Monday, January 31, 2011

Wolf Hall: Words and Silence

I've been reading Wolf Hall, the 2009 Man Booker Prize Winner by Hilary Mantel, since early December.  I finished it this afternoon.  I've been tempted to put up quotes now and then while I was reading it - the prose is so incredible, and so different.  Sparse.  Present tense, though set 400 years ago.

The impetus for finally getting it done - it's one of those books I didn't want to end - is that the book club meets tonight.  And it's a good thing I finished it, because only in the last line, as Thomas Cromwell is looking over the travel plans to catch up with King Henry VIII who's out of London for a bit do we even get close to Wolf Hall:
Before "Bromham," he makes a dot in the margin, and draws a long arrow across the page.  "Now, here, before we go to Winchester, we have time to spare, and what I think is, Rafe, we shall visit the Seymours."

He writes it down.

Early September. Five days.  Wolf Hall. 

But I'll focus here on some exchanges between Cromwell - the commoner, the blacksmith's son, who, through his physical presence, his way with words (in any number of languages), his incredible memory and administrative skills has become Henry VIII's Chief Minister, Master of the Crown Jewels - you can see all the many positions he held at Wikipedia - and Thomas More who is a prisoner in the Tower of London awaiting trial and execution because he will not acknowledge Henry's right to split from the Church in Rome and take over as head of the Church in England.  You get a sense of Cromwell's
position
Tower of London last summer
with the King in this exchange where Cromwell - who in this telling of the story does not want to force Thomas More's hand and is willing to let him sit in the Tower rather than execute him - argues that
". . . No one is in doubt of his loyalty to Rome and his hatred of Your Majesty's title as head of the church.  Legally, however, our case is slender, and More will use every legal, every procedural device open to him.  This is not going to be easy."

Henry stirs into life.  "Do I retain you for what is easy?  Jesus pity my simplicity.  I have promoted you to a place in this kingdom that no one, no one of your breeding has ever held in the whole of the history of this realm."  He drops his voice.  "Do you think it is for your personal beauty?  The charm of your presence?  I keep you, Master Cromwell, because you are as cunning as a bag of serpents.  But do not be a viper in my bosom.  You know my decision.  Execute it."
But that is background for the discussions between More and Cromwell.  And I'll do only a little part of that - that focuses on words and silence.

Cromwell is finishing a long soliloquy about the possibility of improving the world, being corrupted, the constant fight between ignorance and learning, the weather's impact on one's will (it's been raining all summer), and the need to maintain order and justice even if not perfectly. 

". . .  Last week the people were rioting in York.  Why would they not, with wheat so scarce, and twice the price of last year?  I must stir up the justices to make examples, I suppose, otherwise the whole of the north will be out with billhooks and pikes, and who will they slaughter but each other? 
(Is this what Mubarak is thinking?)
I truly believe I should be a better man if the weather were better. I should be a better man if I lived in a commonwealth where the sun shone and the citizens were rich and free.  If only that were true, Master More, you wouldn't have to pray for me nearly as hard as you do."

"How you can talk, "  More says.  Words, words, just words.  "I do, of course, pray for you.  I pray with all my heart that you will see that you are misled.  When we meet in Heaven, as I hope we will, all our differences will be forgot.  But for now, we cannot wish them away.  Your task is to kill me.  Mine is to keep alive.  It is my role and my duty.  All I own is the ground I stand on, and that ground is Thomas More.  If you want it you will have to take it from me.  You cannot reasonably believe I will yield it."
(Is this what Egyptians are thinking as the government tells them to go home and they stay out on the square?)
"You will want pen and paper to write out your defense.  I will grant you that."

"You never give up trying, do you?  No, Master Secretary, my defense is up here,"  he taps his forehead, "where it will stay safe from you."
 Cromwell looks around the empty and dark room and calls the guard to bring a candle.

Martin brings a pricket candle.  "Anything else?"  They pause while he sets it down.  When he is gone, they still pause:  the prisoner sits hunched over, looking into the flame.  How does he know if More has begun on a silence, or on a preparation for a speech? There is a silence which precedes speech, there is a silence which is instead of speech.  One need not break it with a statement, one can break it with a hesitation:  if . . . as it may be  . . . if it were possible  . . . He says, "I would have left you, you know.  To live out your life.  To repent of your butcheries.  If I were king."

Seven pages later, after More's trial and execution:

He [in this book 'he' almost always means Cromwell] says, this silence of More's, it was never really silence, was it?  It was loud with his treason;  it was quibbling as far as quibbles would serve him, it was demurs and cavils, suave ambiguities.  It was fear of plain words, or the assertion that  plain words pervert themselves;  More's dictionary, against our dictionary.  You can have a silence full of words.  A lute retains, in its bowl, the notes it has played.  The viol, in its strings, holds a concord.  A shriveled petal can hold its scent, a prayer can rattle with curses; an empty house, when the owners have gone out, can still be loud with ghosts.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Newspaper Still Relevant - Sunday Tidbits from ADN on Young, Palin, etc.

Rep. Don Young


 The ADN coverage of Don Young over the years has highlighted pictures of his hunting trophies - as they did again today - and his malopropisms.

I think lots of readers, particularly those on the left - myself included - underestimated him based on these stereotypes.  His skills were less tangible and harder to document.  But someone doesn't get reelected over and over again if he doesn't have something working right. OK, living in Republican state didn't hurt, but there was more to it.  I 'got it' in the 2008 election when I attended a debate between Harvard grad Ethan Berkowitz and Don Young.  Young creamed him.  This was not the Young I'd conjured up based on reading about him in the newspapers.

Today's story by Erika Bolstad is the most subtle and balanced one I can remember reading.  It's worth a look.  This isn't an endorsement of Young, but we need to know as much about politicians as possible to understand them as complete people, not two-dimensional cutouts.  The Abramoff connections and the Florida highway are still questions that the Justice Department's handling doesn't resolve in my mind.  Here are some highlights:

Knife, but no computer
The 77-year-old congressman who brags of never using a computer but always carrying a knife?
Here, editing the online version to get rid of the misplaced question-mark would have been ok, but it's online as well as in print. 

His wife convinced him to run for reelection before she died.
In August 2009, Young lost his wife of 46 years, Lu, his constant companion. If she hadn't persuaded him to file for re-election before her death, he might not have run last fall, Young said in an interview recently.
He was asked if he'd learned who his friends were during the investigation hard times.  He chose to focus on those who weren't his friends.
"Let's put it this way. I learned who was not my friend," he said. "It's like a movie star who has three flops in a row. Nobody goes to their movies, nobody knows who they are anymore."
"I'm very happy with those that did stay with me," he added. "Those that didn't? You recognize that. And just have a little short pile in the back of your head and just remember that."
"I don't need a lot of friends," he added. "I never have." 
And while Young may be different, he's solid and not ideological.
"Despite the gruff exterior and the un-Washington ways, sometimes his intuitions and insights into things are extraordinary," said Kish, who acknowledges he's also "nearly come to blows arguing" with Young.
"But it's born out of respect," he said. "Washington is full of that crap, and Don's different. It's a different cut of cloth. He continues to have that bright-faced optimism."
Young is skilled at building coalitions other Republicans won't touch, Ferguson said, including with organized labor. And he knows how to trade.
"There's something about Don Young that enables him to make friends on both sides of the aisle, to further his chairman in sort of a sly way and be such a cooperative sort of fellow that they work close," Ferguson said. "He's like a trapper. Trappers learn how to trade. You've got a certain number of pelts, they've got what you want, you've got to put a value on it, then you've got to strike a trade. He's always been like that."
Then, Young launches into a story about the work he did with former Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., to pass the landmark fisheries bill known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The 1976 bill created 200-mile exclusive economic zones off the country's coast and led to Alaska's multi-billion dollar fishing industry
Young said he has always worked well with Democrats. He points out that some of his signature achievements -- including the Alaska pipeline -- happened while Democrats controlled the House.
Those House members closest to him include former Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who lost re-election last fall after 36 years. Loner or not, Young takes "a very personal approach," Oberstar said.
We're Paying For Young's Life Saving Health Care
if I hadn't had the job, I would have been dead in a heartbeat," he said. "Now I've got more to focus on, so it keeps me going, and I thank her for that."
Trudeau Skewers Palin with Her Own Words
And while I feel there are enough people writing about Palin that I don't have to do that, now and then I feel compelled.  Last time I couldn't resist pointing out while she and her supporters claimed Rep. 's shooter was totally responsible and none of the blame could be traced back to her actions and words, that she had said Ansange was a terrorist who had 'blood on his hands' for publishing government documents.  In his Doonesbury today, Garry Trudeau takes a quote from Palin's book and skewers her with it. (I checked - various people covered this quote when the book came out in November.  While it's not new, it probably has more relevance after Bristol's stint on DWTS.)  Here are a couple of panels.

Double click to enlarge if you can't read it or go to link and see whole strip

Can a woman in custody consent to sex with the officer?
There's more of interest.  Julia O'Malley's piece on how former Anchorage police officer Anthony Rollins' attorney, Susan Carney, is using outdated stereotypes to make the jury think that his rape victims (while in custody) all consented.  She concludes with:
He knew he didn't need to use violence. He had an invisible weapon. It was in his position as a police officer. It was in his uniform, a symbol of trust. His word was more powerful than hers. He could take her to jail if he wanted to. He weighed almost twice as much as she did, and he was twice her age. She was shocked, emotional and scared. She was still in handcuffs. He had a gun on his hip.
Maybe she didn't exactly say no. But that doesn't mean she said anything close to yes.

WHAT??!!


I'll end with this bizarre disclaimer from a syndicated gossip piece on Charlie Sheen (the online version is a little different from the print version - one of the dangers of online news:  it can change over time, whereas hardcopy can't be doctored after the fact.)
The person familiar with the call, who was not authorized to publicly discuss details, spoke Friday on condition of anonymity.
Talking about qualifying your facts . . . This was a story about Charlie Sheen going back into rehab.  Did this source get paid or did the leaker violate Sheen's privacy and organizational procedures voluntarily?  Look, it's reasonable for organizations to have some rules and structure for releases of information to the public.  If the information were not released through regular channels (if that is required) in a timely way and there were some critical issue interest that's a different story.  There's a difference between someone blowing the whistle because the organization is hiding damaging information the public really should know and handing tips to gossip columnists.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

"It's just frustration, I really, I don't know what to do with him. I really, truly don't, and that's why I wrote to you, that's why I'm willing to sit up here and have an audience look at me and judge me because I need help for this child. I need help for me, but I know I need help for this child."

[UPDATE AUG 18, 2011:  The ADN reports Beagley's trial has begun in Anchorage.]

[UPDATE Aug. 24, 2011 - Beagley was convicted yesterday of child abuse.]

The Anchorage Daily News quotes Jessica Beagley, the wife of an Anchorage Police Officer, who was on the Dr. Phil television show with videotape of her trying to discipline her adopted Russian son by putting hot sauce in his mouth and putting him into a cold shower. 

There are so many different issues to discuss about this story.
  • Did this woman really go to Dr. Phil for help or was there some other motivation?
  • Why didn't she find help closer to home?
  • Should we be condemning her?  Her upbringing?  Our community for not having appropriate support?  Her education for not knowing how to find the support? 
  • Is condemnation the right response or should we be asking what we can do to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen again in our community?
  • Is there a mental health issue here or is it just bad parenting models and ignorance?
  • Do we really want police officers 'protecting' us who can't protect their own children, or who believe this is an appropriate way to raise a kid?

My previous post talks about a program tonight at Out North featuring films made by teen parents.  These too are people who can use help with their parenting skills.  It's free at 7pm tonight (Saturday.)  For people like this woman who are desperate for parenting skills, this might be a good start.  Kids are welcome.

There are other options available in Anchorage.  It took me a few seconds to find these (see below) online.  Maybe these programs need to find more ways to reach out to people who need them.  Maybe they need more staff to do this.  Maybe there's a PR company that is willing to do some marketing for them so that people like Jessica Beagley wouldn't have to go to extremes to get on Dr. Phil.  Or maybe she went to extremes because she thought that would get her on Dr. Phil.

And I hope our mayor - Dan Sullivan - is asking himself why one of his police officers doesn't know where to get parenting help in Anchorage.  Surely, the people police deal with often need help with parenting.  Need to be sent to parenting classes.  Ask the mayor about this next time you see him.  Or send him an email .  (I'd also note that the Municipality of Anchorage has a Family Assistance program for employees to use to get help for personal problems like this.  Why didn't this policeman's wife use that? Or has this program been cut from the benefits?)

So many questions.  In the meantime, here are some resources in Anchorage.  If you don't need help from these organizations, these organizations need help from you.  Call them up and ask how you can help. 


The Anchorage School District has a page of resources for parents.  Here are three specifically for helping parents with parenting. 

Alaska Center for Resource Families
http://acrf.org/
The State of Alaska Office of Children's Services (OCS) has contracted with Northwest Resource Associates to establish the Alaska Center for Resource Families which houses the Alaska Foster Parent Training and the Alaska Adoption Support Centers.

Positive Parenting Classes
http://courts.alaska.gov/parentingclasses.htm
Child Care Connection is dedicated to supporting and empowering parents throughout this process. They offer weekly parenting support classes that educate parents about child development and enable parents to network with other parents.

Stone Soup Group
www.stonesoupgroup.org
Stone Soup Group is a statewide organization that exists to sustain the health and well being of Alaskan children with special needs and their families. They are responsible for the implementation of the Parent Training and Information Center (PTI).


The Alaska Court System has a list of organizations that help with parenting. (I'm just putting up a small sampling of what they have.)

Toll-Free Number Sponsored by the Alaska Children's Trust
Parent Line: 1-800-643-KIDS (5437) Get answers to all of your parenting questions from trained parent educators 9 am to 9 pm, 7 days a week.
Parenting Tips from the Alaska Children's Trust
  • Listen, talk and play with your child.
  • Be warm, loving and responsive.
  • Be a role model for respectful behavior and values you believe in.
  • Listen to your child without judging what you hear.
  • Establish rituals and routines.
  • Encourage your child to keep trying when he or she fails.
  • Set goals and celebrate accomplishments.
  • Set boundaries that are appropriate for your child.
  • Never leave your child alone or unattended.
  • Get to know the people in your child's life; coaches, relatives, friends, babysitters, ministers.
  • Monitor your child's internet use.
  • Choose quality day care and stay involved.
  • Be selective in your child's television watching.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Enjoy your child and have fun together!
In Anchorage:

Akeela
Classes: Strengthening Families
Focus: Parents with children ages 6 through 11 years.
Class Description: The Strengthening Families program is designed to:
1. Decrease alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, and discourage intentions to use.
2. Decrease emotional, behavioral and social problems in school.
3. Improve communication and academic skills.
4. Improve parenting skills and the family environment.
5. Increase children's ability to cope.
6. Provide information to parents about alternative ways to increase positive interactions with their children.
Program begins with family dinner, then 1 hour of separate sessions for kids & adults and 1 hour together for fun and activities. Child care is provided for younger children.
Class Schedule: A 14 week program for the entire family offered throughout the year.
Cost: $135.00 for the entire family for 14 weeks. Scholarships are available for families who cannot afford to attend.
Contact: 907-565-1200
Alaska Youth and Family Network (AYFN)
Classes: Parenting with Love and Logic
Focus: Parents of children and youth with significant behavioral, emotional, or substance abuse issues.
Class Description: Our classes meet weekly with 10-14 participants who review reading, videos and engage in lively discussions during the 7 modules presented.
Class Schedule: Classes meet on Thursday evenings from 7-9 pm.
Cost: Cost is $75 per person and includes a workbook and completion certificate for all students meeting the hour and assignment requirements.
Contact: Call Jacquie Erickson @ 907-764-4441 for registration information or visit www.ayfn.org to get current class listings and down-load registration forms.
Location: Call to verify location. 

Cook Inlet Tribal Council Classes: Parenting Classes for Mothers, Mothers Peer Support Group, Co-parenting Class (The Ma & Pa Program), Fathers Journeys Fatherhood Support Program.
Focus: Parenting Classes for Mothers (Native Culture only), Mothers Peer Support Group: mothers of all ages or those who are expecting their first child (Native culture only). Co-parenting Class (The Ma & Pa Program): The MArriage & PArenting class focuses on Strengthening the Couple Relationship through an Exploration of Parenting Attitudes and Skills (Native culture only). Fathers Journeys Fatherhood Support Program: this program will promote responsible parenting that is aimed at improving the quality of father /child interaction.
Class Description: Parenting Classes for Mothers: Understanding your role as a parent, develop trust within family, communication, building self esteem with in the family, understanding parenting and power, accepting and growth through natural transitions in the life cycle, and accepting and growing through unexpected transitions in the life. Mothers Peer Support Group: This is an opportunity for mothers to share with peers their joys, concerns and highlights as a mother. Co-parenting Class (The Ma & Pa Program): The MArriage & PArenting is a group experience in which couples can strengthen their relationship through a shared exploration of parenting attitudes, skills and practices. It is structured to provide mothers and fathers with experiences that allow the self new cognitive (thinking) and affective (feeling) responses, thus providing the opportunity to change parenting attitudes and behaviors. Fathers Journeys Fatherhood Support Program: This program is to equip fathers who are facing economic challenges or involvement in the child protection system with social, parenting, financial, and life skills that will enhance their effectiveness as parents and will improve the well-being for their families.
Class Schedule: Parenting Class for Mothers: 10 week program. Mothers Peer Support Group: every Monday from 1:30 2:30 PM. Co-Parenting Class (The Ma & PA Program): 10 week classes are continuous throughout the year. Fathers Journeys Fatherhood Support Program: 13 week education group.
Cost: Call Cook Inlet Tribal Council for details and registration.
Contact: Parenting Class for Mothers, Mothers Peer Support Group, Co-Parenting Class (The Ma & PA Program) Louise Shavings at 907-793-3155. Fathers Journeys Fatherhood Support Program Frank Buck at 907-793-3165.

 Given all these local resources available.  It's hard for me to believe that the wife of a police officer had to go to Dr. Phil for help.  Is this what people are willing to do to their children in order to get on reality shows?

There's more to this story and it appears we might learn more, since the ADN also says that:
The city prosecutor's office filed a misdemeanor count of child abuse this month based on the videos and police interviews with the family, according to court documents.
The case has gained international attention because nearly all adoptions from the Russian Federation to the United States have been on hold for more than a year as diplomats on both sides work to get Russia better oversight of the adopted kids, who maintain Russian citizenship. News reports of abuse inflicted on adopted Russian children have angered many in Russia, according to Russia's Commissioner of Children's Rights.

See Teen Parents' Films Of Their Own Stories

We can all be properly judgmental about teenage mothers and blame the young mothers and fathers for having sex, or for having sex without using condoms. Or we can blame those who make schools skittish about serious sex education.

Or we can withhold our judgments and go to Out North Saturday (tonight) and see movies made by teen moms and hear their stories.

Pro Creativity Film Premier
Teen parents showcase their stories

As part of Out North's education program dozen local teen parents worked with film professionals to learn story craft and film production to make short autobiographical films.

Come see their films, meet the filmmakers, celebrate their success, and learn about the Pro Creativity project.

Refreshments provided.


7pm Saturday January 29, 2011Admission is FREE, families welcome

This event encourages and supports Out North's Education Program

But I'm sure a lot more parents will spend $10 each on their kids to see a movie that models irresponsible teenage sexuality and another $15 for popcorn and drinks instead.  And why do I think these are the same people who complain about government, demand individual responsibility for others, and love Sarah Palin for her stands on abstinence education and see no inconsistency with that stand and her grandson's unwed mother?  OK, now I'm being judgmental.  But I do think bad parenting is one of the biggest problems we face today, and girls becoming mothers, particularly without the fathers, is just not the best way to go.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Flooding in Jeddah

While we've been hearing about floods in Australia and snow in the US East, the only place I heard about the floods in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia was in a skype conversation with a friend there. He said could talk to me in Alaska via Skype, but not people in across the street, because the flood had cut off a lot of electricity - not his - and phone lines.  So I looked to see what else there was on the flooding.  Not much.  I guess all eyes are on Cairo now. This video let's you see the deep sandy water flowing through town. [The original Youtube video I included is now listed as NOT AVAILABLE. Not sure why. I did include people struggling to get across the water. Here's another video from Mr. Sirunit at YouTube.]



Alriyadh is an Arabic language site with lots more pictures and videos.

And from the Emirates Meteorology Portal:

Heavy rainfall with thunderstorms inundated Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, with an incredible rainfall of 111mm [4.37 inches]. This compares nicely with an annual average of around 50mm. Tons of traffic problems with trapped cars and people.  The city’s infrastructure and geography might be blamed, but 111mm of rain is quite high.

4 people have been confirmed dead.

Click here for a video of the rain in Jeddah on Jan 26, 2011.
And I suspect most of us really don't have a good sense of where Jeddah is in Saudi Arabia, or even where Saudi Arabia is in relation to other Middle East nations, so here's a map.  Jeddah is to the right of the words RED SEA.

Where You Stand Depends On Where You Sit

I thought of that old maxim as the media discussed the novel idea of Democrats and Republicans sitting together when President Obama gave his State of the Union Speech.

The world looks different depending on where you're viewing it from.  If you are on Flattop looking down at Anchorage you see a city much different from what you see on 4th Avenue and D.  If you're in Anchorage you see a different world than if you're in DC.

So if all the Democrats only sit with fellow Democrats and the Republicans do the same, the party members will see and think about all the legislation differently.  Irving Janis described a serious policy disability called Groupthink which he defined as:
A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.
Screen Capture from Facebook Live Coverage
But if they mix parties in the seating and they get to chit chat about their kids, the problems of fund raising, the weather, and all the other non-ideological parts of their lives, they'll recognize each other as fellow human beings, fellow Americans, who, if they disagree on how to do it, all want to make the US a better place.  (I think that's the case with most of them, though there are some who think they can do that while lining their pockets.)

Watching House Speaker Boehner at the State of the Union sitting behind the President and next to the Vice President, looking like a kid forced to behave in church for hours, I couldn't help thinking what a waste this all is.

Here he is sitting near the President of the United States, a man who is eloquent, bright, and clearly committed to making the US a better place.  I'm guessing that future history books will treat him well.  Boehner has this incredible opportunity to be working with this man, being a partner in moving the US to a better future.  And for various reasons, he sees him as 'the enemy' and spends all his time fighting him.

You see that kind of nonsense in organizations all the time.  People preferring to bicker and pick fights rather than find common ground and work together.  And, if the history books do remember him at all, Boehner will be known as that thorn in the side of that great president who did all he did despite small minded people constantly nipping at his heels.  [Hey, I know conservative readers will be rolling their eyes at this.  It's opinion.  It's prediction.  Let's wait 20 or 30 years (It should be longer, but I'm not sure I'll be around even that long.)]

So, I'm making this offer to Rep. Boehner.  I could tell how hard it was for you to look halfway respectful there sitting behind the president.  So I'm volunteering to sit in for you next year.  You can chill out with your friends somewhere.  Deal?

Meanwhile, Back In Juneau

This made me think about how different this is with the legislature in the State of Alaska.  Juneau is so small that you can't help running into the other legislators wherever you go.  They have to talk to each other.

The Alaska Senate is split even - 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats.  Instead of  having a standoff, they've formed a Senate Coalition Majority that has all the Senators except for four Republicans who couldn't work within a coalition majority.  

In the House, there is a pretty big Republican majority - 24 Republicans and 16 Democrats.  But they haven't let party affiliation rule how they set up the House Majority and Minorities.  They have four Democrats joining 22 Republicans in the Majority, a 12 member Democratic Minority, and a two member Republican Minority (don't ask, it's like high school.) 

I'm told their seating is chosen by the legislators themselves. Those with the most seniority getting the first choice.  Here's a chart I got from the Legislature's website and then colored it in to show how they are mixed on the floor.  (For those with problems distinguishing colors, sorry.)







BTW, while writing this, I found the House Republican Majority website.  It lists all three groups, but in the House Democratic Minority page, it leaves out Bob Miller, the new Democratic representative from Fairbanks who beat incumbent Mike Kelly.  It has to be an oversight.  But let's see how long it takes them to fix it.



UPDATE January 29:  I checked today and someone fixed it:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gaming and Data Mining - Peter Sheahan At UAA Econ Club

I was at UAA yesterday when I saw this poster.  4pm wasn't far off and I had things to do there until that time.  Note, I'm pretty skeptical about management gurus in general - mostly it's pretty superficial stuff well packaged and presented, but with little new content.  Especially when they get into leadership - a concept I have serious reservations about.  But I was there, I might as well go hear what he has to say. 


I sat down and out walked this young man with a thick Australian accent.  He'd quit his first job out of high school when he was told to do a completely meaningless job (number the 350 pages of computer printout, which was already numbered by the computer, but not in the format they wanted).

Much to my delight, I found him very engaging and the things he said matched my views on how the world works and doesn't. 



He did a brief intro about himself - getting into the hospitality industry where he said it was easy to move up quickly, selling his ideas about teaching high school students how to transition into the work world, and most importantly, writing a book called Generation Y that got him lots of attention and invitations.

I was adding up the dates and ages he mentioned and figured he was about 30.

What I liked:
  • He's an independent thinker, meaning he believes in what makes sense to him and doesn't put up with bullshit.  Now, that works if you're smart and have a good connection to the world, which I think he is and has.  But Alaskans have seen a recent US Senate candidate who also believed in himself but was totally disconnected from reality.
  • He's an fluid speaker - words come out quickly and fluently and with passion.
  • He thinks about doing good things - helping students, putting communication technology to work to make the world a better place.  I'm not sure how much of that he actually does, but at least he talks about it.
  • He's open.  He said risk-taking was really important to his success and more people had to have confidence in what they know.  I asked what in his life made him a risk taker, and he told us about growing up with six sisters and a father who believed in democracy.  But with six sisters voting against him, he never got to choose what was on tv or where they would go on their occasional outings.  How he convinced his father to send him to an agricultural boarding school where he lived in close proximity with his good friends AND his worst enemies and how this taught him not to be deterred by criticism.  It sounded genuine.  I believed him.  


Like Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker - as portrayed in The Social Network - he has an innate understanding of the possibilities of the new technologies.  While those two used that understanding to create technologies - Facebook and Napster - that changed the reality of social relationships and business, I'm not sure that is true of Sheahan.  His gift - aided greatly he suggested by persistence - is the ability to communicate those possibilities to others.  And surely to transform his gift into a good living.

But management gurus come and go.  Giving advice, especially when you have interesting ideas and can talk circles around others, is relatively easy if you have access and their belief in your ability.  But it only 'works' if your audience can understand and then practice your insights.  Other management gurus tend to have academic jobs or corporate positions to fall back on when their guru voodoo is replaced by the next new big thing.

I have no doubt Sheahan is gifted, and I have no illusions about the need for academic degrees to make it in the world. Technical ability and insight - especially in a world that is rapidly changing - can be mastered by the very young.  But a good education and life experience help one with the less tangible issues - just because you CAN do, is it a good idea to do it?  What are the ethical implications?  How do you balance 150 consulting gigs a year with a family life?

You don't need to go back to school to get these things.  Peter said he hopes to eventually go back to university.  It won't be easy.  Most degree granting universities aren't geared to someone coming back with his experience and skills and impatience.  He'll need a very special learning environment with fellow students as smart and experienced as he is and a faculty willing and able to handle someone who has been giving advice to the heads of large companies.

But I suspect there is enough of a market and students like Peter are so attractive to really good professors, that some top universities or think tanks will develop programs for getting an education in those topics - politics, philosophy, art, literature - that  study the inner aspects of the human condition which haven't changed along with the technological environment.   And why Confucius, Buddha, Aristotle, and Shakespeare are all still relevant today. 

Here's a bit of video to get a sense of why he is in demand.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Five Uses of Sphagnum Moss at the Alaska Orchid Society

I talked to a colleague I've know a long time yesterday and it turned out she was giving a talk at the Alaska Orchid Society  on sphagnum moss.  So we went last night.  Members had brought their blooming orchids to share. 

Like this spectacular lady's slipper.  From All Sands:

The Lady's Slipper is one of the few flowers which has been named for the shape of its blossom. Cypripedium, the scientific name for this flower, actually means venus slipper in Greek. The common name changes it to Lady's Slipper and with an great deal of imagination one can see how this is applicable. This plant is a species of the orchid family. It requires an acidic soil which is why most are seen in the humus rich areas of oak or pine forest.
Much like the family it comes from, which has an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 members, Lady's Slipper can survive in places from the tropics to the arctic tundra, but the greatest number of these flowers that are not grown in greenhouses exist in the warmer climates.

I don't know what the other two are called, so you don't have to read a bunch about them.  



But then we got down to the serious business of sphagnum moss - a medium often used to grow orchids. 





It was clear pretty quickly that Marilyn's background as a biology professor was going to assure that this was no superficial lecture.  She's been to international conferences on sphagnum moss and tramped all around Alaska identifying them.  




OK, #1 I got.  But after that, shall we say my brain was stretched a bit. 

She did explain these terms and I understand them now a bit, but not enough to try to explain them here. 









Here's a close up of a dried sphagnum moss she had in her collection. 






And another:


So, the question in the title.  I know that's why you're still here.  From Marilyn's talk:

  1. Fuel - in the form of peat (not all peat is sphagnum moss we learned.)
  2. The smoke from sphagnum moss gave Scot's whiskey its flavor
  3. Gives (NH₄)₃SO₄ for fertilizer
  4. Used as soil conditioner, acidifier
  5. First disposable diaper
She gave us more but you get the point.  It's evenings like this that humble me as I realize again how much I don't know. 

Like, how many kinds of sphagnum moss are there?   150 - 300
And how many grow in Alaska?  38-40

And people like Marilyn can identify many of them.  I'm not even sure I could identify a sphagnum moss from another kind of moss, though she told us how.  But I'd have to go out and look and see if what I understood was as obvious with living moss as she made it out to be. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Changes as We Go From Diaries to Blogs?

I've kept journals fairly regularly since I was about 11.  Often the posts are disappointingly general, sometimes there is great detail.  I was able to pinpoint when I saw Harold and Maude in a recent post, by looking up the lists of movies and books I tracked in the back of the journals.  But I've noticed that the blog has pretty much taken over my journaling.  I have don't really have a current journal, though I have a couple of notebooks that I do write things in now and then in chronological order. 

So this cartoon caught my attention today. 

What's different from writing in a diary and writing online - whether tweets, Facebook, or a blog? 

Here are some of my thoughts (focused on blogs since that's my medium of choice):


  • Content
    • What I write about.  For some people writing online hasn't stopped them from revealing highly personal details of their life.  My blog means I'm doing less writing about my personal life or my family.
    • It's easy to include cut-and-pasted content from elsewhere.
    • I explain more about things that I know and understand, but that my readers might not.
    • I can include links to sources or additional information.
    • A blog allows me to go multi-media - words, pictures, audio, video.  (I'm waiting for smell!)
    • I include more details and learn about things because I can start googling and fill in information I didn't use to be able to get when I wrote with a pen on paper.  
  • Frequency
    • The journal was a spotty activity.  Sometimes I wrote every day.  Sometimes once a week.  There are gaps of a month or more at times.  The blog gets updated at least daily with just a few exceptions and with much longer entries.
  • Audience
    • The journal was for me.  Once in while I might read something to someone, or copy something into a letter.  Sometimes old journal entries are used to to document when something happened - and this might be shared.  Occasionally I've shared some of my journal here on the blog.
      The blog is available to to anyone with uncensored internet access, with an assist from google and a few other sites that link here. (One can set up restrictions to access to the blog.)
  • Medium 
    • This seems obvious but the implications aren't.  Pen and a blank notebook of various sorts over the years for the journal.  The blog uses a laptop - a keyboard.  That means a lot of things, some already mentioned:  I can write more because I can type much faster, and I can add photos (I sometimes drew pictures in my journals), audio, and video, and I can write drafts that can sit around before I actually post them.  I can make after the fact changes. My policy is to clean up typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors that don't change the content without having to say, but things that change the content need to be marked so readers know.  But not everyone else does - and that worries me about archives and the ability to change online documentation of history.  Perhaps there will be a new profession of people checking Google archived material to current material.  Will Google be able to automatically detect surreptitious changes?
  • Permanence
    • I touched on this under Medium right above.  
      • Changing content after the fact - We can go back and change the entries/posts online without leaving a trace (except, perhaps in a Google cache).  Or we can document the changes.
      • Durability - A journal depends on the ink and paper quality and not being lost.  I'm responsible for protecting it.  But it can be picked up and read without using any special technology.  One needs to know English (and some German and Thai) to understand it. 
        A blog depends on 
        • The host staying in business
        • People continue to have technology that has access the internet as it is currently configured.  (How many can still watch their parents' 8mm movies?)
        • The servers and sites that host the links and embeds and photos and audio don't disappear.  (Jamglue, where I kept my audio files went out of business without notifying members about the fate of all the files.  So audio I created for the blog, can no longer be heard.)

          So it pays to back up one's blog. (That's a note to myself!)
  • Communication 
    • Just as one can open one's blog to the world, one can let the audience leave comments.  Blogging thus allows one to connect to other bloggers and non-bloggers around the world.  I've met a few people because of my blog, and some people I know - my mother, for example - know much more about what I'm doing and thinking about than they did before I blogged.  Depending on what one writes, this can be good or bad.  
I'm sure there are more differences, but this is what I can think of for now.  

Monday, January 24, 2011

"What's the Difference Between an Onion and an Accordion?"

Robert Mihalek at the Cincinnati Enquirer quotes button accordion master John Whelan's answer:
“People don’t cry when you chop up an accordion.”
Had anyone gone onstage last night to try to chop up John's accordion, people would have cried and probably done a lot more.  

I know that lots of people wince at the thought of an accordion, but when you have the best in the world at anything, it's worth checking out.  Whelan was at the end of a long day of music at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium at UAA.  We got there in time to hear the act before Whelan and then Whelan.

It's not easy to see, but try to watch those fingers on both hands flying at the same time. 





It all starts again next weekend at the Wendy Williamson (link to schedule),  but there are events happening all week all over town.  Check out the Anchorage Folk Festival website for more details.

Next weekend's headline group is Seattle's gypsy jazz group Hot Club Sandwich.

For those who complain about the economy and the cost of living, there's no excuse for not taking advantage of this great entertainment with no admission charge.  (But they are more than happy to take donations.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Kabala Shish Kebob - Anchorage Folk Festival Surprises


 This is one of those events that prove what many people believe isn't true.  People can work for love and altruism.  They can put on a big two weekend long festival without charging admission. People will voluntarily make enough donations to make sure that those things they do have to pay for - airfare for the special guest performers, etc.   And the music is great. 

We didn't get there until about 9 pm on Saturday as Galpals was playing. 






Then Delaney Scott sang - powerfully - with her father as backup. 
















This group was introduced as 'kids' from high school who had grown up with the festival.  When they sang they didn't sound like kids. 











Eric Rodgers was one of my favorites.  He started with a mandolin and then switched to the fiddle.  One of the fiddle songs (it's on the video) reminded me of some of the neat Burmese singing we heard.  (The Burmese (Karen) singing is the second song on the video here.)  By the way, there is only one Eric, I just played a bit with my photos. 








Wendy Withrow played with Ray Booker.














So what about Kabala Shish Kebob you're asking?  Or did you forget about that already?

This is Reverend Poor Child from Homer.  He's got a low voice and some very unique lyrics.  The song on the video began with shish kebob and then went on to mention problems with a bunch of different religions.  He gets to Kabala Shish Kebob at the end of the song - where his clip starts on the video below. 


The video gives a sense of the evening - but just a sense.  You need to be there.  I'll try to redo the opening picture of the video. I'm not sure what happened, but I'm putting it up for now and will fix it when I can. Sorry. But it doesn't spoil the music, just makes the opening a bit off. All the above groups except Galpals are on the video.


There's more music tonight (Sunday) and all week and next weekend. Check out the Anchorage Folk Festival website. The main events are in the Wendy Williamson auditorium at UAA. Free parking.











This is 2011, but they have some old posters up too.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Made In Dagenham" Puts Political "Jobs" Threats In Context

I've been thinking about a post about the current political reason for everything:  JOBS.

Yesterday when I saw the movie Made in Dagenham, I decided it was time to do the post. 

"Jobs" has replaced 'terror' as the ultimate political reason for or against anything.  Today politicians use the word "jobs"  to justify almost any proposal. But it's important to demand of politicians:
  • "Excuse me, but could you tell me the specific number of jobs in question?"
  • "Could you please outline the evidence that shows how many jobs will be gained (or lost)"?

Here are a few examples starting with probably the most bizarre -  US House Bill 2 that just passed the House:

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE. 
This Act may be cited as the ``Repealing the Job-Killing Health 
Care Law Act''. 


Obama mentions jobs every time he can:
"We will be increasing U.S. exports to China by more than $45 billion, and China's investments in America by several billion dollars. Most important, these deals will support some 235,000 American jobs," said Obama. [VOA]

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell made jobs the key reason the state should cut oil taxes:
Gov. Sean Parnell said Thursday that the issue of whether to cut oil taxes comes down to a simple question: How important are new jobs to legislators?
Parnell has proposed changing the way Alaska calculates its oil production tax as a way to boost industry investment, create jobs and get more oil flowing through the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline.

And a couple days later, Parnell used the word "jobs" 17 times in his State of the State address.  To put this in context, here are the frequencies of some other words (and close variants such as economy, economics, economically, etc.) in the speech:


Alaska 52
economy  23
jobs 17
resources14
develop 8
education 8
mining 7
growth 5
safety 5
domestic violence5
children 5
oil 4
harvest (timber, fish, salmon) 3
natural gas 2
timber 2
fish 1
military 1
Hollywood films 1
health 0
Note:  These are just some of the key 
words that seemed  to be used frequently.


Parnell has submitted legislation to change how we tax oil companies to stimulate the economy and increase the number of jobs.
"We can, quote, 'lose' $5 billion in state revenue with tax changes and create more jobs for Alaskans, and Alaska's savings account could still grow, depending upon the assumptions used," Parnell said. (The News Tribune)
From the fiscal notes to the Governor's bill (SB 49)
Using the Fall 2010 forecast assumptions, this provision is expected to result in revenue impacts as follows:
  • FY 2013: -$   382 million 
  • FY 2014: -$   961 million 
  • FY 2015: -$1,126 million  
  • FY 2016: -$1,341 million  
  • FY 2017: -$1,423 million

Note the minus signs before the dollar signs.  He's saying, "Let's cut their taxes (our revenue) by $5 billion in five years and see how many jobs they'll add to the economy."

"Excuse me Governor, could you tell me the specific number of jobs that will be gained?"

Because if it isn't 30,000 jobs a year, I'm not too interested.

Because that average of $1 billion a year could create 30,000 jobs at $33,000 a pop.  Why gamble on what the oil companies might do?  That would give jobs to each of the
"estimated 29,300 Alaskan workers [who] were without jobs but looking." (ADN)
The last time an oil company added significant jobs to Alaska was when the Exxon Valdez hit the reef.  

It's better we use the $5 billion.  We could even offer private companies an incentive to hire workers by paying 25% of their salary for the first year.  We'd still have lots of money left over for working on one of Parnell's pet projects - like preventing domestic violence.  There are lots of possibilities that would give us more certainty than just cutting the oil taxes and hoping the companies will follow through with investments and jobs in Alaska.  



Made in Dagenham

Now, all of this became a lot more compelling after watching Made in Dagenham yesterday.  In that movie, women machinists in a Ford factory in UK went on strike in 1968  to be get equal pay as men.  Ford sent an American executive to UK who said Ford couldn't afford to pay women the same as men and such an increase would cause Ford to have to pull out of England and cost England 40,000 jobs.  

The strike went on until they were invited to meet the employment secretary Barbara Castle.   She struck a deal with them for 92% of the men's wages and a future equal pay law, which passed two years later. (Who knows when the US Equal Pay Act was passed?) 

Now, this was a movie - based on real events - so one has to allow for dramatic license.  However, there was a clear threat by the Ford representative to pull jobs out of England if the women got their way.  The women got their way and proved that the Ford threat was a bluff. 

Today corporations continue to make those threats.  I say $5 billion in the hand is worth a lot of jobs in the Bush.  I'd like to see the oil companies tell us how many jobs we get for that $5 billion tax cut over five years.  If it's not a bluff, well, with the price of oil predicted to continue rising (I picked just one link here, but you can google and find others on your own), at some point as the price goes up, if there is retrievable oil in the ground, the oil companies will come back and we'll make more for each barrel then anyway. (I know there are issues of shutting down the pipeline etc. but that could happen as the flow is reduced anyway.)

And, as the governor said in his speech, we have $8 billion in reserves.  And we have $33 billion in the Alaska Permanent Fund.  We can take this risk.  Most of the other states are in the red.   If we started to tap 5% of the Permanent Fund for the state budget - that was the original intent of the fund - say in 2018, that would go a long way to paying our bills. Or we could reduce the tax sometime in the future if someone can demonstrate with more certainty than the Governor has offered it would stimulate the economy more than we'd lose in revenue. 

My feeling is that like the Ford threat to pull out of England, the job promise the Governor offers in exchange for the oil tax revenue is an empty promise that will simply benefit the oil companies and do Alaska token benefit at best.

Would you give away large amounts of your income on the vague promise of better times to come in the future, with no backup evidence, let alone a signed contract?  Of course not.  Neither should we. 


One last note.  Labor unions missed a great opportunity to educate their members and the public by not promoting Made in Dagenham.  It shows what united workers can do, but it also shows the tensions that arise when there's a strike.   And it shows the important contributions unions have made to equal rights, though the union itself doesn't come off unscathed either.  It's playing at the Totem for $3.

Student Tracking Indicates Limited Learning in College

That was the headline.    The story in the ADN said that in this study they tested college kids and found that they had only increased their knowledge by 7% in two years.

As a retired professor, I have lots of thoughts on this.  It's true, lots of students don't really know how to write or think critically.  Those aren't easy-to-teach skills and university systems are making it harder and harder for faculty to teach them.  But how did they test for that?   There's lots to write about, but let's just look at the test in this post.

From the AP story at Valleynewslive.com (which has more of this AP story than the ADN).
The research found an average-scoring student in fall 2005 scored seven percentage points higher in spring of 2007 on the assessment. In other words, those who entered college in the 50th percentile would rise to the equivalent of the 57th after their sophomore years.
Among the findings outlined in the book and report, which tracked students through four years of college:
-Overall, the picture doesn't brighten much over four years. After four years, 36 percent of students did not demonstrate significant improvement, compared to 45 percent after two.
-Students who studied alone, read and wrote more, attended more selective schools and majored in traditional arts and sciences majors posted greater learning gains.


My first questions was:  how do you test such a thing?  So I looked up the test.

It's written up in a new book called Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, but I don't have the book.  But the test they used is called the College Learning Assessment (CLA), and I found information on it.

From the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development:
Unlike standardized tests such as the GRE or GMAT, the CLA is not a multiple choice test. Instead, the multi-part test is a holistic assessment based on open-ended prompts. “Performance Task” section prompts students with an imagined “real world” scenario, and provides contextual documents that provide evidence and data. The students are asked to assess and synthesize the data and to construct an argument based on their analysis.
So one would find out not just how much trivia a student has memorized for the test, but whether they understand its relevance in context and can write about it.  Grading this sort of test isn't easy, but with a rubric and training for the graders you can get reasonably reliable scores.  The Performance Task is graded using four factors (see boxes below) and you can see the grading benchmarks for each here.


The Lumina Longitudinal Study: Summary of Procedures and Findings  by Dr. Stephen Klein ("the principal investigator of the Lumina-funded CLA Longitudinal Study (2005-2009)") describes the kinds of test questions:
The Analytic Writing Task consists of two sections. First, students are allotted 45 minutes for the Make-an-Argument task in which they present their perspective on an issue like “Government funding would be better spent on preventing crime than dealing with criminals after the fact.” Next, the Critique-an-Argument task gives students 30 minutes to identify and describe logical flaws in an argument.
Here is one example:
Butter has now been replaced by margarine in Happy Pancake House restaurants throughout the southwestern United States. Only about 2 percent of customers have complained, indicating that 98 people out of 100 are happy with the change. Furthermore, many servers have reported that a number of customers who still ask for butter do not complain when they are given margarine instead. Clearly, either these customers cannot distinguish margarine from butter, or they use the term “butter” to refer to either butter or margarine. Thus, to avoid the expense of purchasing butter, the Happy Pancake House should extend this cost-saving change to its restaurants in the southeast and northeast as well.
How many logical flaws did you find in the argument?  Even if you can't name them, can you describe them?

Wait!  Don't just move on.  Stop and try to find at least one or two flaws in that passage.  After all, critical thinking ability is what this is all about.  If you're having trouble, at least go look at this list of logical fallacies.




I'm of two minds here.  First I think we should be teaching people how to think critically.  After all, this blog is called "What Do I Know?" and the underlying theme - even if it isn't always obvious - is how do people know what they know?  So I'm all for students learning more about rationality, non-rational ways of knowing, logic, etc. 

But not scoring higher on this particular assessment only means that the students didn't increase their ability in the skills this test was testing.  Perhaps the students greatly increased their knowledge of human anatomy or accounting or their ability to read French.  And it would seem the test wouldn't catch that. 

A test like this is only fair if the colleges' goal is teaching the skills this test assesses.

But apparently there are other problems.   Dr. Klein's team had trouble keeping schools and students in the test pool from year to year.
A total of 9,167 Lumina freshmen completed the fall 2005 testing, but only 1,330 of them (14 percent) eventually completed all three phases of testing. Most of the attrition was due to schools rather than individual students dropping out of the study (although some schools may have dropped out because of difficulty recruiting students to participate). Only 26 (52 percent) of the initial 50 schools tested at least 25 students in both Phases 1 and 3; just 20 schools (40 percent) met the minimum sample size requirements in all three phases. These 20 schools tested 4,748 freshmen in the fall of 2005, 2,327 rising juniors in the spring of 2007, and 1,675 seniors in the spring of 2009.
On the average, a school that stayed in the study for all three phases lost about one-third of its students that participated as freshmen. Thus, although this is a substantial loss, it is far less than the overall attrition rate. We found that dropouts were more likely to be Black or Hispanic, non-native English speakers, and students with total SAT scores about 80 points lower than their classmates. However, even when taken together, these student-level characteristics explained only five percent of the variance in students’ decisions to drop out of the study (but perhaps not from the school). We looked for but did not find any school characteristics associated with dropping out of the study.
I'll have to let others with better statistical skills judge whether they were still within the parameters needed for legitimate sample size.  


What Does it Mean?

If the research is saying, "US college students are not learning basic thinking skills" they are probably right.  The next question is whether US colleges are teaching them.  (If they aren't trying to teach them and are teaching something else, then so what?)  My experience, and I'll try to do another post on this, is that there are serious institutional barriers to teaching thinking skills, even for those who want to.  As someone who taught graduate students in relatively small classes, I had the luxury of being able to assign (and comment on in detail) many writing assignments over a semester.  But this is for another post. 

But if the purpose of the test is to raise awareness that these skills  - often bandied about as important - aren't being taught, then that's something else.  And should people think this is important, well, they just happen to have a test to use to measure it. 

I have no reason to be suspicious here, but we should talk about the cost of the test, because  anyone who develops such a test,  has an incentive for people to use it.  From the Council for Aid to Education:
How much does it cost? The cost is $6,500 for a one-year cross-sectional design with an additional $25 charge for each student tested over the 100 each fall and spring. If you are interested in a more specialized design model, please contact CAE staff to discuss pricing.
One hundred schools would be $650,000 per year.  That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with them making money off of this.  After all that's the incentive built into capitalism.  And these tests will be costly to grade because you need real people doing it. But one gets into the murky area between objective assessment and promoting self interest.  I have no idea where the money goes (it's a non-profit and may well go into laudatory activities), but it's a question to keep in mind.  After all, some say that No Child Left Behind was a big money maker for the test makers who lobbied hard to set up the program. 



It's also not clear to me exactly what the relationship is between Dr. Klein and the book authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roska.  The Council for Aid to Education (CAE) website says  
Dr. Stephen Klein, the principal investigator of the Lumina-funded CLA Longitudinal Study (2005-2009)
But an NYU page says:
Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at New York University with joint appointments at FAS and NYU Steinhardt, and Josipa Roska, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, embarked on a multi-year, longitudinal study of more than 2300 undergraduate students at 24 universities across the country. Using a newly developed, state-of-the-art measurement tool, the College Learning Assessment (CLA), the research pair measured the extent to which students improved on these higher order skills. The CLA is a tool developed by the Council for Aid to Education, a national nonprofit based in New York.
Are these different studies?

Another CAE page says this.
The Council for Aid to Education (CAE) heralds the publication of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011). This study was made possible by CAE’s policy to make its Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) database of over 200,000 student results across hundreds of colleges available to scholars and scholarly organizations. We were pleased to assist the authors in this major Social Science Research Council sponsored project.

But if they were only using existing data, why would they say that "the research pair measured the extent. . ."?  I guess if you know they were just using existing data collected by someone else, and that they used the data to 'measure the extent . . "  but to me it sounds like they conducted the assessment itself.  I don't know which is right.

I don't think there is anything fishy here, just confusing. Maybe a webmaster put up the wrong stuff. 

The NYU Site site says:
Funding for their research was provided by the Ford, Lumina, Carnegie, and Teagle Foundations.
It used to be that studies from non-profits could be trusted.  But we've had a proliferation of "think tanks" set up to produce research that further a political or economic agenda, so we always need to look at where the money was coming from and going to.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Swans, Kings, and Networks - Three Movies

We saw Black Swan in LA and then The King's Speech and The Social Network when we got back. Two very good films and one ugly duckling. 

Black Swan

The people in front of us giggled during the serious parts. And I couldn't fault them. We should have listened to a friend who didn't like it. The ballet was uninspired and while all the ballet stories about controlling parents, rivalries for parts, sleeping with the director, etc. may be true, this film's attempt to put everything into one ballerina with special effects didn't work for me. It all fell into place when someone said they'd heard it was like a horror ballet flick. Of course. It was Friday the 13th in tutus. (Or maybe a ballet movie with a touch of horror movie.)  But horror movies don't do much for me.  I'm truly baffled at the people who think this is a great movie or that Natalie Portman was great in this part. We walked out feeling we'd been conned by the movie marketers. 

If you want to see a good ballet movie - with many of the same cliche subplots - get Mao's Last Dancer. A much better movie. Proof once more that marketing determines the success of a movie.


The King's Speech

On the other hand, people will still be admiring The King's Speech in 30 years. Who would have thought a movie about a speech therapist could be so gripping. It just proves that it's all about how you tell the story. Just a terrific movie.


The Social Network


And I think this one was even better. How did I conclude that? Because the film was so densely packed that I want to see it again. The movie, for me at least, was done well enough that I concluded they were all right. Zuckerman was just so far ahead of everyone - his vision, his understanding of the concept, of the technology, and mostly of the new reality - that even if he stole the basic idea, where he took it no one else could have taken it. And the only person in the movie who was at his level was Sean Parker, the creator of Napster, who got it immediately, and shared what he had learned with Zuckerman. The others weren't wrong either - they weren't treated right, but they were still in a previous century frame of mind.  And they got paid off in the settlement.