Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A small grumble

There are times when I wish I could leave politics alone and concentrate on something more intelligent -- such as medieval theology. Medieval theology was brilliant. The name of Aquinas still resounds in the Christian world and the name of Rashi still resounds in the Jewish world. By comparison current politics seem utterly juvenile, with Nancy Pelosi denying that she heard what she was told about waterboarding and Al Gore refusing to debate anybody who knows anything about climate.

But I cannot leave politics alone. I first realized the importance of politics in my teens, when I read in Thucydides about how the demagoguery of Alcibiades led Athens into the disastrous Sicilian expedition -- which greatly weakened Athens and sowed the seeds for its decline.

But the importance of politics was most brought home to me when I took a vacation in California in the '70s. At one stage I decided to visit Tijuana in Mexico just to see what it was like. I drove down the big 8-lane concrete highway from Los Angeles to San Diego and thence to the border. As soon as I got through the border control, I found myself in Mexico -- not on 8-lane concrete highway but on a barrel-lined dirt track. The transition was shocking. I assume the road on the Mexican side of the border has improved since then but to me at the time it told me how important politics is. The landscape on both sides of the border was much the same. What differed was the politics. In the USA politics were governed at that time by Anglo-Saxon values of individual liberty; in Mexico there was typical Latin-American Fascism. The consequences of that political difference were huge and omnipresent.

So that is why I still write about the vast politial follies that I see about me.


Another pathetic attempt to explain away the black/white gap in academic achievement

An excerpt from another skeptic:
Today’s New York Times column by David Brooks touts a new study by Roland Fryer and Will Dobbie of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) Promise Academy charter schools, two celebrated schools in Harlem. Fryer and Dobbie’s finding that the typical eighth-grader was in the 74th percentile among New York City students in mathematics leads Brooks to state that HCZ Promise Academy eliminated the black-white achievement gap. He’s so dumbstruck by this that he says it twice. Brooks takes this evidence as support for the “no excuses” model of charter schools, and, claiming that “the approach works,” challenges all cities to adopt this “remedy for the achievement gap.”

Coming on the heels of yesterday’s release of the 2009 New York State English Language Arts (ELA) results, in which the HCZ schools outperformed the citywide white average in grade 3, but were well behind the white average in grades 4, 5 and 8, skoolboy decided to drink a bit more deeply from the datastream....

It’s true that eighth-graders in 2008 scored .20 standard deviations above the citywide average for white students. But it may also be apparent that this is a very unusual pattern relative to the other data represented in this figure, all of which show continuing and sizeable advantages for white students in New York City over HCZ students. The fact that HCZ seventh-graders in 2008 were only .3 standard deviations behind white students citywide in math is a real accomplishment, and represents a shrinkage of the gap of .42 standard deviations for these students in the preceding year. However, Fryer and Dobbie, and Brooks in turn, are putting an awful lot of faith in a single data point — the remarkable increase in math scores between seventh and eighth grade for the students at HCZ who entered sixth grade in 2006. If what HCZ is doing can routinely produce a .67 standard deviation shift in math test scores in the eighth grade, that would be great. But we’re certainly not seeing an effect of that magnitude in the seventh grade. And, of course, none of this speaks to the continuing large gaps in English performance.

But here’s the kicker. In the HCZ Annual Report for the 2007-08 school year submitted to the State Education Department, data are presented on not just the state ELA and math assessments, but also the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Those eighth-graders who kicked ass on the state math test? They didn’t do so well on the low-stakes Iowa Tests. Curiously, only 2 of the 77 eighth-graders were absent on the ITBS reading test day in June, 2008, but 20 of these 77 were absent for the ITBS math test. For the 57 students who did take the ITBS math test, HCZ reported an average Normal Curve Equivalent (NCE) score of 41, which failed to meet the school’s objective of an average NCE of 50 for a cohort of students who have completed at least two consecutive years at HCZ Promise Academy. In fact, this same cohort had a slightly higher average NCE of 42 in June, 2007.

So what we have is a truly laughable attempt to generalize from a single aberrant instance. The first thing you learn in Statistics 101 is that you CANNOT generalize from a single instance. That the unusual result was "fudged" in some way would be the most rational conclusion. Teachers "helping" students do tests in various ways is reported from time to time.


The elite versus the people

Who says socialists and liberals can’t learn? With just a bit over 100 days of the Obama regime behind us, the Hard Left is realizing one of the great truths of American politics; a hard fact that conservatives have known and suffered under for quite a long time.

When all is said and done, there are no “Democrats” or “Republicans” or “liberals” or “conservatives” in Washington, D.C. There are only those “in” and those “not in.” The establishment structure is no more concerned with petty differences of ideology or party labels than they are with adhering to the Constitution. For them, such considerations are plebian and only useful to keep the rabble confused and diverted.

The Left is getting a full taste of this truth. By now, everyone knows that Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania “switched” from being a Republican to being a Democrat. It means absolutely nothing. The fact is Republicans were ready to draw and quarter Specter. He had zero chance of keeping power with the GOP label. So, he changed labels. Nothing more to it.

Within days of his big switch, Specter had voted against his new Party on two big issues. He is still what he has always been; a shill for the establishment. He represents established interests, not the People of Pennsylvania and never has.

The Left sees clearly that Specter brings nothing to their side of the debate. In fact, he is now the same problem and distraction for them that he has been for conservatives for the last 30 years. And, as conservatives tried to rid themselves of the pest through primaries, so too do leftists want to primary Specter for the Democratic nomination.

And just like when he was a Republican, Specter has the White House coming to his aid to defend him and get him passed a primary challenge. What is it about this guy? We all know he was the fool who came up with the magic bullet theory in the Kennedy assassination investigation. Did he keep a copy of the pictures? Does he know something that those in power just can’t allow to become public knowledge? We’ll leave such questions to Oliver Stone to explore.

But the fact remains. Honest people who embrace ideological positions out of deep commitment—leftists embracing socialism and conservatives advocating the Constitution and individual liberty under the rule of law—are blocked at every turn from getting honest representation by an establishment that stacks the deck, blocks primary challenges and denies real choice to the voters.

David Sirota of Open Left calls this an entitlement mentality on the part of the D.C. insider elite. He is getting closer to the truth but he is not there yet. Scott Rasmussen has been showing graphically for more than a month the stark difference between the governing class and the People. His polls on a range of issues have shown that those in power, those that actually run the country are radically different from what most people think and believe.

Want to bet whose views prevail—the positions of the overwhelming majority of Americans or the views of the insider elite? The safest bet in town is to bet on the establishment. They don’t care what the public thinks or wants. And worse still, they cynically use the public’s own desires and positions to divide and divert the voters from making truly radical change.

It is encouraging for those of us who are pledged to the restoration of the Constitution to see people like Sirota start to realize the truth of the situation. I would be hard pressed to find anything on which I agree with him. But on this fundamental process point, we are in complete and total agreement. The politicians and those that control them feel they are entitled to their office and their perks. They become angry and confused and hostile if their “right” is challenged in any way.

And that is exactly why it is so vital that they be challenged at every turn. We need a real debate in America, not the phony stacked deck we have suffered for far too long. Obama vs. McCain a real contest between competing views of government? Please! Give me a break. That deck was stacked from the get-go. And when it looked like the American people might not go for the Obama scam, McCain did everything in his power to throw the race, to ensure his own defeat.

What Sirota and others on the Hard Left are starting to realize is that the entitlement mentality is destructive and harmful to the political process, just as it is in the economic or social realm. It needs to be attacked, debunked and overturned. Once we can get agreement on that fact, we can turn to a real debate on the role of government and whether the government rules the People or the People rule the government.




Liberty creates order: "David Brooks, the New York Times’s resident neoconservative, delights in peddling a false alternative: freedom or social order. His latest column hawking this snake oil comes in the form of advice to the struggling Republican Party: ‘If the Republicans are going to rebound, they will have to reestablish themselves as the party of civic order.’ In other words, give up freedom.”

Seeking empathy on the court: “We might as well start with the handicapping and explain the reasons later. Barack Obama could easily surprise us, but if I were laying odds today I would say the leading candidates to be the next Supreme Court justice are Judge Diane P. Wood, 58, of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago; Sonia Sotomayor, 54, of the 2nd Circuit court in New York; and Elena Kagan, 49, currently solicitor general and formerly dean of the Harvard Law School. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, 50, a Harvard law graduate and former assistant U.S. attorney, and Kim McLane Wardlaw, 54, of the 9th Circuit court in San Francisco figure as long shots. You probably noticed that all those named are women and all relatively young.

How Ford restructured without federal help: “While General Motors and Chrysler will emerge from the government restructuring wringer with significantly reduced debt, Ford will still likely be obliged to repay its lenders. This could put Ford at a competitive disadvantage — an unfortunate irony for the one Detroit car company that has gotten the decisions mostly right in the last few years. … Ford is like a homeowner who planned prudently and can pay his mortgage, while his spendthrift neighbors get their mortgage reduced by some new federal program.”

Beyond the paleos: "There is a flavor of conservatism that has not been discredited by the events of the past eight years. If anything, its criticisms of loose monetary policies, overconsumption, reckless private and public borrowing, uncontrolled immigration, and foreign adventurism now seem prescient. It is a conservatism unburdened by the Iraq War, the ‘heckuva job’ response to Hurricane Katrina, and the financial meltdown, which are really the biggest contributors to the GOP’s decline. Most of all, it is a conservatism that does not need to rehabilitate the Bush legacy since its leading exponents were never full-time Bush apologists. An objection is likely to enter even the minds of sympathetic readers. This sounds a lot like paleoconservatism, whose adherents are too quirky, too cantankerous, and too small in number to put together an effective political movement. But we needn’t call it ‘paleo’ anything. It’s the ideas that matter. Not so long ago a platform along these lines — limited government, decentralism, a national interest-based foreign policy, and resistance to multiculturalism — would have been considered conservatism without the prefix. And is it really that outlandish compared to the leading alternatives?”


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


1 comment:

Steve Burri said...

Re: Small GrumbleI can appreciate your desire to leave the political scene aside and pursue your main interests. Conservatives tend to be this way and not into everyone else's business. Involvement in politics is often out of self-defense.

I stop here and read daily and appreciate what you do.