Archive for January 11th, 2009

January 11, 2009

Sinatra and a pint of Guinness

Bono writes with some eloquence on Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” I’ve never much cared for Bono as a singer, and care even less for his campaign to out-Geldof Geldof in the save-the-world sweepstakes of ostentatious humanitarianism, but as an essayist, he shows tremendous promise.

January 11, 2009

Of chicken salad and kindergarten

In a previous discussion of elite contempt for Sarah Palin, I derogated President Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative:

NCLB was nothing but pandering to soccer moms who sincerely want to believe in a Lake Woebegone world where “all the children are above average.”
The same unconservative belief that informed NCLB — that human beings are so many lumps of clay who can be magically transformed by the proper government interventions — has also, when you think about it, informed U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In response, Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog expresses outrage at my skepticism toward “the belief that children are actually moldable beings who can be changed through the efforts of government institutions known as ‘schools’!”

Steve: My dear Aunt Barbara spent decades as a teacher. My cousin is a state educational administrator. Two of my best friends from childhood are married to teachers. My wife works at a school, we have homeschooled our own children, and our 19-year-old daughter is a college sophomore majoring in education. I spent years as an education reporter, and in fact once considered majoring in education myself, taking several classes in the field, including developmental psychology. What I say about education, I say from knowledge, not ignorance.

However “moldable” children may be, they are not infinitely moldable, even if that molding begins at infancy — an observation I derive from the clear personality differences between my twin sons, who are fraternal rather than identical and yet so closely resemble each other in appearance that, especially in early childhood, it was very hard to tell them apart. Since they were raised in the same home environment and were treated equally (it being impossible to discriminate between two peas in a pod), their basic differences can only be described as innate.

Given how innate differences are manifested in two simultaneous products of the same womb, who have been provided with the same upbringing, how much more can such differences manifest themselves among a disaparate two dozen 5-year-olds reporting for their first kindergarten class? Yes, in a 180-day year of five daily hours in school, each kindergartner is to some extent “molded,” but the school’s influence is not omnipotent when set against the influence of the child’s inborn characteristics and home environment.

Try a thought experiment, Steve:

  • Suppose that you and I were both kindergarten teachers at a school where, on a summer day before the start of fall classes, the parents were expected to bring their prospective kindergartners for a daylong registration and orientation session.
  • Forty children attend the session, and there will be two classes formed from this group, with you and I each teaching 20 children.
  • Further suppose that, as senior teacher, I had the privilege of choosing which 20 children I would teach, with you taking the balance.
  • After interviewing the parents and observing their children during the orientation, I choose for my class those 20 children who seem to me to offer the brightest educational prospects, leaving for you the dummies and prospective discipline problems.
  • Now, suppose that at the end of the ensuing school year, all of these children were given a standardized test.

Assuming that I am even moderately competent as a teacher, I think you would agree, Steve, that on this end-of-the-year test, my class of 20 handpicked geniuses would substantially outperform your class of 20 culls and rejects. And by this hypothetical experiment we would have proven scientifically what the ordinary American knows by common sense: You can’t make chicken salad from chicken manure.

(Incidentally, that colorful expression is one I first heard from a high school football coach who used it in the same sense that another coach once told me, “You can’t coach a 4.4 forty.” Prep coaches are also required to teach academic subjects in most schools, and among the coaches I once dealt with as a small-town sports editor were some top-notch teachers of history and mathematics. Based on extensive off-the-record conversations with these career educators, I can assure you that what is true on the athletic field is true in the classroom. There are limits to what can be accomplished through intstruction, which is what is meant by the chicken salad/chicken manure metaphor.)

When I derogated NCLB as being based on an “unconservative belief,” what I meant was that it was based on a counterfactual belief — a belief inspired by sentiment or ideology, rather than by facts. Every educator, however sincere in his desire to do the best for each of his pupils, understands that there are inherent limits to what can be accomplished in the classroom. It is not controversial to say, “Children differ,” but because of the politicization of education, it has become controversial to say that children differ non-randomly in ways that profoundly affect their scholastic achievement, even though every teacher knows that this is true.

If you are friends with an astute kindergarten or first-grade teacher, Steve, you may inquire directly into this matter. Such teachers have told me that, with a high degree of accuracy, they can identify almost immediately those children who are destined for academic excellence. The bright kids simply show up on Day One more ready to learn than their peers, and there is only so much of the variation in outcomes between children that can be attributed to the difference in the quality of instruction.

Facts are sturdy things, as John Adams observed. Leave it to a liberal, however, to be offended by the expression of sturdy fact even when such an expression impugns the policies of President Bush, whom they otherwise excoriate at every opportunity.

Like one of those apologists for Marxism who always distinguishes between the ideal blessings of socialism and the real misery that socialism inevitably produces, Steve contends that the egalitarian fallacy at the root of NCLB was less responsible for the policy’s failure than the specifics of how the policy was “actually designed and implemented.” That is to say, Steve appears to believe that the objectives of NCLB could be accomplished — just not by a Republican administration.

Well, good luck with that hypothesis. Let the Obama administration labor with all diligence and sincerity, augmented by federal coercion and our tax dollars, to bring about the Lake Woebegone utopia where all children are above average. It requires only common sense, not expertise or clairvoyance, to predict the result: They will fail to overcome the sturdy facts and, in the end, will be left to make sandwiches of chicken manure.

January 11, 2009

Sugar Daddy update

Six weeks after “Melissa Beech” wrote her Sugar Daddy tell-all at the Daily Beast, and three weeks after my own essay examining the outraged reaction, the folks at Slate’s “XX Factor” blog continue to debate the social, economic and moral implications of Sugar Daddydom.

Why do they continue to obsess over this idea? Frankly, most of them are artsy “creative” types who once sneered at the crude allure of Mammon. Liza Mundy writes:

My own favorite, albeit fictional, example is the playwright-actor played by the playwright-actor Wallace Shawn in My Dinner with Andre. Back when he was a rich kid living on the upper East Side, the Wally character marvels, “all I thought about was art and music,” and in this he was strikingly like Ellin and her cohort, or really any writer who grew up in upper-middle class comfort. But now that he’s a middle-aged writer, and knows how hard it is to keep the lifestyle to which he’d become accustomed, “all I think about is money.”

Here is Ellen Tarlin:

And, believe me, some days I kick myself because frankly, it never ever in a million years occurred to me to marry for money or even to look for a guy with money or even to think about money. . . . I was always attracted to artists: actors, musicians, filmmakers, writers.
More than being poor, I was terrified of being ordinary, normal, middle-class, like everyone else. . . . I remember saying to my punk high school boyfriend . . . that I was worried that someday I’d end up living in the suburbs married to a fat doctor. Would that I was married to a fat doctor now! Preferably one in private practice!

Which is to say, there is a generous helping of sour grapes on that envy salad.

January 11, 2009

‘Paki’ is now racist?

BUMPED (UPDATES BELOW) England’s Prince Harry has apologized for calling an Army colleague a “Paki”:

A statement from St James’s Palace, with regards the term “Paki” said: “Prince Harry fully understands how offensive this term can be, and is extremely sorry for any offence his words might cause.

Uh, is this not just a shorthand term for Pakistani? How does the omission of two syllables change this from a description of someone’s nationality to a racist epithet? What am I missing here? If Harry could call someone from Scotland a Scot without giving offense, what’s the deal with calling some from Pakistani a “Paki”?

Perhaps it would not have been so offensive if, instead of specifying the other person’s nationality, Harry had just used the generic term “wog”? My God, Winston Churchill would never survive in modern England.

UPDATE: Commenters at Ann Althouse discuss Prince Harry as a “royal Kowalski” (Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino, a movie whose subject, I assume, is a mediocre Ford muscle car from the early ’70s). Perry de Havilland quips: “Who would have thought it? Prince Harry is just a normal bloke in spite of the weird circumstances of his upbringing.”

UPDATE II: I am mystified that none of my moron friends at Ace of Spades HQ has weighed in on PakiGate. Probably too busy beating up hobos and hatin’ on Scandis, I suppose.

January 11, 2009

Supplying non-demand?

Arnold Kling points out an obvious fallacy in Keynesian economic theory. Of course, Keynesians are so thoroughly wrong that debunking their fallacies is like shooting fish in a barrel. (Via Instapundit.)

January 11, 2009

Isn’t this cute?

This won an Australian film festival:

January 11, 2009

Bernie Madoff, pro-lifer?

Sort of by accident:

Fallout from the exposure of investment manager Bernard Madoff’s massive $50 billion Ponzi scheme threw many individuals and charities into financial distress. The fraud has also deprived funding from several pro-abortion rights groups and projects.
The Florida-based Picower Foundation, listed as the 71st-largest in the nation by the Council on Foundations, claimed assets of $1 billion, the New York Times reports. It was forced to close in December due to financial problems with its assets, which were managed by Madoff. . . .
Nancy Goldstein on Wednesday reported that abortion advocacy groups are facing financial shortfalls because of the Picower Foundation’s collapse.
Picower was one of a handful of foundations willing to stick their necks out and significantly fund the three organizations that handle virtually all major reproductive rights-related litigation and legal advocacy in the United States,” the pro-abortion rights Goldstein wrote. “Now the Center for Reproductive Rights needs to make up a $600,000 shortage in 2009; Planned Parenthood is out $484,000; the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project is off $200,000.”

Michelle Malkin sees a silver lining, not only caused by Madoff but also by the economic downturn: Planned Parenthood is laying off 20% of its staff.

January 11, 2009

Joe the Journalist

PJM CEO Roger L. Simon:

In the midst of something of a media uproar, Joe Wurzelbacher AKA Joe the Plumber has landed or is about to land (depending on when you read this) at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport. PJTV and Pajamas Media have been deluged with interview requests for Joe, ranging from Geraldo At Large and the Associated Press to Israel’s Channel 10 and Germany’s ZDF television giant.
Before Joe left he was interviewed by Fox and CNN, among others. The CNN reporter, particularly, derided the lack of the plumber’s professional journalistic experience. Yes, that’s CNN – the “professional” network that just yesterday broadcast a video of evidence of supposed Israeli brutality from a Gaza hospital that was entirely fake – a Pallywood production.

Michelle Malkin has more on the anti-Joe jihad among journalists. I guess part of their problem is just raw envy. Hey, I’m also a professional journalist and I’d love it if someone sent me on assignment to Israel. “Foreign correspondent” is kind of a hard gig to get in today’s environment of journalistic downsizing, and I’m sure some people in the industry are envious of the celebrity interloper. But that’s their problem, not Joe’s.

January 11, 2009

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk

January 11, 2009

‘Science’ and teen sex

Thursday, I wrote about how liberals were spinning the latest teen pregnancy statistics as an argument against abstinence education. I had missed Bill McGurn’s take on how research results have been misrepresented in the media:

A medical journal starts it off by announcing a study comparing teens who take a pledge of virginity until marriage with those who don’t. Lo and behold, when they crunch the numbers, they find not much difference between pledgers and nonpledgers: most do not make it to the marriage bed as virgins.
Like a pack of randy 15-year-old boys, the press dives right in.
“Virginity Pledges Don’t Stop Teen Sex,” screams CBS News. “Virginity pledges don’t mean much,” adds CNN. “Study questions virginity pledges,” says the Chicago Tribune. “Premarital Abstinence Pledges Ineffective, Study Finds,” heralds the Washington Post. “Virginity Pledges Fail to Trump Teen Lust in Look at Older Data,” reports Bloomberg. And on it goes.
In other words, teens will be teens, and moms or dads who believe that concepts such as restraint or morality have any application today are living in a dream world. Typical was the lead for the CBS News story: “Teenagers who take virginity pledges are no less sexually active than other teens, according to a new study.”
Here’s the rub: It just isn’t true.

Liberal reporters, McGurn explains, don’t look past the bullet-points on the press release to examine the underlying methodology of the study. The researchers pulled some hocus-pocus by comparing the pledge-taking teens not with the general population of teenagers, but rather with a “control” group who were matched demographically and socio-economically with the pledgers:

The first to notice something lost in the translation was Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former head of both the Red Cross and the National Institutes of Health. Today she serves as health editor for U.S. News & World Report. And in her dispatch on this study, Dr. Healy pointed out that “virginity pledging teens were considerably more conservative in their overall sexual behaviors than teens in general — a fact that many media reports have missed cold.”

In interviewing professionals in the science/medical/health fields, I’ve found they are almost unanimous in loathing the way the MSM report on research. Often, research that merely indicates a possible correlation between two facts — say, between coffee drinking and cancer rates — ends up with a headline implying that scientists have proved a cause-and-effect relationship: Coffee prevents cancer!

What is true in reporting on medical and scientific research is even more true in reporting on social science research. As one criminologist has remarked, social scientists can “prove” anything. Trying to isolate cause-and-effect in sociological research (which is what this abstinence-education study purports to do) is a damned difficult task. There is a disturbing tendency among liberal journalists to cherry-pick research — hyping research that seems to confirm their own biases and downplaying contradictory results.

Given the high correlation between delaying sexual activity and positive socioeconomic outcomes (i.e., completing high school, obtaining full-time employment, avoiding drug abuse, etc.), there is clearly a social good to be obtained by discouraging teen sex. Much of the media, however, think of this as a “Republican” or “conservative” objective, and therefore bring to bear the usual liberal bias. Since when did it become “liberal” to be indifferent to kids messing up their lives?

UPDATE: Laura Gallier of Inspiring Abstinence e-mails:

I see a huge contradiction in the medias’ response to the issue of teen sex, two primary contradictions to be exact. For one, the media cries out for answers when teen pregnancy rates are on the rise but then seems to go out of their way to undermine abstinence programs. Two, the same media that reports that we must find answers to the teen sex crises then turns around and includes sexually based images and comments in nearly everything they produce.

Indeed, one of the rich ironies is how TV producers, on the one hand, claim that their sex-saturated programming doesn’t influence kids’ behavior, but on the other hand, collect billions in advertising revenue by telling clients that a 30-second commercial can influence consumer behavior. Either TV influences behavior or it does not, so which is it?

BTW, Ms. Gallier is the author of a new book about abstinence called Choosing to Wait: A Guide to Inspiring Abstinence.