Twilight of the Idols

...Or how one blogs with a hammer: an undergrad's views on education, cuisine, and more.

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Monday, December 29

Happy New Year (Almost!)

My break has been going pretty well - and (for those of you who are on break) I hope yours has been as well!

And as always, it's nice to be home... But I can't wait to leave, heh.

Monday, December 22

Very, Very Temporary Hiatus

As I'm sure you've noticed, my posts have dwindled from twice a day to twice a week. Since Thanksgiving Break, I've been snowed by massive amounts of reading and paper-writing, and now I'm back at home for Christmas Break and my ability to access the 'net is rather spotty. Thus, I will be taking a break from even worrying about posting until the second week of January. (And besides, next term should be a lot easier on me, and I should be able to post more frequently and more substantially.)

In short: I had a long term and I need a break, so I'm going to take one. I may post something between now and the second week of January - if I see something that I want to say something about, I will - but don't be shocked if you don't see an update for a couple weeks.

P.S.: Do check back - I enjoy blogging/writing and I enjoy the feedback I get from you regular readers. I don't want you to all disappear on me. :-)

Thursday, December 18

OT: If You're Going To Review A Movie...

...then at least know something about it. I don't think I'm being nitpicky when I point out that Gollum is not a goblin. Is it an apt description? Sure. But given that goblins actually exist in the realm of the movie being discussed, and also given that Gollum is emphatically not one, it's a pretty big error, I think.

Okay, okay, I'll admit it - I do think I'm being nitpicky. Heh.

Monday, December 15

Someone Taking Responsibility For Something

It seems that NYC Mayor Bloomberg has realized that there is all-but-no discipline in city schools, and he's taking responsibility as well as doing something about the problem. It sounds crazy, but it's true - here it is:

"We've screwed up," Mr. Bloomberg said on his weekly radio program, offering an unusually blunt mea culpa for the city's failure to move quickly to suspend dangerous students and provide them with timely hearings.


"You can't blame anyone else," said the mayor, who fought for control of the school system last year and won. "Blame me. I wanted control. I got control, and I am going to do something about it."



Today's NY Times has an interesting article about a previously-thought-to-be-lost mathematics text by Archimedes.

Tuesday, December 9

I'm Drowning...

...in a sea of work. I've got to write 16-23 pages (between two papers) due Thursday, bright and early. I imagine it'll be at least Thursday night before I post anything else, and probably the weekend. The end of the term has been eating me alive - I also had two papers due last Thursday - and I'm feeling it.

On the bright side, of course, it's almost all over. And then it's Mass-consumer-mastime! Sweet! Presents! Heh.

Saturday, December 6

No Muslim Head Scarves In French Schools

You've probably seen a news brief somewhere about the debate in France over whether Muslim students should be allowed to wear head scarves or not. The French government is pretty adamant that the students should not be allowed to, and according to the New York Times, this is French President Jacques Chirac's stance on the matter:

President Jacques Chirac of France denounced Muslim head scarves on schoolgirls as offensive and expressed concern about Islamic fundamentalism on Friday as momentum built up in France to bar all religious symbols from public schools.

Speaking on a visit to Tunisia, Mr. Chirac said the strictly secular French state could not let students wear what he called "ostentatious signs of religious proselytism" and saw "something aggressive" in the wearing of traditional Muslim veils.

Yes, you read that right.

As for myself, I think the fact that there's even a debate over this shows the sad state of freedom in the world. What, exactly, is the point of having public schools if they are not left open to the entirety of the public? And I think the religious discrimination aspect of this is blantantly obvious.

Really, at this point, how can France even claim to be a free country? See the AP wire article quoted here:

Each year, there are about 150 complaints involving head scarves, according to Hanifa Cherifi, the Education Ministry's mediator who intervenes in crisis situations. Unresolved cases lead to expulsion fewer than 50 last year, Cherifi said.


The Council of State, France's highest administrative body, has said scarves should be banned only when they are of an ``ostentatious character.'' It left schools to make that judgment case by case.

The same rules apply to Jewish skullcaps and Catholic crucifixes. But there have been no public incidents triggered by students insisting on wearing skullcaps or "ostentatious'' crosses. There are many private Jewish schools in France, where skullcaps can be worn, but only two such Muslim schools.

In July, a Lyon court ruled against a civil servant suspended for refusing to remove her scarf at work...

Even if one were to assume that the rules are applied equally to all members of all religions - which is a dubious assumption to make, I think - this would still be discrimination. As irreligious as I am, I still have respect for others' faiths, and I can say quite unequivocally that an anti-theist policy is certainly not neutral - it's discrimination.

This whole mess seems to parallel the Locke v. Davey case that the Supreme Court is currently considering here in the US. Should the government (even a state government) be able to deny a student financial aid because of the field the student has chosen to study? What if the government tried to withhold money for students majoring in, say, African-American Studies?

For all the commentary you could want on Locke v. Davey, see Eugene Volokh's post here, Walloworld's here, and John Rosenberg's here.

P.S.: Don't forget, that if we privatized education, not only would we not have to waste tax dollars on ineffective public schools, we also wouldn't have to waste money on having the Supreme Court decide cases about who gets what public money for what education. Call me crazy, but that sounds nice.

Wednesday, December 3

Yet Another "Good Student" Who Can't Get Into College

Today's New York Times features an article on the mess that is the Houston Independent School District.

Most of the information in the article won't be anything new to people who have been following the stories from Texas; if you haven't, then give the article a quick read.

What caught my eye was this story:

As a student at Jefferson Davis High here, Rosa Arevelo seemed the "Texas miracle" in motion. After years of classroom drills, she passed the high school exam required for graduation on her first try. A program of college prep courses earned her the designation "Texas scholar."

At the University of Houston, though, Ms. Arevelo discovered the distance between what Texas public schools called success and what she needed to know. Trained to write five-paragraph "persuasive essays" for the state exam, she was stumped by her first writing assignment. She failed the college entrance exam in math twice, even with a year of remedial algebra. At 19, she gave up and went to trade school.

"I had good grades in high school, so I thought I could do well in college," Ms. Arevelo said. "I thought I was getting a good education. I was shocked."

I can't help but think that this is becoming the norm. Grade inflation (among other things) convinces students that they're doing well when they're not, and ineffective (or sometimes non-existent) testing lets kids who need years of remedial work obtain diplomas. In short: as shocked as Ms. Arevelo may have been, sadly, I'm not shocked at all.

Tuesday, December 2

Milestone: 5,000 Hits

And in less than six months, too. Thanks, everyone!

Harry Browne Is Out; Harry Potter Is In

Is Harry Potter the new savior of libertarians everywhere? Eryk Boston makes a good case for it over at the Libertarian Party's website, to be sure:

I'm not the first person to point out that the Harry Potter books have a libertarian flavor. The wizarding world in the series has a private banking system and no apparent zoning laws. Wizards have the right to carry a wand -- more dangerous than any firearm -- at all times for the express purpose of self-defense. The schools are largely independent (until this book). Dumbeldore, the most powerful wizard alive, actively avoids a position in government. Independent action is celebrated. Notably absent is any mention of a system of taxation.

The article focuses more on the most recent book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - give it a read. (Hat tip: Milt's File)

An Interesting Question:

Many people who support limits on free speech (such as making hate speech a crime or campus speech codes) are also quite socially liberal and support things like gay marriage. So here's my question: Which do you support more?

Why do I ask? Well, because a kid in Louisiana recently got in trouble for referring to his lesbian parents as "gay" - "gay" is a "bad word," after all. Wait'll you get a load of his punishment:

The following week, Marcus had to come to school early and repeatedly write: "I will never use the word 'gay' in school again."

Um, news flash: every time he wrote that sentence, he was commiting the same offense. Is this some new form of recursive punishment? Will he have to come in next week and write "I will never write the senctence 'I will never use the word "gay" in school again' in school again?" That could get old really fast. Besides, doesn't this punishment seem a bit odd? I can't imagine a similar punishment being exacted on a student who used a racial epithet.

Naturally, the ACLU is involved on the student's behalf, and Peter over at Catholic School Blogger wonders why; "Wouldn't it have been easier for the school administration to admit they made a mistake and move on," he asks. Well, yes, it would have been. But that'd require an administrator to remove his head from his rear long enough to do so - and I don't think I'm going to hold my breath waiting on that.


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