Jul 31, 2007

how we spent the evening

Melissa's uncle, pictured at right, roams the outfield for an Over 50 Softball team. (Her aunt keeps score.)
The 1st rule of Over 50: No sliding.
The 2nd rule of Over 50: No sliding.
Uncle's team, which loses more than it wins, is a jovial, tight-bound group, together for decades since Church League days.
The 1st rule of Church League: No swearing.
The 2nd rule of Church League: No backsliding.
Tonight's match, an eventual 12-8 loss for our squad, was packed with more drama than your average MLB contest, mostly because there were two more players on the field and an infinite number of pinch runners. Also, there were no easy outs, not even on easy grounders or popups. Errors do tend to ratchet up the tension.

teaching workshops in Washington State

Nick Senger has put together a fantastic resource called Teacher Clock Hours. In his own words:
Find all the workshops, inservices and conferences you need in one place. Now that you've found Teacher Clock Hours you don't need to hunt down that misplaced workshop flyer or spend hours searching the web for clock hour classes. Whether you're a new teacher looking to improve your skills and expertise, or an experienced teacher trying to keep up with current research, Teacher Clock Hours has a complete listing of all the professional development workshops in your area.
Nick has plans to expand coverage beyond Washington--but for my selfish purposes, I'm happy with the site as is.

Check it out!

Mariners stand

Today the club made only one minor deal before the deadline, trading Julio Mateo (of whom this blogger is no fan) to the Phillies for a prospect.

Now all we can do is sit back and wait, hoping that our hard 17 is good enough to win.

beyond the evidence

Timothy Sandefur, on a creationist's appropriation of "pomobabble:"
Trask argues that magical understandings of the universe are just as acceptable as scientific understandings, but that preferences for science and reason over “revelation,” emotionalism, whimsical impulse, and other “ways of knowing” is just so much prejudice. “Scientific epistemologies,” he writes, “legitimize the exclusion of those who do not understand truth exclusively through empirical verification.” Science is cruelly shoving magical theories away from the table, through its emphasis on such things as testability, or evidence, or replication of results and silly stuff like that....

Moreover, a demand for evidence and experiment is not a religion. A religion is a belief in something in the absence of, or in spite of, the evidence. It is faith—that is, belief in something which is not subject to evidence and cannot be proven.... Science is certainly an epistemology, and, I would argue, part of this complete, nutritious worldview. But it is not a “religion,” and certainly it is not a “religion” in the Constitutional sense of the term. At the time of the Constitution’s writing, “religion” was not understood as referring to secular, scientific worldviews.
My brother, in response, asks,
What problems are there for a political system where the only “evidence” allowed is empirical?
The answer is "not many," at least when the question under discussion is, "What is the proper subject of study in a public school science class?" Matt's error is in broadening the question.

Science doesn't work via "still small voice," "divine light," "burning in the bosom," feelings, visions, trances, or ecstatic revelations. Its purview is observation and experimentation, with a heavy dose of mathematics. It exposes the post hoc and spits out the ad hoc. Its truths are not eternal, but provisional, subject to change with further study. Though sometimes helped along by intuitions and hunches, and hindered by personalities and politics, science ultimately stands or falls on the evidence--no po-mo quote marks needed.

hello from Homewood

Thanks to Josh, Ariel, TRP, and my sister (via email) for sharing travel tips for our upcoming--make that current--visit to Chicago and environs. Our first day is being spent in languor, keeping Grandma's dogs safe from crickets and cicadas.

Meet Maggie, a 14-year old dachshund who gets around pretty slowly and coughs like a tuberculosis patient. Apparently she used to be known as "Psycho Dog" or "Spawn of Satan." She has since calmed.

Sandy, Maggie's junior partner.

My wife reads Harry Potter and the Gripping Conclusion. Yes, that's Maggie underneath.

Jul 30, 2007

Seattle likes to L3RN

They never use the word "blogging" to describe their activity, but it fits:
Similar to YouTube, the popular Internet video-sharing Web site, L3RN (pronounced simply "learn") is touted as a tool for professional development of teachers, allowing teachers in different schools to discuss ideas and upload lesson plans and other information.

But for students, it means they can comment on their peers' work and also show off their projects to their parents. According to Hale's Advanced Placement students, it also has proved to be a lot of fun....

This fall, the district plans to add to L3RN by introducing another online system called Medley, a social-networking site comparable to MySpace.

Medley will allow students to have personal home pages. They can create online journals and send messages to their friends and teachers.
Should be fun to manage, as well. Ambitious. Let's hope it works.

Jul 29, 2007

Boston Legal: tried and found wanting

Well, Josh, I tried. I tried to like Boston Legal. I dug the witty banter, especially James Spader's meta "I'm going to cable, that's where the best work is being done" jokes. I had learned to tolerate the bizarre musical interludes--the wailing and womp-wowing every time something "dramatic" happened. Every now and then, what I'd call "TV Law" would run roughshod over real law, but usually in the service of a decent story.

However, one episode destroyed the show's hopes for legal verisimilitude. In "From Whence We Came," the firm defends a school superintendent who has fired science teachers for refusing to teach Intelligent Design. The ID side wins as the judge gives a pap-filled, bromide-bundled speech about babies and "In God We Trust."

Meanwhile, in real life, forcing teachers to give shoutouts to creationism-in-a-slimming-dress is unconstitutional. Something about precedent and logic and evidence--you know, law.

Guess I'm sticking with cable.

Prophet Atlantis: this primary's quixotic candidate

He won't make it to the second round, but at least he's giving it his all. His name is Prophet Atlantis. From the Voter's Pamphlet:
I support: Borders, language, culture! Protect our borders and deport all illegal aliens and deport those that hire illegals. No social services or benefits to illegals. English the official language. No amnesty! No chain immigration.

Use eminent domain to take over empty houses and buildings for needy families. THe homeless mentally ill should be placed into well run mental hospitals.
Compare the original (cached by Google, but strangely absent from Olyblog):
Borders, language, culture! Protect our borders and deport all illegal aliens and arrest those that hire illegals. No social services or benefits to illegals. English the official language. No amnesty! No chain immigration. Any religion or group in America saying they will kill Americans or Christians or Jews or non-believers must change their beliefs or be banned!

Put convicts into a military Second Chance Program under the military code of justice. Sexual offenders and predators should be castrated! Use eminent domain to take over empty houses and buildings for needy families. The homeless mentally ill should be placed into well run mental hospitals. National Health care program for all!
A longtime campaigner, Prophet Atlantis has run for several state and local offices, sometimes as a Republican. If you want to elect the "most dangerous, craziest man in America," choose Prophet Atlantis for City Council, Position 3.

no thanks, I'll walk

Wherever you want to live, Walk Score lets you know what's within legs' reach. My place scored only 62 out of 100, in contrast to a benchmark downtown Capitol Way address's 92. Still, above average, walking-wise.

Recommended by PZ, who also points out that sharks don't have legs. As Demetri Martin might say, "I'm afraid of sharks, but only in a water situation."

Oh, and thanks, Josh, for letting me borrow your Demetri Martin CD.

Synchronicity off.

Chris Reitsma is the kiss of death

Update 7/31: So he's been battling an arthritic right elbow, and is done for the season. No wonder he's been struggling. Sorry, Chris.

Every time he comes in, my ulcer flares up, no matter how far we're ahead. Today, he gives up three runs on a double to Nick Swisher, a lefty, when Eric O'Flaherty, a lefty, is warmed up and ready to go.

If we ultimately lose this one, blame McLaren for putting in and then sticking with Reitsma, who has a 16.00+ ERA in his last four appearances. He's just like Bobby Ayala used to be--the kiss of death.

Update: Make that a 31.50 ERA in his last four. 7 runs in 2 innings. Caramba.

Update II: We won it in crazy fashion, 14-10. Ten wins, only 3 losses against Oakland this year. Now we need to carry some momentum into the Angels series, and tie them for first in the AL West.

Jul 28, 2007

I approve of The Simpsons Movie

That is all.

of all the disclaimers

Tax titan H&R Block, not wanting to dash any hopes, warns us that the past tense declarative statement "I got people" is "not an offer of employment."

Imagine the lawyerly hypothetical that conjured up the disclaimer. Joe / Josephine Net Surfer sees the ad, and thinks, If she says she 'got people,' then maybe she's looking for more. Hey, I'm people, and I could use a job. Also, I am the world's only functionally illiterate accountant.

For further clarity, I suggest that H&R Block add the following disclaimers.

*Not an endorsement of Mafia tactics
*Not a joke
*Not a recipe for a lip-smacking bouillabaisse
*Not a guarantee of dream fulfillment
*Ceci n'est pas une pipe.

either you bring the water to Lacey or you bring Lacey to the water

A week and a half ago, regarding a new development scheme in Lacey, I wrote,
Lacey is definitely growing--but perhaps to the point where it will slowly devour itself. As some of the comments over at the article attest, the city hasn't exactly solved its water problems.
A story in today's Olympian underlines the understatement.
This much is known: The city produced 3 billion gallons of water and sold 2.5 billion gallons last year, Water Resources Manager Peter Brooks said. That leaves 500 million gallons, or 16.7 percent, unaccounted for.

"If there’s water that we could be serving to our customers that’s been stolen or leaking through our pipes, we should spend some time and effort to find it," Brooks said.

The project to find the missing water is budgeted to cost $125,000.

Brooks acknowledges the city likely will never recapture 100 million gallons of water, or 3 percent, because no system is perfect. The city provides water to about 20,000 homes and businesses both within and outside the city limits.

"There’s no such thing as a totally tight pipe," he said.
In the comments, city councilmember and moped soldier Graeme Sackrison explains that although 16.7% loss is "unacceptable," it was well within regulation--up until this year, as 10% is now considered too much. To comply, the city has to find at least 200 million gallons.

[Obscure title reference explained here.]

school board race gets personal

But not in a bad way, as The Olympian profiles the three candidates vying in the primary for the Position 4 seat.
Barclift, an Olympia police officer, has been pressing the district for years to change its budgeting process to look at the entire budget and prioritize items based on a strategic plan. Now that the district is getting closer to using that process, she wants to see it through....

Gentry-Meltzer, a freelance theater designer and educator, said she thinks that after eight years with the same person in the District 4 seat, it’s time for someone new....

Hill, Olympia’s permit/­inspections manager, building official and development engineer, said his school board experience in California plus the problem-solving skills he has honed at work would be beneficial as the school board faces new challenges.
It should be noted that the Olympia Education Association endorses incumbent Carolyn Barclift.

Jul 27, 2007

how important are high school math and science?

If we want more scientifically competent students, they're pretty important. Biologist PZ Myers, regarding a recent study, notes:
High school physics was as effective at prepping students for college physics as high school biology was at prepping students for college biology.
Success in one area of science doesn't transfer across areas, unfortunately; a physics whiz is not a guaranteed biology nerd. What really helps, though:
Math is the #1 most effective preparation for doing well in all sciences, across the board; the more math you can get in high school, the better you're going to do in any science class you might want to take. Look at those giant gray bars — it makes almost a 2-grade point difference to be all caught up in math before you start college. Parents, if you want your kids to be doctors or rocket scientists, the best thing you can do is make sure they take calculus in high school. Please. Failing to do so doesn't mean your kid is doomed, but I can see it in the classroom, that students who don't have the math background have to work twice as hard to keep up as the students who sail in with calculus already under their belt.

a hunka hunka burnin' car

Rock on, dude(s).

Watershed Park on a Friday morning

Watershed Park is a cool and shady destination on a sunny day, and always thick with Nature in the form of trees, flowers, fungi, and slugs, foreign and domestic.

[Our previous photo-logged trip to Watershed Park occurred a little over a year ago.]

Jul 26, 2007

genius: 1% inspiration, 99% evolutionary algorithms

Evolutionary algorithms (EAs) use Darwinian principles to breed and weed designs, often ending up with products quite unlike standard human inventions. Now, with massive computing power within reach, expect more EAs to be applied in all kinds of design environments.

There are some critics who worry that EA designs are too inscrutable to engineers and safety testers, but by far the silliest complaint comes from James Dyson, he of the vacuum.
"Evolutionary algorithms will mean the end of those exciting stories about how people made great inventions by accident," he says. "Human ingenuity and intuition should remain crucial in making a success of any product."
Since robots already took away all our jobs, this means the demise of humankind as we know it.

In all seriousness, I detect a bit of jealousy in Dyson's lament. After all, as this commercial attests, it took him "a few thousand prototypes" to perfect his famous boneless skinless vacuum. EAs might have made luck a little less necessary--and maybe even helped craft a better vacuum than Dyson's dreamchild.

change in the works

One of our own is starting an admin program this fall.
When I went into teaching I never would have figured myself as the guy in the principal’s office, but as the years have gone by a lot of the people I work with have said that they could see me doing it. My work with the Association has shown me, too, that the best way to represent your school is to have a seat at the table, and I’m hoping that I can do a lot of good for my school and my kids by taking that next step.
Don't worry, Ryan. Even if you cross over to the Dark Side, you can still blog here.

on the shallowness of rankings

Teacher, ref and poet TRP on Newsweek's "Best Public High Schools:"
Jay Mathews, an education writer, measures something worthwhile when he divides the number of AP tests given in a given year by they number of graduating seniors. The resulting number indicates something about rigor and challenge. But "Best High Schools?" Ick. You could totally screw over every special-ed student, every potential artist, have horrible student-teacher rapport, crumbling facilities, and any number of other shortcomings, and be considered a "great" school. The reverse is true. The high school that prepares my autistic nephew for success in the world doesn't register on the list. So while I don't mind Mathews' formula, and believe schools should strive to score well on it, I think printing it under the title "Best American High Schools" is journalistic malpractice.
It's no surprise that many of the institutions listed at the top are "magnet schools," which really deserve a category of their own. Also, schools that don't offer AP or IB, no matter how outstanding their performance, simply don't make the list. This may be a heretical question, but are AP and IB the summit of educational rigor?

Jul 25, 2007

Frank Wilson endorsed by Olympia Education Association

The official blurb:
Frank Wilson is a strong and passionate supporter of public education, with glowing accolades from teachers and administrators who have seen his commitment as a classroom volunteer, PTA officer and Site Council member. Frank's approachable demeanor, cooperative spirit, and willingness to listen make him well suited to serve the community. The Olympia Education Association is proud to endorse him in his campaign for Position One on the Olympia School Board.
The warm, personal, human side: I've met with Frank Wilson a couple times since the OEA chose to endorse him. We've talked about life in the classroom, issues in the district, campaigning in the 21st century, and camping in western Washington.

The requisite disclosure: I sat on the committee that interviewed and chose whether to endorse candidates. I also wrote the blurb.

Ranch House BBQ Xpress

Good news for South Sound chowhounds: Ranch House BBQ has a new take-out and catering only location, 913 Capitol Way. I was already willing to drive fifteen minutes out of town to the Kennedy Creek restaurant for the best pulled pork in the region--so this is barbecue heaven.

Call 360-753-0505 to order. Here's a menu [pdf]. Try not to drool.

Did I mention the pork?

Update, 7/29: The Olympian profiles Ranch House's pitmaster Amy Anderson (no relation).

anions in space

Another advance in astrobiology:
In less than a year, re­search­ers say they have found the first three mol­e­cules in space with neg­a­tive elec­tri­cal charge. Such mol­e­cules have an ex­cess of elec­trons, neg­a­tively-charged sub­a­tom­ic par­t­i­cles.

"This dis­cov­ery con­tin­ues to add to the di­vers­ity and com­plex­ity that is al­ready seen in the chem­is­try of in­ter­stel­lar space," said An­tho­ny J. Remi­jan of the Char­lottes­ville, Va.-based Na­tional Ra­di­o As­tron­o­my Ob­serv­a­to­ry.

"It al­so adds to the num­ber of paths avail­a­ble for mak­ing the com­plex or­gan­ic mol­e­cules," the in­gre­di­ents of life, he added. Such sub­stances are thought to have formed in the same gi­ant clouds that give rise to stars and plan­ets.
Oc­tate­traynyl an­ions, the most recent type discovered, are the largest yet.

nightmares of the deep

Enjoy--if that's the right word--this photo gallery of "Real Life Sea Monsters."

[via Instapundit]

if you're happy and you know it

You're probably wrong.

Thank Daniel M. Haybron for undermining confidence in your ability to judge your own happiness, and for taking a scalpel to the heart of classical liberalism, all within 34 pages [pdf].

His thesis: a human's aptitude for choosing optimal outcomes, even in an option-rich society, is woefully inadequate.

Mandatory disclaimer: it's only a draft.

[via OPP]

Jul 24, 2007

NBA ref scandal hits home

Via the trp, the Blogging Ref describes some of the aftermath of the evolving Tim Donaghy scandal.

I'm looking over this post, and it doesn't sound like me. It sounds way darker than I normally do. I suspect by the time the hoop season rolls around this autumn, I'll be chipper again, and as the public's tiny attention span moves away from Donaghy, I'll feel better about putting on the stripes.

But not now. Not today.
Also, Bill Simmons has some words for David Stern.

Oh, and before I forget: don't bet on sports.

a taxonomy of television ads

Seth Stevenson's slide show on Donald Gunn's analysis of the 12 basic kinds of ads is worth visiting just for the chance to see Tiny House again. It's quite possibly the most effective parody ad ever made.

Weekly World News to close

Farewell to the nation's most reputable source of fringe media. Every blogger owes a debt of gratitude to the groundbreaking publication. It proved that everything is true, if only someone would have the guts to report it.

[via Heidi McDonald via Brian Doherty]

Update: PZ graciously links and laments,
Bat boy will be homeless. Ed Anger will have no outlet for his rage. Fox News will have no competition.

Jul 23, 2007

cuffing the language police

Eugene Volokh on the trouble with grammatical prescriptivism:
So if you're a prescriptivist, I might not be able to persuade you to convert to descriptivism. But at least I hope that some prescriptivists may be convinced to be more careful about the prescriptivist claims they make. If they argue that the rules of good grammar should be set by authorities, they ought to explain which authorities support the rule they're invoking, and why those authorities — as opposed to whatever rival authorities there may be — are the ones that we should see as binding.
Amen, amen.

The event that most shattered my confidence in The Grammatical Argument From Authority was a clash with a professor in my master's program over the use of "effect" versus "affect." For her thesis, a fellow candidate wished to use a title much like this:
The Effect of Scripted Instruction on Grammatical Achievement
The professor, in a lecture to the class, swore that "effect" was wrong, that the title should read "The Affect of..." instead.

My jaw dropped open and has since failed to properly close. First, I noted that "affect," unless referring to one's emotional state, is widely considered a verb. "Effect" would be the correct noun form. I even pulled out a dictionary to make my case.

The professor was adamant. "In education," she asserted, "'affect' is the proper form."

I had severe doubts, and marched off to the library to see what ERIC had to say. Judge for yourself:
"The Effect of..." has 14,587 hits.
"The Affect of..." has but 44.
At this point, a rational person would say, "Yeah, Jim, I guess you're right. 'The effect of' is actually a common construction in educational research. I don't want my students to publish a thesis that'll make them look ignorant. 'The effect of' it is."

Not my prof. She sputtered and insisted I was wrong.

In the end, I told my peers to avoid the unnecessary showdown and use "The impact of" instead. After all, they had to publish their thesis to graduate--and they had to have their prof's approval.

I learned a valuable lesson, especially important for the budding teacher that I was: teachers, when publicly refusing to admit an error, and when standing solely on the shoals of their authority, are supreme assholes. I swore to never become one. I hope I've lived up to that oath.

Update: Sasha Volokh's entry is worth reading, too.

Olympia School District's strategic plan

The Olympia School District's draft strategic plan is now available as a .pdf. It's mostly general in its outlook. Some of the positives--parental and community support, quality staff, diverse alternative programs, great students, a safe environment--are well understood and appreciated both by OSD employees and the community at large. Equally auspicious, though, is the first listed weakness:
  • Divide between parents (public) and educators / under-communication from the system to parents & community
Some steps are being taken to improve the communication gap--Skyward grading access for parents, board meeting podcasts, and more frequently updated school and district websites, much at the behest of our Director of Communications, Peter Rex. No surprise, then, that interested citizens can email him about the Strategic Plan. It's still a work in progress.

tips for seeing Ratatouille

1. Go.
It's the most richly animated film yet--and by "yet," I don't just mean in the Pixar corpus, but in cinematic history. The flushed-down-the-sewer sequence is jaw-dropping. Digital is now transcendent.

2. Go soon.
Already in its fourth week, it won't be around forever.

3. Go late.
Choose the latest possible show--wife and I went to the 9:55--when kids are safely at home avoiding bedtime. The theater will also be empty enough that you can skip the previews and still score a good seat. The previews, for Daddy Day Camp and No Reservations, among others, are crimes against humanity.

4. Eat first.
If you go with an empty stomach, you'll end up cursing yourself, and your borborygmi will threaten to drown out the score. Ratatouille is the closest a neurotypical person will ever get to experiencing synaesthesia.

Jul 22, 2007

questions to ask when conversation stops

For those awkward moments, a list of twenty questions that will break the frozen silence.

1. What's that on your face?
2. So... how about those [fill in the blank with local sports franchise]?
3. What would life be like if everything was made out of Nerf?*
4. Is it hot in here, or is it just my imagination?
5. Ever notice that each passing second brings you one step closer to death?
6. What's the French word for "hellraiser?"
7. Which Power Ranger is your favorite?
8. If you could be any kind of fern, which would you choose?
9. Read any good diet books lately?
10. Can you balance a spoon on your nose, like this?
11. Do you find me attractive?
12. If you had a clean shot at assassinating just one dictator, living or dead, who would it be?
13. Have you ever dreamed you were a giant chicken?
14. What was the last time you puked, and why?
15. Where do babies come from?
16. If on the run from the law, which country would you flee to?
17. Would you mind if I recited lines from The Iliad, the Fagles translation?
18. What's your favorite Bruce Willis movie?
19. Is a pet rock really a pet?
20. What did you say?

*Special thanks to Dave, my perpetually stoned chemistry lab partner in 12th grade.

[145th in a series]

urban camouflage

Today's best letter to the editor comes from Laura Ratcliff, a former Tumwater resident.
The tree-painted water tower on Tumwater Hill has become a joke. Maybe now that all of the trees have been cut down, the tower should be repainted with duplexes and big houses so it blends in with its surroundings again.
I think that every time I drive by.

Jul 21, 2007

what does God say about kickbacks?

"A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live."
--Proverbs 15:27

"A bribe is a charm to the one who gives it; wherever he turns, he succeeds."
--Proverbs 17:8

"A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice."
--Proverbs 17:23

"A gift given in secret soothes anger, and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath."
--Proverbs 21:14
You gotta play it by ear. Examine the situation. Sort things out. Check the lay of the land. See how it lies. Weigh the costs and benefits. Think it through.

Overall, though, let one principle guide you: whenever you bribe, lie, cheat, or steal, make sure it's for the greater good. (The greater good.)

[144th in a series]

Saturday fun link: Beowulf, language slayer

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes digs through a musty corner of the pop culture closet:
This issue is a lot sillier than the first one. For example, magic incantations are simply words spoken backwards, so in the first issue when Unferth magically sends Beowulf and company into the swamp, he says "Artsuh Taraz Hcarps Osla," "Also Sprach Zarathustra" backwards. Fair enough, I suppose ... but in the section issue, the Slave-Maiden of Satan issues forth her final magical curse, "Enoyna! Sinnet!" Yes, that's right, she curses them with the phrase "Tennis, anyone?" backwards. Oh, woe unto any who find themselves invited to a tennis match -- in HELL!
Oh, and here's my pop culture cred:
  • I haven't read the Harry Potter books, but I've seen all the movies. (Also, I cheated and read LOTR before the third film came out.)
  • You couldn't pay me to watch Transformers, but I'd pay to see Transmorphers.
  • I can't name a single movie, song, or person Jessica Simpson has done.
  • In the previous line, I used hypozeugma.

animal intelligence: the heights and the limits

I've been reading Lewis Wolpert's Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, an examination of the evolution of belief. Along the way, Wolpert discusses the limitations of animal reason, making the book a perfect complement to my other reading selection, Jonathan Balcombe's Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good, which details the richness of many animals' emotional experiences, and (rather convincingly) makes the case that other animals experience pleasure much as we do.

After reading both books, what impresses me most is just how much we and our fellow animals are alike, and yet how tiny cognitive gaps open up a huge gulf in reasoning ability.

Jul 20, 2007

class action lawsuit against alleged NEA retirement kickbacks

This is going to be very, very interesting.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma last week, seeks class-action status on behalf of at least 57,000 other teachers and school personnel who invested with the Valuebuilder plan offered by Security Benefit Life Insurance Co., of Topeka, Kan., and Nationwide Life Insurance Co., of Columbus, Ohio. In all, the union's members invested more than $1 billion since 1991, according to the complaint.

The fees and expenses charged by Nationwide and Security Benefit as part of the so-called 403(b) plan were far higher than those charged by comparable and better-performing plans available on the market, but the NEA and its for-profit subsidiary, the NEA Member Benefits Corp., accepted payments from the companies to endorse those retirement plans, the lawsuit said. The payments created a conflict of interest and cost NEA members tens of millions of dollars in lost retirement savings, in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, it said.

Furthermore, in Valuebuilder's menu of investment offerings, Security Benefit and Nationwide only included funds that had paid to be listed, the lawsuit claimed.

Union leaders "should be endorsing plans because they're good plans, not because they're paid money to endorse those plans," one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Derek W. Loeser of Seattle, said Tuesday.
I've looked over many of the discounts on the NEA Member Benefits website. Some are good, others the same as deals you can get elsewhere. I've always thought it was up to me, though, to figure out the costs and benefits, not just to blindly trust that an educator's discount was the best possible deal.

Update: Welcome to visitors from Education in Texas, via the Carnival of Education. Washington Teachers is a fledgling group effort by--you guessed it--teachers in Washington State. Thanks for stopping by.

gonna go back in time: part II

A few more past blasts that never made it into the present. (Part I here.)

[March 26, 2006]
While we're at it, let's ban deodorant.

[October 16, 2005]
Yesterday my wife and I happened to catch the end of the Notre Dame / USC gem. When the Irish were driving toward a comeback with about 5:00 left, I turned to my wife and said, "They're going too fast--they're going to give USC time to come back." Two minutes, in fact, enough time for a miraculous drive capped by a crazy touchdown by Mr. Heisman, Matt Leinart.

I flipped over to the WSU / UCLA game. The first half was ending, with WSU in charge of an upset. The Bruins, though, had marched down the field and were poised to score. I again turned to the wife and said, "If they score a touchdown here, they win the game."

They did, and they did, in overtime.

Be afraid.

[May 3, 2005]
The viral vector of evolution is only now becoming fully appreciated, thanks to modern genetic analysis. Natural selection doesn't operate in a vacuum.

[April 12, 2005]
I live in a neighborhood where IHOP and Shari's are the loci of the social ellipse, where traffic moves at the speed of light gray, where retirement homes and memory care facilities salt-and-pepper the landscape. By default, I can't escape considering what I'll be like in fifty years; at times I have the odd sensation that I'm passing my future self as I buzz by another leisure-paced superior citizen.

When forced to caress the brakes and meditate upon the scenery, I inevitably wonder why the car ahead seems to be treading concrete. Is the driver lost or otherwise confused? Poor of vision? Timid? Slipping into sopor? Or is there something more, say, epistemological at work?

The flow of time is subjective. We all have moments where time stops, stands still, ties its shoes; conversely, we've felt the rush and blur of accelerated time, mystified that it could disappear so quickly. Every wiser person who has lectured me on the subject has told me that time revs up after fifty (or sixty or seventy, relative to that senior's current age). I'm inclined to believe they're telling me the literal truth.

movies you should see

The Naked Kiss (1964)
A baffling melodrama. A former prostitute, trying to make good, is thwarted by a society that can't forgive and a cop who can't understand. In its combination of cloying sentiment and sexual frankness, simultaneously behind and ahead of its time. And what an opening sequence!


Damn you, Mel Gibson, for spoiling what could have been a sublime work of genius with typical impalings and arterial fountains. It is good, though, to learn the universal truth of human nature through the lens of Mayan culture: mothers-in-law are insufferable nags.

Catherine the Great (1995)
Watch to discover what Reese Witherspoon will look like in fifty years.

the perils of bumper sticker science

We'll start by terraforming Mars.

(Order your own bumper sticker here.)

Jul 19, 2007

gonna go back in time

Some random observations that, for various reasons, never made it out of "draft" stage until now.

[June 15, 2007]
If you're going to play professional American-style football 'til your early retirement, better know the risk.

[April 29, 2007]
As the enchiladas are baking, I have GameCast on the laptop, the New York and Boston matchup. I love the stats it runs as you're waiting for the next pitch--but they're often contradictory. Seriously, how do you make a prediction when Manny Ramirez...
  • Bats .692 against the current pitcher, Chien-Ming Wang
  • Bats .263 against the Yankees
  • Bats .069 after a 1-2 count
  • Is 1/2 today
Which takes precedence?

(He flies out.)

[April 7, 2007]
Right now everyone's hot for the Mexican hotshots--Cuarón, Iñárritu, del Toro--and they should be. However, Korea's rising stars deserve their own limelight, especially Joon-ho Bong, director of The Host and Memories of Murder, a master of inverting and unraveling clichés.

[February 12, 2007]
A right-wing rant from the pages of the Chili's menu. (Here's why. Scroll to the end.)

We are steamed. Our beef: a lifestyle saturated with breasts, loaded with the original bottomless illness.

More risk, more cost. Guilt that mushrooms. Additional weight. Additional fire.

"Honey." "Hot." "Spicy." "Baby." Not tender, not sweet, not special.

We ask to be purified. Shredded and mashed. Battered until boneless, meatless. Healthy, for starters.

We hope this isn't an inconvenience. We're just trying to accurately communicate conditions.

[January 18, 2007]
What is the mathematical percentage of truth in the following descriptions?
  • "Inspired by a true story."

  • "Based on a true story."

  • "A true story."

[January 10, 2007]
Not for the squeamish. And simply incredible.
Mehta said that he can usually spot a tumor just after he begins an operation. But while operating on Bhagat, Mehta saw something he had never encountered. As he cut deeper into Bhagat's stomach, gallons of fluid spilled out — and then something extraordinary happened.

"To my surprise and horror, I could shake hands with somebody inside," he said. "It was a bit shocking for me."

exposing a crucial deficit in public education

In The Know: Are Our Children Learning Enough About Whales?

it's my moniker

Jon Bon Jovi's desperate bid for relevance:
Jon Bon Jovi wants the owner of the Mijovi energy drink to change its name, arguing it is too similar to his famous moniker.

But Marcos Carrington says his coffee-based energy drink is named after his girlfriend, whose name is Jovita, not the 45-year-old rocker.

In a Jan. 22 letter, Los Angeles lawyer Peter Laird, representing Bon Jovi, objected to the word "Mijovi" as well as other words "itsmijovi" and "itsmilife" that appear in the company's marketing materials and on the can. Rather than use Carrington's spelling, the letter used the phrases, "It's My Jovi" and "It's My Life."

"As you should be aware, one of Bon Jovi's most popular songs is entitled `It's My Life,"' the letter states. "We hereby demand that you immediately cease and desist all further use of the name `Mijovi' and `It's My Life."'

Carrington said the words "itsmijovi" and "itsmilife" are meant to mean "it's my jovial life." The full phrase on the can is "itsmienergy.itsmijovi.itsmilife."
No word on if Jovi--Bon Jovi?--is going to sue PBS, or if Bon Jovi--Jovi?--is going to be sued by Talk Talk.

the real success of red light cameras

Seattle sees a 33% drop in red-light violations, and calls its camera ticketing scheme a success:
As of May 31, Seattle police issued 13,966 citations based on footage from the cameras, after screening 14,672 incidents.

The resulting fines — at $101 per citation — resulted in $901,056 in revenue, which goes to the city's general fund.

"So far, everything that we've looked at, from reducing the amount of injury, to the level of injury, has been successful," Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said.

He said he wants the program to grow.
Increasing yellow light times by even 1 second could reduce violations by 53%, though--and even just improving signal visibility would cut violations by a quarter. The real success of the program isn't a modest decrease in risk, but a major increase in revenue. Safety second.

Skeptics' Circle #65 posted

Steven Novella presents Skeptics' Circle #65, a trip through a Museum of Skepticism.
"If you really pay attention in this part of the tour then maybe one day you can learn to be a skeptic and you'll have your own display in the museum." He wasn't sure if the skeptical looks he was getting from the kids was a good thing or a bad thing. Well, best just to press on.
We could certainly use a Museum of Skepticism in the real world--a counterpart to the digital collection at the Skeptiseum.

Jul 18, 2007

remote viewing Olympia

Josh plays tourist in his home town, with a camera phone for eyes.

Tangentially, "real" remote viewing is a sad little fantasy.

streamlining Washington's math curriculum

Not enough students are passing the math WASL, but that doesn't mean our standards are too high, according to an outside consultant.
"The bottom line is that Washington's math standards need to be strengthened," wrote Linda Plattner of the Maryland-based educational research firm Strategic Teaching, which was hired by the state to assess its math expectations.
The article notes some of the proposed changes. And who benefits--besides students and teachers, of course?
After the new learning requirements are written by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, guided by this report, a Board of Education committee will recommend three to five commercial math programs that fit well with the state's standards.

This will be a change in approach for Washington state, where at least 100 different math programs are used around the state, said Corrine McGuigan, assistant superintendent for research and education development at the state Education Department and a member of the state Board of Education committee working on the math action plan.

"That doesn't mean that a district can't go off and do what it wants," she added.
One can only guess what those 3-5 privileged curricula will be, as the standardization of Washington's state education continues apace.

city of the big shoulders

In a little over a week, my wife and I will fly to Chicago to visit her side of the family, a trip we would've made last year if it weren't for some unforeseen complications.

Anyone have any must-see or must-do recommendations? We're staying for two weeks and will have a rental car, so anything within a day's drive is fair game. I'm sure we'll hit the Museum of Science and Industry, and we plan to head to Milwaukee for at least a day. What else should be on our agenda?

Help us, Web 2.0, to make this another classically nerd-centric vacation.

political sabermetrics

I prefer the DH to the spectacle of the NL's Designated Strikeout. Hmm... might that correlate with my political preferences?

out-of-Africa hypothesis finds cranial support

Just as Mark Elbroch describes, osteology in combination with DNA analysis is a powerful tool for evolutionary biologists. Witness the recent study cementing the out-of-Africa hypothesis:
The genetic evidence has always strongly supported the single origin theory, and now results from a study of more than 6,000 skulls held around the world in academic collections supports this case.

"We have combined our genetic data with new measurements of a large sample of skulls to show definitively that modern humans originated from a single area in Sub-Saharan Africa," said Andrea Manica of the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology.

Manica and colleagues wrote in the journal Nature that variations in skull size and shape decreased the further a skull was away from Africa, just like variations in DNA.

The decrease reflects the fact that, while the original African population was stable and varied, only a small number of people embarked on each stage of the multi-step migration out of Africa. This effectively created a series of "bottlenecks", which reduced diversity.
As an aside, Mike Dunford discusses why mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam never knew each other.

none nonpartisan, no not one

If the friggin' Surgeon General's speeches had to mention President Bush three times per page, we probably shouldn't be surprised to learn that the not-exactly-vaunted ONDCP is another GOP tool.

Is there any federal department that hasn't been thoroughly politicized by the Bush administration? The U.S. Geological Survey, maybe?

big changes in the works for Lacey

So long, former "Tree City USA." Lacey's Hawks Prairie region will have a skyline dominated by towers, if an area developer gets his way.
Developer Tri Vo envisions a Lacey town center with up to 2 million square feet of office space, nearly as much as the 2.4 million square feet on the Capitol Campus.

Vo plans to build the project on 200 acres he owns at Marvin Road and Interstate 5. His project manager, Michael Davolio, will discuss the plans at an invitation-only business luncheon today at the Worthington Center at Saint Martin’s University.

So far, the only announced tenant for the site is a Cabela’s outdoors store. The 185,000-square-foot store is expected to open in November.

“I suspect by the end of the year, we’ll be making a number of other announcements,” Davolio said Tuesday.

“I can’t tell you who we have contacted, but I can tell you that my phone is ringing off the hook,” he said. “This project is selling itself.”
Lacey is definitely growing--but perhaps to the point where it will slowly devour itself. As some of the comments over at the article attest, the city hasn't exactly solved its water problems.

archaelogy is all around you

Martin Rundkvist has put together a one-time carnival in which contributors blog about archaeological sites near their home. Check it out.

new look

I'll be fiddling with the template for the next day or so, trying various combinations of colors and such, so don't worry if things look different every time you stop by. (Feel free to comment on the changes, too--and please let me know if something isn't working right.) The blogroll might receive a sprucing up as well.

Also, I've finally finished categorizing all my old posts, all 2500+, arranging the labels on the side by frequency. A pain, but also an opportunity to see just how much bright water this blog has trolled--or treaded--in the past 3 years, 2 months, and 20 days.

Jul 17, 2007

fun without the fundamentals

Enjoy David Roth's ode to the NBA's summer leagues.

more habitable islands in the multiverse?

Cosmologists are trying to test the limits of the weak Anthropic Principle by tweaking some fundamental assumptions about physical laws, NewScientist reports:
It all comes down to numbers. Harnik argues that there will be countless more universes with myriad properties different from our own. By varying just one property, cosmologists have been too conservative. Harnik, Kribs and Perez decided to highlight this flaw in anthropic reasoning by taking a radical measure: they switched off the weak nuclear force, one of the four fundamental forces in nature. In practice, this means changing a multitude of parameters and constants simultaneously.

The weak force is responsible for the radioactive beta decay of atomic nuclei and is considered essential for a complex universe like ours. Take it away, and you might expect the "weakless" universe to be wildly different from our own.

Only Harnik, Kribs and Perez have discovered it isn't. They considered what would happen to crucial processes in the history of the universe - the forging of elements in the big bang, the powering of stars and supernovae explosions. By examining the equations that describe these processes, they made an astonishing discovery: the weakless universe is still capable of supporting observers....

It is not the only evidence to suggest that we need to broaden our horizons when it comes to testing the anthropic principle. In 2001, Anthony Aguirre of the University of California, Santa Cruz, found another island in the multiverse....

The crucial parameter that determines whether the big bang is hot or cold is the number of photons per baryon. In our universe it is about a billion. Aguirre wondered what would happen if it was in the range 0.1 to 100 - much, much cooler.

Aguirre's universe started off quite unlike our own (Physical Review D, vol 64, p 083508). After our hot big bang, the universe took tens of millions of years to cool to the point where matter could clump into stars. "But in the cold big bang universe, stars can begin to form within 100 years of the big bang," says Aguirre.

He even modelled an extreme cold big bang universe where the cosmological constant was 1017 times what it is in our universe. By rights, this strong repulsive force ought to fling matter apart, preventing the formation of galaxies. However, in the cold big bang universe, stars form so quickly that they are in place before this cosmological repulsion takes hold. "The stars then rush away from each other," says Aguirre. "It's a pretty dull universe with each star isolated in a vast ocean of space. Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent such stars having planets and observers."
As computing power increases, expect to see more viable simulations of alternate universe formations. Also, expect to be sucked in by the eerie logic of Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument. As I've summarized it, "If we grant that a sufficiently advanced civilization could create a workable simulation of existence, we have every right to suspect we inhabit that simulation."

a morbid question

Which waxes more per annum: lightning strikes, or copper theft electrocutions?

[via Obscure Store]

today's crank: Gordon Klingenschmitt

His first mistake was watching boorish boobs try to shout down a priest on the floor of the Senate. His second mistake was trying to wrap his quark-sized intellect around the spectacle. His third was making his thoughts public. Count the rest of his mistakes over at Ed Brayton's place, parts I and II.

spite makes the man

Score one for human exceptionalism:
Spite is a common human reaction, says Jensen. "Imagine you're a kid at a birthday party. The mother gives you cake, then takes it away and gives it to another kid. It's not his fault, but you'll still be annoyed with him because of his good fortune. But chimps don't care who's got the cake, just who took it from them," he explains. In other words, chimps fail to see things from another's point of view.

And if a chimp's lack of empathy leaves it unable to feel spite, it may also fail to behave altruistically, says behavioural ecologist Rufus Johnstone of the University of Cambridge in the UK. "There have been experiments that gave chimps the chance to be nice to another at no cost to themselves, but they weren't interested. They didn't have a human propensity to be nice," he says.

"This is where things get tricky," admits Jensen. "Other papers coming out of our research group show chimps are altruistic. One interpretation is that one set of researchers isn't doing their job properly, but we don't like that one! Maybe altruistic tendencies operate in a narrow range in chimps, and a broader range in humans."
Well, maybe score .75. We haven't exactly tested for spite in dolphins. At least, as far as I know.

Olympia's budget woes delayed for another year

Last night the budget was adopted 3-2.
Board members Lehman and Bob Shirley voted against the budget. Board president Rich Nafziger, vice president Carolyn Barclift and board member Michelle Parvinen voted in favor.

“I’m sympathetic to the perspective that Bob and Russ have presented that we should be making as big of cuts as we can,” Nafziger said before Monday night’s vote. “But we need a strategic approach.”

Looming over the budget discussion was the $1 million or more in cuts the district faces in the 2008-09 school year, which all the board members agreed will hurt programs. But district officials hope that a strategic plan being formulated will guide those decisions.
$1 million seems massive, until you compare it to the size of the overall budget, $81-odd million. That $1 million represents just 1.23%.

Could every position and every program take a 1.23% hit? Or is "thinking small" just not politically feasible?

Jul 16, 2007

Adam Morrison and J. J. Redick Watch: summer league wrapup

Adam Morrison is "on the hot seat," The Charlotte Observer reports. The new-look Bobcats just may be headed to the postseason, especially if Morrison can provide more consistent play.

John Denton is impressed by Redick's play in the Orlando summer league.
After playing his fifth game in five days, Redick opened up his arms and examined the dozen or so scratches on both of his arms. It looked as if he had just wrestled a cat -- and lost.

Orlando, especially new coach Stan Van Gundy, was eager to see just how tough Redick was, and he passed the test this week with flying colors.

Repeatedly knocked to the floor and roughed up by opposing guards, Redick kept on firing. He led the league in scoring (19.8 ppg.), while also averaging almost four assists a game.

His legs tired as the week went along, causing his shooting percentage to dip badly. But after scoring 30 points in the opener and displaying some gritty toughness, Van Gundy announced that Redick could most certainly challenge for the starting shooting guard job for the Magic next season.
Denton points out that Grant Hill's absence is largely what would give Redick the chance to start.

Potential starter with "gritty toughness." Not what you expected, eh, Charley Rosen?

the ultimate Shakespeare adaptation

The occasion: The Onion's Tasha Robinson reviews a new Macbeth.

The questions: which is the best Shakespeare film adaptation? Correspondingly, which is the worst?

The clarifications by way of categorization:

1. Best / worst faithful adaptation using Shakespeare's own words, with "period appropriate" setting and costumes. (Example: Zefirelli's Romeo and Juliet.)
2. Best / worst transplantation using Shakespeare's own words, with updated / modified setting. (Example: Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet.)
3. Best / worst transfiguration, with a fresh script and a different setting. (Examples: Scotland, P.A. and Throne of Blood, two vastly disparate takes on Macbeth.)

The invitation: name and defend your choices by way of your own blog, in the comments here, or via e-mail to decorabilia AT hotmail DOT com. The winner, chosen by me based on inscrutable criteria, will receive pride, fame, and eternal glory in the form of a sonnet.

what dreams did come

In a night of recovery from a weekend spent camping with friends, strange visions and omens visited me. I describe several below, and leave them for you to interpret.
I am touring in Eastern Washington, looking out at a vast expanse where a highway, one I have traveled in the past, leads to the peak of a mountain. I have brought my digital SLR with a hurking telephoto lens, and furiously snap pictures of the landscape. Then the assault on a nearby peak begins, and as I ascend, the scene shifts (as it does only in dreams) to a luxurious Florida resort. I continue shooting photos of colorful hotel interiors, sunbathing palm trees, confused tourists. However, now I'm accompanied by a second professional photographer. He keeps stumbling into my shots, bumping me as I shoot, tripping me with his tripod.

* * *

I am shooed out of a dark gymnasium, where I have been searching for Real Madrid's locker room, hoping for a post-game autograph. (In real life, I don't know a single Real Madrid player, nor do I follow soccer.)

* * *

Cautiously driving a couple friends to school in the snow, my car hits a patch of ice and, inexplicably, flips over. One companion and I are unhurt, but the other is knocked unconscious. We take him to the hospital. Later, when I arrive at school, I stand in the gymnasium as the candidates for student government are announced, to raucous cheers. When my name is not called, I am told that I have been disqualified because I was not present to turn in my paperwork at the morning deadline. My excuse--that I was in a car accident--is not accepted.

I head to my classroom, where I have turned from student to teacher. As I try to start class, a returning student, trying to establish his class clown stature, starts interrupting. I send him out on a mission to find a custodian, since another student has suddenly taken ill and vomited on her desk.

It is later that evening. As I walk the streets of downtown Elma-Olympia (two towns twenty-five miles distant, for you non-locals), I wonder if I should visit my friend in the hospital. I see that my sister and brother-in-law have scored a reservation to Trinacria, which (in real life) is open only at the owner's whim. Despite the bitter cold, every restaurant patron sits near the window, looking out as I pass by.

Jul 13, 2007

the must-read essay of the week

Jason Kuznicki's essay "Love and Lust, Selves and Bodies" is the week's best, a perfect example of blogging done right. A portion:
The man on the phone wants to speak to my wife — Do I just tell him that I’m single, and avoid the possibly hostile questions?

The form has blanks for your name and that of your “spouse.” What do I write? It can’t be the same in all contexts. Can it?

A casual acquaintance makes an unkind remark about gays. Perhaps for the sake of friendship, and to avoid his embarrassment, I should simply let it pass.

These are the decisions I have to make all the time, and I would suggest that the path of least resistance leads only back to the closet.

Harry Potter and the Tedious Exposition

After having seen the slowest of the installments, I can't say it any better than Scott Tobias:
During this transitional stage, Dumbledore's Army and the Order Of The Phoenix prepare for bigger fights ahead—and presumably, more exciting movies, too.
Everyone's begging for Alfonso Cuarón to come back. Sure, he's a genius, and his franchise entry was easily the best, but what the series really needs is Michael Bay.

Oh yeah.

Yellowstone photos, and nothing but

Photos from our trip to Yellowstone (and beyond!), all in one handy place. See parts I, II and III for captions and context. If you're on the main page, click the timestamp or the post title to see them all.