Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Human Cost of Our Insurance Industry

The family is suing:

Nataline had been battling leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant from her brother. She developed a complication that caused her liver to fail.

Doctors at UCLA determined she needed a transplant and sent a letter to Cigna Corp.’s Cigna HealthCare on Dec. 11. The Philadelphia-based health insurance company denied payment for the transplant, saying the procedure was experimental and outside the scope of coverage.

The insurer reversed the decision Thursday as about 150 teenagers and nurses rallied outside of its office. But Nataline died hours later.

That the doctor even needs to send a letter to the insurance company to ask is wrong - and yes, I know it's common.

It suggests that the priority is not health care but profits.

Again, I know this is not necessarily news. But it's still bullshit.

On Notice

I despise Christmas shopping.

That is all.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The World's Strangest Connection

I just discovered that David Krumholtz, who played Bernard (the head elf) in The Santa Clause, has been in a very eclectic mix of works over the years:

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008) (post-production) .... Goldstein

Serenity (2005) .... Mr. Universe

"Numb3rs" .... Charlie Eppes / ... (72 episodes, 2005-2007)

Superbad (2007) .... Benji Austin

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (2006) (uncredited) .... Frat Boy 2

There's a bunch more, but this guy seems to have a great career going. I should pay more attention to him.

Also: There is a movie named "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" coming out. This could be great.

Assessing Research on Student Evaluations

This is a really useful article.

I found this point particularly convincing:

Are ratings affected by situational variables?

The research says that ratings are robust and not greatly affected by situational variables. But we must keep in mind that generalizations are not absolute statements. There will always be some variations. For example, we know that required, large-enrollment, out-of-major courses in the physical sciences get lower average ratings than elective, upper-level, major courses in virtually all other disciplines. Does this mean that teaching quality varies? Not necessarily. What it does show is that effective teaching and learning may be harder to achieve under certain sets of conditions. There is a critical principle for evaluation practice embedded here: to be fair, comparisons of faculty teaching performance based on ratings should use sufficient amounts of data from similar situations. It would be grossly unfair to compare the ratings of an experienced professor teaching a graduate seminar of ten students to the one-time ratings of a new instructor teaching an entry-level, required course with an enrollment of 300.

To me, this suggests the obvious: That large lectures are not as successful as small classes.

Also obviously, this comes down to a funding issue.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Strike Life

As part of the WGA strike, a couple of folks teamed up and produced some web-only shorts about the strike under the name Strike Life. I've only watched one (but the rest are all loading as I type this), and since it was fracking hilarious, I thought I'd point you in that general direction.

For the record, I saw "Problem Solved."

More Books

Some further book recommendations I have received via email or through conversation (thanks everybody!), as well as a few I've dug up on my own:

The Einstein Intersection - Samuel Delany

Triton - Samuel Delany

Dhalgren - Samuel Delany

Nova - Samuel Delany

Johnny Mnemonic - William Gibson

Pattern Recognition - William Gibson

Spook Country - William Gibson

The Difference Engine - William Gibson

Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

Misfortune - Wesley Stace

The Ivy Tree - Mary Stewart

A Rare Piece on Religion

Update: Outgoing links removed for, well, reasons that I may or may not explain later.

Longtime readers (and friends) will know that I don't normally post about religion except to laugh at the hypocrisy and flat-out evil that comes from the Religious Right.

Well, this time I'm posting in a much more compassionate light.

From (of all places) Confessions of a College Call Girl (NOT SAFE FOR WORK OR SCHOOL!), a post that gets at the intersection of spirituality and religion:

As many of you have noted, I am not a perfect person. I have made mistakes, over and over again. And sometimes the only way to get back up after you’ve fallen so far is to rely on something bigger than yourself, to pull your head out of your ass and notice that there even IS anything bigger than yourself. And it’s awfully sincere, but when I went looking for God, I found a whole big world out there that saved me from myself. Whether it’s the love of friends and family, the talent that comes and faithfully offers me the right word, the potential for kindness between people, or the ability to tell a story that comforts others. These things can be holy too.

I will never again call myself a Christian; never spend another Christmas with my head bowed in worship, never walk back into the red-brick building where love so often ferments into hate. But this year I approach happiness. And in those creeping moments when I walk down the street and look to the tops of the buildings that skim an endless skyline, when joy unexpectedly fills up my lungs like crisp winter air, until even my blood is sweetly singing. Then I am feeling God.

The whole thing is pretty intense.

P.S. This really reminds me of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

Jon Armstrong on Dooce and Mental Health

For readers of Dooce, I highly recommend this post by Blurbomat author and Dooce husband Jon Armstrong. He write about his wife's battle with depression and how they both have learned to deal with it.

This bit comes across as having been learned the hard way:

To the people out there who denigrate mental health awareness and treatment, I say this: You aren’t helping. You are making it worse. Stop being an arrogant know-it-all. You aren’t right. You are wrong. If someone tells you they need help, your opinion means less than that of professionals. Stop being ignorant. Stop being obstinate. Stop insisting that your loved one, partner, child or co-worker “get over it”. They won’t get over it until you let it go and encourage them to seek help. There are many different approaches and ways to treat mental diseases and conditions. The first step is letting go. You could probably use some time talking it out yourself.

I cannot stress enough how correct I think Jon is. I've seen plenty of people suggest (both politely and not-so-politely) that someone just "get over it" when it's screamingly obvious that there's something very real that needs to be worked through.

Sadly, some of those times have been at work - and for me, that means teachers and students.

Update: I'm going to be even more specific; I see this happen with teachers who also happen to be coaches, or those with a military background. And while I think it comes from a place of wanting students to be self-sufficient and take responsibility for their own well-being, that makes it no less damaging or dangerous - it's certainly not a good way to go about achieving those goals.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I have been compiling a list of books I want to read for a few years now. While I've gotten to a fair chunk of said list (all the books that are bolded near the bottom have been read, purchased, started or some combination of the above), the growth rate is much higher than the completion rate.

Below is the entire list; you should note there's no distinction between fact or fiction (or anything else).

In the last few months, I have read more for fun (i.e. fiction) than in a long time - probably since before college. I'm a much different person now, and I get both more and different things from reading.

One thing I've found myself feeling as a result of reading the books am I is hope for the possibility of change. This is both extremely gratifying and extremely surprising.

UPDATE: Of course I have also read plenty of books not on this list - including a big chunk from a friend who has made his personal library available to me. Considering his personal library is probably 1000+ books, this will take some time...

Feel free - encouraged, even - to leave your wanted book lists in comments.... and to talk about what you get out of reading. Or, perhaps, to give me suggestions.

Thanks in advance.


A Thousand Plateaus - Deleuze & Guattari

The Stars My Destination/Tiger Tiger – Alfred Bester

Demolished Man – Alfred Bester

Stand on Zanzibar – John Brunner

Teaching Community – bell hooks

Sex on the Brain – Deborah Blum

Uprooting Racism - Paul Kivel

Refusing to be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice - John Stoltenberg

Racial Formation in the United States - Michael Omi and Howard Winant

Zines – Stephen Duncombe

Velocities – Stephen Dobbins

Man of Reason – Genevieve Lloyd

Being and Time – Martin Heidegger

The Moral Equivalent of War – William James

The Death of Nature – Carolyn Merchant

Metaphors We Live By – George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (UO)

Geography of Nowhere: The Rise And Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape - Kunstler

Freakonomics – Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Stigma - Erving Goffman

Cinderella’s Big Score – Maria Raha (Women of the Punk and Indie Underground)

Lipstick Traces – Greil Marcus

Mystery Trains – Greil Marcus

The Society of Spectacle – Guy Debord

The Revolution of Everyday Life – Raul Vaneigem

The Failures of Integration - Sheryll Cashin

Baltasar and Blimunda - Jose Saramago

Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy -
Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson (for AK)

Access All Areas – Ninjalicious (also Infiltration zine)

Russell Jacoby - The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe

Russell Jacoby - The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy

Themepunks - Cory Doctorow

Eastern Standard Tribe – Cory Doctorow

Unembedded - Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Kael Alford, Thorne Anderson and Rita Leistner

Sundown Towns: a Hidden Dimension of Racism in America - James Loewen

The Fibromyalgia Story: Medical Authority And Women's Worlds Of Pain - Kristin K. Barker

Rhetorical Occasions: Essays on Humans and the Humanities – Michael Berube

The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney

The Singularity is Near, by Ray Kurzweil

A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History – Manuel DeLanda

Dog Days – Ana Marie Cox

Inclusive Pluralism – Naomi Zack

Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out - Edited by Dan Berger, Chesa Boudin, and Kenyon Farrow

Do You Suck as Well as Fuck? Totally Sexed Up Tales of J. Edgar Hoover's America – Ken Ichigawa

Neuromancer – William Gibson

Self-Made Man – Norah Vincent

Revealing Male Bodies - Nancy Tuana (Editor), William Cowling (Editor), Maurice Hamington (Editor), Greg Johnson (Editor), Terrance Macmullen (Editor)

Doorway into Summer – Robert Heinlein

Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories, Vol. 1

James Wolcott: The Catsitters

Inventing the University - David Bartholomae

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town - Cory Doctorow

The City of Joy - Dominique Lapierre

Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush – Eric Boehlert

Sun of Suns – Karl Schroeder

Ghost Brigade – John Scalzi

Old Man's War – John Scalzi

Learning to Labor - by Paul Willis

Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Pacific Edge and Sixty Days and Counting – Kim Stanley Robinson

Radio On: A Listener's Diary (Paperback) by Sarah Vowell

Paul LaFargue, The Right to Be Lazy

Trapeze Collective; Do It Yourself, Pluto Press

Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories - Katha Pollitt

Rudy Rucker's new novel Postsingular

Charlie Stross's - Halting State

Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste - by John Waters

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism - Naomi Klein

Dude, You're A Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School – C.J. Pascoe

Norman Mailer - Miami and the Siege of Chicago and Armies of the Night and The Executioner's Song

What Are Journalists For? by Jay Rosen

IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea (Hardcover) by Stephen Murdoch
Interface – Neal Stephenson

Attack of the 50-Foot Mikhaela! Cartoons by Mikhaela B. Reid

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick.

David Graeber, Malagasy folktakes

Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse - (Anthology) John Joseph Adams

Robert Anton Wilson – Schrodinger's Cat

Ursula K. LeGuin – Left Hand of Darkness

Alfred Bester – Demolished Man

Alfred Bester – Stars My Destination

Alfred Bester – Virtual Unrealities

John(?) Brunner – Stand on Zanzibar

Ourspace – Christine Harold

Soldier of Sidon – Gene Wolfe

Soldier of Arete – Gene Wolfe

Soldier in the Mist – Gene Wolfe

Latro in the Mist – Gene Wolfe

Stardust – Neil Gaiman

American Gods – Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere- Nail Gaiman

The Dance of Gods – Mayer Brenner

Public Works, DMZ comics, Brian Wood

Transmetropolitan Vols. 1-10 (Transmetropolitan Collections) – Warren Ellis

Dave Eggers - A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis

Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation – Isaac Asimov

Democracy Defended – Gerry Mackie

Out of the Sea and Into the Fire: Latin American-US Immigration
in the Global Age - Kari Lydersen

Savage Inequalities – Jonathan Kozol

The Way We Argue Now : A Study in the Cultures of Theory - Amanda Anderson

What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and “Bias” in Higher Education – Michael Berube

Crashing the Gate – Markos Moulitsas Zuniga & Jerome Armstrong

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Days of the Dead – Agnes Bushnell

The Fifth Sacred Thing – Starhawk

Magic Journey – John Nichols

The Postman – David Brin

Neal Stephenson – Snow Crash

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization – Franklin Foer

Feminist Epistemology – Sharyn Clough

Fences and Windows – Naomi Klein

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs – Chuck Klosterman

Collapse – Jared Diamond

The Years of Rice and Salt – Kim Stanley Robinson

Jay Matthews' Top Ten Concerns About Education

Found somewhere (don't remember where anymore turns out it was here), this interview with longtime Washington Post education reporter Jay Matthews. I was particularly interested in the seventh question:

7) What do you see as the top ten concerns in education? What are the biggest concerns in the Washington Circle?

My concerns or Washington's? I will go with mine:

1. Low standards and expectations in low-income schools.

2. Very inadequate teacher training in our education schools.

3. Failure to challenge average students in nearly all high
schools with AP and IB courses.

4. Corrupt and change-adverse bureaucracies in big city districts.

5. A tendency to judge schools by how many low income kids they
have, the more there are the worse the school in the public

6. A widespread feeling on the part of teachers, because of their
inherent humanity, that it is wrong to put a child in a
challenging situation where they may fail, when that risk of
failure is just what they need to learn and grow.

7. The widespread belief among middle class parents that their
child must get into a well known college or they won't be as
successful in life.

8. A failure to realize that inner city and rural schools need to
give students more time to learn, and should have longer school
days and school years.

9. A failure to realize that the best schools--like the KIPP
charter schools in the inner cities---are small and run by
well-recruited and trained principals who have the power to
hire all their teachers, and quickly fire the ones that do not
work out.

10. The resistance to the expansion of charter schools in most
school district offices.

How many apply to Lebanon?

Offhand, I'd say 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8.

Any takers?

The Ultimate Hot Button

I'm sure most people have seen the Easy Button available from Staples....

I want a button that looks exactly the same but says Justice on it.


I did some - not very much, it turns out it was surprisingly easy - legwork and found something interesting; I found Rick Alexander and Josh Wineteer's filing papers, the ones for their school board positions that were filed with Linn County.

The section for education is titled "Educational Background" and has space for "complete school name," "last grade level completed," "Diploma/Degree/Certificate" and "Course of Study (optional)."

Rick's application was typed, and the education section had one entry, which I am quoting verbatim (had I a scanner I'd actually post the documents): "Prescott High School."

That's it. No grade level completed, no diploma received, no course of study, and no location or town attached, the despite the request for "complete school name."

Someone pointed out at one point that they'd heard of Rick attending HS in Arizona. Maybe that's what Prescott refers to.... but I did a few searches and there are lots of Prescott High Schools in Arizona, so there's no way to verify anything.

My point is that there's nothing really of use in that section, and I think it's a disservice to the community to decline to fill it out. Certainly it's not required, but one would think that if one is filing to sit on a #%@%@$! School Board, one would be interested in talking about education - including one's own.


So, Josh. This one is, perhaps, better - or at least more humorous telling.

Under "Complete Name of School Attended" he wrote - and I am not joking - "HIGH SCHOOL." Just like that, in all caps. No information as to what high school.

Under the "Diploma/Degree/Certificate" section he wrote "GRADE" and then added, in tiny text in the corner, "DEPLOMA."

I don't know what a DEPLOMA is, but I got a diploma when I graduated from HIGH SCHOOL.


He also lists having attended LBCC for Political Science and Economics. That's pretty cool (and I not being snarky in the slightest). There was no degree listed, though he did list it as grade 13.

So what does this all mean?

That depends - I am far more concerned about the fact that neither was comprehensive with their filing applications than I am about their respective levels of education (which I still don't really know).

This is not meant to disparage either Rick or Josh; again, I am of the opinion that it's possible, in theory, to be a great school board member without an advanced degree. But the disrespect (a spelling error in this context seems particularly egregious) that both showed for the application seems a problem.

Can Small Schools Be Succesful in Lebanon?

I had the chance to talk to a former teacher today (former to me, former to Lebanon, or former to teaching, you say? Sorry - not telling).

He had a lot to say about the academy system, but he made one point that stuck with me and I thought I'd share:

Small schools work best (and only, perhaps?) where students, teachers, and parents have a choice whether or not to use them. In a place like Lebanon, where there is only one high school, where students are forced to attend a school that utilizes a particular model of learning, there will be rebellion... and failure.

Look at it this way: Just as students have different learning styles (and parents have different preferences for their children; lord, even I am intimately familiar with this one in some painful ways), different school models work better for different students.

I have to admit that this feels incredibly obvious in hindsight, which makes me feel dumb as a rock.

Oh well.

In any case, I asked if he thought an academy system could ever work in Lebanon. He was skeptical, and suggested that the only possibility would be to build the schools separately - to create one from scratch, in other words, which would allow the most possible choice (he also suggested that adding multiple charter schools would be beneficial or perhaps simply inevitable), not to convert and have a mixed campus.

Maybe pessimistic would be a better word than skeptical.

Interestingly, he framed his argument within the discourse of "differentiated learning" and "school choice," both of which seem to be big buzzwords in education in the last decade.

Do I agree with this argument? Well..... at the moment, I'm feeling like it's particularly compelling. Certainly the point about needing even more buy-in when creating a single, closed system seems right. But I want to resist buying into the whole argument, because doing so requires.... what, exactly?

I think it requires that I stop believing in the current academy system, and I think I'm resisting that.


You can tell this is a free-form stream of (barely coherent) consciousness, but that's how it goes, I suppose.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Publications Students Kick Ass

That is all.

Seeing The Blow

Last Saturday, after swinging by the ever more upscale bourgeoisie Portland International Airport to pick up a friend, I found myself at the Doug Fir Lounge for a show.

This was planned, of course - said friend wanted to go, and who am I to disagree to a visit to the wonderfully retro Doug Fir/Jupiter Hotel? (Where it's rumored that the item found on your pillow is not a mint but a condom - hilarious!)

We were there to see The Blow, an act that's been around for most of the decade in one form or another ( she was formerly Get the Hell Out of the Way of the Volcano).

While The Blow is normally the nom de plume of Khaela Maricich alone, her latest work has been a pop-oriented collaboration with Jona Brechtolt. The result - as evidenced by the show - was absolutely & entrancingly stunning.

I should have known something was up when, following the equipment takedown from the previous band (local metal-ish group named Swan Island), there was nothing but a mic and stand set up on the stage. I guessed that it would be one woman with a guitar.

I was wrong - she came out with nothing but a bottle of water in her hands. She set it down, stood in front of the mic for a second, then, without any announcement or music except the beat of her two fingers tapping the mic, she began to sing "True Affection," the song she would later close the show with.

I was instantly hooked - I knew right away that I was going to love the show.

A side note: I saw The Blow way back in 2002 or 2003 at Eugene's W.O.W. Hall with just her voice and a guitar, and she was the first person I'd ever complimented after a show. There was something I found compelling, even then.

Between songs, Maricich would stop and talk to the audience, throwing up a monologue that seemed part planned and part spontaneous. She led the audience through a twisted tale of the inner landscape of her head, her learning about love and life, her motivation for songwriting and her therapist's advice. It was amazing - every song was a step in her road to finding love, covering the mistakes she made along the way and the happy ending.

At the end of the show, she sang "Parentheses" about her partner, Michelle, who was working the sound (each song was sung to a pre-made track of dance/pop stuff). Then she sang "True Affection" again, this time with music.

I can't describe how engaging she was as a performer - she took me (and, I suspect, the rest of the audience) out of our heads and into hers for over an hour.

Her work was incredibly self-aware and postmodern, witty with a brutal honesty, and from a place so DIY that doing it any other way would be impossible to fathom. She managed to craft a coherent performance that spoke (to me, at least) to the anxieties of finding love in a world filled with anomie.

I'd had a relatively stressful week for a variety of reasons, and along with a fabulous dinner on Friday, the show did a great job of letting me relax and let a bunch of stuff go (albeit temporarily, it turns out).

If you're ever in Portland and you see that The Blow is playing (and you don't mind being a bit introspective), grab a ticket. It's a moving experience.

Oh, and she is one hell of a dancer. Go figure.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

There's A New Blog in Town

The new blog is titled "Improved Education for Lebanon," with the author going by the handle "Improved Education" or "IE."

Though I may disagree with the material posted over there already, I'm always interested in a new voice joining the discussion. Now let's see if they last longer than Lebanon's Real Truth, which made it all of two posts.

Oh.... as to why I disagree with IE already, um, there is this:

It is my belief that when Lebanon hires a top-notch superintendent, one Rick, Josh and Debi respect and who respects them, they will be relieved to collaborate and hand over any reins they are holding.

I think IE gives Rick too much credit. Rick wants a yes man, not a superintendent.

Also, that line "hand over any reins they are holding" is really interesting to me. What reins are Rick, Josh and Debi holding that they would hand over to someone else? Isn't IE suggesting that the Terrible Trio are being a bit unprofessional here? Or perhaps that they are actively working to undercut their own superintendent? Doesn't sound all that ethical to me - but this is IE's characterization, so who knows.

Regardless, I hope IE sticks around. The more voices the better.

A Dour Prediction

From Digby - and I should say that I agree with the plausability of this prediction. It's not a happy one, but I think there's a disturbingly large likelihood of it coming true:

What Atrios says here is absolutely true. A Democratic president, no matter who it is, is going to pay for the Republicans' sins. But it won't be just because the Republicans and Blue Dogs in congress suddenly "realize" they have co-equal power. I predict that the right wing noise machine will shout far and wide that the election was stolen (probably with the help of "illegal aliens.") The new president will not be allowed to weed out even one right wing plant anywhere in the executive branch without being accused of politicizing it. There will be no executive privilege as the courts rediscover their "responsibilities." Scientists and experts will all be accused of being shills for the liberal special interests. The president will be accused of violating Americans' civil liberties and destroying the constitution. There will be widespread accusations of fraud and corruption and non-stop investigations.

In other words the Republicans are going to accuse the Democratic president of everything we know the Bush administration did.

A less charitable interpretation of her prediction is a bit of goalpost shifting... or simply bringing up the possibility so that people will recognize it when (and if) it happens.

Did You Know: Predicting Future Statistics - Youtube Video

Update: A reader writes in with this nifty little site, which has more information on the video.

I am usually pretty skeptical of predictions about the future that sound impossible, especially regarding technology (I am less skeptical of those predictions that deal with human population demographics).

This video makes plenty of both. I really liked it except for the stuff between the five and six minute marks.

It was found via this DH article on a presentation the LCSD D.O. staff gave to the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce. Smart - now if someone would just show it to teachers and students, I'd be happier.

In a nutshell, I think the video suggests that what students should be focusing on is not so much the retention of facts, but the acquisition and mastery of skills like creative thinking, problem solving, how to collaborate effectively and how to communicate information across multiple media platforms.

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