Mike Beversluis

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Michelle Rhee and the future of America's educational system

Jake Tapper: Obama's Big Test on Education?

In March, Josh Patashnik of The New Republic took a closer look at PEBO and education, writing that Obama "has long advocated a reformist agenda that looks favorably upon things like competition between schools, test-based accountability, and performance pay for teachers. But the Obama campaign has hesitated to trumpet its candidate's maverick credentials. As an increasingly influential chorus of donors and policy wonks pushes an agenda within the Democratic Party that frightens teachers' unions and their traditional liberal allies, Obama seems unsure how far he can go in reassuring the former group that he's one of them without alienating the latter. And this is a shame, because Obama may represent the best hope for real reform in decades."

Likely not encouraging Rhee is Obama's pick to head up his transition efforts on education: Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, whom many in the education reform community eye warily, as too closely allied with teachers unions.

Members of the pro-reform group Democrats for Education Reform see Darling-Hamilton as someone who thinks more funding is the answer and say "Darling-Hammond's approach is dangerous. Without genuine reform, money pumped into a district like Newark is wasted."The liberal American Prospect suggests that Obama's naming Darling-Hammond, "a teacher quality expert who opposes merit pay and is more critical than supportive of NCLB, signals that Obama wishes to avoid a fight with the unions. He'll spend his political capital on energy and health care instead."

That would be very unfortunate.


Rhee Tackles Classroom Challenge
By Amanda Ripley / Washington Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008

Rhee has promised to make Washington the highest-performing urban school district in the nation, a prospect that, if realized, could transform the way schools across the country are run. She is attempting to do this through a relentless focus on finding--and rewarding--strong teachers, purging incompetent ones and weakening the tenure system that keeps bad teachers in the classroom. This fall, Rhee was asked to meet with both presidential campaigns to discuss school reform. In the last debate, each candidate tried to claim her as his own, with Barack Obama calling her a "wonderful new superintendent."

Obama and Education
Callie Shell / Aurora for TIME

Michelle Rhee is a Democrat, but she came very close to voting for John McCain in November. She chose Barack Obama because one of her closest friends had begged her to give him a chance. "It was a very hard decision," she says. "I'm somewhat terrified of what the Democrats are going to do on education.

If only Nixon could go to China, then I suspect, only Democrats can break the teacher's unions. And schools are more important than eating bird's nest soup with Mao.

DCist worries that the TIME cover up above is sexist:

This cover illustrates a couple of interesting phenomenons: fame-for-D.C. and outright sexism. Rhee may be a bureaucrat with a lot of authority, but with all due respect, she is still, at the end of the day, merely a bureaucrat. Yet by nabbing the cover of Time and a profile in this month's Atlantic Monthly, Rhee appears to be this city's biggest celebrity.

And yet her high profile does not afford her much respect. No celebrity not famous for flashing her underwear can expect quite such negative treatment by the media as Rhee. In both Time and the Atlantic, she is depicted as a mean old schoolma'am. In the Time cover, at least, she is symbolically (if cheesily) projecting authority. The Atlantic picture is a deliberate effort to make her look like a wraith. A caption underneath a photo accompanying one September 2007 Washingtonian profile mentions that Rhee is mounting a "charm offensive," but by the photo alone, you wouldn't know it.

I don't see it. How is her picture with a broom different than the attention Joe Clark received, along with his famous baseball bat? Rhee is a brusk, loose canon, and so presenting her as such is accurate and not projection. That said, the Atlantic is known for dirty photographer tricks, so maybe there is some fire beneath that smoke.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Athletes of the World, Unite!

Bowling for big bucks:
Amateur athletics is wonderful, entertaining and disgustingly exploitative

By Allen R. Sanderson
November 24, 2008

With political polling and voting now behind us, as we head to malls and moms this holiday season, how about a quick survey to name the most exploited workers in the American economy? Typical knee-jerk candidates might be Wal-Mart employees, agricultural laborers, immigrants (legal or otherwise) and maybe even the U.S. taxpayer. But I have a fifth candidate.

If one wants to know who really is being exploited—defined as contributing the most revenue to his employer compared with what he is being paid for his efforts—we have to go no further than our living rooms. For there, starting with the appropriately dubbed Congressional Bowl in our nation's capital Dec. 20 and ending in Miami on Jan. 8 with the Bowl Championship Series championship game, is the vast array—34 in all—of college football bowl games.

NB, academia is run the same way itself - compare graduate student stipends and associate professor salaries to the rise in endowments over the last few years. Break the machine!

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Correlation is not causation

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

And have a beer: Sam Adams and 'A Day of Thanksgiving'

When was the first Thanksgiving? Most of us think of the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1621. But if the question is about the first national Thanksgiving holiday, the answer is that the tradition began at a lesser-known moment in 1777 in York, Pa.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I still "owe" the tranlastion of the song by Mina

And this is not Mina though. Only, with this song it was the first time (I was already past 20) that I raelized that a band needs to play together in order to play well: that is, playing together can be better than a soloist with an accompaniment.
La carrozza di Hans means "Hans' chariot" and the text is a vague reference to an unknown merchant of great skill and mythical accomplishments (well, I am inventing a bit, but the lyrics are a bit vague).

Tangent aside

I really liked this bit from Sippican Cottage's musing on the automaker bailout, even though it's not much to do with the automaker bailout:

I checked the weather on the Internet. I honestly don't understand why anyone would watch a lunatic waving his arms at a green screen talking about someone else's weather. But then again, he's on a broadcast that has brittle-looking clothes horses reading a bad newspaper slowly. Kinda a matched set. You must think you're going to live to be a thousand if you've got time to watch a news broadcast. It was below freezing, barely, the night before.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Things are amazing

You kinda hope that at some point in the next few years, we will suck it up a bit and stop acting like not buying a new luxury car, or a new plasma screen, this year, represents 40 years in the wilderness. The especially galling part is that much of the fallout from our stupid bank tricks is going to land on the developing world. My condolences if your situation becomes difficult, but would anyone in Detroit trade places with their counterparts in India or China right now?

By the way, this article speculates, somewhat interestingly, that if a depression were to happen, the major consequence would be that unemployed people would buy second-hand clothes and watch a lot more TV, because it's cheap. Comparing this to real hardship is obscene.

That bit of righteous indignation aside, putting up with obnoxious rich people is a small price to pay if it allows the poor majority of the world to be lifted out of real poverty. So no, unlike C.K., I don't think we need some reversion to poverty to regain our perspective. That would be cutting off their noses to spite our faces.


Monday, November 24, 2008

All Streets

A map of the streets, and only the streets, in the United States. It's easy to see how much more developed the East is than the West.

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Friday, November 21, 2008


Iowahawk: Lemon.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Watch this

Very cool, but it is so sinister that if you wear this watch, you're contractually required to drive a Buick GNX.

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Gas is going to get very cheap

Americans driving less, unmoved by lower gas prices
By Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg, USA TODAY

Americans are driving less despite falling gas prices, reflecting the deepening recession and signaling a shift in lifestyles and driving habits that could outlast the current turmoil.

Drivers logged 10.7 billion fewer miles in September than they did the same month a year earlier — a 4.4% decline, according to data issued Wednesday by the Federal Highway Administration.

I don't believe their argument that this time is different, and that these changes are permanent. People are very pessimistic right now, and until they feel optimistic again, there will be less driving. This rapid drop in demand is going to drive oil down to the minimum level OPEC can hold. Which is probably less than $45 a barrel, but that's a WAG on my part.

MORE: Fall in Gas Prices + Less Driving

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008


This is neat - NASA is reprocessing its old Lunar Orbiter film to reveal much more detail.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Rules

Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules

8. Don’t try to create and analyse at the same time. They’re different processes.

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Lunch Bag Art

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The bottom comes rushing towards me

Oil and gasoline prices are falling rapidly, which makes me wonder where they'll stop - gas is currently $1.60-$2.40. I'm curious about the overall trend in that plot - gas prices seem to decline linearly around 13 cents per decade. If the price spike we saw this last year follows the same pattern as the OPEC oil shock, then it looks like $1.30 average will occur in 2010. Given the national spread in prices of ~80 cents, I think we'll see gas prices under $1 somewhere in the US sometime in the next year. Remarkable.

I wonder if all of that crazy high-rise construction in Dubai is going to make for the most depressing boom-town ever? Well, yes, it is.


Friday, November 14, 2008

On the other hand

The End of Wall Street's Boom

On July 19, 2007, the same day that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the U.S. Senate that he anticipated as much as $100 billion in losses in the subprime-mortgage market, FrontPoint did something unusual: It hosted its own conference call. It had had calls with its tiny population of investors, but this time FrontPoint opened it up. Steve Eisman had become a poorly kept secret. Five hundred people called in to hear what he had to say, and another 500 logged on afterward to listen to a recording of it. He explained the strange alchemy of the C.D.O. and said that he expected losses of up to $300 billion from this sliver of the market alone. To evaluate the situation, he urged his audience to “just throw your model in the garbage can. The models are all backward-looking.

The models don’t have any idea of what this world has become…. For the first time in their lives, people in the asset-backed-securitization world are actually having to think.” He explained that the rating agencies were morally bankrupt and living in fear of becoming actually bankrupt. “The rating agencies are scared to death,” he said. “They’re scared to death about doing nothing because they’ll look like fools if they do nothing.”

On September 18, 2008, Danny Moses came to work as usual at 6:30 a.m. Earlier that week, Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy. The day before, the Dow had fallen 449 points to its lowest level in four years. Overnight, European governments announced a ban on short-selling, but that served as faint warning for what happened next.

At the market opening in the U.S., everything—every financial asset—went into free fall. “All hell was breaking loose in a way I had never seen in my career,” Moses says. FrontPoint was net short the market, so this total collapse should have given Moses pleasure. He might have been forgiven if he stood up and cheered. After all, he’d been betting for two years that this sort of thing could happen, and now it was, more dramatically than he had ever imagined. Instead, he felt this terrifying shudder run through him. He had maybe 100 trades on, and he worked hard to keep a handle on them all. “I spent my morning trying to control all this energy and all this information,” he says, “and I lost control. I looked at the screens. I was staring into the abyss. The end. I felt this shooting pain in my head. I don’t get headaches. At first, I thought I was having an aneurysm.”


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Leading Indicators

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On the morality of being too rich

Here is Dunhill's $10K alligator belt. Congratulations, it looks like the best man's belt at a Klingon-themed wedding. Sometimes not coveting your neighbor's wealth is pretty easy.


Abby Elliot

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

From the Department of Not Quite What I Meant

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I can't drive 55, or even 65, for that matter

No Respect for Speed Limits

When it comes to speeding, many American motorists don’t worry about safety. They just worry about getting caught.

Those are the findings by researchers from Purdue University who surveyed nearly 1,000 motorists about speed limits and driving habits. They found that many drivers are cynical about the safety benefits of driving within speed limits, and many think they can drive safely while speeding as long as they won’t get caught, according to the report in Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour.

I often speed on the George Washington Parkway and I-270, where no one, meaning ZERO people, drives the speed limit. The speed limit on the GW Parkway between Alexandria and DC is 40 mph, but the traffic speed is around 50-55 mph, with the higher speed during the commuting hours when it is certain that there will be no speed traps. On 270, the speed limit is a 55 mph, and average traffic speeds during non-gridlock are around 70 mph, with 80 mph common enough. I tend to go with the flow, as driving at the speed limit would be dangerous due the speed differential between you and everyone else.

That said, I drive much slower at night, in strange places, or in bad weather, and I have not had a ticket in I can't recall how long. I think it was in 2002, when I was buzzing up 15 to get back to school, and I hit a speed trap along a lonely highway. That's the last one in 15 years.

There is, like our drug laws, a huge disconnect between what legislation can be passed, and what many people actually do. I suspect counter-intuitive road engineering to make roads seem much more difficult to drive would be better at reducing accidents, e.g., Roads Gone Wild.


I heart the Japanese

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Re the previous Camero post, it's not exactly Panama, but here is the obligatory Dead Milkmen - Bitchin' Camaro (and apropos of nothing, Punk Rock Girl) Apparently it's obligatory to indulge my inner twelve-year old, but mea culpa.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Give until you notice it

The annual charity drive is going on where I work (and no, my salary doesn't count), so I went to the useful Charity Navigator for guidance. I like Project Heifer, and I also made a point to give to the Red Cross, which was hammered by the two hurricanes this year, but without the concomitant rise in pledges that came with Katrina.

And that'll do it for my public square good-works boasting, since charity is often more about the benefactor's ego or need to feel necessary than it is about helping other people. I'm not sure that's wrong or unfortunate, but it does reflect a lack of self-awareness. (which I do not lack here, and so I feel better about myself, which I also recognize as egotism, which I also am aware of, and hence feel better about myself, and meta-so-forth.. Quite the hall of mirrors, huh?)(See, it's already all about me.)


¿Ha leído usted Michael Pollan?”

Ah, Mr. Lander is back at Stuff White People Like with Promising to Learn a New Language. Guilty as charged, sir.


Saturday, November 08, 2008


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Friday, November 07, 2008

Mr Burns seeks curb-appeal

Extreme Makeover: Nuclear Power Plant Edition

As the world seeks low-carbon forms of energy production to reduce the emissions blamed for global warming, the champions of nuclear power have been re-branding the industry as one of the world’s greenest.

Last month, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency said “nuclear energy is virtually carbon-free” across its life cycle and “the only carbon-mitigating technology with a proven track record on the scale required.”

Now, more than two decades after accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, some people in the industry are backing a makeover for nuclear power stations in an effort to transform the industry from an industrial pariah to an environmental savior.

My suggestion - granite counter tops and home theater rooms. Perhaps radiant floor heating if you really want to go top end.

But those small tweaks aside, I think a lot of their work is done, since people aren't so terrified of nuclear weapons that they are digging bomb shelters in their back yards, and the hype about nuclear-powered everything that went on during the fifties is also gone, so that there aren't unrealistic expectations either.

Of course, long term radioactive waste is still a problem. Currently, Europe handles this through breeder reactors, which works fine if you are able to secure the high weapons grade residue. I was talking with a friend who works in a laser fusion lab, and he mentioned that one of the proposals going forward, from the NIF team I think, is to use high powered lasers to burn and process radiative waste through inertial confinement. So the goal wouldn't be net-positive gain fusion, but just the disposal of waste material from fusion plants. Which is a much more feasible task. There would still be end products, but they would have radioactive half-life's of a hundred years or so, which is a lot more managable than the hundred thousand years of the original waste. It's hard to plan on time-scales that will experience geological change.



Apparently a fungus has been discovered that very efficiently turns plant matter into oil. And this is after I paid only $2.60 per gallon for premium today. It felt like it was free. Whee!

Anyway, their report is interesting, but I'd take that news release and the claims for an non-velocirapator oil theory with a very brontosaurus-sized grain of salt.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Post-election prediction evaluation

Obama won by about 6 points, so I was off by the same amount as the prediction markets on the voter margin. Efficienter and efficienter, I guess.


"Bad decisions are more likely in a 1977 Camaro"

Myself, I dream of wearing a sport-coat with an unbuttoned collared-shirt while cruising around Malibu beach in a gold 1974 Pontiac Firebird Esprit, but you know, same difference.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Get that boy some octapus ritalin!

Otto the octopus wrecks havoc - A octopus has caused havoc in his aquarium by performing juggling tricks using his fellow occupants, smashing rocks against the glass and turning off the power by shortcircuiting a lamp.

He does not, however, let slip the dogs of war. Nor the cats of war.


Prediction Market Prediction

Intrade is currently showing the last prices on the Presidential Election as 91.5 for Obama and 8.8 for McCain. The Iowa election market has similar prices for the Winner Takes All Market, and comes in at near a 8 point spread on the Vote Share Market.

I certainly think Obama will win, probably by 3-4 points, which I feel will be the actual margin because of the economy. But I think that McCains chances are better that future market prices indicate because the internet is a biased estimator of the US population. It tilts Libertarian on the right, and Progressive on the left compared to the general US population. This introduces a market bias, and you can make money from that, which I happened to do in 2004. Excuse me while I put on a top hat and smoke a cigar. I abstained this year, mostly out of lethargy from too much smoking.

Anyway, I did not abstain from voting, which I did early, but not early enough, this morning. I managed to hit the exact buldge in the morning rush before work, so it took about 40 minutes. And my Ipod battery died! But I soldiered on, and got my sticker. Of course, the end of the line followed me in. Perfect.

On a separate note, I've seen a spate of posts out that claim voting is irrational, because the likelihood that your vote will decide a tie is essentially zero. I beg to differ. I think it's mostly rational, for some of these reasons - e.g., you don't really know how close the vote is going to be, and so how close to the tipping point your own vote is can only be determined by everyone getting out and voting. This was certainly true in the 2000 US election, and here in Virginia in 2008, I think it is also true. I vote because I expect that many other people will vote like me, and that we depend on each other to vote as our chance of winning is proportional to our turnout. Seems rational to me.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Let the pissing contests begin

GRE scores by graduate field.


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Quote of the day

"There are three social classes in America: upper middle class, middle class, and lower middle class."
Judith Martin