Aug 31, 2007

Capital defeats Black Hills, 35-14

The recap:

Solid play at quarterback by sophomore Kellen Camus, combined with stingy defense and few turnovers, led to an old-fashioned stomping Friday night, as the Capital Cougars beat the Black Hills Wolves 35-14.

The Cougars entered halftime up 14-0, and cruised to a 21-0 lead early in the third quarter. Black Hills threatened late in the 3rd, but any momentum gained by their first touchdown drive dissipated when Capital recovered the onside kick. Camus wove his way into the end zone about six seconds into the 4th. The last Black Hills score came far too late to matter.


CHS played with verve against a quality opponent. Most important, we made very few mistakes--a couple holding penalties, a false start or two, an inconsequential fumble--and forced several. Throwing the ball deep against the Wolves gained good yardage, both through completions and crucial interference penalties. Short passes weren't nearly as effective. I'll have to wait to see the stats, but from what I saw, we could run up the middle almost at will.

Defensively, we were solid against the run and fairly consistent against the pass, but bit hard on playfakes. (My wife described the Cougs' oops-there's-the-ball redirections as "moving like a school of fish.")

In the game's most curious coaching decision, Black Hills, despite having one remaining timeout, let the clock run down with about 30 seconds left in the 2nd half. The Cougars had just fumbled and recovered a snap under center on the previous play, and were deep in their own territory, yet the Wolves didn't think to apply any more pressure, just to see what might happen.

I was distressed by the way many Cougar fans reacted to Black Hills' first touchdown, putting the score at 28-7. There was a fairly loud chorus of boos, which returned when the Wolves scored again. When your opponent is down by three touchdowns, such behavior shows a lack of class. We can do better, Cougars.

Incidentally, tonight's game was sponsored by Dr. Curtis Sapp, reports the Cougar website. His son, Hunter, a junior, plays D-line and wide receiver. Dr. Sapp was my family's orthodontist for many years, and I associate his name with equal amounts good humor, elevator music, and pain.

Update: Gail Wood of The Olympian has more.
"All we asked was for them to the best they could do," said Johnson, who replaced longtime coach Wayne Sortun. "We weren't nervous. There wasn't any pressure at all."

Camus won the starting quarterback job a week ago, beating out seniors Evan Pettie and Sean Simpson, who both started last season. Getting good protection from his offensive line, Camus responded by completing 12 of 17 passes for 145 yards with no interceptions. He also scored on a 15-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter, giving the Cougars a 28-0 lead.

I said "Release the hounds," not "Send out the dog."

Whatever disagreement I thought I had with the trp has evaporated. His latest post on the Mariners' plight says what I've been thinking for the last week:
Still, even if the M's see some spark and think he can develop into something, their recent moves with him are comically inept. Give White some meaningless innings to show what he's got (or, more likely, hasn't got). But the most important innings of a pennant race? Those are NOT the place to suddenly test an unproven guy who has been dumped by ELEVEN major league teams at one time or another! Every other guy in the M's bullpen has shown me at least a little something. I don't cringe when anybody else in the bullpen enters (and for a guy who suffered through the M's bullpens of the late '90s, that's a wonderful feeling). But Rick White? Rick White has shown me nothing, and he's shown John McLaren nothing. Why in the name of all that is holy are we hinging the season on him again and again?

I cannot come up with a philosophical approach to baseball, including any which I disagree with, that indicates this is a good idea.
He concludes by saying that "M's fans deserve way better." Damn right we do.

Aug 30, 2007

the TiVo quarterback

My favorite athletes, like longtime hero and current San Diego pitcher Greg Maddux, are consummate students of the game. Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck is certainly among that number, reports ESPN's Mike Sando.
This is how home-game Saturdays go for Seattle's three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. His wife, Sarah, takes the kids out of the house. Hasselbeck hits the playbook and watches the opponent's recently televised games, looking for clues not found in the snap-to-whistle clips NFL teams assemble from elevated sideline and end-zone cameras.

Right away Hasselbeck noticed something he only could have seen on the televised version.

Carolina tended to open games in the "Bear" defense made famous by Buddy Ryan. The opposing offense would adjust, and someone on the Panthers would call an audible.

"Move!" the defender would yell, and the Panthers would get into their preferred defense, leaving the offense at a disadvantage. This is when the team-shot video would normally pick up, but the broadcast version exposed the Panthers' tactics.

"NFC Championship Game, first play, I couldn't believe it, they lined up in a Bear defense," Hasselbeck said. "And in that same voice I heard on TiVo, I go, 'Move!' "

The Panthers moved.

Seattle stuck with its original play.

"It was awesome, like a 12-yard gain to Bobby Engram, naked bootleg to the left," Hasselbeck said. "It set the tone. I was feeling very good about the game after that one."

The Seahawks won, 34-14.
Read the whole thing to get a glimpse of his weekly regimen. The technology and the game may change, but one thing stays the same: nerds rule.

exclaim away!

Should we adopt a new punctuation aesthetic in these heady days of digital writing? Jacob Rubin says, "No!!!"
To risk sounding like an old schoolmarm: If everything is emphasized, nothing is. Pedestrian e-mails "kicked up a notch" or juiced up on bangers simply contribute to the noise.

But that doesn't mean the exclamation point should be tossed to the scrap heap. In fact, a stable of contemporary writers is waging an ingenious campaign to redeem the devalued punctuation mark. I'm thinking of people like Rebecca Curtis, Sam Lipsyte, and Arthur Bradford, who have all been influenced by Denis Johnson, a modern master of Io. No curmudgeon, Johnson sprinkles exclamation points at a rate that would dizzy Elmore Leonard and with such ingenuity that they do capture a true, and nearly religious, "wonder." Most critically, they attend moments of fragile feeling rather than, say, wild interconnectedness. Moments that might easily escape notice (especially if you have your nose in a phone), and moments of quiet, too. Take Johnson on a woman's scream after receiving news of her husband's death: "What a pair of lungs!" Or Johnson on an MS patient in a hospital: "No more pretending for him!" Or Johnson on pink baby rabbits: "Little feet! Eyelids! Even whiskers!" That's better than any conference I've been to.
What? No love for Tom Wolfe?!

Western Cascade Conference 2007 fall preview

The Olympian combines the capsule previews of all the teams in the Western Cascade Conference into one handy article. (For some reason, the site omits Lakes from the preview.)

Elsewhere, the paper hands Lakes the conference title...
Who can stop Lakes? Perhaps no one this season. This Lancers team has Class 3A state title ambitions and is bursting with college talent. Kavario Middleton, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound tight end/defensive end, is one of the country’s top college recruits. Jermaine Kearse (6-1, 170, senior) is a top two-way threat at receiver/safety. Lakes will be led by another college prospect in QB Calvin Schmidtke (6-0, 180, senior), who transferred from Life Christian, where he passed for 3,048 yards and 43 touchdowns last season
...and predicts the following finish:
1. Lakes
2. Shelton
3. Capital
4. Timberline
5. North Thurston
6. Yelm
7. Clover Park
Watch for the Shelton Highclimbers, who are returning 7 offensive and 8 defensive starters. Timberline, which dominated the WCC last year, hopes to extend last year's playoff success--but with a new coach. Yelm has the potential to be the conference's dark horse; last year coach Del Enders, 5-14 in his first three seasons, led the team to a 4-6 record and its first playoff appearance in two decades.

Meanwhile, here at home, the Capital Cougars face Black Hills, no slouch, in the season opener this Friday at 7:00. The Wolves' head coach Jack Zilla:
"We’re going to try to run 60 percent and throw 40 percent... Across the board, team speed has improved and defensively we’ve improved. The 46 defense is a unique defense... We’ve taken a lot of reps and looked at practice film. This is the second year, so we should be a lot better and a lot better overall."
Should be a good game. I'll be there.

See also: CHS football preview.

my faith in American public education is restored

Kyle Garchar got in-school suspension and a ban from school activities for masterminding this brilliant prank. (I doubt he'll be appearing soon in a Hilliard Schools news release.)

Makes up for Caitlin Upton's gaffe, for sure.

[via Obscure Store]

the computer knows you better than you know yourself

Don't worry: computers haven't stolen your free will just yet. But they're trying:
The researchers then used neural networks to analyse the biofeedback signals and input records, to see if they could predict the moment that a player would click the jump button in the game. To their surprise, they found that skin conductance alone is enough to predict a jump up to 2 seconds beforehand....

Laufer says the approach could have useful applications: "There are quite a few situations in life where there would be a need to provide a support for making a good decision at a good time. I have military applications (e.g.pilots) in mind, but surely we can find others as well."
I had thought there was only a 200-odd millisecond "lag time" between unconsciously beginning and consciously willing an activity like lifting a finger, so this two second prediction is a remarkable turn.

What might make the difference: so far, researchers have focused on a fairly linear scenario--lining up a jump--in a game with a fair amount of repetition. The neural network is predicting your behavior only when, ironically, you're at your most robotic.

A recent summary of neurological research on conscious free will here [pdf].

skepticism: always in style

This week's Skeptics' Circle (#68) is neatly laid out and clearly organized. For some reason, though, this photo sits at the top, and is never explained.

I've done a little digging: there's more where it came from. Click through only if you possess a cast-iron stomach.

Aug 29, 2007

seeing Jesus in Osama

The image:

As the viewer moves from side to side, the image changes from Jesus to Osama bin Laden.

The artist's explanation:
"But I just ask people to think about it a little bit more deeply because it is a very loaded work which means that there are so many different meanings...

What I was thinking about is, well, what would happen to the stories about this man over thousands of years. Could that possibly lead to someone with a cult-like status....

Immediately people are seizing on what they see as the most controversial, that I am comparing the two....

But I could actually be saying it is a juxtaposition of good and evil which I see as the base level reading of that work. But then on a more sophisticated level you could perhaps look how it could be an image which is a cautionary tale, asking the question do we have to be a little bit more careful about what we focus on in the here and now."
The outraged response:
The Prime Minister Johns Howard has branded the work "gratuitously offensive" to Christians.
If the art work is "saying" that Jesus is morally equivalent to Osama Bin Laden--like the moron who declared Jesus to be history's first suicide bomber--then yes, it's offensive.

But is that its message?

What I find most fascinating about this controversy is how quickly people control the interpretation, deciding exactly what it means despite the artist's stated intent. We are natural "reader response" theorists. What it means is what it means to me.

Consider, though, an alternate, plausible interpretation of the artwork. "Love your enemies," said Jesus. "Pray for those who persecute you." Such sentiment led believers like Mother Teresa to enjoin Christians to "see Jesus in all, and to be Jesus to all."

Can a Christian see Jesus in Osama bin Laden? If that were the intent of the artwork, would its image still be "gratuitously offensive?"

[via Andrew Bolt via Instapundit]

Bethel on strike; school delayed indefinitely

This is a shout-out to the striking teachers in Bethel, who will hit the pavement to picket tomorrow after yesterday's bargaining breakdown.
Classes had been set to resume Thursday, but schools will remain closed at least through the end of the week, according to the notice. About 1,050 teachers and 18,000 students are affected.

In a notice posted on the school district's Web site, School Superintendent Tom Siegel said the Bethel Education Association gave strike notice last night.

"The Bethel Education Association informed the district late Tuesday Aug. 28 that their members were on strike," the posting said.

"We are hopeful that negotiations will continue over the weekend with the goal of opening school as soon as possible," Siegel wrote, adding that the school district had presented the last offer and was waiting for a response.

Both sides are at odds over compensation, workload and health care benefits. The district said their latest offer increased total compensation [by] 6.5 [and] 6.9 percent under terms of a two-year contract.
Here's hoping for a swift and reasonable resolution. No one likes a strike--teachers least of all.

Update 9/1: After a hard day's negotiation, still no resolution.
Tuesday is the earliest classes could begin, but that now looks unlikely.

Cruver says even if a proposed deal was reached soon, some vacationing teachers would not be able to see it until their return home on Monday.

"We have a 24-hour time for people to look at those contracts," Cruver said. "You know how thick they are and how much there is, so we are hopeful things can start as soon as possible as soon as we reach a tentative agreement, if that is even possible at this point."

The district says it will notify parents by phone Sunday evening at the latest.
That's Bethel EA president Tom Cruver. From his speech to the union, given this past May:
We care about these issues because they are our issues. Your yes vote today tells the district that you support our bargaining team. We want the district to quit stalling and we want a fair and equitable contract before school begins next fall. Our numbers empower our bargaining team to obtain a breakthrough contract.
They voted yes. Just how close they are to the breakthrough remains to be seen.

banishing "etcetera"

I'm slowly working my way through the posts tagged "etcetera," all 150 that remain, and trying to shoehorn them into other extant categories. There's just too much clutter in the junk box.

The more I refine the categories, the more I discover what an illuminating and irritating window they are into my personality. Is my life truly this nerdy?


Update: Finished at 9:26 p.m. "Etcetera" is gone, never to return.

and I don't want a taste of victory

Interpol's latest chart-riser, "The Heinrich Maneuver," opens by asking, "How are things on the west coast?"

The answer is, "Not well." At least, not just south of the 49th parallel. The Mariners, once threatening the Angels' lead, have meekly dropped further into second and now cling to the wild card after some uninspired pitching, slipshod defense, untimely hitting, bad luck, and poor coaching.

Did I leave anything out?

The most frustrating thing is knowing that the M's are better than this. No one expected them to sweep Anaheim, but we had every reason to expect a hard-fought 2-1 series--in either direction.

Geoff Baker writes,
That old sports saying about taking things "one game at a time"? It truly does apply here. Forget about dissecting the bits and pieces of today's game. The M's were still reeling from last night and finished the moment they fell behind. Happens a lot in these situations.
Doesn't take the sting away, though. A sweep hurts.


For today's aesthetic enjoyment, enpen, one of Olyblog's resident photographers, shows us the doors of Olympia. Watch closely for the self-portrait.

justice, morality, and the death penalty debate

Regarding one potential interpretation of the current LD resolution, reader Josh writes,
Common definitions of justice often include a degree of moral behavior. So I guess I am wondering what sort of moral behavior democracy offers that no other body can or does.
I'm not so much interested in the question--the answer, I would think, involves a respect for human dignity, as evidenced by the notions of popular sovereignty and equal rights, among other things--but in the complex interplay of morality and justice. Again, the resolution:
Resolved: A just society ought not use the death penalty as a form of punishment.
Because the resolution focuses on social justice, we should look to a legal framework where rights violations are settled in courts instead of on the street, by juries and judges instead of victims. A man is shot in a robbery. His brother might have an immediate moral claim on the life of the perpetrator, but, because of his respect for due process and the rule of law, refuses to take revenge, trusting in the machinations of justice.

Thus, even where fundamental moral and legal concerns intersect, legality must take precedence. Punishment may cause shame and express moral censure, and moral considerations might form the foundation of law, but both sides can argue that the primary purpose of punishment is to uphold the rule of law, both as an act of retribution and of communication. The death penalty's success or failure in this regard is up for debate.

spinning off its axis

In the halls of this blog, I have, at times, feared what I call the "Frenchification" of American education--increased centralization, mostly due to good intentions, the asphalt of hell's highway.

You can turn that fear into full-blown paranoia now.

(I love the way Babelfish translates the question: "What rotates around the ground?")

[via my brother]

LID delight

Ah, Learning Improvement Days. Exactly how much learning goes on? And how much improvement?

Our own Science Goddess endures them--and from a different perspective:
My overall impression today (formed among the 8 additional PowerPoints to yesterday's 9) is that many of the teachers at that school think very small...and are very selfish. I can't deny that my time out of the classroom that has coloured my vision. I tend to look at things in a much more global way these days...and I admit that gives me a bit of an attitude about things. But these experiences make me want to shake some teachers until they rattle.
Dr. Pezz notices the difference between theory and practice:
Then the administrative team emphasized the importance of relationships. I absolutely agree that the relationships built between students, staff, and administrators create much of our successes. They spoke very well in this regard because I wholeheartedly believe they are correct.

However, it was also obvious that the admins have no idea how to teach the teachers how to create better bonds with students. It's not that they don't want to do so. They just aren't successful at creating relationships themselves. This inability of theirs translates to an inability to model or instruct the teaching staff to build these relationships.
I offer a hypothesis: when it comes to LID lectures, your memory will be inversely proportional to the distance you have to travel up the command structure to reach the presenter.

Aug 28, 2007

Caitlin Upton pities the mapless

Caitlin Upton, Miss South Carolina Teen USA, the pride of the social studies department at Lexington High School. Must... resist... urge... to... stereotype...

[via the AV Club]

Update: American geography, meet French science.

are defibrillators worth the cost?

Our school has one: it's kept at the office, within sprinting range of most of the campus. But are automatic external defibrillators, which can cost thousands in implementation and training, worth the investment? An area study says "maybe."
A nationwide push to put portable defibrillators in every school, a response to several high-profile student deaths, may not be worth the cost, a new study concludes.

The survey of emergency response to schools in the Seattle area over 16 years found that students suffered cardiac arrests only 12 times and a third of these children had known heart problems.

Most of the cardiac arrests at schools between 1990 to 2005 involved adults - teachers, volunteers or people just walking on school property. And they occurred much more often in high schools and middle schools than elementary schools.

"I certainly have no objection to AEDs (automated external defibrillators)," said one of the researchers, Dr. Tom Rea, of the University of Washington's Harborview Medical Center. He's also medical director for King County Medic One, the county's emergency medical service.

But not every school has the money for a defibrillator, which each cost an average of $1,000 to $3,000, not including the cost to train school staff, he said. They decided to do the study after several states mandated the purchase of defibrillators for schools and others were considering similar measures, he said.
It sounds like mandatory CPR training might be a better investment--especially since CPR techniques need to be changed to reflect current research.

Best line of the article comes near the end: "According to the study, schools are one of the best places for adults to suffer cardiac arrest."

Olympia School District kicks the WASL's assessment

Usually we get detailed charts and graphs at our year-opening meeting with the superintendent. This year, though, we got simple rankings: where we stand relative to other school districts with 5,000+ students. When it comes to 10th grade reading, we're number one. 10th Writing, 4th. We're in the top ten in math and science, too, if I recall correctly. This English teacher wasn't paying as close attention when those rankings rolled in.

Parade rain: not everybody passed. Not even in reading.

Aug 27, 2007

life and death in Seattle

Not quite. But close. The Mariners face glory or ignominy at the close of this 3-game series against the Angels. Win three, and they're an improbable first in the West. Lose three, and it's pray for the wild card.

And what a way to start! McLaren argues for Ichiro, who was sure he fouled off a third strike, and gets ejected by the third base umpire--at least, from what we can tell so far. He proceeds to put on a show worthy of the occasion. Hope it fires up the M's, who could use some bigger bats against Lackey.

Update: Ouch. Batista was anything but sharp. At least Rowland-Smith and O'Flaherty kept the damage down. Not much else to celebrate.

The only Mariner batters who had any success against Lackey were those who could lay off the diving curveball in the dirt: Vidro and Ibañez, with two hard-hit singles between them. On the play that eventually got McLaren ejected, the skip should have saved his wrath for Ichiro, who managed one weak blooper, otherwise flailing at anything earthward.

Haters of Batista are probably already calling for his head--and why shouldn't they, given his last horrific starts, and the much more competent mop-up work in long relief by Rowland-Smith?

back to school

Students won't arrive for another week and a half, but today is the first day back for Olympia School District employees. We gather at Oly High School for our annual meet-and-gab and WASL score boasting, and then disperse to our various locations for staff development.

And yes, I know this is overshadowed by Alberto Gonzales' resignation.

that government is best which governs Wikipedia

Using WikiScanner, Olympian reporters found at least 531 Olympia-area state government edits to Wikipedia.
Many of the changes made by state workers appear to be within their field of expertise. State Historical Society computers were used to edit the entry on the Washington State History Museum, for example.

But even technical changes could be controversial. A Department of Health worker apparently deleted an entry that stated high doses of fluoride can be fatal and replaced it with information on children who develop fluoride spots on their teeth.

And there were blatantly political changes: Several edits of Abramoff's entry were made from Department of Information System's computers, and two changes to the page of possible candidate for governor Dino Rossi were made from the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.

Other subjects were more obscure: Capital High School, heavy metal rocker Glenn Danzig, the knuckleball pitch in baseball, trivia on the "WCW Monday Nitro" wrestling show and Star Wars movie character R2-D2, for starters.

Those changes account for only a part of the Wikipedia editing done at public computers. A search for changes made from Washington government agencies resulted in a list of more than 150 schools, counties and fire districts statewide.
It's unsurprising to me; after all, Wikipedia is a prime source of information, so employees with expert knowledge and an already existing sense of public obligation would be doubly inclined to set records straight.

Nationally, NASA leads the pack, with 6846 edits and counting. And you thought they were busy in basements faking moon landings.

Aug 26, 2007

photos of Westport, Grayland beaches

Which is where we spent the bulk of the afternoon. Nine photos; click the title or the timestamp if only three appear.

At the Westport Jetty, lazy tourists take the path or climb the tower. Not-so-lazy tourists clamber up the rocks for the full effect.

The log marks the spray line. Keep your camera close.

Little Richard's offers cheap, decent homemade donuts [sic] and coffee. Get there early if you want selection. Neither Little Richard nor Richard Little is likely to make an appearance.

Somebody's a wee bit unhappy with the incumbent.

This is a rusty truck. I doubt you needed a caption to know that.

The storm made threatening gestures, but then retreated southward.

Cooking over an open fire changes people, makes them crazy. God does not intend us to toast bagels like marshmallows.

Nor does He intend us to make "beach pie" out of charred nectarines and graham crackers.

Which sums it up.

the death penalty undermines democracy

The current resolution states:
Resolved: A just society ought not use the death penalty as a form of punishment.
Let us assume, for discussion, the following line of argument:

[1]. A democracy is the only just form of society. (Or, to paraphrase a more famous aphorism, it is the least unjust form.)
[2]. The death penalty undermines democracy.
[3]. A just society / democracy values its preservation, both in existence and in character.
[4]. Therefore, in order to preserve its existence and character, a just society / democracy ought not use the death penalty as a form of punishment.

[1] is arguable, but defensible, with reference to human rights, the rule of law, representation, pluralism, and the like. [3] is intuitively strong, and [4] would follow from [2] and [3]. But can [2] be warranted?

Austin Sarat, a leading capital punishment scholar, describes the cultural, legal, and social effects of the death penalty in When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition in order to argue just that. He writes,
Capital punishment is the ultimate assertion of righteous indignation, of power pretending to its own infallibility. By definition it leaves no room for reversibility. It expresses either a "we don't care" anger or an unjustified confidence in our capacity to recognize and respond to evil with wisdom and propriety. Democracy cannot well coexist with either such anger or such confidence. For it to thrive it demands a different context, one marked by a spirit of openness, of reversibility, of revision quite at odds with the confidence and commitment necessary to dispose of human life in a cold and deliberate way. Moreover, democratically administered capital punishment, that is, punishment in which citizens act in an official capacity to approve the deliberate killing of other citizens, contradicts and diminishes the respect for the worth or dignity of all persons that is the enlivening value of democratic politics. A death penalty democratically administered implicates us all as agents of state killing.

"Capital punishments," Benjamin Rush once observed, "are the natural offspring of monarchical governments.... An execution in a republic is like a human sacrifice in a religion." Along with the right to make war, the death penalty is the ultimate measure of sovereignty and the ultimate test of political power. With the transition from monarchical to democratic regimes, one might have thought that such a vestige of monarchical power would have no place and, as a result, would wither away. Yet, at least in the United States, which purports to be the most democratic of democratic nations, it persists with a vengeance. How are we to explain this?
Sarat takes the rest of the book to explain the death penalty's persistence. Readable, even for novices, the book is a great resource for understanding the peculiarly American approach to capital punishment.

You can probably see a potential case structure unfolding. You might also see potential weaknesses with such a case. Feel free to point them out and discuss them in the comments.

Oh, and a question: is this reformulation of the argument stronger or weaker?

[1]. A just society requires democracy.
[2]. The death penalty undermines democracy.
[3]. Therefore, in order to preserve its existence and character, a just society ought not use the death penalty as a form of punishment.

skyscrapers in Federal Way?!

Long before he became a corporate knee-slap generator, John Keister would sometimes close the late great show Almost Live! by saying, "And if you can find downtown Federal Way, please let us know."

It's been over a decade, and still no downtown.

Until now?
Federal Way is planning to create a 4-acre urban village downtown, with residential towers up to 24 stories tall. The city is negotiating with United Properties, of Vancouver, B.C., which has proposed the $300 million project, a 1-acre park surrounded by a mix of residential, retail and office space.

The towers would be a stark departure from what other cities in South King County have done to draw more people downtown. The tallest buildings at Kent Station, a mix of retail and, eventually, residential, will be four stories, though the city hasn't imposed a height limit downtown. Burien's Town Square will limit its residential buildings to seven stories.

United Properties President Victor Setton said going vertical allows more space for a park — the first of any size in downtown Federal Way. And then, of course, height adds the value of views. The towers are expected to rise between 16 and 24 stories high, dominating the city's skyline.
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

high school realities are a-changin'

1. Online learning is still exploding in popularity. In our district:
In an entirely different Olympia School District program, officials plan to initially limit fall enrollment in online high school classes to 40 students.

However, as the school year progresses, enrollment could double, said Joy Walton, the Olympia Regional Learning Academy's administrator.

"It's hard to know what demand will be," she said. "We're constantly learning."

The district first began offering the classes — which include core subjects such as science, math, English and more — in 2006.

The online offerings aren't necessarily for students who need to make up credits. Instead, the program could be attractive to students who could struggle in a traditional high school because they have health problems or must work, Walton has said.
2. Sports and activities are more and more becoming the province of the privileged.
For clubs and other activities, students need to purchase an ASB card, which can be as much as $40. However, actual costs for necessary equipment can be much more than that, as Thompson discovered when joining cheerleading last year.

For students in band, purchasing musical instruments can cost thousands of dollars. A clarinet can run $3,000 with hundreds more in accessories. Then someone like Sheller, who is also in color guard, can end up paying $200 to $300 for a flag.
Schools can make some accommodations--students receiving free and reduced lunch can have certain fees waived--but for most involved in activities, fundraising is a way of life.

Aug 25, 2007

Percival Landing snapshots

Taken Thursday afternoon and evening. Older photos here.

and indeed there will be time

For the first time, I'm teaching a senior lit class that gets to study Hamlet.

Which means, of course, bringing up T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Which makes this mashup perfectly apt.

[Thanks to Jason Kuznicki for the pointer. "If I were an English teacher," Jason writes, "I’d play this in my introductory poetry class." Some of us are so fortunate.]

original questions to ask people

Tired of those pre-packaged lists of random questions? Want to become a tailor of talk, spinning surprising questions out of thin air, seamlessly weaving them into the conversation? Look no further, friend. You've hit up on a list of 15 original questions that, until now, have never been asked. Not ever.

Originality verified by Google. Check for yourself.

1. If Teddy Roosevelt were resurrected tomorrow, would voters be able see past the distracting supernaturalism for the wonder that would be the 21st century Bull Moose Party?
2. Have you ever woken up whistling?
3. Bastard toadflax or creosote bush?
4. What is the longest you've ever had the hiccups?
5. Which superpower could you live without?
6. Are "comeback tours" evidence in favor of euthanasia?
7. If your name anagrammed to "Turd Pan Mold," would you have it legally changed?
8. Which streets are being taken back, exactly?
9. Which Sesame Street character best represents these turbulent times?
10. Do these jeans make me look hip?
11. What's your take on the whole "dark energy" dispute?
12. To keep the stars on the U.S. flag nice and even, which state should be traded for Puerto Rico?
13. How long until farthingales return to popularity?
14. If you could eliminate one random question, which would you choose?
15. Kickboxers or kickbriefs?

[148th in a series]

funding lawsuit moves forward

The lawsuit, which I mentioned earlier this week, is going to trial.
A King County Superior Court judge on Friday declined to rule on the merits of a lawsuit calling for an overhaul of the way the state pays for education, sending the matter toward a trial next June.

Judge Paris K. Kallas said too many facts were in dispute for her to grant a motion for summary judgment brought by a coalition of teachers, parents, community groups and school districts. The coalition wants to require the state to calculate exactly how much it costs to provide an adequate education for all pupils, then figure out a way to pay for it.
It's not the speedy outcome the plaintiffs were hoping for, but it'll guarantee a spate of publicity and, this blogger hopes, a well-reasoned outcome.

Aug 24, 2007

photos of the Woodard Bay nature trail

The Woodard Bay Natural Resource Conservation Area is one of Olympia's hidden gems. From the trailhead on Woodard Bay Road, a short walk through woods leads to the water--Chapman Bay, where harbor seals and otters frolic. The trail offers a side trip, a loop, but it's best avoided, unless you've brought along mosquito repellent and a healthy tolerance for nettles.

Eight photos in all; click the timestamp or the title to see all of them, if only three appear.

Carl's Jr. coming to Lacey

Parked right across from Taco Bell, it appears:
Nick Trani, president of Northwest Foods LP, said his company plans to open a Carl’s Jr. restaurant off Pacific Avenue at South Sound Center in Lacey.

Work on the 2,600-square-foot branch at 3816 Pacific Ave. S.E. is expected to begin next month for a December or January opening, Trani said.

Each restaurant employs 60 to 70 people, he said.
Forget Carl's Jr. What this town really needs is Burgerville.

How 'bout it, Burgerville CEOs?

is your school on the list?

The Adequate Yearly Progress preliminary results are out. Six schools have moved off the list; I can imagine the back-slapping that'll fill their LIDs next week. Dozens more, though, joined it.

In my county, one district--North Thurston--hasn't met its NCLB-mandated goals.

How about you?

but Jesus paid my toll, officer

When examining The Olympian's ill-informed support for Lacey's red light camera experiment, I never even mentioned the possibility of wrongful ticketing. The paper's "trust the government" stance doesn't go off quite as well in today's story about the new Tacoma Narrows toll bridge:
Bickle, who drives tractor-trailer rigs across the bridge on a regular basis, said he has a transponder in his rig, but got a ticket for the trailer. Sensors in the roadway are supposed to count tractor-trailer axles and automatically debit individual toll accounts for the correct amount.

"I really don't want to waste a day off to go fight a ticket I shouldn't have gotten in the first place," he said.

More than 12,000 tickets have been issued for failing to pay the $3 cash or $1.75 electronic toll on the bridge since the Washington State Patrol began enforcing toll violations July 22, a week after the bridge opened.

Most of those citations probably are legitimate, said Chuck Ramey, administrator for Pierce County District Court, which is processing the tickets.

But some aren't. And no one knows yet how many drivers have gotten tickets they don't deserve.
In its defense, at least the Lacey camera scheme provides an easy way to check and challenge a citation.

Aug 23, 2007

AltLaw: searchable SCOTUS, federal appeals court cases

This is going to make a lot of debate nerds very, very happy. (Count me among that number.)

[via BoingBoing, via Instapundit]

have your own out-of-body experience

Daniel Wegner's The Illusion of Conscious Will describes subjects in an experiment who, by a little trickery with mirrors, became convinced that someone else's arm was their own--and described how it felt to "control" the other hand.

Now, in a similar vein, scientists have induced out-of-body experiences with a clever setup:
To trick his subjects, Ehrsson gave had them wear a head-mounted display that showed them footage of themselves filmed from behind, while preventing them from seeing anything else. He then used a plastic rod to prod the subject in the chest and simultaneously held a second rod in front of the camera behind them, to make it seem that the illusory "person" viewed from behind was being prodded in the chest too.

Subjects physically felt themselves being prodded, but also had the weird sensation that it was their alter ego in the film footage being prodded. "It gives you a very strong sensation you're sitting somewhere else," Ehrsson said at a press conference held in London.
The video above shows a similar experiment performed by Olaf Blanke.

the politics of prayer

A fan of the blog sends along this video, in which Democratic presidential hopefuls--Mike Gravel and John Edwards excepted--sound pretty much indistinguishable from their Republican rivals. I'll admit I was a little taken aback by Edwards' frank admission that "I don't think you can prevent bad things from happening through prayer."

What I wrote about Bush's public faith a year and a half ago is largely applicable here:
Bush's platitudes look rather pale next to Lincoln's bold, unabashedly Biblical theologizing. Lincoln speaks not just from another time, but from another planet, a place steeped in old-time religion. Lincoln's God isn't just a concept, but a fire-breathing person with a will in the world.

When it comes to Bush, "theocrat" is a lazy epithet, like calling Good Charlotte's music "punk rock." Sure, it sounds punk-esque, but it's soulless and watery, tailored for mass consumption, entirely too agreeable. It's what a shallow society wants--and deserves--in its pop and its politics.

The Olympian loves Big Brother

The paper comes out in favor of Lacey's red light camera experiment, giving no thought to the solution that would almost entirely eliminate the problem--longer yellows and longer four-way reds--and adopting wholesale the tenets of the surveillance society.
Under the state law authorizing red light cameras, the equipment can only capture video of a vehicle and its license plate, not the occupants. That should silence some of the opponents who see the cameras as an invasion of privacy.

But let's face it. Cameras are everywhere in society today.

Pull into a gasoline station and you are on video. Grocery and convenience store cameras capture our every move. Many merchants use video cameras to nab shoplifters. Intercity Transit recently installed cameras in an effort to hold rowdy passengers accountable. And we all know that cameras are a crucial part of the security systems at casinos and banks. Even homeowners have cameras in place as part of their security systems.

Monitoring intersections is a natural extension of cameras.
That's how rights are lost: as a "natural extension" of other losses.

Even if you're unafraid of further surveillance, though, you have to wonder why the city is so bent on a costly solution. It costs nothing to make intersections safer.

Aug 22, 2007

virtual morality, virtual ontology

I've been thinking about theodicy lately--a summer habit--and so I've noticed an intersection between the problem of evil and 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.
Brent Silby, in his critique of Bostrom's reasoning, raises the moral issue:
But morality, like all cultural phenomena, evolves. It is a conceit to assume that our current state of moral reasoning will remain unchanged. Highly advanced civilizations may find it morally abhorrent to create a universe and populate it with living beings. Consider life on Earth. We live on a planet full of creatures that have to destroy each other to survive. Humans, who have arguably the highest level of intelligence on Earth, kill animals, pollute the environment, torture children, tell lies, commit crimes, and kill each other for greed. Would an advanced species think it is a good thing to create another universe that could possibly contain this level of pain and suffering? Its possible that a future species would choose not to create a simulated universe because doing so would increase pain and suffering in the world.

The assumption that an advanced species will want to create a simulated universe relies too heavily on the idea that they will share our moral standards. We cannot make such an assumption, so the likelihood that we exist in a simulated universe may be a great deal lower than originally thought. I am not saying that it is impossible. All I am suggesting is that more thought needs to be put into the look of future moral reasoning
I agree that we have to be careful when assigning probabilities to the purported actions of civilizations that could conceivably will us into existence--but I have two in-principle objections to the objection.

First, though morality may evolve, it doesn't prohibit people, ultimately, from acting immorally. Silby's list of human ills is proof enough. A rogue simulation technician might be running our universe as a screensaver, in defiance of The Future's norms.

Second, a simulation is not real. No one at present mourns the death of digital characters, at least not seriously--I hope. We view their suffering as only apparent. Perhaps the simulation engineers of The Future are unaware that their characters have a subjective existence (assuming, of course, that I am not the only character in a solipsist simulation). Since our suffering and pain aren't "real," there is no perceived moral risk in programming us to suffer.

Silby makes an interesting comparison:
Supporters of the Simulated Universe argument may complain here, and state that there is a fundamental difference between their view and the Cosmological argument. They may suggest that their argument is different because it is based on the existence of real creatures that have a biology and use technology, while the Cosmological argument is based on a supernatural God. But I am not sure the there is a difference. From our perspective there is no difference between a supernatural God and a super intelligent species from another universe. Both entities are equally difficult to describe. We can never know the nature of a parent universe. We cannot know about how their biology works because we are unable to visit and have a look. Creatures in the parent universe are unknowable, and from our perspective they are all-powerful.
There is a high epistemic barrier to the Simulation Argument, to be sure. But extrapolating from known technological processes isn't just making stuff up.

I'll admit I had a similarly Clarkesque thought after mulling over Bostrom's argument: the better humans get at creating technology, the less we are "wowed" by omnipotence. In fact, the unintended consequence of the Intelligent Design movement could be that it succeeds--by deflating our view of the divine. Maybe that's the Canny Valley of I.D.

[Shamelessly borrowed from the Uncanny Valley pictured here.]

we have met the microbes, and they are us

Quick question. What percentage of the cells you carry around belong to bacteria?

If you said anything less than 90%, it's time to revisit your preconceptions about the human organism [sub. req.]
The average human is more microbe than mammal, a veritable super-organism comprising 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells. The total number of microbial genes in the human body is thought to outnumber human genes by up to 1000 to 1. Read this article out loud, and long before you reach the end you will have released 10,000 bacteria-laden droplets into the air. With so many microscopic hangers-on you can afford to shed a few. But you would be in big trouble without any at all. In fact, you wouldn't be human, a paradox that scientists are trying hard to get their heads around.
Within five years, geneticists should map the majority of the "microbiome," which is mostly composed of a stable population of microbes--the same "bacterial core" or "scaffold." Variances in the population can be a clue to a person's ancestry, so evolutionary biologists are keenly interested in the results. We already know about the problems bacteria can cause us--acne, gum disease, ulcers, impetigo, among other maladies--and we're getting tantalizing clues that bacteria are implicated in obesity, and might be a part of its solution. More troubling, overuse of antibiotics, which is already implicated in the rise of multiresistant "superbugs," might also be increasing rates of "esophageal disease, asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis."

If you're grossed out by the prospect of being an oversized bacterial playground, don't worry: your human cells outweigh the microbes, and your brain is, at least when healthy, mostly microbe-free. But thank the 2.2 pounds of gut bacteria that help you "digest certain foods, metabolise drugs, detoxify noxious compounds, or make essential vitamins." Without them, you'd be only human--and probably dead.

Aug 21, 2007

2007 Thurston County Primary results

Initial results from the first tabulation, the three major Olympia races, with much more to come:

That's Green narrowly leading Ottavelli for Council Position 2, Thomas with a comfortable margin over Strub, and Barclift in the lead in the District 4 School Board race.

No predictions. If we've learned anything out here in Washington, it's that we don't go prognosticating until all the votes are in. And not even then.

Update 8/22: With tabulation a mere 2500 votes from completion, nearly nothing has changed--so I'm not even going to update the graphic. Congratulations to Green, Ottavelli, Thomas, Strub, Barclift, and Meltzer, all who move along to the general election in November.

LaFollette on Plantinga on free will and evil

I always graze through the offerings at Online Papers in Philosophy, which links to some wonderfully obscure work that professional philosophers post on their personal websites. It surprised and delighted me, then, to see that back in 1980, philosopher Hugh LaFollette subjected Alvin Plantinga's God, Freedom and Evil to the same scrutiny [pdf] I would give it a mere 14 years later--only in a less rigorous, less philosopherish way.

In fact, I'll show where LaFollette's thinking parallels mine, despite our utter intellectual independence.

Thus, it would appear that Plantinga is guilty of an inconsistency here unless he can produce some general and relevant reason why God would have the ability to act morally without ever acting immorally, while humans can only produce moral good if they also produce moral evil. Now Plantinga might want to try to identify such a difference by appealing to the human 'essence'. But even if that response would allay this criticism, it would produce additional questions, namely, Plantinga would need to explain why it isn't possible that there are other, non-human possible creatures who are both rational and significantly free and always choose to do what is morally right. To avoid this criticism he would, it seems, be committed to arguing that:
16) It is necessarily true that: no significantly free possible creatures except God can produce moral good without also producing moral evil.
And such a claim seems clearly undemonstrable (if not preposterous).
Yours truly:
Even if we grant that truly free will exists, though, we must ask: if free will is inviolable, yet humans, thanks to transworld depravity, are continually prone to abuse it, how is heaven, a place free of pain, suffering and sin, logically possible?

Furthermore, if God is both morally good and sinless, and (presumably) the most "valuable" being in all possible worlds (since He is the object of reverence and worship), did He create beings greater than himself with respect to moral freedom? Remember, Plantinga claims that transworld depravity precludes an actual world where free beings always choose the good. There is but one way to exclude God from this without declaring His nonexistence: by removing God's moral freedom. To recap: if God freely always does the right thing, Plantinga's argument implodes. If God has freely chosen the wrong thing, He is not wholly good. If God cannot help but always do the right thing, then humans are more "valuable" than God.

the August 21 primary is upon us

Don't forget to send your ballot via mail or drop it in a drop box today, August 21. (Don't know the location of your nearest drop box? Click here.)

I couldn't quite bring myself to vote for Prophet Atlantis, despite my professed love for quixotic candidates.

Election results coming as soon as they're available...

Update 9:30 p.m. And now they are.

Mitt Romney's heart is worn from changing

And you thought John Kerry was a flip-flopper. Romney's switched sides on abortion, gay rights, and gun control, and now he's flipping between theory and practice on immigration.
In recent days, Mitt Romney has assailed Rudy Giuliani for maintaining a "sanctuary" city for illegal immigrants in New York and has pledged that as president he would reduce federal funding to "sanctuary" cities. But as governor of Massachusetts, Romney led a state that had several sanctuary cities and he took no action to cut their funding in order to pressure them into changing their policies toward illegal immigrants.
I anticipate Romney's coming out as a Southern Baptist in a month or two, claiming his time as a Mormon was "just a phase."

Update 8/22: In response, my brother writes,
Jim contends Mitt’s another Kerry. It’s not clear, though, that the case is the same at all. After all, when it comes to pro life issues at least, Mitt has been consistent in the bills he signed.
No mention of Romney's two-time change of heart: once to the "safe and legal" camp, after a relative died from an illegal abortion, and once back to a strict pro-life position, after being convinced through a debate on cloning. If that were his only flop, I'd be inclined to give Romney the benefit, but there's a pattern--a pattern that otherwise goes unaddressed. Call me heartless and cynical, but Romney's double switcheroo has all the appearances of political gamesmanship. (Added: My misreading of the link made it seem that Romney initially switched to the pro-choice camp sometime in the early 90s--but as Romney describes in the video linked below, up until his recent conversion, his support for "safe and legal" abortions had been consistent since at least the 1960s.)

I'll grant one thing, though: his words defending his gubernatorial record don't bring to mind John Kerry.
"As governor, I indicated that I would not change the law as it related to abortion. I would keep it the same. I have had roughly four provisions that have reached my desk which would have changed the laws as they relate to abortion, all of which would have expanded abortion rights. I vetoed each of those. My record as governor has been very clearly a pro-life record."
Instead, they're positively Clintonian.

Update II: In this YouTube video of the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial debate, Romney defends his pro-choice cred. He is smooth.

Update III: My brother responds, but doesn't exactly inspire::
...personally, Mitt has always held conservative opinions but has thought that his political position needs to represent the will of the people that elect him.
Now that's integrity.

Aug 20, 2007

where does Thursday come after Friday?

In the dictionary.

Gosh, that was easy.

[147th in a series]

no WordPress for you

Right now you can't access WordPress blogs in Turkey, reports PZ Myers, all because of a Turkish creationist's snit. (PZ also provides the way around the ban.)

Well, Seattle Sports Report? What have you done to deserve this? And what do you have to say for yourselves?

voter guide for District 4 candidates now online

If you're voting in the August primary for the Olympia School Board District 4 race, you've probably received your guide by now. Still, just to be sure, the Thurston County Auditor offers it online as well. Here are the candidates' statements [pdf].

I see a lot of readers are looking for information on the three candidates--incumbent Carolyn Barclift and challengers Tom Hill and Lucy Gentry-Meltzer. Surprisingly, none of them has a website, which, in the 21st century, is unbelievable.

I'm here to fill in the gaps. I'm also curious: what would you like to know about the candidates that you're not necessarily finding elsewhere? Email me at the address listed at right.

Also, I should note that the Olympia Education Association endorses Carolyn Barclift for the District 4 position.

parsing the death penalty resolution

Let's take a closer look at the current LD resolution:
Resolved: A just society ought not use the death penalty as a form of punishment.
First, "a just society." This phrase gives the Affirmative a task and a burden to levy on the Neg. The task: defining justice in a societal framework. More to the point, the harms of the death penalty must be harms against society, or harms incurred through societal mechanisms. If the death penalty, for example, is racially unbalanced in application, the Aff can't just say "the death penalty is racist." The Aff must show why this is opposite the values of a just society--and the word "ought" will become important here, too, since it establishes the criterion for a just society. Is it an ought of utility? An ought of constitutionalism? An ought of democracy?

Secondly, the Aff must remember to place a specific burden: whatever goods the Neg claims about the death penalty, they must be linked to justice in a societal framework. The Aff can't allow the Neg to say "but the death penalty is an effective deterrent!" without concurrently showing why deterrence is a valid and sufficient aim of punishment in a just society. This goes double for any arguments based on individual liberties, no matter which side proffers them. What is the connection between individual liberty and a just society? It must be made explicit.

The overarching point is that all arguments must link back to a vision of the just society, and any argument that strays beyond can be dismissed as nonresolutional (or, to sound a little less debaterish, irrelevant).

I haven't worked out in my own mind exactly how "as a form of punishment" affects either side of the resolution, other than to note that punishment's effects go beyond the punished. Punishment can be retributive, torturous, instructive, deterrent, preventive, excessive, slight, fitting, cruel, unusual. It can be examined empirically and philosophically. The ultimate question in the background, as alluded to before, is, "What is the role of punishment in a just society?" This essay might point you toward some initial answers.

if you can't legislate, litigate

The school funding lawsuit is in the news again. The heart of the matter:
The coalition says the state's education system relies on an outdated formula for allocating money that leaves schools financially strapped and unable to adequately educate children.

The state uses sales, business and state property taxes to pay 84.3 percent of what it costs to educate Washington's 1 million schoolchildren. The other 15.7 percent comes from local levies and some federal money, primarily for education of special-needs children.

The bulk of state dollars go to teacher salaries. The state also matches local bond money for school construction.

The coalition's lawsuit seeks to force the Legislature to pay 100 percent of the cost to educate K-12 students but does not suggest how. It also does not address higher education.
There's an important adjective missing: some. As in, some schools are doing just fine--they have a solid tax base and dedicated levy support. But others aren't. And that's the rub.

As litigation progresses, it could be affected by the upcoming election. If voters choose simple majorities for levies, the State may be able to argue that the major hurdle to funding equity has been knocked down.

Aug 18, 2007

the Mariners drive Chris crazy

The most beleaguered of White Sox fans is Chris, pictured here.

Chris can't stand the way Josh Fields plays third, backing off the ball when it's sharply hit, and he's no fan of Jerry Owens in center. Chris is sure to tell you, too, exactly how he feels in the appropriate vocabulary.

The Mariners are down by two, runners on second and third, when Guillen scorches one. Fields doesn't charge, and has a bad hop sail past his head; both runs come home. Chris curses under his breath. Later, on a soft grounder, Fields charges too late, booting the ball. Chris gets one of those little veins on his forehead. Owens gets his own chance to contribute, air-mailing a throw from center behind the railing. Three bad plays turn a 3-1 Sox lead into a 7-3 deficit.

Chris files a restraining order against himself.

The Sox come back, but it's not enough. Ibañez's heroics in the field and smoking liners, Weaver's biting slider, Putz's sizzling fastball, all too much. Mariners 7, Sox 5.

To add the proverbial insult, the Cubs win.

Hard times for a White Sox fan. Doubly hard times for Chris.

oh those crazy fans

Josh and I enjoyed a Mariner victory yesterday in the comfort and aesthetic marvel that is Safeco Field. The following videos are small slices of our experience. Photos coming soon. here.

jumpcut movie:just say it
Some guy in an A's hat was trying his best to avoid a fight near the bottom of the escalator.

They used to sing for John Olerud. Now they sing for the Josés.

Some people shouldn't dance.

Aug 17, 2007

acceptable errors: innocence, guilt, and the death penalty

A little moral calculus for the current LD resolution, which concerns the justice of the death penalty.

1. Assume that, at some point, the state has erred and condemned an innocent to die.

2. Assume that this has occurred in 1% of cases. (Given the work of The Innocence Project, which, using DNA technology, has exonerated 15 death row inmates in 15 years, and given an average of 50 executions per year in the United States since 1976, this assumption has a high degree of plausibility--and may even be too conservative.)

3. Is a 1% error rate acceptable?

4. Regardless, what is the maximum or minimum error rate for the death penalty to be considered just or unjust?

5. Is an extremist anti-death-penalty stance morally defensible? In other words, does the potential execution of even one innocent render the death penalty unjust?

Virginia is for gangstas

Virginia's previously flawless marketing campaign, "Virginia is for Lovers," hit a minor snag when it was discovered that its most recent ad unknowingly conveys a gang sign.
"Out of respect to those who have concerns about the use of this symbol, we will adjust the creative images in our ad campaign to eliminate any further misinterpretation of the heart/hand symbol. We regret if anyone interpreted the symbol as anything other than a symbol of love as was intended."
Still, it's better than our SayWA.

[via Obscure Store]

Stephon Marbury, zen master

Today's serious, important, weighty link of moral significance is to a video interview with Stephon Marbury, wherein the scholar/athlete tackles the complexity of Stephon Marbury. Favorite quote, about his rocky relationship with Kevin Garnett: "We didn’t go home and sleep in the same bed with each other... we played basketball."

Aug 16, 2007

national board

Link from:, Allison Matsumoto, who asks, "So what do you think? Are these criticisms fair or off-base? We'd especially love to hear from teachers that have successfully earned this credential or are in the process of getting nationally board certified."

Article link:

By Bess Keller

With the number of teachers who have won certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards expected to reach 60,000 by year’s end, the credential has become a fixed part of the education scene. But the group’s success raises at least one new troubling question about the certification’s future value, and fails to allay policy concerns about the millions of dollars that states and districts spend on teachers who win the certification.

The past few years, especially, have seen sharp growth in the number of teachers who have tackled the demanding process. The figures have been spurred by rewards for the credential from more than 30 states and scores of districts. National-board officials say that if the current trend continues, about 2 percent of the nation’s teachers will hold the credential by 2008.

Still, the 20-year-old, privately organized NBPTS might be challenged by success. For instance, as more teachers seek the certification, will its worth slip?
Teachers’ Motivation

Noting that links between master’s degrees and teacher effectiveness may once have existed but for the most part no longer do, some observers have wondered if national certification might fall into a similar pattern. Before master’s degrees meant almost universal automatic pay hikes, fewer teachers sought the credential. But those who did were more likely to be effective, researchers have suggested.

“Anytime you start a new program, it’s likely to be the enthusiastic, entrepreneurial people who are going to go through it,” and they may have natural advantages as good teachers, says Dan D. Goldhaber, a research professor at the University of Washington in Seattle who has studied national-board certification. “Over time, the applicant pool is not likely to be as good.”

By all accounts, salary rewards for certification have upped interest. Legislators in Washington state, for example, raised the base bonus for board certification this year from $3,500 to $5,000 annually and offered an additional $5,000 annually to nationally certified teachers at high-poverty schools. The number of applicants doubled from previous years, Washington officials said.

“I worry about the motivation, of course,” said Sarah Applegate, a nationally certified teacher-librarian at River Ridge High School in Lacey, Wash. “People have said to me, ‘I hear I can make $10,000 extra if I work in a high-needs school—where are the high-needs schools?’ That’s not good enough.”

But on the whole, she said, the new incentives will draw more teachers to undertake the process, and that will be a plus for students.

Mr. Goldhaber doesn’t disagree— as long as the national board sticks to its standards. In the case of master’s degrees, he said, the press of teachers going after a salary increase gave universities the opportunity, even the incentive, to collect tuition without necessarily delivering much of value to the classroom. Few who take courses flunk.
Process Scrutinized

In contrast, only around 40 percent of first-time applicants pass the national board’s assessments, according to the Arlington,Va.-based group. Eventually, about two-thirds of those who resubmit revised work achieve the credential. Those percentages have stayed stable for some time.

Joseph A. Aguerrebere Jr., the chief executive officer of the national board, said quantity has not had an effect on quality. What’s more, he suggests that the growing number of nationally credentialed teachers has helped the national board play a larger role in improving teaching and reforming schools.

“I’d say the worth is actually growing as people learn about it,” Mr. Aguerrebere said.

Nonetheless, teachers with and without the credential, along with researchers, are certain that the best teachers are not necessarily nationally certified.

“I think there are a lot of accomplished teachers out there who are not board-certified,” said Jennifer Morrison, a nationally certified high school teacher in Chapin, S.C. “I always have to worry [that] it’s become a brand name.”

Other teachers go further, questioning the degree to which the process can be manipulated. The extensive assessment requires teachers to compile four portfolios of classroom materials, including two videotapes of their teaching, and take six tests that ask teachers to apply their knowledge to classroom situations at their grade level and in their subject area.

“Teachers may appear one way on video and another way the majority of the time, and that concerns me,” said Suzanne A. Newsom, who teaches English at the Renaissance School of Olympic High School in Charlotte, N.C. She is waiting to hear if resubmissions of two of the 10 elements required by the board will win her the credential. She passed the videotaped portions on the first round.

Elaine Kasmer, a high school art teacher in Baltimore County, Md., who entered the profession after a career as an illustrator, thinks she knows why some of the best teachers pass up the chance for certification. They view it “as a sort of bureaucratic, jump-through-the-hoops thing that is a drain on their teaching,” Ms. Kasmer said.

Practiced observers of accomplished teaching say that in their experience, however, people who win certification are indeed topnotch teachers. “The people I know with [national] certification are wonderful teachers,” said Pam Wise, a veteran teacher who is currently a school coach with the Coalition of Essential Schools Northwest Center in Tacoma, Wash. “And people I know who weren’t [wonderful] didn’t make the cut.”

One question is whether the extensive assessment changes a teacher’s practice for the better over the long haul.

In a 2004 paperRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, Mr. Goldhaber reported that while North Carolina teachers who later receive national certification start out as more effective than other teachers in raising student test scores, they are less effective the year of the application process. And though they are more effective than other teachers in the first year after certification, the effect wanes thereafter.

Overall, there is more research evidence that the credential signals effectiveness, especially when it comes to educating poor and minority children in the lower grades, than that the process makes better teachers.

Those who have earned the credential, however, overwhelmingly report in a survey underwritten by NBPTS and informally that undergoing the assessment improved their practice.

Douglas N. Harris, an education policy professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he is unsure whether the process develops better teachers. His NBPTS supported research on Florida teachers applying for the credentialRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader , published this year, suggests it does not.

But other research he has done, he said, showed that the effects of professional development may take several years to appear, years beyond the scope of most recent studies. “There are lots of indicators to show we should be patient, and keep doing these studies,” the researcher contended.

With some exceptions, teachers who know of national certification tend to have a positive impression of its value. But for some it seems beyond their reach in a practical sense. And that speaks to a vexing problem for the national board, which has gathered many more suburban teachers than urban or rural ones.

“It’s probably something that can be valuable,” said Matthew F. McLaughlin, a teacher at the Bronx Preparatory Charter School in New York City, “but I don’t know how it relates to me. The impression I get every time I read about it is that it’s something for a suburban school where half the faculty has been there a long time.”

In contrast, Mr. McLaughlin has had a new principal each of the six years he has taught in two different schools, and estimates the teacher turnover at his current school at about 25 percent annually. “It feels like a luxury for a school like mine, always in startup mode,” he said.
Targeted Incentives

The national board has been working to build its presence in urban and rural schools, and has had some recent success in drawing teachers of color in greater proportion than in the profession generally. At the same time, Mr. Goldhaber found in research published this year that North Carolina teachers getting the credential made it more likely they would move to better-off schools than the ones where they taught at the time they applied. Nationally certified teachers were also more likely to leave the state, according to the research, which was supported by the NBPTS.

The research suggests that teachers, at least in North Carolina, recognize that national certification gives them greater mobility in the job market and they take advantage of it. North Carolina is one of 30 states that allow transplanted teachers to bypass state certification requirements if they have the NBPTS seal.

Some observers of the program in North Carolina, which has more than 11,000 teachers with the advanced certification, the largest number in the nation, have criticized it as state subsidization of better-off school districts. North Carolina, which tops up the salaries of nationally certified teachers by 12 percent, pays out far less of the salary money per capita to poor districts because they have relatively few such teachers.

But Mr. Harris, the Wisconsin researcher, said the NBPTS should not be faulted for a “teacher gap“ problem that crops up no matter which characteristic of better teachers is examined.

John N. Dornan, the executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, which includes government and business leaders, agrees. At the same time, he acknowledges concern about getting more nationally certified teachers into low-performing schools, especially in North Carolina’s rural areas. The solution, he said, is not to suppress the number of people achieving national certification but to foster the conditions that will groom and keep teachers of that quality where they are needed most.

“I am looking for how to find new and different ways to provide financial incentives and rewards in poor counties,” Mr. Dornan said.

A few states have opted to pay nationally certified teachers bonuses only when they teach in high-needs schools: California, Georgia, and New York. That approach is not endorsed by the NBPTS, which argues that it undermines its fundamental mission of elevating the teaching profession. But Mr. Aguerrebere does favor topping up the base reward to get more nationally certified teachers into high-needs schools, the approach taken by Washington state.

The national board has also helped pilot projects to increase the number of nationally certified teachers in high-poverty schools by offering help with the $2,500 assessment fee and support during the process. Such programs often work through cohorts of applicants, which strengthens the credential’s power to change teaching practice at a school, national board officials say.
Other Options

It remains an open question whether, considered strictly as professional development, national certification is the best use of the money states pour into it.

Ms. Kasmer at Baltimore County’s Dulaney High School said she would rather see the outlay make it possible for teachers to observe each other regularly and then debrief what they see, something that doesn’t happen at her school.

And yet the national board’s standards for teaching practice are used as the basis for just such activities at some schools, according to Mr. Aguerrebere. It shouldn’t be a matter of either/or, he suggested. Strong standards and assessments make sharing among teachers more meaningful.