Devolution in Texas

Texas School Board Set to Vote on Challenge to Evolution

The Texas Board of Education will vote this week on a new science curriculum designed to challenge the guiding principle of evolution, a step that could influence what is taught in biology classes across the nation.

The proposed curriculum change would prompt teachers to raise doubts that all life on Earth is descended from common ancestry. Texas is such a huge textbook market that many publishers write to the states standards, then market those books nationwide.

“This is the most specific assault Ive seen against evolution and modern science,” said Steven Newton, a project director at the National Center for Science Education, which promotes teaching of evolution.

Four key decisions that led to the crisis

Slate magazine is running a series on  Making sense of the credit debacle. Recently Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture blog, listed a couple of key decisions that he thinks contributed to the crisis.

What led to the current situation were numerous legislative, ideological, and business decisions that worked together to create a systemic failure. Consider each of the following:

  • The Commodities Futures Modernization Act 2000 allowed unregulated derivatives to run wild.
  • The repeal of Glass-Steagall 1999 allowed depository banks to become far more intertwined with Wall Street.
  • From 2001-03, Fed Chair Alan Greenspan took rates down to unprecedented levels, causing 1 a mad scramble for yield and 2 an enormous housing boom.
  • In 2004 the SEC allowed the five big investment banks to leverage up from 12-to-1 to 35-to-1 or more.

That’s why they call it money

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts from National Public Radio. One of my favorites is “Planet Money“, which is the best practical explanation I’ve heard of what’s going on in the economy. They don’t track the market, or hype investments, or all that stuff you get on CNBC.

But they ask much more interesting questions like:
“How should a bailout work?”
“What is money, really?”
“How did Madoff do it?”

Just like in physics, sometimes, it’s the simplest questions that really have deep answers.

After listening to some recent podcasts, I’m now convinced that all economists are political.
When you don’t have scientific experiments to rely on, and the facts are all open to interpretation, academics tend to group by ideology. Back when I got disgusted with macro-economics back in the early eighties, it was during a battle royal between the Keynesian school and the Chicago school of economics. The Chicago school won, and dominated US economic policy for about 25 years. Now that federal monetary policy has failed, politicians are turning to those forgotten Keynesians again.

Planet Money was started last year by the guys who did “The Giant Pool of Money” episode for This American Life. And if you haven’t heard that program, it’s definitely worth an hour of your time.They recorded it back in May of 2008, as the sub-prime crisis was taking down more and more of the financial industry.

They somehow managed to make the entire mortgage industry comprehensible – by following the money trail. They talk to a guy with no income who got a $700,000 mortgage, and to a vet who was tricked into taking a sub-prime loan. They interview a kid who worked for a sleazy mortgage broker in Las Vegas, and got bigger bonuses for worse loans. At the top of the chain was the young turk working for an investment bank, who earned $50-$70K a month, and partied with celebrities. He says he knew things were bad the month he only pulled in $25K. “And that didn’t even cover my expenses”. In the end, he lost his penthouse to foreclosure, and ended up moving in with his parents.

Yeah, I know, it’s hard to feel sorry for a guy like that. I just hope Paulsen didn’t pay his bonus with my bailout dollars.

FBI saw mortgage fraud early

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: FBI saw mortgage fraud early

“We knew that the mortgage-brokerage industry was corrupt,” the first of the retired FBI officials told the Seattle P-I. “Where we would have gotten a sense of what was really going on was the point where the mortgage was sold knowing that it was a piece of dung and it would be turned into a security. But the agents with the expertise had been diverted to counterterrorism.”

Yet another victim of Cheney era priorities. Osama Bin Laden wanted to destroy America’s  financial center and its economy. It seems that by chasing his shadow around the world, we did the job for him.

Like a breath of fresh air

Obama’s Inaugural Address

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man — a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.

The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists

The conventional view of terrorists is that they are focussed on political or economic gains. So a common strategy to prevent terrorism is to provide people with non-violent ways of achieving those goals. But Max Abrahms of Stanford has studied terrorist groups, and he concludes their motivation is not political gain.

The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists.

Terrorists, he writes,

  1. Attack civilians, a policy that has a lousy track record of convincing those civilians to give the terrorists what they want;
  2. Treat terrorism as a first resort, not a last resort, failing to embrace nonviolent alternatives like elections;
  3. Don’t compromise with their target country, even when those compromises are in their best interest politically;
  4. Have protean political platforms, which regularly, and sometimes radically, change;
  5. Often engage in anonymous attacks, which precludes the target countries making political concessions to them;
  6. Regularly attack other terrorist groups with the same political platform;
  7. Resist disbanding, even when they consistently fail to achieve their political objectives or when their stated political objectives have been achieved.

Abrahms has an alternative model to explain all this: People turn to terrorism for social solidarity. He theorizes that people join terrorist organizations worldwide in order to be part of a community, much like the reason inner-city youths join gangs in the United States.

The cynical appeal of drilling

Making America Stupid

Why would Republicans, the party of business, want to focus our country on breathing life into a 19th-century technology — fossil fuels — rather than giving birth to a 21st-century technology — renewable energy? As I have argued before, it reminds me of someone who, on the eve of the I.T. revolution — on the eve of PCs and the Internet — is pounding the table for America to make more I.B.M. typewriters and carbon paper. “Typewriters, baby, typewriters.”

Of course, we’re going to need oil for many years, but instead of exalting that — with “drill, baby, drill” — why not throw all our energy into innovating a whole new industry of clean power with the mantra “invent, baby, invent?” That is what a party committed to “change” would really be doing.

Northern Campaign

Prime Minister Stephen Harper just called a federal election for October 14. So Canadians will have to endure a 5 week long political campaign. Compare that to the seemingly endless campaign cycle in the US.

On the other hand, this is also the 3rd Canadian election in 4 years. Canada has been struggling with minority govermments since the Liberal party collapse in 2004.

What’s the matter with Canada?

Canada’s political system is in turmoil. […] Canada is quietly becoming a political basket case, and this latest election may make things even worse.

Palin Pun

A friend was watching the Republican Convention:

“Boy, Palin is good!”

Me: “You thinking of changing sides?”

“No, but I am still amazed at her delivery.”

Me: “No wonder. She’s had lots of practice with deliveries.”

Thank you, I’ll be here all week…

Paying for your right to TV

An article in Popular Mechanics estimates the cost of the upcoming transition to digital TV in the US: Digital Television Transition Funding – Do Americans Have a Right to TV?

The federal government is spending about $1.5 billion of taxpayer’s money on education and incentives.  Is this really how we want to be spending money from the sale of public spectrum?

Just for comparison, the proposed 2009 federal budget for adult literacy education is just $575 million.