All in 1

So, bro, are all these movies worth 12 bucks?

Steve Says: Yipe! I'm not sure. I've seen a few of those, and they were pretty terrible. This collection, on the other hand, looks quite a bit better. A good deal, in fact.


I was making the kids' lunch with Fox on in the other room, and heard this laugh-out-loud gem from Kagan:

Speaking of McCain-Feingold: "I thought it was the most self-sacrificing thing the Congress has ever done."

If she thinks it was self-sacrificing, she's delusional.

All our children are above average

Starting this fall, Homestead will be joining a growing list of high schools across the nation deviating from the long-standing practice of including a student's class rank on his or her transcripts.

[...] Instead of providing universities and colleges with a rank, Homestead guidance personnel will supply other qualitative data, including grade-point averages, any college preparatory classes taken and standardized test scores.

Homestead joins two other North Shore high schools - Shorewood and Whitefish Bay - in ending class rank reporting. [...]

Proponents of instituting the change at Homestead said students might be inclined to take more challenging courses. There also was the argument that Homestead students were at a disadvantage during the college admissions process since the majority of the high school population excels, meaning a class rank might not adequately convey the students' successes.

Opponents, however, have argued elimination of class rank could shield students from the true competitive nature of life beyond Homestead. Others said eliminating the number does a disservice to those who truly are at the head of the class. [ From the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel ]
The parents live short distance from Homestead, I'm a graduate of Shorewood.

Just out of curiousity, I wonder about the gender breakdown of the top 10% at these schools these days. Of course, if you stop ranking kids, you stop noticing when things get out of whack.

I wonder how they will pick valedictorians? Or is that to anti-egalitarian for these folks?

Back from Vegas

We just spent some of the week in Vegas--with no gambling. We discovered that the Bellagio has a better buffet than Planet Hollywood, and it's a long walk from Mandalay Bay to Planet Hollywood, especially at 11pm with a tired 8 year old.

"The Lion King" is a very good show.

"O" by Cirque Du Soleil is amazing.'s not much fun to drive through the Mohave desert in a car without air conditioning--ours died just as we left Nevada for CA.

Minimum wage

Over on Carpe Diem, Mark Perry graphed teenage unemployment on the same graph as the minimum wage, but first, he subtracted the overall unemployment rate off of the teenage one--this gives, what he calls, "excess teen unemployment", or the increase in unemployment among teenagers above and beyond the general unemployment numbers.

It shows a tight correlation between the rise in the minimum wage and the teen unemployment rate:

From Carpe Diem:
"Bottom Line: As much as politicians and other advocates of the minimum wage might pretend otherwise, the laws of supply and demand (like the law of gravity) are NOT optional."

Toy Story 3

I took the kids to see Toy Story 3 (2D) this afternoon. Steven had read a book of the story, and had already fallen in love with the teddy bear that is the story's bad guy. He already spent half of his birthday gift cards on a talking stuffy of the bear--and I've been trying ever since to reduce the "smells like strawberries" smell they sprayed on him (mildly successful--a combination of him sitting on a fan overnight and putting him on a rack in the drier for an hour and a half.)

Surprisingly, the movie has a lot in common with "The Great Escape", as the toys try to break out a preschool.

The end of the movie was very sweet, and quite sad. Andy gives his toys away to a little girl, plays with her and them one last time, then says good-bye and heads off for college.

It does put me in mind of a comment I read after "Up" came out: when did Pixar stop making movies for kids? The comment meant that movies like "Up", "Ratatoille", and "Cars" are aimed far more at adults than kids. They have a wistful and melancholy feel that is strange in a kids film. "Toy Story 3" has that same feeling. The movie was about faith and friendship, loyalty and change. Not exactly kid-friendly.

I was in tears for about the last 15-20 minutes of the film, starting when Andy's mom walks into his stripped down room (it becomes his sister's room after he leaves for college) and breaks down in tears, I was lost. We also see the bad guy get his comeuppance, which had Steven in tears as well. Despite the fact that the evil teddy nearly caused all of Andy's toys to be incinerated, Steven didn't think his punishment fit the crime: in the end the bear was lashed to the front grille of a garbage truck.

Elizabeth thought the first movie was best, but Steven liked this one.

I thought it was very good, and more moving than a lot of live-action movies.

Potus and Totus

"Obama said after a meeting that stretched more than four hours, with Obama darting in and out of the room. "
He, obviously, was consulting with the TOTUS. But, wouldn't a discreet earwig have been easier?

$600,000,000,000 waste

Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are challenging billionaires to give away half their wealth to charity. I can't help but think that is a waste of money.

Which would help more people, and raise more people out of poverty: $600B given to charity, where it does little to create economic wealth, or a massive $600B venture capital fund which helped small businesses--and tomorrow's large ones--get off the ground, and in turn growing wealth for everyone.

What a waste.

Stealing the show

Speaking of the theater, the 10 year old girl had her final theater show of the year. They did a stripped-down version of "The Lion King", with just the songs, and none of the words. Elizabeth was clearly the star of the show. She had two very large parts (the cast was small and lots of kids played multiple roles.) She was the bird "Zazu" who has a nice solo song, and "Pumbaa" the warthog, who has Hakuna Matata and is the comic relief of the show. Pumbaa's costume was ridiculous, and Elizabeth milked it for all it was worth. She really looked like she was enjoying herself, performed really well, and they gave her the final bow--to great applause from the small audience.

I highly recommend finding some kind of theater troupe for kids. It gives them amazing poise and confidence. At school, when there is any kind of presentation, the kids in Elizabeth's theater group really stand out.

Here are some pictures from the show (click to enlarge to 6x4 and 300ppi):

It's an honor to be nominated

Tonight the Tony Awards were given out for Broadway performances. A fellow Shorewood High graduate, Kate Baldwin, was up for Best Actress in a Musical for her work in Finian's Rainbow.

She lost out to Catherine Zeta Jones.

Congrats to Kate with a K for her great work! Better luck next time!

Happy Kamehameha Day!

President Obama wants us to celebrate Kamehameha Day

The nation's first Hawaii-born president signed a statement Thursday proclaiming June 11, 2010, Kamehameha Day in honor of "King Kamehameha the Great," who unified the Hawaiian Islands under one government

King Kamehameha "united" the islands all right. Using cannons and guns provided to him by white men, he invaded the neighboring islands and slaughtered the people there. I was appalled when visiting Hawaii how Kamehameha's history has been sugar-coated. Everywhere he is presented as some sort of hero. His brutality is excused. I remember one exhibit at a state park where a recorded message told how any commoner caught looking at the King would be instantly killed by the King's guard. But, I was told, that was ok, because that's what Kamehameha thought the gods wanted. Well, ok then!

In his proclamation, Obama refers to Kamehameha as the "Napoleon of the Hawaiian Islands," as if that's a good thing. News flash for the white house: Napoleon not a good guy. Kamehameha, like Napoleon, was a bloodthirsty warmonger.

More from the president:

"It is the story of Native Hawaiians oppressed by crippling disease, aborted treaties, and the eventual conquest of their sovereign kingdom."

In other words, Kamehameha obliterating his foes and establishing his "sovereign kingdom" across the islands was good, as was his brutal Kapu legal system. But the transformation of Hawaii from a brutal dictatorship into a democracy with equal protection under the law was an evil conquest.

Obama's declaration is disgusting.

Pathetic statistic

According to the EPE Research Center’s latest analysis of high school completion for Diplomas Count, the national graduation rate stands at 68.8 percent for the class of 2007, the most recent year for which data are available. That represents a slight drop, four-tenths of a percentage point, from 69.2 percent for the previous high school class; it also marks the second consecutive year of declines in the national graduation rate, following a decade of mostly solid improvement.
More that 30% of kids never get their high school diploma! That, even though many diploma's are nearly worthless, and that college is considered the new minimum requirement for many jobs (because the diploma is nearly useless.)

But wait, it gets worse:
Although more than three-quarters of white and Asian students in the United States earn diplomas, high school outcomes are much worse for others. Among Latinos, 56 percent successfully finish high school, while 54 percent of African-Americans and 51 percent of Native Americans graduate. On average, only two-thirds of male students earn a diploma, a rate 7 percentage points lower than the rate for female students. Rates of high school completion for males from historically disadvantaged minority groups consistently fall at or below the 50 percent mark.

Across all urban school systems, the data show six out of every 10 students from the class of 2007 graduating. In districts characterized by high levels of racial or socioeconomic segregation and those serving communities with high rates of poverty, graduation rates typically range from 55 percent to 60 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, the EPE Research Center identifies 21 “urban overachievers,” big-city districts where the actual 2007 graduation rate is 10 percentage points higher than expected based on their circumstances.
There is a major historic opportunity at the moment, that I'm afraid we're missing out on. If the president would get more vocal on this issue and really push minority kids to get their education, if he would dedicate one day a week to touring the country talking to minority kids and working to make this issue a priority, he could still salvage something good out of the disaster of his time in office.

As it is, I fear his time in office will pass without it making a ripple on the education culture in the country.

Speaking of old books...

I was trying to think of the books on our grade school librarian Miss Prince's "Book Club" list. (If you read a certain number of them, then took a quick test, you could become a library helper and work in the library--I spent more time there than in class.) I figure any one of them has got to be better than the current books.

There were about 40 books on the list, and I can barely remember any of them:

Red Badge of Courage
Little House books must have been there
Wizard of Oz was probably there

I'd guess: Cricket in Times Square. The Borrowers. Stuart Little. Some Beverly Cleary like Harriet the Spy or Romona the Pest. Johnny Tremaine. Call of the Wild (maybe). I think "The Trouble With Jenny's Ear" was on there--it's one of the few books I remember reading as a kid. Encyclopedia Brown. Homer Price. The Great Brain.

Bro, can you remember any of them?

Steve Says: Let's see if I can add to your list... some of these I'm not sure about.

Amos Fortune, Free Man
Banner in the Sky
Big Red
Black Stallion
Call of the Wild
Cay, The
Charlotte's Web
Chronicles of Narnia
Cricket in Times Square
Doctor Dolittle
Encyclopedia Brown
Endless Steppe
Flight of the White Wolf (out of print!)
Follow My Leader (Garfield)
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler
Great Brain
Harriet the Spy
Henry Huggins
Homer Price
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Johnny Tremaine
Lemonade Trick
Little House on the Prairie
Little Women
Misty of Chincoteague
Mr. Popper's Penguins
My Side of the Mountain
Old Yeller
Phantom Tollbooth
Pushcart War
Rabbit Hill
Red Badge of Courage
Rifles for Watie
Romona the Pest
Stuart Little
Summer of the Swans
Thimble Summer (?)
Thursday's Child (streatfeild author?)
Time Cat
Trouble With Jenny's Ear
Twenty-One Balloons
Wizard of Oz
Wrinkle in Time
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze (??)

I remember a story of some kids trapped in the mountains in winter, but I don't remember the name.

Ann says: That's funny, I remember the same book, and also can't remember the name. Of those, so far, E has read: Charlotte's Web, Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Cricket in Times Square, Mixed up Files, Half Magic, Harriet the Spy, Island of Blue Dolphins, My Side of the Mountain, Phantom Tollbooth (twice, I think), Trouble with Jenny's Ear, and Wrinkle in Time (one and half times).

I just ordered 21 Balloons from Amazon as well as the first Three Inspectors books. We have the Pushcart War, I think. And S's read most of Mr Popper's Penguins, of course.

Steve: Wow, my niece has read a lot! Thinking about this topic a bit, I now remember something about children's books and how they have changed. Somewhere in the 70's I recall children's books became more serious. Whereas before they were most often thrilling adventures, they later became more concerned with ``teen problems.'' It's difficult to explain... perhaps this famous book gives the best idea of what I mean.

Ann says: She also tried to read The Secret Garden, but it was too hard for her when she made the attempt--in second grade. She read Island of Blue Dolphins and Mixed Up Files this year for school (along with Indian in the Cupboard, Trouble Don't Last, The Penderwicks, Holes, and a couple more.) Her current favorites are the series by Pseudonymous Bosch which began with "The Name of this Book Is Secret" and includes "If You're Reading This It's Too Late" and "This Book Is Not Good For You". She's also managed to get through the first 5 Harry Potter books--the fifth being the tedious, bulky, poorly-written one.

One Ringy-Dingy

I got a new phone the other day. It's pretty nice. It has a touch screen, giving it a modern feel. One thing I have been able to do with it solves a problem I've had with cell phones since I first got one. On other phones, I often missed calls because I didn't hear the ring.

The new phone allows me to use any ringtone I like. I took this recorded sound of a Bell System Telephone (license) loaded it into Audacity, made it louder, and shortened the pause between rings.

It's very loud and works great. I think my brain is wired to respond to this particular ring, after growing up with it. Having an amusing tune for a ringtone doesn't have the same effect.

Here is a link to the mp3. You are free to use it under the Creative Commons License.

Goodbye Old Friend

I was saddened the other day when I had to say goodbye to my beloved 1993 Ford Taurus. We went through fourteen years, four states and thousands of miles together. My wife learned to drive in her. She brought home my baby from the hospital. That's a lot of memories.

Her brakes failed. It would have cost a lot to fix her, but in the end the cost wasn't the issue. Safety was really the deciding factor. If I weren't married with a kid, I would have probably poured more money into her.

I took the cigarette lighter out and put it in our other car as a memento. Good bye old friend, I will remember and miss you!

Pity Kids Today

Strange, the entire Three Investigators series of books is out of print. I loved these when I was around my nephew's age. I'm glad to see some of Jack Kjelgaard's books are still around, though not all. Not this memorable one, Fire-Hunter, for example.

It's interesting how few children's books remain popular. What is it about these books that makes them uninteresting to kids today? What's in the latest books that makes them more modern? I guess I'll know in a few years, when my kid is older.

Ann says: My niece is too young for you to have figured this out, but the truth is that the current crop of books is really badly written. Short sentences, slang, easy words, no complexity, etc. I read a lot of kid lit, and every time I pick up an older book, it's like a breath of fresh air.

Brilliant (sub)headline of the day

"Engineers Say Deepwater Horizon Well Could Leak for Years if Not Stopped"

And, experts say that, if we never hold another election, Obama could be president forever.

If it hadn't been canceled, "24" would have run forever.

If it is not stopped, the earth will go on rotating.


Here's the current graph of employment:

To explain my color scheme:
  • The shaded areas represent election day to election day, with Bush II in pink and Obama in blue.
  • The vertical line represent the official start of each president's term.
  • The blue line on the graph represents the household survey of employment
  • The red line is the employers' survey of employment.
Amazingly, the Household Survey for May showed a decline of 35,000 jobs. And this after I woke up to NPR crowing that this was going to be a fantastic jobs report. It looks to me like we're still bleeding.

The Employers Survey is more rosy, with a respectable increase of 431,000 jobs, YAY!!!...but there is a really big caveat: it includes government jobs. The increase in non-government jobs in May was: 41,000, very anemic.

Since the start of the year, and according to the Establishment Survey, employment has increased by 1,008,000 total jobs, with 480,000 of them government jobs and 528,000 private sector, or what we call "productive" jobs.

I've always put more trust in the Household Survey, because the Employers Survey just looks at big employers and doesn't capture small business at all. It shows and increase of 1,087,000 since the start of the year.

Another way to look at this, is that the HS shows that there have been no net jobs gained since July, 2004.

Elephant in the room

NPR this morning managed to do a piece on prison rape without mentioning inmate-on-inmate rape of men in prison.

The story highlighted a case of a woman raped by a guard, stated that guard-on-inmate rape is serious problem, mentioned juvenile rape in prisons, but never male rape.
The Justice Department's own studies suggest that more than 60,000 prisoners report sexual assaults each year. Another study found that 12 percent of juveniles in custody fall victim to rape. Too often, guards are the ones committing the crimes.
No where do the mention that most of those 60,000 are men, or that the number counted is probably a fraction of the actual numbers.

The story was done because a legislated deadline is approaching for reforms of the penal system with an eye to reducing rape. That law was passed several years ago. At that time the NYTimes did the opposite story. In theirs, they focused exclusively on the rape of male inmates.