Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Political Opportunism during Tragedy

With Katrina's devastation plain to see, ideologues (mostly on the left) have gone to great lengths to blame their opponents for the contingency of nature. James Glassman has a poignant and personal response. Additionally, via The Corner on National Review Online
Benny Peiser, whose work on catastrophe deserves much more attention than, say, Jared Diamond's, has this to say to readers of his Cambridge Conference email network:
On behalf of CCNet, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to all our American friends and members who have been affected by the tragic events wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Notwithstanding continuing rescue and support efforts, the calamity has triggered a rather opportunistic and cynical reaction by opponents of the current US Administration. In an eerie development that echoes the political exploitation of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster last December, environmental campaigners, Green journalists and European officials are blaming (once again) the U.S. and its people for the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Instead of supporting the rescue efforts, demagogues are using the human tragedy in a futile attempt to score points. At a time of utter desolation and misfortune, propagandists in high office and parts of the media are abandoning America and its victims for purely political goals.

Europeans in particular, who have been rescued and liberated from themselves by the U.S. no less than three times in the course of the 20th century, should feel ashamed for kicking a friend and ally when he is down. Let me re-assure our American friends and colleagues that this pitiless mind-set of environmental activists is not representative for the vast majority of Europeans who are following the heartbreaking events with great concern and empathy.

There is quite a lot CCNet readers can do to support the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina - which is why I have posted below relevant information by the American Red Cross. As each of us ponders our response, let us all keep in our prayers those who have lost so much.
I am sure Benny is right. Burke's comment about the grasshoppers and the cows is appropriate here.
Here's the quote from Edmund Burke he refers to:
Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle... chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little, shriveled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.
More here and here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Not only in Rhode Island: "Why Teacher’s Unions Are Hurting Education" in Michigan

From Positive Liberty
Over the last few years, a bizarre situation has been going on here in Michigan. In 2003, a philanthropist named Robert Thompson offered to spend $200 million to build 15 charter schools in the city of Detroit, each serving 500 students, with a guarantee that each one would graduate at least 90% of its students. That plan required approval of the state legislature and in late 2003 they had reached a deal to pass a bill that allowed this to happen, but the Detroit teacher’s union called a one-day strike and marched on the state capitol to protest this plan. As a result, the Detroit mayor and Governor Granholm both pulled their support of the bill and it collapsed.

Detroit public schools are among the worst imaginable. Jack McHugh of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy gives some of the shocking facts, quoting the Standard and Poor’s School Evaluation Service report on Detroit schools:
“Detroit Public Schools generates well below-average student results with well above-average spending per student. Statewide, only 2.3 percent of Michigan’s school districts report a smaller proportion of MEAP test scores that meet or exceed state standards. Statewide, only 3.4 percent of Michigan’s school districts graduate a smaller proportion of students. Statewide, only 2.5 percent of Michigan’s school districts report a greater dropout rate. Statewide, only 9 percent of Michigan’s school districts spend more per student. Statewide, only 2.5 percent of Michigan’s school districts spend more per student on administration. When costs are adjusted for student circumstances … only 5.3 percent of Michigan’s school districts have less favorable … average amount[s] of money spent per unit of measured achievement.”
One would think that a school district with this poor a record would welcome a $200 million gift that would dramatically affect the educational opportunities for thousands of Detroit schoolchildren, but there’s one problem with that: it would compete with the public schools and if successful at reaching its goal of graduating 90% of its students, it would show that it’s possible to do much better than the public schools are currently doing. And that would put egg on the face of the educational establishment.

Now the Thompson Foundation has put its offer back on the table, along with the Skillman Foundation. And Grand Valley State University is offering to sponsor the schools (state law allows universities in the state to sponsor a certain number of charter schools). The Skillman Foundation has already donated millions to Detroit public schools that show success, including giving $1.5 million to keep the Communication & Media Arts High School, a quasi-magnet school in the city that has had great success with its educational model, open for the next 3 years.

This is not the first time the Thompson Foundation has given huge sums of money to give opportunities to students in Detroit. Their mission is to help lower income people rise out of poverty and to that end they have funded 1000 private school scholarships for Detroit city students, 500 junior college scholarships and 70 undergraduate and graduate scholarships at Michigan Tech and Michigan State. In a city with a dropout rate near 50%, you would think that they would be thrilled that someone is offering to do so much for at-risk students in that city.

But the Detroit Federation of Teachers doesn’t want the competition from charter schools. Successful charter schools, you see, would make their schools look very, very bad. And apparently covering up their lack of success is more important than providing opportunities for poor students to achieve academically. Now that Thompson’s offer is back on the table, the teacher’s union must be pressured to end their protests and stop trying to prevent the very thing they should be cheering for.
Thus, Rhode Island is not unique, though it may sometimes feel like it. This is not about slamming the union again: it is about providing opportunity for our children. They are the priority, not holding "power" in the education system.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Fact-Checking the NY Times on Body Armor Story

Jack Kelly writes
Colonel Thomas Spoehr is annoyed with New York Times reporter Michael Moss, for what I think is a good reason.

Spoehr is the director of materiel for the Army staff. He had a good news story to tell Moss, which Moss converted into a bad news story.

Last year, senior leaders of the Army became aware of technological developments which make it possible to improve the "Interceptor" body armor worn by our troops.`

The "Interceptor" consists of a vest, two SAPI (small arms protective insert) plates worn in the front and the back, and "backing" material around the plates. The plates are made of boronic carbide, the second hardest substance known to man (only diamonds are harder) but fairly light weight.

The plates will shatter a standard rifle bullet, and the backing catches the bullet fragments to prevent injuries from shrapnel.

The "Interceptor" is the best body armor manufactured in the world today, and represents a remarkable improvement over the protective vests worn by our troops in the first Gulf War, and Somalia in 1993. Those vests could protect against shrapnel, but a rifle bullet would cut right through them.

Those vests weighed 24 lbs each. The interceptor ensemble — which can stop an AK-47 bullet fired from just 10 feet away — weighs just 16 lbs. But the best isn't perfect. There are some special types of ammunition that can penetrate the boronic carbide plates. Last year Army leaders became aware of improvements that could be made to the SAPI plates that would protect against most (though not all) of these special types of ammunition.

There is little evidence insurgents in Iraq are using the special types of ammunition that can defeat the "Interceptor." But the Army wanted to be proactive, to defeat a potential threat before it emerged.

"We're taking what we think is a prudent step to guard against a step (the insurgents) could take, but that's a step that really hasn't developed yet," Spoehr said.

Altering the formula by which the SAPI plates are manufactured is not a simple process, since these plates must be manufactured to extremely precise (1,000ths of an inch) dimensions.

"Making one of these plates is like making one of those tiles that protects the (space) shuttle from heat," Spoehr said.

Yet though the specifications weren't set until early in January, new plates were being manufactured — and delivery begun to U.S. troops — in March. Those familiar with the Pentagon's procurement process recognize this as lightning speed. . .

Here's how the story was presented by Moss in the New York Times Aug. 14th: "For the second time since the Iraq war began, the Pentagon is struggling to replace body armor that is failing to protect American troops from the most lethal attacks of insurgents.

"The ceramic plates in vests worn by most personnel cannot withstand certain munitions the insurgents use. But more than a year after military officials initiated an effort to replace the armor with thicker, more resistant plates, tens of thousands of soldiers are still without the stronger protection because of a string of delays in the Pentagon's procurement system."

Spoehr told Moss all the things he told me, but there is not a single positive quote in his story.

"You would get the impression that our soldiers were in harm's way or at risk," Spoehr said. "That is not true."

Americans are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the war in Iraq, because all news about Iraq is presented as bad news, even when it isn't.
Makes you wonder what other "positives" are being spun the other way, doesn't it?

[via Instapundit]

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Academic Reassurance...Tempered

It's nice to see that the school from which I will be receiving an MA in History has a good reputation, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Providence College’s rankings among 572 universities nationwide offering full range of undergraduate and master’s programs:

1st nationally in average graduation rate
2nd overall in North region
Among North region’s top 15 institutions recognized in “Great schools, great prices” category
Ranked among top 20 schools nationally in “peer assessment” survey

Providence, RI – The 2006 edition of U.S. News’ popular college guide, America’s Best Colleges, once again finds Providence College in familiar and prestigious company. Providence is ranked #2 in the north region’s “Best Universities – Master’s” category – the designation for 572 universities nationwide offering a full range of undergraduate and master’s programs.

In one “key criteria in judging schools” – graduation rate – Providence ranks highest among its peer institutions nationwide, with an average graduation rate of 85 percent. Villanova University of Pennsylvania also reported an 85 percent graduation rate.

This ranking in the popular annual college guide marks the tenth consecutive year Providence has been ranked as one of the top two universities in the north region. Providence shared the #1 position with Villanova University of Pennsylvania in 1998 and was ranked #2 in the eight other annual editions of the guide from 1997-2005.

This year’s “peer assessment” ranking places Providence College among the top 20 in the group of 572 “best universities – master’s” institutions nationwide. “We’re pleased to know that our peer institutions have consistently recognized Providence College ’s commitment to academic excellence,” notes Providence College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. He adds, “We’ve always believed in the transforming nature of our Catholic, liberal arts education. We’re gratified when external sources trusted by students and their parents independently validate that mission.”

According to U.S. News, “the peer assessment survey allows the top academics we contact – presidents, provosts, and deans of admission – to account for intangibles such as faculty dedication to teaching.” Providence has consistently maintained a score of 3.7 on a 1.0 (marginal) – 5.0 (distinguished) scale.

Providence ’s #2 ranking among the 165 schools in the north region is a combination of several weighted factors that U.S. News uses to evaluate more than 1,400 colleges and universities and rank them among their peers. These include analysis of peer assessment scores, average freshman retention rate, average graduation rate, percentage of classes under 20, the student/faculty ratio, SAT/ACT scores, freshmen high school class standings, acceptance rate, and average alumni giving rate.

Providence also is listed among the top 15 schools in its category offering the “best value” which relates a school’s academic quality to the net cost of attendance for a student who receives the average level of financial aid. “The higher the quality of the program and the lower the cost, the better the deal,” explain guide editors.
I can personally vouch for the quality of the education, the lack of overt politicization in the History Department and the cost/benefit ratio! Of course, for the younger student, there is also good news of a different variety as PC ranks #2 in another important college category that is inherently important in the social education of our young adults: Beer Consumption!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Ocean State Blogger

Heh. Well, I've been pretty lax. Now it's time for my second vacation, this time 2 weeks off. See you all then.