Ken's Project Blog

September 26, 2010

Where the Truth Lies

Filed under: Politics — Ken @ 8:14 pm
Tags: ,

Rupert Murdoch on the cover of Wired Magazine, July, 2006

Wired Cover, July, 2006

I read an old Wired Magazine (14.07, July, 2006) over the past few days, and came across a posting by Lawrence Lessig (who’s intellect and knowledge I have the utmost respect for both, but I find myself disagreeing with him slightly less than half the time I read his writings. I will concede my opposition is likely based in my own ignorance of the topic under discussion, but that is where I fall frequently.). In it, while he was gushing support and admiration on former VP Al Gore & his PPT stack cum movie, he recited a quote from Richard Posner’s Catastrophe that resonates with much going on in politics today:

The challenge of man aging … catastrophic risks is receiving less attention than is lavished on social issues of far less intrinsic significance.” The reason? Attention is guided. And when the guides allow themselves to be guided, the result is less attention where it objectively matters and excessive attention only where it pays, either politically or economically. Who has time for catastrophes when there are gays who want to get married?

My point, ignore the topic du jour and focus on what’s important – avoid the side-show, focus on what really matters…

September 24, 2010

Waiting for Superman

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ken @ 10:15 am

In a story over at the news/opinion website The Blaze, I commented on the current state of public schools and the promise of charter schools on a thread discussing the new movie “Waiting for Superman”, and since I spent a fair amount of time on the response, I thought I’d post it here for your enjoyment:

I live in NJ and work in public education (IT, not in the classroom), and I ran for the local school board a few years ago. I feel I understand both sides of the “teacher union debate”.

Once upon a time, teachers felt they were victimized by principals and the administration that could fire teachers at will (seemingly), unions helped remedy that fear, but their protections have in the minds of many in the community have gone to far. I agree with the community and feel that the teachers now run the buildings, and the pricipals are forced to sit by and tolerate bad teachers rather than dedicate countless hours to attempt to get rid of a bad teacher.

Once upon a time, teachers were poorly paid, earing less than similarly-educated professional earned, unions helped remedy that situation, demanding market-rate wages for teachers. In the minds of many in the community the compensation scale has been tipped to favor the teachers and over-compensate them. Starting teachers (those who, for example, just graduated from a teaching college with no experience beyond “student teaching”) earn $49K/year, and under my districts current contract realize 6-7% raises annually. I agree that the comensation levels are inflated and don’t reflect either short or long-term market realities.

Once upon a time, teachers either had no pension or their pension was very minimal – unions helped resolve those wrongs and current teacher upon retirement earn a lifetime pension that is calculated by taking the number of years in the union, divided by 55, and then multiplied by the previous three-year average salary. It is not unusual for a teacher with over 18 years in teaching to be earning $90K/yr, and if a teacher with 35 years teaching were to retire, the calculation would be:

35 / 55 * $90,000 = $57,272,72/yr pension

That seems like a fair, non-pauper pension – in fact it seems a bit generous to many, especially those in the community that do not have pensions in their jobs who pay taxes to fund these pensions. I agree with the community, and think the remedy lies in the adjustment of the pay scale first, and if needed a reconsideration of the divisor of the calculation.

Once upon a time teachers had poor healthcare coverage, but unions stepped in and adressed that so that now teachers enjoy (at least in my district, which is not special with regard to the scope of health care coverage for teachers) high-quality, low-co-pay health care coverage and (in my district) contribute a minimal amount towards the cost of their coverage. As healthcare costs have escalated and the community has experienced rising co-pay and employee contributions in their families, teachers have been blissfully immune in most cases, arguing that a cut in the scope of benefits or an increase in co-pay or contributions is in reality a pay cut. Teachers (at least in my district) negotiate healthcare benefits as a defined level of benefits ignoring cost. I agree with the community,a nd I am actively working with my school district to adjust their contract negotiations to handle healthcare benefits as a “benefits bank” where cost is negotiated on the basis of employer contribution levels, allowing the district to get a handle on the cost of healthcare coverage.

Are these pressures hurting the students, I’m not sure – I believe that higher pay and benefits attract better teacher candidates, but simply paying teachers ever-increasing salaries and premium benefits doesn’t guarantee a better experience for the child in the classroom.

Are Charter Schools the answer? Not sure, but they side-step a lot of the issues many community members have with the current situation and appeal to many. Charter schools offer a choice, and with that choice comes a certain amount of risk – parents choosing to enroll their children in a Charter School need to understand the risks and the possible benefits before deciding what is right for their child.

Link to story with comment on theblaze.com

September 17, 2010

Maxine Waters

Filed under: Politics — Ken @ 3:43 pm

Our friends over at The Hill have an article that on it’s surface is pretty typical – campaign workers with signs for one politician asked to leave a public event for a different politician; they were asked to leave and they did without incident – no big deal, right? Well, not so fast…

Seems the campaign workers were working on behlaf of Maxine Waters, the embattled Representative from California who is facing ethics charges from the Congressional Board of Ethics, and the politician scheduled to speek at the public event was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who created the Congressional Board of Ethics in 2008. But there’s more…

When asked about the sign-carrying supporters at the X Prize event Speaker Pelosi was scheduled to speak at, Rep. Waters said “It ain’t about Nancy. It’s about black people.” She later went on to say “These signs will show up wherever large numbers of African Americans gather.”

It’s unusual, but not wrong, for a politician to defend themselves in such a way, but the interesting thing to me is that Rep. Waters isn’t working on convincing her constituents back in California of her innocence as she runs for re-election this November 2nd, but she is focusing her energies on events in Washington D.C., and only those events that attract large numbers of African Americans gather. (She said that the workers with signs had wandered over to Speaker Pelosi’s event after working a Legislative Meeting held by the Congressional Black Caucus at the Washington D.C. Convention Center. Indeed, one of the workers said they simply “wanted to see the cars.”)

I must say, I find it odd that she is only interested in presenting her side of the case to African Americans, and that here efforts (so far anyways) are centered on events some 3,000 miles from her district.

September 16, 2010

Trying CoveritLive

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ken @ 7:16 pm

Click Here

Gates on Education

Filed under: Education — Ken @ 6:46 pm

A little while ago, various outlets jumped on this video of Bill Gates where he talks about changing the college “experience” and finding a more open model that doesn’t cost $50,ooo/yr for four years. Fine, but most critics (at least the ones I read) missed the real point – there’s education and branding, and while the cost of an actual education is dropping every year, thanks to various on-line resources for example, the branding of the students is still very expensive. Let me explain.

The education of a child, the teaching of complex topics to students doesn’t need to happen in a traditional classroom, with a teacher in the front of the room, slowly marching students through a dry textbook on a campus in another state requiring them to take out long-term loans to pay for their every need for the four years they are in college. Education can happen anywhere, and in fact a motivated student could probably learn almost any subject via free or very low-cost sources as long as the student has the discipline to teach themselves. Those with slightly less discipline can form study groups and reinforce their weak discipline with good old-fashioned peer-pressure (think book club). But that’s only half the problem.

A self-educated person can’t reasonably go out and “compete” for a job against someone with a degree from an established college or university – the self-taught person may be the better candidate for the position in every possible way, but their resume will never get past the first level of screening at the HR office. “Steve’s Basement school of Engineering” won’t convince anyone  to hire you over the other candidate from M.I.T. – it simply won’t happen.

The student from M.I.T. may or may not be the most qualified candidate for the position, but they have the brand name of M.I.T. to get them past most screening levels at the company and they will most likely have an interview. The self-taught person will never be called in for the interview.

The bottom-line is, for far too many people the branding of the college is more important than the content of the courses they attended.

Mr. Gates imagines a university that is based on the idea of educating as many students as possible for as low a cost as possible – certainly a noble goal, but many colleges and universities have turned into institutions of self-perpetuation, worried about improving their campus to attract better students who can pay higher tuitions so they can improve the campus some more… and on and on. A university that charges $3,000 for a course will not be interested in giving someone the opportunity to learn the same topics AND be able to earn credits for that education for 1/10th the price by passing an exam – it simply will not happen. Arguably, state-run schools should offer such alternatives, but they don’t, and they won’t as long as they have to maintain an ever-improving campus.

There are schools that grant credit for “unconventional educational” achievements – I’m a graduate of one, Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey – they assembled all my college credits from various schools and put them towards a degree. Friends of mine also earned degrees from Thomas A. Edison, and some included prior work experience to take the place of certain courses, and some classes were passed by examination (without ever attending a formal lecture or class).

I recently heard of a young man that graduated from a well-known school with about $160,000 in student loans outstanding and couldn’t find a job. Of course, the economy is mostly to blame, who knew four years ago that the economy would tank and jobs would be hard to find? Well, even if the econmy was going like gangbusters, I still think this student would have had a hard time landing work – see, his major was Drama. He took out $160,000 in student loans to spend four years of his life studying drama – he could be looking at an $1,800/month loan repayment plan that lasts ten years (Student Loan Calculator). When I heard about him he was at the local school district applying for a job as a substitute teacher, a position that pays $85/day in my district. Did this fellow not understand what it meant to borrow so much money for his education? This person woul dhave been better served (IMHO) if instead of going to college he had instead simply lived off of loans for a few years in Manhattan and done volunteer work in a theater, TV or movie studio and learned the business AND gained practical experience in his choosen profession. As it is, he will be paying for this education until he is in his mid-thirties, he will live in near-poverty unless something miraculous happens (likely involving scratch-off lottery tickets or a distant relative leaving him a pile of money).

There are problems in the way we educate our college age students – we think everyone is college material, we rarely do a cost-benefit analysis, and too many people study topics that quite honestly will never support them in any sort of manner of comfortable living. What possible job did this fellow I described think he was going to get that would pay him enough money to not only live on and maybe start a family, but to also send $1,800/month AFTER TAXES to pay for his education. President Obama on the campaign trail said that only recently that he and Micheele (his wife) finished paying off their student loans – a claim his opponents questioned, given his multi-million dollar book deal, Michelle’s ample earnings as Barrak “organized his community,” and the years since he and Michelle  graduated.

Most people say they want an education, what they really want is the branding of a major college or university – and they’ll pay amazing amounts of money to get that branding.

Facing Obligations

Filed under: Politics — Ken @ 3:58 pm

DC Congresswoman Elizabeth Holmes Norton

Our friends over at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government have an interesting story of one Democratic Congresswoman’s voicemail asking a lobbyist for a campaign donation, seemingly as a belated form of appreciation for her previous work in the lobbyist’s “sector”.

The Big Government piece details several laws that may have been broken, provides a transcript as well as an audio link to the voicemail, and puts the story in context with an earlier story published by The Politico on House Leadership pressing “safe” members of Congress to pledge and donate to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to aid ‘at-risk’ candidates this fall.

Is there a broader context, has this woman’s voicemail message been “Sherrod’ed” – I don’t know, but on the surface this story appears bad, and so far the Congresswoman has not yet commented to the reporters of the story. Time will tell if this is an abberation or just business as usual – but this rare peek inside the sausage factory may leave more than a few voters thinking it’s time to give someone else a chance come November 2nd.

Will this warrant an investigation by the House ethics committee? I don’t know, but that committee may have their hands full with the already announced cases of Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters – here’s hoping the committee can find the time to take alook into this matter.

You can read the whole story here.

Going Green – on Horseback

Filed under: Human Interest — Ken @ 3:09 pm

Roby Burch riding Jet to Haverford School outside Philadelphia. PA

Our friends over at Drudge Report brought this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer about a high school student outside Philadelphia that rides a horse to school each day.

From the article:

Burch, a sophomore at the Haverford School, has been riding Jet, his big white Percheron, four miles to and from school since early this month. In his blue blazer and tie, jeans, boots, and spurs, he’s an urban cowboy who’s bringing the flavor – and aroma – of the West to the elite private school.

There were challenges: picking the right route to school, picking the right horse, providing for the horse during the school day, and then getting up very early for school, but Burch has overcome them all. His dad Bob and he scouted out the best route, and they decided Roby should ride Jet, a Percheron that came from Lancater, PA and is used to traffic. To provide for Jet while Roby’s in class, they convinced the headmaster (who then had to convince his wife) that the best spot would be near the Headmaster’s house, and the family helped build the corral where Jet awaits Roby’s return each night after football practice at 5:45. So far, leaving for school at 6:00 AM hasn’t been a problem.

His father, Bob, …says Roby is an excellent horseman who can take care of himself. But his mother – well, she’s a mother, so she worries.

“I always have my heart in my throat when he leaves,” she says, adding that friends in the neighborhood call or e-mail her as Roby passes their houses.

Young Roby has become the talk of the town, and for all the right reasons… Read the entire story here.

Classic Campaign Ads

Filed under: Politics — Ken @ 2:28 pm

Let’s start off easy – watching videos!

Seriously, I wanted to share my recent discovery of Classic Campaign Commercials on Hulu, something I discovered when Googling the famous “daisy campaign ad” (see above) run by Johnson in his re-election campaign in 1964. There are TV ads from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s – beyond that YouTube should have more recent ads.

Anyway, kick back, watch some TV ads from some of your favorite candidates of the past, it might just help you see the extreme silliness going on in today’s campaign ads, like the one below:

September 14, 2010

HIRE Act in Nevada

Filed under: Politics — Ken @ 3:16 pm

In the above video, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid proudly announced that the HIRE Act is directly responsible for 70,000 new jobs in Nevada, and that at a restaurant he visited recently had 24 employees – ALL OF WHICH where hired because of the HIRE Act, and that the employer will get a $1,000 check for each employee in the restaurant hired under the HIRE Act. A few problems: First off, the benefits of the HIRE Act are minimal at best – eligible new hires save the employer up to six months of Social Security witholdings, 6.2% of an employees salary, and if the eligible employee remains on the payroll for 12 months, the employer will get a $1,000 tax deduction.

It is highly doubtful that ALL 24 employees at the restaurant were eligible for benefit under the HIRE Act – were they all really unemployed for greater than 60 days before being hired? Seriously, every employee was unemployed for at least two months before being hired at the restaurant?

The $1,000 benefit to the employer is only available once the employee has worked for 12 months, and since the HIRE Act was signed into law in March, they won’t have completed 12 months of employment under this act until March of 2011, so the $1,000 will come next year, not this tax year. If the employee is fired before the 12 months are over, the employer will not get ANY savings (it isn’t pro-rated).

Finally, it beggars the imagination that all 24 employees were hired solely because the employer could save 6 months of Social Security contributions for each employee. The employer could have realized better savings if they had simply hired one less employee! (a half year of 6.2% savings on payroll expenses adds up to less than three-quarters of the average employee’s wages – one less employee would increase the savings by one third, not to mention the savings in state and federal taxes, unemployment insurance, etc. !).

Senator Harry Reid is mis-representing the savings the HIRE Act offers, and he goes on to attribute 70,000 new jobs created in Nevada as a direct result of the HIRE Act. I find the claim hard to swallow – how about you?

Here’s a link to the bill – in case you want to, you know, read the bill at thomas.loc.gov

Welcome

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ken @ 2:22 pm
Tags: ,

I’d like to welcome you to yet another blog by me, my favorite person you’ve never heard of – this blog isn’t likely to be anything more than a short-term project to function as a portfolio piece in an effort to secure gainful employment in the news/media industry.

The basic model will follow the apparent business model of Glenn Beck‘s newest website The Blaze. Their business model appears to be based on sourcing news items from various internet websites, writing a small summation/intro to the piece, and an area for comments independent of any the original news source might offer. There appear to be a few major elements that warrant further discussion, the selection of topics, the inclusion of connecting the current story to related stories, and the building of community around the new web site, not the news source.

The main editorial decisions are in what to cover/what not to cover – there are countless stories, and once you filter out the merely true stories from the fantastical conspiracy theories and simply bad reporting, you are still left with too many stories for any one web site. The imposition of an editorial voice, limiting the range of stories to certain topics, will develop a point-of-view (or slant) that is unavoidable – all an editor can do is make an effort to include other points of view, but in the end a point of view will emerge. The Blaze has a point of view that is, to be kind, critical of politicians and government in general, based on the historical performance of both groups (they’ve earned it), but it also includes coverage of Glenn Beck in the mainstream media.

Another real value such a site can provide is the inclusion of other related stories, reminding the reader of what has led up to the current story, what the background information is, and when appropriate, links to actual bills, news footage, etc. Context aids the reader in understanding the piece under discussion, but it also has the ability to skew the piece, again, based on what is and is not included – an effort must be made to be consistent and comprehensive, anything less will relegate the site to nothing more than a partisan echo chamber.

Finally, the master stroke is the comments section on each piece. One of the major failings of the Drudge Report (in my opinion) is the lack of community. Through editorial selection the Drudge Report expresses a certain point of view, but visiting the Drudge Report is a very transitory experience – there are millions that refer to the site on a daily basis, but the site contians little more than links to elsewhere – it isn’t very sticky (in web terms)… Were each link on the Drudge Report were to have a simple “comment” link after each story heading it would become a monster overnight. Of course, this presumes that Matt Drudge has an interest in providing a forum for the sharing of ideas, not just links to stories he sees as important. I assume I am not the first to make such a suggestion, and I have to imagine that Matt Drudge has considered such an idea, but his site garners millions of hits per month, I assume it is profitable, and with minimal overhead.

I honestly believe that The Blaze will evolve as they ramp-up (you have to walk before you can run, and they just went live a week or two ago), but these are the major ideas behind their website, and that is the model I am attempting to emulate, albeit briefly (two weeks?).

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