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January 2002


Lookism in the classroom
"Dumb, but pretty," my rant on the evils of graphic software in the classroom, is posted on TechCentralStation.

Of course, if I weren't such a technological dummy, I'd have figured out why my new template -- which has a space for free-lance articles -- isn't publishing to the web site. -- 1/31

Where does the money go?
In the average California school district, only 54 percent of funds go for teachers, books and supplies. Is the rest "bureaucratic bloat?'' Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub explains that it's not that simple, analyzing the classroom-first proposal by gubernatorial candidate Richard Riordan.

I did a Mercury News series several eons ago trying to trace where the money goes in public schools. It's very tough to track. A high budget for consultants may signify wasted money on frills -- or a flexible way to pay for special services for high-need students. Some administrative expenses are billed as counseling, and therefore direct services to students, since principals and vice principals deal directly with students. Schools with lots of poor kids qualify for lots of extra money, but need more administrators to apply for the money and track spending, especially if it's federal. It's a mess.

A key point Weintraub makes is that much of the increase in education funding has gone to special education and special programs for low-achieving students, not to classroom instruction for the average kid. If schools focused on teaching reading very, very well in the primary grades, many students wouldn't have special needs later on. -- 1/31

Testing, testing
The SAT verbal and math tests should be replaced by a new test linked to what's supposed to be taught in California classrooms, says a University of California faculty committee. UC President Richard C. Atkinson suggested dumping the SAT I last year; he prefers the SAT II achievement tests.

This won't do what the proponents secretly want: Qualify more "underrepresented minorities'' for Berkeley and UCLA. It won't relieve the test anxiety that ambitious high school students face: They'll have yet another test to worry about. (Anyone who applies out of state will still have to take the SATs.) Why not use the statewide exam, which soon will be linked to state standards in math as well as language arts? Or the state's exit exam? Or, if those standards are too low, the Golden State exams for high achievers?

It's not as if the new UC test would be radically different than the SATs. The leading candidates to write the new test are the companies that make the SAT and the ACT college exams. -- 1/31

Enduring war for justice
Bush's State of the Union speech (here's the text) was politically effective. Very. But the important part is how he defined our objectives. The president made the case for war against Iraq, Iran and (with less emphasis) North Korea.

Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction.

That wasn't our goal before. It is now.

Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September 11, but we know their true nature.

That means we don't need a 9-11 link to justify acting in self-defense.

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.

Note "unelected few" and "Iranian people's hope for freedom." This means we'll support a popular rebellion in Iran.

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

Saddam, you're toast.

America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. We have no intention of imposing our culture -- but America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law ... limits on the power of the state ... respect for women ... private property ... free speech ... equal justice ... and religious tolerance.

Hear that, Saudis?

America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world -- including the Islamic world -- because we have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing resentment. We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror.

That's a pretty huge mission, that just and peaceful world. I'm sure the anti-imperialist doves are screaming about Bush's Pax Americana. It makes me nervous too. And proud. -- 1/30

Who was head militarist in the Revolutionary Conflict?
New Jersey's revised history standards don't include the founding fathers, reports the Washington Times. Washington, Jefferson and Franklin aren't mentioned. Neither are the Pilgrims or the Mayflower. The word "war" has been been replaced by "conflict" in the early lessons.

Defenders say that teachers will teach about George Washington without being told, but might skip slavery opponents Theodore Dwight Weld and Angelina and Sarah Grimke, who are specified in the draft.

However, it's not clear that the basics of American history are being taught. Diversity mania and church-state idiocy have warped the curriculum in many places.

Some states like Virginia and Indiana also don't include the Pilgrims in their standards. In some cases, the Pilgrims are referred to as early settlers, early Europeans, European colonizers or newcomers, although most textbooks still call them Pilgrims.

"[The word] Pilgrim implies religion," said Brian Jones, vice president for Communications and Policy at the Education Leaders Council in Washington. "It's getting more difficult to talk about the Bible and the Puritans."

New Jersey students may never know that Pilgrims came to America seeking religious freedom, or that a tree-destroying, slave-owning militarist killed enemy soldiers in the Revolutionary Conflict to become the patriarch of his white male-dominated country. -- 1/29

My first blog
Weekly Reader is 100 years old, says QuasiPundit, who was inspired by it as a school boy.

We got it at Ravinia Elementary too when we were in second grade. My best friend and I thought it was stupid. We were inspired to start a rival newspaper called the Wednesday Report, which we wrote, edited and (via mimeograph) published for four years. I guess I always wanted to have my say. -- 1/29

Worst case scenario
Muslims are at the mercy of ordinary Americans, complains the online Dawn, a Pakistani publication. Since Sept. 11, immigrant cab drivers are experiencing "stress.''

The fear might seem silly if it had not already come true. Sometime after Sept 11, a Bangladeshi Muslim driver was arrested after arguing with a passenger who quizzed him on his political views.

The passenger called authorities, who reportedly found irregularities on some of the driver's identification documents. Friends have not heard from him since and assume the immigrant is in an INS prison, says Haq.

It is the worst case so far . . .

A cab driver with a bad attitude got caught with phony papers, based on a passenger's tip. And that's the worse case so far.

Also on Dawn, an editorial on "How to deal with India" complains about "finger-pointing towards Pakistan in the aftermath of the Kolkata killing," and "people so paranoid that they see a terrorist lurking even in their own shadows."

I'm sorry, guys, but the finger is pointing at Pakistan for very good reason; terrorism is not a figment of the nervous nellies' imagination in India or the U.S. -- 1/29

Not-so-hard time
After a trip to Guantanamo, Sen. Dianne Feinstein says she'd rather do time in X-Ray than in U.S. alternatives. And she served on a parole board, so she knows what prison conditions are like.

"Although this is not a traditional prison facility, and it's been put up in 21 days," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), "if I were either faced with lock-down in San Quentin or Folsom, or even on the line with two people in a smaller cell, I would rather be at Guantanamo Bay."

The story has Human Rights Watch complaining about "chain-link fence enclosures.'' I've watched lots of World War II movies; traditionally, prison camps are fenced. Do the Geneva Conventions require barbed wire? Does international law now demand white picket or redwood?

Oh, I guess he means the cells are made of chain link. The culturally appropriate choice would be a concrete dungeon. -- 1/29

Date with a Playmate
Here's a Cinderfella story from the Orange County Register.

Senior Toby Hocking arrived at his Foothill High School winter formal Saturday with Playboy Playmate Petra Verkiak as his date - making his dad proud, his mom nervous and school officials slightly edgy.

The pinup, who at 35 is twice Hocking's age, offered to take the teen to his formal after she read his college entrance essay and was moved to tears.

Hocking is a straight-A clarinet player who sometimes fences -- not exactly the fast track to popularity. He wrote about feeling like an outcast - putting up with kids calling him "band-o." But then one day, lying on his bed chewing his fingernails, he realized it was up to him to turn his fortunes around, search out some friends and make something of his high school years.

"I thought it was really deep," Verkiak said Saturday after arriving at the boy's Tustin home in a black limousine. "And I related to it."

Verkiak explained that she felt like an outcast when she was first named Miss December 1989. Being a Playmate is a sisterhood, she said. And at first, she felt like she didn't fit in. -- 1/28

Geneva II
Rewrite the Geneva Conventions, says Mickey Kaus. They only work for conventional wars, and that's so last century.

People who care about human rights should stop squabbling about the Geneva Convention and start thinking about what Geneva II should say. I assume torture would be out, but captors would be allowed to question prisoners. Should prisoners who aren't in a conventional military be given a military court-martial if they're charged with an offense? There'd have to be a rule for when an unconventional war is deemed over and prisoners allowed to go home. And what if they're afraid to go home? Kaus is right. We need new rules to fit our conflicts. -- 1/28

Grief and greed
A backlash may be brewing against 9-11 victims' families who complain that they won't get enough money from the government's compensation fund. Under interim rules, all families would get $250,000 for "pain and mental anguish," $50,000 for each surviving spouse and minor child and additional money to compensate for economic loss. The average payment is expected to be $1.65 million.

Among their main complaints: that the $250,000 "pain and suffering" award is too low and that many families whose loved ones had generous life insurance policies and pensions would receive little or nothing from the fund.

Give Your Voice argues the "non-economic'' award of $250,00 is an "insult'' compared to other settlements. Families of September 11 also complains that high-earning victims' survivors won't get enough; for compensation purposes, victims' income is capped at $225,000 a year.

I agree with Hawspipe that the 9-11 compensation fund has been underblogged. It's time to think critically about what the nation owes, and doesn't owe, to the 9-11 families.

The government fund, which comes from our taxes, not from Al Qaeda's treasury, was set up to speed help to needy survivors and to shield the hard-hit airlines from liability suits. (Those who don't take the money can sue, but the airlines' liability is limited.)

If a bond trader's family is getting $1.6 million or more from insurance and pension funds, why should the taxpayers be obliged to give them even more?

As Andrew Olmsted observes, the CIA man and the soldiers killed in Afghanistan will get government insurance, but not million-dollar-plus checks. Most families of murder victims get no federal compensation.

What has happened to these people is terrible, but terrible things happen to people every day. The government's job is to do what it can to ensure more people don't lose family and friends to terrorists, not to recompense those that do.

Resistance is growing to the proposal that the entire World Trade Center site be a memorial -- a necropolis, writes John Tierney in the New York Times (via Jeff Jarvis' 9.11 Memorial page). Grief shouldn't limit Manhattan's future as a vital part of a growing, living city. -- 1/28

Gitmo is great -- by U.S. standards
Americans treat all prisoners badly, according to the Brits. By comparison to what American felons suffer, Camp X-Ray's inmates have it easy.

HE is woken at 4.30 every morning, given a breakfast of powdered eggs, then left incarcerated in a tiny space for the rest of the day and night. The cell is designed to hold just one person, but there are four men sharing it.

The prison generates a number of mortal risks to health, not the least of which come from the other prisoners, some of whom have Aids, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases - never mind the abilty to inflict murderous physical and sexual violence at any moment.

He's not Taliban or Al Qaeda. Just an average American felon.

The Telegraph's analysis is somewhat haphazard: Florida jails are "hellholes" because they're not air-conditioned, make prisoners work and don't allow TV. Brutality by guards and fellow prisoners is mentioned later.

In the U.S., many law-enforcement positions are elective. "Politicians have to reflect what the voters think on law and order: if they don't, they lose office." In Britain, the "elite consensus'' decides issues of crime and punishment. Columnist Mark Steyn calls this the "Euroweenie class'' in a letter to the Telegraph. All those Britons who told pollsters they think Camp X-Ray is just fine represent the other 90 percent of the population.

Of course, just because we're more democratic doesn't mean U.S. prison conditions -- specifically, the high risk of sexual assault -- are OK. We have a right to lock up criminals, and even to deny them air conditioning, but not to let them torture each other.

I was thinking about John Walker Lindh's desire for four wives. The dumb cluck's probably a virgin, I thought, what with all that fanatacism about "purity." And then I thought about his likely fate in prison: He's more likely to be a wife than to have one. This is not poetic justice. It's unjust for Tali-boy and everyone else. -- 1/27

Adverse effects of hysteria
Accutane, a very useful drug for severe acne, is in trouble because that suicidal teen-age pilot might have taken it. But, according to the autopsy, didn't. According to Michael Fumento's Reason story, "Bumps in the Night,''
teen-agers, prime acne sufferers, are suicide prone; rates began soaring in 1952, 30 years before Accutane was introduced. Furthermore, even mild acne is related to depression, which is linked to suicide.

Nevertheless, while the overall rate of suicide in the general population is about 11.1 per 100,000; that of Accutane users, according to a Roche survey, is 1.8 per 100,000. There have been about 90,000 U.S. suicides since 1982 compared to 167 FDA adverse reports for Accutane-related suicides.

In another Reason piece, a grateful Accutane patient explains how the drug cleared his skin and alleviated his depression.

I was so self-conscious about my problem that I actually isolated myself -- even sleeping during the day -- to avoid any social interaction. . . . (With Accutane) my acne disappeared completely. It was so miraculous a change that for the most part I have forgotten the poisonous role that acne once played in my life.

What will happen if the hysterics and the lawyers force yet another safe-when-taken-as-directed drug off the market? More suicides by acne-scarred young men. And less drug research. -- 1/27

Killer American
The British media is still fussed about Gitmo. Here's the Telegraph:

DONALD RUMSFELD, the US defence secretary, last night prepared to fly to Guantanamo Bay to meet inmates of Camp X-Ray amid mounting uncertainty over their future.

Previously Mr Rumsfeld has spoken of his desire to see enemy soldiers killed.

In battle. Rumsfeld said U.S. bombing was intended to kill Taliban and Al Qaeda combatants. So now he's a concentration camp commandant going to Camp X-Ray to look over his helpless victims.

The "uncertainty'' is not about whether the U.S. is going to slaughter the "detainees.'' It's about whether to build a permanent prison or to ship everyone but Al Qaeda bigwigs back to their homelands after interrogation.

According to the Washington Times, Colin Powell is pushing for POW status for most of the detainees. Perhaps we'll do it post-interrogation. (POWs aren't supposed to be grilled, though we should get some extra questions in lieu of not getting a rank or serial number.) Under the Geneva Convention, we get to hold POWs -- without trial -- till the war is over. When is the war over? When we say it's over. -- 1/26

Cal-Islam explained
Are California students really required to learn the Koran and pray to Allah? The sensible (via Ben Sheriff) explains the complexities, blaming the school for insensitivity and the Christian critics for seeking equal time for Christianity to be taught in public schools.

Assist Ministries is addressing the wrong issue: This controversy shouldn't be about Islam vs. Christianity or "our religion" vs. "their religion," but rather about the appropriateness of any religious teachings in public schools. -- 1/26

Girls rule in school
School is tough on boys, says an Education Week story summarizing the research on male and female achievement. While girls have closed the math gap, boys remain far behind in language skills. Boys are much more likely to be disciplined and to be placed in special education, often for behavior problems. -- 1/26

Not oppressed enough
Tim Blair tries to drum up sympathy for costume-oppressed sports mascots, including the infamous "Sharkie'' of the San Jose Sharks. I've been molested twice by Sharkie -- once at a hockey game, the second time when he visited the San Jose Mercury News -- and I believe the plastic-headed creep is not oppressed enough.

Imagine you are walking down an arena corridor when you're grabbed from behind. You turn to confront your attacker. It is a giant shark grinning at you. (To be fair, Sharkie has no other expression.) Oh, the disorientation. At least, I saw him coming the second time.

It's time to stop coddling hug-happy mascots! That shark needs a set of manacles, a surgical mask (size XXXL) and a long vacation in a beach cabana. -- 1/25

Red glare
Novelist Barbara Kingsolver is thinking about sueing critics of her Sept. 25 San Francisco Chronicle column, reports the Boston Globe (second item) via Romenesko's Media News.

Gee, that sounds like a bad idea. Kingsolver's beef is that the National Review Online, the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal left out the ironic question mark at the end of this sentence: "In other words, the American flag stands for intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and shoving the Constitution through a paper shredder?"

In sense, Kingsolver's right. She didn't say that the flag represents intimidation, censorship, violence, etc. She blamed "patriotism." The column clearly implies that there are two groups of Americans: The dissidents, who can't find it in their souls to love killing, and the vicious, flag-waving, immigrant-bashing, Constitution-shredding, warmongering patriots, who are out for blood.

Kingsolver surely had seen polls showing that nearly 90 percent of Americans backed the war on terror. Did she really think they were all bloodthirsty louts? Does she want to convince a jury that she's owed an apology?

Sueing critics in the name of free expression seems to be a hot idea in the Bay Area. An artist has filed a $100 million lawsuit against a Catholic group that criticized an exhibit including a defecating pope and nuns. The part-Cherokee artist "charges New York's Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and its president, William Donahue, with libel" for criticizing the artistic merit of the Napa exhibit, and suggesting the Long Ranger and Tonto as more suitable defecators. The suit claims: "This disparaging material is defamatory because the language hatefully characterizes American Indians and California artists as a group worthy of hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy."

Worthy of ridicule? Surely, not! -- 1/25

Reynolds Reynolds
Ken Layne wants the drugs that enable Glen Reynolds to post to his blog every 10 minutes while writing for TechCentralStation and allegedly teaching law, maintaining a marriage, raising a child and sleeping. And clearing out the stuff that fell behind the old couch.

It's not drugs, Ken. Think cloning. Sure, they claim it's just a few sheep and some pre-embryonic human cells, but think how much it would explain if secret cloning has gone farther, creating two or more Glen Reynoldses. How can we singletons compete?

Let the Instapundit Reynolds deny it, if he dares, while Professor Reynolds teaches and Family Reynolds redecorates his study. In Rallian reality, the clones have been sent in already. -- 1/24

Bright lights, low prices
Shiloh Bucher drop-kicks a hoity-toity columnist whose sensibilities are offended by well-lit stores selling a wide selection of inexpensive goods.

What is so distasteful about a country whose prosperity allows its common workers to live "a life that would have made the Sun King blink," as Tom Wolfe put it in Hooking Up? Even if the masses are buying, don't faint now, lowbrow goods, why is that such a burr in Mark Morford's bum? Does he think everyone should shop at Pottery Barn? He disdains Tarjay's "faux-upscale... formula," but I bet he scowls just as viciously at Restoration Hardware shoppers. You get the feeling that nothing short of a meal of grass in North Korea would make the guy happy.

As Shiloh says, the quality in Wal-Mart et al. can be quite good, or good enough. I get lots of compliments on my embroidered gray sweater set. It was on sale at Sear's. -- 1/24

Fleeting glory
In my Jan. 23 New York Times, Maureen Dowd sneers at "the Bushies,'' accusing them of "vaingloriously posing'' for an Annie Leibowitz photo. I wondered at "vaingloriously.'' They were just sitting or standing around; Bush has his hands in his pockets. Someone must have had second thoughts. In the online version of Dowd's column here, the Bushies are "self-consciously'' posing. But the two words have very different, nearly opposite, meanings.

Vanity is not the besetting sin of George W. Bush. Compared to the previous administration, this is Humble City. Big time. What really irritates Dowd is that the media -- Vanity Fair and Newsweek -- are puffing the Bush team's competence and success.

In both versions, Dowd writes:

I hesitate to interrupt the victory laps, the chesty posing, the passing out of medals. But something in me really wants to know: Is the war over? Did we win it or not? . . .

Administration officials talk out of both sides of their mouths: They tell us we haven't won yet, but they keep strutting around as if we've won. They advise us to be patient, that this is a messy fight for the long haul. But wanting instant gratification, eager to milk the war for political ads, they have declared it a big success.

If you really want to know, here it is: The war is not over. We haven't won yet. We're still going after Osama, Omar and their terrorist minions outside Afghanistan. But we're winning. It's been pretty darned successful so far.

Karl Rove said voters once again see the Republican Party as the strong defender of America, thanks to the president's conduct of the war. So Dowd thinks Bush will give the evil ones a pass, declare premature victory -- just like Daddy -- and strut. But it's the short-attention-span media that keeps declaring victory -- not the Bushies. -- 1/24

It's working
Welfare reform is a smashing success, writes Mickey Kaus in Blueprint, the Democratic Leadership Council's magazine. Caseloads have been cut in half; 2 million welfare recipients became workers since the law passed in 1996. Child poverty is down, especially in black families.

Most important, welfare reform appears to be provoking the sort of long-termcultural change that was its primary purpose. The decades-long trend toward single-motherhood and out-of-wedlock births, thought unstoppable, was in fact stopped in the '90s.

Wendell Primus wants to boost "work supports" -- reduced welfare payments, food stamps, child care, health insurance -- for the working poor and immigrants. But, basically, he agrees with Kaus that welfare reform is helping poor families do better. That's a big shift from the dire predictions made in 1996. -- 1/23

Re-regulating charter schools
Teachers' unions are trying to "absorb" the charter school movement, writes Michael Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency. He uses union strategy reports to make his case.

"If we lose our grip on the labor supply to the education industry, we will bargain from a position of weakness,'' says the report (by the Pennsylvania State Education Association).

. . . So how do charter schools threaten the union's grip on the labor supply to the education industry? Well, for starters, very few charter schools have unionized employees . . .

There are four basic tactics the union and its allies will use to accomplish their goal: regulate, steer, rank and organize.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle is leading the anti-charter bandwagon, after exposing a dubious home-study charter school and another charter with multiple satellite campuses that's accused of teaching Islam, charging tuition, hiring felons and running up a $1.3 million debt.

Clearly, some districts have granted charters, taken their 3 percent rake-off of state revenues and failed to provide oversight for distant satellite campuses. But the Chron seems to be hyperventilating over a "shadowy new subclass of public education.''

Why is it a scandal if a charter rents part of a recreation center or a church? Where else can you locate a small, new school, if there are no unused public school sites? And before fussing over uncredentialed teachers, the Chron should report how many uncredentialed teachers are employed by the regular old public schools. Any new school will hire a lot of new teachers. And most new teachers in California aren't credentialed.

The Chron gets candidates for state superintendent to come out for more regulations for charters with satellite campuses. The long-distance charters are a problem. But the call for more regulation makes me nervous. As Antonucci says, the independence of charter schools is always under attack. -- 1/23

Go to Goyal
What does Ari Fleischer do when he can't face another Enron question? He goes to a foreign correspondent who's sure to ask about something easy -- like the India-Pakistan conflict. Dana Milbank has an amusing story in the Washington Post. -- 1/23

Toxic tosh
Are kids being poisoned at school? I had my suspicions about the Washington Post's story on schools built near toxic sites. which is based on a study by a group called Child Proofing Our Communities.

Hundreds of thousands of children throughout the country are attending schools that were built on or near toxic waste sites, putting them at increased risk of developing asthma, cancer, learning disorders and other diseases linked to environmental pollutants, according to a new study.

Fritz Schranck, who's actually dealt with school siting and toxic "brownfields,'' argues at that the study is inflammatory and misleading.

In fact, the open space that’s needed for a school can be a good use for a Brownfields initiative. At some former industrial sites, what I refer to as the ones contaminated with a 19th Century chemical soup, the only effective means of dealing with the parcel is to cap it with an impervious material. Topsoil or other material can go on top of the cap, and the parcel is then restored for other purposes, such as park space or other open space needs. A school athletic field is not necessarily out of the question, because of the impervious cap, and the area’s former status as a wasteland is returned something useful for the community.

The study "offered no evidence of a direct link between the location of the schools and health or developmental problems experienced by their students," but claimed "a sharp increase in the number of children afflicted with asthma, cancer, diminished IQs and learning disabilities during the past two decades.''

During the past two decades, we've made a lot of progress on cleaning up the environment. Asthma is up, despite improved air quality. Learning disabilities are poorly defined, and vary with testing and reimbursement policies; most students now diagnosed would not have been considered disabled in a previous generation. IQs are rising slowly. Childhood cancer rates are increasing for two types, acute lymphocytic leukemia and brain tumors. However, this may reflect better reporting, says

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports the increase in childhood brain cancer during 1973-1994 is due to changes in detection and reporting.The journal Cancer reports "Since the early 1960s, the incidence of childhood cancers, and in particular childhood leukemia, has remained relatively stable, or if anything has risen in geographic areas where there are adequate cancer registration systems."

Before, school districts are burdened with more regulations and higher costs, why not study whether kids at schools near toxic sites really do have more health problems that comparable students educated farther from brownfields? In fact, there is a study underway of childhood leukemia and environmental exposure. -- 1/22

Chicken stuff
A Carl's Jr. commercial showing men examining a chicken in a futile search for its ''nugget,'' is degrading and demeaning to chickens, charges a group called United Poultry Concerns.

Just like Camp X-Ray! -- 1/22

Drawing distinctions
Derrill Bodley's 20-year-old daughter, his only child, died in the crash of Flight 93. He traveled to Afghanistan to meet with victims of U.S. bombing. Abdul Basir's 5-year-old daughter died when a U.S. bomb fell near their apartment building. The two men met in Kabul to share their grief.

"We know [my daughter's death] was an accident here," Basir said. "The attack on the U.S. was deliberate."

So many Western deep-thinkers seem incapable of understanding a distinction that was clear to an Afghan father, despite his loss. The Los Angeles Times story goes on:

But no one in Kabul seems angry at the United States. They were grateful for help in getting rid of the Taliban. -- 1/22

Cleaning up
I loved the Breen-Solent debate on housewifery but was too lazy to do all the links necessary as the topic bounced through Blogdom. Besides, I've got no husband and a cleaning lady, so I don't really qualify. Now Moira Breen has provided the links. -- 1/22

Like with grammar and all
People pay a premium to live in Palo Alto because the schools are good. Then they pay for Kumon math lessons, after-school Spanish or French and now grammar tutoring. However, there's a who-will-guard-the-guardians problem: An ad for grammar lessons for students 7 to 12 said: "Like with music and sports, grammar is best learned through practice."

Keep practicing.

Teaching the basics of literacy is an issue in Australia, too. In a 1997 Time South Pacific story, "Can Dick and Jane read?,'' Tim Blair quotes educators saying that Punctuation an spelin doesnt matter for poor kids

But defining literacy so precisely is wrong, says Frank Crowther, associate professor of education at the University of Southern Queensland: "The definition of literacy changes. It's not the same in privileged areas as it is in disadvantaged areas."

I'm writing a book on a charter high school that promises to prepare students for college. Most are "disadvantaged" Mexican-Americans or Mexican immigrants. Their parents rely on the school to teach what their children will need to know. I dare any "educator" to say to their faces that what's not good enough for privileged students is OK for their kids. -- 1/21

Read about Weblogs and the News with links from this page by J.D. Lasica, who runs New Media Musings. -- 1/21

Media bias is mostly cultural, not political, writes Matt Welch. He is correct. Journalists know they're supposed to be objective on political issues, so they make an effort, though not always successful. But they tend to take their class and culture biases for granted. -- 1/20

The great W
George W. Bush ranks third in "greatness,'' just behind JFK and FDR, in a Zogby poll asking the public to rate the last 12 presidents. While 63 percent think W is great or near great, only 36 percent give the great/near nod to eighth-ranked Bill Clinton, and another 36 percent rate him a "failure.''

Watch Christopher Hitchens struggle with the fact that he thinks unqualified, incurious, George W. Bush is doing a pretty good job as president. -- 1/20

In early July, 2001, I finished an article for Reason on the San Francisco school board's attempt to shut down a charter school run by would-be for-profit Edison Schools, Inc. At the time, the school's test scores were improving, after years of disaster under district control. Reason held the story long enough for test scores to drop again, and for Edison's Philadelphia ambitions to become a much hotter topic. But the damn thing finally is in print, and on Reason's web site. Here's "Threatened by Success'' and its sidebar, "Watching the Numbers.'' -- 1/20

Birth of the blogs
I agree that weblogs are more likely to ride the hippo than replace it. But it's got to matter that publishing -- until now a rich man's business -- is open to anybody and his monkey. (As long as bloggers post monkey pictures, grandiosity will not be a major worry.) What happens when the price of a soapbox and a mega-megaphone drops to $12 a year? I don't know. As I learned in my years of editorial writing, only time will tell. But it bears watching.

Ph.D candidates will be writing useless theses on the birth of the blog, I tell you. To help them, here's an e-mail on the political history of blogging from Dan Hartung of Lake Effect:

I would say that Kaus was indeed one of the first professional journalists to start a weblog. Thanks to his association with Slate, it got much more publicity than the weblogs that were started by mere web gurus, techies, and disaffected HTML-friendly intellectuals. That led to more pundit-weblogs, which are still sometimes called by the Slate name "me-zine." . . .

From the beginning, most blogs fit into a roughly generic liberal, dovish, pro-Palestinian, Chomsky-loving catch-all, though most focused on linkage rather than the me-zine style of punditry and commentary that you've chosen. But there were always a few oddballs, and indeed Jorn of Robot Wisdom calls himself a member of the "conservative left" (what he calls the Responsible Party), and only after the first 25 or so blogs did clearly libertarian voices appear, who represented the long-present techno-libertarians in the geek world. That political division may be one important reason why you (and others) may be unaware of the mainstream world of blogs. A lot of well-read bloggers are also members of sites like Metafilter, whose community provides them a base for sharing sources and opinions (and infamously hounds libertarian and conservative posters away, not out of excessive nastiness, though that occurs, but mainly through sheer numbers).

Anyway, I started mine in 8/99, and I was approximately the first public user of the Blogger software. There can't have been more than 100, and possibly fewer than 50, weblogs who preceded me. . . . I puttered along as a mainly link-oriented blog, with just a sentence or three of commentary on each link, until 9/11 brought me into the warblogging world. . . .

To me, the world of warblogs, as it overlaps with the world of libertarians and similar political views, is actually a community off the beaten path that isn't visited much by the Metafilter crowd -- I know, I'm one of 'em -- and held many mysteries (there be Dragyns here). I've been pleasantly surprised to find so much interesting discourse, and I've noted before that some of the excitement of the warblog community resembles the excitement of us early webloggers, when we were few and trying new stuff every week. Hey! It's a poll! Look! It's a rotating image! This guy lets you rate his posts!

Somehow, though, I almost never get included in wrap-ups like OJR's. Maybe in Year Four. -- 1/20

Seeing Americans
Those three firemen who raised the flag at Ground Zero represented all of us, writes Michael Graham in a Charleston CityPaper column, "I saw three firefighters. And a flag.''

I saw men. I saw Americans. I saw human beings react to an act of mind-numbing inhumanity. They looked at the carnage and the wreckage and cracked concrete and the collapsing walls and in the midst of that disaster said to themselves: This place needs a flag.

That’s what I would have said.

I saw the flag, not waving or grandly unfurled, not even flying. But standing.

Graham notes the plan -- now abandoned -- to build a statue of the flag-raising but with one generic white, black and Latino firefighter replacing the three inconveniently white men who actually raised the flag. (Rather than pretending that one third of firefighters are black and another third Latino, the New York Fire Department might look at its recruitment and training policies.)

On display in the powerful WTC photograph is the content of our character, our American character. It is there for all who are not too blinded by their racism to see. When I see that moment frozen in time, I don’t see Dan McWilliams, George Johnson, or Billy Eisengrein. I see myself, or at least the person I want to be.

And you, whatever you look like or to whomever you pray, you’re there, too. -- 1/19

September songs
Neil Young's not the only song-writer with a post-9-11 song, reports the Los Angeles Times. I like "Osama Yo Mama,'' though some may find it offensively upbeat, and Loudon Wainwright III's song about a subway journey from Brooklyn Heights to Manhattan, past the shuttered stations. -- 1/19

The endangered term paper
High school
term papers have been replaced by creative writing, PowerPoint presentations and mini-dramas, complains Will Fitzhugh in Education Week. State standards don't require that students learn to research and write a term paper. And guiding students through the process, and then reading their efforts, takes a lot of time.

. . . far too many high school students never get the chance to do the reading or the writing that a serious history paper requires. As a result, students enter college with no experience in writing papers, to the continual frustration of their professors. And the employers who hire them after college—the Ford Motor Co., for example—have had to institute writing classes to ensure that they can produce readable reports, memos, and the like.

Fitzhugh doesn' t mention my bete noire, the poster. Many's the time I've driven out into the night searching for poster board so my daughter could show put together a visual, instead of writing an essay. OK, I'm a word person. But thinking through an essay is a lot harder and more educational than slapping together some pictures cut out from magazines on the belatedly purchased poster board.

In response to the "Rolling jihad'' flap over role-playing Islam in public schools, reader Dave Dilatush points out that students aren't actually learning anything; they're playing.

These are 7th-graders we're talking about here; why are they being
taught using techniques more suited to 6-year-olds, like playing "dress
up" and rolling dice for the chance to declare Jihad? Good grief.
If I recall correctly--and I think I do, even though it was forty years
ago--when I was in 7th grade we were learning the fundamentals of
reasoned debate and the rudiments of writing proper research papers. -- 1/18

Reading is Republican
Phonics is a Republican plot, argues a profoundly stupid Nation article. Stephen Metcalf talks to a few true believers in "whole language.'' He rejects the National Reading Panel's conclusion: Research shows systematic teaching of "phonemic awareness'' is the most effective way to teach beginning readers. He ignores the federal research done by Reid Lyon at the National Institutes of Health. Then he concludes George W. Bush doesn't like phonics because it works; he likes it because he's "cozy" with McGraw-Hill, which sells textbooks based on the research on how kids learn to read. (How dare they!)

Why is the same conservative constituency that loves testing even more moonstruck by phonics? For starters, phonics is traditional and rote--the pupil begins by sounding out letters, then works through vocabulary drills, then short passages using the learned vocabulary. Furthermore, to teach phonics you need a textbook and usually a series of items--worksheets, tests, teacher's editions--that constitute an elaborate purchase for a school district and a profitable product line for a publisher. In addition, heavily scripted phonics programs are routinely marketed as compensation for bad teachers. (What's not mentioned is that they often repel, and even drive out, good teachers.) Finally, as Gerald Coles, author of "Reading Lessons: The Debate Over Literacy," points out, "Phonics is a way of thinking about illiteracy that doesn't involve thinking about larger social injustices. To cure illiteracy, presumably all children need is a new set of textbooks."

Well, no. Actually, they need teachers trained to use the research, instead of starry-eyed dreamers who think kids will just naturally learn to read without being taught the basics. Phonics is not a way of thinking about illiteracy. It's a way to teach the basics of reading that's especially valuable for kids who don't have educated parents at home to fill in for what the school skips. Phonics isn't conservative or liberal. But if you want social justice, teach kids to read. -- 1/18

To address Australia's penchant for "blandly literal" or "pointlessly diminutive" names, Tim Blair has announced the Australian Creative Names Project 2002. To be known as "namey.'' -- 1/17

The bourgeois defense
Former Symbionese radicals, now middle-aged, middle-class parents, will stand trial for the 1975 murder of Myrna Opsahl, shot by masked bank robbers. One of her four children, Jon Opsahl, is bitter about the bourgeois defense employed by one of the accused, formerly Kathleen Soliah.

"She was a wonderful mother and helped us out in every way, and it was kind of the parallel life that Kathleen Soliah assumed that was disturbing, how she participated in a crime that took a life and then kind of assumed [that lifestyle]--and to actually use that in her defense in some ways," said Opsahl, who was 15 when his mother, Myrna Lee Opsahl, 42, was hit by a shotgun blast at a Carmichael bank branch.

"Emily Harris was quoted in Patty Hearst's book as saying that her death doesn't matter anyways, she was a bourgeois pig," Opsahl said. "Those words have always kind of haunted us, because having the killers, the known killers, never be held accountable kind of kept ringing true, that her death didn't matter. -- 1/17

What's Israel got to do with it?
Sgt. Stryker isn't a libertarian, as far as I can tell, but here's his response to Raimondo on why he supports Israel.

What's wrong with defending democracy? The West, and its democratic ideals, is far superior to any of the alternatives. Just ask those kids who tossed off the yoke of Communism ten years ago. I would rather defend a democracy that makes mistakes than defend a corrupt theocracy that's a mistake itself.

Reader Michael Wells -- one of the few people in the English-speaking world not to have his own weblog -- says Raimondo sounds like a former hardcore leftist, but not an isolationist.

Notice that he objects to "the complete isolation of the US from its Arab friends and allies." He just hates Israel. And bloggers. And anyone who disagrees with him. (He apparently failed to notice the general blogger support for Turkey and Jordan.) Regarding Israel, my own view is that it has a fair amount of warts, but is basically sane and civilized, whereas places like Saudi Arabia and Iraq are beyond salvage. As an ally, they (Israel) have been at least as good as, say, France. In any case, they couldn't possibly be evil enough to deserve the vitriol that the various Arab groups, or Justin Raimondo, spew at them.

Photodude reports a Sept. 28 Raimondo column calling for "retribution swift and sure'' against the terrorists -- but not against Iraq, Iran, Syria, etc.

A military response to the devastating attack on the WTC and the Pentagon is not only appropriate, it is required: as many pro-war correspondents have pointed out, especially the ostensible libertarians, military defense is, arguably, the one legitimate function of government.

Now, I'm confused. Raimondo has no fight with warbloggers unless he thinks they all want to invade peaceful Muslim countries to advance the Zionist bid for world domination. Actually, I think there's considerable disagreement in Blogdom on how to defend the U.S. from its enemies. And the dreaded Blog Take-Down Squad hasn't savaged anyone for going wobbly on the invasion of Iraq. Which nobody would be contemplating if not for the fear that Saddam is brewing a chemical or biological or "dirty nuke'' attack on the U.S. It's not about Israel. It's about us. -- 1/17

Rolling jihad
Here's more from World Net Daily on teaching Islam in California. The story explains the jihad game.

As for the simulated jihad (Principal Nancie) Castro explained, "There was a dice game where, depending on the role, they had to do various things like answer a quiz bowl question or read a trivia fact. One roll had them roll for the highest number and called it a jihad."

This is offensive to some Christian parents. I bet it's offensive to Muslims as well. -- 1/17

You will become Muslims
Schools are teaching the Muslim religion -- not merely history -- complain Christian parents in California. Protests have spread from Byron to San Luis Obispo.

Islam takes more teaching than Christianity because students know a lot less about it. But it doesn't help to have students read the Koran in class, when no teacher would assign reading from the Bible, pretend to be Islamic warriors on jihad or assume Arab names. Or to send home hand-outs that tell students:  "From the beginning, you and your classmates will become Muslims. Dressing as a Muslim and trying to be involved will increase your learning and enjoyment." -- 1/16 is anti-warbloggers
Justin Raimondo tries to outblog the warbloggers in an column, but lacks the analytical skills and wit to pull it off. It's not worth a detailed response but it did raise a question in my mind. opposes U.S. military action -- apparently, even in self-defense -- because of its libertarian isolationism. It's also rabidly anti-Israel. I've noticed that warbloggers are strongly (but not rabidly) pro-Israel. Here's a question for libertarian warbloggers: What's the connection? Is it because Israel is a Western country? A democracy? Because we were attacked by Islamic militants and our enemy's enemy must be our friend? Or do you think it's just a Raimondo peculiarity -- a Gays for Buchanan thing -- that he makes excuses for Arab leaders and condemns Israel?

Update: Instapundit points out that Raimondo's column runs in Pravda. I think it's because was opposed to U.S. intervention to help the Muslims in Kosovo; Russia sided with the Serbs, their fellow Slavs. -- 1/16

In "The Campus Diversity Fraud,'' John McWhorter argues eloquently (via The Occasional) for holding blacks to the same academic standards as others in college admissions.

The point here isn’t moral but logical: black students will only reach their full potential if the affirmative-action safety net is withdrawn and they’re required to strive for excellence. . . . To elevate diversity over true excellence condemns black students to mediocrity and is, quite simply, racist. -- 1/15

Famous, but not rich
For years, my San Jose Mercury News column ran on the Knight Ridder wire. It added value to the wire's package of columns, but I was paid nothing extra for it. I got fame, but no fortune.

Reader David McIntyre says that will be the fate of money-hungry bloggers: We may build brand identity but nobody's going to buy a cow when they can get milk for free. His example is, gulp, Salon.

i think the bloggers expecting to get paid for their postings have got the
business model wrong. given that there's a plethora of bloggers out there,
why should i pay even a microcent for content if i can get it elsewhere for
free? most surfers are looking for a combo of info and entertainment, and
that's abundant on the web. have you seen Salon since they tried charging
for content via subscriptions? the content and readership have gone
downhill, and their stock isn't worth a dime.

i doubt if you can make a profit on advertising, either. i don't think
anyone on the web is getting by on ads.

i think that blogging works best as a complement to big media and feeds
parasitically off it--it's a way of journalists and intellectuals promoting
themselves as a brand. andrew sullivan's much more well-known now than
before started, and as a result he can sell more books, articles,
lectures, etc. . . . if anyone's going to make $ off
blogging, it'll be AOL which buys the rights to the most popular bloggers
and then restricts their content to aol subscribers.

Another reader says readers don't care about Inside Blogging, so stick to commentary. I say: We bloggers care! Let us whine and dream a little. -- 1/15

Some day my links will come
They're here. Finally, I nagged my brother into creating a links page. And labeling the archives of QuickReads as "archives." I figured everyone else is redesigning so it's the least I can do. And the most I want to do. Actually, as soon as my Reason article on the Edison Schools fight in San Francisco is online, I'll put up a link to that. --1/14

Money, money, money
Natalie Solent has a whole page on micro-payments, including a link to Clay Shirky's "The Case Against Micro-payments.'' Numerous bloggers write in to discuss their lust for lucre -- or their fear that money will corrupt the free spirit of blogging.

Virginia Postrel says micro-payments won' t happen. She's a Shirkyite -- and an expert on the future. However, she links to an Arnold Kling essay suggesting readers might pay to access a "club" with original work by affiliated bloggers and annotated links to interesting material elsewhere they might otherwise miss.

Most of the articles that you are able to read when you join a club may be freely available without joining the club. What your membership fee would give you is better access to individual authors, as well as to indexing tools and cross-reference tools. Some of these tools would be provided by community members, as in the Amazon book lists.

The raw content is not what you are paying for. The haystack is free. But if you want help finding the needle, you have to join the club.

Virginia also deflates the ego-bloat afflicting bloggers of late. -- 1/14

Scientists say Antarctica is cooling. But that doesn't contradict global warming theory. My theory: Scientists don't know what's going on. -- 1/14

Shitty art
James Lileks' latest Screed takes on modern art, and its desire to shock the bourgeoisie -- who don't care -- while taking their money.

Nowadays, art that prompts “controversy” usually has one thing in common: it’s bad. Bad in conception or bad in execution, and frequently bad in both.

Lileks offers two guidestars:

a. If art contains shit, we should take it at its word.
b. Whatever point you’re trying to make, you can generally make it without shit.

Lileks hated the Swiss cheese towers proposed as a World Trade Center memorial, and fears the design chosen will be "some monstrous abstraction of timid sentimentality and impotent grief."

Perhaps it lacks the bravura that Lileks seeks, but I'd vote for a memorial that uses the ruined, twisted framing that stood for weeks over the ruins. Maybe with a reflecting pool around it and a tower rising behind it. -- 1/14

Conspiracy in poetry
Bloggers are very diverse. One writes his weblog in verse.
Via Damian Penny, I discovered Will Warren's UnremittingVerse site with poetry by Warren and others. His latest is very good -- as poetry and commentary.

“Conspiracy theories are funny things: the wackier they
sound, the more likely they are to be true.”
                                                   — Ted Rall, 1/9/02

It’s always those big clown-nosed conspiracies,
The ones way out there in the wild blue,
Dropping loose screws and tooting calliopes,
That are just the ones most likely to be true.
If a theory features blueberry ragout
And some Nixon clones growing in a tank
In a secret Nazi outpost in Peru,
You can step right out and take it to the bank.
When it’s all about a submarine that sank
After finally finding Nessie in her loch,
To ensure some Spanish admiral kept his rank,
It could absolutely never be a crock.
And yet I can’t get round a stumbling block:
One wacky theory isn’t worth two cents:
If it were proven true, oh! what a shock:
That Rall could write a sentence that made sense.
-- 1/13

Folk Song Army breaks ranks
Remember the Tom Lehrer song?

We are the Folk Song Army.
Every one of us cares.
We all hate poverty war and injustice.
Unlike the rest of you squares.

The Folk Song Army was hit hard by the Sept. 11 attacks, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Some have been shocked into silence. Others have broken ranks.

Tom Paxton, composer of many anti-Vietnam songs, including ``Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation'' and ``The Willing Conscript,'' has so far written one song about recent events, a piece about firefighters called ``The Bravest.''
He's not out for blood, but he thinks the United States must respond to the terrorist attacks and Osama Bin Ladin.

``I think we have to find that man and stop him, because he's not done with us. If we were to do nothing, it would not bring peace. It would simply postpone the next World Trade Center,'' said Paxton, a former New Yorker who now lives in Alexandria, Va. ``While this is going on, I think I'd rather just not turn into some kind of Republican, but just wait.''

Of course, a few folkies are singing the same old tune.

Dave Rovics of Cambridge, Mass., is one of the few writing blistering songs about current events and playing them for audiences. He wrote one about a dying firefighter that points out there are brave firefighters in Afghanistan, too.

To be picky on the fact thing, I don't think there are any firefighters -- brave or otherwise -- in Afghanistan. The Taliban let all municipal services go down the drain to focus on propagating virtue and whipping vice.

The firefighter song is a big hit. But Rovics performs ``International Terrorists,'' which portrays U.S. foreign policy as terrorism, "only for the furthest-left of audiences." -- 1/12

Playing the jihad game
As part of a three-week unit on Islam, public school students in Byron, California were assigned to memorize portions of the Koran, pray to Allah and play a "jihad game'' with dice. Oy vey.

The course mandates that seventh-graders learn the tenets of Islam, study the important figures of the faith, wear a robe, adopt a Muslim name and stage their own jihad. Adding to this apparent hypocrisy, reports ANS, students must memorize many verses in the Koran, are taught to pray "in the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful" and are instructed to chant, "Praise to Allah, Lord of Creation."

Christian parents complain the school doesn't teach Christian prayers and beliefs. That's because Byron school officials know that Christianity is a religion. They think Islam is an exotic culture, so it's kosher to teach its practices and beliefs in school. Like celebrating Chinese New Year.

Gosh, I wish there was more about the jihad game. I'd love to know how it works. Roll a seven and the infidel-killer goes to heaven? -- 1/12

Specially bad education
Special education is expensive, bureaucratic, rapidly growing and counterproductive, writes Herbert Walberg.

In 1982, the National Academy of Sciences contended that psychological classifications are unreliable and that special programs often do little good and sometimes do harm. Subsequent research has shown that the present classification systems misleadingly suggest that as many as 80 percent of all school students require special programs, which cost about 2.3 times more than regular programs.

Yet studies show that mildly disabled students do no better in regular classrooms because what they need is better—not special or differentiated—teaching. Moreover, spurious diagnoses stigmatize children, give them a debilitating excuse not to learn, and lead to their segregation from other children.

Walberg suggests special education charters: In exchange for relief from federal and state rules, charters would have to show students are learning. Currently, there's no accountability in special ed: If the kids don't learn, the disability gets the blame. Or they're simply not tested. -- 1/11

Hawaii is hell on charter schools
If parents don't like their school district in Hawaii, they can move -- to the mainland. The whole state is one giant state-run school district. Now there's some competition from charter schools -- 22 have started -- but the One Big District is trying to choke the charters, writes Cliff Slater in the Honolulu Advertiser.

The state Department of Education, which is also the Board of Education, gives charters only $2,997 per student compared to $7,000 per student in regular public schools. The missing $4,000 is for DOE services, many of which the charters don't want. (If more than half of funding really is spent at the state level, it's no wonder Hawaii's public schools are so poor.)

The state DOE won't credit teachers with seniority if they teach in a charter school.

And charter students can't play sports with regular public schools. -- 1/11

Crazy, mixed-up parents of crazy, mixed-up kid
I'm feeling even sorrier for Charles Bishop, the teen suicide pilot. While some try to blame his acne medication, the answer is a lot closer to home. Apparently, suicidal adolescence runs in his family

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The parents of a 15-year-old pilot who crashed a small plane into a Tampa skyscraper had attempted suicide as teen-agers, according to newspaper reports at the time.Charles Bishop's mother, Julia, and father, Charles Bishara, entered into a suicide pact after they were denied a marriage license because they lacked the proper paperwork, the Malden (Mass.) Evening News reported in 1984.

After they failed to kill themselves with carbon monoxide, Charles Bishop's mother, then 17, stabbed his father, then 19, with a butcher knife. He was supposed to take the knife and slash her wrists. Instead, he asked her to call an ambulance.

They married two years later, after their son was born, but divorced when he was still a baby. Charles Bishara had "little if any contact'' with his son.

So the kid was abandoned by his weird, depressive father and raised by his weird, depressive mother. Yeah, it must be the acne medicine. -- 1/10

It's not that small a world
"Six degrees of separation'' isn't just pop culture. It's based on a study by Stanley Milgram, a Yale psychologist, who wrote that any two individuals are linked by an average of six acquaintances. Only Milgram's unpublished data shows nine degrees of separation between 30 percent of not-so-random people, says Judith Kleinfeld, a University of Alaska professor. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Mr. Milgram's experiment -- commonly referred to as the "small-world method" -- entailed randomly selecting people to send a folder to a target person unknown to them in a distant location by first mailing it to someone they thought might know the target. The process was then repeated until the target received the folder. According to Ms. Kleinfeld's research, the selection process was anything but random, drawing participants through advertisements and purchased mailing lists, a practice that she asserts would cull mostly high-income and highly connected people.

Even under conditions as favorable to the theory as these, Ms. Kleinfeld reports that on average only 30 percent of the folders in Mr. Milgram's experiments -- and in most replications of the small-world method -- ever reached their target, and then through an average of eight people (or nine degrees of separation).

Kleinfeld's findings will appear in the next issue of Psychology Today, which published Milgram's six degrees article in 1967.

He rested the theory entirely on the instance of one folder that made it from a Kansas wheat farmer to its target, the Boston wife of a divinity student, in four days and through only two intermediate links.

Kleinfeld says we believe in six degrees, despite scanty evidence, because we want to. It feels safer to feel connected. -- 1/10

Big heels in the sky
My daughter flew from San Francisco to New York and New York to London without making the headlines. Despite her lack of resemblance to an Al Qaeda terrorist, her shoes were checked twice. (They do have huge heels that could pack a lot of plastic explosive.) A waste of time, but I'm not complaining. At 75, Rep. John Dingell doesn't fit the profile either and he had to drop his pants to prove his artificial hip is not an AK-47.

Allison made it to Oxford, where she'll serve as ReadJacobs' foreign correspondent. -- 1/10

Orwell's bloggers
Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens are winning the war about how to think about the war, writes Ron Rosenbaum in the New York Observer. He has some interesting things to say about Sullivan's round-the-clock, instant response mode.

What gives him an edge in impact and reach over Mr. Hitchens (and just about everyone else) is the way he’s turned his political Web site (Web zine, Web log, online diary—whatever you want to call into a powerful weapon of nonstop, 24/7, omnipresent total-surveillance panoptican punditry. Using his political Web zine (a form pioneered by Mickey Kaus in his witty, he’s done more than just frame the debate; he’s dominated it, smothered it with an overwhelming energy and forcefulness that allows him to riddle his opponents with ceaseless real-time hectoring and invective and polemic. . . .

It was only after Sept. 11 that I began surfing the Net heavily, but I quickly became cognizant of the way the Sullivanian Total Presence method of dominating the debate worked. The preemptive midnight Times Op-Ed frame game he plays, for instance: I’m a habitual early riser, but by the time I log on at 5 a.m., I often find that Mr. Sullivan has been hard at work in the minutes after midnight, when the Times edition for the next day first comes online, giving him a chance to digest, spit out, spin and frame whatever the Times Op-Ed columnists say in such a way that his spin will be available and often read before the regular Times e-mail delivery to media in-boxes appears.

Thus, many in the media will read Thomas Friedman or Maureen Dowd or Paul Krugman through the preemptive-strike lens that Mr. Sullivan has already framed them in.

Meanwhile, Ken Layne says that he invented the Internet. No, he invented the weblog. Whatever that is.

This filthy site began in March 1999 -- that's four years ago, Jacobs! -- as a place to store my journalism and columns and daily bits after had its two-year run.

Wouldn't that be going-on three years ago, Ken?

And Natalie Solent describes what I agree would be the ideal system for compensating bloggers -- micropayments per read. If only someone would just invent it, please. -- 1/9

My bot
Structural linguistics was required for a degree in English at Stanford. I put it off till my last semester; finally I had to take the class. It consisted of uncritical worship of Noam Chomsky. I kept disrupting class by asking questions: Why do we believe this is true? Just because Chomsky says so? How do we know he's right? Why is this class required?

After a month, the professor suggested I do an independent study and take the class pass-fail. The implicit but unstated deal was that he'd pass me if I promised never to show up in class. I wrote a computer program in Basic that "wrote" pornography by assembling appropriate (or inappropriate) nouns, verbs and adjectives. It was a worthless as porn and programming and showed no knowledge of structural linguistics whatsoever. But I hadn't come to class, so I passed.

Now, via Instapundit, I have discovered the Chomskybot, a program that generates nearly intelligible prose in the style of the Great Noam. It is a more sophisticated version of my Basic porno program. Perhaps I was on to something in 1974 and quit too soon. -- 1/9

Sweet sorrow
OpinionJournal's "Citizen of the World'' (with unspellable name) cheers the demise of the New York Times' special section, "A Nation Challenged.'' Citizen especially dislikes the "mawkish" sentimentality of "Portraits of Grief,'' mini-obits of Sept. 11 victims.

I think less gush, more gray, more solemnity, less minihagiography would have conferred infinitely more dignity on the dead than the saccharine-and-molasses thumbnail sketches that were inflicted on us every morning.

I imagine a reporter calling up the bereaved and asking: What will you remember about your late husband, your daughter, your father, your sister? And then: So, what were his bad qualities? Surely, she didn't have a smile for everyone.

Obits of regular people always dwell on the positive. And I don't see how you could get a balanced portrait of each victim in three paragraphs. -- 1/8

Creation of BlogWorld
I thought Mickey Kaus was the ur-blogger. Nope, e-mails [email protected]

In fact, people have been weblogging since the mid-to-late 1990s. Dave Winer's Scripting News site has been going since at least 1997. Steve Bogart's since 1998 or so. My weblog started in mid-1999.

Medley sent me to Rebecca Blood's history of weblogs, written in September of 2000. Blood says Jorn Barger came up with the name "weblog'' in 1997.

The original weblogs were link-driven sites. Each was a mixture in unique proportions of links, commentary, and personal thoughts and essays. Weblogs could only be created by people who already knew how to make a website. A weblog editor had either taught herself to code HTML for fun, or, after working all day creating commercial websites, spent several off-work hours every day surfing the web and posting to her site.

So maybe Kaus was the first weblog of political and social commentary? Political commentary by a low-tech journalist? Political weblog linked to media site? Probably none of the above.

At any rate, BlogWorld is larger and more diverse than I'd imagined. There are non-libertarian, dovish, anti-Israel, Chomsky-loving bloggers out there! -- 1/8

Animals aren't people
Ringling Brothers is fighting back against animal rights nuts who want to shut down the circus.

Protein Wisdom (which ought to know) observes:

Message to the PETA-philes: If God didn't want us to eat animals, he wouldn't have made them out of meat.

Judging by the blogback, the Anti-Idiot Party (the Know-Somethings?) is speciest. Only idiotarians are incapable of distinguishing between animals and people.

This is the key difference between anti-idiots and idiotarians: We like to make distinctions. Idiotarians can't tell X (animals, targeting civilians, requiring burqas, etc.) from Y (people, trying to avoid civilian casualties, allowing bikinis, etc.). -- 1/8

Leaving on a jet plane
I put my daughter on a plane this morning. Or, at least, I saw her make it through security. (The lines weren't bad at all.) She's flying to JFK and then to London. If they can't strip-search everyone on her flight, which they can't, I hope they do common-sense profiling. (An agent ransacked her grandmother's carry-on bag when she flew from Portland to SFO last week.) This may be inconvenient for young men traveling alone, especially if they carry passports from terror-exporting countries or look like they might be Arabs. I'm sorry, guys. But we don't know what these bozos will try to do next. And none of them are 20-year-old red-headed females or 75-year-old grandmothers. -- 1/8

Crazy mixed-up kid
Charles Bishop, the 15-year-old who left a pro-Osama note in his suicide Cessna, was a patriotic flag bearer who wanted to join the Air Force, says AP.

The youngster's journalism teacher at East Lake High School, Gabriella Terry, said that her class discussed the attacks on Sept. 11 and that they saddened Charles Bishop. "He told me he wanted to join the U.S. Air Force because he wanted to do something good for his country," Ms. Terry said.

He also told people he was part-Arab, reports the Tampa Tribune. And his long-absent father is named Charles Bishara. That's an Arab name.

Why did the kid do it? I think he felt pseudo-terrorism would link him to his father: He wanted Daddy, not Osama. Not that it's likely his father is a terrorist. Just a jerk. -- 1/8

Reading first
Bush will sign his education bill today. It includes nearly $5 billion over five years to fund effective reading instruction. That is: teaching phonics systematically as the first step to reading fluency. This is the part of the bill that will make the most difference.

Special education costs have skyrocketed because children who can't read well are labeled "learning disabled.'' Brent Staples blames bad reading instruction, specifically the failure to teach phonics. -- 1/8

'We were prepared to lose our lives'
A team of 10 Green Berets calling in air strikes are credited with killing 1,300 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters, destroying 50 tanks, anti-aircraft guns and artillery pieces. The soldiers thought there was a good chance they wouldn't survive the mission. They went in anyhow. I don't understand why men volunteer for Special Forces. But I'm glad they do. -- 1/8

Happy aniversary to me, maybe
I'm declaring this the official first anniversary of and QuickReads. I didn't date the stuff when I started, so I'm not really sure. But my last day of print media employment -- ah, that weekly paycheck -- was Jan. 3, 2001. So I think QuickReads was in business this time last year.

I was imitating Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan; Virginia Postrel started a few weeks earlier but I didn't know about her site till I'd started mine. I think. I don't think there was anyone else out there doing what's now called a weblog. Maybe Joshua Micah Marshall, though I wasn't aware of him till much later. It's just amazing what's happened in the last year, most of it in the last three months. -- 1/7

\Wisdom on the trot
James Lileks' Screed, a cousin to his Bleats mezine, does yet another Salter desalination. There's some wonderful writing (and thinking) here:

This war, she has reminded us, is part of a “huge, complex, global situation” - the codewords Salter’s crowd uses when they run their wisdom around like show dogs at Westminster. . . .

By “complex” she means the Tangled Roots of Muslim Rage - the poverty and despair that drives sociopathic millionaires to kill Dominican prep-cooks in the World Trade Center so he can get down to the real work of slaughtering Jews and reasserting the Ottoman hegemony. That is complex. Charlie Manson’s plan of starting an apocalyptic race war by fusing Beatles lyrics and celebrity stabbings was complex, too. -- 1/7

Unmaking of a dove
Bjorn Staerk shreds the pathetic arguments of a would-be pacifist -- himself, four years ago, trying to dodge the Norwegian draft. That's the military draft -- they do have one -- not a poorly insulated window.

1997 Bjorn: The practical consequences of me refusing to join military service is that humans get to live. In case of a war where Norwegian soldiers participate, fewer would die on the battlefield than if I had participated. The fact that these people may belong to the "enemy" is, from my moral point of view, irrelevant. To me it is more important that I save life.

2001 Bjorn: An excellent example of how a humanitarian facade may conceal a complete disregard of actual human beings. For instance, the actual humans killed defending an open, democratic society, because I am too much of a coward to do anything about it. The fact that both alternatives, fight and kill your enemy or stay away and kill your friends, are bad, does not mean that one isn't better - much better - than the other.

Staerk says he wrote the 1997 letter under the influence of a huge Chomsky download. -- 1/6

Gimme shelter
Best of the Web's Homelessness Rediscovery Watch puzzles me. They reprint Mark Helprin's prediction: "If George W. Bush becomes president, the armies of the homeless, hundreds of thousands strong, will once again be used to illustrate the opposition's arguments about welfare, the economy, and taxation." Then they excerpt a story on the homeless.

What does this prove? Unemployment is up. Presumably more people are in need of food and shelter. It's not bias to cover the needy -- if the stories place homelessness in context. Best of the Web doesn't critique the accuracy of the stories it quotes in the Rediscovery Watch.

But Mickey Kaus does, and in the process validates the Rediscovery argument. Kaus analyzes a graph (not online) with a New York Times story on rising demand for shelter beds in Minnesota. The graph shows a steady increase in Minneapolis shelter use since 1986 -- from 500 beds to 3,000.

The number rises during bust years and rises during boom years. It rises during Republican years and rises during Democratic years. It rises before welfare reform and after welfare reform. ... Just looking at this chart, it's hard to blame any particular national policy change for the rise in homelessness. The chart does fit with the leftish explanation that blames rising urban rents (since they go up in good times even faster than in bad times). On the other hand, it also fits with the right wing explanation that Say's Law is at work here: as more beds and services are offered to the homeless -- and as their provision becomes routinized and destigmatized -- more people consciously or unconsciously wind up claiming them. -- 1/6

A cure for Vietnam Syndrome
Not all San Francisco liberals are knee-jerk America-bashers. David Talbot's low-attitude "Making of a Hawk'' in Salon (free) explains why he supports U.S. military action in Afghanistan -- and Kosovo and Kuwait.

There are inevitably times when the darkest powers of the human heart find the means and opportunity to threaten not just the world's peace but its sense of decency. And while international coalitions or U.N. peacekeeping forces would, in a better world, be the best way to respond to these explosions of evil, the sober truth is that -- from Kuwait to Kosovo to Kabul -- only the United States has demonstrated the force and the will to do so effectively.

Talbot loves America's polygot cities for their vitality, not just their ethnic diversity. He writes of "jostling'' streets of "naked ambition and soaring dreams.''

. . . All it took for me was one look at the burning New York skyline to know that America was worth fighting and dying for.

Die-hard doves seem to think that pro-war patriotism must be mindless, vengeful and crass. Talbot shows why they're wrong. -- 1/6

Odysseus, Hamlet and Laverne
Robert Wright, a veteran teacher, questions the teacher shortage. Why aren't recruiters wining and dining him, if he's such a rare and valuable commodity? He also wonders about the quality of new recruits to the profession.

I was in a graduate class at SJSU for English teachers and the professor asked us what stories had turned out to have meaning for our lives. The first student to respond to this question said, "Laverne and Shirley, because, they went out on their own and did things their way." -- 1/5

Al Qaeda's first military kill
A Green Beret was killed in fighting near Khost. He is the first U.S. serviceman killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan. -- 1/4

Pap rap
Rod Dreher's review bitches 'bout da kitsch in Cornel West's rap CD, giving ample examples of why Harvard should have given the self-puffing prof a one-way ticket to Princeton.

West deploys his vocabulary much as a 13-year-old girl deploys Kleenex in her training bra: to obscure the embarrassing fact that there's not much there.

The first cut, "The Journey," serves as a thematic overture. "Let the word go forth here and now that the struggle for freedom is still alive and the story of that struggle is still being told," the preacherly West bellows, like Moses from the mountaintop. "We begin with guttural cries and wrenching moans and visceral groans and weary lament and silent ears."

Ears talk? -- 1/4

Undocumented teachers
The new federal education bill calls for the elimination of uncredentialed teachers in four years. Can't be done, say California educators and union leaders.

This year, 42,000 of the state's 301,000 public school teachers had emergency teaching credentials; that number is expected to balloon to 65,000 in the next two years . . .

Schools in poor neighborhoods have an even harder time attracting qualified teachers. In some cases, more than half of all teachers in a school are on emergency credentials, according to a study released last month by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning in Santa Cruz.

Eliminating emergency credentials isn't really a good idea: These waivers allow talented people with needed skills a quick entree into teaching. (Of course, plenty of less-talented people teach with emergency credentials too.) The more critical issue is that low-income, minority students are much more likely to be taught by untrained, inexperienced teachers than middle-class students.

Equalizing the percentage of uncredentialed teachers -- which means not letting teachers use their seniority to request an easy teaching assignment -- would help. But ultimately schools in poor neighborhoods have to create teaching conditions that will persuade new teachers to stick with it. Currently, huge turnover rates mean that last year's novice teachers don't stay long enough to get good. Smart people don't like to bang their heads against the wall year after year. -- 1/3

Sometimes, a sweater is just a sweater
Bjoern Staerk unearthed an odd column by Naomi Klein, who seems to think everything -- the Cold War, Islamic terrorism, computers -- is about shopping. Which --unlike evil -- is evil.

In her world, nobody wants a new sweater without ineptly darned holes in it. No, we sheeplike consumers go to the mall in search of mythical grandeur, ideological victory, metaphor and meaning. Not a navy blue crew neck on sale.

During the Cold War, consumption in the U.S. wasn't only about personal gratification; it was the economic front of the great battle. When Americans went shopping, they were participating in the lifestyle that the Commies supposedly wanted to crush. When kaleidoscopic outlet malls were contrasted with Moscow's grey and barren shops, the point wasn't just that we in the West had easy access to Levi's 501s. In this narrative, our malls stood for freedom and democracy, while their empty shelves were metaphors for control and repression.

But when the Cold War ended and this ideological backdrop was yanked away, the grander meaning behind the shopping evaporated.

Leaving us with a wide choice of goods at affordable prices.

Bjoern takes on Klein's "mythic narrative'' argument, which equates lofty aspirations with homicidal lunacy.

What a bore she is. She absolutely refuses to take any pleasure at all from being on the side of Good against Evil. She can't find anything good to say about religious fanatics, so she makes fighting a good cause itself a suspicious act. One of the advantages of growing up a nerd is that our subculture, with the apocalyptic battles of Fantasy and the galactic perspective of SciFi, has a moral compass branded so firmly into it the relativism of people like Klein stand out like a suit at a hacker convention. Of course it is dangerous to live your own myth, (Klein should watch the Babylon 5 episode Comes the Inquisitor for a discussion of the subject), but so is being blown up by terrorists. -- 1/3

America or death
On the (unlinkable) Wall Street Journal op-ed page, Bret Stephens writes about a visit to his Jewish grandfather's birth place, now in Moldova. If the family had stayed, they'd have been murdered by the Nazis or their Romanian pals or by Stalin; at best, his grandfather would have survived World War II and lived for 38 years under an oppressive Communist regime. Instead, they came to America, which gave them freedom and life.

That's my family history too, only it was the Ukraine and Belarus. Growing up in the '50s, with Hitler and Stalin a recent memory, I was very aware that my grandparents and parents probably would have died -- and I never would have been born -- if the family had stayed there. In America, we were free and prosperous citizens. There, we'd be dead (poison gas, firing squad, starvation, cold, disease, etc.) or, at best, enslaved to the state.

That's why I get so sick of kneejerk anti-patriots, America-bashers and whiners. If you can find a better country -- where did Alec Baldwin move to? -- bon voyage. Adios. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. -- 1/2

Off Tamiscal High's reunion list
John Walker's alma mater, Tamiscal High, took heavy criticism when AP quoted the principal as saying she's "proud'' of Tali-boy. Now (via Blogical Suspect), AP says principal Marcie Miller was misquoted: She's proud of other Tamiscal students, not of Tali-boy, who left the alternative school before she arrived.

``I never met John, so I never would have said that I am proud of him,'' she said.

In fact, Lindh's decision to volunteer for Osama bin Laden's cause is ``opposed to everything I've devoted my life to,'' Miller said. ``My brother is a Gulf War hero, I come from an extremely patriotic family, my father's a veteran and I find this appalling, that I'm being cast as a villain who's proud of anything John Walker Lindh has done since he left our school in January of 1998.'' -- 1/2

First baby
Julie Vu is the Bay Area's first baby of 2002, beating out Joseph Elijah Castro by one second. It's the typical first-baby story in the San Jose Mercury News, complete with cute baby photos.

Yet there's more to it than cute: Julie's dad is absent; her single mom, who has no high school diploma, was laid off in March from an assembly job. Joseph's parents are unmarried 17-year-olds. His father is not in high school, though he's studying "landscaping and roofing skills" in a vocational program. That is: He's training for work normally done by uneducated, unskilled, undocumented, underpaid laborers.

Years ago, a colleague told me the Trentonian, where he'd worked, had stopped doing first baby of the year stories because they had to wait till Jan. 3 to get a baby born to married parents. At the time, people thought it mattered.

The parents have good intentions and, more important, financial and emotional support from their families. Maybe Julie and Joseph will do OK. I hope. -- 1/2

Endless adolescence
You can be a teen-ager past the age of 30, according to a Washington Post story on extending adolescence.

For those who study adolescence as a stage of life, treat it as a disease, sell to it as a market, entertain it with songs and shows that make it seem the greatest time of life, it is growing and growing, providing ever new opportunities for grants, fees, jobs and changing how we think about kids.

The Society for Adolescent Medicine, a physicians' organization, now says on its Web site that it cares for persons "10 to 26 years" of age. A National Academy of Sciences committee, surveying programs for adolescents, discussed extending its review to age 30. (To which one committee member and mother of three gasped, "Oh my God, I hope not.") The MacArthur Foundation has funded a $3.4 million project called Transitions to Adulthood, which pegs the end of that transition at 34.

I learned that the average adolescent has received four times more toys than the previous generation. Also, the average age at which Italians move out of their parents' home is 34.

Americans need no encouragement to emulate Peter Pan. But I can sympathize with those who want to deny the adulthood of their children.

My daughter, who's 20, came in the house on Dec. 31 and yelled (I thought): "Are you ready to see your granddaughter?"

"No!'' I said. After a millisecond of dread, I asked her to repeat herself.

She pointed to her hair and make-up, done up for a New Year's Eve party. "Are you ready to see your glam daughter?''

To be honest, I'm not ready for that either. But I will cope. -- 1/2

Blogger Revolution
I finally read the James Bennett piece on weblogs in Anglosphere (English-speaking cyberspace): He thinks we're Martin Luther!

I think we bloggers are on the cutting edge of something, but I'm not sure what. We've created an international salon to discuss ideas, trade jokes, critique the established media and fight for truth, freedom and justice.

But it relies on unpaid labor. I'm averaging $30 a week in Amazon donations, despite tripling the number of visitors since September. And with all the new, excellent blogs out there, I keep spending more time reading blogs and less time in activities for which I conceivably might earn money. I can't tell you guys how often I vow to cut back, stop reading, stop blogging, write the damn books. How long can we keep this up?

And, by the way, for those who say I should add individual links: Is there a quick way to do this in Dreamweaver? Remember that I'm twice the age of a Norwegian blogger, and very close to my no-new-tricks limit. Can't you just scroll down to find the damn item? I'm trying to write a book! Two books! -- 1/1

Saudi snit
Iran and Saudi Arabia are complaining that U.S. media bias since Sept. 11 is hurting Islam's image as a religion of peace.
Christopher Johnson suggests a long look in the mirror.

According the Associated Press, both countries, "pledged to confront the Western image of Islam and to make known that the religion stands for peace and justice," and called on non-Muslims, "not to hold Islam responsible for actions and practices which are very distant from the spirit of Islam and its noble doctrines.''

The Editor, a Christian, would like to jump in at this point and hope that if the Christian Church in all its manifestations the world over were ever confronted by mass murderers who quoted the Bible and believed themselves to be good and devout Christians, that its first concern would not be the Church's "image." The Editor would hope, in such a case, that the Church would engage in a long and intense reflection on how such individuals could have arisen in its midst. The Editor also wonders why, if Islam's principles are so "lofty" and its doctrines are so "noble", so many southern Sudanese animists and Christians have been killed or enslaved by its northern Sudanese practioners.

Or why Muslim militants in Indonesia are blowing up Christian churches.

This gets right at what I've been thinking: If Islam-the-religion-of-peace has been highjacked by fanatics, as President Bush keeps telling us, why aren' t Muslim leaders fighting to reclaim their religion, like the passengers of Flight 93? -- 1/1