Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Diane Ravitch distills leftist talking points about Wisconsin

I was forwarded a copy of the Huffington Post article by Diane Ravitch, Eight Civics Lessons from Scott Walker. I read the article and, in a surge of masochism, read the comments, trying to get a sense for why people would buy into such a silly collection of shaky talking points.

Every one of the points is nonsense, either outright false, a misrepresentation, or a distortion. Yet the leftist comments are largely kudos from people who have swallowed it whole. I used to consider myself liberal, until I started actually paying attention. Then, as I read more about economics and politics, and started following current events, I gradually had to abandon all of those emotionally attractive but foolish liberal positions.

A big part of the problem comes from primate "team" psychology. As soon as somebody "joins" a team, identifies with a particular group, then he more or less automatically starts to think of the people on the other team in a negative way: stupid, thoughtless, evil...any negative character trait. While the people on "his" team are all smart, insightful, sensitive. Any positive character trait.

Leftists, in particular, always assume that the motivations of the people who oppose them are venal, greedy, or selfish. So they're starting from a position of paranoia in the first place.

In this article Diane Ravitch tries to claim the high ground, saying 'Leaders may not agree with the people on the other side of the aisle, but at the end of the day, they recognize them as "my loyal opposition," not my enemy. That spirit of comity is at the heart of our democracy.' But one of the main points that she makes in the other talking points is that Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republican senators have evil motives. It's the equivalent of saying "if only the Republicans weren't greedy, selfish, power-hungry assholes, then they wouldn't be doing this". This characterization is hardly in the "spirit of comity".

It seems that she is so blind to her misunderstandings of their character that she cannot even tell when she is doing it.

I see no attempt whatsoever to understand a complicated, difficult situation, where the government spent  more money they took in, and needs to make some difficult, painful adjustments.

The way it looks to me, the Republicans are trying to be the adults; they're attempting to  balance the budget. The leftists are stamping their feet like six year olds, yelling, "It's not fair!"

In all of the comments, I didn't see anybody who applauded Ravitch's talking points bring up alternative ways to balance the budget. They ignored the money issues entirely, or claimed that there was no problem. Somehow if we just close our eyes and pretend it's not there, the budget problem will...just go away. Not.

And they don't seem to realize that insulting the other side and calling them names is not the way to have civil, bipartisan discussions.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The painful adjustment coming to unionized teachers

I'm in favor of Scott Walker's changes to collective bargaining and union dues collecting in Wisconsin. The process of "bargaining" between public employee unions and elected politicians is too dysfunctional to leave alone. The politicians are not bargaining with their own money. They have no reason to care whether the state will run out of money five, ten, twenty years down the road. More than likely they don't know enough about economics to understand the issues.

On the other hand, it's undeniable that these changes will cause pain to the public employees. My sister is a teacher in Wisconsin. She's worked as a teacher for 35 years, and will be retiring this year with a pension of 80% of her full salary and lifetime medical insurance. She's pretty upset with the hit to her family budget that these changes will cause--but I would consider myself beyond lucky to be able to retire with a deal like that, despite the fact that I've been working just as long as she has, except in private industry.

But there's more than one "tragedy" going on here. One is that she's a very bright and capable person, who was probably bored of teaching more than a decade ago. But the way the benefits are structured, it made no financial sense for her to even consider changing to another profession. Another profession where she might have been able to contribute even more to society as a whole than she did as a tired, aging teacher.

It's my personal belief that everyone would be better off if teachers hardly ever taught longer than ten or fifteen years. Hire people who spent 20 years in industry and have a hankering to teach young people. Hire young people who teach before moving on to some other occupation. Hire retired people. Whatever.

This model of hiring somebody just out of college who will teach for the rest of their career is...just nuts. It's not a good idea.

Then there's this retirement package that's the equivalent of having a couple of million dollars in the bank. I'm glad for my sister. But it really isn't fair that this special class of people in this country have it so easy when the rest of the country is making the hard, painful adjustments that happen when the economy goes down for the count.

We need more create destruction in education. (And government, too.) One of the reason that schools suck is that the mediocre find a home. The tired and bored hang on and don't leave. The fearful, the mismatched, the people who should never have been teachers cling to the job anyway. I've worked in companies where people have been fired, where people have been laid off. It's not fun. But strangely enough the employees usually manage to move on. Sometimes they find a job that's more suited to them. Sometimes they have to make painful adjustments. But that process is what makes the economy efficient and productive. Government/education is not efficient and productive, and it only becomes less so as time goes on.

I worked for the local university which is run very much in this non-private-sector, semi-socialist model. They pride themselves on being "nice". They have decent benefits and job security. But they cannot pay you what you are "worth". They pay based on seniority and "job category" and politics. So people who are ambitious or good, productive workers move on more quickly than people who prefer safety and easy jobs. From observing the result, I'm not at all convinced that the people end up any happier in the end. A lot of them have jobs that bore them, are not working to their full capacity, and are not living to their full potential.

It's my belief that in the long run most people are better off with a tad more creative destruction and a lot less nanny-state coddling.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Koch Derangement Syndrome makes liberals look stupid

I've seen a lot of people who ought to know better make themselves look really, really stupid by bringing up the Koch brothers. This liberal's laugh-out-loud silly. Most of the available billionaires give money to the Democrats/liberals. What, they can't let the conservative five eighths of the country have one?

If you weigh all the money that George Soros alone has given to the left, it makes the Kochs' donations look like chump change.

My husband suggests that it's like collecting stamp; you want every last one. If you're missing that one stamp, it becomes the most important one in the world. So the fact that the Kochs don't donate to liberal causes like they're supposed to really ruins the set.

There ought to be a new rule, like Godwin's Rule, where the first person to bring up the Nazis loses. But instead it's the rule that anybody who mentions the Kochs is thereby marked for life as an ignorant, paranoid troll--we'll call it "Reich's Rule". Because even though Robert Reich is an idiot, when it comes to the Kochs, the level of his analysis drops to some negative sub-basement, where there has been no sunshine in decades.

I have a hard time imagining what is going on in these peoples' heads. It certainly is nothing resembling rational thought. Sigh. Of course, I realize more and more as time goes on that most people never ever do think--and yet aren't even aware of it. They spout back things they've heard elsewhere, they make appeals to authority, ad hominem attacks, sarcastic innuendo, wishful thinking, personal anecdotes...and they believe that they're thinking.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

NYTimes usual idiocy...Wisconsin fallout

The vote in Wisconsin to remove collective bargaining from public employee unions except for wages is arousing the usual partisan articles. The NY Times, in particular, make no attempt whatever to achieve balanced coverage. <snort> Business as usual there.

Democrats See Wisconsin Loss as Galvanizing

The title of the article makes the point that this is the Democrat point of view, so I guess that gives them justification for not including the other side. This particular paragraph really made me roll my eyes: "Mr. Walker has said the entire episode in Wisconsin would be forgotten by most people once the state budget was balanced and new jobs had arrived, but Ms. Greenberg said the way Republicans forced the vote would turn off independent voters."

The way the REPUBLICANS forced the vote?? Is this woman nuts? The Fleebaggers had left the state to avoid voting. How in the world does she think that looks to the independent voters? The Republicans had no choice but to vote without the Democrats because they refused to show up.

I'm not really sure  how the independents in the middle (a large number of whom are in that category, I suspect, because they don't want to think about these issues) will end up feeling about unions and Democrats in the long run. But I think it would be a big mistake for the Democrats to assume that this will work out to their benefit. My personal take on the current polls which show that a lot of people disapprove of removing collective bargaining "rights" is that most people have no idea what that means. Collective bargaining... uh, that means they can complain about working conditions, right?

But my best guess of the reason for the numbers showing disapproval is that most people don't like conflict. And the semi-professional leftist activists who have been demonstrating in Madison have created this aura, this vibe of conflict. People don't like that emotion. So they'll have a tendency to disapprove of whoever they see as instigating it. For the past few weeks the "instigator" was Scott Walker and the Republicans. They started it. But now that the bill has been voted on, the "instigator" of conflict role is going to shift to the other side.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if, in the end, this works out more to the benefit of the Republicans. They may be seen as the adults in the room, with the Democrats taking on the role of teenagers stamping their feet saying "It's not fair!!"

For a much better story of what happened in negotiations between the two sides in Wisconsin:
On Wisconsin! How Republicans won the battle of Wisconsin

Reading between the lines, it looks an awfully lot to me like the Democrats went and checked with their lords and master--the union bosses and national Democrats--and scotched the possibility of an agreement each time.

Of course that doesn't mean the the "story" that people remember will be the true one. People remember the stories they find appealing...

The Lamestream Media Cling to the Old Models

There are days when I'm in full political-junkie mode. I go to RealClearPolitics, and right-click all the headlines that interest me, queuing them up in a row of tabs across my browser.

Sometimes I'm incensed to find that one of the tabs has started blasting me with recorded video, that I'm not ready to listen to. It's usually very easy to see which one is the culprit. I look for a little lamestream media logo, like ABC. I go to the tab, and more often than not just close it. I want control over my viewing methods and choices. They want to control the horizontal and the vertical.

Not in my browser!

Then there's the matter of the institutionalized bias that I find in almost all of their stories. They play this game where they pretend that they're even-handed and objective. <snort> To be "even" and "balanced" you have to pick a balance point. And the formerly mainstream media has picked a balance point that's somewhere buried in the left side of the spectrum.

To me, it looks like their worldview bias is so ingrained that they can't even see it. Oddly enough, people on the right in this country have an easier time seeing their own bias, because so many of the public institutions are on the left side--the formerly-mainstream media, the government schools, the universities--that most people on the right are constantly reminded of the the viewpoint of the other side.

Oddly, it's seems easier to live a life with a leftist worldview and no contact at all with those on the other side. I've lived almost my entire life in some of the most "liberal" (i.e. leftist) communities in the country, so maybe my experience here wouldn't be valid in other areas of the country. But one of the reasons for this leftist isolation is that some people of a leftish persuasion won't even talk to you if you express an opinion that's not politically acceptable (to them). They'll walk away. They'll avoid you and scowl at you. This doesn't make for a comfortable atmosphere in which to share alternative viewpoints.

It's a kind of coercion of consensus. And consensus is important to the left, because it's the basis on which they adopt their rather arbitrary list of beliefs.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Crossing the line to harassment with FOILs

Several years ago a new charter school, New Roots, was started here in Ithaca, NY.  The whole issue of charter schools is a touchy one, of course, with some supporters of public schools considering them an attack on the whole principle of government schools. Certainly the charter school process in New York state is not ideal. Personally, I would like to see far less involvement of government bureaucracies and far more independence. Nonetheless, the rules for how to start a charter school are public and are--one hopes--intended to be used.

A couple of local residents, Corrine Frantz and Pat Ehrich, started a petition to try to stop the New Roots school from starting. Nonetheless, New Roots' application to be a charter school was approved, to the dismay of these two women. They even started an organization, the "Coalition for Sustainable Schools"--the name tries to turn New Roots' theme back against them--whose mission and goal is to make things as difficult as possible for the well-meaning people who started the charter school.

Pat Ehrich filed 24 Freedom of Information requests to New Roots over a several month period. Understandably overwhelmed with the huge job of starting a school from scratch, they did not respond according to the letter of the law. So Pat Ehrich shopped around for a better location for a lawsuit, and filed a lawsuit in a county a number of counties away, and got a $20,000 judgment from a friendly judge.

Over the past several years she has kept up a constant stream of accusations of misconduct or claims of misbehavior. Does this woman have no life? Why in the world is she spending so much time and effort harassing people who followed the rules that were laid out by the state of New York?

One suspects that she took their success as a personal affront. To spend so much time and energy harassing this poor group of well-meaning charter school operators...The mind boggles. Turning such a negative and destructive mission into a part-time job makes me think that this woman must be pretty unbalanced.

Just because something is legal, doesn't mean that it's right. And this kind of harassment is not right.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Germinating Bodhi Tree Seeds (ficus religiosa)

Sometime last year in a fit of whimsy I purchased a little packet of Bodhi tree seeds from an eBay vendor in India. At one point I sprinkled a few of the tiny seeds on some dirt in a dish that I covered with plastic, but nothing happened, and the packet of seeds sat on my desk for months.

When March started and we had a few days of tantalizingly spring-like weather, I got a seedling starter set from Amazon -- a seedling heat mat and a thermostat, a small grow light. I started with some tomato seeds. The pelleted seeds from the local grocery chain germinated horribly--only 2 of 24 seeds sprouted. So I gathered up some seeds from tomatoes that were rotting on the ground from last year. They sprouted fine.

Then I remembered the Bodhi tree seeds. Everything I read said that they were hard to germinate, be patient, it might take months, blah, blah, blah. So I took a pinch of the seeds and sprinkled them on some wet seed starter mix in a take out tray covered with the plastic lid and put them on the heat mat (set at 80 degrees), under the grow light.

Nine days later the tray was full of tiny little two-leaf seedlings. I now have about a hundred little Bodhi tree seedlings. So apparently the internet is not full of useful information on this particular topic, or I was just insanely lucky. I suspect that the seed starter heat mat was the key here. Ficus religiosa is known to like heat and moisture.

Now...what am I going to do with a hundred seedlings? Visions of farmer's market Bodhi tree booths drift through my head. Then the thought of all of the work of re-potting over and over and more grow lights and rooms in my house occupied by tiny little fig trees. Oh well.