Captain Kirk: The Earth is our only home. Everything out there in space is hellish. We need to start taking care of our home before it, too, becomes a hell.

At age 90, the actor William Shatner got to ride briefly into outer space. He was expecting an epiphany of connection to the Universe out there.

He was not prepared to feel a deep sense of grief.

(I have been making the same argument on this as Shatner for many years now.)

Here is what he wrote:

The age of extinction

My trip to space made me realise we have only one Earth – it must live long and prosper

William Shatner

Star Trek prepared me to feel a connection with the universe. Instead, I felt terrible grief for our planet. At Cop15, our leaders must negotiate to protect it

Wed 7 Dec 2022 10.00 ESTFollow William Shatner

Star Trek actor William Shatner, 90
Click to see figure captionThe age of extinction is supported byAbout this contentLast year, at the age of 90, I had a life-changing experience.

I went to space, after decades of playing a science-fiction character who was exploring the universe and building connections with many diverse life forms and cultures.

I thought I would experience a similar feeling: a feeling of deep connection with the immensity around us, a deep call for endless exploration. A call to indeed boldly go where no one had gone before.

I was absolutely wrong.

As I explained in my latest book, what I felt was totally different. I knew that many before me had experienced a greater sense of care while contemplating our planet from above, because they were struck by the apparent fragility of this suspended blue marble.

I felt that too.

But the strongest feeling, dominating everything else by far, was the deepest grief that I had ever experienced.

While I was looking away from Earth, and turned towards the rest of the universe, I didn’t feel connection; I didn’t feel attraction. What I understood, in the clearest possible way, was that we were living on a tiny oasis of life, surrounded by an immensity of death.

I didn’t see infinite possibilities of worlds to explore, of adventures to have, or living creatures to connect with. I saw the deepest darkness I could have ever imagined, contrasting starkly with the welcoming warmth of our nurturing home planet.

I worry about the world my grandchildren will be living in when they are my ageThis was an immensely powerful awakening for me. It filled me with sadness. I realised that we had spent decades, if not centuries, being obsessed with looking away, with looking outside.

I played my part in popularising the idea that space was the final frontier.

But I had to get to space to understand that Earth is, and will remain, our only home. And that we have been ravaging it, relentlessly, making it uninhabitable.

I was born in Montreal in 1931. During my lifetime, this world has changed faster than for any generation before us. We are now at an ecological tipping point. Without the bold leadership that the times require, we are facing further climate breakdown and ecosystems collapsing before our eyes, with as many as one million species at risk of extinction, according to the latest scientific assessments.‘We are at war with nature’: UN environment chief warns of biodiversity apocalypseRead more

And of all places, it is in the city where I was born that a crucial meeting of the United Nations is being held. At Cop15, the UN biodiversity summit in Montreal, taking place from 7 to 19 December, world governments will negotiate a global deal to stop the loss of biodiversity by the end of the decade. We need world leaders to give their diplomats a powerful mandate for these talks: agree on strong targets to change the way we produce food, to drastically cut pollution, and to conserve 50% of our planet’s land and ocean, with the active leadership of Indigenous peoples and local communities, who have historically been pioneers on all these necessary actions.

I was the oldest man to go to space.

I worry about the world my grandchildren will be living in when they are my age. My generation is leaving them a planet that might pretty soon be barely livable for many of Earth’s inhabitants. My experience in space filled me with sadness, but also with a strong resolve. I don’t want my grandchildren to simply survive. I want them, as an old friend used to say, to be able to live long and prosper.I will do everything I can so that we can protect our one and only home. Our world leaders have an immense responsibility to do the same in Montreal.

William Shatner is a Canadian actor who played Captain James T Kirk in Star Trek for almost 30 years.


He is also author of Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and WonderThe age of extinctionCop15OpinionEnvironmentConservationBiodiversityStar TrekWilliam ShatnerArticleCommentWilliam Shatner

The age of extinction

Comic Strip Shows the Uselessness of Big Standardized Tests

I had similar experiences back when I was teaching. Any other teachers, parents, or students want to add their thoughts?

As a 7th grader, could you have solved these? And how about now?

Do you realize how DIFFICULT the problems are on today’s 7th-grade PARCC-style standardized tests?

Take a look at this handful of questions, and feel free to look at others. If you compare these to the typical 7th-grade standardized test items from 30 or 40 years ago, you will have to conclude that these items asked these days are **much** more difficult than the ones from the past.

I strongly doubt that the folks who wrote these items, and those who are putting these items on the tests that nearly every 7th grader in the USA has to take, could have solved these when they were 7th graders?

And how many of my readers can solve these now, as adults?

Here are just a few:

Most of us have already had a case of COVID

From the Johns Hopkins daily health newsletter:

=================

US SEROPREVALENCE 

A study published April 26 in the US CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) estimates that 58% of the US population, including 75% of children, have been infected with SARS-CoV-2. Many of those infections occurred during the winter’s Omicron surge. The study reports on data from national commercial laboratories across all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. Between September 2021 and February 2022, labs conducted convenience samples on blood specimens that were submitted for clinical testing in their labs, excluding samples that were testing for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies upon initial receipt. The median sample size for the group of labs was 73,869 each month, with a drop in the number of tests to 45,810 in February 2022, likely caused by disruptions from the surge in domestic infections fueled by the Omicron variant. The research team weighted samples by demographic data to produce estimates of seroprevalence. 

The team saw a slight, but steady, increase in seroprevalence between September and December 2021, increasing between 0.9-1.9% every 4 weeks. At the end of this collection period, the seroprevalence across the US sample was estimated to be 33.5%. Between December 2021 and February 2022, at the height of the Omicron surge, the team observed a spike in national seroprevalence, rising from 33.5% to 57.7%. Notably, during this period, children aged 0-11 saw an increase from 44.2% to 75.2% and those aged 12-17 saw a similar increase from 45.6% to 74.2%. Adult populations saw spikes in seroprevalence from 36.5% to 63.7% for individuals aged 18-49, 28.8% to 49.8% for those 50-64, and 19.1% to 33.2% among those aged 65 and older. The researchers noted several limitations in their study design, including restrictions of applicability tied to convenience sampling; limited race and ethnicity data; the potential for sampling bias due to the setting of sample collection; and the possibility that infection following vaccination resulted in reduced antibody titers.  

SARS-CoV-2 testing is only able to catch a fraction of cases occurring in the country, so serosurveys present an opportunity to better understand the scale of infections. Still, the study may not represent a full picture of COVID-19 in the country, nor does it indicate whether or not individuals with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies have persistent immunity to new infections. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted the study’s results and vaccine uptake show an increased level of community protection from SARS-CoV-2. She added that vaccination remains key in creating a more resilient population, urging those who remain unvaccinated, including those previously infected, to get vaccinated. 

What Economists Get Wrong

What Economics Gets Wrong (Almost Everything)

BY IAN WELSH 

ON APRIL 25, 2022 

Economics as a discipline is nearly worthless. What it teaches mostly isn’t true.

  • Decreasing price does not always increase demand and increasing price sometimes increases demand (aka. the law of supply and demand isn’t a law.)
  • People do not optimize utility (by any definition that is not circular).
  • People are not rational.
  • The market is not rational.
  • The market does not discount the future well at all.
  • Competitive markets are created by government, and destroyed by private actors.
  • Markets do not and never have properly priced externalities and never will do so while humans remain human. The only way to price externalities properly is thru government or custom (government in drag.)
  • Profit or loss in any enterprise in a modern economy is a social choice, entirely based on government and social decisions and mostly unrelated to fundamentals like energy in and energy out.
  • Railroads are far more efficient, energy wise than roads, but govt. subsidizes roads.
  • The vast majority of profit is based on market position and sustained profit is almost always based on having an unfair advantage that makes the market less competitive and therefore not have the virtues of competitive markets.
  • Genuine competitive markets don’t exist, and no businessman wants them to because they drive profits to almost zero.
  • The best economies the world ever saw went out of their way to keep wages and prices high, not to reduce them.
  • Any concentration of market power that is not regulated or broken up will engage in practices intended to buy/undermine government and destroy wages.
  • Higher CEO pay is correlated with lower company performance.
  • You cannot have a good economy for long without keeping the rich poor, weak and under your thumb. It is impossible.
  • Monetary efficiency between countries is bad. It should be hard to move large amounts money in and out of another currency or country.
  • Financial market efficiency is generally bad, and effectiveness and shock pads should be optimized for rather than financial efficiency.
  • Countries should, if it is possible, make or grow everything important inside their own borders and not trade for it.
  • People perform better when happy, healthy and at least moderately autonomous. The literature on this is so abundant it is silly. Bosses are authoritarian assholes because they like being authoritarian assholes who micro-manage employees. It’s what Bezos gets out of being Bezos.
  • Private money creation concentrated in a few hands is destructive to the economy, democracy and freedom (authority: Thomas Jefferson). It is also anti-competitive market, since you can’t compete with people who create money out of thin air.
  • Moderate levels of inflation are good, not bad, if they include assets, because they take away the control of people who won the past so they don’t control the present and the future.
  • Taxes should be low on ordinary people and high on anyone rich, including wealth and estate taxes. No one should be rich because their parents were.
  • People who lend money should lose that money if the person who they loaned it to can’t afford to repay it. The function of lending is “I know how to pick people who will use the money well.” If you can’t do that you deserve to lose the money, and govt shouldn’t collect it for you
  • bankruptcy should be easy, fast and leave people whole. Economically crippled people are not in the interest of society as a whole.
  • A UBI’s main function is allowing people to do what they want to do, and forcing bosses to make jobs good, not shitty.
  • Pensions should simply be handled by government or a general UBI.
  • Comparative advantage is a terrible strategy for improving your economy.
  • Free trade is garbage for most countries.
  • Raising the minimum wage is not correlated with increased unemployment
  • The unemployment rate measures supply driven wage push inflation pressure, not how many peole can’t get a job.
  • Initial capital for capitalism was primarily acquired by theft, first of European commons, then of non-European land, people and resources.

Essentially everything Economics teaches is wrong. If and when their prescriptions for action are followed, disaster ensues. With almost no exceptions every country which ever developed did so by not doing what economists say to do.

Economics also has a morally corrosive affect on those who study it.  People mostly don’t free ride or otherwise act according to the maxims of economics: but people who have studied economics do.

Because economics is wrong and harmful about almost everything, and because economists do not say “please don’t follow our advice”, Economics should probably be banned and all Economics faculties shut down.

DONATE OR SUBSCRIBE

Truckers Unite!

There was a time when driving a long-haul truck was a pretty good job. They had organized a strong union, and had decent wages, conditions, health care benefits, and more. It was said that in order for a person to get a job in that field, someone else had to retire.

(Yeah, I am quite aware that much of the Teamsters union leadership has been often extremely corrupt and in cahoots with organized crime. That sort of nefarious activity never benefits the rank-and-file workers!)

After deregulation began around 1980, many trucking companies sprung up that were anti-union, and required their drivers to work longer hours and more miles for less pay and fewer benefits. Right now, the annual turnover rate in the trucking industry is over 90% per year! Think about what that means!

Very simply, this is because driving a long-haul truck is now such a crappy job that workers very frequently quit. That’s why one sees billboards advertising for anybody with a Commercial Drivers’ License (CDL), because the companies are desperate for warm bodies behind those wheels. One result of all these brand-new, inexperienced drivers, is that since 2009, there has been a serious increase in the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks and buses> Not only the absolute number of crashes, but also if you divide the number of such crashes by the total number of miles driven.

See these two graphs that I prepared using data from the US DOT. While this data does not go past 2018, my understanding is that the pronounced upward trend continued into the current pandemic era as well. Part of the reason is that drivers are exhausted — IIRC they generally don’t get paid for all of the time that they have to wait around for somebody either to load or unload their truck, nor for time stuck in traffic: just by the mile.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the many truckers that have to poop and pee into little containers in their sleeping compartments, because there is nowhere else to do that? Not fun.

It looks like nearly a 50% increase in the total number of fatal crashes from 2009 to 2018

If all long-haul truck drivers organized themselves properly into a strong, honest union, and were able to prevail against the billionaires and banks that own the big trucking firms, they could do a lot of good for themselves and the public as a whole by reducing their actual work hours to something manageable, thus avoiding exhaustion and many of the accidents and near-misses that happen when a driver is drowsy. In addition, with better pay and benefits and more reasonable hours, then we would have many fewer people uninsured or bankrupt, more stable family lives, more home ownership, and all the rest.

It would be a hell of a struggle though, because the bankers and billionaires (including Jeff Bezos, who owns the Amazon juggernaut) that own those trucking lines do not want to reduce their profit margins.

Remember: if all long-haul bus and truck drivers were to go on strike, then the whole country would grind to a halt.

It would be a far better struggle than the idiotic MAGA caravan that is currently going around the DC beltway, whose main complaints seem to be that they don’t like any of the COVID vaccines and that they think that the last election was stolen.

Judging by the signs on their vehicles, that pitiful handful of deluded men that I saw on the Beltway a few days ago appear to think that 20-to-1 odds **against** you is a good bet — because those who are unvaccinated are 20 or more times likely to get seriously sick and die from COVID than those who are fully vaxxed and boosted. (link)

I guess that’s the job of fascists: to prevent working people from uniting against the actual ruling class of billionaires and bankers, and instead to get workers to fight each other along racial, ethnic, or linguistic lines.

‘Beatings Must Continue Until Morale Improves’

The ‘Value-Added Measurement’ movement in American education, implemented in part by the now-disgraced Michelle Rhee here in DC, has been a complete and utter failure, even as measured by its own yardsticks, as you will see below

Yet, the same corporate ‘reformers’ who were its major cheerleaders do not conclude from this that the idea was a bad one. Instead, they claim that it wasn’t tried with enough rigor and fidelity.

From “Schools Matter“:

=======================

How to Learn Nothing from the Failure of VAM-Based Teacher Evaluation

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform is a most exclusive academic club lavishly funded and outfitted at Brown U. for the advancement of corporate education in America. 

The Institute is headed by Susanna Loeb, who has a whole slew of degrees from prestigious universities, none of which has anything to do with the science and art of schooling, teaching, or learning.  

Researchers at the Institute are circulating a working paper that, at first glance, would suggest that school reformers might have learned something about the failure of teacher evaluation based on value-added models applied to student test scores. The abstract:

Starting in 2009, the U.S. public education system undertook a massive effort to institute new high-stakes teacher evaluation systems. We examine the effects of these reforms on student achievement and attainment at a national scale by exploiting the staggered timing of implementation across states. We find precisely estimated null effects, on average, that rule out impacts as small as 1.5 percent of a standard deviation for achievement and 1 percentage point for high school graduation and college enrollment. We also find little evidence of heterogeneous effects across an index measuring system design rigor, specific design features, and district characteristics. [my emphasis – GFB]

So could this mean that the national failure of VAM applied to teacher evaluation might translate to decreasing the brutalization of teachers and the waste of student learning time that resulted from the implementation of VAM beginning in 2009?

No such luck.   

The conclusion of the paper, in fact, clearly shows that the Annenbergers have concluded that the failure to raise test scores by corporate accountability means (VAM) resulted from laggard states and districts that did not adhere strictly to the VAM’s mad methods.  In short, the corporate-led failure of VAM in education happened as a result of schools not being corporate enough:

Firms in the private sector often fail to implement best management practices and performance evaluation systems because of imperfectly competitive markets and the costs of implementing such policies and practices (Bloom and Van Reenen 2007). These same factors are likely to have influenced the design and implementation of teacher evaluation reforms. Unlike firms in a perfectly competitive market with incentives to implement management and evaluation systems that increase productivity, school districts and states face less competitive pressure to innovate. Similarly, adopting evaluation systems like the one implemented in Washington D.C. requires a significant investment of time, money, and political capital. Many states may have believed that the costs of these investments outweighed the benefits. Consequently, the evaluation systems adopted by many states were not meaningfully different from the status quo and subsequently failed to improve student outcomes.

So the Gates-Duncan RTTT corporate plan for teacher evaluation failed not because it was a corporate model but because it was not corporate enough!  In short, there were way too many small carrots and not enough big sticks.

A Serious Question About COVID

Very serious question here.

Given that:

(a) We are all probably going to get Covid anyway (see this link)

(b) The vaccines are so effective that they make a case of Covid (especially omicron) much like just having a cold;

(c) Those who are old enough to get this free vaccine, but have decided not to, are very obstinate in not facing facts, and are unlikely to be persuaded otherwise;

(d) Very young kids (none of whom can be vaccinated yet) who get Covid (particularly Omicron) have exceedingly low rates of hospitalizations and deaths (see this link)

THEN,

Why don’t we who ARE vaccinated just remove all of our masks **NOW** and go about our business as usual?

In fact, why don’t we have Covid parties so we can get it all over with?

Colds aren’t fun, but they seldom kill.

And then the unvaccinated adult fools can simply *go to hell* when they catch it, get seriously sick, and die.

Your thoughts?

Would You Want to be a Student in Korea?

I doubt it. Or, why “Rigor” sucks.

This is from Schools Matter:

=============================================

New Year’s Resolution: Eliminate “Rigor” from Education Lexicon

Posted: 09 Jan 2022 02:27 PM PST

If there is a single word that comes close to capturing the zeitgeist of corporate education austerity policies that have metastasized since the Reagan era (among both Democrats and Republicans), it would be a five-letter signifier that has done more damage to effective and humane schooling than any one word in the English language: “rigor.” 

If you can believe the education efficiency zealots of the last two generations, the answer to most questions about schooling have the same answer: more “rigor.” Whether we’re talking about curriculum, teacher quality, teacher education, leadership, or assessment, what we need is more “rigor.”

I went to Webster’s online looking for a word that might serve as an adequate replacement.  Here’s some of what I found for the word “rigor:”

Synonyms & Antonyms of rigor

2. the quality or state of being demanding or unyielding (as in discipline or criticism)

  • after being coddled by his former coach, the swimmer was shocked by the rigor of the new training program

Synonyms for rigor

Words Related to rigor

Near Antonyms for rigor

Antonyms for rigor

And, yet, there seems to be no end to the use of this code word for segregated “no excuses” KIPP Model schools, “zero tolerance” straight jacket discipline, and racist standardized testing regimes that effectively keep marginalized populations on the margins.

Today I came across an interview with Amanda Ripley, who has become one of the pretty masks placed on the corporate education Frankenstein that continues to wreak havoc with any efforts to transform schools into substantive learning communities aimed at opening and integrating the world for children in challenging and supportive ways.

In the summary provided for her interview, Amanda praises the “rigorous learning” of Korean students.  What does Amanda know about Korean education? Well, she interviewed a student who lived in both Korea and the U. S.:

Kids rise to the level of their peer culture when it comes to how important they think rigorous learning is. Especially adolescents are extremely focused on what their peers are doing. There’s a great example of a girl I met in Korea named Jenny, who had lived half of her life in the U.S. and then moved back to Korea. And what she talked about was how different she was in each place. In Korea, everybody worked really hard and took school really seriously, so she did too. And then in [America], school was much lower on her priority list.

No, Amanda, students in Korea try to rise to the level of the monstrous system created by a steroidal version of American capitalism, which has created a dystopian regime whereby parents sacrifice the health and well-being of their children for the “rigorous” demands of a soul-crushing system of schooling based on memorization and recitation.   

This is from a former teacher in one of Korea’s hagwons, or cram schools:

Cram schools like the one I taught in — known as hagwons in Korean — are a mainstay of the South Korean education system and a symbol of parental yearning to see their children succeed at all costs. Hagwons are soulless facilities, with room after room divided by thin walls, lit by long fluorescent bulbs, and stuffed with students memorizing English vocabulary, Korean grammar rules and math formulas. Students typically stay after regular school hours until 10 p.m. or later.

Herded to various educational outlets and programs by parents, the average South Korean student works up to 13 hours a day, while the average high school student sleeps only 5.5 hours a night to ensure there is sufficient time for studying. Hagwons consume more than half of spending on private education.

Any Ripley hit job wouldn’t be complete without an attack on teacher education programs in the U. S. While she decries the continued existence of non-rigorous “mediocre teacher training colleges,” she has nothing to say about the micro-preparation provided to Teach for America beginner missionaries who are placed into schools with children who need the most experienced and best prepared teachers among us. Nor does she voice any objection to the exploitative non-higher ed alternative certification programs that leave would-be teachers less prepared than accredited university programs. 

Finally, one of Ripley’s conjectures remains truly puzzling to me, even considering her thorough lack of understanding of how schools actually work and how teachers experience their jobs:

Anyone who has seen a great teacher or been a great teacher knows that it is not different from being the CEO of a company; there is a lot that is demanded of you and it requires a lot of support.

Yes, Amanda, “rigorous” teaching is sort of like being a CEO, except for the pay, the prestige, the perks, the lifestyle, and the autonomy. Teachers in the U.S. rank 27th in teacher pay among 32 OECD countries.   I’m still looking for a substitute for “rigor.” Until I find it, I guess I’ll settle for challenging, supportive, substantive, open, and integrative.

How to Cheerlead for Charter Schools by Leaving out Important Data

Copied from the rather uneven blog “Schools Matter”.

The Sunny Side of Corruption by Jay Mathews

Posted: 10 Jan 2022 07:55 AM PST

American print media’s most prominent charter school cheerleader is at it again.  In his most recent Washington Post column, Jay Mathews is preaching the virtues of IDEA Charter Schools, Inc., which recently lost its CEO founder and other senior leaders due to corruption charges involving private jets, NBA sky boxes, and routine use of public funds for “personal benefit:”

A financial investigation “uncovered substantial evidence that … a small number of IDEA senior leaders directed the use of IDEA financial and staff resources for their personal benefit on multiple occasions,” Board Chair Al Lopez wrote in a letter Tuesday. “Furthermore, their actions appeared to be done in a manner to avoid detection by the standard external audit and internal control processes that the Board had in place at the time.”

None of this corruption or efforts to conceal the crimes could ever dampen Jay’s enthusiasm, however.  Nor has Mathews departed from his unique brand of dissembling propaganda. Just one example from this latest column:

“Charters are independently run public schools that use tax dollars. Most are no better academically than regular public schools. But a 2013 Stanford University report showed that 25 percent of charters were significantly better in reading achievement and 29 percent were significantly better in math achievement than neighboring regular public schools serving the same kinds of students.”

When we go to the actual research report that includes Jay’s numbers, we find the details that put a whole new light on Jay’s sunny summary.  From the Credo Study, 2013, p. 22 Executive Summary:

Figure 8 shows the performance of charter schools relative to the TPS in their market. Based on our analyses, we found 25 percent of schools had significantly stronger growth than their TPS market counterparts in reading, 56 percent were not significantly different and 19 percent of schools had weaker growth. In math, the results show that 29 percent of charter schools had stronger growth than their TPS market counterparts, 40 percent had growth that was not significantly different, and 31 percent had weaker growth. These results were an improvement over those in the 2009 report.

LEFT: reading Right: Math

[In other words, the results for charter schools and regular public schools are essentially identical. – GFB]

%d bloggers like this: