Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The shape of things

This week on Virtually Speaking Sundays, Jay Ackroyd and Avedon Carol did a little round-up of our top ten issues. There's an outline with the relevant links here.

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Here's an astonishing piece of crap from Alan Dershowitz:

As far as Greenwald is concerned, he's an ideologue. I don't think he would have revealed this information if it had been critical of Venezuela or Cuba or the Palestinian Authority. You know, he doesn't like America. He doesn't like Western democracies. He's never met a terrorist he didn't like. So he's a very hard-left ideologue that uses this to serve his political agenda not simply to reveal information in a neutral way. That makes him very different from WikiLeaks, I think.
I love the idea that (a) a concerned citizen should be criticizing other countries when their own government is clearly violating the rights of its citizens and (b) when you know the most powerful country in the world is committing egregious crimes and atrocities, you should aim all of your criticisms at Venezuela. Because they are so much more of a threat to the world, I guess. It's like saying that Germans during the rise of the Third Reich should have been pointing with alarm at Ecuador or something.

New article from Der Spiegel on the NSA's secret toys, and Glenn Greenwald saying the NSA can "Literally Watch Every Keystroke You Make."
Bill Moyers on What the Press Should Learn From the 'Snowden Effect'
Watch Mediastan, the WikiLeaks road movie.
"If you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide from the cancer-inducing scan."

* * * * *

So, was De Blasio just another spit in the eye of democracy? Someone realized people were beginning to see through the test-marketed half-truths of the "centrists" and decided to go with full-throated pretence? I mean, De Blasio did pretend to oppose stop-and-frisk, and yet he keeps appointing these awful people.

Matt Taibbi says the "Outrageous HSBC Settlement Proves the Drug War is a Joke: If you've ever been arrested on a drug charge, if you've ever spent even a day in jail for having a stem of marijuana in your pocket or "drug paraphernalia" in your gym bag, Assistant Attorney General and longtime Bill Clinton pal Lanny Breuer has a message for you: Bite me."

"An Open Letter to the Makers of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf Himself"

"Moguls Rent South Dakota Addresses to Dodge Taxes Forever" - People talk about that building in the Cayman Islands, but it's even worse than that: "Among the nation's billionaires, one of the most sought-after pieces of real estate right now is a quiet storefront in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. [...] While the super-rich use various tools to escape the levy - - some have exotic names like the 'Jackie O' trust and the 'Walton GRAT' -- the advantage of dynasty trusts is that they shield a family's wealth forever. That defies the spirit of the estate tax, enacted almost 100 years ago to discourage the perpetuation of dynastic wealth. "

"Cash Handouts Are Changing Inequality In Brazil: This is the same guaranteed minimum income idea that's being kicked around now, but it has a couple of things going against it. First, it works. Second, the right-wingers are aghast at giving money to people for doing nothing -- unless they're transferring untaxed wealth via trusts or estates to their ne'er-do-well children."

Dept. of Best Country in the World: "The opposite of what they do in America"

Odd Man Out on "The ill logic of the lower classes [..] When I got back here I asked the swamp rabbit, an amateur shrink as well as a closet bibliophile, why my former neighbor and I had shied away from one another. He spit into the Tinicum swamp and said, 'Your ex-neighbor feels like a bum. He'd feel even more like a bum talking to you, because you knew him when he had a house. And I reckon you didn't want him to know you feel like a bum, too.' I reminded the rabbit that I'm a fiction writer, not a bum. He asked me what the difference was. It was noon, but he already smelled like he'd finished off a bottle."

The P.U.-Litzers: Here Are the Stinkiest Media Moments of 2013

Robert Reich's End of Year Message has him singing Freddy Mercury, which is entertaining, even if it ends up sounding a bit too much like partisan cheerleading. Still, there's some optimism in the air, and maybe it'll amount to something.

"Why are we fat?"

"How Fanzines Helped Put Doctor Who Fans in Charge of Doctor Who"

Stupid Comics

The horrifying truth about Back to the Future

Ten years on: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The legacy of the teen heroine"

The only painting Vincent ever sold

Max Frost and the Troopers

One of the things I've been doing in Second Life over the last few years was throwing events that involve hiring DJs. When they find out that I love the Beatles, they cleverly include in their sets what are apparently the only four Beatles songs they can think of. These are usually: "Yellow Submarine", "Birthday", "Octopus's Garden", and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer". It took me a while to realize that there is at least one generation out there that perceives the Beatles as some sort of producer of children's music and novelty songs. It was rather startling to have to take them aside and tell them that those are not songs that really exemplify the Beatles' work and that if they'd never produced them I really would never have missed them.


  1. Assistant Attorney General and longtime Bill Clinton pal Lanny Breuer has a message for you:

    Not just Breuer, but our neoliberal President and all his neoliberal appointees. There's one law for the people who count, and another for you peons.

  2. Thanks, as always, for the link. It's just too bad that most everything else linked here just made me depressed. :sigh: And on we go. May the New Year treat you kindly - which is about the best we can look for, it seems.

  3. Sorry for the multiple comments; I was trying to get back to the homepage via the back button, not realizing that every time I tried, the comment was being reposted. Stupid computers.

  4. Avedon, here's an article you might enjoy: http://www.wired.com/rawfile/2014/01/tiny-scenes-playing-out-on-your-favorite-foods/#slideid-118571

    A partnership called Minimiam is making tiny figurines with which to decorate food.

  5. I'm going to comment and paste at extreme length about the top one of those three posters Avedon linked to over at Hullabaloo, with the upper caption on that poster repeating what, for a long time, has been the incessantly hawked neo-liberal claim that Finland has the best school system in the world. Now, of course, the neo-libs have no interest in seeing the Finns' "best in the world" system replicated here, but rather they want to create the impression among American voters and their elected representatives that our own K-12 educational system is failing.

    We're then supposed to conclude the reason for that failure is that government is the entity taking the lead in delivering primary and secondary educational services even as we must know by now that government in the U.S. can't do anything right in the way of improving social conditions or citizen life and shouldn't be doing anything much at all unless it's related to the courts, the military, or the police. To make matters worse according to this neo-lib argument, we allow unions to play in role in our K-12 educational system and they are dedicated to keeping incompetent teachers in the classroom, secure in their jobs.

    From there, almost seamlessly you can end up at the argument our labor market is beset by structural problems owing in part to these dysfunctional public schools which have left us with an inadequately educated work force, one that is not ready to compete successfully in the global marketplace and that that helps explain why wage rate growth for middle and working class earners in the U.S. has failed to keep up with productivity gains over the last forty years and why the new normal for the unemployment rate these days necessarily is going to be at a higher level than what would have been tolerated by voters in previous decades.

    In response to these claims the current crop of leading progressive thinkers start out by conceding the neo-liberal premise, that schools in Finland outperform those in the U.S. From there, in a somewhat similar fashion to the one employed by their neo-liberal counter-parts, today's progressives believe that they can solve this problem by deducing a solution not from studying the facts but with the use of their suitable for all occasions pre-programmed ideological calculator. Input garbage, hit the divide key and, thereafter, they just know more tax dollars going to teachers as salary and less student testing must be the correct answer to fixing the problem of failing schools in America. This progressive prescription directly and, therefore, happily contradicts the neo-liberal solution which is to frequently test students and bemoan the aggregated results until we privatize all of K-12 education in this country-- after which there will be no need to mandate student testing because once schools are privatized it is certain that optimum student achievement outcomes will be the result and, besides, if at that point parents want their children tested at that point then they should be paying for that service out of their own damn pockets.

    What you see in this back and forth is basically a cow pie slinging contest between two types of hustlers, the slick and those who have gotten into the habit of manufacturing their responses on the fly. Gee, I wonder whose pies will sail further in the public square.


    1. Let's see if we can find someone to introduce a little reality into this discussion. Bob Somerby taught "mostly fifth graders" in Baltimore's inner city from late in 1969 when he took over his first class until the end of the school year in June, 1982. Since he left the profession he has continued to track issues related to primary and secondary education and he has commented on them over the years through his letters and emails to the editor and to other recipients, as a guest on local radio programs, and since the late nineties at his blog The Daily Howler. Here Somerby is recently and yet again weighing in on "the best in the world" claim for Finland's K-12 educational system.

      [BEGIN QUOTE]>>>>> ...For the past twelve years, every ninny and his unstable uncle has flown off to miraculous Finland on the company dime. Emerging from their Helsinki hotels, these people tried to spot the miraculous, secret practices in Finland’s miraculous schools.

      Test scores like those shown [below] suggest an obvious conclusion—there are no miraculous practices in Finland’s public schools! Within our own much-maligned schools, children from the majority culture are actually outscoring Finland.

      ...Our schools’ biggest shortfalls involve the children who aren’t from that “majority culture.” And we’re sorry, but you can’t fly off to Helsinki to learn how to serve those deserving, delightful, beautiful children.


      Disaggregation can tell us a lot. It’s also extremely painful.

      Disaggregation provides a painful look at the continuing backwash of our brutal American history. This may be why so many “liberals” refuse to do it.

      For today, we’re going to look at scores from the 2011 TIMSS [Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies], continuing the process we started last week. Tomorrow, we’ll perform a bit of disaggregation concerning the new PISA [Programme for International Student Assessment] scores.

      ...On the NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progess], kids from higher-income families score much better, on average, than kids from lower-income families. That said:

      As far as we know, the National Center for Education Statistics [NCES] provides no reliable way to disaggregate scores by family income for the TIMSS or the PISA, our major international tests.

      The NCES does disaggregate TIMSS scores by race and ethnicity. Here you see a partial breakdown for Grade 8 math [white means "white, not hispanic"]


    2. [SOMERBY QUOTE CONTINUES]>>>>> Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2011 TIMSS

      Finland: 514
      United States, all students: 509
      United States, white students only: 530

      On the 2011 TIMSS, white students in the U.S. outscored educational powerhouse Finland in Grade 8 math. In fact, white student matched or outscored Finland in all four tests that year. For all TIMSS data, start here:

      Average scores, Grade 4 math, 2011 TIMSS

      Finland: 545
      United States, all students: 541
      United States, white students only: 559

      Average scores, Grade 4 science, 2011 TIMSS

      Finland: 570
      United States, all students: 544
      United States, white students only: 568

      Average scores, Grade 8 science, 2011 TIMSS

      Finland: 552
      United States, all students: 525
      United States, white students only: 553

      We regard those scores as revealing, instructive. Here’s why:

      Finland is a small, largely unicultural nation. It has very few immigrant kids. Beyond that, Finland never created a despised minority which it brutalized for centuries.

      To its eternal credit!

      Almost all students in Finland are from the country’s majority culture. In the scores we’ve posted above, students from this country’s majority culture match or outscore the Finns in all four parts of the TIMSS.

      Frankly, we find those scores surprising. Among our sprawling nation’s white student population, there is almost surely more poverty than there is among the Finns. Beyond that, we have fairly large regional pockets of anti-intellectualism.

      Despite that, the numbers are what you see. For Grade 8 math, here’s the way white students scored in the nine states which participated in the 2011 TIMSS as independent entities:

      Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2011 TIMSS
      (For all American states, scores are by white students only)

      Massachusetts 572
      North Carolina 563
      Minnesota 558
      Colorado 544
      Connecticut 543
      Florida 531
      Indiana 530
      California 525
      (Finland, all students 514)
      Alabama 489

      In eight of the nine states which took part as independent entities, white students —students from the majority culture— outscored Finland in Grade 8 math. In states like Massachusetts, North Carolina, Minnesota, they outscored Finland by rather large margins.

      ...[F]or children [in the United States] from the majority culture —for children who speak the language; for children who didn’t arrive in the country last week; for children who don’t belong to a despised minority which was brutalized for hundreds of years; for children whose sacred ancestors weren’t denied the right to know how to read by force of extremely brutal law—

      Among children like those, our schools are routinely outscoring Finland! And those children constitute a substantial majority of our student population....<<<<<[END QUOTE]


    3. CMike here, I'm back for the moment taking a quick break from posting some one else's insights. From the above we can conclude that there's a lot right about the way we do K-12 education right here in the good ole U.S. of A, and that there's not much to find here in the way of explaining why middle and working class Americans, the white ones anyway, are failing to benefit from globalization in the way it was orginally pitched to them i.e., that American workers would be trained and move into higher paying jobs requiring greater worker skills in the new industries which would quickly develop while laborers in the underdeveloped world replaced them in off-shored old economy jobs.

      As to the question of where should we go from here in the matter of educating minority students, should we assume that in states where teachers belong to unions and are better compensated and where, in a cultural sense, we might assume academics are held in higher esteem relative to, say, business people than in those states where anti-intellectualism allegedly thrives that that is where we'll find white and minority students learning more and scoring better on standardized tests?

      Before getting to that answer let me mention that Somerby has long warned to be concerned about corruption whenever there is a high stakes testing program in place, a testing program which can affect political, administrator, or teaching careers. Nonetheless, he insists that the National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] testing program sets the "gold standard" for student testing in the U.S., the difficulty of the various tests are consistent from test year to test year and there is no suspicion of any cheating having gone on anywhere the test has been administered.

      With that in mind here's some more copied and pasted text, this time from a blogger on the right, and I imagine this particular selection is going to be bothersome to any liberal, progressive, or lefty. (Here are links to the data discussed below for the 2009 Grade 4 math results and to a page where you can select for the results from other subjects, years, and group characteristics for the fourth and eighth graders who were tested. [LINK] [LINK] By the way, though without an adjustment for local cost of living factors, in 2011 "instruction spending" for K-12 students in Texas averaged $5,141 per student, in Wisconsin $6,755 per student. [LINK])


    4. [BEGIN QUOTE]>>>>>...So how to compare educational achievement between two states with... dissimilar populations? In data analysis this is usually done by treating ethnicity as a "covariate." A very simple way to do this is by comparing educational achievement between states within the same ethnic group. In other words, do black students perform better in Wisconsin than Texas? Do Hispanic students perform better in Wisconsin or Texas? White students? If Wisconsin's kids consistently beat their Texas counterparts, after controlling for ethnicity, then there's a strong case that maybe Texas schools ought to become a union shop....

      So how does brokeass, dumbass, redneck Texas stack up against progressive unionized Wisconsin?

      2009 4th Grade Math

      White students: Texas 254, Wisconsin 250 (national average 248)
      Black students: Texas 231, Wisconsin 217 (national 222)
      Hispanic students: Texas 233, Wisconsin 228 (national 227)

      2009 8th Grade Math

      White students: Texas 301, Wisconsin 294 (national 294)
      Black students: Texas 272, Wisconsin 254 (national 260)
      Hispanic students: Texas 277, Wisconsin 268 (national 260)

      2009 4th Grade Reading

      White students: Texas 232, Wisconsin 227 (national 229)
      Black students: Texas 213, Wisconsin 192 (national 204)
      Hispanic students: Texas 210, Wisconsin 202 (national 204)

      2009 8th Grade Reading

      White students: Texas 273, Wisconsin 271 (national 271)
      Black students: Texas 249, Wisconsin 238 (national 245)
      Hispanic students: Texas 251, Wisconsin 250 (national 248)

      2009 4th Grade Science

      White students: Texas 168, Wisconsin 164 (national 162)
      Black students: Texas 139, Wisconsin 121 (national 127)
      Hispanic students: Wisconsin 138, Texas 136 (national 130)

      2009 8th Grade Science

      White students: Texas 167, Wisconsin 165 (national 161)
      Black students: Texas 133, Wisconsin 120 (national 125)
      Hispanic students: Texas 141, Wisconsin 134 (national 131)

      To recap: white students in Texas perform better than white students in Wisconsin, black students in Texas perform better than black students in Wisconsin, Hispanic students in Texas perform better than Hispanic students in Wisconsin. In 18 separate ethnicity-controlled comparisons, the only one where Wisconsin students performed better than their peers in Texas was 4th grade science for Hispanic students (statistically insignificant), and this was reversed by 8th grade. Further, Texas students exceeded the national average for their ethnic cohort in all 18 comparisons; Wisconsinites were below the national average in 8, above average in 8.<<<<<[END QUOTE]

    5. Whoops, those Texas and Wisconsin per student "instruction spending" amounts I listed were from 2009, not 2011 as I incorrectly indicated just before quoting IowaHawk discussing those 2009 NAEP test results.

  6. 1. Happy New Year, Avedon & Mr. Sideshow!

    2. CMike said: "...there's not much to find here in the way of explaining why middle and working class Americans, the white ones anyway, are failing to benefit from globalization in the way it was orginally pitched to them i.e., that American workers would be trained and move into higher paying jobs requiring greater worker skills in the new industries which would quickly develop while laborers in the underdeveloped world replaced them in off-shored old economy jobs."

    This sounds like that ancient lie of the '70s, that the large warehouse-style mental hospitals would be shut down and that community centers for the mentally ill would spring up. The mentally-ill homeless have stopped waiting for that to come true.

    3. There was a 3, honest!