Friday, February 5, 2016

Parking and time wasted

This is Joseph

A rather telling statistic:
An IBM survey found that worldwide, urban drivers spend an average of 20 minutes per trip looking for parking.
Is it really such a bad idea to universally charge for parking in public places such that the resource does not become wildly over-used?

Vivid guesses

This passage from Polya's How to Solve It makes a nice companion to the earlier quote from Dwight Eisenhower on planning.

I do, however, have one criterion that I think Polya needed to add. In addition to attentiveness, understanding and interest, to get guesses of real value, the guesser needs independence. If your thinking simply follows the tracks laid down by other, you're probably wasting everyone's time.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Bob Elliott, R.I.P.

Bob Elliot, partner with Ray Goulding in the team Bob and Ray, father of Chris and grandfather of Abby died Tuesday at the age of 92.

You could make a case for Bob and Ray being the most influential comedy act of their time and the one that has held up the best, but it can be extraordinarily difficult explaining just what was and is so funny about them. In an era when the familiar sobriquet "man of a thousand voices" was often not much of an exaggeration, they had maybe a half-dozen voices between them. The other shows of the time, whether they were comedies like the Goon Show or the latest from Stan Freberg, dramas like Gunsmoke or anthologies like CBS Radio Workshop featured large, versatile casts, elaborate production and beautifully edited sound montages.

By comparison, Bob and Ray were mainly just two guys talking in bland voices, deadpan, minimal, but once you get into the rhythms and the world, they were funnier and have aged better than any of their contemporaries. It's not comedy that lends itself to ready explanation but Adam Bernstein doe a remarkably good job in his Washington Post obituary:
With masterly comic timing — Mr. Elliott with a nasal deadpan, Goulding with booming authority — Bob and Ray mocked the cliches and banalities of newscasts, politics, sports and advertising. The characters they played were inept, pompous or shady — logic-free “experts,” sore political losers, dense reporters and dimwitted everymen.

One of their favorite skits involved Wally Ballou interviewing a paperclip company tycoon who tackles “waste and inefficiency” by running a sweatshop of indentured servants. Employees, who earn 14 cents a week, are bound by a “99-year sweetheart contract” and imprisoned if they try to quit.

“How can anybody possibly live on 14 cents a week?” Ballou asks.

Goulding, as the industrialist, replies defensively, “We don’t pry into the personal lives of our employees, Wally.”

Their playfully warped sensibilities often involved sly commentaries of the conventions of radio and TV, and the people who take those mediums seriously.

New York Times theater critic Clive Barnes once wrote: “They work masterfully close to the very things they are gently mocking, and this gives their sensible nonsense its special flavor. For one thing it shows just how much arrant nonsense we actually accept in television.”


The venture into political lampooning was rare. More typical of their output were fake commercials hawking membership in Heightwatchers International (sold with “six ample servings of low vitamins and nutrients in artificial colorings”) and series such as “Down the Byways,” which spoofed broadcaster Charles Kuralt’s TV essays on vanishing Americana by visiting with “one of the last of the small-town grouches.”

They always closed their show with the same signoff: “This is Ray Goulding, reminding you to write if you get work.” “And Bob Elliott, reminding you to hang by your thumbs.”

Bob and Ray’s admirers extended far beyond show business figures such as Allen and Letterman. One of their most devoted fans was novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who once wrote in a foreword to the 1975 collection “Write If You Get Work: The Best of Bob & Ray”: “They feature Americans who are almost always fourth-rate or below, engaged in enterprises which, if not contemptible, are at least insane.

“And while other comedians show us persons tormented by bad luck and enemies and so on, Bob and Ray’s characters threaten to wreck themselves and their surroundings with their own stupidity. . . . Man is not evil, they seem to say. He is simply too hilariously stupid to survive.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Iowa -- land of red squares

I generally try to cut back on my political news consumption during and immediately after the Iowa caucuses. Though the event does bring some new information to the table, it also inevitably brings a great deal more noise. I did decide to bend my rules a bit for these two Krugman posts and was well rewarded for my time. In particular, I thought his discussion of Iowa as a Schelling focal point was as insightful as any piece of political analysis I've seen in 2016.

For those of us who were a bit vague on the term, he provided this helpful link:

Consider a simple example: two people unable to communicate with each other are each shown a panel of four squares and asked to select one; if and only if they both select the same one, they will each receive a prize. Three of the squares are blue and one is red. Assuming they each know nothing about the other player, but that they each do want to win the prize, then they will, reasonably, both choose the red square. Of course, the red square is not in a sense a better square; they could win by both choosing any square. And it is only the "right" square to select if a player can be sure that the other player has selected it; but by hypothesis neither can. However, it is the most salient and notable square, so—lacking any other one—most people will choose it, and this will in fact (often) work.
And here's how Krugman connects the concept to Iowa:

How does this apply to news coverage and punditry? Well, it’s obvious that the media have strong herding instincts; almost everyone wants to be somewhere close to the middle of the pack, telling the prevailing narrative. But there are many narratives that could, in fact, prevail. Partly that’s because such narratives can be self-fulfilling, and partly it’s because actually being, you know, right isn’t that important compared with being on top of the trend. So anything that gives special salience to a particular narrative can produce convergence on that narrative, even if everyone realizes that what’s going on is basically stupid.

Thus, should Rubio’s third-place finish in a small state really have caused him to shoot up so dramatically in market estimates of his probability of winning the GOP nomination? No, yet that’s what happened.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, the results were in all important respects a tie — but Clinton was a whisker ahead. Did that whisker matter? I’m pretty sure it did, a lot. If Sanders had come in even slightly ahead, the news would have been full of Clinton-is-doomed reports. Instead, the coverage has, as best I can tell, been rather subdued. Everyone knows that a fraction of a point in the vote makes no objective difference; but everyone also knows that “Iowa almost tied!” isn’t the same kind of focal point for Clinton doom stories as “Clinton defeated!” And so the coverage is radically different — and the betting markets have treated Iowa on the Democratic side as a non-event.

On a related note, there's an observation I've shared recently with friends and I've been meaning to work into a post. Back when Krugman first got serious about being a pundit, he was remarkably strong in two areas: economics (unsurprisingly) and press criticism ("Shape of Earth—Views Differ" alone would earn him the honor), but rather weak when it came to  politics. This was particularly notable around 2008 and 2009.

But Krugman did a couple of remarkable things (at least remarkable for an NYT columnist): he admitted his mistakes and he learned from them. His political analyses have improved steadily while the quality and credibility of most political commentators have fallen down a mine shaft.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Data based decisions work badly with fraudulent data

One of the points that Joseph and I have been hammering away at for years now is that, as proposed, most of the proposed incentive and metric-based models of the education reform movement are dangerously vulnerable to gaming, data cooking, and out-and-out fraud.

Back in 2010, this position was very much on the fringe. Today, not so much.

From Marilou Johanek, columnist for the Toledo Blade (via Charles Pierce)

Former ODE school choice director David Hansen, the man in charge of charter school oversight, engaged in a fraudulent scheme to boost the evaluations of some charters. Mr. Hansen, whose wife worked as the governor’s chief of staff until she left to manage his presidential campaign, admitted scrubbing data on failing online and dropout recovery-charters to improve their standing in the state.

Some outraged state school board members charged Mr. Hansen with breaking the law and demanded an impartial investigation. Team Kasich quashed that notion and contained the political damage.

Then-state superintendent Richard Ross professed no prior knowledge of the fraud perpetrated on his watch by his subordinate to promote an administration mandate. Unexplained is why Mr. Ross forwarded Mr. Hansen’s falsified data to the U.S. Department of Education for funding, despite the controversy over his cooked books.

ODE’s discredited charter czar quietly resigned from the department, followed by the retirement of the superintendent months later. The department that had allowed the data scam to proceed in a calculated move for public dollars — without regard for educational accountability — vowed to enact internal reforms. No need for outside scrutiny.

Chagrined state lawmakers who were previously in no hurry to pass charter school reform, finally approved legislation to take the heat off Mr. Kasich. The changes will only be meaningful if they are implemented by the Kasich people running the ODE.

Public education advocates aren’t holding their breath for wholesale reform of the charter school industry in Ohio, which is fine with the Kasich administration. It pushed a potential political liability off the radar to let Mr. Kasich spin on the campaign trail without distraction.
And on a completely unrelated note.

A while back, I collected all of those 2010 education reform post in a Kindle single called Things I Saw at the Counter-Reformation. If you would like to see how the arguments hold up, check it out.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Other Half of the Problem

You probably all remember the issues the New York Times had with bad information from anonymous sources on the Hillary Clinton email story and the social media accounts of the San Bernardino shooters. More recently, our blog had a long post questioning the ethics of a New York Times Magazine piece that allowed a controversial scholar to present her side of an academic dispute in the most favorable conditions imaginable.

These and other incidents certainly suggest that the NYT needs to re-examine its standards and practices regarding sources, but to get a full sense of the problem you should take a look at the following from TPM's account of the reaction to the Sean Penn/Rolling Stone interview with "El Chapo":
New York Times editor Dean Baquet told Margaret Sullivan, the paper's public editor, on Monday that he "would have walked away from the interview." The newspaper's standards editor, Philip B. Corbett, said the paper does not grant "prepublication approval to anyone."
Pretty much anytime you point out an issue with the New York Times' ethics or quality control, this will be the other half of the problem: The paper really does see itself as a gold standard, not perfect perhaps, but far better than any of its peers. This attitude effectively prevents any serious self examination let alone real attempts at reform.

Would have New York Times have published the Sean Penn piece? I have no idea. Have they recently published articles that gave sources an inappropriate level of influence and thus misinformed their readers? Unquestionably. What's worse, the Rolling Stone piece came with a disclaimer.

The New York Times simply leaves it to us to it figure out on our own.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Remember that pivot thing?

Before we get started, a quick caveat. As mentioned before (probably at greater length than necessary), much if not most of the mainstream press have fallen into the trap of using style with substance when it comes to Donald Trump. Trump may come off more like a heel in a professional wrestling match that as an elder statesman, but in terms of stances on every issue with the possible exception of immigration, he is completely in line with the rest of the GOP field.

On the other hand, it would be just as dangerous to assume Trump is a closet liberal or even centrist. Though the cartoonish persona makes it difficult to speculate as to what is going on in the man's head, there is absolutely no reason to give any more weight to his comments about big tax increases on millionaires than to his promises of huge tax cuts for millionaires.

Only thing we can say with confidence is Trump is incredibly erratic, has shown no consistent devotion to anything or anyone other than his own self-interest, and is even willing to sacrifice that in the pursuit of attention. At least you could count on Nixon to be predictably evil.

So, just to be clear, I have no idea where a Trump presidency would end up on the ideological spectrum. All I'm saying is that if Trump gets the nomination, he will be the first GOP candidate in a long time with the freedom to run far to the right  then fast to the center.

With that in mind, check out this recent quote from Charles Pierce:
But something else has been going on in the last couple of weeks, too. A startling amount of coherence has started to become evident in the Trump campaign. Up until now, the only real underlying philosophy to the enterprise has been I am Donald Trump and you're not, and neither are those losers, either. But, whether or not he's picked this up in his travels, or whether or not this was going to be the pitch all along, He, Trump now has the stirrings of the beginnings of a message in his madness. You could see it in the glee with which he slapped Fox News around on Tuesday. He now is running quite clearly on the idea that Republican voters have been played for rubes and suckers by the major institutions of their party and by the conservative movement. He is so confident in this role that he can even come out quite clearly in favor of an idea he shares with practically every Democratic politician alive.
Pierce was referring to this:

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has embraced a policy that liberals love: allowing Medicare to negotiate for drugs. He told a New Hampshire crowd that doing so could save "$300 billion per year."

"We don’t do it," Trump said. "Why? Because of the drug companies."

Democrats have tried to give Medicare this power since at least 2003, when Medicare Part D, which gives beneficiaries prescription drug benefits, passed. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and President Barack Obama all agree with Trump that Medicare ought to have the authority to push back against drug companies that ask for really high prices.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

I think we need to think more carefully about how to make situations like this one less unfair

This is Joseph.

I always find stories like this one amazing.  From the Trustee report:
Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. ... filed the KEIP Motion requesting, inter alia, authority to pay 15 of its most highly compensated executives bonuses totaling over $11.9 Million in 2016. Alpha seeks this relief while at the same time incurring more than $1.3 Billion in losses for 2015. Alpha seeks this relief while at the same time seeking to cut off the health and life insurance benefits to some 1,200 rank-and-file retirees because it claims it desperately needs to save $3 Million a year. Alpha seeks this relief after demonstrating to this Court that it is so hopelessly insolvent that its shareholders have no chance of seeing any return on their investments into the companies.
Can you guess the ending:
Sadly, the Trustee's biting prose was for naught. In a closed courtroom, a bankruptcy judge approved the bonus plan.
I am not against being compassionate to executives.  Like it or lump it, it is very hard to shut down a company and it is very unpleasant work.  What I find more painful is that the same compassion doesn't seem to be present towards workers, who are also making a painful adjustment.

I can't but think that there should be some approach to make the pain either lesser or more equally distributed.

[p.s. from Mark:

I wanted to add a couple of quick points to Joseph's post. First, this observation from Scott Lemieux:

This is an extreme case, but it pretty much defines how the wealthy define incentives differently for themselves and for ordinary workers. For the latter, a middle-class salary will make them lazy and in any case is an unnecessary expense. For those at the top, a multi-million dollar salary isn’t enough incentive to do your job. Note, too, how contradictory ideas about responsibility seamlessly replace each other depending on what’s necessary to justify the looting of the workers and shareholders. When the company goes into bankruptcy less than a five years after you take it over, doesn’t that suggest that you’re massively incompetent and don’t even justify a six-figure salary, let alone a seven-figure one supplemented by performance bonuses(!)? Why no, because the market for coal collapsed, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, not our fault. But when it comes time to get de facto retention bonuses, these same people become absolutely indispensable supermen with irreplaceable skills. Obviously, Alpha’s executives can’t simultaneously by caretakers who preside over a company whose profits are determined almost entirely by factors beyond their control and people with unique skills the company absolutely cannot afford to lose and must be retained at any price, but whatever it takes.
Second, we're talking about the latest incarnation of these guys.]

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Only Trump can go to Nixonland?

To win the Republican nomination, Nixon told Dole, "you have to run as far as you can to the right because that's where 40% of the people who decide the nomination are. And to get elected you have to run as fast as you can back to the middle, because only about 4% of the nation's voters are on the extreme right wing."
Letters From Nixon Shape Dole's Campaign Strategy
LA Times, May 07, 1995

One of the things that struck me about the past two presidential elections was how completely the Nixon pivot had been taken off of the table. Both McCain and Romney dutifully followed the first step during the primaries, but whenever they tried to move back toward the center during the general election, the reaction from the base quickly sent them scurrying back to the right.

Conventional wisdom saw this in terms of ideological extremism but my take-away was quite different.  The GOP base has grown more conservative in the 21st century, but even taking that into account, their willingness to give their nominees any slack is much less than it was at any point in the second half of the 20th Century.

My argument is that this has relatively little to do with ideology and much to do with trust. Many in the base feel (with some justification) that the social contract with the party has been violated. They are no longer willing automatically to extend credit to their party's nominees.

With Trump, however, the Nixon pivot suddenly becomes not only viable but remarkably easy. He has a great personal bond with his supporters, his appeal is not particularly ideological, and he has been able to hold heterodox positions without paying a political penalty.

A pivot to the center would not even require covering any new territory. Trump's "platform" has been so erratic and unpredictable that all he would have to do would be to embrace some of the positions he held then implicitly or explicitly abandoned over the past 12 months. It would seem unlikely that significant portion of his core supporters would abandon him if he changed his mind once again and decided he was for high taxes on rich people.

Josh Marshall (one of the few journalists who has done a good job keeping up with the story) has recently started discussing a related scenario:
For committed conservatives, there is a real and I believe justified fear that Trump could come into office, be hardcore for a year or two and then pull what Arnold Schwarzenegger did in his latter years as governor of California. In other words, shape-shift into a sort of moderate, Bloombergesque sort of Republican. Republicans can tolerate than in New York where nothing better is on offer and perhaps in California too. But not in the White House.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) is also suggesting that Trump might do something of a Nixon pivot and that it might work out well for the party.
"Ted Cruz is a rigid ideologue," Dent told the New York Times in an interview published on Tuesday. "Donald Trump is ideologically scattered and malleable. In my view, a more rigid ideology would have a much harder time assembling a winning general election coalition than the less doctrinaire candidate."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

VFX paradox

In case you're coming in late, we have an ongoing thread about how, despite conventional wisdom about cost spirals, the part of film-making where technology has most increased productivity (visual special effects) is the same part that has been driving up budgets and delaying release dates.

One more example:

EXCLUSIVE: Focus Features is moving its action disaster pic London Has Fallen from the post MLK frame of January 22, 2016 to March 4, 2016. The first film, Olympus Has Fallen, went out in March 2013 becoming a surprise spring hit for its distributor Film District with a $30.4M opening weekend and a domestic cume of $98.9M.  London‘s release date change stems from a couple of factors, in particular, the film is coming off strong research screenings, making a spring break launch prime for the sequel.  In addition, more time is needed to complete the film’s VFX.

Monday, January 25, 2016

More thoughts on the Goffman story

Andrew Gelman set off an excellent discussion of the lingering questions about Alice Goffman's On the Run triggered by these two posts by Paul Campos. It's an interesting debate but not really in my area of focus. I do, however, want to weigh in on the way the New York Times Magazine chose to cover the controversy in this profile by Gideon Lewis-Kraus.

The first thing that struck me on reading this piece was how numbing will he formulaic this type of journalism has become. The stick-to-the-template structure, the pretentious tone, the straight-out-of-central-casting character sketch, the standard narrative arc of the bright young person with vision rising rapidly to great heights then brought down by attacks only to climb back up.
But with time, my reaction has shifted somewhat with more focus on the ethics of the piece than the aesthetics.

These full-access profiles are always problematic. Everything about the arrangement tends to bias the journalist in favor of his or her subject. Of course, many journalists are able to maintain their objectivity and make the arrangement pay off in increased information and improved insight, but even with a masterpiece of the genre like Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, these concerns cannot be entirely dismissed.

Based on an interview I heard Tom Wolfe give, both he and Ken Kesey have said that there were parts where Wolfe softened his account so as not to make the Merry Pranksters look bad and that the work suffered as a consequence (“Wolfe got most of it right, except he tried to be nice.”).

Lewis-Kraus is no Wolfe and he arguably crosses the line to apologist a number of times. Here's the passage that bothers me in particular. [emphasis added]:

Goffman has declined to make public the long, point-by-point rebuttal of her anonymous attacker, but after we got to know each other well, she shared it with me. It is blunt and forceful and, in comparison with the placidity of her public deportment, almost impatient and aggrieved in tone, and it is difficult to put the document down without wondering why she has remained unwilling to publicize some of its explanations. She acknowledges a variety of errors and inconsistencies, mostly the results of a belabored anonymization process, but otherwise persuasively explains many of the lingering issues. There is, for example, a convincing defense of her presence in the supposedly closed juvenile court and a quite reasonable clarification of the mild confusion over what she witnessed firsthand and what she reconstructed from interviews — along with explanations for even the most peculiar and deranged claims of her anonymous attacker, including why Mike does his laundry at home in one scene and at a laundromat in another.

Many claims against her are also easy to rebut independently. Some critics called far-­fetched, for example, her claim that an F.B.I. agent in Philadelphia drew up a new computer surveillance system after watching a TV broadcast about the East German Stasi. If you search the Internet for ‘‘Philadelphia cop Stasi documentary,’’ a substantiating item [] from The Philadelphia Inquirer from 2007 is the second hit. When it comes to Goffman’s assertion that officers run IDs in maternity wards to arrest wanted fathers, another short Internet search produces corroborating examples in Dallas, New Orleans and Brockton, Mass., and a Philadelphia public defender and a deputy mayor told me that the practice does not at all seem beyond plausibility. The most interesting question might not be whether Goffman was telling the truth but why she has continued to let people believe that she might not be.

This is questionable in any number of ways. Goffman is allowed to present her rebuttal in a manner that completely shields her from any kind of scrutiny or fact-checking. All of the information we'd need to evaluate her claims is withheld. Instead, a highly sympathetic journalist who is in her debt (let's be blunt.  Goffman did Lewis-Kraus a huge professional favor by allowing him this level of access) assures us repeatedly that we should take her at her word.

The lack, or perhaps more accurately the level of detail here is bizarre. In Goffman's apparently long and detailed document, there is no argument or piece of evidence that can be shared with the general readers. We aren't even given metadata. We have no idea whether these claims are supported by data, documents, arguments, or something else. We aren't even told the extent to which these were or weren't checked by the reporter.

The document is not, however, so sensitive that it cannot be shared with a journalist or that the journalist can't list specific charges that are rebutted.

I don't want to weigh in on the veracity of Goffman's book or on any of the related discussions. More than enough smart people are seriously engaging in this debate. If anything, I'm concerned that the controversy over relatively details is distracting from genuinely important points about racism, class bigotry and mass incarceration. But journalistic standards and culture are also important. You can make the case that bad, grossly unethical reporting decided the 2000 election and it is difficult to discuss the run-up to the Iraq War without mentioning the name Judith Miller. More recent (and relevant for the topic of this post) are the NYT fiascoes with the Clinton emails and the San Bernadino shooters. In both those cases, the paper allowed sources to feed inaccurate information to the public while agreeing to withhold information that might have helped readers evaluate the claims.

Obviously, there are valid reasons for a journalist to agree to withhold parts of information provided by a source. but Lewis-Kraus explicitly tells us that he knows of no reason not to share Goffman's rebuttal or give us any information that might help us evaluate it.

The decision to give Goffman's side of the argument without actually stating her arguments puts Lewis on shaky ground to begin with, but he then proceeds to present her case in the most favorable possible light while only briefly mentioning her more reputable critics from publications such as the Chronicle of Higher Education and the New Republic (neither Paul Campos or Steven Lubet is mentioned by name).

I can understand the temptation to let valuable sources have too much say in the editorial process, but I'm surprised that a paper as proud of its standards as the New York Times would be so consistently quick to give in. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Success made easy

I haven't had time recently to follow the no-excuses charter school story as closely as I should. When I do get back to it, one of the points I want to delve into is how education researchers, even the good ones, often fail to take into account certain obvious realities of effective instruction and classroom management.
First among these is the fact that certain kids or combination of kids have a dramatically disproportionate impact in terms of disruption and instructional time/resources. These more demanding kids can be difficult to identify in advance (for instance, being behind and frustrated and being advanced and bored will often lead to similar kinds of acting out), but a few weeks in, both faculty and administration will have no trouble putting together a list.

Conscientious administrators agonize over the decision of getting rid of their more challenging students, trying to balance the good of the few and the good of the many (at the Jesuit school I taught at in Watts, it was treated as the absolute last resort), For the unscrupulous, however, there is no simpler or more reliable method for rapidly improving a school.

Which brings us to this New York Times report:
Success Academy, the high-performing* charter school network in New York City, has long been dogged by accusations that its remarkable accomplishments are due, in part, to a practice of weeding out weak or difficult students. The network has always denied it. But documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.

At Success Academy Fort Greene, the same day that Ms. Ogundiran heard from the principal, her daughter’s name was one of 16 placed on a list drawn up at his direction and shared by school leaders.

The heading on the list was “Got to Go.”

Math teacher and education blogger Gary Rubinstein fills in some more of the context:
 This school was in its second year when it was in need of being turned around.  And the total number of students in the school was about 200, with about 70 kindergarteners, 80 first graders, and 50 second graders.  All of these students have been at the school for their entire schooling and all had Success Academy teachers.  I have trouble believing that this school needed a radical turnaround plan and if it really did, what does that say about the reform mantra that ‘great teachers’ overcome all if the great teachers at Success Academy were not able to maintain control of 200 5, 6, and 7 year olds?

So far we've been talking about kids whom we would traditionally (if perhaps unfairly) classify as discipline problems, but they aren't the only students who put a disproportionate drain on a school's resources. Giving children with disabilities the education they deserve and are legally entitled to is also time and labor intensive.

Which brings us to this report from Juan Gonzalez
The city’s largest charter school chain has been violating the civil rights of students with disabilities for years, a group of parents say in a formal complaint lodged Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Education.

The parents of 13 special needs students claim the Success Charter Network, which is run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, “has engaged in ongoing systemic policies that violate” federal laws protecting the disabled. It cites eight Success schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx where the parents’ children were enrolled.

The allegations include:

    refusing to provide special education pupils appropriate services required by law, while often retaining the students to repeat a grade;
    multiple suspensions of students without keeping formal records of all those actions, without the due process required by federal law, and without providing alternative instruction;
    harassing parents to transfer their children back into regular public schools; and even calling 911 to have children as young as 5 transported to emergency rooms when parents don’t pick them up immediately as requested.

“Charter schools like Success Academy should follow the same rules as traditional public schools and protect — not punish — children with disabilities,” Public Advocate Letitia James said.

James joined the complaint, as did City Councilman Daniel Dromm, chair of the council’s Education Committee, and five private non-profit legal advocacy groups. All are calling for federal action.

*Not actually high performing on tests that matter, but that's a topic for another post.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sometimes the side effects matter

Via Thomas Lumley:
As the OneNews story says, there has been a theory for a long time that if you wipe out someone’s immune system and start over again, the new version wouldn’t attack the nervous system and the disease would be cured. The problem was two-fold. First, wiping out someone’s immune system is an extraordinarily drastic treatment — you give a lethal dose of chemotherapy, and then rescue the patient with a transplanted immune system. Second, it didn’t work reliably.
The theory behind this treatment (for MS) is that if you did it earlier then maybe it would become more reliable.  But one can see why this might not be the first thing that somebody tries.  Lethal dose of chemotherapy would be an eye opener for me at the informed consent stage, I tell you, as it rather suggests the potential for things to go . . . wrong.

This might work, and it would be wonderful if it did, but an aspirin a day it is not! 

In case you missed it... will still be streaming Sherlock: The Abominable Bride for a couple more days.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I'm posting this anecdote mainly as a reminder to start using the word "kalopsia" more often...

... but his story from Mark Evanier also connects to some present and future threads about television and what drives innovative people like Steve Allen. 
One day during a taping, one of the guests used a large, polysyllabic word — something like "kalopsia."

Allen stopped the conversation, turned to the studio audience and asked, "How many people here know what that word means?" Not a lot of hands went up and Steve responded, "Whenever I hear a word and am unaware of its meaning, I always make a point to go look it up." And with that, he reached over to the shelves, hefted a large, frighteningly-unabridged dictionary and began leafing through it.

During all this, the producer was in the control room, squirming in agony. This was, to him, dull, dull, dull. Finally, Steve read aloud the definition of kalopsia: "A condition where one is deceived into thinking things are of higher quality than they actually are."

Thirty seconds on a TV show can seem like The March of Time if nothing's happening, and this producer couldn't abide ten without a laugh or a song or someone getting hit with a pie. Alas for him, Allen was on an etymological binge. They taped several shows that day and, each time someone uttered an unfamiliar word, out came the dictionary for another 20-30 seconds of page-turning. The producer actually ran back to the green room, where guests wait to go on, and begged everyone not to use big words on the show.

After the taping, he took his concern to Steve, who replied politely that he had no intention of ceasing or desisting. "With all the hours of television devoted to mindlessness," Mr. Allen reportedly said, "We can surely take thirty seconds every now and then to teach people a new word." And since Steve Allen felt that way and this was The Steve Allen Show, that was that.

But not quite. The producer went to the prop man and gave him an order: "Find a book just like Steve's, hollow it out, and put a little blasting cap inside — one that goes bang like an exploding cigar. I want it rigged so that when Steve opens it, it'll go off. Then he'll think twice about going for the dictionary." The prop man complied. Before the next tape day, Allen's lexicon was replaced with the booby-trapped one.

All during the afternoon's taping, the producer was praying for someone to use a big word so he could spring his surprise. No one did. At one point, seething with frustration, he called the Talent Coordinator and tried to see if they could arrange a last-minute booking of William F. Buckley.

But it wasn't necessary. Just at that moment, a guest used the word "pejorative" and Steve stopped and polled the house: "How many people here know what that word means?" Few did, so Steve reached for the dictionary.

As the producer giggled in anticipation, Steve Allen opened the book —

— and it exploded. Really exploded.

The prop guy had miscalculated. Instead of a small bang, it was more of a loud kaboom. A bolt of flame erupted and the blast drove Steve backwards. He crashed back into the bookcases and they went toppling. Since they were anchored to the set, it came tumbling down with them, bringing with it all manner of lights and stanchions and uprights — all of it burying the host.

The producer was in shock. He rushed from the control room to the set, saw cataclysm everywhere and gasped aloud, "My God! I've killed Steve Allen!"

He ran up to the disaster, hurling stagehands and grips aside, and began to claw through the debris. With the strength of ten, he threw pieces of scenery and bookshelving aside until finally, at the bottom of it all, he'd uncovered the upper half of the first host of The Tonight Show. "Steve," he begged. "Steve, speak to me!" In tears and desperation, he cried out, "Say something! Tell me you're going to be all right!"

There was a long pause but finally, Steve Allen opened his eyes. "Did you do this?" he asked in a soft, hurt voice.

"Yes," the producer moaned. "Yes, it was my idea! I told them to do it!"

Steve smiled, raised his hand in an "OK" gesture and said, "Funny bit."