Archive for the 'Good Money Over Bad' Category


“You’re really anti-choice”

Senator Rand Paul, kicking ass and taking names:

So is this what a crazy Tea Party Congressman bent on destroying the foundations of government sounds like?  If so, more please.


“Is Our Children Learning?” Part, the Second.

The situation, alas, is dire:

What good does it do to increase the number of students in college if the ones who are already there are not learning much? Would it not make more sense to improve the quality of education before we increase the quantity of students?


Students are adrift almost everywhere, floating in the wreckage of a perfect storm that has transformed higher education almost beyond recognition.

Politicians and the public are quick to blame college faculty members for the decline in learning, but professors—like all teachers—are working in a context that has been created largely by others: Few people outside of higher education understand how little control professors actually have over what students can learn.

The author goes on to list lack of student preparation, grade inflation, and plummeting admissions standards among a number of  other reasons that a Bachelor’s degree is becoming an increasingly worthless piece of paper that otherwise disinterested undergraduates feel entitled to after slouching their way through four (or five, or six) years of college. I have to say, unfortunately, that I largely agree with his assessment. College is swiftly turning into “high school without parents, but with more partying and more debt.”

In my experience, even excellent students are sometimes cowed by the fact that they’re outnumbered 30-1 in the classroom by peers who, simply by showing up and spending their time texting, doodling, or playing around on Facebook, are creating a massive wall of inertia that resists any attempt to create an environment were learning can happen. If the instructor or professor tries to do anything more with the class than simply providing a PowerPoint slide with a list of bullet points that give the answers to next week’s quiz, many students will simply not participate Assigned reading is simply ignored, and usually resented. “Increasingly,” writes Benton,

…undergraduates are not prepared adequately in any academic area but often arrive with strong convictions about their abilities. So college professors routinely encounter students who have never written anything more than short answers on exams, who do not read much at all, who lack foundational skills in math and science, yet are completely convinced of their abilities and resist any criticism of their work, to the point of tears and tantrums: “But I earned nothing but A’s in high school,” and “Your demands are unreasonable.” Such a combination makes some students nearly unteachable.

“Studying,” or so one undergraduate told a colleague of mine, “is only part of college.” For many, it seems to be the least important part. Moreover,

[i]t has become difficult to give students honest feedback. The slightest criticisms have to be cushioned by a warm blanket of praise and encouragement to avoid provoking oppositional defiance or complete breakdowns. As a result, student progress is slowed, sharply. Rubric-driven approaches give the appearance of objectivity but make grading seem like a matter of checklists, which, if completed, must ensure an A. Increasingly, time-pressured college teachers ask themselves, “What grade will ensure no complaint from the student, or worse, a quasi-legal battle over whether the instructions for an assignment were clear enough?” So, the number of A-range grades keeps going up, and the motivation for students to excel keeps going down.

This also matches up with my experiences fairly well. The expectation is that an “A” grade is the baseline, and only by making serious errors should a score decline from there. Instructors routinely receive student evaluations complaining that their grades were too low because they felt that they were graded on the quality of their writing, rather than the brilliance of their ideas, as if the two can be meaningfully separated. “This was not an English class. It was unfair to have been graded on my writing.”

Unfortunately, reforming American higher education faces a feedback loop that will be extremely difficult to change. Parents, believing that their children won’t be able to get ahead in life without going to college, frequently push their kids to go to college no matter what. In the end, the glut of degree holders fosters a mentality among employers that potential employees who don’t hold a degree are inferior to their credentialed peers. A Bachelor’s degree has thus become a minimum requirement even for positions where the skills ostensibly learned during the course of a 4 year degree program are of little or no use. This expectation, in turn, reinforces parents’ belief in the necessity of going to college.

Meanwhile, universities are in the middle, happily raking in millions of dollars a year from undergraduates, whose useless educations are financed by easy credit. A simple comparison between the staggering growth in administrative budgets and the relatively modest growth in instructional budgets illustrates the ultimate outcome of this: the student body has become little more than a cash cow for the University’s administrative class. In a sort of Faustian bargain, our educational system offers millions of undergraduates the opportunity to enjoy a half decade of irresponsibility after high school. The price of this five years of freedom (punctuated, of course, by unwelcome term papers and resented final exams) is a mountain of debt.

The “educational” aspect this arrangement is looking increasingly like little more than a cheap facade papered over the messy truth: that American higher education is bilking millions out of students each year, and providing almost nothing in return.


Whatever it is, the Navy needs money for it

Via Wired, this is an actual solicitation from the United States Navy for stimulus funds. For what? I don’t know.  How ’bout a flying boat that transforms into a robot? Whatever. Just dump the money in front of the Pentagon, and we’ll take care of the rest. Capiche?

Or, as Wired so aptly put it: “We’re sure that somewhere, at some Washington bar, an earnest crusader against Pentagon waste sees this pop up on his BlackBerry and tells his bartender to make it a double.”


This Month in Statism [update]

So far, 2011 hasn’t been a great year for individual rights.

What is clear is that the officers are harassing a man who is legally recording the incident from a distance that in no way physically interferes with what the police are doing. One officer threatens to destroy his camera if he doesn’t put it away. Toward the end, several more officers confront the man again. One of them then tells him he’ll be “locked up” for disobeying an order unless he stops recording.

  • Apparently taking a few cues from Egypt’s criminal dictatorship, a Republican Senator is once again proposing a bill to implement an “internet kill switch.” This is yet another attempt to give the government the power to stop the Internet from penetrating US borders, following similar attempts by Independent Joe Lieberman and Democrat Jay Rockefeller. Control has tripartisan support!
  • The US Transportation Secretary has lauded a new device that checks to make sure you’re not drunk before you’re allowed to drive a car. They claim, of course, that the new devices will not be mandatory. Color me unconvinced. In any case, the device does nothing to address the gaping holes in current drunk driving laws.
  • But if drunk driving weren’t bad enough, we’re now being told that it’s necessary to regulate away the perils of jogging. Oregon is going one step further, seeking to outlaw “kid trailers” that cyclist commuters use safely every single day:

House Bill 2228 introduced by Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland), would amend an Oregon statute that bans unlawful passengers on a bike by making it illegal to carry a child younger than 6 either on the bike or in a trailer. The bill includes a fine of $90.


A former director of public health at Oregon Health & Science University, Greenlick said the bill was prompted by an OHSU study on injuries among bike commuters in the Portland area.

The study indicated that about 20 percent of them had a traumatic injury in a year and about 5 percent had one serious enough to get medical attention. “It  really got me thinking about what happens if there’s a 4-year-old on the back of that bike when a biker goes down,” Greenlick said.

He knows of no studies about the risks of carrying children in cargo trailers or on the back of a bike. But he said he wants to fire up a conversation in the Legislature. [emphasis added]

How come whenever some politician wants to have a “conversation” about something — whether it’s guns, free speech, or bike trailers — they’re always actually trying to give the government more power to dictate the way people live their lives? Oh, they don’t want you to listen to your iPod while biking, either.

  • And, of course, there’re always the ever-present Guardianista telling Americans they need to give up their First Amendment rights… you know… for their own good:

Freedom of speech, like freedom of traffic, can only be defined by the curbs and regulations that make it real.


Free speech is a Hobbesian jungle. It requires a marketplace where the trade in information, ideas and opinion has a framework of rules, including rules that maintain fair and open competition. Most will be voluntary, but others need enforcement.

That’s right. For free speech to be “real,” it needs to be… un-free.

Sadly, this mentality is far from non-existent among large swaths of the American political class. Whenever you hear someone solemnly intoning “hate speech is NOT free speech,” you’re actually listening to someone who is objectively pro-censorship.

And just who do you think it is that they have in mind for the job of censor? Ahh, but if we only had better people in the government…


Here’s one more that I hadn’t read about before I posted this:

Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the free-market Cato Institute, says the push for legislation is an example of pro-regulatory Republicans. “Republicans were put in power to limit the size and scope of the federal government,” Harper said. “And they’re working to grow the federal government, increase its intrusiveness, and I fail to see where the Fourth Amendment permits the government to require dragnet surveillance of Internet users.”



If Anyone Tells You the New TSA Procedures Make People Safer, They’re a Liar

A couple of weeks ago, I pointed out that, despite all the shiny new government-mandated sexual abuse that people have to put up with in airports, TV personality and “Mythbuster” Adam Savage still managed to board a commercial aircraft  with two 12″ razor blades.

Today, the Daily Mail is reporting that an American businessman, Farid Saif was screened by TSA agents and had his baggage X-rayed — the article doesn’t say whether he himself went through the X-ray machine or was given the “funny touch” by a TSA employee — and ended up a few hours later checking into his hotel only to realize that he’d been packing heat in his carry-on luggage the entire time, and no one noticed. Mr. Saif was understandably shocked:

‘It’s just impossible to miss it, you know. I mean, this is not a small gun,’ Mr Seif told ABC News.

‘How can you miss it? You cannot miss it.’

Well, they missed it.

Then again, no one should be surprised, given that a recent article in the Journal of Transportation Security declared that the X-ray machines are pretty worthless:

While carelessly placed contraband will be detected, the machines have glaring blind-spots and have difficulty distinguishing explosives from human tissue… It is very likely that a large (15–20 cm in diameter), irregularly-shaped, cm-thick pancake [of PETN explosive] with beveled edges, taped to the abdomen, would be invisible to this technology. … It is also easy to see that an object such as a wire or a boxcutter blade, taped to the side of the body, or even a small gun in the same location, will be invisible.’

Considering that Mr. Seif apparently took no special precautions to hide his “not small” gun, I think it’s probably safe to say that the X-ray machines are not very adept at detecting “carelessly placed contraband,” either.

This is your government at work, people. Tell me again why we’re supposed to trust these people to solve anything.


Quote of the Day

“Those who drink vodka, who smoke — they help out the state more. if you smoke a pack of cigarettes — it means you contribute more money to solving social problems.”

— Russian Finance Minister Andrei Makarov

If one accepts this logic, then it would seem that all these little twerps who’re preening about “clean air” and banning smoking at the UO are actually just perpetuating social injustice by trying to end smoking and thereby depriving the state of much needed tax dollars while simultaneously demanding the state actually spend more money on health care and “assistance” for people trying to quit smoking.

Maybe, instead of clamoring for Obama to levy an envy tax on the rich, these little statists could just take up smoking.


Maybe It Was in the Grundrisse…

Old line: If we don’t have government-mandated sexual assault in airports, the terrorists have won. So shut up and get used to it, plebs. Your betters know what’s good for you, and what’s good for you is getting felt up by a TSA worker who hasn’t changed their gloves in a couple hours.

New line: “[W]e seem to have reached that stage of capitalism where sexual abuse is being used as a threat to get people (taxpayers in this case) to spend money to pad corporate profits. I wonder, once wingnut America figures that one out, if they’ll calm down with the outrage?  I mean, the free market is why you have to submit to the groping!  Suggesting your privacy comes before their profits is just as good as saying that you’re a dirty commie, didn’t you know?”

The bizarre caricature tacked on at the end notwithstanding, I’m still left wondering about this “sexual-abuse-as-a-stage-of-capitalism” thing. I mean, I haven’t read everything the guy ever wrote, but I’ve read enough to know that Marx never really had much to say about the topic. And glancing through my copy of Lenin: Selected Works, I’m not seeing a whole lot in there either. Then again, I only have Volume One.*

Amusingly, they unwittingly hit the nail on the head without even knowing it:

Point is, there’s a lot of money to be made by selling scanners to airports.  And there’s a revolving door between people who work in high levels of government and those profiting off selling these devices.

If only the people owned the means of producing body scanners… Anyways, it’s clear that the problem definitely is not the government, which has the power to purchase these things and then mandate that everyone be forced to either go through them or make friends with a TSA worker’s fingers under penalty of law, the problem is capitalism. This point should be obvious since such blatant violations of privacy historically have not occurred in socialist states anywhere in the world.

* Though come to think of it, maybe that’s what Leonid Brezhnev’s book The Virgin Lands was all about. It’s on my shelf but I confess that I’ve never had the heart to read it.