Friday, March 31, 2006

Science Gap or Feynman Gap

We’ve all read the grim statistics. In the US only 5% of college students graduate with degrees in engineering compared to 19% in Japan, 20% in Germany and 39% in China. In “Education Reform Needed Now!,” (3/13/06) I wrote that the greatest threat to American competitiveness is the inadequate education of too many Americans. To mention just one issue, the European Union now graduates 50 percent more engineers and scientists than the US, and Asia has recently passed us by. In 2004, China graduated 600,000 engineers and India 350,000 as against 70,000 in the United States, according to the National Scientific Foundation (NSF).

In a letter to President Bush, Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, wrote that “one-third of all jobs in the US require competency in science or technology – yet only 17 percent of our college graduates are earning degrees in technical fields.” President Jackson is calling for a new “space race” aimed at energy security as a mechanism to renew American strength in science and engineering.

While I remain concerned about the woeful lack of science literacy among the general population, new data from Duke University show that the graduate science gap is largely false. The Duke researchers found that the Chinese and Indian figures are misleading as they include mechanics, technicians and graduates with two year degrees in their engineer totals. And the American figures excluded computer science graduates. Adjusted for these differences, the U.S. engineering degrees jump to 137,000 compared to 352,000 in China and 112,000 in India.

More importantly, China has four times the population and India has three times compared to the US. Those countries need more technical workers to keep their economies and societies functioning. Per million people, the United States graduates 757 engineering and technical bachelor degrees compared to 497 Chinese and 199 Indian degrees. We still have a comfortable lead.

Furthermore, the US population of science and engineering (S&E) students is growing again after a decline in the 1990s. In 2004, American colleges and universities awarded a record 233,492 undergraduate S&E degrees, reports the National Science Foundation. That was up 38 percent since 1990. Computer science degrees have doubled since 1990, while engineering degrees in 2004 are roughly the same as in 1990.

Graduate S&E enrollments exceeded 327,000 in 2003, another record. They've jumped 22 percent since their recent low in 1998. Computer science graduate students have increased 60 percent from their low point in 1995, and engineering graduate students are up 27 percent since their low in 1998. And after years of decline, native-born Americans and permanent residents in S&E graduate programs have increased 13 percent since 2000.

These increases are being driven by demand that is driving up salaries. From 1993 to 2003, the median salary of engineers with bachelor's degrees and one to five years' experience rose 34 percent (after inflation) to $58,000 according to the NSF. By contrast, the average increase for non S&E college graduates and one to five years' experience was only 7.7 percent to $37,000. These are encouraging signs.

I do think we should encourage more kids to make a career in science. Sometimes it is a tough sell. As the famous physicist Richard Feynman said “Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it.” For quite a while our yearly graduates with doctorates in biology and physics have been flat, with roughly 5900 biology PhDs and 3400 physics PhDs. And since a scientist like Feynman or Einstein is one in a thousand, we need many more thousands to make the Nobel-class scientists that have helped to create our spectacular economy.

But a country's capacity for scientific and commercial innovation does not correlate only with its number of scientists and engineers. Hard work, imagination and business practices also matter. Here, the United States has some significant advantages: widespread ambition; openness to new ideas, especially from the young; acceptance of skilled immigrants; strong connections between universities and businesses; and well-funded venture capitalists. (Robert Samuelson, “A Phony Science Gap?” Washington Post, 2/22/06)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Illegal Immigration

The myriad problems associated with 12 million illegal immigrants are being debated in the Senate. Nearly everyone has an idea about the solution, ranging from mass deportation to blanket amnesty.

My friend Helen and a colleague of hers at El Camino College have been discussing the illegal immigration issue with their students, including some illegal immigrants. Their proposals are interesting.

First, enforce the requirement to have a "responsible" sponsor (employer, individual, or corporation) for each immigrant. The immigrant is responsible for the maintenance of his family and must pay for schooling and medical insurance. But the sponsor assumes responsibility if the immigrant defaults. The sponsors must post a warranty bond with the government for each immigrant they sponsor.

Second, issue an immigrant identification card that clearly identifies the individual as an alien with no right to vote in any election within the nation.

Third, seal the borders with fences and use border patrol, military, and electronic technology to keep them sealed while we deal with the 12 million illegals here now.

Fourth, illegals now here must register and pay fines for breaking the law. The sponsor, employer or governments of their home country may choose to pay the fine for their citizens (or the amount is deducted from aid given to that country).

Fifth, illegals here now must become a citizen within five years or leave the country. They must also learn the language and be registered without any criminal activity on their records.

Sixth, babies born of illegals while here are not citizens. At the age of 18 they may apply for citizenship.

Seventh, working illegals pay taxes and they may draw on social security and get tax refunds only after becoming citizens.

Eighth, any family or individual who has been here less than three years is to be deported. They have not been here long enough to be “cemented” in the US like those who have been here twenty years or more. Then they stand in line to get back in to the US. If their countries do not agree to deportation of their citizens, then cut off all US AID/foreign assistance to that country.

Ninth, arrest all coyotes and imprison them for life! Their trucks, boats, etc are to be confiscated and sold.

All these suggestions are workable and some have been suggested by others. The only exception is the citizenship of “anchor babies” that is granted by the Constitution and an amendment would be required to deny citizenship. The idea of a truly responsible sponsor is powerful and could solve a lot of problems. The effect on low wage industries is uncertain.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Happy Days Are Here Again

At the peak of the Internet boom in 1999 the market research firm TNS Financial Services reported that there were 7.1 million American families (about 8%) with net worth more than $1 million. After the Internet bubble burst, the millionaire households dropped steadily to 5.5 million by 2002. Then, however, the Bush tax cuts stimulated the economy and the ranks of millionaire households rose to 6.2 million in 2003 and 8.2 million in 2004.

The 2005 results were released today and the good times continue to roll. There are now 8.9 million American households (about 10%) with net worth more than $1 million, and the million bucks does not include equity in their homes or in their individual retirement accounts. Widespread American prosperity is the wonder of the financial world.

The millionaire households had an average net worth, excluding principal residence, of nearly $2.2 million, of which more than $1.4 million was in liquid assets. The survey counted some tax-deferred retirement savings but did not include individual retirement accounts in the liquid assets. Half of the heads of millionaire households were 58 or older and 45 percent were retired.

It is interesting and instructive to look at the distribution of wealth around the country. More millionaires live in California than anywhere else in the United States. Los Angeles County, home to 262,800 millionaires, is the jewel in the crown of the country's personal fortunes.

Two other SoCal counties rank in third and fifth place respectively on the list, boasting 113,299 millionaires in Orange County and 100,030 in San Diego County. Up North, Santa Clara County is home to a further 75,371 millionaires, according to the survey. The four California Counties add up to 551 thousand millionaire families, and that does not include such famously rich Counties such as Marin and San Francisco.

Elsewhere, the second richest region of America after Los Angeles is Cook County, Illinois with 167,873 millionaires. Others in the top ten are Maricopa County, Arizona with 106,210; Harris County, Texas (96,593); Nassau, New York (78,816); Palm Beach, Florida (69,871); and Middlesex, Mass. (67,552).

Over 50 percent of the millionaires surveyed said they had become more conservative in their investment approach over the past year. Still, seventy percent of the households owned stocks and bonds, and 68 percent owned mutual funds. Generally, their wealth is the result of long-term accumulation.

The lefty response to such good news is the usual canard about the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor. Of course, that is economic nonsense. Even the poor in America are doing better than ever before, and the ranks of the poor are decreasing. The latest US Census bureau report that takes government handouts into account in calculating income finds that the poor currently number only 5% of the people in America.

There are now twice as many millionaire families as poor families. What a country!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Vive le Joblessness

Son John and girlfriend Lynora just returned from Paris. It sounds lovely.

Paris is beautiful, even when it is cold and cloudy in the winter. It must be spectacular in the summer when everything is blooming! On day one (Saturday) we found Kevin's apartment, then went to explore his neighborhood called Passy. There were a bunch of little food shops so we got roasted veal at one, cheese at another, and bread at a bakery and had dinner at home. Then we went to a burlesque show that has been continuous since the 50's (amazingly tasteful!), and then went to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night. It was cold!

On Sunday we explored the Marais which is a cool, old part of the city that is popular, with a lot of shops and restaurants. We had high tea at a famous place called Mariage Freres that has been around since 1854. Very good... I bought you a tin of the tea we had. Then we went and explored the Ile de Cite, which is an island in the Seine river where the gothic cathedral Notre Dame is located. We explored Notre Dame, and then after dinner saw a classical concert in another amazing church on the island called Sainte Chapelle. Sainte Chapelle is relatively small and oval shaped with huge floor to ceiling (40 feet?) stained glass windows the whole way around. It was spectacular.

Monday we went to the Louvre and got a 4-day museum pass. There is an Ingres exhibit that Lynora wants to see at the Louvre, and another 60 or so museums included. We decided to actually start at the Picasso Museum, and then went to the modern art museum called the Pompidou. Then a nice, authentic French dinner at a neighborhood place a friend recommended.

Today I got up a little early and went to get croissants, pain du chocolate, apple-almond tart, baguette and cheese, fresh strawberries and lattes for breakfast at home. Then we headed off to a cool neighborhood called Montmarte...

But then there are the university students rioting over a labor law and the jobless young rioting against the students.

Two-thirds of France's universities are being seriously disrupted by protests - practically a rite of spring in la république. At Jussieu University in Paris insurrectional excitement is palpable. We are in our fifth week of blockade, Marie Gombeaud, a 19-year-old biology student, says proudly. (See picture)

Supporting the students, French labor unions have called a national strike to put pressure on Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to axe a law they say will create "Kleenex workers" whom employers can throw away at will.

And what is this all about? To stimulate hiring, de Villepin spearheaded a new law that allows employers to fire anyone under age 26 who has been on the job for less than two years. Imagine that! You might get fired from your first job. The law was a response to last year's riots of youths in France's immigrant suburbs over joblessness that reaches 50% in some places.

Those French students marching in the streets of Paris must realize that their quest for guaranteed lifetime employment is utterly counterproductive. France's rigid social compact, which all but prevents companies from firing workers, has all but extinguished hiring. In other words, those suffering most from France's restrictive employment laws are the ones protesting to preserve them. It all seems so, well, French.

But it’s more complicated than that. The university students are in the social class that are virtually guaranteed jobs when they graduate. And they want to be assured, like their parents, that those jobs will be theirs for life whatever their work performance. As a result companies are loath to take risks in hiring and the poorly educated suffer most. Thus the student/union protesters are being attacked by poor rioters, many immigrants, who would benefit from the liberalized hiring that the law encourages.

The rampaging French youths set fire to cars and looted shops in Paris on Thursday. Riot police fired tear gas in clashes with youths, dubbed "casseurs" by the French, in the Invalides areas near the Foreign Ministry. A civil war is erupting between the upper class and the poor.

Dennis Prager explains the socialist paranoia that drives the protests. France is so frightened of the utterly rational idea that a young person should have a two-year trial period at work before being granted a lifetime job. Such an innovation in France would mean that young people would have to work hard and earn the right to lifetime employment. But if socialism means anything, it means that one shouldn't have to earn anything. One merely has to breathe.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Reasons for War and Perseverence

Since posting “The Marines Will Eat the Lions” I have been engaged in a debate with my good friend Tom. Here is a synopsis of Tom’s argument, in his own words.

Interesting, Holiday is 40. It seems we can use the older people for something, certainly for driving trucks over bombs. I hope our military are NOT "Spartans." After all, Sparta was a dictatorship, unlike Athens.

I am not anti-military. I had an Uncle on the Yalu in Korea and both my wife and I have had other family members in various wars. My point is not to be a malcontent but to suggest that the burden of warfare should fall on everyone, in particular its most enthusiastic supporters. No doubt you or I would not qualify for special operations. But driving fuel trucks is different. Every serious war we had in the past included a draft. Sure I respect other views, but can't mine be offered and discussed as well (at least for so little much longer as we remain a democracy and unless and until I am declared an enemy combatant)?

In the past this nation has debated its involvement abroad. I guess if you want to you can label anyone opposed to a military mission as anti- military. What's the mission in Iraq? Saddam al Tikriti (aka Hussein) is gone. It seems the current mission is to intervene in a civil war but not on any particular side. Seems we are fixing to repeat Thermopolae. Who and what are our soldiers dying for? And why is it anti-military to ask this question?

Tom’s initial thrust was that old guys should sign up to drive fuel trucks over bombs. He segued into the moral imperative of a military draft so that the wealthy and children of political leaders serve as well. Then Tom questioned the mission and what our soldiers are dying for. Finally he asked why it is “anti-military” to ask these questions.

Disposing first of the silliness, I noted that “Holiday is Special Forces; that means he is special, not like you or me. You are not too old to try to join up. Here's betting they won't take you. ”

The question of a military draft is easily answered. There are warriors and there are the rest of us. In the Revolutionary War, the Scots-Irish were the warriors. In the World Wars we did not have enough warriors so we needed a draft. The Greatest Generation did us proud in WWII. My Dad and most of my uncles served in Germany and Lee’s Dad died in the Pacific.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the military enfeeblement of Western Europe, the United States is the world's only superpower. With overwhelming military superiority, we no longer need a huge number of combat soldiers. The military is now entirely voluntary and is the most effective and enthusiastic in our history. And the canard about only the poor enlisting is not borne out by the facts. The volunteer military is more educated than the population at large, and many children of famous people are serving. Doctor Laura opens her daily radio program with “I am the proud mom of an American soldier. Hoooaah!”

Now let’s address the serious question: What's the mission in Iraq? This was debated endlessly before the invasion, in the Congress, in the press and on the world stage. The simple reason was to make America safer by taking the fight to the enemy. Congress approved overwhelmingly and has consistently authorized military appropriations for the last four years. Thus approved, the US military went to war. That is when Americans stop debating the causes and throw their entire support behind the troops.

Yet the main-stream media, some politicians and the lefties don’t want military success. They seek the Vietnam conclusion, US embarrassment, and are willing to sell out the Iraqis (again) like we did the South Vietnamese.

Christopher Hitchens (“The End of Fukuyama,” Slate, 3/1/06) asks the three questions that anyone developing second thoughts about the Iraq conflict must answer: “Was the George H.W. Bush administration right to confirm Saddam Hussein in power after his eviction from Kuwait in 1991? Is it right to say that we had acquired a responsibility for Iraq, given past mistaken interventions and given the great moral question raised by the imposition of sanctions? And is it the case that another confrontation with Saddam was inevitable; those answering "yes" thus being implicitly right in saying that we, not he, should choose the timing of it?”

Last week Hitchens spoke of the ideal war. (“My Ideal War” Slate 3/20/06) “So, now I come at last to my ideal war. Let us start with President Bush's speech to the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, which I recommend that you
read. Contrary to innumerable sneers, he did not speak only about WMD and terrorism, important though those considerations were. He presented an argument for regime change and democracy in Iraq and said, in effect, that the international community had tolerated Saddam's deadly system for far too long. Who could disagree with that?”

But like all liberal arguments, once you have answered points 1, 2 , 3, … N, the next point, N+1, is: “It seems the current mission is to intervene in a civil war but not on any particular side.”

Here I will borrow from Mark Steyn (“Down With Stability” The Jerusalem Post, 3/22/06): “I see the western press has pretty much given up on calling the Ba'athist dead-enders and foreign terrorists "insurgents" presumably because they were insurging so ineffectually. So now it's a "civil war." Remember what a civil war looks like? Generally, they have certain features: large-scale population movements, mutinous units in the armed forces, rival governments springing up, rebels seizing the radio station. None of these are present in Iraq. The slavering western media keep declaring a civil war every 48 hours but those layabout Iraqis persist in not showing up for it.”

“True, there's a political stalemate in Baghdad at the moment, but that's not a catastrophe: if you read the very federal Iraqi constitution carefully, the ingenious thing about it is that it's not just a constitution but also a pre-nup. If the Sunni hold-outs are determined to wreck the deal, 85% of the Iraqi population will go their respective ways creating a northern Kurdistan that would be free and pro-western and a southern Shiastan that would still be the most democratic state in the Arab world. That outcome would also be in America's long-term interest.”

In closing, I’ll direct Tom and any other doubters to Katelyn Sills, our youngest Western Alliance blogger, who has it figured out, at age 15.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Marines Will Eat the Lions

Here is the weekly update from our Palos Verdes Marine Brian Weiss in Djbouti. So far no violence, thank The Lord, but it is early days yet.

Brian's unit is one of hundreds stationed in every dangerous country on Earth, the rapid response teams that are prepared at a moment's notice to search and destroy terror cells that metastasize. As Don Rumsfeld remakes the military, many more of these special units will trained and stationed abroad. The elite Special Operations forces are used whenever the going gets especially tough.

Robert Kaplan's amazing new book, Imperial Grunts, tells the story of his experiences with the Army Special Forces. Here are a few excerpts.

"Welcome to the Hotel Gardez," said a smiling and bearded major, Kevin Holiday, of Tampa, Florida. Major Holiday was the commander of this firebase and of another in Zurmat, two hours south by dirt road. He had just turned forty, was a civil engineer with a master's degree, the father of three small children, and he was chatty, well-spoken, and intense. "God has put me here," he told me matter-of-factly. "I'm a Christian"—he meant an evangelical. "The best kind of moral leader is one who is invisible. I believe character is more important than education. I have noticed that people who are highly educated and sophisticated do not like to take risks. But God can help someone who is highly educated to take big risks. We're the damn Spartans." Holiday smiled again. "Physical warriors with college degrees." Buy the book!

And now from our Brian:

All is well over here; it is starting to get pretty hot. When I got off post this morning at 0700 it was 91 degrees (so HOT that the crows are panting). Since it was the cooler part of the day I went for a 5 mile run. The run trail is nice and takes you all the way from the base to the Gulf outside the wire. It is sure weird to be almost used to the heat, I can jog 5 miles with the weather in the 90’s, and I don’t die. I know at home when its that hot I would start heading for the beach and some cold beer! Neither one of those options are good here.

Now for your nature update! When I was leaving the run trail this morning I was attacked by two crows. The crows are all over base and have nests in every open spot they can find. They are pretty protective of their nests and will dive bomb you if you get too close (within 10 yards). I have seen Marines getting their covers (hats) knocked off by the crows. These two crows kept after me until I went into my tent. Boy, were they bitter little guys; the only thing you can do to stop them from whacking you is to face them and wave your arms (looks really stupid).

Last night at about 0100, we saw a Hyena being chased by our local pack of feral dogs. National Geographic who? The dogs actually like the Marines but don’t like the Djiboutian people. I guess because most Marines have a soft spot for dogs and we almost always carry beef jerky. Two of the dogs actually stand post with us and are the best security system ever. I also saw a mongoose and a rabbit. Now as per the Mongoose, we hear there are some living on base, but this one runs past my post in the early am, and kind of looks like a ferret on steroids. The rabbit was very weird looking; he really needed a meal, but had really long legs and unusually long ears.

When we first got here and we were receiving our entry brief, we were told, hypothetically speaking, that if we ate chow in our tents that mice would come, the mice would attract the poisonous snakes, the snakes would attract the mongooses, the mongooses would attract the lions, we added… THE MARINES WOULD EAT THE LIONS! Please keep in mind that the Marines are the top of any food chain.
Enough of the wild Africa show,

We are looking forward to some missions in the future in some of the CJTFHOA (Combined Joint Task Force Horn Of Africa) area which covers many countries, including Eritrea, Ethiopia. So if you haven’t heard from me in a while I may be in another country for a week or two, and I will only have my combat load with me… no laptops! I will get back to all of you asap, but like with all the good info around here I will have to fill you in when I get back, not while im here. I wish everyone well…

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Cave Men Were Good Guys

As liberal interest groups pursue the destruction of marriage, Hollywood pitches in with an addition to their already rich, multi-moral fare, a show promoting the joys of polygamy. It reminds me of Bill O’Reilly’s assertion: If you make same-sex marriage legal, then I want to marry the Andrews sisters, or some such thing.

In Polygamy and Me (The American Spectator, 3/23/2006) William Tucker says he proposed a book to several publishers about terrorism and polygamy. “They thought I was crazy. Polygamy? What did that have to do with anything? A year later, it's an HBO sitcom about polygamy -- Big Love. It's hard to keep up these days.”

Craig DeLuz reports that this “blurring of moral and cultural values is no accident.” He points to gay activist Michelangelo Signorile who describes the movement’s goal in Out Magazine back in 1994 as the "fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution of marriage completely, to demand the right to marry not as a way of adhering to society's moral codes but rather to debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution that as it now stands keeps us down."

But, one asks, what about that archaic institution? The intellectual question is this: What is the evolutionary high ground, monogamy, polygamy, unisex or whatever you wish?

In the
March issue of The American Spectator, Tucker has an article entitled The Alpha Couple and the Primal Horde. He points out that "we are a monogamous species, at least in our beginnings. Hunter-gathering tribes, the original human economy, are all monogamous."

Cavemen and women were monogamous. The reason was simple. They wanted to survive. Predators were everywhere, we were puny. “The only safety lay in group solidarity. Monogamy became preferable because it knit the group more tightly together. In a word, it was more democratic. Monogamy creates a society that has an inherent equality. Every male has the promise of getting a female and every female has the promise of getting a male. It gives everyone a stake in society.”

Now, let’s turn to Tucker's connection of polygamy and terrorism.

“Polygamous societies remained backward precisely because they were polygamous. Polygamy creates a huge inequality where all the wealth and all the women are concentrated among the more successful men. Exclude enough men and you have the makings of a jihad society. When there aren't enough women to go around, it's easy to convince low-status men there are 70 virgins waiting for them in heaven.”

But on the evolutionary tree there were other branches that took a different path. Jane Goodall's studies have shown that “the great apes, especially chimpanzees and extra-especially their cousins the bonobos, are extravagantly promiscuous. All sorts of ruttings go on all the time -- and yet no bonobo has ever advanced enough even to write the Kama Sutra, much less the works of Shakespeare.” (Thanks to Ralph for the pointer to the piece by Quin Hillyer in, you guessed it, The American Spectator, 3/24/06.)

Conservatives, of course, defend monogamy as the ideal that God wants for us. Lefties, on the other hand, promoted free love and all sorts of “tommyrot.”

“It should be a point of pride for conservatives to be cavemen. The alternative is to be liberals, and they're the apes.”

Friday, March 24, 2006

Dr. Dave Explains Lefty Psychology

My pal Dave Young is a college Prof but a hawk (go figure), a Scot and a fiscal conservative (OK, redundant), a libertarian (sort of) and one of the smartest guys I know. This morning at the Starbucks psych couch (er.. table) Dave was explaining the “reasoning” of those 60s radicals whose minds have been in time stall for over forty years.

As former Vietnam War protestors, Dave and I both understand the motivation of many of us back in the day; it was fear. But we got over it, and I have trouble understanding how many old liberals still have such feelings after 9/11.

Dave wandered into psych talk to help me understand until my eyes glazed over and he came quickly to the point in one word: guilt. Deep down, said Dave, those old lefties still feel guilty about their old fears and can only justify themselves by maintaining a perpetual anti-war posture. Basically, cowardice bred guilt that bred the defense mechanism of pacifism.

Of course, the graying 60s radicals cannot see themselves that way and find ingenious ways to justify their world views. When I arrived home thanks to a ride from Dave, I turned to the LA Times opinion page (It’s my penance) to check out what the lefties were saying. Sure enough there was Rosa Brooks taking exception to the US National Security Strategy, “which has evolved not a jot during the last 2 1/2 years.”

Rosa thinks that President Bush is exhibiting Neanderthal tendencies when he insists that "Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness." Brooks thinks Bush’s explanation “ought to join the dodo and the woolly mammoth.” See what I mean by clever?

But what is Rosa’s more enlightened view of the foundation for a better National Security Strategy? Here it is:

An effective national security policy in the age of asymmetric warfare would bear little resemblance to the neolithic strategies we have seen from the administration over the last five years. To protect ourselves, we need a new generation of Americans who are capable of looking outward, as well as inward; we need leaders (and citizens) with the linguistic and cultural skills necessary to understand the perspectives of allies and adversaries alike.

So far it seems our protection relies on a new generation of Americans with linguistic and cultural skills. Are we with her so far? But what would those enlightened new Americans actually do, Rosa?

Such sensible policies include consistent and nonpoliticized support for meaningful democratic reform and human rights, a revitalized global development and anti-poverty strategy, an energetic effort to rebuild damaged global institutions and alliances, and a commitment to restoring U.S. credibility on issues of rights and the rule of law.

OK, there you have it, the lefty National Security Strategy. Uh, did I miss the military, special forces, smart bombs, aircraft carriers? I’m sure not feeling more secure. How about you all?

Dr. Dave, can you help us?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Judicial Accountability

At the meeting of the Moral Reasoning Group at Saint John Fisher Church last night, we completed our study of First Amendment issues guided by the lectures of Notre Dame law professor Gerard Bradley. In his last lecture "Reining in the Courts," Bradley notes the harm done to society by Supreme Court rulings in the areas of freedom of religion, abortion and many others and asks: "Is there anything we can do to rein in the activist courts?"

Bradley sees two possible approaches: (1) Appoint better judges, and (2) Amend the Constitution or rule some issues out of the court's jurisdiction. His outlook was decidedly pessimistic in 1997 when the lectures were taped. As for appointing better judges he points to the disappointment of constitutional constructionists associated with the decisions of Justices Stevens, Souter and Kennedy and the appointment of activists Ginsburg and Breyer. As for amending the Constitution, Bradley believes that any amendment would be difficult to achieve as it would be opposed by claims of judicial independence.

The view was pretty grim when Bradley gave these lectures in 1997. Now, however, we have Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. With one more replacement the Supreme Court could be in position to reverse many bad decisions. In fact, the Court is already decidedly conservative. Newsmax Magazine recently published a comparison of judicial agreement, with the benchmark being Justices Scalia and Thomas who agreed on 92% of Supreme Court decisions from October, 2004 through June, 2005. The results are revealing.

Antonin Scalia.......... 92%

Clarence Thomas....... 92%

William Rehnquist...... 90%... replaced by John Roberts

Anthony Kennedy...... 83.5%

Sandra Day O'Connor... 80% ... replaced by Sam Alito

David Souter............ 64.5%

Steven Breyer........... 63%

Ruth Bader Ginzberg.... 62%.... replaced by?

John Paul Stevens....... 55%.... replaced by?

On the average, the nine justices agreed on decisions 76% of the time. Since the benchmark is provided by Scalia/Thomas, I'd say the average jurist was in the right 76% of the time. Now look what an improvement there will be when Ginsberg and Stevens are replaced by jurists who believe in interpreting the Constitution as it was written.

Finally, note that there is now a Congressional committee dedicated to rein in judicial overreach. In the latest issue of The American Enterprise, House member Todd Akin explains that Congress and the President "have allowed the judicial branch to run unchallenged for too long, to the detriment of our liberty." Akin points to Article III Section 2 of the Constitution as a tool that can be used to remedy the present imbalance. The pertinernt passage is this: "The Supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction both as to Law and to Fact, with such Exemptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make."

There is a movement afoot to reinvigorate the balance of power among the three branches of government led by the House Judicial Accountability Working Group. We should send them our encouragement.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Hitchens Kicks Butt

Christopher Hitchens, known for his iconoclasm, atheism and liberal ideas has long been a thorn in the side of conservative thinkers. He was a formidable socialist and a fixture in the leftist publications of Britain and America, noted for his brilliance and acidic wit. But Chris has become a vociferous critic of what he describes as "fascism with an Islamic face," and is now sometimes described as a Liberal Hawk or a "neoconservative" -- ooooo scary. Hitch is the author of A Long, Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq.

On Larry King Live last weekend, Hitchens joined an interesting panel to discuss the war in Iraq: Senator Lindsay Graham, Republican, South Carolina, member of the Armed Services Committee; Senator Dianne Feinstein Democrat, California, member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security; and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation.

KING: Senator Feinstein, the government is saying that “Operation Swarmer” was an Iraqi idea and we went along with it. What do you make of that?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: My own belief is that Iraq is on the brink of a civil war and I think it's the most difficult time we've had.

KING: Katrina, don't you count it important that this offensive was an Iraqi idea?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I think this is a sign of desperation, a war that is un- winnable, that is unlawful, unnecessary. And you're dealing with the slaughter possibly of innocent women and children and you possibly create more insurgents. The resentment against America is so deep. I think it's very important to understand that the United States is in a brutal occupation.

KING: Chris Hitchens, if what Katrina says is true, what do we do?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: The United States is acting very nobly as the militia for those who don't have a militia, for those who don't have any thuggery or IED at his disposal. It's the best thing we've ever done and shame on people who sneer at it.

KING: Is it going to work, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: I'm encouraged is because every time they assassinate a judge somebody else wants to be a judge. Every time they kill a policeman, someone else joins the police force. All I can ask of the Iraqi people is to die for their own freedom. If we get it right in Iraq, if a democracy does emerge in Mid East form, it's a sea change. And I know the terrorists are dying for this to fail. The reason they're killing people indiscriminately, they know their worst nightmare is a functioning democracy in the Mid East.

KING: Do you agree, Senator Feinstein?

FEINSTEIN: I've been disappointed that the Iraqis couldn't get their government up and running faster. And when Muqtada al-Sadr went to Basra and blamed the Americans for the bombing of the Golden Mosque that for me was the straw that broke the camel's back.

KING: Katrina …

VANDEN HEUVEL: Again, I think this administration is desperate. We need to understand the staggering cost in lives and money. We have undermined American security. We have killed thousands of Iraqis. We have tarnished our reputation, frayed our alliances, and stretched our military to the utmost.

KING: Chris Hitchens …

HITCHENS: Katrina talks as if we'd left Iraq alone it would be stable or peaceful, not true. We have a responsibility to this country that goes back a long way and we have no right to walk away from it. The question of a civil war is subordinate to the question of defending Iraq from the attempt by a previous fascist regime to come back by terrorist means.

I think it's quite disgraceful to hear anybody say that the deaths involved in this are our fault. Bob Herbert today of the "New York Times" describes hideous atrocities committed by sectarian fascists of the worst type and he says these are the casualties of Bush's war, as if the president was killing them, as if our own forces were doing these murders instead of trying to kill and capture the people who are committing them. All moral sense has now been lost, it seems to me, by the fans of and by the people who come on your show and spout their speaker's notes. It's appalling to me that a Senator from the great state of California can come and say that her broad back was broken by the straw of Muqtada al-Sadr.

Game, set and match to Christopher Hitchens.

Then, yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Hitch wrote:

In February 2004, our Kurdish comrades in northern Iraq intercepted a courier who was bearing a long message from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to his religious guru Osama bin Laden. The letter contained a deranged analysis of the motives of the coalition intervention (to create the State of Greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates), but also a lethally ingenious scheme to combat it. After a lengthy and hate-filled diatribe, Zarqawi wrote of Iraq's largest confessional group that: These in our opinion are the key to change. I mean that targeting and hitting them in their religious, political and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies . . . and bare the teeth of the hidden rancor working in their breasts. If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger.

The cadres of "al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" understood that their main chance was the deliberate stoking of a civil war. And, now that this threat has become more imminent and menacing, it is somehow blamed on the Bush administration. Civil war has replaced the insurgency as the proof that the war is unwinnable. But in plain truth, the "civil war" is and always was the chief tactic of the "insurgency."

Absent federal democracy and power-sharing, there will not just be anarchy and fragmentation and thus a moral victory for jihadism, but opportunist interventions from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. (That vortex, by the way, is what was waiting to engulf Iraq if the coalition had not intervened, and would have necessitated an intervention later but under even worse conditions.)

There is a war within the war, as there always is when a serious struggle is under way, but justice and necessity still combine to say that the task cannot be given up.

In closing here is a tidbit from another of my favorite butt kickers, Ben Stein, on the Oscars.

Basically, the sad truth is that Hollywood does not think of itself as part of America, and so, to Hollywood, the
war to save freedom from Islamic terrorists is happening to someone else. It does not concern them except insofar as it offers occasion to mock or criticize George Bush. They live in dreamland and cannot be gracious enough to thank the men and women who pay with their lives for the stars' ability to live in dreamland. This is shameful.

There is no greatness there in the Kodak Theater. The greatness is on patrol in Kirkuk. The greatness lies unable to sleep worrying about her man in Mosul. The greatness sleeps at Arlington National Cemetery and lies waiting for death in VA Hospitals.

God help us that we have sunk so low as to confuse foolish and petty boasting with the real courage that keeps this nation and the many fools in it alive and flourishing on national TV.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

God's Constants

When Max Planck was a young, precocious student circa 1875 his professor advised against a career in physics. Albert Michelson captured the widely held view that: “The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is remote.”

Michelson was referring of course to the physics of Newton, Maxwell and the ether that was supposed to pervade all space (and provide a mechanism for the measurement of absolute velocity). Fortunately for science, Michelson’s experiment (with Morley) helped Einstein banish the ether, and Planck followed his heart to help found the quantum universe.

Planck’s contributions centered around his discovery of the discreteness of energy, its so-called quantum nature, that he used to explain the thermal spectrum of radiating bodies. From Planck’s theory arose a fundamental constant “h” that determined the smallest amount by which energy could change and came to be called Planck’s constant. Over time h was seen to play a fundamental role in all of quantum physics. For instance, the Pauli “Uncertainty Principle” stated that the inherent uncertainties of measured quantities (eg energy and time) are determined by Planck’s constant.

Planck was a deeply religious man and greatly admired by younger physicists including Einstein and Bohr. His conception of nature placed great emphasis on its rationality that, he believed, demonstrated a creative intelligence. He thought that the fundamental constants of nature possessed specially designed values and sought to understand their underlying meaning.

Planck sought to combine the set of fundamental constants of nature to create universal measures of mass, length, time and temperature. He used the universal gravitational constant G, the constant speed of light c, Boltzmann’s constant k that relates kinetic energy to temperature and his own quantum constant h. By combining these four constants in various ratios, powers and square roots he defined the fundamental units of mass (M), length (L), time (t) and temperature (T). Due to the limitations of Blogger, I will not express these constants in terms of (G, c, k, h) but rather just give their numerical values. The interested reader is encouraged to look at the book The Constants of Nature by John Barrow. Another Blogger deficiency forces me to express exponents like this: 10(-3) means 0.001 and 10(+43) = 1 followed by 43 zeros. Thus Planck derived the following universal values:

M ~ 5 x 10(-5) gram = .00005 gram, about the mass of a small grain of sand

L ~ 10(-33) centimeter very small, even compared to an atomic nucleus 10(-13)

t ~ 10(-43) second, a REALLY SHORT time, and

T ~ 10(+32) degrees Kelvin, REALLY HOT

Because these are derived only from universal constants (G, c, k, h) they will have the same values wherever or whenever they are measured. They are universal constants.

But do they mean anything? Why are L and t so very small and T so very large? And a more fundamental question was the presence of G and h in each of the definitions. Gravity as described precisely by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity applies to cases where the masses are large such as bowling balls, solar systems or galaxies. By contrast, quantum mechanics applies to the tiny domains of nuclei, atoms and molecules. The way to decide whether quantum properties are important is to calculate the quantum wavelength of the system from the ratio of h to the momentum of the system:

wavelength = h/mv, where m is the mass of the system and v it’s speed.

For the bowling ball rolling down the lane, the mass is so large and h so small that the wavelength is infinitesimal compared to the size of the bowling ball. Thus quantum effects are negligible.

This wide berth between the domains of gravity and quantum effects is fortunate since we still have no theory that combines both effects. (Einstein was searching for such a unified theory until he died and some particle physicists have proposed a way of constructing such a “theory of everything.”)

We do know, however, when and where such a quantum theory of gravity is necessary. Immediately after the Big Bang, the micro-universe was so hot that it was expanding at the speed of light and creating mass from energy at a furious rate. If we look at the universe when it contained the Planck mass (M), we find that the quantum wavelength of the universe then equals the Planck length (L), the age of the universe is the Planck time (t) and the temperature equals the Planck temperature (T).

Planck’s fundamental constants have a profound meaning, defining the universe when quantum effects and gravity were both so important that a unified theory is required to understand what was happening. Remarkable!

Monday, March 20, 2006

St Patrick's Day - Djbouti Style

Our Palos Verdes Marine Brian Weiss updates his hometown friends from his new post in Djbouti, Djbouti. (I like to say that!)


Tomorrow we finally get to move into our permanent tents. I got to meet some Americans last night that came for the base Sunday service. The service seems to be pretty popular and the Chaplin arranges for their entry into camp for the service. It was great to see a piece of home coming through the gate. They were all energetic and motivated people (you would have to be to come to Djibouti for church). They had brought home made cookies and unfortunately we cannot eat while we are on post, but boy they looked good.

They asked about one of their group that we had denied entry to camp the night before, and we explained to them that for security of all the personnel on the base, we have to follow the procedures, and as per our SOG (Sergeant of the Guard) “no breaks”, means no fudging of the rules. Its not tough to apply the rules in the perfect situations, but the grey areas are hard to deal with. The rule of thumb we use is when in doubt, best to be safe. The Americans had no clue of the levels of security that we have here on base, and when they found out that their security while on base or in country was being handled by the Marine Corps, they sure appreciated us. I was glad to see them and I hope to see more Americans in the future, as they sure can bring a smile to our faces.

Don’t get me wrong, the people here are really friendly, but I can only speak enough Somali to get by right now, and that causes some strain. Most of the people we deal with tend to be very humble and really seem to appreciate us, and the work, money, status, hospitality and American spirit our base and operations bring. I think some see us as invaders, but as our Commanding General says we are ambassadors, and its our job to not only maintain the friendship we have but to change the minds of those who haven’t seen the good we bring.

We have learned that many people here in Djibouti, are only Djiboutian by geographic lines. It seems that here just as in many places in the world that the politicians drew the lines that delineate the countries boundaries, but left out the cultural or ethnic considerations. Most people here speak Somali and French, some Arabic. The weather wasn’t too hot today and I only felt the need to drink 15 liters of water. The chow hall is still really good with lots of options including fresh cut fruit.

Kinda out of time, as I have to prepare for tomorrow. I have been placed on the base Color Guard. My morning duty of posting the base flag is a great honor, but involves marching, which most of us know is not my best point. Its quite the duty, but I like to be prepared so I'm going to get some extra practice in before tomorrow, along with some work on my uniform. Before I forget I must say, I cannot fully discuss my duties in detail due to the fact that e mail is not secure. The bad guys listen for a piece of the puzzle at a time and then as the pieces fall together, they take advantage. So to maintain the safety for all of us here, we are required to keep it short, and not very detailed.

I hope all is well, I hope your part of the world is as good as mine.


Hey all,

Another week is done for us. We sure are keeping busy, our last shift was 48hrs. Not too much to report today, as all of the good stuff we do we are unable to write about. My fellow Marines and I are adjusting to the heat. We had an Air force band here this week; they were pretty good if you add in the Djibouti factor.

Start watching CNN for the highlights of our first and last visit. We are all settled into our new tents, so far so good! The pic I have attached is from the other night, we passed the hat around so we could have a pic, and the only thing missing was the beer! I hope all is well with all of you.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Gizoogle This

Ma man Craig DeLuz introduced the Western Alliance blog’as to the wonders of Gizoogle. Craig says, Finely There is a way fo` those of you uptight, prehistizzles conservatizzles ta be able ta reach tha hip hop generizzle … It’s called Gizooglizzles. Well I had to look.

The pic above is a sample from the site. Then there are sample translations like this piece from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths ta be self-evizzles tizzy all men is created equal, that They is endowed by they Creator wit certain unalienable Rights, thizzat among These is Life, Liberty n tha pursuit of Happiness . Boo-Yaa!

The best feature is the Testualizer that will tranzilate your input text. So tried a few segments from a recent post called “Stupid in America: Blame tha Liberals.” OK, so far? Here is what I wrote:

The severe deterioration of public education began in the late 1960s when the National Education Association converted from a teacher’s professional association into a trade union.

Liberal views of education policy were evangelically egalitarian, opposed to the traditional meritocracy, and radically self-indulgent.

This dumbing-down of mathematics was nudged into a political direction by educators who call themselves "critical theorists."

There are few things more creative than a fourth grader engaged in deep, critical reflection about certain ways of being.

Decreasing competence is only the beginning of the story. Intellect loses its virtue when it ceases to seek truth and turns to the pursuit of political ends.

And now the tranzilation:

The severe deteriorizzle of public education began in tha late 1960s whizzen tha National Education Association converted friznom a teacha’s professizzles association into a trade union . Bow wow wow yippee yo yipee yay.

Liberal views of education policy were evangelically egalizzles opposed ta tha traditizzle meritocrizzle n radically self-indizzle . Im a bad boy wit a lotta hos.

This dumb'n-down of mathemizzles was nudged into a politizzles direction by educators who cizzall themselves "critical theorists."

There is few th'n more creative than a fourth grada engaged in deep, critical reflection `bout certain ways of weed-smokin'.

Decreas'n competence is only tha beginn'n of tha story . Aint no stoppin' this shit nigga. Intellect loses its virtue when it ceazes ta seek truth n turns ta tha pursuit of politizzles ends . know what im sayin?.

Well, I’m hooked now. Think im gonna write all mah shiznit in this new language.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Scientific Orthodoxy

The great scientist Richard Feynman once said that “science is the culture of doubt.” Throughout the history of science, from Ptolemy’s Earth-centered universe through the Biblical creation story, orthodoxy has impeded the progress of science and the search for truth. Yet orthodoxy, confirming to established doctrines, has become the rule in much of modern science.

In cosmology, the orthodox doctrine is the Big Bang model of the universe. As a scientific theory it is rich and fine. Yet the institutional faith in the theory has effectively blocked the investigation of alternative models. A group of concerned scientists (rebels) decided that they must do something before orthodoxy again impeded science. The following are excerpts from an open letter to the scientific community published in the journal New Scientist on May 22, 2004:

The big bang today relies on a growing number of hypothetical entities, things that we have never observed-- inflation, dark matter and dark energy are the most prominent examples. Without them, there would be a fatal contradiction between the observations made by astronomers and the predictions of the big bang theory. In no other field of physics would this continual recourse to new hypothetical objects be accepted as a way of bridging the gap between theory and observation. It would, at the least, raise serious questions about the validity of the underlying theory.

But the big bang theory can't survive without these fudge factors. Without the hypothetical inflation field, the big bang does not predict the smooth, isotropic cosmic background radiation that is observed, because there would be no way for parts of the universe that are now more than a few degrees away in the sky to come to the same temperature and thus emit the same amount of microwave radiation.

Without some kind of dark matter, unlike any that we have observed on Earth despite 20 years of experiments, big-bang theory makes contradictory predictions for the density of matter in the universe.

And without dark energy, the theory predicts that the universe is only about 8 billion years old, which is billions of years younger than the age of many stars in our galaxy.

The big bang is not the only framework available for understanding the history of the universe. But in cosmology today doubt and dissent are not tolerated, and young scientists learn to remain silent if they have something negative to say about the standard big bang model. Those who doubt the big bang fear that saying so will cost them their funding.

Giving support only to projects within the big bang framework undermines a fundamental element of the scientific method -- the constant testing of theory against observation. Such a restriction makes unbiased discussion and research impossible.

The full letter and other interesting information about alternative models may be found at the web site Alternative Cosmology
. I have written a short popular account of the topic called “The Big Bang: Believe it or Not” available for the asking.

This sort of stifling orthodoxy is becoming pervasive in science. The most famous case, in the life sciences, is the orthodoxy of Darwinian Evolution. Advocates refuse to accept that it is a theory at all (“It is scientific fact”), do not allow teachers to question the validity of the doctrine, and initiate lawsuits to get their way. Another case is the doctrinaire belief in human generated global warming and the steps that must be taken to avert the looming disaster (ala Al Gore).

Science cannot survive and truth will remain hidden when orthodoxy gets in the way of investigation. We must not let it happen.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Fixing Higher Ed

In the last post I made the case for school choice in K-12 education enabled by universal vouchers. Caroline Hoxby of Harvard found that wherever public schools face serious competition for students and education dollars they improve. School choice is the tide that lifts all boats. The poor hunger for the choice that is now only available to richer folks who can choose where to live. Teachers ought to favor a system where substantially more of the dollars makes its way to the classroom and working conditions are substantially better.

One other element of choice would also help. Sandra Stotsky of the National Association of Scholars has proposed that incoming high school students be given a choice of a traditional college preparation curriculum or a technical apprenticeship program. Accept the fact that not all kids are the same. All would be required to complete a core curriculum of four years of English and three years of math, science and history. All graduates would be prepared for higher education, either in traditional colleges or in trade schools.

Higher education will benefit from K-12 reform since more incoming freshmen will be prepared for college level courses. Furthermore, there is already an element of choice for students and parents. There are better schools and better courses and professors within any school. It is mainly a matter of consumer information. One good source for high quality institutions is a list of the best colleges based on the guide
Choosing the Right College: The Whole Truth About America's Top Schools. The guide lists a diverse group of excellent universities and colleges including the University of Chicago, Hillsdale College, Baylor University, Wheaton College, Washington and Lee and Saint Thomas Aquinas. (see Beware Liberal Colleges, 10/25/05)

The chief issue in university education was described by Roger Kimball in his book Tenured Radicals (1998). Should our institutions of higher education be devoted primarily to the education of citizens -- or should they be laboratories for social and political experimentation? Traditionally, a liberal arts education involved both character formation and learning. Since the 1960s, however, colleges and universities have more and more been home to what Lionel Trilling called the "adversary culture of the intellectuals." The goal was less reflection than rejection, centered in the “studies” programs: Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Afro-American Studies, Women's Studies, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Studies. These are not the names of academic disciplines but political grievances. They exist not to further liberal education but to nurture the feckless antinomianism.

As consumers, students and parents can shut down these harmful and useless programs by choice, just don’t sign up. Another choice available to liberal arts majors is related to career objectives. Our local Palos Verdes Peninsula News recently published an opinion piece by a student intern. In “What’s a girl to do with a BA in bs?” Kimberly Vuoso complains that after graduating with a degree in English she was faced with the harsh truth that she did not possess any skills a potential employer finds valuable. Her solution, pursue a masters in humanities, having no idea what she will do with that. What a waste of time and money?

Then there is the question of efficiency. The cost of college education is already outrageous and is rising much faster than the rate of inflation. Like any other government funded program, it has no incentive to be efficient. I’d cut all federal funding to higher education and eliminate the Department of Education. That would help. For the state funding, Friedman’s voucher system could also be used here. Have all government schools charge fees covering the full cost of the educational services they provide. Then decide how many students you wish to fund and how much money each will be provided, depending on family income or whatever criteria we wish. Give the money to the students in the form of vouchers that can be used at any college, public or private. It’s the same system that was used successfully in the GI Bills for veterans.

Like Friedman, I believe that the growing role of government in financing and administering schooling has led to enormous waste and poorer education. All we need to do is say NO.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Competition Will Fix Public Education

American education is a mess. In the last three posts I tried to explain the scope of the problem and how we got there. It’s a sad story dating from the radical liberal movement of the 1960s, aided and abetted by government employee unions and the Democratic Party. We have two choices: (1) Do nothing and the system will gradually strangle the competitiveness from the American worker; or (2) Fix it. I prefer the second option.

But the problem is so huge, so pervasive, that we should begin with a set of objectives, before deciding what to do. Let’s aim before we shoot. I think what we want is an educational system that provides the tools needed for success to every American child. I also require efficiency since the cost is borne by all of us whether or not we currently benefit from the system. It’s fairly simple, but every reform should be tested against those goals.

And there are many barriers. From my good friend Helen who is a college teacher: "Teachers overseas get respect - students would not think of going to class with their homework undone or cursing at the teacher when he or she tries to correct behavior!! Over 50% of students in American schools DON'T DO HOMEWORK and many threaten their teachers with law suits or bodily harm. Respect for teachers is missing in the U.S. A teacher with eight years experience and a master's degree gets a salary of about $50,000 a year in Palos Verdes. Furthermore, teachers are REQUIRED to join the union with no say as to how the money is spent!"

I agree with Helen that discipline, respect, standards, salaries and union control are impediments to our goal of efficient, high quality education. Our solution must address all of these issues. As this is a complex and difficult problem, I ask that you bear with me while I roll out a proposal that will, I hope, address all segments of the problem.

My solution is not new, being first popularized by Milton Friedman in 1955. In a seminal paper called “The Role of Government in Education,” Friedman acknowledged that government intervention tends not to work very well. He suggested that if we wish to fund public education then it is far better to subsidize the consumer rather than the producer, since the latter creates a top-down system that is unresponsive and inefficient. Friedman said to open up the system to the free market principles of transparency, competition and reduced regulation. His mechanism: Vouchers that parents could use at any school of their choice.

In his “Stupid in America” TV special, John Stossel describes foreign countries that have already tried this approach with great success. In Belgium, for example, the government funds education—at any school—but if the school can't attract students, it goes out of business. Belgian school Principal Kaat Vandensavel told us, “If we don't offer parents what they want for their child, they won't come to our school.” She constantly improves the teaching, “You can't afford 10 teachers out of 160 that don't do their work, because the clients will know, and won't come to you again.”

Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby told Stossel: That's normal in Western Europe. If schools don't perform well, a parent would never be trapped in that school in the same way you could be trapped in the U.S. Hoxby noted that Milwaukee's private school vouchers made the nearby public schools change for the better. Public school principals were allowed to have a lot more autonomy," she said, "They counseled teachers out of teaching altogether who really weren't performing or showing up on the job -- they put in new back to basics curricula in some primary schools that really needed that so that reading skills and math skills would go up.

Still the Milwaukee experiment is under fire from the teacher’s unions. When the program was set up in 1995, it was limited to 15% of the Milwaukee public school enrollment who received $6,351 scholarships compared to the roughly $11,000 that is spent in the public schools. Demand for the program is so high that many are turned away, yet the unions are denying any increase in the 15% limit. Governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat, supports the teacher’s unions who have their own answer to the collapse of public education in the inner cities: ship truckloads of money to poorer districts in the name of social justice. But many Milwaukee parents aren't buying that. They have painfully learned that more money spent on a failed system does not produce better education. They want to make their own decisions about their children's future.

Ironically, this is the sort of initiative that Democrats should champion. The Democratic Party claims to be the “voice of the voiceless.” The voiceless would benefit most from vouchers, and if you ask the voiceless they are all in favor of vouchers. The poor don’t have the option of sending their children to expensive private schools or of moving to a suburb with good public schools.

Of my friends in Palos Verdes, most moved here for the schools. And the federal income tax system helped us make this choice. Take the median $1 million house with an $800,000 mortgage at six percent and property taxes of $10,000. That median family will receive a nice tax deduction of $58,000, potentially leading to a refund of $20,000, all for choosing to send their kids to excellent public schools.

So, try to imagine what would happen if a universal voucher system were enacted. In Palos Verdes, not too much would change. But in the inner city, private schools would spring up to compete for the $10,000 vouchers. If I opened such a school, I would advertise discipline in the classroom, respect for teachers and high standards. I would recruit excellent teachers with the promise of higher salaries, a pleasant working environment and no unions.

How would I make it work? Parents who wanted to send their kids to my school would have to make a commitment to discipline, respect and homework. They would be held accountable for their children’s performance. Discipline problems or lack of effort would lead to expulsion. The financial part would be easy. Unlike the California K-12 system where nearly half of the employees are not teachers, my school would direct 80-90% of the funding to the classroom where teachers could be paid $75,000 to $100,000.

Administrators and bureaucrats would be in short supply. As for regulations, my teachers would be required to have at minimum a good bachelor’s degree in the subject they teach, but teaching credentials would not be required. My Principal would be responsible for hiring the best and firing the inadequate, just like in private business.

I’m convinced that my school would be flooded with applications and I would have a large supply of excellent teachers to choose from. Many would come from industry and the professions. We would be a huge success, if only the politicians would give us a chance.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Stupid in America: Blame the Liberals

The severe deterioration of public education began in the late 1960s when the National Education Association converted from a teacher’s professional association into a trade union. At the same time the emphasis on academic achievement was “reformed” by pedagogues to de-emphasize competition, stress self-esteem and make schools more relevant, fun and like real life. This has led to what President Bush calls the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Liberal views of education policy were evangelically egalitarian, opposed to the traditional meritocracy, and radically self-indulgent. The trend was decidedly anti-intellectual due to the barrier that rationality places in the way of politicization. School policy came to rest on the assumptions that kids are responsible enough to choose their own courses from a smorgasbord loaded with irrelevancy, yet should not be responsible for their performance. Testing expectations should be minimal and graduation requirements easily achieved.

A good example of this politically correct, educationally inferior thinking is found in the National History Standards published by UCLA in 1994. In keeping with the liberal bias, the multicultural curriculum minimized the achievements of Europeans and their descendents in America in order to focus attention on blacks and American Indians. Fifth graders were told to “Draw upon stories of Mansa Musa and his pilgrimage to Mecca in order to analyze the great wealth of the kingdom of Mali.” Students were asked how “Columbus’s description of the peaceful and pleasant nature of the Carib Indians contrasted with his treatment of them.” European’s views of land ownership were contrasted with “Native American belief that land was not property but was entrusted by the Creator to all living creatures for their common benefit and shared use.” (I wonder if that reference to the Creator is still allowed.)

Students are told to conduct a trial of John D. Rockefeller for his “unethical and amoral business practices in direct violation of the common welfare.” The Constitution was not mentioned, even once, and great Americans, including Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk and the Wright brothers were ignored. Meanwhile the evil of McCarthyism gets nineteen mentions.

The US Congress was so repulsed by this intellectual garbage that the Senate condemned it by a vote of 99-1. Revised history standards were issued in 1995 but bias is still prominent.

Another beauty is the standards issued in the early 1990s by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics that disparaged basic skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, since all of these could be easily performed on a calculator. The council preferred real-life problem solving, using everyday situations, an approach that some critics have called "rainforest algebra."

This dumbing-down of mathematics was nudged into a political direction by educators who call themselves "critical theorists." They advocate using mathematics as a tool to advance social justice in a curriculum called "ethno-mathematics." Topics include "Sweatshop Accounting," with units on poverty, globalization and the unequal distribution of wealth; "Multicultural Math," and "Home Buying While Brown or Black." Meanwhile countries that regularly beat our students in international tests of mathematics do not use the subject to steer students into political action.

There is a modest backlash underway in what are called “character education” courses in some public schools. The liberal viewpoint is stated by Alfie Kohn in an issue of Phi Delta Kappan, a journal for professional educators. Kohn claims that “These programs are designed to make children work harder and do what they are told. The point is to drill students in specific behaviors rather than to engage them in deep, critical reflection about certain ways of being.” Richard John Neuhaus notes in The Best of The Public Square: “No wonder Mr. Kohn is upset. There are few things more creative than a fourth grader engaged in deep, critical reflection about certain ways of being.”

John Stossel’s ABC-TV special report "Stupid in America" noted that at age ten American students score well above the international average. But by age fifteen Americans place twenty-fifth out of forty countries. “The longer kids stay in American schools, the worse they do in international competition. They do worse than kids from countries that spend much less money on education.” Stossel asks why we are surprised when public education in the USA is a government monopoly. “Don't like your public school? Tough. The school is terrible? Tough. That's why government monopolies routinely fail their customers and union-dominated monopolies are even worse.”

He relates the egregious case of the NYC school system. In the words of Chancellor Joel Klein: “In New York City, it's just about impossible to fire a bad teacher. We tolerate mediocrity because people get paid the same, whether they're outstanding, average, or way below average." One teacher sent sexually oriented emails to "Cutie 101," his sixteen year old student. Klein couldn't fire him for years. Klein employs dozens of teachers who he's afraid to let near the kids, so he has them sit in what they call "rubber rooms." This year he will spend twenty million dollars to warehouse teachers in five rubber rooms. It's an alternative to firing them, that is nearly impossible. In the last four years, only two teachers out of 80,000 were fired for incompetence. Still NYC spends an extraordinary $11,000 per student. “Only a monopoly can spend that much money and still fail the kids.”

Lest you think that the problems are confined to K-12 education, recall that over half of incoming college freshmen are in need of remedial courses. Furthermore, the 60s radical liberals are now ensconced on college faculties and administrations, with their mush-headed feelings about egalitarianism and radical individualism. The 1993 report of the National Association of Scholars eighty year study of highly selective institutions is chock full of devastating findings. By 1993 only 29% of these universities retained general education requirements; only 14% had a literature requirement, with similar results in science and mathematics; rigor is diminishing precipitously; and the number of days in class dropped from 191 in 1964 to 156 in 1993.

Robert Bork in Slouching Towards Gomorrah notes that “Decreasing competence is only the beginning of the story. Intellect loses its virtue when it ceases to seek truth and turns to the pursuit of political ends.”

Brigette Berger wrote that “the fate of the modern university and the fate of Western Civilization are inextricably intertwined.” (“Multiculturalism and the Modern University” in Partisan Review, 1993) We’d better fix those universities as well as K-12. See the next post.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Public Education’s Disgrace

You are going to need a strong stomach to digest this post. The facts are not pretty. And there is more than enough blame to go around. You may be surprised at some of the culprits.

I might as well start at the bottom line. If you take the K-12 public school student population and project educational success you will be horrified to find that only about one third will graduate from high school with adequate proficiency in reading, writing and math. They will be deemed to be ready for college but many will need remedial courses to make up for basic deficiencies. They are the fortunate third.

Then there is the third of the population that will graduate through the graces of “social promotion.” That third will be functionally illiterate and unable to do basic algebra. If they go to a Community College the first year or more will be spent learning some of the basic material and skills they should have learned in high school. This group has a modest chance of success in our competitive workplace.

Then there is the truly unlucky third that gives up and drops out before high school graduation. These kids have minimal chance of success and generally add to the population of the economic underclass. Many wind up in jail or as single mothers on welfare.

The high schools have been rightly blamed for this sad state of affairs but it is worth noting that when students enter ninth grade over 70% are reading well below grade level and are equally unprepared in math, science and history. Overall this is a disgraceful picture in this, the greatest country on God’s green earth. (Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education, 2005).

Of course these dismal statistics are not uniformly distributed across American society. Things are significantly better in places like Palos Verdes and significantly worse in Los Angeles and all other big cities. And among the poor, particularly blacks and Hispanics who are most in need of educational tools, the picture is the bleakest. In 1952 the illiteracy rate of black 14 year olds was 10% (five times higher than whites). Over fifty years later the rates are 46% of blacks and 44% of Hispanics. For blacks who graduate from high school, they are on average four academic years behind their white classmates. Over 50% of blacks do not graduate from high school and of that group 28% of the men wind up in jail. This is tragic! (Abigail and Steven Thernstrom, “America in Black and White”)

You might be surprised to hear that I can relate, at least a bit, to these kids. They made poor decisions in their young lives and so did I. After graduating from high school I thought it would be a good idea to get married and become a father at age nineteen. OK, I was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I knew what I had to do. After a long day of job hunting I had two offers. I could be an appliance salesman at Sears for $75/week or a warehouseman at Wilson & Co, the meatpackers, for $82 a week.

So for the extra $7 per week I hauled huge slabs of beef and crates of chickens from place to place for eight hours a day. If I hadn’t hurt my back lifting a crate of hams, I might have worked my way up the ladder to truck driver. I admired those tough guys with their trusses and hernias and gnarly hands.

One day I had a “Graduate” moment. One of the drivers pulled me aside and whispered… “plastics”… No, that was the movie, what he actually said was: “Go to school kid.” So I did.

But what about those poor kids who didn’t even graduate from high school. Welcome to the world of warehouse work and Ben Gay products, if the union will take you in.

And what about the fortunate kids who make it to college and manage to stay enrolled? The National Association of Scholars (NAS) has studied 50 selective universities over the last ninety years, issuing reports in 1914, 1939, 1964 and 1993. Robert Samuelson’s conclusion: “Whatever else it is, higher education is not a bastion of excellence. It is shot through with waste, lax academic standards and mediocre teaching.”

What caused this catastrophe? What can we do about it? Read the next post.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Education Reform Needed Now!

In spite of a booming economy, record homeownership and wealth, many Americans report being worried about their financial futures. They fear the threat to US competitiveness from the booming economies in China and India. They believe that outsourcing is the primary cause of US unemployment and the resulting social unrest.

I believe, conversely, that the greatest threat to American competitiveness is the inadequate education of too many Americans. To mention just one issue, the European Union now graduates 50 percent more engineers and scientists than the US, and Asia has recently passed us by. In 2001, China graduated 220,000 engineers as against 60,000 in the United States according to the National Scientific Foundation. Our advanced technological economy needs many more professionals with advanced technical degrees.

I believe, also, that the primary source of underemployment and social unrest is the failure of the education system to prepare the social class most in need of tools. Furthermore, “instead of fostering assimilation and harmony, our schools are increasingly a source of the very fragmentation and divisiveness they earlier did so much to prevent.” (Milton and Rose Friedman, “Free To Choose,” 1980)

If we are content to suffer a long, slow decline in our living standards and to become a nation with a huge, dissatisfied underclass, then the route is clear. Do nothing, and the union controlled school system supported by the Democratic Party will gradually strangle the competitiveness from the American worker.

In this series of posts, I will take a look back at education in America until “reform” led us astray; assess the sad state of student performance; and offer some radical proposals to fix the problem.

From the earliest days of the American Republic, the localities and states maintained “common schools” that were universally available (except to slaves) and financed primarily by the parents. The control was local and parents demanded quality. Then, beginning in the 1840s, there was a campaign to replace this diverse and largely successful school system by so-called “free schools” that were financed indirectly by taxes. This campaign was not led by dissatisfied parents, but mainly by teachers and government officials. The leaders of this movement were following the trend of autocracies in Prussia (1808) and in Napoleon’s France about the same time. Authoritarian and socialist elites in America advocated and established a school system that was “an island of socialism in a free market sea.”

Over time the new public school system led to several serious problems that we still face today. (1) Power shifted from parents in the local communities to remote entities at the state and federal level and to a gigantic, self-serving education bureaucracy. (2) The function of schools was expanded from teaching the three Rs plus common American values to promoting social mobility, racial integration and a whole host of special interests. (3) Education standards were relaxed to better accommodate the lowest common denominator and make it easier for teachers. (4) Discipline vanished in many schools because the power to enforce discipline was “severely circumscribed, and the power to expel virtually amputated.” (5) Spending on public education exploded from $2000 per pupil in 1978 to over $10,000 per student today (Has your income gone up 500% in that time?); and (6) Quality of education declined across the board from grade school to university. In fact, the longer a child spends in the school system the worse he or she does in standardized tests against foreign students.

This amounts to a rash of bad news for America and Americans. In the next post, I’ll take a closer look at the data. How bad is it really?