Archive for December, 2012


Why do we have these wacko gunmen all over the place?

December 14, 2012

The shootings in a Connecticut elementary school today prompted Limbaugh to mention that the left and the MSM will be jumping on the gun control issue again, as they do after every shooting. And they have, already, just a few hours after the shooting.

The difference is that our side is in collapse. We’re hanging our heads, figuring we’re going to get hammered with taxes, we’re going to have to put up with less medical care because of the new government medical bureaucracy coming into play, and because the leadership we have in Washington…well, it sucks.

But I was thinking of the bigger question – why do we have these wacko gunmen? Is it just opportunity – that we have always had mentally disturbed (probably right wing if you ask the liberals) people and now that they have such easy access to guns, they can do more damage than they used to.

I don’t think the numbers probably bear that out. Gun licensing is pretty heavy most places in the US. The only people I know who seem to have free, unfettered access to guns are the gangs. There doesn’t seem to be a waiting period for gun ownership if you are in a gang. I still think it’s not as easy to get a gun, or multiple guns, as it was in, say, 1970.

I think it’s because there is a tipping point in futility. I’m thinking about my own outlook since the election. I try to not let it bother me, but I fear for my children and grandchildren. We’re mortgaging their futures way too heavily. We have finally succeeded in creating a culture of entitlement. That will lead us on the road to European-style economic hell.This culture will continue voting themselves bread and circuses until there is none left.

But the long-term business outlook is just not good, folks. It just isn’t. “Slow recovery” is code for “no recovery” in the MSM. I don’t think it’s a single indicator – there are just too many things we hear on the news and see with our own eyes that make our outlook on the future of our families less rosy.

When a person feels he or she does not have control over his or her own life, it causes problems. Some people withdraw. Some drink. Some engage in “risky behaviors.” Some just suffer in silence…but none are happy. What we hear, more and more, is that the government owns us and controls our lives. The message is subtle and persistent. I’ve felt it, and I’ll be you have, too.

Some people feel a need to regain some kind of control, or have some kind of power. There are many ways for this to manifest itself. Many of those ways of seeking power are destructive to the person and those around him. For some, owning a gun is not about protection, or the bigger issue of the second amendment. It is a way to know that, at some level, I still have some control over my own life.

I think we might find that the shooters in these situations are at some level motivated by a feeling of powerlessness. They may not be out of work, or anything like that, but they still feel they are still spiraling out of control. I have no psychological training or experience, but I can see how a person of unstable makeup to begin with could snap under the strain of the negative outlook he feels.

I have no idea how this person in this situation felt or what motivated him to want to shoot children. By definition he is mentally damaged. Would he have been less dangerous if the gun laws were more strict? Or would he have turned to some other way to express his feelings of powerlessness?

Just a thought.


Mac Microsoft Word 2011 save problem – solved?

December 14, 2012

I’ve been working on a book about how to arrange music for marching band, and I’ve been plugging away at it for about a year. I’ve been writing it in Word, mainly, and embedding images as I’ve gone along. There are a lot of music notation examples in the book, so I have been creating them and placing them along the way.

I didn’t originally know if I would complete the book in Word or convert it to something else. Last summer I got Adobe Creative Cloud services for another project and so I have access to the newest version of InDesign. I was a PageMaker guy from way back, and I’ve used InDesign CS3 to do concert programs and the like, but never a large (100+ pages) document.

I decided to move the text to InDesign and I’m in the process of doing that. However, what prompted that decision was the trouble I’ve had with Mac Word 2011.

Lately it’s been switching the document to Read-Only and refusing to save. There have been dialogs popping up about the file being used by another process. I’ve done a little research and I found that others with the same problem have (a) been using large files, in excess of 20 MB; (b) they have been using images embedded in the file, and (c) they have Time Machine backup turned on. There were a lot of suggestions to fix permissions (the generic Mac OS X fix) and I did that, daily, for a while…it didn’t help.

Since I have the first 40+ pages transferred to InDesign I decided to delete the images in that part of the document. The file went from 22.5 MB to 19.9. I’ll see if that helps. I hate to turn off Time Machine if I can avoid it. Maybe it’s the images.

If so, that’s kind of stupid. I’ve worked with documents in Windows Word 2010 that were of similar file sizes, with lots of embedded images. I used to write a lot of computer training documentation and those docs were full of screenshots – and I did nothing to optimize those images one bit. There’s obviously some kind of bug in Word and how it works with Time Machine or some other background process. I’ll report back on this issue in a few days, and let you know if the situation has improved.


But I thought paying taxes was a good thing…

December 10, 2012

Apple taxes

Got this in my email today. But I thought we were supposed to LIKE paying taxes!

Remember, folks, a tax deduction is now defined as a loophole. We workers are not supposed to like loopholes, because they deprive the State of some of our property.

I think I’m now going to refer to the US Government all the time as The State, like Ayn Rand did. Confusion with actual state government? OK.



How to improve our standings in the world’s education rankings

December 7, 2012

I recently saw a reference to yet another article decrying the state of US public education. Here, in a nutshell, is what I think:

Like with the recent presidential election, be careful what you wish for.

Huh? I’ll explain.

See, we say we want one thing, but we reward another. I taught high school for 34 years, in rural, blue-collar and then in “high achieving” suburban environments. I saw a wide range of student achievement and parental and societal expectations. What bugged the living hell out of me wasn’t the belief that if the kid didn’t get into exactly the right college, he would be a failure at life, although that pissed me off a lot. It was that there was so much focus on the environment of the school and the social life offerings there.

It was as if the kids and parents were picking a place to go for their summer vacation, not to get an education. The appearance of the campus, the athletic teams, the other social programs for the students, all the stuff completely unrelated to the actual business of learning dominated their thinking.

But I shouldn’t have been surprised. We have been looking at education that way all the way through, K through 12 and beyond, for decades.

Schools can’t be demanding, unless it’s an Advanced Placement course. Then you can do darned near anything to a kid and the parents won’t complain, because it’s cool because it’s a college course. We had one at our school that was targeted at sophomores. Sophomores? Really? Since when are they able to handle college material? If they are, why stay in high school? Skip the crap and go get the degree.

But the degrees are watered down in a lot of fields, too, and grade inflation has made “academic rigor” practically meaningless. I laugh when I hear somebody from a regular college complain about the “for-profit colleges” that are out there. To me, they should all be for a profit and not receive any state tax money. You want a college education, you pay for it. You need loans, you get them yourself.

“But college is too expensive.” Sure it is…cut the nonsense out of it, just pare it down to the education, and you can probably reduce costs (and staff) by half. It’s completely gotten out of hand.

But that wasn’t the point of this piece. It’s why we can’t compete in the rankings with other countries.

Here’s how to fix it, if the rankings are the priority:

Shoot the horses that can’t jump. Start in, say, 6th grade, separating kids by examination into college bound and non-college bound programs. Non-college bound will prepare the “workers” our Socialist President thinks we need more of. (How Lenin of him to call us “workers.” Sheesh.) Another set of exams at 8th or 9th grade. Kids who test high in science and math don’t get to be dockworkers or taxi drivers, or investment bankers or hotel operators…they are funneled into engineering and pure sciences, or into medical profession preparation.

You see, in many countries those are the kids who are tested for the rankings – not the entire general population. Every time we include everyone in that kind of testing we shoot ourselves in the foot.

Make businesses run the colleges. For example, if you test well in 12th grade, you can go to the college run by GE, or by Apple, or by BP…their own R&D folks would teach, and you would learn what they want you to learn to actually be of use to them. Afterwards, you work for them for a number of years to pay back your education. No summer vacations starting in mid-May, no winter or spring break…you learn straight through, 8 hours a day. You could do the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in two years, tops, without “Gender studies” and garbage like that loaded in the curriculum. No football games, no fraternities.

This would also give those companies a stake in how the lower grades are handled…I can’t see how that could be worse than the way we in public education are led by the nose by the colleges today.

Sound silly? Japan has been doing this for more than 20 years, that I know of. I know because I was present for a panel discussion with Japanese educators where they laid the system out for us.

Trim the fun stuff out. No more athletic teams. No extracurricular activities. No fine arts. None of those are used in those rankings, so why bother? Do you think the Estonians who rank higher than our kids are all great violinists or soccer players? If they are, it is because their parents decided to have them do that after school on their own, not depend on the school to pay for it and teach it. There are some outstanding concert bands in Japan, for instance – but not school-sponsored, and they for sure don’t rehearse during the school day.

And yes, I know that since I am a former fine arts teacher I sound hypocritical. Remember, I am telling you how to raise our rankings, not to provide the proverbial “well-rounded education.” Obviously that has not been a priority or I would not have had a job for 34 years.

If you know of a country that matches the extent of arts and athletic and extracurricular activities we offer in most of our schools, let me know; I don’t know of one – including those who rank ahead of us.

While we’re at it, we can cut about half the social studies classes – have you looked at what kids are offered today? But American History and American Government, especially learning about that pesky Constitution, are not required. But we don’t cut the Home Ec and Industrial Tech – those are needed for the kids going into the service and technical industries. We need more auto shop, not less.

Full-time school. Sorry, fellow teachers, but the cushy part of the gig is the days off. We aren’t bankers and really it doesn’t make sense to barely see kids 180 days a year. Kids no longer work on the family farm, and that’s what determined the school schedule a hundred years ago that we still use today. Give ’em July off, even, but not Columbus Day, or Presidents’ Day, or whatever, and for God’s sake cut out all the shortened days for conferences and teacher work days and meetings. Just teach the kids. We have been reducing the actual number of hours kids learn for decades. It’s a crime, and I never saw that most of those days were worth the time spent. Most of us thought most of the stuff we did was a waste of time and effort. Often the activities were planned to make it look like the administration had us focused on something new and cutting-edge; then we went back into the classroom, closed the door, and taught like we always had because the old way still worked.

Make teachers accountable. Not in terms of social interaction, but in knowledge of subject matter. I don’t want my granddaughters to get an education from people who teach math but got no higher than a B in algebra – and that is far too possible today. One of the reasons for the turnover in education is because smart people get out to do something real with their lives instead of putting up with the administrative BS, the snotty kids and their arrogant parents. That leaves us with, sorry to say, not the top of the heap. I’m not saying we need PhDs in physics to teach our classes – often those folks have no clue how to teach. But we do need people who know how to teach and what they are teaching.

Look, to a great degree, the effectiveness of a school has to do largely with the raw material. I taught in a district that selected for intelligence just like a Catholic high school that required entrance testing, except ours was based on housing costs. You couldn’t live in the district if you couldn’t afford a house there, and really stupid people rarely could. Or really unmotivated people. Move kids from low-achieving areas to that school and sorry, you wouldn’t get the same results. We were good but not that good. We had smart kids to work with, motivated kids with motivated parents and a history of valuing a good education. So we got results and were ranked high in the state tests. But that’s a topic for another piece another day.

That should be enough to move us up, say, 10 places. But we won’t do it, because we can all complain about the rankings, but we still want our daughters to be cheerleaders, or in drama, or our sons to play football or (heaven forbid) join the Chess Club. And then, when they graduate, we want them to “enjoy their college experience.” When or if we ever get more serious about kids getting an education than about the football team’s record, we’ll see some changes.

Oh, and one more…

Make the schools ethnically and culturally homogenous. According to an article in the UK Guardian, the top 10 countries in reading are:

South Korea
New Zealand
The Netherlands

Math and Science rankings were similar. Show me how any of those countries are as ethnically and/or culturally diverse as the USA. The dirty little secret is that we are trying to be everything for everybody, and to do anything else is racist by the standards of the US. I’m not saying any ethnic or cultural group is less able than another, just that cultures dictate learning styles, as well as a host of other things that help or hinder receptivity to educational processes, and we can’t do everything at once for everybody. I think some of the inner-city charter schools are doing well because they understand this and focus on particular neighborhoods and populations. They have high standards but they don’t have to take their eyes off the educational ball. We are constantly being told we have to do this and that because of culture and diversity. Either we all learn the same way and buckle down or we don’t. If we can’t get to kids one way, we don’t have time to find six others. We really don’t. But other schools can.

When I retired, the smallest department by enrollment was “Educational Services,” or what used to be called “Special Education.” It also had the largest number of faculty. Huh? But that, too, is another piece for another day.

This little piece ought to piss some folks off. But I’m telling you, if the goal is to be better at math than the kids in Finland, we have to become them. We can’t do it the way we have our schools structured now.

Well, what do you think?


Appropriate comment for many occasions

December 4, 2012

overabundance of schooling


The US Navy gets it right! Hooray!

December 4, 2012


The US Navy’s first nuclear aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, CVN-65, has been officially “inactivated.” That would be a sad thing, except…

The Navy also announced that the next aircraft carrier to be built will also be named Enterprise. The two currently under construction are the Gerald R. Ford, CVN-78 (the lead ship of the new class), and the John F. Kennedy, CVN-79. The new Enterprise will likely not enter service until 2025, but it will happen. Now if NASA would have done the same thing…