Saturday, March 31, 2007

Fun with presidential signing statements

The pen is mightier than the word

Here's the part I don't get: The president has left a long paper trail that attests to his contempt for legislative intent, yet he is pitching a fit over congressional measures that stipulate a timeline for the end of our occupation of Iraq. Why does he care?

Perhaps he's just seizing the opportunity for a bit of political theater, but the record is otherwise clear that President Bush disdains—and considers himself unfettered by—congressional directives. This was manifestly true when the Republicans ran Capitol Hill and we should expect it to be even more so under the new Democratic leadership. The president's chosen device for the expression of his contempt for the supposedly co-equal legislative branch of government is the signing statement, so I'm wondering why he acts as if he's being forced to give it up for Lent. Doesn't he believe he could just sign the supplemental funding measure for the debacle in Iraq and then ignore the withdrawal timeline? Doesn't he think he's king?

Presidents have long made a practice of issuing statements on the occasion of signing significant legislation. During the Bush administration, however, the presidential signing statement has morphed into the functional equivalent of after-the-fact amendments or codicils to the bills being signed into law. There are now many instances where Bush signs a legislative act into law while simultaneously issuing a signing statement that qualifies or even guts the impact of the measure.

A year ago, the Boston Globe published a list of significant presidential signing statements. Here are a couple of particularly notable examples of the supposed power of the president's imperial pen:
Dec. 30, 2005: US interrogators cannot torture prisoners or otherwise subject them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Bush's signing statement: The president, as commander in chief, can waive the torture ban if he decides that harsh interrogation techniques will assist in preventing terrorist attacks.
The bill in question was H.R. 2863. It included Sen. McCain's anti-torture language, which had already been significantly compromised on its way to legislative enactment. The “compromise” was promptly rendered a dead letter when Bush said, “The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch.” There's more, of course, but it all boils down to the assertion that Congress can say whatever it wants, but the president will do whatever he wants, up to and including the authorization of torture. His fig leaf? He simply declared that his power as commander-in-chief allows him to do what he pleases while ostensibly “protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.” Convenient!

In light of recent revelations concerning the FBI's abuse of the Patriot Act, here's a particularly timely example of how Bush denied Congress any oversight role in policing the implementation of the Patriot Act's domestic surveillance provisions:
March 9: Justice Department officials must give reports to Congress by certain dates on how the FBI is using the USA Patriot Act to search homes and secretly seize papers.

Bush's signing statement: The president can order Justice Department officials to withhold any information from Congress if he decides it could impair national security or executive branch operations.
Once again, the president decides. He's the decider. This time the legislation was H.R. 3199, the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005. Once again, we are talking about a measure that was enacted by a Republican Congress, but which the president found too restrictive. In his signing statement, Bush declared
The executive branch shall construe the provisions of H.R. 3199 that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch, such as sections 106A and 119, in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties.

The executive branch shall construe section 756(e)(2) of H.R. 3199, which calls for an executive branch official to submit to the Congress recommendations for legislative action, in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to recommend for the consideration of the Congress such measures as he judges necessary and expedient.
The Decider himself, of course, will determine what is “necessary” or “expedient,” and Congress should be embarrassed that it dared to attempt to supervise any aspect of the unitary executive branch (the president's authority is a seamless garment, like Nero's toga) or direct executive branch officials to report to it. Such legislative brashness, dramatically exacerbated under Democratic control, must make Bush pine for the return of lèse majesté as a grievous crime.

Given the president's undeniable record of flouting congressional intent, why does he care about the legislative deadline for withdrawal from Iraq? The House has already voted for a measure containing a deadline of August 2008 (much too late, in my opinion, but they didn't ask me) and the Senate has refused to remove the deadline in its own bill. Therefore it seems certain that a deadline of some sort will be in the compromise legislation that eventually emerges from the inevitable House-Senate conference committee for approval by the Democratic majority in both houses, after which it will be delivered to the president's desk. He has promised to veto it.

This rebellious behavior naturally piques him, since he was accustomed to uncommon deference from Congress and chafes at the efforts of Pelosi and Reid to rein him in, but he clearly does not acknowledge their power to do so. Thus we get back to my bottom line:

Bush wants the funding contained in the legislation. Why doesn't he just sign the bill and then disavow the deadline with one of his imperial signing statements? Such an action would be right in line with his behavior of the past six years. Why balk now?

Perhaps he's afraid. The Republican leaders of Congress never challenged the president on his signing statements, even though these statements often gutted the bills they sent to the White House. Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, however, are different from the GOP eunuchs who ran the last Congress. They are unlikely to ignore the president's unilateral attempt to amend their legislation after its congressional passage. Bush's brazen behavior may be reduced to public bluster combined with private cowering. He must doubt that he has packed the federal courts with enough toadies to do his bidding and strike down any legal challenges to his unconstitutional usurpation of legislative prerogatives. If only he had gotten that one additional Supreme Court appointment! But he didn't. And a Democratic Senate won't let him have another Scalia, Thomas, or Alito.

Is the imperial presidency finally tottering?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Beastly around the Bush

“It is the number of a man...”

Frankly, any day that George W. Bush is our president is a beastly day, but some days are still a little beastlier than others. As we know from Revelation 13:18,
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six.
Naturally, therefore, I felt a small frisson when earlier today the countdown clock in my blog's sidebar presented the message that only 666 days remain in the Bush administration.

Does that mean it's all downhill from here? Come to think of it, “downhill” is practically a one-word characterization of the entire Bush administration to date. Why should it change now?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Rip van Winkle comes to class

Where's the exam, man?

I knew he would be there. No, I'm not psychic, but I knew. No doubt at all. And there he was! Sitting in the back of the room. Boy, did he look disoriented! Was it because he hadn't seen the inside of the classroom in so long? Could that have been it? Certainly possible. It had been weeks since he had bothered to grace us with his presence. The classroom could well have been foreign and rather frightening to him. But, no, that was not the reason he was looking bewildered.

He was wondering where the exam was. The course syllabus clearly said that an exam was scheduled for today. He had missed Monday's class when I announced the postponement. He had missed Wednesday's class where everyone was reminded about the postponement. He had strolled in expecting to find me handing out an exam and instead I was leading the class through a discussion of the topics of the last two chapters and clarifying the technique of Lagrange multipliers. The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, that ever I enrolled in a calculus class out of sync with its syllabus!

I think he was miffed. Here he was, using an hour of his precious, precious time to sit through a class when we weren't even taking an exam. Drat! He slumped at his desk, clearly uncomfortable. (Well, we could blame the furniture for that. It's not that comfy.) He's one of the students I permitted to add the class after the first week of the semester. Why do I bother to let such students in? As I've noted before, they never do well.

The hour came to an end and students began to bustle out. I called my sporadic student by name and asked to speak with him a moment. Perhaps he was startled that I remembered his name, but he slouched forward and stood next to the lectern.

“Can you think of any reason why I should not drop you from the class? I haven't seen you in weeks. Why didn't you drop?”

Now he was really startled. He stammered out an answer:

“I wanted to come! I tried but I couldn't. Really. I've been studying and keeping up and everything!” (I wonder what he thinks “everything” entails in this context; certainly not attendance or handing in assignments.) “I've had emergencies that I've had to handle. Last night I was up late in San Francisco, but I studied all night to be ready for the exam.”

I offered some sweet reasonableness:

“I know that sometimes students have emergencies, but I expect them to inform me when it interferes with their classes. I haven't heard from you either by voice mail or e-mail all the time you've been gone.”

“Well, I couldn't really get in touch. I've been sick. It's affecting all my classes.”

“If you're not attending any of your classes, you should consider withdrawing and enrolling again when circumstances are more settled.”

“But these are classes I need!”

“If you actually need them, you should actually take them. I can drop you from this class for nonattendance and probably should, but I'll expect to see you on Monday for the exam and each class day thereafter. Understand?”

He hustled quickly away without giving me a direct answer. I do expect to see him on Monday. I don't expect him to do well on the exam, even though he inadvertently got to sit in on an extra review session. He won't be in class on Wednesday, at which point I will drop him.

This has been another episode of Bend Over Backward Theater. The continuing saga.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Charge of the Wrong Brigade

Theirs not to reason why

Consider, if you will, the following numbers: 108, 111, 126, 128, 134, 150, 161. Notice anything special about them?

Technically, they should all have percent symbols after them, as they are target scores from the most recently posted rankings in my elementary algebra class. These scores are accompanied by a bit of text explaining that each student's number is “the score you need to earn on all remaining exams (including the final) to get the indicated grade.” The “indicated grade” in this instance? A letter grade of C. The minimum passing grade that secures academic credit for the course and meets the prerequisite requirement for subsequent course work.

That's right: seven of my students must earn more than 100% of the points on all remaining semester exams—including the final—if they are to eke out C grades. Do I give that much extra credit? Don't make me laugh. (Or cry.) Extra credit is a scam by which meaningless grades are earned. I don't play that game.

It's not a large class. The seven doomed students signify that this semester I have one-third of my algebra students irredeemably on the road to failure. It is not mathematically possible for them to pass the class. Although we have weeks to go in the term, they have already dug heroically deep holes.

For example, the student who needs to score 108% on the remaining chapter tests and final exam has, to date, averaged only 55%, approximately half of what she needs to accomplish in the future. She is, by the way, the only one of my seven predestined failures who has stopped coming to class. While she hasn't officially dropped the course yet, she at least has stopped spinning her wheels and I hope she is using the time to good advantage in some other class. (It took me a while to be sure she had really stopped attending, since she is my notorious Tuesday-Thursday girl.)

The other six, however, still come pointlessly to class. Their attendance is spotty, which is part of the reason they got into their current situation, but all six were in class this week. The benighted fellow who serve as the class caboose is chronically late—when he shows up at all—but he dutifully racks up his 22% average on exams while actually needing 161%.


I would like to tell you that I wish I had made the situation clearer and that I wish my students had paid more attention to the student scores posted on the classroom wall.

But I can't tell you any of that because I don't wish any of the above things. You see, I did make the situation clear. I told one student after another his or her target scores. I did not skip the failing students. They know their target scores are beyond reach because I told them that their target scores are beyond reach.

They appear not to understand what it all means, and I presume that their deep-seated innumeracy is a major symptom of their academic ills. I fully expect the stubborn six to flame out catastrophically on the final exam and then bewail their flunking grades by telling me it's unfair. After all, some of them attended most of our class sessions.

I can attest that I saw them there in class. And I must say that they tend to keep their desks very nice and clean, clear of all clutter such as textbooks or notepads. It leaves more room for their cell phones, iPods, and morning coffee.

I regard it as one of teaching's cardinal sins to dismiss a student's chances of success and to give up on them. But my stubborn six remain oblivious and are obviously entirely beyond my reach. It would be unseemly of me to pound my head on the chalkboard.

Into the valley of F
Rode the six flunkers.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Those rascally Republicans

An exercise in shamelessness

The Republican National Committee is upset at those nasty Democrats in Washington, D.C. You know, the new kids in town who have taken over Congress. The wise and learned elders of the GOP are mortally offended by the Democrats' lack of respect for our Beloved Leader (also know as Captain Cuckoo-Bananas). I got this nice note from the RNC executive cabal, who tried to put it all in simple terms even I could understand:
Dear Zeno,

Some liberal Democrats in Congress want to usurp President Bush's powers as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

Democrat leaders John Murtha and Nancy Pelosi in the U.S. House are pushing a “slow-bleed” strategy to micro-manage the War on Terror by placing strict conditions on funding for troops in the field. In the meantime, Democrat Senators Joe Biden and Carl Levin wish to rewrite history by revoking the 2002 Resolution that authorized the war in Iraq, which is the central front in the War on Terror.
Hey, nice use of scare quotes around the words slow-bleed, as if you're quoting something other than a Republican talking point generated by your own fax machines! I tend to agree that Murtha and Pelosi ought not to micro-manage the Iraq war. While “micro” is way more management than the war effort has enjoyed to date under this administration, all-out management is what's called for. Let's roll it up like a threadbare Persian carpet and tuck it away! (Did you notice that the GOP message said “War on Terror”? That's a terrible misnomer for what's going on in Iraq. The actual War on Terror is being botched right here at home, by the same goofballs who screwed up Iraq.)

Then there's that precious bit about “strict conditions on funding for troops in the field”: it's now well known that the Bushies never put any conditions on funding at all, which is why we have billions of dollars unaccounted for. If only someone had invented bookkeeping before we had to go off to our war of choice. Oh, if only someone knew some Republican accountants (and I don't mean recently graduated frat boys from Ivy League business schools, either!).
Tell the Democrats that playing politics with our nation's security is wrong by supporting President Bush and our Republican leadership in Congress with an online contribution to the Republican National Committee today.
Ha! Democrats playing politics with national security? Republicans really do have brass balls, don't they? I guess they get jealous when anyone else tries to play the GOP's favorite game. At this point in the message there was a link to their contribution page. Please forgive me for omitting it.
Zeno, we are a nation at war. President Bush's responsibility is to protect the American people and fight terrorists who want to destroy our country and our way of life. He understands our troops must have the resources and flexibility they need to prevail against the enemies of freedom.
The president understands what our troops need. He just can't be bothered to do anything about it.
At this crucial moment in our country's history, the attempts by some Democrats to tie the President's hands and deny our troops the resources necessary to do their job is incredibly irresponsible and dangerous.
I wish I could laugh at that, but it's just too damned infuriating. The White House is busy lobbying against Jack Murtha's attempts to require adequate equipment, training, and recuperation time for our soldiers. His efforts are in response to years of callous Republican neglect, yet the GOP dares to smear Murtha's name while attacking Democrats for not supporting the troops. Filthy disgusting liars is what they are.
We cannot allow the Democrats' cynical plans to succeed.

Please show your support for President Bush's efforts to win the War on Terror and help us stop the Democrats' “slow bleed” initiatives by making a secure online contribution of $25, $50 or $100 to the RNC today.

[link omitted]

The Democrats in Congress will be pushing their measures to “slow bleed” our troops. Please let me hear from you today. Thank you.

Best wishes,

Robert M. (Mike) Duncan
Chairman, Republican National Committee
And there you have the dirty liar's name. It's Mike Duncan, the new Ken Mehlman of the GOP.

I'm eager to help spread the word, of course, like the good patriot that I am. However, I won't be sending Mike any dollars. Those are going to good and decent people instead.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

An explanation of science

By someone who doesn't know any!

Since I am within reach of KSFO's Bay Area radio signal, I sometimes sample snippets of the programming at HotTalk 650. Most of it is rancid, of course, but it's good to keep an eye on what the wacko right is up to. For fringe rhetoric and incendiary hate speech, KSFO is hard to beat.

Thus it was on Friday morning, March 16, 2007, I was treated to a discourse by Lee Rodgers on the nature of science. He was heaping abuse on one of his favorite topics: Al Gore and global warming. His equally nasty co-host, Melanie Morgan, was instantly ready to chime in.

What follows is my own transcript of the on-air commentary. A few interjections and false starts were omitted to improve the readability, but all of the words were spoken by Rodgers or Morgan:
Rodgers: Got an e-mail from Nevada, Chuck in Fernley, and he raises a point that Al Gore and the poor gullible dupes who follow him can't seem to get through their thick stupid heads. He says the term “scientific consensus” is an oxymoron—regarding global warming or for that matter anything else. In science something is either so or it is not so. Taking a vote doesn't change the reality of it.

It's like saying that there is consensus among mathematicians that two plus two equals four. Those who believe otherwise are not outside the consensus, they are simply wrong.

Morgan: Exactly!

Rodgers: How hard is this to figure out? This is the first thing I learned in, I don't know, seventh grade science or whatever it was.

Morgan: What scientists do is they try to take a premise and prove it to be false. I mean that's what their job is.

Rodgers: Sure! Questioning.

Morgan: Yes, so the fact that they would try to come to a consensus—that's not how the scientific community works.

Rodgers: No. No.

Morgan: And Al Gore is an idiot. He's a big fat idiot, I believe would be the correct term.

Rodgers:Well, we don't want to get personal about this, do we?

Morgan: Yes, we do. We enjoy that.
Thanks to Lee Rodgers and Melanie Morgan (and good old Chuck in Fernley), we now understand that science is about what's right. Rodgers, however, can't tell the difference between right and extreme right. Heck, he can't even tell the difference between right and wrong—and his description of science is just plain wrong.

Morgan gropes around for the germ of the idea of falsifiability, which is indeed one criterion for a scientific hypothesis: can you think of an experiment which would invalidate it? (That's why intelligent design is merely one more version of creationism and not, as noted in the Kitzmiller decision, any version of science.) She completely misunderstands, as does Rodgers, the role of consensus in establishing provisional scientific truth. All scientific truth is regarded as fundamentally provisional—as opposed to absolute—although different aspects of the scientific consensus vary dramatically in their likelihood of being overturned. (No one is talking about discarding the theory that the earth is roughly spherical.)

Consensus is one of the keystones of modern science and not the simple-minded true/false dichotomy espoused by dim thinkers like Rodgers and Morgan. They should mind their own business (right-wing radio ranting) and let the scientists take care of science.

And scientists, by the way, agree with Al Gore in a broad consensus about global warming and climate change. Sorry about that.

Update: Thanks to the kind assistance of Spocko, I was able to create a detailed transcript of last week's babbling by Rodgers and Morgan. This post was then revised to reflect a more complete version of what was said on the air. I'm pleased, however, that my original post turned out to be quite true to the sense of the comments I originally heard on my car radio (with a certain amount of disdainful gnashing of the teeth).

The new face of Coral Ridge

For now or for ever?

Once again I spoke too soon. The moment I finished my snarky comment about the curious way in which the ailing D. James Kennedy was spirited off to Michigan while the young Brian Fisher stepped into his oversize shoes, Coral Ridge Ministries made a little announcement on its television program, The Coral Ridge Hour. Kennedy is being replaced, temporarily at least, by John Sorensen, the executive vice president of Evangelism Explosion International. Evangelism Explosion is one of Coral Ridge Ministries' many branches. Sorensen quotes Kennedy as saying that the purpose of Evangelism Explosion is “to Christianize the world.”

The Coral Ridge Hour often rebroadcasts old Kennedy sermons, sometimes repackaged with offers of new books or videos from the Coral Ridge media store. Given the decades of material in the Kennedy archives, his television program could undoubtedly continue to do this indefinitely. However, at some point the ministry might chafe at the lack of new material. Perhaps that point has nearly arrived. While previews of coming attractions still include plugs for forthcoming rebroadcasts of D. James Kennedy holding forth from the pulpit, the Coral Ridge board of trustees has anointed Sorensen as Kennedy's temporary substitute. Sorensen has thus nudged Brian Fisher aside as the new voice of Coral Ridge. While everyone continues to give at least lip service to the notion that Kennedy will eventually return to his duties, the designation of Sorensen as lead pastor pro tempore opens up at least the possibility that Kennedy's successor has now stepped forward.

Will Sorensen be able to wear Kennedy's mantle with the same assurance and effectiveness as his predecessor? Let us all pray that he will not.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Where in the world is D. James Kennedy?

An undisclosed location in Michigan

Last weekend was the occasion for a stellar gathering in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Coral Ridge Ministries hosted its annual Reclaiming America for Christ conference. The speakers included the noisy and noisome Ann Coulter, the well-known faux Christian, as well as Phyllis Schlafly, one of those Ladies Against Women types (except that Phyllis isn't in on the joke).

One person, however, was notable by his absence. James D. Davis, religion editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, had the story:
The conference went on despite the absence of its founder, the Rev. D. James Kennedy, who has been sidelined since a cardiac arrest Dec. 28.

Kennedy was flown Thursday afternoon to a hospital in Michigan for further rehabilitation, Coral Ridge officials reported.
Apparently it is difficult to obtain physical therapy in south Florida, requiring that Kennedy be hauled off to an undisclosed location in the Great Lakes State. And when I say “undisclosed,” I mean it. Even young Brian Fisher, the new baby-faced spokesperson for Coral Ridge Ministries says he's in the dark:
“The main guy isn't here, but the main guy's purpose is instilled in all of us,” Brian Fisher, executive vice president of Coral Ridge Ministries, said in an interview. He said he didn't know to which hospital in Michigan Kennedy was transferred.

Conference participants echoed Fisher's remarks, saying they were glad Kennedy was getting more treatment.

“He's an awesome man, and he has good people working with him,” said Jackie Hodges, a product director with a bank card company in Benicia, Calif. “I'm confident he'll return. Meanwhile, maybe he'll have some time alone with God.”
And, presumably, with some doctors and physical therapists. As PZ Myers noted in a post last month, Kennedy's minions are quick to beat their breasts and give credit to God and their prayers for preserving their leader's health (such as it is), but seldom have a thought for the physicians and other health professionals who saved his life.

Let's give young Mr. Fisher the last word (which he appears likely to have for quite some time, now that Kennedy is safely out of the way). This is from a statement dated March 2 on the Coral Ridge website:
Coral Ridge Ministries is so grateful for your prayers, well-wishes, and encouragement!

Dr. Kennedy has been transferred to a rehabilitation hospital in Michigan where he will continue to receive therapy. Although we are expecting a long recovery period, your prayers are a source of great encouragement to him and his family.

Dr. Kennedy suffered a heart arrhythmia leading to cardiac arrest on Thursday, December 28. On Wednesday, January 3 he underwent a procedure to implant a pacemaker/defibrillator.

We are committed to updating this website as events warrant. The length of time between updates is simply a reflection that Dr. Kennedy’s progress is steady, yet without remarkable incident (as is common in these types of recoveries).
Amen, and all that.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A ringing endorsement

And that's the word

Stephen Colbert took a moment during the Wørd segment of his Comedy Central show to salute this humble blog. I was, of course, both startled and abashed by this unsought accolade from The Colbert Report. My pleasure was heightened by Colbert's show of impatience and asperity, indicated by the inclusion of the word “Already” in his screen graphic. That's right, folks, go visit this exceedingly superior blog already! I could not, however, quite figure out why Colbert chose to reveal his support of my modest efforts during his stirring defense of the military's “don't ask, don't tell” policy. I suppose I could inquire, but I doubt that he would reveal anything.

Since this unsolicited plug was issued without prior arrangement or warning, I can merely speculate as to Colbert's reasons. It seems likely that he recognized Halfway There's stunning and unrelenting patriotism, as well as its elegant prose. We will strive to remain worthy of the great man's trust and confidence. At the very least, we will certainly continue to support our beloved president with a vigor and sincerity equal to Colbert's own.

The old man and the squid

Happy birthday to PZ!

It finally happened. PZ Myers has turned 50. In celebration of his attainment of the half-century mark, PZ's friends, acolytes, and minions are showering him with propitiatory poetry. The celebration is going on over at PZ's Pharyngula. Some of the poetry is pretty bad, of course. In that spirit, I offer the following:
There was a squid lover named Paul,
Whose obsession made others' flesh crawl.
“The spineless,” he said, “dance about in my head.
To their tentacles I surrender my all!”

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A visit from tech support

A look at my life

My algebra class this term has been quite a trial. Either I've gotten to be a very bad teacher or the luck of the draw has been especially cruel to me this year. I will, however, cut myself a bit of slack and refrain from blaming myself for the failure of students who inform me that their “vacation” conflicts with an exam date. As a bad teacher, I am unable to explain to them that their misplaced priorities do not impose any obligation on me to accommodate them.

I have a nephew in grad school who is definitely planning a career in the science lab rather than in the classroom. He lacks my patience (frayed though it is) with students who seem incapable of absorbing even the tiniest particle of information. He occasionally shares his exasperation with me. Recently he sent me a link to a Norwegian language skit titled “Medieval Tech Support,” which is all about a monk needing assistance making the transition from good old-fashioned scrolls to the newfangled and difficult-to-use book. As my nephew says,
I have virtually had to do this with students. The operation of a book appears not to be among the criteria for college admission.
Don't be concerned if you don't know Norwegian. The video has English subtitles. That should be helpful—assuming you can read.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Crouching Columnist, Hidden Agenda

Time to blame some more victims

New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch has decided to offer his own analysis of Tim Hardaway's egregious “I hate gay people” comments. Crouch calls for us to be more understanding—of Hardaway.
[I]t would be less than sensible to avoid trying to understand where Hardaway's opinions came from and where the attitudes that one can hear from Latin guys about homosexuals also come from. (I would also suggest that part of the problem is the result of the homosexual community being largely silent on certain issues.)


Far more than a few assume that the tales of pedophilia that almost brought down the Catholic Church in this nation describe a norm among homosexuals. I think that we have not had much serious discussion of these heinous acts in or out of prison because few homosexual activists have found it necessary to make clear that the conventional—and dominant—homosexual morality is built upon consenting adults, not rape and not pedophilia.

It seems to me that until homosexual activists clear this misunderstanding up, we will continue to have to deal with the physical attacks on homosexuals and the idea that homosexuals form a threat to the community in one way or another.
Yes, indeed, I think we can all agree in a loving way that innocents like Tim Hardaway will continue to hate gay people as long as homosexual activists keep refusing to announce that they don't want to rape children. We've all noticed how civil rights legislation being pushed by gay activists refers to things like marriage and nondiscrimination. When will they ever learn that they need to include disavowals of any inclination toward sexual predation of minors?

What did Congressman Barney Frank say when the Supreme Court issued the Lawrence decision to overturn the sodomy statutes in the state of Texas? He said, “The decision by the Supreme Court to protect the privacy rights of all Americans by striking down state laws which seek to criminalize the private consenting sexual behavior of adults marks an important milestone in the protection of individual liberty in our country.” Sure, he mentioned “adults,” but he failed to say “and not children”!

It's really all the fault of the gay activists. And because of that, people like Tim Hardaway are made to suffer.

Thanks for pointing this out, Stanley! You could, however, have strengthened your argument by noting that the progress of civil rights for African Americans was based on constant reminders by Martin Luther King, Jr., and others that black people are not lazy and shiftless. Except for poor Rosa Parks, who was too tired to get up and move to the back of the bus, everyone agreed that the way to beat foolish stereotypes is to call attention to them constantly.

The joy of plagiarism

Some words and notes

My colleague suspects that his student's geometry essay is not entirely the student's own work. The essay bears the title Pi in the Sky and is a peculiar pastiche of recognizably reasonable snippets with swatches of utter incomprehensibility. Well, judge for yourself:
Pi in the Sky

Between the 17 and 18 centuries, geometry remained in the war against the empiricism. The Greeks had studied about geometry that was certainty offered by Euclidean's did in nineteenth century. Euclid stated axioms about rigorous, theorems, circles, and squares in the nineteenth century as well. His wording had an effect of curiosity in schoolchildren such as language even Bible. Students used rules, paper and compasses to draw. Euclid intuition started by drawing figures in the sand and inspecting the relationship in between angles, lengths and shapes.

A self-evident "truths" of what he saw on he flat ground was idealized into postulate. Euclid's geometry edifice most singularly is postulate is that parallel lines never meet. Euclid' geometry under-girded all architecture, artistic compost ion, even astronomy. Another master of geometry in motion and gravity was Newton, which had an effect of hallmark in the seventeenth-century. The certainty of Newton's clockwork was abstracted into many other realms such as human behavior. In the seventeenths and eighteenths, were arguments about the existence of God upon the mathematical certainty of the geometrical laws of Nature that Newton had reveled.

Euclid gave as an example of synthetic knowledge.

In Britain Euclidian geometry was the exemplar of particularly British way of thinking. For mathematician Euclid's discovery wasn't very clear or stated, therefore there were views about human knowledge. In a dispute sequence of event was realized that Euclid' s geometry as a possibility of many. Euclid' s postulate wasn't true parallel lines never meet. Non-Euclidean had prejudices and beliefs as the ideas of Charles Darwin theory of evolution. Euclid's geometry remained unchallenged.

In 1915 Einstein came out with his theory gravitation. With Einstein theory, Non-Euclidean geometry was distinguished. Euclid's assumptions found a parallel in the development of new algebras. When actions A were followed by action B, the result was identical with what followed from first doing B and then A.

Another Mathematician William Hamilton constructed a logically complete and consistent algebra for objects defined by a set of rules which were not commutative. Non-Euclidian geometry showed that there could be axioms which would lead to a set of values counter examples counter to the accepted authority in any sphere of human affairs.
The only thing that's completely clear to me is that the student had access to a spell-checker. I'm sure that's how “compost ion” got into the essay, probably in lieu of “composition.” the sentence “Euclid's assumptions found a parallel in the development of new algebras” strikes me as a pure lifting of text from another source. It contains a dash of inside humor with the use of “parallel” (clearly outside the scope of the student's understanding) and points toward noncommutative algebras, hence the subsequent citation of William Rowan Hamilton (and his quaternions; but the student didn't borrow enough text to get that far).

My colleague says the student has perfectly adequate English skills in oral communication, so it's not simply a language barrier. I suspect the actual problem is the student's unskilled effort to rewrite enough of the source material so as to make it his own. In avoiding direct word-for-word plagiarism, he's created an indigestible casserole of overcooked leftovers.


It's the same old song

As a math teacher, I seldom have to worry about plagiarism in my students' work. (That's the sort of thing that my colleagues in English fret over constantly.) On the other hand, the music industry has long been obsessed with the theft of intellectual property, but mostly in terms of uncompensated downloads of copyrighted material. Plagiarism? Not so much. (Although there is the notable exception of George Harrison's My Sweet Lord versus The Chiffons' He's So Fine.) And, of course, there's all that “sampling” going on that involving inserting bits of other compositions into supposedly “new” works.

Thank goodness that this sort of thing is not a problem in classical music, right?

Would that it were so! Clutch the pearls, dearie, and peer through your lorgnette at this: As reported by Denis Dutton in the New York Times, the career of a celebrated classical music performer is nothing but a bunch of false notes!
Earlier this month, a reader of the British music magazine Gramophone told one of its critics, Jed Distler, that something odd happened when he slid Ms. Hatto's CD of Liszt's “Transcendental Études” into his computer. His iTunes library, linked to a catalogue of about four million CDs, immediately identified it as a recording by the Hungarian pianist Laszlo Simon. Mr. Distler then listened to both recordings, and found them identical.
That's because they were identical. Pianist Joyce Hatto had revived her career by shamelessly expropriating the recordings of obscure young artists and passing them off as her own. With the cooperation of her husband, recording engineer William Barrington-Coupe, Hatto produced an incredibly rich stream of “new” performances for their private-label CD company. It was all theft and deception.

Their boldness knew no bounds:
Her concerto recordings are even more brazen. The CD labels say they were made with the National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, always conducted by one René Köhler. Mr. Barrington-Coupe told a reporter that this was his name for a pick-up orchestra of Polish émigrés whom, he said, came out from London to record at a venue he now refuses to reveal. He declined to further discuss the orchestra on the grounds that they were employed “below union rates.” No one has yet been able to find a single reference to this René Köhler outside of the Joyce Hatto recordings, nor have any members of the orchestra come forward to confirm Mr. Barrington-Coupe’s story.
It sounds to me as if the mythical conductor of Barrington-Coupe's supposed pick-up orchestra was inspired by a glance at tenor René Kollo's name on the cover of a recital CD.

There is an amusing coda to this story, which is still unraveling at this point, as the artists ripped off by Hatto and Barrington-Coupe continue to be identified. Just as English professors increasingly turn to high-tech browsers and file-comparison software to sniff out plagiarized composition papers, these stolen music performances were identified by the on-line database linked to iTunes. The friend who brought the story to my attention sums it up nicely:

“I love the way the modern digital world makes it so easy to plagiarize, and yet so easy to catch it, too.”

For more details on the Joyce Hatto plagiarism scandal, see the audio archive at Pristine Classical, which offers several files documenting the purloined performances. A recent addition is “I Did It For My Wife,” the confession of William Barrington-Coupe, in which he claims that his wife was not complicit in the deception.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Prevention is predation?

Christian conservatives rage at Merck

Gardasil is the name for Merck's new and highly effective vaccine against some strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV). Inoculation with Gardasil provides 95% protection against cervical infection, which is highly significant because the Merck vaccine is targeted against the HPV strains most likely to lead to cervical cancer. In brief, Gardasil offers highly effective protection against a very dangerous form of cancer.

What's not to like?

It turns out that many Christian conservatives (such as Focus on the Family), are dismayed by the development of Gardasil. You see, it will preserve the health of people who don't deserve it. If you want to avoid HPV (and the subsequent cervical cancer), you simply need to abstain from sex until you and your virginity embark on a monogamous marriage. If you inoculate your daughters against HPV, you are encouraging them to engage in promiscuous sexual behavior. It's that simple!

Leave it to Christian conservatives to screw up a perfectly straightforward health issue.

For a while, it looked like the state of Texas would take an uncharacteristically bold stand in favor of common-sense health policy by mandating inoculation of all school girls as they enter sixth grade. However, the program was enacted as an executive order by Texas governor Rick Perry and was widely regarded as politically tainted. Merck is a contributor to Governor Perry's campaign treasury and Merck is the sole provider of Gardasil. Despite the clear merits of Gardasil, the Texas inoculation program became a questionable result of Merck's vigorous push to have mandatory inoculation programs enacted in each state.

In the wake of the bad publicity, Merck backed off and suspended its lobbying efforts, which is probably just as well. Gardasil's merits are apparent even without political spin and arm-twisting. (But do you remember when conservatives used to be in favor of capitalism and would have celebrated Merck's efforts as simply a savvy marketing ploy?)

The reaction to a successful HPV vaccine, however, continues to amaze rational people. For example, political cartoonist Lisa Benson displays a charmingly light touch in this witty comment:

Any reasonable person can easily see the similarity between a flasher stalking schoolgirls and a drug company seeking to capitalize on a health breakthrough. You can see that, right? (The blurb accompanying the cartoon extols Benson as someone with “a very large dollop of common sense.” How frightfully inapt.)

I much prefer the pointed perspective of Ann Telnaes, who hits much closer to the mark with her own editorial cartoon:

Thanks for that bit of sanity, Ann.