopec--two Chinese oil companies that have poured billions into Khartoum's coffers. At least 70% of Sudan's oil revenues have been used by Khartoum to purchase attack helicopters, Antonov bombers and small arms used to kill and inflict immeasurable suffering upon the population of Darfur."

The article goes on to describe Warren Buffet's investments in Chinese petroleum importing companies:

"Mr. Buffett states that the real problem in Sudan is with China, not CNPC and PetroChina. But China's interests in Sudan are represented almost entirely by CNPC/PetroChina, which exports between 50% and 80% of Sudan's oil to mainland China."

It's clear that American and Chinese industries must compete on two different playing fields. If an American oil company got involved in Sudan to the extent that CNPC and PetroChina did it wouldn't be nor should be tolerated.

Also it's interesting to note that Warren Buffet dabbles in progressive politics. He was an adviser to the empty suit (and empty mind) of a presidential candidate known as John Kerry.

Military uses slot machines to fund overseas recreation

A CNN story on the use of slot machines on US military bases to fund overseas rec programs. Disgusting. A previous post of mine on state run lotteries.

"The military should not be a predator on its own soldiers and their families," says John Kindt, a business professor at the University of Illinois who has spent years studying the matter. "To be a predator of their own people that are serving their country is outrageous." (Watch why Kindt believes the military should be ashamed Video)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Postmodern Physics

Professor Tipler of Tulane University, hits upon a topic that I wrote about a few weeks ago. It is possible to obtain a Ph.D. in physics from a prestigious American university without a working knowledge of Einstein's theory of relativity. He goes on about the Standard Model of particle physics. He has this to say:

  • "a degree in physics from an American university is no guarantee that the student with this degree understands basic physics. The physics faculty’s increasing ignorance of basic physics is starting to show up in their research, as I describe at length in my recent book, The Physics of Christianity (Doubleday, 2007). I show that, across all disciplines, a collapse of belief in Christianity over the past several decades among university faculty has been accompanied by a collapse in the belief that there is fundamental truth which should be imparted to students."

He attributes the problems with physics faculty's increasing ignorance, and a collapse of Christian beliefs in fundamental truths. I have a less nefarious hypothesis. I teach chemistry and I know faculty that are purposely watering down course material. Why? It's because university administrations, parents, and students believe that the university degree is a credential to the good life. So barriers are lowered and all are happier, including faculty whose performance and thus pay is now judged by student evaluations of teaching. The more credentialized adults the better, right? Let's all rejoice as we pump out ever more degreed nitwits, whose studies consists primarily of underage drinking, and picking up an STD or two.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Whatever Happened to Jamie Escalante?

Escalante was the subject of that 1988 movie "Stand and Deliver". The story line is true, a bunch of inner city kids take the AP Calculus Exam. This 2002 Reason article sums up the results:

"Escalante's students surprised the nation in 1982, when 18 of them passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam. The Educational Testing Service found the scores suspect and asked 14 of the passing students to take the test again. Twelve agreed to do so (the other two decided they didn't need the credit for college), and all 12 did well enough to have their scores reinstated.

In the ensuing years, Escalante's calculus program grew phenomenally. In 1983 both enrollment in his class and the number of students passing the A.P. calculus test more than doubled, with 33 taking the exam and 30 passing it. In 1987, 73 passed the test, and another 12 passed a more advanced version ("BC") usually given after the second year of calculus.

By 1990, Escalante's math enrichment program involved over 400 students in classes ranging from beginning algebra to advanced calculus. Escalante and his fellow teachers referred to their program as "the dynasty," boasting that it would someday involve more than 1,000 students.

That goal was never met. In 1991 Escalante decided to leave Garfield. All his fellow math enrichment teachers soon left as well. By 1996, the dynasty was not even a minor fiefdom. Only seven students passed the regular ("AB") test that year, with four passing the BC exam -- 11 students total, down from a high of 85.

In any field but education, the combination of such a dramatic rise and such a precipitous fall would have invited analysis. If a team begins losing after a coach is replaced, sports fans are outraged. The decline of Garfield's math program, however, went largely unnoticed."

So the solution to the modern problems of where the next generation scientists and engineers will come from stares at us straight in the face. But, peer envy, unions, and a lack of political will, did the program in. Education is the great equalizer, but to access its promise takes determination and plain hard work. In our modern comfort-oriented society we have substituted self-esteem for accomplishment, a very costly bargain

College-Prep Classes Left Many Unready

From the NY Times:

Published: May 15, 2007

Only one-quarter of high school students who take a full set of college-preparatory courses — four years of English and three each of mathematics, science and social studies — are well prepared for college, according to a new study of last year’s high school graduates released today by ACT, the Iowa testing organization.......[read more, registration required]

'like a Swede at Poltava'

Published: 15th May 2007 14:07 CET

This summer will see the first ever excavation of the battlefield at Poltava in the Ukraine. Researchers are hoping to uncover fresh information about the Swedish army's overwhelming defeat at the hands of Russian forces in 1709....
....The defeat at Poltava was so decisive that it later gave rise to the Russian phrase 'like a Swede at Poltava', meaning totally helpless.....

Friday, May 11, 2007

Swedish Teens Ignorant of Communism

From a Swedish newspaper,

....Of the 1004 young Swedes involved in the nationwide poll, 43 percent believed that communist regimes had claimed less than one million lives. A fifth of those surveyed put the death toll at under ten thousand. The actual figure is estimated at around 100 million.

The poll also found that 40 percent of young Swedes believed that communism contributed to increased prosperity in the world; 22 percent considered communism a democratic form of government; 82 percent did not regard Belarus as a dictatorship....[Read More]

Americans aren't the only ones ignorant of world history and perspective. We in the free western world can be ignorant with no consequences. Worse still, if we are informed it may make demands of conscience, so many of us prefer to be ignorant and dismissive of such monstrosities.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cheating in America

Over at there is a story about cheating in higher ed. There is evidence that it is prevalent and on the rise. In the comment section there is this attitude:

"Cheating is the essence of American Society!"

"How else are all of these people supposed to get ahead in American Society?? The myth that hard work and honesty will make you succesful (successful) is just that-a myth."

This is one propagated by many, mostly Marxist-leaning faculty that believe the meritocracy in America is a sham. Our capitalist system is built upon those willing to exploit and cheat their way to the top. While there are those that rise in this fashion, Americans believe otherwise, i.e. hard work, and honesty is what built America and will continue to do so. This is what I experienced when I lived in blue state, such as New Jersey and in the red state in which I now reside. If we stop believing this America will quickly fall.

The next question is why so many faculty believe in the cheating, capitalist pig syndrome? Universities in themselves are soft on cheating. I caught a cheater 8 years ago and was surprised this did not result in expulsion, merely a zero on that assignment through my university'spolicy. I did make him feel uncomfortable enough to leave the university. I was happy to railroad that cheater out of my university.

05/11/07 Update: an article on cheating in higher ed.

...One disincentive to cheating that he advocates: ease up on tough grading standards. One might wonder whether there isn't enough grade inflation already and also whether today's relatively affluent and leisure-afforded students are really under more pressure than their forebears...
...Fewer and fewer students seem to believe that academic cheating violates their own internalized standards of honesty and good character....
Many professors and administrators are quietly doing exactly that: abandoning take-home tests and their temptations and devising cheat-proof exams (multiple versions of the same midterm, for example) or requiring students to submit their term papers through, a Web-based plagiarism screener. ...

the False Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi

Steve Sailor writes about Sabbatai Zevi:

........Another historical character worthy of Borges is the False Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi. One of the major figures in Paul Johnson's A History of the Jews is the 17th Century mystic Sabbatai Zevi, a bipolar ecstatic from Smyrna who, with the help of his brilliant publicity agent Nathan of Gaza, declared himself the redeemer of the Jews. His claims caused wild excitement in Jewish communities throughout the world. But when Sabbatai Zevi (there are alternate spellings such as Shabbetai Zevi and Shabbtai Tzvi) traveled to Constantinople in 1666, the Ottoman Sultan threatened him with death unless he performed a miracle or converted to Islam. He chose the latter....

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Jewish Messianic Claimants

Over in Wikipedia there is an interesting list of Jewish Messianic Claimants. There is also an interesting article on Jewish messianism. When I lived nearby New York City in the late 80's and early 90's a branch of Hasidic Jews, the Lubavitchers believed that their Rabbi, Menachem Schneerson was the Messiah.

English Majors with no Shakespeare , Physics with no Relativity

Over in Phi Beta Cons there's a post on the disappearance of relativity from the physics curriculum. One can go through the Ph.D. level in physics without any study of Einstein's relativity. A physicist equates this with the study of English with no Shakespeare. A chemist from Oregon thinks it's a good idea to leave out relativity. I disagree with the chemist, the point of education is not only to equip the student with factual knowledge necessary for today's context but also to be able to acquire and expand upon new ideas and concepts. A first rate mind will also conceive of and/or seek these new paradigms. For this relativity is an excellent tool. When I took relativity, we got to see how Newtonian physics failed under circumstances of high speeds and how Einstein stepped in. This is an excellent exercise in how to learn how to be creative. Many professors in the sciences and engineering are bemoaning students that demand "just enough knowledge" to fill in some formula. University administrators eager to fill seats are very accommodating to this attitude through student evaluations of teaching. These students are being set up for a lifetime of mundane jobs that can be easily outsourced or automated.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Math Prof about to lose Job for Quoting George Washington's Thanksgiving Message

Just before last Thanksgiving, Walter Kehowski decided to share some wishes with his colleagues at Glendale Community College. The tenured mathematics professor used a faculty announcement e-mail list to send George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789. The e-mail that Kehowski sent also indicated his source: the blog of Pat Buchanan

That e-mail could end up costing Kehowski his job, according to documents released Monday by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which is now advising Kehwoski. According to those documents, five employees in the Maricopa Community College District — of which Glendale is a part — filed complaints against him, charging that including a link to Buchanan’s Web site (even citing it as the source for the proclamation) was harassment because of the anti-immigration views expressed by Buchanan on his Web site......[read more]

The Washington quote had no reference to immigration but did refer to Almighty God.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Archaeologist finds tomb of King Herod

Archaeologist finds tomb of King Herod

(AP) By MARK LAVIE, Associated Press Writer 4 minutes ago

An Israeli archaeologist has found the tomb of King Herod, the legendary builder of ancient Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Hebrew University said late Monday.

The tomb is at a site called Herodium, a flattened hilltop in the Judean Desert, clearly visible from southern Jerusalem. Herod built a palace on the hill, and researchers discovered his burial site there, the university said......[read more]

The Paradox of Secular Scientism

Another American Thinker article:

It has become an accepted tenet of conventional wisdom to begin all discussions about science and nature with the understanding that religion has no place in such debates and that, in fact, faith is diametrically opposed to reason and scientific thought. To this end the concept of classical education, including any mention of God has been thoroughly removed from all Western public schools and replaced with a rather drab and mundane scientism.

This, however, need not be and was not always the case; in fact, Christian scholars had been on the cutting edge of scientific thought since the Middle Ages and the application of human reason to theological and later scientific questions has been a hallmark of Christianity since its very beginning - a fact which is evident to anyone who has read the work of Augustine and Aquinas, among others. How, then, did this notion of religion as the enemy of science first take root? And what are the dangers it poses to man and society?

..... [Read More]

Buckley on College Costs

Buckley on College Costs

"A more modest step -- and more palatable to the alumni -- might be the one suggested by the conservative candidate for the Dartmouth board of trustees: Cut the size of the college administration and devote the resources to teaching."

At my university the faculty size has dropped 10%, the student body increased 20%, and tuition has increased 300% in the past 10 years. Faculty pay has gone up modestly, keeping pace with inflation, but lags peer schools by 20-35%. Meanwhile, the number of vice-, assistant to the --- have increased along with our leap into Division 1-A athletics.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The State-Run Lottery as a Tax on the Poor

State lotteries are touted as pain free of raising revenue, or is it? The following links strongly suggest otherwise:

Mises Institute
Common (North Carolina)
Journal Times (Wisconsin)
Christian Science Monitor
South Coast Times (Massachusetts) $20 tickets!
Religion Online
Finally consider from this blog, Orge's Politics and Views:

In 1999 Duke University studied who played the lottery in various states. It found this correlation between education and lottery spending:

EducationAverage $ Spent
per year on Lottery
High School Dropouts$700
High School Graduates$409
Some College$210
College Graduates$178

In addition, a full Eighty-Two percent of all sales from lottery tickets were sold to problem gamblers, as defined as those who spend $1,619 a year or more.

A collection of libertarian, liberal, conservative and Christian views all converge on the fact that state lotteries are a tax on the poor. So why is it tolerated?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Dads' Parenting Style Influences Childhood Obesity

A recent news release:

"The researchers found that fathers with permissive (no limits on their children) or disengaged parenting styles were more likely to have overweight or obese children, while fathers with a consistent (clear limits, following through with instructions, etc.) style were less likely to have children with a higher body mass index (BMI).

There was no association between the mothers' parenting styles and children's weight,"...[read more]

Selenium pills 'may combat HIV'

From BBC:

Taking daily selenium supplements may block the build up of HIV in a patient's blood, research suggests.
The University of Miami found a lower HIV viral load in patients who took selenium supplements for nine months.

Selenium deficiencies have been recorded in HIV patients, and evidence suggests the mineral can improve the function of the immune system
The Archives of Internal Medicine study suggests the supplements may be a cheap and easy way to help keep HIV in check......

The researchers said the exact mechanism by which selenium exerts its effects on HIV is not known.

One hypothesis is that selenium's antioxidant properties may repair damage done to immune cells by oxygen, which is produced at higher levels in the bodies of patients with HIV..........[read more]

This is interesting in that that it's been suspected that HIV is a form of chronic inflammation and involves cellular damage though oxidations. Selenium is an antioxidant. Care must be taken when administering selenium as it is toxic.

22% Believe Bush Knew About 9/11 Attacks in Advance

From Rasmussen Reports:

Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent (35%) of Democrats believe he did know, 39% say he did not know, and 26% are not sure.

Discovered at Colossus of Rhodey.

Ocho de Mayo

A little known alternative to Cinco de Mayo.

"Cinco de Mayo is one of the oddest of unofficial but important American holidays, commemorating a Mexican victory over French troops on Mexican soil."

if celebrating a foreign military victory is not your cup of tea, there are only three days to wait until Ocho de Mayo: the anniversary of the Battle of Palo Alto, where outnumbered American Soldiers held off and inflicted disproportionate casualties on numerically superior Mexican forces at the first major engagement of the Mexican-American War"...[read more]

How Modern Liberals Think

How Modern Liberals Think

A video of Evan Sayet comments at a Heritage Foundation lecture. Very good insights. More from the Heritage Foundation.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Zimbabwe to become head of UN's Commission on Sustainable Development

Zimbabwe to become head of UN's Commission on Sustainable Development

by Ed Lasky
Zimbabwe is about to become head of UN's Commission on Sustainable Development. This goes beyond Orwell; it is Kafkaesque. ....[Read More]

Shadow Wolves

An all-Indian Customs unit—possibly the world's best trackers—uses time-honored techniques to pursue smugglers along a remote stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border

On a brickoven hot morning somewhere southwest of Tucson, Arizona, U.S. Customs patrol officer Bryan Nez holds up a hand in caution. Dead ahead lies a heavy thicket, an ideal spot for an ambush by drug smugglers. Something has rousted a coyote, which lopes away. Nez keeps his M16 trained on the bushes........[read more]