An Education Plan with Merit

The Wisconsin State Journal editorial staff would like to see more teachers like William Farnsworth teaching in Wisconsin. The opinion article mentions William Farnsworth, the only Wisconsin teacher out of 90 who received a 2006 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. I mention him only to say I'd rather see him teaching at a university, so he would be Professor Farnsworth.

-The Republican-led state Assembly has proposed a $250,000 annual fund from general tax dollars for teacher merit pay. The proposal is part of the Assembly's version of the state budget. The Democratic-run Senate should accept this modest yet important expense as leaders from both houses start to negotiate a final state spending plan this week.-
The WSJ thinks that rewarding good teachers with merit pay will improve state public education. I agree, mostly.

I disagree with most Republican efforts to apply capitalistic ideas to public education. Public education is by it's very nature a socialistic endeavor. It is the idea that every child deserves access to a good education, regardless of what his/her parents can afford. The idea that every child starts out with the same opportunity to succeed based on their abilities and their determination. And Capitalism does not fulfill this. Parents' choice of school is largely dictated by location, not quality. It would be more cost-effective to just not teach kids who are poor, or stupid, or with disabilities. Giving out school vouchers will simply increase the cost of private schools, which will remain out of reach to the poor. And President Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative makes no sense at all. Yes, the passing schools get rewarded by getting full funding. But I have never understood how cutting funding to failing schools will help them improve. I understand that you don't want to reward anyone for failing, but I don't see how punishing the schools that need help can in any way help the students there.

Unfortunately, Socialism has it's own problems. Mostly that everyone gets paid the same and so there is no reason to overachieve.

The proposed plan for merit based pay is a good one (at least to start with) for two reasons.
1. It rewards good teachers. Who can argue with that? I know that simply paying teachers more does not make them better teachers. The best teachers teach because they enjoy it or they think the work is important. But, a higher salary will attract more potential teachers who would be good but choose to go into more lucrative fields.
2. The additional funding comes from the State. School districts should not take a financial hit because they have good teachers.

But I would go further. The State should provide all funding for every WI public school. As long as schools are funded by local property tax, funding, and therefore quality of education, will remain tied to the affluence of a school district. And that just does not mesh with the Socialistic ideals of public schooling. Every school should receive the same per student funding, which the districts can budget out however they like. Teacher's salaries should be paid from a separate fund to allow for merit based increases.

And the proposed budget does not identify what criteria would be used for the teacher's bonuses. I assume they would be tied to students' scores on standardized tests. And teachers whose students score high are doing their job well. But teachers whose students score average, but but had failed the year before, are also doing their job well. I have always considered improvement to be more important than achievement. I would like to see yearly bonuses based on improvement over the previous year, and then incremental raises every few years based on average scores over a teacher's career. That way, there is an incentive for teachers to go to failing schools, where there is more potential for higher bonuses. Also, teachers would be rewarded more for maintaining high scores than for maintaining average scores, instead of the current system, which gives all teachers the same raises, regardless of performance. Those teachers who maintain failing scores would likely just get fired.

Yes, I know, merit based salaries sounds like capitalism. I assure, you, as long as it's all paid for by the State, and everyone has equal access to it, it is still a Socialist program.

While the Assembly's proposal is not quite as good as the one I have outlined here, I do think it is an improvement on what we currently have. And I like to see improvement. So I will join the WSJ in encouraging the State Senate to support this plan. Of course, even with my suggestions, our students will never compete internationally until we overhaul our education standards. Start with increasing the amount of reading and reading comprehension in all subjects, as Althouse has suggested. Emphasize mathematical logic over rote memorization. Emphasize the scientific method. And Do Not Politicize Science. But that's another topic. Let's just get this first attempt at merit pay passed.



She was cool when I met her, but I think I like her better dead...

Apparently, necrophilia is legal in the state of Wisconsin. You know, in case anyone was wondering.

-Three men who dug up a young woman's corpse to have sex with it after seeing her obituary photo cannot be charged with attempted sexual assault because Wisconsin has no law against necrophilia, an appeals court ruled Thursday.

The three men went to a cemetery in Cassville in southwestern Wisconsin on Sept. 2 to remove the body of Laura Tennessen, 20, who had been killed the week before in a motorcycle crash. They said the men had seen an obituary of Tennessen with her photo and wanted to dig up her body to have sexual intercourse.- Yahoo news via Reddit

I realize I should have just been disgusted and then forgotten about this. But I decided to look into why it would be and why it should be illegal to have sex with a dead body.

Rape is charged when sex is performed and the victim is unable to consent to it. This applies if the victim is unconsciousness, or in a coma. I suppose it does not if the victim is dead, as then they are not legally recognized as a person.

The article notes that WI does have a provision in the sexual assault law saying criminal penalties apply "whether a victim is dead or alive at the time of the sexual contact or sexual intercourse." I would think this clearly makes it illegal to have sex with a dead body, particularly the part where it says criminal penalties apply "whether a victim is dead or alive at the time of the sexual contact or sexual intercourse."

-The appeals court ruled that the most reasonable interpretation was that it does not ban necrophilia. Instead, the court said, the law was meant to make sure prosecutors could bring sexual assault charges in rape-murder cases in which the victim ends up dead.-

This is what I dislike about legislatures, judges, and lawyers. That the "intent" of a law is more important than what the law itself actually says. Laws should be written to clearly say what is intended. If cases come up that aren't covered by the law, then it should be amended. And no one should infer or interpret anything else. But that is another issue...

But do we need a law explicitly banning sex with corpses? State Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, introduced legislation Wednesday that would make having sex with a corpse a felony with punishment of up to 6 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. I can understand the desire to protect dead bodies, but I thought we already had laws against disturbing burial sites and buried human bodies, and I think that should be enough. Sure, sexual assault on a living person causes harm, both physical and psychological, but that doesn't apply if the person has vacated the body. I certainly wouldn't want to be put in an oven and incinerated while I am alive, but if I were dead, I don't think I would care. I hope everyone agrees, though, that it is rather sad that this topic even comes up for debate.


The Tragedy of the Commons

Last week at LIB, after tcz won the first round of "Fightin' Ed"'s Where in the World is Brad Vogel Today? challenge, I totally pwned any possible future rounds. For my prize, I asked "Fightin' Ed," if that is his real name, to write a post about the Tragedy of the Commons and how it relates to environmental regulation/global warming controls or evolutionary biology/development of altruism. Even though he shamelessly hides behind a pseudonym, Ed did make good on his word and wrote the requested article.

Ed's post was fine, but as expected it did not come close to covering all the points I wanted to see, so I since I want to see it done right, I'm going to write it myself. This will likely be a substantially lengthy essay, as I feel this is a very important idea to understand, because I see it as proof that ironically, self interest alone is not always best for self interest, and government regulation is required to maximize the long term common good.

The Tragedy of the Commons
involves a conflict over resources between individual interests and the common good. It occurs when there is "a tendency towards free access and unrestricted demand for a finite resource." The theory behind it has been discussed at least since Aristotle. The name comes from a 1968 essay by Grant Hardin which described a hypothetical example of a common pasture shared by local herders. Each herder can choose how large a herd to let graze in the commons. For every animal added, the herder receives additional proceeds, but the pasture is slightly degraded.

"Crucially, the division of these components is unequal: the individual herder gains all of the advantage, but the disadvantage is shared between all herders using the pasture. Consequently, for an individual herder weighing up these utilities, the rational course of action is to add an extra animal. And another, and another. However, since all herders reach the same conclusion, overgrazing and degradation of the pasture is its long-term fate. Nonetheless, the rational response for an individual remains the same at every stage, since the gain is always greater to each herder than the individual share of the distributed cost is. The overgrazing cost here is an example of an externality." /wikiplagiarism

There are really only three ways to reach on optimal solution.
1. Divide the land up for private use, eliminating the issue of the shared costs.
2. Force an equal distribution of all yields, eliminating the issue of the individual gains.
3. Enact a governing authority to enforce regulations limiting usage, eliminating the issue of the herders making rational decisions.

The idea of the commons can be applied to any commonly shared resource. One example is the issue of global warming. Everyone shares the atmosphere. People benefit by burning fuels which produce CO2. The costs of global warming will be shared by all. It is still in each individual's best interest not to worry about it. This topic does have the added problem that there is no way to divide up the atmosphere, so Option 1 is not applicable. Option 2 would require a global socialist government. Option 3, establishing limits on CO2 emissions, seems to be the most practical.

The study of game theory, particularly examples such as the prisoner's dilemma and the stag hunt, are of much interest to those studying evolution. As a general rule of evolution, those whose actions benefit themselves the greatest should dominate. It seems that altruism could not have evolved because the tragedy of the commons would always favor selfish individuals; whose genes for selfish behavior would therefore come to predominate. However, altruism has developed, along with an understanding of fairness, both in humans and to a degree in other animals. The tragedy of the commons shows that adopting common, fair rules regulating social behavior generates a better outcome for all than simply acting according to self interest. This suggests to me that government regulation is a product of evolution.

You can bring up Hobbes' Leviathon, Locke's social contract, or any of the other philosophical theories about the origins of government. But, I think it is possible, that we have a behavioral instinct to form rules and laws to limit our individual self interest.

I do realize that this is just a hypothetical and that there is no clear right answer, as Ed states. If it were otherwise, there would be little point in discussing it.

I would like to add that one of the most appropriate topics to apply the Tragedy of the Commons, and the one Grant Hardin focused on, is population control. It is in everyone's best interest to have many children. Explosive population growth makes Malthous angry.

*tcz deserves recognition for giving the first correct answer to the Where is Brad Vogel challenge.

*"Fightin' Ed" questions the application of evolutionary biology to altruism. I had decided not to get into altruism too deeply as altruism reflects a free choice to act against self interest and rules and regulations force one to act against self interest. This is the difference between donations and taxes. But, for anyone interested, I'll direct you to the Wikiarticle on Reciprocal Altruism, which should be noted is the best strategy at the Prisoner's Dilemma game.
Also, moderately related, two studies on altruism in chimps.

As for the TotC being a zero-sum game, I was not aware that it had to be. I do know the classic Prisoner's Dilemma is a non-zero-sum game. I would have to do a bit more research, however, to determine if zero-sumness matters or can be applied to things like inclusionary zoning.

*I do realize that the crux of my argument relies on the government regulations being fair. And I know the adages about power corrupting and too many cooks. My ideal government is run by algorithm, or by me. For a somewhat related article on why some governments irrationally remain corrupt, Reason Mag explains Why Poor Countries are Poor.

*And of course, the one thing no one has mentioned yet. Option 2, the division of profits, is a horrible solution in game theory because then it is in the best interest of each farmer to do no work at all because they will still receive the same profit as those who do work.


Hodgepodge Revisited

I did miss Hodgepodge Tuesday yesterday, so to make up for it, here is The Internet Reposted. This is a look back at some of the virals, crashes, accidents, stunts, mis-haps, bloopers & calamaties over the past few years of the internet. Some of your old favorites will be here.

Part 1
Part 2


A Milwaukee Throwback

Barry Bonds currently has 751 career home runs. He needs four more to tie Hank Aaron's all time record. If you look at the schedule, guys, it is conceivable that 756 could happen during the stretch of road games at Chicago and at Milwaukee this week (although I predict a cold streak after 753, until he suddenly gets hot in August).

I'm sure the Giants organization would prefer to see Bonds break the record at home in AT&T Park. In fact, when Aaron was about to break Ruth's record in 1974, the Braves pulled him from the lineup after he hit the record tying shot on opening day in Cincinnati, trying to guarantee the record would be set in Atlanta. (Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered the team to play Aaron in the series finale against the Reds and Aaron did not homer.) But Bonds might actually want to break Aaron's record in Milwaukee. Milwaukee had been the hometown for Aaron, who has said he will not be on hand when Bonds hits 755, and, more importantly, is the home of MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who has also refused to show any support to Bonds. It would be a great opportunity to stick it to Selig.

The Cap Times asked, what if Bonds breaks the record at Milwaukee? Or anywhere on the road, for that matter. There would have to be some sort of obligatory celebration. And whoever was lucky enough to catch the ball would be very happy at the chance to sell it. But... How awesome would it be to catch Bond's record breaking home run ball... and throw it back. If somebody had the balls to do that, it could be the greatest moment in the history of sports. So here is my suggestion to anyone attending an away game hosting the Giants in which Bonds has a chance to hit 756. Sort of a compromise to the dilemma. Bring an extra ball into the game. If, by chance, 756 is hit to you, pocket it, and hold up the extra ball. Let everyone yell, give the TV cameras a chance to zoom in on you, and then throw it back (the extra ball, don't be an idiot).


rabble rabble

Apparently, I haven't been rousing enough rabble lately. I apologize. I hope today's posts make up for it. I will also apologize for the excessive amount of rabble rousing posts I am about to write.


Full article from Reason

By definition, the aim of "terrorism" is not to topple the U.S. government, or even to rack up a massive body count (though that seems to be a perk for them). The aim of terrorism is to cause terror. It's to scare us. Frighten us. Alter our way of life, and get our government to change its policies.

In this sense, the very people who are supposed to be protecting us from terrorists are playing right into the terrorists' hands. Despite the absence of any specific information, and despite the fact that his saying as much would do little if anything to actually thwart a pending attack, Chertoff still feels he has to go public with his "gut feeling" that something awful might happen this summer. And so the newspapers and Drudge and the blogs run with it. And now we get to go about our summer business with the foreboding cloud of a possible terror attack looming on the horizon.

Al-Qaeda doesn't actually have to kill people to cause terror, especially if we're doing their PR work for them. They don't need to actually land any body blows if we keep falling to the canvas every time they fake a punch. What if Chertoff's right? Maybe there will be an attack this summer. I hope not. But if there is, what purpose did this vague, scary warning serve, other than to frighten people?


Up for some crazy theories?

Zeitgeist [1 hr 56 min movie)

The Bible is plagiarized, 911 was done by the U.S. govt, and a group of international run the Federal Reserve. And all three are ways of keeping you under control.

Answers: ʎlʇsoɯ 'ou 'sǝʎ


I may have said before that WI Senator Herb Kohl has not done anything significant enough to warrant reelection. It seems I was unaware of his "NOPEC" bill he proposed last spring, and I now feel obliged to drum up some support for it.

from Slate:
The American legal system's bizarre tolerance of the OPEC oil cartel has long irritated Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., who around the time the Prewitts filed their OPEC lawsuit undertook to remove any legal doubt as to whether OPEC was susceptible to U.S. antitrust enforcement. That doubt, more imaginary than real, arises from whether OPEC's member nations enjoy "sovereign immunity" because they are countries, not private companies. "Sovereign immunity" is a red herring because OPEC itself is not a sovereign nation. And anyway, Kohl has pointed out, "The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act … already recognizes that the 'commercial' activity of nations is not protected by sovereign immunity." To wit:

Under international law, states are not immune from the jurisdiction
of foreign courts insofar as their commercial activities are
concerned, and their commercial property may be levied upon for the
satisfaction of judgments rendered against them in connection with
their commercial activities.

Is conspiring to set the price of oil a "commercial" activity? Of course it is. OPEC's member nations get paid for the oil they export.

Kohl drafted a bill, dubbed "NOPEC," that said OPEC could no longer protect itself from antitrust prosecution by citing "sovereign immunity" and explicitly granted the Justice Department jurisdiction. The bill went nowhere back in 2000. But this past spring, Kohl dusted it off, and John Fialka reports in the July 6 Wall Street Journal that NOPEC has won the support of veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate. The appeal of NOPEC extends from left to right; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is pushing it, and so is the Heritage Foundation. The Bush administration, however, can't stand the idea.

Defense of a Breach of Marriage

Senator David Vitter, R-Louisiana is now the first lawmaker named in connection with the "DC Madam." Sure, senators shouldn't be committing felonies, but I really don't care if pay for prostitutes. What bothers me is that Vitter was a strong supporter of the "Defense of Mariage" movement. And that he admits it was a "very serious sin" but says it's all okay now because God forgave him.

Hustler magazine is claiming credit for revealing Vitter. A bit of Trivia: Hustler was responsible for the resignation of House Speaker-designate Robert Livingston -- whose congressional seat Vitter won the next year.
Normally I'd wait for some actual evidence before linking to something like this, but I'm in a muckrakely mood right now. Enjoy (via Digg).

Burying Niggers

The NAACP has buried "the N-Word" (Nigger). The article mentions the fact that Nigger has been a racial slur used by whites against blacks, and has the obligatory mention of Michael Richards, but this does not seem to be about figuratively burying racial slurs. It appears that they were figuratively burying the black glorification of the ghetto thug lifestyle.

"Today we're not just burying the N-word, we're taking it out of our spirit," said Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. "We gather burying all the things that go with the N-word. We have to bury the 'pimps' and the 'hos' that go with it."

I find this hilarious. First Nigger was a racial slur used by whites. Then blacks reclaimed the word and changed its meanings. Now some blacks want to take the reclaimed word away from the other blacks.


The Nameless

Bad news on the Stephen Colbert Elementary front. In their meeting tonight, the Madison School Board voted to amend the naming process from the former "MMSD schools are named for a prominent local figure (city or state), a prominent national figure, or a locally significant geographical site, or a place of local significance," to now only consider deceased figures.
In short, the Madison School Board hates freedom.

It appears we are now left at an impasse. We need to find a suitable [deceased] replacement or we'll end up with someone like that New York shyster Shirley Abrahmamson, or that union agitator Paul Olson. The Board of Education will also allow ideas and concepts, along with deceased prominent figures. Online submissions should start again soon, so before then, let's hear some ideas!


The Madison School Board meets tonight to reopen the naming process for the new elementary school. More on that later. For now...

Reason #51 why the Madison School Board should name the new school Stephen Colbert Elementary: Stephen Colbert exemplifies the true meaning of diversity.

Last time around, the MMSB chose Vang Pao in the interest of "diversity." But they had it all wrong. Instead of choosing someone who represents a specific ethnic group, they should choose someone who does not even know what ethnic group he belongs to. That describes Colbert, although not because he comes from a grab bag of ancestries. It is a fact that Stephen Colbert cannot see color or gender. He only sees Americans (he also cannot smell flowers). For proof, here is Stephen with his black acquaintance Alan.


Human Nature

This article on Psychology is worth a read. It focus on evolutionary behavior relating to sexual reproduction and male-female relationships. By my interpretation, it seems that although polygamy is the natural course of behavior for humans, there is real evidence that monogamy is actually better for society. And, because I know Mike H has been wondering, the article explains the draw of "72 virgins."


Miss Independent

Miss Informed

[This is a repost from last year]

Today, as you might already know, or you probably could have read just above this post, is the Fourth of July. You might also know it as Independence Day, or America’s Birthday. You might just be wrong. Time for a history lesson, bitches.

The Second Continental Congress actually voted for independence on July 2, 1776. This resolution was rewritten by Jefferson and his Declaration of Independence was approved and signed on July 4, 1776. But that just declared our intent to be independent from Britain. Britain still wanted a say in the matter, and it took a little something called the Revolutionary War to convince them. So we didn’t win our independence until May of 1781, with the British surrender at Yorktown. And it wasn’t official until the Treaty of Paris, signed September 3, 1783.

But that just meant the states were independent from Britain. They didn’t have to join together to become one country. Certainly, not everyone thought they should. The Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781, established a formal union between the states, but the power was still with the individual states. The United States of America as we know it, was “born” with the ratification of the Constitution, approved in 1787, and ratified by the last state, Rhode Island, in 1790.

My point is this: We did not instantly go from being 13 British colonies to a unified independent nation. It was a long process, full of war and debate. And it took another hundred years of uprisings and rebellions and finally a civil war before things settled down. So don’t expect anything different from other new nations.


All Stars

The rosters for the 2007 Major League Baseball All-Star Game have been announced. Notably, Milwaukee's Prince Fielder received the second most number of votes in the NL, and will start at first base, becoming the first Brewer voted to the starting lineup since Paul Molitor at third base in 1988. Teammates J.J. Hardy (SS), Francisco Cordero (P), and Ben Sheets (P) also made the roster. The Brewers tied the Mets for the most players on the NL roster. Detroit led the AL roster with 5.

This pleases me. If things go according to plan, we will have a Milwaukee-Detroit World Series. While all the national focus is on the coasts, the Midwest is growing strong, and power is coming back to the middle, where it belongs.