How Not to Stay Healthy With Wheaties

Wheaties Breakfast

While writing my previous article, I came upon this image. It must be from the late 1970s. And look at the breakfast that we are supposed to keep fit with:

  • Bowl of Wheaties (110)
  • Three strawberries (12)
  • Two pieces of Wonder Bread toast (158)
  • Glass (8 oz) of orange juice (112)
  • Milk (4 oz) for the Wheaties (73)
  • Glass (12 oz) of milk (219)
  • Cube of butter for toast (102)

Okay, I’ll admit: it isn’t a cube of butter. But it is enough butter for about half a loaf of bread. I really wonder if General Mills is heavily invested in the dairy industry. They have, regardless, a cozy relationship. And I think even at that time, we had a good idea that milk was not something we should be consuming a lot of.

Also of interest here is that this “keep fit” breakfast has a whole bunch of grain. And I say that as a grain guy myself. But really, is it necessary to have two grain products in this breakfast? We have bread, which is made out of wheat. And then we have a cereal that, if I had to guess, you know, based on its name — “Wheaties” — was made out of, I don’t know, wheat?

But this isn’t all wheat and dairy. We also have a hulking big glass of orange juice. I remember in the day, this was called “a serving of fruits and vegetables.” It doesn’t much fly. Once you distill fruit down to juice, you remove most of what is good for you. There really isn’t much more to say for the glass of orange juice in the picture up there than there is for a can of Pepsi. Except that your mom probably wouldn’t have complained.

The numbers above are the approximate number of calories. I used whole milk, of course; this is from the 1970s! But that adds up to a total of 786 calories. And I’m going easy on this. Those glasses look bigger than I’ve estimated. And despite what every breakfast cereal label in America says, people put more than a half cup of milk on their Wheaties. And I’m pretty sure there is more than a tablespoon of butter on the bread (that’s what I used, not my joke cube). That’s a whole lot of calories for what is an uninspiring meal.

As you may know, I don’t much think about nutrition. It is filled with pseudoscience. Every time I hear about the current nutrition fad, I ignore it. I just don’t care. In a few years, they’ll probably be saying something different. And I don’t care anyway. I just eat what I like. I try to mix it up. That’s about it. But I know that picture up there is not of a healthy breakfast. For one thing, who wants to drink that much milk?! It’s just propaganda.

With or without the strawberries.

Court Take Middle Ground on Marriage Equality?

Same Sex Marriage - Homer - SimpsonsHaving just written an article about my confusion regarding whether we should allow bakers to be bigots, I want to talk a little bit about the Supreme Court oral arguments concerning Obergefell v Hodges. The are two questions before the court. The first one is whether same sex marriage should be mandated nationwide. The second, should the court find against the plaintiffs in the first, is whether states that do not allow same sex marriage will be required to recognize same sex marriages in other states — this is called “reciprocity.” From the standpoint of the law, the second question is more important. From the standpoint of civil rights the first question is key.

The reason the second question is more important as a matter of law is because not doing so causes all kinds of legal issues. States must recognize the power of other states to run their affairs. If a same sex couple is married in California, that marriage is now accepted by the federal government. But it isn’t recognized by, for example, the state of Ohio. What happens if that couple has a child and then they move to Ohio? Suddenly the couple isn’t married and the child is the responsibility of… who? There are all kinds of less consequential issues that come up when states do not reciprocate in this matter.

The first question is a matter of civil rights because it involves equal protection. If the court finds for the defendants in the first question and for the plaintiffs in the second, they will be setting up a situation where rich members of the Ohio LGBT community can fly over to New York and get married. But lower income members can’t do that. So in effect, poor LGBT people will not have the same rights. Now one could argue — And I would! — that this kind of discrimination is everywhere in our society. But that’s hardly a justification for allowing it in this case. Same sex marriage in Ohio would be a kind of Animal Farm equality, “All LGBT people are equal, but some LGBT people are more equal than others.”

Having said all this, I tend to think that the Supreme Court is going to worm out of this — splitting the difference by just finding for the plaintiffs in the second question. But maybe not. At BuzzFeed News, Chris Geidner seems to think that Kennedy is going to go for full marriage equality, Supreme Court Appears Ready To Rule In Favor of Marriage Equality. The basis for this claim is something interesting that Kennedy did. The hearing was divided between the two questions. During the hearing for the first, Kennedy was dominant, asking many questions and making many comments. But during the hearing for the second question, all he did was ask if the court could rule differently on the two questions.

I don’t find this particularly heartening. This is because during the first question’s discussion, he asked about the history of marriage being between “one man and one woman.” As Huffington Post summarized it, Supreme Court Mulls How Marriage Equality Will Come About. So there doesn’t seem to be any question that Kennedy thinks that same sex marriage should be made legal nationally. I took his question in the second half of the hearing to mean that he thought that the plaintiffs had the better of the argument, but for the sake of social conservatives, we should go slow and just mandate reciprocity.

I still think this is a good outcome. But it will indicate just how political the Supreme Court really is. On the other hand, if the court decides to not ruffle the feathers of the social conservatives and then finds for the plaintiffs in King v Burwell (the current Obamacare case), it will mean that they are just a bunch of hacks. Let’s hope not.

Christians and Wedding Cakes Still Confuse Me

Sweet Cakes by Melissa Pimping at the 2014 Values Voters SummitI’ve been trying to get my head around the issue of wedding cakes and same sex weddings. And part of my problem is that it is all so silly. On the Christian side, it doesn’t make any sense at all. The Bible — the old testament anyway — is kind of down on same sex relations. But it doesn’t actually say anything about marriage. This is just the same old modern Christian nonsense, “This is the literal word of God and I know that because my pastor told me it was!” It is so insulting to religion itself. What incredibly weak theology.

Just the same, why would same sex couples want to do business with such vile people? I understand if there is only one bakery in town. But this most recent case was in Gresham, OR. That’s right next to Portland. There are a lot of bakeries in that area. The only reason I can see a problem here — and it does apply — is because the couple didn’t know that this was a bakery that reserves the right to discriminate against same sex couples. Overall, it is hard for me to get too upset about this. There are total jerks in the world, and a lot of them have always called themselves Christians.

The case in Oregon is very clear as a matter of law. The state has a non-discrimination law. Sweet Cakes by Melissa very clearly broke the law. A same sex couple sued them. The owners lost. Boo hoo. This is what happens when you decide your business should be used for moral grandstanding instead of making money. You lose. Check the law the next time you decide to do something like this. Above all, stop whining. See that picture of Melissa crying to all the true believers at the 2014 Values Voters Summit? This is what happens when you let your husband be a bigot behind the counter.

Of course, the bakery owners — like the Indiana pizza store owners — have seen donations following in from like minded Christians from across the country. But these things are only going to last so long. These are not customers chipping in to keep a well loved store afloat, like we saw with Borderlands Books. The donations will last only as long as Fox News is pimping the story. This is a thing, but it is not going to keep the bigot bakery industry afloat past next Thanksgiving. A better solution needs to be found.

The End Is NighThis is where the push for all these “religious liberty” laws are coming from. But even they have a short self life. In a place like Portland, I suspect the problem could be solved simply by letting people like Melissa discriminate but require that she put up a sign that says, “We don’t serve same sex weddings.” I think that would put a pretty quick end of Sweet Cakes by Melissa. But that’s just it. I suspect Melissa and her husband would be upset at having to post such a sign. They would see it as persecution — like the Nazis making the Jews wear arm bands. It wouldn’t be. It would just be truth in advertising. They should be grateful that the sign didn’t read, “Warning: we are bigots.”

So the sign wouldn’t solve the problems in Oregon, much less rural Mississippi. But given that this isn’t a question of basic needs — food and lodging — I would like to find a free market solution to it. Maybe I’m just being naive, but I really don’t think this kind of prejudice is going to survive the cold light of day. I want to watch as places like Sweet Cakes by Melissa get wiped out as only the most hardcore bigots are willing to do business with them. But like I said, I’m still struggling with the issue. But one thing should be clear, “Christians: the end is nigh!”

Morning Music: Suzanne Vega

Tom's Diner - Suzanne VegaWill sent me a text, “What’s the Suzanne Vega song that goes dun dun dunna?” I knew immediately what song he was talking about. It was off her second album. He added, “I think it’s a cappella.” Yep, that was the one. So I entered “song a cappella Suzanne Vega” into Google and it spit out, “Tom’s Diner,” which is indeed the first song on Solitude Standing.

There was just one problem. When I clicked on the first video for it — Official music video! — it wasn’t the song. Well, it kind of is. It is a DNA remix of the song with understandably mellow drums and synth work below it. It’s not a bad song that way. The story behind it is more interesting because it shows some actual sense coming from a corporation.

The producers of this remix did not get legal authority to do it. They just did it and released it kind of on the sly to various dance clubs. When the song seemed like it might be a winner, A&M bought the track rather than suing. And the song became a big hit. This is yet another example of how copyright normally does just the opposite of what it is supposed to do. In this case, a pretty a cappella song was turned into dance hit. This wouldn’t have happened if the copyright system worked the way it is “supposed” to.

But I still like the original better. It has nuance that it filtered out in the remix.

Why Mercury Has a Substantial Magnetic Field

Mercury and Earth CoresBack when I was teaching planetary astronomy, one thing really bugged me: Mercury’s magnetic field. Even at that time, we knew that the planet’s field was far larger than we would expect. And with the MESSENGER spacecraft about to crash on Mercury, I thought it would be a good time to think about this issue. So let’s start by getting a little basic planetary astronomy out of the way so that you can understand my confusion.

It is not obvious that planets and moons should have magnetic fields — or at least stable ones that exist for billions of years. And despite the fact that the earth has quite a powerful one (Critically important to protecting we organic creatures!) it has only been in the last century that scientists have gotten a handle on why we have one. The way it works here on earth is not always the way it works elsewhere. But it is thought to be the way it works on Mercury.

When talking about the earth’s magnetic field, people think of a bar magnet. But I think that confuses the issue. The explation for the earth’s notable magnetic field is the dynamo theory. The outer core of the earth consists of liquid iron and nickel. So it is a conductor — a very good one. And since the earth is spinning, this causes the free electrons to circle around due to the Coriolis effect. (Note: the Coriolis effect does not control water swirling around your bathtub drain!) So what we have is a natural current. And as you may know because you took a physics course some time: a magnetic field is created by a moving charge (current). Thus: magnetic field!

If you’ve been paying attention, you should have noticed that the solid core should also create some magnetic field. It has a couple of problems. First is the fact that it isn’t liquid, so it doesn’t get any Coriolis effect movement. Second, it is much closer to the earth’s center of mass, so the direct rotational current is much smaller. So it doesn’t matter on the earth. But it could matter, as we shall soon see.

Clearly, the faster that a planet rotates, the larger its magnetic field should be (all else equal). Consider, for example, our moon — which has a very small magnetic field. And as far as we can tell, it doesn’t have any magnetic field due to the dynamo theory action. It has a tiny liquid core (so little potential current) and an extremely slow rotation rate (so very little current even if there had been a large liquid core). So: few electrons, moving slowly. Not a recipe for much of a magnetic field.

Mercury has the same problems: slow rotation rate and small liquid core. But there is a difference! First, as I indicated above, a solid core creates a magnetic field. In the earth, this solid core is very small. But in Mercury, it is quite large. But in addition to the direct effect, this also means that Mercury’s liquid outer core is further from the center of mass. That means there is a greater Coriolis effect than there is in the moon where the liquid core is way down toward the center. Also: Mercury’s liquid core is substantial.

All of this adds up to Mercury having a larger magnetic effect than I originally thought it should. It is still a weak field: only about one percent that of the earth. But we know why that is: larger outer core and and much faster spin — although Mercury has a larger solid core. Regardless, I feel better. I don’t like it when things don’t make sense. Although it does give scientists something to do with their time other than hanging out at Comic-Con International.


That was a joke about Comic-Con. In my experience, actual scientists really aren’t especially into the nerd culture that lay people always associate with them. I’ve always minded The Big Bang Theory for that. I find the scientists on Better Off Ted far more realistic.

Update (30 April 2015 7:39 pm)

I want to thank RJ for the excellent question about the electric flux of the positively charged atoms and the free electrons. Unfortunately, my astronomy related sources have not really been that up on the issue. This is probably because very few people deal with planetary astronomy. It is of more interest to scientists of the earth. And let’s be honest: the weak magnetic field of Mercury is not nearly as spectacular as the accretion disk of a binary pulsar. But I appreciate the help I got from my old boss Lynn Cominsky. Lynn, ever the high energy astrophysicist sent out some cheeky email to her group, “Any ideas here? I think Mercury is a planet…” But this comment from Kevin was too depressingly true, “Mostly people just wave their hands, and if you press them they run away screaming.” Indeed.

But I’m going to tell you what I think I know. The most important thing, as I mentioned in the comments, is that this current that is created is not the usual kind of current that we talk about in E&M class. We are used to copper wires with free electrons that move through them. But in this case, all the free electrons move to the surface of the core — to get as far away from the positively charge atoms that — if you anthropomorphize objects like I do — menace them. So they are out of the picture and the magnetic field really is created by the positively charged atoms that are moving about inside the liquid core.

The next thing we must understand is that the Coriolis effect is only part of what’s going on. The primary mechanism is the convection cells that are created by the heating of the core (as things get pushed together — think: the sun) and that heat gets dissipated into the mantle. The Coriolis effect then causes the ions to swirl around those convection cells. And that is as far as I’m going to take this.

But I could be wrong. If an actual planetary astronomer happens by and has some insight into this — or if I’m wrong on the physics (and I am drinking a nice red wine right now) — please straighten me out. I would love, for example, to see an actual model of this process. If I were 20 years younger, I would create my own, because this stuff is amazingly cool! But I only have the energy now to talk about some young genius’ model. Anyway, I have movies to over analyze. I have a stack of Tom DiCillo films sitting here and they aren’t going to watch themselves…

Update (2 May 2015 12:30 am)

My discussion above about the electrons fleeing to the surface is wrong. I was thinking of excess charge. There is no electric force that would cause a neutral metal core to send its electrons to the surface. If it did, then an iron ball would have a charge on it. So I’ve done more research and it seems to be moving me in the opposite direction of enlightenment. I’m seeing a lot of Maxwell equations, but without context. (So u is the velocity? Of what?!) I will look into the problem in a week or two and see if I can figure it out after ridding my mind of it. But the bottom line about this article was always that Mercury has a larger magnetic field than we would expect because it has a much larger liquid core than we would expect. As for the dynamo theory: stay tuned.

When Authority Preaches Nonviolence

Ta-Nehisi CoatesWhen nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.

—Ta-Nehisi Coates
Nonviolence as Compliance

Kerry Was an Excellent Candidate — Except for…

John KerryI want to make one thing clear: I never thought John Kerry was a bad presidential candidate. I was a very early supporter of his. I never much liked Howard Dean. Now, of course, I would have been a supporter of Dick Gephardt or Dennis Kucinich. But then, I really liked Kerry. I even read his stupid campaign biography! And since then, of course, I’ve done my own research. And by my calculations, Bush had a built-in advantage as big as the one that his father had when he ran against Dukakis in 1988. And it was almost as big as the one Clinton had over Dole in 1996 and Obama had over Romney in 2012. Just the same, there is one way that Kerry was a weak candidate — which I will get to in a moment.

But according to Matt Yglesias, a lot of people remember Kerry as a bad candidate, If Hillary Clinton Is the Next John Kerry, That’s Good News for Democrats. It’s an interesting article, but kind of shallow. All it talks about is how Kerry actually did somewhat better than would be expected given the economic fundamentals. I was expecting some information on demographics. I suspect that just the change in the composition of the American electorate would have changed the election. If John Kerry had received just 120,000 more votes in Ohio, he would have become president. (This has made me start to rethink my position on economic fundamentals, which I plan to write about soon.)

Yglesias thinks that there are three reasons why many people think that Kerry was a bad candidate: (1) he lost; (2) people think Bush should have been easy to beat; and (3) most people didn’t like Kerry that much — they picked him as the “electable” candidate. I don’t think those second two make any sense at all. Back then, Karl Rove had this reputation for being some kind of political magician. People may have thought Bush was an idiot — but it was an idiot savant. We might not have thought he could run a country, but we knew he could campaign. As for the second point, it is almost never the case that partisans are really excited by their candidates. The last time that happened was in 1980 with the Republican Party.

I think people remember Kerry as a poor candidate because he lost. And that’s the only reason. What happens is that all the bad things stick out. There was his style of speech, to start with. Had he been a two term president, that style of speech would be remembered today as the very definition of “presidential.” But he didn’t even win one term, so it is remembered as awkward and pompous. There was the sailboarding. That is a clear sign of virility, but because he lost, now people remember it the way Republicans tried to spin it — as something strange. And there were actual mistakes that would be forgotten had he won. For example, there was the strange decision to not mention George W Bush at the convention. I still don’t know what that was about. On the other side of things, people don’t remember his great performance in the first presidential debate.

But there was a way to win that campaign. (Given what happened in 2008, it is probably best the Democrats did not win.) According to Lynn Vavreck’s book, The Message Matters, the only way for the Democratic Party to have won in 2004 was to change the subject from the economy. (I said this same thing about Romney in 2012.) When the economy is improving, the out-party just can’t make the case that the economy would grow even faster if only we “threw the bum out!” If the Democrats had nominated Dean, he could have made the campaign about the Iraq War. And he could have become president. The problem is that Dean really wasn’t a very good candidate. We needed Kerry — but without his vote for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq.

Otherwise, Yglesias is right: Kerry was a strong candidate. I will be happy if Clinton is as good.

Bruce Jenner and the Death of LGBT

Bruce JennerI don’t much care what Bruce Jenner does or says. But his recent interview does allow me to discuss something that I care about: why people vote the way they do. To many people, the big thing in the interview was that Jenner is a Republican. At The Fix, Hunter Schwarz wrote, Bruce Jenner Is a Republican. Here’s the Reason That Shouldn’t Surprise You. Most of that article has to do with the fact that most athletes are conservative.

There is sample bias in this claim. Schwarz talks about professional athletes and people at Brown University. So we aren’t talking about just any people who are interested in sports, but people who have chosen to take it to a very high level. But okay, I’ll yield the point. I’m sure there is something to athletes being conservative, but not in the way that Schwarz thinks. He wrote, “[A]thletes inhabit a world of meritocracy and hierarchy.” Yeah, but that correlation probably runs the other way. One thing I’ve been harping on a while is the fact that at the highest levels of sports, there is basically no difference between people. My bet is that the kind of people who find working out to be such a fantastic thing are people with higher than average testosterone levels.

But the real reason that we shouldn’t be surprised that Bruce Jenner is a Republican is much simpler: he’s rich. The rich vote Republican, as I discussed almost three years ago, It’s the Poor, Stupid. So there really isn’t much to deconstruct about this. We should applaud him for doing something that is good for the nation generally and the transgender community specifically. But the fact that he is just another rich conservative who says he’s a Republican because, “I believe in the Constitution”? It’s worth a yawn.

What is more interesting is what I wrote about two years ago, Farewell Gay Liberals. I made a more general argument, but said much the same thing back then. Overall, the gay and lesbian community is richer than the nation overall. And gay rights are very quickly going away as an issue. Is there any question about where this leads?

That’s as it should be. But I don’t think that someone being in favor of gay rights makes them a liberal. And as we move into the future, we will see increasing numbers of gay pundits slip away from liberal causes as they become unmoored from gay rights.

Jenner’s revelation highlights this. There is little doubt that eventually, LGBT rights will not be a political issue at all. The LGBT community has the advantage that its members are born randomly. So its status as a minority group is likely to be very short indeed, whereas the status of African Americans as a minority group will go on and on and on. What we’ll see going forward with regard to the LGBT community is that those in that group will act politically just like the population as a whole. The poor and smart members of the community will be liberal. The rich and dumb members of the community will be conservative. And most will not show up to vote anyway.

Morning Music: Luciano Pavarotti

O Sole Mio - Luciano Pavarotti Based upon how often I sing it, “‘O Sole Mio” is one of my very favorite songs. Of course, other than those first three syllables (“my own sun”), I don’t know any of the words. So I just make up nonsense syllables or repeat the three I know. It is a powerful and, as it turns out, cheery song. It’s a love song. It is about how the singer’s own sun lights up the face of his loved one. But who cares? It’s the music that really matters.

At this point, the best known version of the song is by Luciano Pavarotti. I must admit that when I hear his name, I think of John Candy’s not terribly flattering impersonation of him. Just the same, he has the look and mannerisms down. But Pavarotti was an amazing talent, as you can see in this live version of the song back in 1987 at Madison Square Garden:

Thematic Analysis of Fantastic Mr Fox

Fantastic Mr FoxI watched Fantastic Mr Fox. I thought it was wonderful. So I watched it a second time. And it all made sense. It is an allegory about class. The three farmers represent the power elite. The other humans represent the liberal class — as defined by Chris Hedges in Death of the Liberal Class. And the animals are the working class. So let me go through this because it probably isn’t obvious.

The hardest characters to understand are the non-owning humans: the liberal class. We aren’t talking the middle class. We are talking about the upper half of the upper class: the people in the top 10% of incomes. These are the people who are supposed to keep the power elite (the top 0.1% — more or less) from getting out of hand and taking everything for themselves. And in so doing, they prevent the working class from rebelling. But like in our own time, this class has totally lost track of this first duty. All they do is allow the power elite to take more and more by oppressing the working class.

The three farmers are a very accurate representation of the rich in our society. But this kind of representation is so out of favor that it has an anachronistic feel to it. This is probably because the farmers are the one thing that I most remember being the same from the book. And the book was written in 1970. You know: when powerful labor unions still existed in the US and UK — when workers still saw their wages go up with productivity and took it for granted. I know that the rich don’t think of themselves as Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. It’s called cognitive dissonance. It’s what allows people to have billions of dollars while others starve and then use those billions to buy elections so that they can acquire more money. Now that I think about it, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean are too good a representation of these “people.”

Now clearly, Mr Fox has his personality issues. He’s a narcissist. Yet most great leaders are. Does he create a better future for all the other animals? I think the answer is less muddled in the book. There, Mr Fox is only stealing chickens to feed his family. And in the end, the animals seem to be in a better place. In the film, the farmers’ attacks on the animals are really the fault of Mr Fox’s narcissism. And at the end, the animals are living in the sewer and stealing from the grocery store. I’m not sure that is a long-term strategy for success. But it is clear that the animals had no choice after the farmers started their campaign against Mr Fox.

The film provides the other alternative by way of the wolf: the animals could separate themselves from human civilization. In other words, unlike the truly ridiculous notion in Atlas Shrugged where the rich “go on strike,” the workers actually could leave. And it would shutdown everything else. Of course, that isn’t the case in Fantastic Mr Fox because unlike in the real world, the humans do not depend upon the animals (workers). So on that point, the allegory breaks down. But those are the choices for the working class. We can flee or we can fight. We workers have enormous power if we stick together. Because there is no doubt: the system is broken. The farmers are destroying our homes, without a thought to the fact that they are only harming themselves. Even for their sake, we need to stop them.


As a film, it is really charming. And it is totally Wes Anderson. I was curious about it because he’s not known for animation. But it looks exactly like you would think it would. And it is filled with flights of fancy. It’s just a wonderful film, even if you don’t care about the politics.

Top 10 Reasons Global Warming Is a Hoax

    Paul Bibeau

  1. I had to put a jacket on. Yesterday.
  2. It was snowing at that one place where it usually doesn’t snow, and they showed it on Fox, and Steve Doocy seemed really surprised. He raised his eyebrows in that way he has of letting you know this is not what he expected.
  3. There are bloggers following this stuff on the internet in places where they’ll also sell you gold and gas masks, and they can show all kinds of stuff the scientists said would happen, but then didn’t happen.
  4. Every time they have a guy telling you it’s true on TV, or in an article, they have another guy telling you it’s false. Every time. What does that say?
  5. Some of those bloggers have degrees that sound technical.
  6. You could see your breath just last week.
  7. Also on Fox they had that guy who used to play that character you liked in that show you watched, and he was not convinced at all about this.
  8. The senator said so, and he’s spent his life talking to experts from energy companies who study this kind of thing. They come to his office when they bring the money, and they leave really impressive Powerpoint presentations about it.
  9. This one time my friend Steve was out at the lake house, back when we were both 12, because Steve’s friend Troy found a Playboy there, so we were looking for it on our dirt bikes, because Troy said it wasn’t even torn up or anything. But it was really hot, and that was like, years ago. So I went back last summer, and it was much cooler.
  10. Jesus just wouldn’t dick us over like that.

—Paul Bibeau
10 True Facts That PROVE Global Warming Is A Hoax

The Early Childhood Education Bandwagon!

Nicholas KristofLast week, Nicholas Kristof wrote, Beyond Education Wars. His argument: education reform has “peaked,” is “tough,” and will be a “long slog.” Its “low-hanging fruit has already been picked.” And perhaps most of all, “The zillionaires are bruised. The idealists are dispirited.” Now Kristof isn’t suggesting that we give up altogether on education reform, but rather refocus on early childhood education. He also cherry picked some data to make it seem as if education “reform” (as opposed to the real thing) has actually worked. Or at least that it has in principle — like a couple of successful charter schools are prototypes that can be replicated by the engineers.

I’m not against early childhood education. It is indeed an important thing. But to push it as an alternative to reforming our educational system is ridiculous. Regardless, Kristof’s main reason for wanting to switch is political. “Early education is where we have the greatest chance of progress because it’s not politically polarized.” Ah yes, the ultimate apologia for those who do the work of the power elite: let us at least do what “can be done”! And what “can be done” just happens to be those things that don’t upset the power elite — and in many cases are things that help the power elite. Thus we get policies that weaken teachers’ unions but don’t do a thing to equalize education funding.

In addition, Kristof shows an amazingly immature attitude toward the whole process of reform. Check out this jaw dropping explanation of why early education rocks and later education sucks:

My perspective is shaped by what I’ve seen. Helping teenagers and adults is tough when they’ve dropped out of school, had babies, joined gangs, compiled arrest records or self-medicated.

But in Oklahoma, I once met two little girls, ages 3 and 4, whose great-grandmother had her first child at 13, whose grandmother had her first at 15, whose mom had her first at 13 and now has four children by three fathers. These two little girls will break that cycle, I’m betting, because they (along with the relative caring for them) are getting help from an outstanding early childhood program called Educare. Those two little girls have a shot at opportunity.

Forget the Thomas Friedman “I once met…” nonsense. He’s write that helping teenagers and adults once they’ve slipped out of the education system is hard for the education system to deal with. One might think one of the challenges of education reform would be to deal with such problems earlier. One might also think that the problems of school dropout, teen pregnancy, criminality, and drug use go quite a ways outside what we ought to depend upon the education system for. But I guess that gets into that area where something might be expected by the “zillionires,” so let’s just ignore it and do those things that “can be done.”

But it is the second paragraph that is most telling. He’s betting that the two girls will break the cycle?! And the reason is this one program that seems to be good but which has hardly been proven. It’s charter schools all over again! Back when, it was charter schools that were going to fix all the problems of education. That didn’t work out, so now people like Kristof want to abandon education reform and move onto early childhood education because there’s a cure-all called Educare! It will solve all our education problems! Don’t worry about poverty, racism, and the actual mechanics of teaching! Two years of Educare will solve all our problems!

Peter Greene at Curmudgucation provided a good description of this, Nicholas Kristof’s Tourist Balls. He likened the entire “reform” movement to tourists who come into a town and want to change everything and then leave the place a mess after a short period of time because they find that there are no easy answers. Then they move onto the “next shiny object.” That’s about right.

One thing that comes out in the comments to Greene’s article is that this is also an economic issue. The education “reform” movement has seen that the opportunities to monetize K-12 education are drying up. So now they are looking for ways to do the same with pre-K education. But I don’t doubt that there are a lot of really earnest people in the movement who only want what is best for the kids. And I’m certain that Kristof is one of these earnest people. But they are “useful fools” — people the power elite use to push their interests. And it is their interests that are pushed in all this “reform.” Now we will have our toddlers in corporate provided programs, so they do better in corporate run schools, so there is a large, well educated work force so corporations can have their pick of the best workers at the lowest prices.