Monday, August 30, 2010

In Defense of the "D"

I may be a little biased on the subject, having "earned" a few "D"s back in the day, but I can't help suspect that the push to banish the "D" from school report cards represents yet another attempt to water-down standards, all in the name of inflating GPAs and boosting student self-esteem. The fact that it's under consideration in the warm-and-fuzzy Boulder Valley only deepens my suspicions.

The "D" isn't the meaningless grade critics claim it is, in my opinion. Just as there needs to be an interim step between excellent (A) and average (C), it's necessary to have a way station between average (C) and abysmal (E or F). A "D" reminds a student that he or she is flirting with failure, while preventing the complete parental meltdown that accompanies an "F" or an "E." Thus, the "D" has probably helped motivate some students to do better, while preventing child abuse in households -- like the one in which I grew up -- where an "E" would call down more fire and brimstone.

It's the yellow light of the academic world, which you blow through at great risk; a sort of intellectual Purgatory, where redemption is still possible. And given the contemporary educator's reluctance to flunk students, for fear of shattering their fragile self-esteem, doing away with the "D" most likely will push borderline cases into the "C" category, so "average" will also lose its meaning. More grade inflation would seem the inevitable result.

The educrat's fondness for tinkering with the tried and true, and eagerness to embrace new fads, is symptomatic of a "system" in disarray and decay, which, instead of raising the bar high and insisting that students make the grade, keeps searching for gimmicky new ways to fake progress and evade accountability.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Apocolypse on Hold

What oh what will happen to those adorable little pikas when global warming melts away the Rocky Mountain tundra? If you've been losing sleep over that question, sleep better tonight.

Despite frequent scare stories about the dramatic changes coming to Colorado's high country if Al Gore is correct -- of ski resorts closing, of flora and fauna struggling, of snow-capped peaks melting like ice cream cones in an oven -- the promised apocalypse just isn't unfolding according to plan, according to this report in the Durango Herald. Actual temperature readings show a very modest trend toward warming -- nothing like the runaway train alarmists predict:

"VAIL - Climatologists are about to establish a "new normal" for temperature trends in Colorado.

And, believe it or not, it looks a lot like the old normal, said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken.

"What I was surprised about when I looked at these new quote-unquote normals is they really haven't changed very much," Doesken said Thursday in a presentation to the Colorado Water Congress.

Climatologists calibrate normal temperatures every 10 years, based temperatures over the last 30 years. So by the end of this year, the "normal" data will kick out the 1970s and introduce the warm 2000s.

Temperatures at a weather station in Mesa Verde National Park are on track to rise 0.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the new period - in line with most of the rest of the state, according to Doesken's data about the last 29 years.

But compared to the 1951 to 1980 period, temperatures at the Mesa Verde station have fallen 1.3 degrees. Most of the other weather stations in Colorado show slight temperature increases over the same time frames.

Doesken knows his numbers don't match up with the perception of a rapidly warming planet. He watches data gathered at weather stations, while projections of global warming are made through computer models that attempt to predict the future, he said.
Despite the models of warmer future weather, he has not seen drastic warming so far in Colorado.

"You've got to be thinking beyond that to plan for the future, but the current data are showing pretty small changes so far. But it leans in the warm direction," Doesken said in an interview."

So great is the pressure to ride the alarmist bandwagon that even credible researchers, when confronting hard contradictory evidence, seem reluctant to voice skepticism about what the climate cartel, using computer models, is saying. Temperatures in Colorado are actually considerably cooler that they were in the 30 year span between 1950 and 1980, as the story points out, and they show only a minor trend upward, yet the state climatologist can't quite bring himself to concede that the world might not be coming to an end after all.

You really get a sense of the mania that's afoot when scientists are more inclined to believe suped-up supercomputer simulations than what's right in front of their faces.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Voluntary . . . For Now

The social engineers who run Boulder have come up with a clever new way to encourage environmentally-correct lifestyle choices: residents are being asked to leave their cars at home and find alternative means of transport on certain days, based on the color of their vehicles:

Boulder to use car colors to discourage driving

Got a blue car? The city of Boulder wants you to consider commuting sans car on Mondays.

Red car? Take a break from driving on Wednesdays. White? Thursday is your designated day of the week to leave your vehicle at home.

On Labor Day weekend, the city plans to launch a campaign to encourage residents to "do their 14.3 percent" to cut down on the number of cars on the road -- reducing air pollution, cutting carbon and road rage -- by making a commitment to go car-free on the day of the week that's correlated to your vehicle's color. Those that stick to their car-less commitments can win prizes from the campaign's sponsors.

"We want to attract people to something other than driving for one day a week or more in a fun easy way," said Cris Jones, a transportation planner with the city's GO Boulder program.
Participation in the program -- called Driven to Drive Less -- will be voluntary, and so is the day that participants choose to take a break from being behind the wheel. (There's no penalty for red-car-owning participants who commit to being car fee on the white-car day.)

The connection to car colors -- and the program's whimsical Web site, -- is part of an intentional drive by the campaign's designer, Sukle Advertising, to give a light-hearted feel to the car-cutting movement."

But the problem with such "voluntary" efforts is that they have a troubling tendency to become mandatory if the public refuses to respond to the initial, milder attempt at conditioning. "Light-hearted" can turn heavy-handed if the social engineers don't get the results they want, using good-natured cajoling or peer group pressure. And even this purely "voluntary" approach is creepily coercive in a politically-correct bastion like Boulder.

Just imagine the social stigma that you would suffer, and the shame you would feel, and the looks of opprobrium you would get, for driving your blue SUV to the office on a Monday, or pulling into Starbucks on Wednesday in your red sports car (unless it's a Tesla Roadster, of course.). This city-sponsored bifurcation of drivers into two camps -- those who supposedly care about saving the planet and those who don't -- might even encourage episodes of road rage, as those who decline to conform become targets of verbal abuse, shaming or worse from the eco-authoritarians in their midst. Sounds like a way not of uniting people, around a common goal, but of dividing them, based on nothing more than the color of the car they drive.

Most such attempts at social conditioning have a darker side. If the social engineers can't get the results they want using a carrot, sooner or later they reach for the stick.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Selective Indignation and Student Debt

Momentum seems to be building for a crackdown on for-profit universities and trade schools that allegedly foist large debt loads off on students, for credentials that don't always translate into higher earning potential in the job market, leading to higher-than-average default rates. The Pueblo Chieftain has a story on the issue today. I've seen many just like it popping up of late. But there seems to be a double standard, and perhaps a bit of hypocrisy and opportunism, behind such criticism, given that non-profit schools are only a little less guilty of the same things.

I agree with those who see a "student loan bubble" building to the breaking point, driven by the upward spiraling cost of higher education, easy (government-backed) credit, and the continued willingness of young people to gamble that a college credential will make paying off that debt relatively painless. But singling out for-profit schools for vilification, when the entire system is guilty of the same thing, seems unfair.

It also conveniently sidesteps the real problem, which is the unrestrained increase in tuition, resulting from a stubborn refusal of most schools to control costs and deliver a better product for less money. Such reforms aren't necessary as long as government-backed credit is easily and widely available, and students are willing to keep shouldering more of it. Normal market forces, which push private sector players to deliver a better product for lower cost, simply don't apply in higher education, thanks largely to the student debt industry.

Politicians are afraid to bring the hammer down on these big, bloated, bureaucratic institutions, and they're reluctant to demand across-the board reform, for fear of appearing "anti-education." So they're content to use for-profit schools as a whipping boy, when "the system" itself is to blame.

P.S. The always-astute Vince Carroll has a column in today's Denver Post on a related matter, the largely-taboo topic of professorial productivity.

Pocket Change

The Denver Post's Dan Haley has a great line in today's column about Betsy Markey's inconsistency on the question of federal bailouts: "If the 2008 election was about change," Haley writes, "this election is about the change that's left in your pocket."

Wish I'd written that one.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hoop Schemes

Following a move to a posh new arena in Brooklyn, the NBA's New Jersey Nets just announced that they will change the team's name. The most fitting new name I've seen proposed is The Brooklyn Bulldozers -- since the land the arena sits on was stolen through eminent domain. The Brooklyn Bandits wouldn't be bad, either. I also kind of like the New York Land-Grabbers.

Or the team could be renamed The Brooklyn Oligarchs, denoting its ownership by Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, who made his fortune the ex-Soviet way, by leveraging an incestuous relationship with government, but learned that the same sort of corrupt, crony-capitalism also exists in the United States, if you are rich enough to own a basketball team and can buy enough influence in the Big Apple.

Mind Your Own Business

The U.S. Forest Service can't even responsibly manage the hundreds of millions of acres in its vast inventory, as anyone knows who has driven through Colorado, or read about the similar devastation sweeping across much of the West. It seems a joke, therefore, to read that the agency is also taking an interest in helping private landowners manage their lands.

If this were merely an effort by the feds to encourage private conservation, I would applaud. Too much emphasis is placed on government-centered conservation (which is an abject failure, as the forest health crisis demonstrates), to the neglect of private-sector alternatives, which frequently have shown much better results.

But nothing is innocent where the federal government is concerned. The deeper agenda is to get taxpayers to "incentivize" -- meaning subsidize -- private conservation efforts (even more than already takes place, through conservation easement tax benefits and the Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program). With federal money comes federal strings, meaning federal control. This threatens to corrupt, and co-opt, the whole idea of private conservation.

Although the feds tout their credentials as preservationists and "protectors," facts "on the ground" tell a more damning story -- one of massive mismanagement of public resources, resulting in a perfect storm of wildfire, disease, insect infestation and benign neglect. Most private forests are much better cared-for than publicly-owned counterparts, because a private owner's personal stake and (yes) profit motive generally make him or her a better steward of the resource than red tape-bound bureaucrats going through the motions.

Public land managers have precious little to lecture private owners about. They would do better to focus on getting their act together.


Recent polls showed that perpetually-disgruntled, chronically-underappreciated federal workers are feeling much better about their jobs these days. Wonder why.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Take Note, Reaganfeller Republicans

Does the Tea Party movement have political muscle?

The question's been asked many times by reporters and pundits, applying an unusual degree of skepticism, even for the media. Most were dismissive of the movement from the start, giving it snide or scant coverage. And when it refused to just fade away, as per their expectations and desires, they did their best to relegate it to the lunatic fringe by highlighting oddball participants or hinting at racist tendencies. But still the Tea Party rolls on, crushing media naysayers in its path, and demonstrating, without a doubt, that it's one of the most potent (and truly grassroots) political movements of recent times.

I hope the results of yesterday's election -- which had Tea Party picks Dan Maes and Ken Buck surging to wins over establishment Republicans -- will finally put to rest the question of whether the Tea Party has "pull." At least in Colorado, it's officially a force to be reckoned with, which should be as alarming for Reaganfeller Republicans -- those who talk like Ronald Reagan but think and act like Nelson Rockefeller -- as it is for liberal Democrats.

Whether the Party has enough horsepower to carry its candidates to wins in the general election remains to be seen. And it's true that Maes's razor thin win over Scott McInnis undoubtedly was helped by the latter's glaring ethics problems. But these caveats can't detract from this clear moment of promise for the Tea Party movement in Colorado. Reporters and columnists who continue to discount or dismiss it, do so at the peril of ending up with even more egg on their faces.

Party on, patriots.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

10,000 Commandments

Ninety blessed days have passed since the end of the 2010 legislative session, but we still aren't out of the woods yet. Far from it, in fact. Tuesday, August 10, exactly three months after the gavel came down, the 165 largely unnecessary, mostly trivial and sometimes silly new laws approved last session become law. It's hard to see how the state is measurably better off as a result. Actually, since few if any of the new laws actually expand freedom, and most restrict it in one way or another, we're probably less better off than we were when the session began.

I defy doubters of that statement to highlight 3 pieces of legislation, approved last session, that Colorado could not live without, excluding the budget. I further challenge them to name 3 bills that actually translate into an expansion of freedom, as opposed to a restriction on freedom.

What to do about this is uncertain. As long as reporters, pundits and certain segments of the general public continue to measure a session's success according to raw output, labeling less active sessions as a "failure" to "get things done," legislators will continue to crank out new laws like widgets, assembly line-style. Wouldn't it be miraculous (and good for the state) if an entire session passed without a single bill approved, except a balanced budget? The state wouldn't suffer in the least. On the contrary, it probably would benefit from the cease fire.

Maybe we inadvertently encourage the annual deluge of new laws, new commandments, by calling our legislators "lawmakers." This sounds like something from biblical times, as if they're doing the Lord's work, handing down laws from a burning bush. But God was content to hand down just 10 commandments. Americans today have 10,000 commandments (probably more, in fact) to follow, thanks to the factory-like mass production of make-work legislation. Ignored is Churchill's dictum that the surest way to undermine respect for the law is to have too many laws.

Let's begin calling our legislators law-manufacturers, or law-generators, or just plain old "regulators," since that more accurately describes how they function. Instead of applauding them for the new laws they write, we should cheer them for the old laws they erase.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Now, What About Our Mouse?

As I predicted many blogs ago, federal judge Donald Molloy -- the go-to guy for eco-extremists looking for a friendly court -- on Friday ordered that reintroduced gray wolves be returned to the endangered species list, ruling that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could not delist the animals in two states (Idaho and Montana) while keeping them listed in another (Wyoming).

It's a major disappointment for states were the animals had been delisted, in recognition that the numbers have far exceeded recovery goals (and far exceed what can be sustained in the more heavily-populated "new West"). A few of these states, having assumed management responsibility, last year instituted controlled hunts, in order to keep populations (which have been growing 20 percent a year) in check. But wildlife advocates aren't willing to acknowledge success. They don't trust states to manage the packs. And they hate using hunts as control mechanisms. All they needed in order to monkey-wrench the process, and get their way, is the help of a robed dictator with green-leanings and a lifetime appointment, who sets policy from a federal courthouse in Missoula. Molloy has long been their boy. And he delivered the goods again on Friday.

The ruling may have a silver lining for Colorado, however, since we are operating under a similar "split decision" involving the Preble's meadow jumping mouse. It remains a listed species in this state, but has been removed from federal protections in Wyoming, following a controversy involving its legitimacy as a subspecies. That means Colorado continues to live with the regulatory consequences of the listing, while Wyoming is liberated territory, even though there's no genetic difference between mice in Colorado and mice in Wyoming.

“The Endangered Species Act does not allow the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list only part of a ‘species’ as endangered …” Molloy wrote in his ruling. “Accordingly, the rule delisting the gray wolf must be set aside because, though it may be a pragmatic solution to a difficult biological issue, it is not a legal one.” And that would seem to demand a second look at the Preble's ruling.

It's possible that any second look at the case would land Wyoming mice back on the list, given the agency's determination to justify, rather than rectify, its mistakes. But it's also possible -- if disinterested and sound science is applied -- that a delisting would occur in both states. I continue to have doubts about the mouse's legitimacy as a subspecies. Some experts believe that they're much numerous than listing advocates say they are.

Challenging the Preble's mouse "split decision," based on this ruling, would at least require another review of the questionable science underpinning the listing. And if it's heard by a judge with more objectivity and common sense than Donald Molloy, we just might stand a chance of success.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Agent of Influence

The American Spectator has a thorough write-up on the recently-released FBI dossier on Howard Zinn, whose textbook, "A People's History of the United States," was widely used in many schools and undoubtedly left a lasting impression (the wrong impression, in many cases) on many a malleable young mind.

That Zinn appears to have been an active member of the Communist Party, or, at the very least, a fellow traveler and "agent of influence," shouldn't have disqualified him as a writer of books, in my opinion. In a truly free country, even Communists have the right to teach, write and propagandize to their heart's content. And academia is full of people like Zinn. Singling him out as an aberration is sort of silly. And I'm sure his advocates will use the files to paint Zinn as the victim of anti-Red hysteria and witch-hunting.

The really damning element of the Zinn saga isn't that he wrote books, but that these became textbooks, which were warmly and uncritically received by the public school establishment. That so many school administrators so enthusiastically inflicted his hard left interpretation of American history, which highlighted all the warts while downplaying the virtues, on so many young people, without blinking an eye, suggests that they shared his dark and distorted view of the American experiment -- that his view conformed with their own.

Then some wonder why so many kids coming out of public schools, if they know any history at all, need so much deprogramming.