Saturday, December 17, 2005
Kicking the habit
Sweden's Prime Minister has just announced the appointment of a commission charged with finding a way to end Swedish dependence on oil by 2020. The first report's expected by the middle of 2006. What you bet that they do it?
No college graduate left behind
I based this post on a NY Times article, but I've decided to go back to the PDFs and Excel files. It turns out that the term 'literacy' as used in the study actually refers to three different scales, which the study refers to as "prose," "document" and "quantitative." As a result, I suspect that some of what I wrote below is not correct. So I'll update or correct this post later today.
If you think your local elementary school is failing to live up to its promise, just wait till you read the latest stats on college graduates.
In 2003 the Department of Education administered a test called the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. The news is pretty bleak. According to Sam Dillon of the NY Times,
When the test was last administered, in 1992, 40 percent of the nation's college graduates scored at the proficient level, meaning that they were able to read lengthy, complex English texts and draw complicated inferences. But on the 2003 test, only 31 percent of the graduates demonstrated those high-level skills. There were 26.4 million college graduates.
Did you get that? Less than a third of college graduates can "read lengthy, complex English texts and draw complicated inferences." I knew that to be true of a certain percentage of college graduates, as our President has amply demonstrated. But such a low number is simply astonishing.
The college graduates who in 2003 failed to demonstrate proficiency included 53 percent who scored at the intermediate level and 14 percent who scored at the basic level, meaning they could read and understand short, commonplace prose texts.
Three percent of college graduates who took the test in 2003, representing some 800,000 Americans, demonstrated "below basic" literacy, meaning that they could not perform more than the simplest skills, like locating easily identifiable information in short prose.
Now remember that we are talking about college graduates, not the general population. No wonder we have Alfred E. Neuman for President and ignoramuses clamoring for the teaching of Idiotic Design.
Grover J. Whitehurst, director of an institute within the Department of Education that helped to oversee the test, said he believed that the literacy of college graduates had dropped because a rising number of young Americans in recent years had spent their free time watching television and surfing the Internet.
Well, maybe. But then what do you make of this?
The percentage of blacks demonstrating "below basic" literacy declined to 24 percent from 30 percent.
This says that 1 out of 4 black college graduates can't read much more than a STOP sign, but at least the group has improved. Have they not been watching television and surfing the internet?
One trend that can't be helping is the awarding of 4-year degrees by community colleges. It's another cost-saving measure that a number of states are adopting. The result will be a further watering down of the baccalaureate degree.
If so many college graduates are illiterate or semi-illiterate, what must it be like in the general population? The Times gives a hint—
A test conducted in homes across New York State in conjunction with the 2003 national test found that New Yorkers were less literate in English than their national counterparts. Eleven percent of New Yorkers performed at the proficient level in reading prose texts, compared with 13 percent nationally. And 19 percent of New Yorkers scored "below basic," while only 14 percent performed that poorly across the nation.
"Below basic" is the latest educational euphemism for "illiterate." About 1 in 7 of our fellow Americans can't read.
Friday, December 16, 2005
The emperor's fig leaves
Charles Babcock's story on the arrest of a female reservist charged with bid rigging in Iraq brought this to mind. The story almost fell off the back end of the Washington Post. A second reserve lieutenant colonel was arrested yesterday for participating in "a conspiracy to rig bids on Iraq reconstruction contracts." For her efforts Debra Harrison received two .45-caliber pistols, a Cadillac and an $80,000+ deck with hot tub. The American contractor in the case, Philip Bloom, was based in Romania. And the total of the contracts for which Bloom is alleged to have paid bribes comes to a mere $3.5 million.
What a contrast with the situation of Halliburton and their subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR)! One thing's for sure: They'll never be indicted for bid-rigging because they didn't bid for their contracts in the first place. And those were multibillion-dollar contracts.
The government is now going after bid-rigging involving $3.5 million when KBR managed to "lose" $18 million of equipment alone? When massive overcharges by KBR were alleged, not only was no criminal investigation begun but the Pentagon resumed full payment on KBR contracts even though it was entitled by law to withhold 15% while the dispute was negotiated. So I can only regard the investigation into this piddling Romanian contract as the fig leaf that attempts to hide the Halliburton cojones and a very big prick in the Pentagon.
Now that Bush (that's Dick Cheney/Donald Rumsfeld) has finally acquiesced to Senator McCain's demand for a law outlawing the use of torture any time, anywhere against anyone, we're reminded that the fig leaf hiding the Iraqi contract scandal lies atop another that hides administration responsibility for the torture of detainees. The administration hopes that the arrest of small fry such as Debra Harrison and Lyndie England will cover their immodesty.
Halliburton back on the gravy train (8/18/04)
Halliburton losing its ass—Oh sorry, that was our ass (11/27/04)
The Iraqi "ghost army" (7/15/05)
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Poem of the Day
A tourist came in from Orbitville,
parked in the air, and said:
The creatures of this star
are made of metal and glass.
Through the transparent parts
you can see their guts.
Their feet are round and roll
on diagrams or long
measuring tapes, dark
with white lines.
They have four eyes.
The two in back are red.
Sometimes you can see a five-eyed
one, with a red eye turning
on the top of his head.
He must be special—
the others respect him
and go slow
when he passes, winding
among them from behind.
They all hiss as they glide,
like inches, down the marked
tapes. Those soft shapes,
the hard bodies—are they
their guts or their brains?
Arnie's "coming of age"
On January 4, 1910, the Daily Mirror published an account of the "blooding" of the Marquis of Worcester, the ten-year-old son of the Duke of Beaufort. In a front-page illustration the child was shown with blood-bedaubed cheeks, holding up a dead hare for the hounds, while a number of ladies and gentlemen were smiling approval in the rear.
Here, again, is an extract from the Cheltenham Examiner of March 25, 1909, in reference to the "eviction" and butchery of a fox which had taken refuse in a drain.
"Captain Elwe’s two children being present at the death of a fox on their father’s preserves, the old hunting custom of ‘blooding’ was duly performed by Charlie Beacham, who, after dipping the brush of the fox in his own [sic] blood, sprinkled the foreheads of both children, hoping they would be aspirants to the ‘sport of kings.’ "
Presumably the blood in which the brush was dipped was that of the fox, not of Mr. Charles Beacham. But what a ceremony in a civilised age! One would have thought the twentieth-century sportsmen, even if they would not spare the fox, might spare their own children!
Mr. Salt's problem lay really in the misapprehension that he was living in a civilized age. Had he realized that he wasn't, he might have been grateful that some sort of symbolic substitution was available for the practices of war and murder.
Today too many of our politicians missed out on their coming-of-age ceremony (the blooding, not the screwing), which has left them feeling "not quite a man." This has had unfortunate consequences for the rest of us.
Stan of Feral Scholar makes the point that with the execution of Tookie Williams California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger finally "got his bones." Arnie killed so many people on screen; yet when it was time to go live, the ceremony must have been strangely unfulfilling. The passion just wasn't there.
Arnold got his first kill. Arnold got his bones. But it wasn’t in ‘manly’ combat against a simplified nemisis like his cardboard characters on the big screen. It was done in the most cowardly and bureaucratic and banal way, with the victim taken carefully out of a cage, handled by nameless, faceless people, who strapped Tookie to a gurney and poured poison into his body through an 18-guage intravenous catheter.
The great Austrian ubermensch got his first kill thus, and he got himself a Black man, and it’s Arnold’s to own, because he alone had the power to stop this execution, knowing goddamn well that this man was no threat to society, and that the conviction that landed him in prison was questionable from the get. Arnold committed this passive murder because it was politically expedient… the same reason every one of these sack of shit governors sign death warrants. You can’t win elections if you are portrayed as unmanly, as a wimp, as someone afraid to end lives. The irony, of course, is that Schwarzenegger is going to lose his next election anyway for his gross imcompetence, and this was his one chance to salvage any real respect among future historians. But his image was more important than the hard life of this one human being.
Reminds me of Lance Price's claim in The Spin Doctor concerning Tony Blair and the invasion of Iraq. Price wrote in his diary—
I couldn’t help feeling TB [Tony Blair] was rather relishing his first blooding as PM, sending the boys into action. Despite all the stuff about taking action ‘with a heavy heart’, I think he feels it is part of his coming of age as a leader.
As a society we are badly in need of clinical anthropologists who can treat our leaders, prescribing perhaps a symbolic bloodbath. Has the profession been invented yet?
Excuse of the Day
There's nothing to return, the money has been spent. — James Pendleton, spokesman for Republican Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, speaking of the $150,000 received by Sen. Burns from Jack Abramoff and associates
Senator Burns has declined to return the campaign contributions, some of which might eventually make it back to the Indians whom Abramoff defrauded. The Senator has decided instead to take the high road and unleash the full force of his moral indignation. Appearing on Montana television, Burns said—
This Abramoff guy is a bad guy. And he's indicted, and I hope he goes to jail and we never see him again. I wish he'd never been born to be right honest with you. Because he's done a terrible, terrible thing to our Native American community.
I believe that Senator Burns, who is currently under investigation for maintaining slavery in the Marianas as a quid pro quo for the campaign contributions, is completely sincere in his feelings toward Abramoff, don't you?
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Hookers for Jesus
You have to give credit to Tucker Carlson, host of MSNBC's "The Situation"—he may not have a nose for news but he certainly has a proboscis for porn.1 Remember when Tucker was still polluting the public airwaves with his show on PBS? Remember his scintillating interview with James Guckert alias Jeff Gannon, still fresh from whoring in the White House press room? By the time of that interview Jeff had already given himself to Jesus, among others.
Now Tucker is promoting another who has taken up the cause—Ms. Heather Veitch, founder of the new Christian ministry: JC, Girls, Girls, Girls.2 MSNBC helpfully explains that Ms. Veitch is a porn-again Christian.
It's a heart-warming story—
CARLSON: So what was the turning point for you? What was the exact moment you went from stripper to missionary?
VEITCH: Actually, I think it was in 1999, you know, the millennium was coming, and I started thinking about making a change in my life, and had had enough. I had been into the stripping for six years, and done soft porn and all these things. And it just started adding up on me. And so I ended up giving my life over to God in September of 1999.
When caught between the Millennium Bug and crow's feet a girl really needs to start thinking about her future. Aside from real estate, career opportunities are few for single women nearing 40 with gaps in their résumés the size of the Grand Canyon. Anyone who wants to get on the fast track pretty much has to turn to the ministry.3
And I like Veitch's approach: She's not trying to reform the girls; she's trying to reform the churches!
CARLSON: Now, what does your church think of your past? Anyone you worship with uncomfortable with what you‘ve done?
VEITCH: Well, you know, when I first walked into a church, I was judged heavily for my life, and how I had lived, and that‘s part of the reason why now I am trying to make a change in our churches, because what happened was it was almost like something I had to keep secret, when in reality, Jesus himself hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors.4
VEITCH: And reached out to them. So I knew that this wasn‘t right. So that is one of the biggest reasons that we have started this ministry, is to open the minds of the church and remind them that these are the exact people that Jesus himself reached out to.
Do you require that porn actresses, for instance, that you are ministering to, leave the industry before joining your group?
VEITCH: No, we don‘t. And in fact, what we ask them is to come, try out a relationship with God, start going to church, at least develop a relationship with him, and then let him be in charge of them.
Right-wingers are not so narrow-minded as some on the Left have supposed. Carlson has no problem with any of this. The only place where he would draw the line is intergenerational dating! Heather tells of a friend who died from alcoholism while dating a man much older—
VEITCH: .... She was dating a man something like 40 — 40 years older than her.
CARLSON: Oh, that's too old.
This really is Tucker Carlson at his best. And I just want to wish Ms. Veitch and her girls all the luck in the world.
Hey! I've just had a flash. My search for my own personal ministerial focus may be at an end. Prostitutes are not the only group for whom the churches need to broaden their mission. What about the men in their lives?
That's it! I'm hereby announcing the founding of Johns for Jesus©. I believe Heather's group and mine will be a natural fit.
Tucker Carlson - What we're losing (7/1/04)
Tart Fest: Tucker Carlson interviews Guckert/Gannon (3/23/05)
"That woman is no criminal; she's just twisted" (3/30/05)
Carlson has interviewed and eaten with just about every significant newsmaker in American politics....How he has managed to keep his weight down I do not know. I would have been fat beyond telling. [back]
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Correction of the Year
My personal favorite was the runner-up in the Typo of the Year category—
Norma Adams-Wade's June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite.
It's the annual "Crunks" awards. Don't miss it.
I'm having technical difficulties this morning—as in no ISP connection. I'm hopeful it will be restored sometime this afternoon, so will post later.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Pseudosocialism (qua Leninism) and the DEA
Such loose use of language gets us into all sorts of trouble, since this definition does not consider the nature of the state itself. A totalitarian state controlling the means of production may be more properly called "pseudosocialism," i.e.—"false socialism." When practiced under a stifling bureaucracy you might even call it Leninism.
'Socialism' of course as a term has such a positive root in "social" that there was a time when many wanted to claim it for their own.1 'Social' derives from 'socius,' Latin for "companion." The Online Etymology Dictionary offers
... "characterized by friendliness or geniality," also "allied, associated," from M.Fr. social (14c.), from L. socialis "united, living with others".... Meaning "living or liking to live with others, disposed to friendly intercourse" is attested from 1729. Meaning "pertaining to society as a natural condition of human life" first attested 1695, in Locke.
Don't worry about the suffix; the "ism" in 'socialism' is the same as, and no worse than, the "ism" in 'capitalism.'
Partly because of the misappropriation of the term by some very bad actors and partly because of the concerted effort by the minions of world capitalism to sully it,2 'socialism' has had to fight to stay alive as the positive term that it is. Yet it endures and probably will so long as social injustice persists. But the control of resources and production should never be thought of as socialism unless that control derives from the authority of those who are "characterized by friendliness or geniality," predisposed to "living with others," and (must I add?) possessed of good sense.
I probably wouldn't have wandered so far afield this morning if I hadn't spilled my coffee on an article in the Washington Post: Federal Marijuana Monopoly Challenged.
Marc Kaufman writes,
For decades, the federal government has been the nation's only legal producer of marijuana for medical research. Working with growers at the University of Mississippi, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has controlled both the quality and distribution of the drug for the past 36 years.
But for the first time the government's monopoly on research marijuana is under serious legal challenge. The effort is being spearheaded by a group that wants to produce medicines from currently illegal psychedelic drugs and by a professor at the University of Massachusetts who has agreed to grow marijuana for the group if the government lets him.
In a hearing due to start today before an administrative law judge at the Drug Enforcement Administration, professor Lyle Craker and his supporters will argue for a DEA license to grow the research drugs. It is the climax of a decades-long effort to expand research into marijuana and controlled drugs and of Craker's almost five-year effort to become a competing marijuana grower.
"Our work is focused on finding medicinal uses of plants, and marijuana is one with clear potential," said Craker, director of the medicinal plant program of the university's Department of Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences in Amherst, Mass., and editor of the Journal of Herbs, Spices and Medicinal Plants. "There's only one government-approved source of marijuana for scientific research in this country, and that just isn't adequate."
The DEA, which has to license anyone who wants to grow marijuana, disagrees.
Here you can find all the arguments against pseudosocialism—
- lack of innovation—
- inefficient and low-quality production—
Doblin and other researchers contend that the government marijuana is low in quality and potency and could never be a stable source of basic ingredients if the Food and Drug Administration ever did approve a marijuana-based medication.
- a self-serving, corrupt bureaucracy—
- and ultimately, lawlessness and despotism—
By controlling who can research marijuana and how they can do it, the DEA has greatly limited promising research that could lead to [government] approved medications," Doblin said.
"I believe the DEA policy is one of delay, and they've succeeded in essentially blocking marijuana development for 30 years," Doblin said.
The hearing is expected to continue through the week, with a decision several months later. If Craker and his team prevail, however, the DEA is not obliged to give him a license or change its policies.
All this going on under a Republican administration. Imagine!
1The names Lenin, Mao and Hitler quickly come to mind. Just as George Bush in more recent times has attempted to appropriate "compassionate" and "conservatism" with equally little justification and with pretty much the same intent.
Like the men with whom he shares company, George has always taken a Humpty-Dumpty view of words—
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all.'
George's latest sally in his War on Meaning concerns the Constitution. Having taken an oath of office to uphold the Constitution, Bush has simply redefined it.
Doug Thompson at Capitol Hill Blue reports—
GOP leaders told Bush that his hardcore push to renew the more onerous provisions of the act could further alienate conservatives still mad at the President from his botched attempt to nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.
“I don't give a goddamn,” Bush retorted. “I'm the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way.”
“Mr. President,” one aide in the meeting said. “There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution.”
“Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,” Bush screamed back. “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”
2Why, the capitalists—through their toadies in the Republican party—even struggle to stamp out the adjective "social" as in "social security" and "social worker," preferring that it should be used as a noun, as in "cocktail party" or "fundraiser"! [back]
Form Letter of the Day
Dear Agent ____,
Please prepare all cases in your jurisdiction involving musicians in violation of the marijuana laws. We will have a great national round-up arrest of all such persons on a single day. I will let you know what day.
Please prepare all cases in your jurisdiction involving musicians in violation of the marijuana laws. We will have a great national round-up arrest of all such persons on a single day. I will let you know what day.
—Harry Anslinger, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, in a letter dated October 24, 1947, to all field agents. As quoted by Charles Whitebread in "The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States"