Sophont
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
 
True Believers at the World Bank
commondreams.org: "In the McNamara era, the bank began to make loans on the condition that nations privatize public services and allow foreign money to move in and out of the country with little regulation. The idea was to create a climate in which private investment would lift people out of poverty. For the next 30 years, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund followed this market-oriented strategy, which came to be known as 'the Washington Consensus.'

Before the McNamara years, the poorest people didn't get much richer. But during the Washington Consensus years, they got poorer and poorer.

I saw how that could be possible when I became a shareholder in the French water company Suez, which took over the water system of Johannesburg, South Africa.

To get ready for privatization, South African communities followed the World Bank/IMF suggestion that water rates be raised so consumers would get used to paying the full cost. The water of many people was cut off when they couldn't pay their bills. In some places they started taking water from rivers. The result was a cholera epidemic.

Cholera is an extreme result for a development scheme. But then, privatizing water in Africa is an extreme application of the World Bank's private investment theory. After all, a private company has to have some way of making money.

How is a private water company supposed to recoup the expense of extending pipelines to people who are simply too poor to pay the real cost? If you buy a Third World water company, it's far easier, you'll quickly discover, to recoup the investment by siphoning the water out to be bottled and consumed elsewhere.

Even in the First World, it's often more profitable to siphon off than to 'develop.' For a few years, the Suez Co. also owned the water system in Bergen County, N.J. During its stewardship, it sold off land around the reservoir to private builders. Then it turned around and sold the whole water system to another company. We shareholders took the money and ran. Technically that's called 'asset stripping.' And it's perfectly legal."

Monday, May 30, 2005
 
Marlene Zuk: Grade 'em high in self-esteem, low in realism
startribune.com:
In the face of all evidence to the contrary, my students exhibit an unswerving confidence in their own abilities. They earnestly assure me that despite test scores in the single digits and an inability to answer questions posed by their teaching assistant, they really know the material: "It just doesn't show in my grades." The implied fault, no doubt, is mine, for giving such unfair and inappropriate exams, but it is never clear just why they do think they understand the material.

They readily confess to me that they have not consulted the text and do not remember my lecture. They have nothing to say about the concepts we've covered. Yet somehow, a kernel of faith stays resolutely sheltered in each undergraduate bosom -- they believe honestly and with conviction that they get it, and therefore deserve a high grade..........

"Once again, I explained how to answer the question, and once again the student was pleased. The error was just a trivial difference of opinion. 'Yeah, I get it,' she said. 'I was just thinking of it differently.' You say tomayto, I say tomahto.

No, I wanted to say, you weren't thinking of it differently, you had it completely wrong; you didn't understand it at all. But like her many compatriots, she was unlikely to acknowledge that, or admit to a mistake even when she created a version of reality never seen on a map, or in the actions of a blackbird.

Students have always deluded themselves, of course, and hope has always sprung eternal, or at least until final grades appear. And at least some in my classes really do eventually master the material. But confident placidity in the face of error seems to be on the rise."

 
Washington Examiner: Opinion
Washington Examiner: Opinion: "R. James Woolsey knows espionage - he was director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1993 to 1995. Today he is a vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton and an adviser to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He also likes to read and discuss spy novels.

EXAMINER: What's the best spy novel?

WOOLSEY: I can't pick one best book because different books are trying to do so many different things. For giving a feel for what case officers actually do, the best one is 'Agents of Innocence,' the first novel by David Ignatius. It's modeled in part on a real guy who was a case officer and then a division chief in the Near East. He penetrated the PLO but was killed in the Beirut embassy bombing in 1983.

Woolsey recommends:

*"Agents of Innocence," by David Ignatius
*"The Spy Who Came in from the Cold," by John le Carre
*"Our Man in Havana," by Graham Greene
*"Judgment on Deltchev," by Eric Ambler
*"Tears of Autumn," by Charles McCarry
*"Confessions of a Spy," by Pete Earley
*"Tower of Secrets," by Victor Sheymov
*"What Went Wrong?" by Bernard Lewis
*"Dream Palace of the Arabs," by Fouad Ajami"

Sunday, May 29, 2005
 
For one day, schools must teach the same topic
CNN.com - May 25, 2005: "The Education Department outlined Tuesday how it plans to enforce a little-known provision that Congress passed in 2004: Every school and college that receives federal money must teach about the Constitution on September 17, the day the document was adopted in 1787.

Schools can determine what kind of educational program they want, but they must hold one every year on the now-named 'Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.' And if September 17 falls on a weekend or holiday, schools must schedule a program immediately before or after that date."

Saturday, May 28, 2005
 
AI Breakthrough or the Mismeasure of Machine?
kuro5hin.org: "If a computer program took the SAT verbal analogy test and scored as well as the average college bound human, it would raise some serious questions about the nature and measurement of intelligence.

Guess what?

Artificial intelligence with human-level performance on SAT verbal analogy questions has been achieved (warning: PDF) using corpus-based machine learning of relational similarity. Peter D. Turney's Interactive Information Group, Institute for Information Technology of the National Research Council Canada, achieved this milestone.

The timing of this achievement is highly ironic since this is the first year that the College Board has given the SAT's without the verbal analogy questions."

Tuesday, May 24, 2005
 
Army recruiters nationwide will "stand down" today for a refresher class in ethics
Rocky Mountain News: Local: "The premise was simple: McSwane would try to join the Army as a high school dropout with an insatiable fondness for marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms. No matter how stoned and stupid McSwane acted, a pair of recruiters wouldn't wouldn't let him go.

McSwane insisted to the recruiters that he couldn't lick his drug habit, but one recruiter told him to take some 'stuff' that would 'clean you out.' It turned out to be a detoxification kit the recruiter said had worked with other applicants. McSwane said the recruiter even offered to pay half the cost of the kit.

McSwane's claim of being a dropout didn't discourage his recruiters either. He was encouraged to take a high school equivalency diploma exam, which McSwane deliberately failed. That's when he said one recruiter introduced him to the 'home-school option.'

McSwane was told to order a phony diploma and transcripts from an online diploma mill.

'It can be like Faith Hill Baptist School or something - whatever you choose,' one of the recruiters can be heard saying in a taped phone call.

Several days and $200 later, McSwane became a proud graduate of Faith Hill Baptist High School in Longmont.

'I ordered my four years of high school sweat with a few clicks,' he later wrote.

But McSwane knew that if his story was going to hold up, he would need proof. So he enlisted his sister, Victoria, to pretend that she was keeping a photo album of her big brother's military accomplishments. She took pictures of McSwane shaking hands with his recruiters.

McSwane convinced a high school friend to operate a video camera across the street from a head shop while one of the recruiters drove him to the store to buy a drug detox kit. He even got his mother to covertly slip him some cash during the episode after the head shop refused to accept her credit card.

Since McSwane didn't wear a wire on most of his visits to the recruiting office, he parlayed his natural forgetfulness as a supposed druggie into an opportunity to tape his recruiters' during phone calls."

Sunday, May 15, 2005
 
My sign is "Stop"
acw: "I cannot begin to tell you how offended I am whenever anybody even pretends to know things about me based solely on the time and place of my birth. It is hard enough to make a good impression without people who don't know me telling lies that others will believe. And you know that stuff people always say? 'Oh, I don't believe it, I just read it for fun!' I don't buy it. You're only saying that because I've revealed my skepticism and you don't want to get into a fight about it. I appreciate that; I don't want to fight about it either. But my feeling is that you wouldn't bother reading the thing, you wouldn't put in the energy to drag your eyes over the smarmy, self-righteous lines, if you didn't think there was something to it.

And I just don't want to give you any fodder; I don't want to tell you my sign and have you say, 'Oh, all Orions are skeptical like that!' and no matter what I say, your attitude to me will change.

It's a kind of bigotry, don't you see? You have prejudices about dates of birth. Let me tell you, I think nationality has a lot more effect on personality than whether you are a Casseiopeia or a Pegasus."

Saturday, May 14, 2005
 
Universal: another word for watered down?
Mostly Cajun, All American and Opinionated :

How about second rate?

Any time that the government opines that something sould be univeral, your antennae should go up and you should engage your bullshit monitor, because, in the words of Mark Twain, “taffy is being distributed”.

This nation was founded on equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. Case in point: Education is an opportunity. A high school diploma is an outcome"

Sunday, May 08, 2005
 
Philip Greenspun's Weblog:
Philip Greenspun's Weblog: Ehrenreich notes that the official poverty line was defined in 1964 as a multiple of the cost of food (see http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/defs/poverty.html) and has barely been revised since then.  The marketplace, however, has changed.  Real estate and rents have become much more expensive and food has stayed relatively cheap.  Thus it is easy to envision a family whose income is 3X the cost of eating at McDonald's but who can't afford rent.  Ehrenreich finds that almost no unskilled worker would be able to afford rent plus a car at the same time.  If they can't team up with a spouse and they need the car to get to work they are forced to live in the car.


Ehrenreich's conclusion is that this can't last.  The workers will rebel and demand their right to at least an efficiency apartment plus some means of transportation to a job.  She predicts a Proletarian Revolution.  Six years have elapsed since Nickel and Dimed was written and yet the Walmartians and hotel and restaurant slaves seem as docile as ever.


What did Ehrenreich overlook?  Immigration!  There are plenty of people from poor countries who think that working 60-70 hours per week for $7.50/hour is acceptable, especially if there are opportunities for their children to do better.  As long as the immigrants are streaming into the U.S. it seems unlikely that wages for the unskilled will rise.


One might ask "Why do we have such a welcoming immigration policy?"  Countries that value quality of life restrict immigration.  To get into New Zealand, for example, you need to demonstrate some combination of youth, education, and wealth.  The New Zealanders don't see a need to clog their neighborhoods with development and their highways with traffic unless the newcomers are bringing something interesting.  The U.S., by contrast, is happy to grant visas and green cards to people who don't speak English and who in some cases are dedicated to the destruction of the U.S. government (the September 11th terrorists, for example, most of whom had official U.S. INS blessing).  The U.S. government puts GDP growth as its #1 priority because GDP growth enables the government to collect more in taxes and the extra tax revenue enables the government to expand.  If the population growth that is required to generate the GDP growth means that young people have to work two jobs in order to rent an apartment that's not Uncle Sam's problem.  High housing costs and the lack of guaranteed health care are both desired spurs to keep potential taxpayers getting up and going into work every day.

Saturday, May 07, 2005
 
Twenty-Five Years of Post-it Notes
The Rake : "On April 6, 1980, though, the endless and complicated march of progress took a short break as a remarkable new technology arrived in stationery stores around the nation. It was so simple to use, even a CEO could master it. It was so perfectly designed, it didn’t require semi-annual upgrades. It was so versatile, it actually performed better than advertised. It was the Post-it Note.

Two and a half decades later, as the little yellow notes celebrate their silver anniversary, it’s easy to forget what a recent innovation they are. Thanks to their material simplicity, they seem more closely related to workplace antiquities like the stapler and the hole-punch than integrated chips. Instead, they’re an exemplary product of their time. Foreshadowing the web, they offered an easy way to link one piece of information to another in a precisely contextual way. Foreshadowing email, they made informal, asynchronous communication with your co-workers a major part of modern office life.

...the story of 3M engineer Art Fry’s invention is a grand chronicle of post-industrial American enterprise. It encompasses skeptical bosses, last-ditch marketing campaigns, and that old Hollywood crowd-pleaser, “inherently tacky elastomeric copolymer microspheres.” It deserves a more in-depth telling than it typically gets. ..."

Tuesday, May 03, 2005
 
Historic Manhattan diner moves to Sullivan County
Hudson Valley News story: The Munson Diner is moving from West 49th Street in Manhattan to the South Main Street district of Liberty, N.Y.  The historic diner will soon be hauled over the George Washington Bridge to make its grand entrance up Main Street to Lake Street, where it will find a permanent home.

The diner, which was the scene of a Seinfeld episode, radio interviews and TV commercials, is expected to arrive in Liberty in May.  Then, with an intensive schedule of construction, landscaping, restoration and selection of an operator, the diner will celebrate a grand opening early in the summer.  If all goes well, it will open just in time for Liberty’s July 4 Festival on Main Street.

`“The Munson Diner will be Downtown Liberty’s new national tourist attraction,” said Allan Berube, who, as coordinator of Community Development at the Liberty Economic Action Project , got the ball rolling when he learned the diner was for sale.

“We believe the move, restoration, community involvement and grand opening will turn a new page in the ongoing revival of our Main Street district,” said Berube. “This creative, community-initiated project will draw new visitors to Liberty’s home-style restaurants and shops, museums, galleries and theaters.” 

The Munson Diner project is linked to a larger campaign to promote downtown Liberty as a visitor destination.  Dozens of people and organizations have participated in the project so far. 

The staff of LEAP, Liberty Community Development Corporation and Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development initiated and steered the project past many obstacles. 

At the same time, the Munson Diner Corp., with 15 Liberty investors, was formed to raise $250,000 in funds to buy the diner and vacant lot, pay for the move, restore the diner, prepare the site and build an addition.  The cost of purchasing the diner is approximately $35,000. "

Monday, May 02, 2005
 
Sign-language interpreter had hand in Ukraine's election
South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Dmytruk, 48, made sign language her vocation and today interprets for Ukraine's state-run television.

Her face and hands appear in a little box at the bottom of the screen as she sends out the news on the mid-morning and early afternoon telecasts to the hearing-impaired.

During the tense days of Ukraine's presidential elections last year, Dmytruk staged a silent but bold protest, informing deaf Ukrainians that official results from the Nov. 21 runoff were fraudulent.

Her act of courage further emboldened protests that grew until a new election was held and the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, was declared the winner."


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