Thursday, March 31, 2011

Time capsule

Bill Douglas could have--if circumstances were a little different--been President. In that light it's more than a little strange to see him as a monosyllabic guest on a silly TV game show. Of course it does seem pretty sophisticated, as silly game shows go.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Apple polishing

Did Michelle Rhee's record turning around the schools in DC seem too good to be true? Well, it looks like there's a reason for that.

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.
"This is an abnormal pattern," says Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied testing for 20 years.
A trio of academicians consulted by USA TODAY — Haladyna, George Shambaugh of Georgetown University and Gary Miron of Western Michigan University — say the erasure rates found at Noyes and at other D.C. public schools are so statistically rare, and yet showed up in so many classrooms, that they should be examined thoroughly.

Rhee's response is basically one of having her glass jaw tapped.

"It isn't surprising," Rhee said in a statement Monday, "that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved ... unless someone cheated."
TESTING: In D.C., were the gains real?
USA TODAY's investigation into test scores "is an insult to the dedicated teachers and schoolchildren who worked hard to improve their academic achievement levels," Rhee said.
Rhee, who said Monday night that the investigation "absolutely lacked credibility," had declined to speak with USA TODAY despite numerous attempts before an article ran online and in Monday's newspaper. Her comments were made during the taping of PBS' Tavis Smiley show to air on Tuesday night.

Of which Alex Pareene at Salon pretty much gets it right

I'm sorry, but this is the "haters gonna hate" defense. It's just a blanket assertion of bias without any sort of attempt to refute the actual charges leveled against her. How is she not already a paid Fox analyst?

Rhee has been a superstar on the educational reform scene for a few years running now. She is especially popular among proud union busters. And yet the media has mostly treated her as a non-partisan, or even progressive figure. What's slipped under public notice is that she and many other reformers have been stacking the deck against unions and for privatization. If the story of these standardized test crop circles makes people a little less credulous, that's a step in the right direction.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


I think this is one of those cases where the joke owes more to the setup than the punchline. I mean, "The donut people have overthrown their dictator." That's deranged.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sin-ephiclic Friday Random Ten

One good thing about still having public libraries (cue me knocking on wood) is that you can also get access to a pretty good movie library. By tomorrow I should be able to pick up The Third Man, which I've never gotten around to seeing before. And outside events have reminded me I really should take in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1. The Clash--The Guns of Brixton
2. Alexander Brailowsky--Chopin's Polonnaise #1 in C Sharp Minor
3. The XX--Heart Skipped a Beat
4. The Fiery Furnaces--Cups and Punches
5. Sly & the Family Stone--Life
6. Nellie McKay--Dispossessed
7. They Might Be Giants--Hide Away Folk Family
8. R.E.M--Bang and Blame
9. Grizly Bear--About Face
10. Miles Davis--Woody 'n You (A.K.A. Wouldn't You)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Things that don't seem like they'd go together but do

The above image is a mixed media piece by Rachel Moreau. It's from a gallery that had an exhibition of her work. I tried saving work from her own site to reproduce on this here blog, but all her work on her site is in Macromedia Flash, which discourages copying. There actually are ways around this but I figured it was right to respect the precautions. If the online world is the wild west, you can't blame someone for guarding against cattle rustlers.

Anyway, I'd recommend visiting her site and spending some time there. Moreau is versatile, working in collage and photography, with some drawing. All her stuff is haunting and unsettling, though. Even pieces that seem like straightforward mockery of Eisenhower era kitsch draw you in. It's not campy, it's mysterious.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Here's a column by a woman who confesses--if that's the word--to not carrying a cell phone. Which I don't either, but she lives in New York. I have to imagine this is a bigger admission in someplace like New York, LA or London than it is in Providence. Good opening graf.

I don’t own a cell phone. I never have. When people learn this fact they usually react with an exclamation of shocked disbelief, as if I lead some sort of unfathomable existence of unmitigated depravation. As if the human race didn’t manage to somehow get along just fine until about 1995, when suddenly everyone—not just the doctors and drug dealers—seemed to get a cellular. But those of us old enough to remember the Time Before Cell Phones can attest to the fact that the early adopters of this technology were mostly assholes. As a single girl in New York throughout the 1990s I can tell you that, back then, the guy in the bar with the celly was the biggest douche in the room, and he was definitely overcompensating for something. A potential hook-up who flashed a cell phone? Total dealbreaker, a complete non-negotiable. My girlfriends and I laughed at those self-important clowns.

Now let me be the first to say that I know that not everyone with a phone in their pocket now is an asshole. But pushiness, lack of reflectiveness, indifference to smaller things: all normalized. In a lot of ways I think being "the biggest douche in the room" is rewarded now.

Anyway, I'd add something to her list of benefits to not using one. What to call it? Clearheadedness, maybe. For me it's easy enough to get lost in my own head. I don't need to be always chatting, texting, or God help us watching a movie while I'm walking down the street. So if I see a pigeon with a very fetching way of walking down the street, I can just stand back and enjoy. Let someone else worry about getting video feed.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The writing's on the wall

Interesting item.

A few weeks ago, Theodora Richards — daughter of Rolling Stoner Keith — was arrested for defacing a nunnery with a red paint pen. Her message to the world: “T ♥ A.” Centuries earlier, a citizen of Aphrodisias etched a similar sentiment on the column of a portico there: “I love Epikrates.” Such inscriptions, as one essayist puts it, reveal that these ancient cities, so far removed from the world we live in now, “were inhabited by people, who lived and loved, quarreled, hated.”

Tits love ass? That could well be. They're on different sides, so it's nice to know they're not clingy.

It's actually a kind of interesting article overall. It kind of looks like most of the sentiments you see on graffiti now were in effect in the ancient world, including the "Aaron is a fagot" variety. So will today's hooliganism turn out to be tomorrow's vital historical evidence? Maybe. It's a long tomorrow.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Random Ten and what else?

Not a lot that I can think of off the top of my head. Although this may be the first week in a while where I haven't seen any snowbanks--old or new--on my walk home from work. Something of a sign.

1. R.E.M.--Circus Envy
2. Warren Zevon--Veracruz
3. Don Byron--Wondering Where
4. Patsy Cline--Walkin' After Midnight
5. The 5,6,7,8's--Hanky Panky
6. The Who--Relax
7. They Might Be Giants--Youth Culture Killed My Dog
8. The Clash--Rudie Can't Fail
9. The Fiery Furnaces--Staring At the Steeple
10. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross--Come On Home

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Trying to anesthetize the way that you feel

A few weeks ago I started setting my clock radio to the local "oldies station", WWBB 1001.5 FM, aka B101. (In full disclosure, I do know one of the on-air talent there, and don't mean a lot of this to apply to him.) For reasons I can't easily detail, I thought it would help me rise earlier, especially on weekends.

I'm giving up the experiment now. It's not because the morning DJs subtly and not so subtly work right-wing digs into nearly every mike break. A lot of this goes on at music stations, due to a mixture of consolidation and the lure of following in the footsteps of ex-DJs Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. But no, I knew about that ahead of time and was ready to deal with it.

But most of the oldies now seem to be from the seventies and eighties. And there were a lot of long popular songs at that time. Dire Straits' "The Sultans of Swing" and the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" are both great songs, but they apparently weren't trimmed at all for single release. Big change from "Light My Fire", where half the running length of the album track was a Manzarek organ freakout that got chopped off for radio. So if I lay there and go "oh, I'll just wait for this song to finish", that's a significant chunk of time.

It's also possible that the DJs said or did something to make me lose any respect for them. If so, I was too groggy to have a conscious memory of it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Buggin' out

In Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, a gnat hips Alice up on the insect life of Looking-Glass Land (not Wonderland). There's the Rocking-Horsefly, the Snap-Dragonfly, et al. The above insect made from old ammunition and watch parts seems to exist on the same fantastical plane as Carroll's bugs.

More on it and others like it here. The artist has come up with the most brilliant use for his technical skills.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Random Ten stays dry

This morning (and only this morning, somewhat thankfully) it was raining hard. My boss dropped in for a visit, and was carrying an umbrella. Very strong primary yellow. It reminded me of Big Bird. The fact that I actually felt emboldened to say this speaks well of her.

1. Kendra Shank--You Say You Care
2. Frank Sinatra--What Is This Thing Called Love
3. Nina Simone--Sugar In My Bowl
4. Sly & the Family Stone--You Can Make It If You Try
5. The Who--Our Love Was
6. The Clash--Wrong 'Em Boyo
7. Yuka Honda--Small Circular Motion
8. Patsy Cline--South of the Border (Round Mexico Way)
9. L'Attirail--Suite en Solde
10. R.E.M.--Strange Currencies

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's a doggy dog world

I like this one. The animator seems to know her subjects well.

I Want To Play With Other Dogs from Laura Robinson on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cash of civilizations

So if self-appointed consultants are feeding our law-enforcement personnel a lot of hyped up myths; and if these same law-enforcers are encouraged to single out and harass a specific minority group; and say, if this group finds they have every reason to fear and distrust said law enforcement: Put all these things together and only good things can result, right?

When I look at the life of Muhammad, I get a very nasty image,” said Kharoba, pausing to look around the auditorium. The audience was silent. “I am talking about a pedophile, a serial killer, a rapist,” Kharoba said. “And that is just to start off with.

“Anyone who says that Islam is a religion of peace,” he continued, “is either ignorant or flat out lying.”

Frustration seemed to be burning in the air, and a cop—looking grim, anguished—spoke up. “From a law enforcement standpoint, what can we do?” he asked. “What do we do to deal with these people?”

“The best way to handle these people is what I call legal harassment,” Kharoba answered. “Start to identify who is coming into your area.” Go to the DMV and see who has applied for a driving license. Look at the owners of convenience stores. Corner stores are one of the principal ways Hezbollah launders money in the United States, he said. (The claim is not true.) “You only need one precedent,” Kharoba said. “Health inspectors, alcohol trade officers, these guys can turn a convenience store upside down without a warrant.”

What kills me is that we just had an election that was dominated by alleged "fiscal conservatives", and the whole economy is supposed to go on a crash diet. These counterterrorism guys actually are dining out on our dime, and they're untouchable.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Only the King, man

I was playing cards with a couple of chums in a coffee shop tonight. On the stereo they were playing an Elvis compilation. At some point this song came on.

And when you hear the lyrics, wow. Dating two sisters is a remarkably bad idea. It's not at the same time, but still. And playing them against each other isn't good for anyone.

Overall I'd have to count this as one of his more fucked up and evil songs. Also one of the most rock n' roll things he ever did. The two coincide sometimes.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Short week Friday Random Ten

Huh. There's only one post between this and the last FRT. I think the situation has been something like, "I have an idea, but it takes some work. And I have to sleep, which doesn't really take work. Bye." We'll see if we can't change that around next week.

1. Frank Sinatra--In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
2. Patsy Cline--Anytime
3. The XX--VCR
4. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings--Window Shopping
5. Nellie McKay--Adios
6. Esquivel--Yours
7. Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach--God Give Me Strength
8. The 5,6,7,8's--Green Onions
9. The Fiery Furnaces--Vs. Birds
10. The New Pornographers--If You Can't See My Mirrors

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

See here, see there

This is an interesting anthro-neurological tidbit.

Are human eyes also efficiently coded? They don't seem to be. The sky and sea make up much of our natural scenes, yet only 6% of our cone cells detect blue, and they are mostly located around the edge of our retina. Of the remaining cones, the ratio of red to green cones varies wildly between individuals.

To find out why this is, Tkačik, along with neurobiologist Vijay Balasubramanian of Penn and colleagues, created a database of more than 5000 high-resolution photographs taken at various locations in Botswana, a place near where humans likely evolved and other primates still live. The same scenes were shot at different times of day, with different exposure lengths, apertures, and distances from the camera. Using an algorithm they developed from previous studies of how human cones detect light, the researchers calculated how many photons of different wavelengths the camera had captured and what cone arrangement would pick up the largest number of them.

The actual pattern of cones in the human retina matches the algorithm's predictions, the researchers reveal in a paper uploaded to the arXiv database this month and another published in PLoS Computational Biology. Red and green cones would pick up more photons from the images than could blue cones. That explains why the eye makes so few blue cones and places them around the periphery of the retina rather than at the center, where light focuses, Balasubramanian says. Red and green cones, however, pick up about the same amount of information, so there's no evolutionary benefit in keeping their ratio tightly regulated.

Now it seems to me that some caveats are in order. The images captured here are from contemporary Botswana. While we're a young species in geological terms, there still could be some significant changes from the African landscape that our protohuman ancestors saw.

Still, the idea that Africa shaped the evolution of our eyes is a valid hypothesis, and interesting. It's also a good reminder that our vision is selective.