The Atlanta Testing Scandal

Here is a long article about the Atlanta testing scandal, with a focus on the first teacher fired for changing test scores. This is just a sad tale, with the corruption beginning at the top, but people at the bottom doing the dirtiest part of the dirty work. And paying the biggest price. Never compromise your morals for a boss. He or she won’t be the one dragged down.

When I decided not to return to teaching this school year, it was in large part due to the disgusting teacher evaluation process began by the Hawaii Department of Education. It was a confirmation to read in this article that the federal Race To The Top program is the impetus for the crummy system. My heart goes out to all the teachers in Georgia who will have 50% of their rating determined by test scores that they have between 1% and 14% influence over.

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Hey, Teacher, Leave Those Chimps Alone…

You can lead a chimp to Aristotle…. Or any of Jane Goodall’s books.

From this article we learn that chimps raised by humans aren’t any smarter than those raised in the wild. An argument for Simian Homeschooling, perhaps.

The fault, dear Ceasar, is not with us pesky humans.

The fault, dear Ceasar, is not with us pesky humans.

Could we infer that non-modified humans raised by extremely intelligent extraterrestrials would be no more intelligent than we are at present?

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Barbaric Genius, Survivor

John Healy is the subject of the documentary Barbaric Genius. Mr. Healy lived either in jail or on the streets as a wino, up to about age 30. In prison he met a man who taught him chess. He decided he wanted to devote himself to chess, and gave up drink. He became a championship chess player, though I don’t think he earned a Grand Master ranking. He then wrote his memoirs, The Grass Arena, which won a prestigious prize for literary autobiography in England in the late 1980’s. He had a falling-out with his publisher and all but 500 copies of the book were destroyed by the petty man who was running the firm. To deal with the stress of chess, John took up yoga. After the viewer has spent 55 minutes learning all these remarkable things about him, one of the most striking images in the film is of the 70 year old Mr. Healy doing the splits in a yoga position.

For a real review of the documentary Barbaric Genius go over to Roger Ebert’s site. There is also an interview with both the director and the subject.

I recommend the film, available to rent from iTunes and coming to Netflix in August.

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Heaven send Hell away

We were talking of Things Eternal over at Sheila’s place and Soundgarden made the point I wanted to make. So, in looking for a good YouTube of Black Hole Sun I came across this acoustic version by Chris Cornell.

Heaven send Hell away, no one sings like you anymore.

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Creativity, Is there an IQ Threshold?

I’ve read analyses that suggest US presidents should have an IQ of near 120: high enough to be intelligent, but not so bright as to be odd, or excessively disconnected from their fellow citizens. From this article on creativity, it doesn’t sound like there’s a lot to be gained in the creativity department once that number is reached.

This is like a lot of things regarding human nature and human development: there’s a minimum threshold (a moderately stimulating environment for a newborn, as an example), but there’s not a lot to be gained by going over that threshold.


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3-D Printing and Art

I hadn’t thought about the possibilities of 3-D printing and sculpture. Here’s an artist who clearly has, with a bit of a morbid streak (I like).



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What Would Tesla Think?

Electro-plating the embalmed. Could you put them into a rail gun and shoot the ferro-magnetically plated corpses of your fallen enemies into the walled cities of those you were besieging, to horrify them and break their will?

And just because you can (could), does that mean you should?

Who wants wax when you can have something shiny?

Who wants wax when you can have something shiny?

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What remains when disbelief has gone?

I was going to post this almost 10 months ago. I’m not sure what stopped me. I’m reading an excellent book about Dante’s The Divine Comedy and the author, Prue Shaw, remarks that Dante’s concerns are timeless. Who are we? What should we become? How do we reconcile what we have done with who we want to be? Larkin’s poem addresses these concerns in a more modern, oblique way.

Oh, modern ≠ better.

Philip Larkin – Church Going

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new –
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
‘Here endeth’ much more loudly than I’d meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation – marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these – for which was built
This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

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Leaves of Grass, The Big Reveal

I’ve been watching Jack Nicholson’s scenes as Eugene O’Neill in ‘Reds” again and again. It’s streamed on Netflix, I recommend that you do the same. His big scenes are at about 52 minutes in. He is simply mesmerizing, and Diane Keaton definitely shines and enhances his spell.

But watching Louise (Diane’s character) place Gene’s poem in a copy of ‘Leaves of Grass’ – to be found later by her husband – also made me click on ‘Breaking Bad’ where Walt’s secret is discovered when Hank opens the book for some bathroom reading.

I’m wondering if there are any other movies or shows where ‘Leaves of Grass’ serves the same purpose. Let me know if you can think of anything.

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Streaming Music versus Buying It.

I’ve been considering purchasing one of the paid plans for Spotify, and as part of my decision-making process I was curious about how the musicians are paid. According to this letter from the president of a small label, Spotify pays out half a penny for each stream to the owner of the recording – in some cases that is the recording label and in some cases that is the actual artist. If I were buying a song off iTunes, about 70 cents of my payment of $1.29 would go to the owner of the recording. So with some quick math – the owner of the recording is better off if I use Spotify and play the song 140 times or more.

On the other hand, the artist is better off if I listen to their song 20 times on Spotify as opposed to not purchasing it on iTunes at all.

One could argue about how it’s the artist that one should care about in terms of payment, but I will leave that worry up to the artists themselves and their skill (or lack) in negotiating their contract. I won’t be purchasing CD’s in any scenario, and I expect that the payment to the artist is the same in terms of percentage whether I use iTunes to buy (or Amazon, though I haven’t done research on their terms of payment) or stream from Spotify.

Now, I just wonder if I’ll want to pay the equivalent of an album on iTunes per month ($9.99) for the privilege of listening to everything on Spotify on my iPhone when I’m driving or at work. According to my scrobbler, I listen to an average of 46 songs per day. That’s about 1400 songs per month. Compared to the half cent Spotify revenue that’s $7 per month. And most of the songs I’m listening to are from my own iTunes library: stuff I’ve already paid for.

All in all, not a lot of money in any scenario for an old guy like me who only has a few places and people he can reliably look to for new music.

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