Monday, January 26, 2015

The Many Waze Cops Can Get You

As someone who's related to two cops and is friends with another, as someone who is usually on the side of cops, I'm going to disagree with them bigtime on this issue:
Sheriffs are campaigning to pressure Google Inc. to turn off a feature on its Wazetraffic software that warns drivers when police are nearby. They say one of the technology industry's most popular mobile apps could put officers' lives in danger from would-be police killers who can find where their targets are parked.

Waze, which Google purchased for $966 million in 2013, is a combination of GPS navigation and social networking. Fifty million users in 200 countries turn to the free service for real-time traffic guidance and warnings about nearby congestion, car accidents, speed traps or traffic cameras, construction zones, potholes, stalled vehicles or unsafe weather conditions.
I've already gotten into, and disengaged myself from, a "discussion" with my cousin on Facebook about this topic.  I understand the "people might use it to target cops" argument, but there are lots of things out there that do that.  Heck, firearms can be used to harm cops, but we can't just take those away.  It's not right to take away something from the public on the grounds that someone might misuse it.  And let's be blunt--someone who wants to shoot a cop for whatever reason doesn't need Waze to help them find a cop.

I'll just say it, though--the situation with cops is out of hand.  I was driving down the main thoroughfare of my small suburban city this weekend when I came upon a motorcycle officer pointing a radar/lidar gun at me.  Let's just admit that that's a little disconcerting, having someone who's dressed like a stormtrooper pointing the magic gun at you, and against which you have no defense.  And yes, a stormtrooper--knee-high boots, tight pants, big helmet, dark glasses.  They don't look like good men and women out "to protect and to serve", they look like people out to intimidate and harass you.  Pointing that radar/lidar gun at you, looking like "I'm gonna get you, motherf****er."

Yes, I know that some of the accoutrements can be explained away in the name of efficiency or officer safety.  But theirs, like mine, is a job wherein you live in a fishbowl with everyone watching what you do, and appearances count.  And when I see cops hiding in shadows hoping to bust someone for going over the speed limit--not like I've never seen a police car go over 40 mph on my local roads--it kind of ticks me off.

So what's wrong with Waze?  I've used it exactly once, to let me know if I should get off the freeway at the next exit or if the traffic would end soon.  But if people use it to report the location of speed traps, I'm ok with that.  Don't you want people to slow down?  Isn't that what you get if people know there's a speed trap ahead?  Or do you just want to bust somebody, and bring in some revenue for the government as a bonus?

Are you naive enough to think that that isn't one of the purposes of ticketing?  Perhaps you've heard about the recent strife between the NYPD and the NYC mayor; the officers have so little respect for the mayor that many turned their backs on him when he spoke at the funeral of an officer in December.  Well, there's been no making up, so the police started what unions would call a "work slowdown"--they're out defending the public, but they almost stopped writing citations:
It’s a slowdown showdown.

At precincts across the city, top brass are cracking the whip on summons activity and even barring many cops from taking vacation and sick days, The Post has learned.

Throughout the city, precincts are being ordered to hand up to borough commanders “activity sheets” indicating the number of arrests and summonses per shift, sources told The Post.

“Police officers around the city are now threatened with transfers, no vacation time and sick time unless they write summonses,” one union source said.

“This is the same practice that caused officers to be labeled racist and abusers of power.”

In at least one precinct, the brass backlash — which comes in the wake of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton ordering cops back on the job after The Post reported a 90 percent drop in ticket writing — is downright ­draconian.

“Everyone here is under orders — no time off” during the summons catch-up blitz, said one cop at the 105th Precinct in Queens.

“And the majority of [new] summonses written aren’t protecting the public in any way.

“But now they’re realizing how much revenue the city is losing and they’re enforcing their will upon us,” he said...

 No one was to return to the precinct or even take a meal break until two summonses were logged, the officer said.
They'll look for robbers and muggers and rapists, but they cut way back on writing tickets.  And they're being punished for that.

When politicians are too cowardly to raise taxes, they look to the police to help raise revenues.  The police are being used to shake down the public, and sometimes they don't seem to mind. I’m thinking that Waze serves to protect the public from over-zealous cops and their city-hall overlords who want to raise more money for city coffers.

If police are going to abuse the public, then passive resistance is the least they should expect.  I recall, but cannot find the case (does this ring a bell to anyone?) that a court (the Supreme Court?) upheld, on 1st Amendment grounds, the right of a person to hold up a sign saying "speed trap ahead".  Waze is just the technological version of that sign.

Teachers Unions And Their Democratic...Allies?

Being an American who believes in the freedom of association, I support the right of my fellow countrymen to join labor unions if they choose to.  I am against the compulsory unionism that is the law in a couple dozen so-called fair-share states.

Additionally, I believe that unions should act in the interests of, and be accountable to, their members.  It drives me to distraction when teachers unions hide behind children and claim to be acting in the interests of children when, in fact, the only people they should support is their members.  The children have plenty of people looking out for them:  the state department of education, the elected school board, and of course their own parents.  Teachers unions should be looking out for children, they should be looking out for teachers.  When the interests of those two groups conflict, the union should either support the teachers or, if the optics of supporting the teachers would be too bad, demur.  Al Shanker was right when he made his famous comment about students' not paying union dues.

I also believe that unions become more useless the further they get away from the worker; for example, local teachers unions may look out for specific teachers but the state and national unions are useless to the individual teacher, and are in fact nothing more than arms of the Democratic Party.  I want nothing to do with them.

Which is why this article in Reason Magazine is so interesting:
Cuomo referred to the teacher unions and the entrenched education establishment as an “industry” that is more interested in protecting the rights of its members than improving the system for the kids it is supposed to be serving.

“Somewhere along the way, I believe we flipped the purpose of this,” Cuomo said. “This was never a teacher employment program and this was never an industry to hire superintendents and teachers.
“This was a program to educate kids.” ...

He said he openly disagreed with a teacher union member who said he represents the students.

“No, you don’t,” Cuomo said he told the person. “You represent the teachers. Teacher salaries, teacher pensions, teacher tenure, teacher vacation rights. I respect that. But don’t say you represent the students.”
The fact that this fiery anti-union tirade passed the lips of a blue state Democrat tells you everything you need to know about just how thoroughly teaches union have alienated many of their natural political allies. And this isn't merely some quirk of New York politics, as the same thing has happened on a local scale in numerous cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Democratic politicians everywhere are more willing to take on teachers unions than ever before.

I suspect that's because they recognize the long-term unsustainability of this alliance. Teachers unions have continued to extort delusional concessions from lawmakers and taxpayers, even as their leaders' antics grow more distracting and hateful.
Cuomo's wrong in believing that teachers unions should be serving kids, but right when he points out that they don't (except when it's good for the Democratic Party).   It's not beyond teachers unions at all to hide behind children, for example when demanding more money for education, as if there's no conflict of interest in doing so.

I'm not as sanguine as the Reason author in seeing Cuomo's verbal jab as some bellwether of things to come, but it's certainly a good start.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The "How" Is Rooted In The "Why"

Here's a great post explaining, with a robot analogy--and who doesn't love robots?!--why it's important in math not just to memorize things, but to understand why the rules you're memorizing make sense:
Every rule – even the craziest, most arbitrary mandate – has a reason rooted in this essential purpose...

And so it is in math class. If you understand slope not as “that list of steps I’m supposed to follow” but as “a rate of change,” things start making more sense. (Why is it the ratio of the coefficients? Because, look what happens when x increases by 1!)

You get to work a lot less, and think a lot more.

Now, conceptual understanding alone isn’t enough, any more than procedures alone are enough. You must connect the two, tracing how the rules emerge from the concepts. Only then can you learn to apply procedures flexibly, and to anticipate exceptions. Only then will you get the pat on the back that every robot craves.

Being Anti-Common-Core Is Not Just A Conservative Position

Washington is known as a fairly liberal state, at least in its populated areas, so this was a bit of a surprise to me:
The Central Committee of the Washington State Democratic Party has passed a resolution that roundly condemns the Common Core standards. This is the first time a statewide Democratic Party committee has taken a public position against the Common Core, and it happened in the back yard of the Gates Foundation, which has provided the funding that made the national standards project possible. This could signal a sea-change for the beleaguered standards, because up until now, political opposition has been strongest in the Republican party.
Please go read the whole thing.

And when you're done, take note of the author.  Does that name ring a bell?  It did to me!  He was a speaker at this event, and commented on that post that I didn't quote anything he said. 

It's not that I believe that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", but I do believe in finding common ground with people.  I support many of the objectives of Democrats for Education Reform, and I support Cody's dislike of the Common Core standards.  His reasons are certainly different from mine, but perhaps there's more common ground to be had between us.  Imagine, being against Common Core leads to common ground!

So Open-Minded, Their Brains Have Fallen Out

People don't naturally think like this, they're taught to think like this.  What possible good is there in teaching people to think this way, except perhaps as a warning to others?
Two students at the University of California, Berkeley are calling for students to “Occupy the syllabus,” or consider dropping a course if it only includes the works of white men as class material.

Students Rodrigo Kazuo and Margaret “Meg” Perret wrote an op-ed in The Daily Californian, the independent student newspaper, titled “Occupy the syllabus” where they called for a student-wide occupation of all social science and humanities classes after they found their upper-division course on classical social theory lacked the works of women, trans people, and people of color.

“The white male canon is not sufficient for theorizing the lives of marginalized people.”

“The course syllabus employed a standardized canon of theory that began with Plato and Aristotle, then jumped to modern philosophers: Hobbes, Locke, Hegel, Marx, Weber and Foucault, all of whom are white men,” wrote the students. “The syllabus did not include a single woman or person of color.”

The students espoused their concerns surrounding the white male dominated material and suggest that simply assigning these authors without the inclusion of minority thought is not acknowledging “the other 99 percent of humanity.”
And my tax dollars pay for this school. Lovely.

Any Of You Liberals Want To Justify This?

After telling people to save for their children's education, the government--in the person of President Obama himself--wants to start taxing those supposedly tax-free education savings accounts:
Earlier in the week, I discussed the Obama administration's proposal to tax earnings on so-called 529 college savings plans, part of a package of tax hikes that will pay for new programs such as his proposal to make the first two years of community college free. This has been touted as a plan to hike taxes on the rich to help the middle class, but in fact it's more of a plan to redistribute money from the upper middle class to the lower middle class.

As I noted then, this proposal is not going anywhere, not just because Republican congressmen will block it, but because it would be very unpopular with affluent blue-state voters who currently vote for Democrats. About the only people I saw defending this particular idea were blue-state singles who haven't yet confronted the monstrous expense of shepherding their progeny into the new mandarin class to which they belong.

Everyone else seems to be somewhere between confused and aghast. One comment in particular struck me, as I saw it several times on social media and in writings: "How would you feel if they did this to Roth IRAs?"

Why did I find that particular question a compelling topic for a column? Because it's a question we may have to ask ourselves.
I'm interested in hearing someone, especially a leftie, defend this proposal. It reminds me too much of this statement from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back:

Friday, January 23, 2015

CC's To Provide BA's? That's BS.

In all honesty I have yet to take a position on this new situation:
Bachelor’s degrees in mortuary work, ranch management and consumer technology design will soon be coming to California community colleges.

Under legislation signed last fall by Gov. Jerry Brown, the system’s governing board on Tuesday tentatively approved four-year degree programs at 15 community college campuses that will be introduced over the next three academic years.

“This is an historic day in our system,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris said.

Changing technology and educational expectations have driven employers in fields such as dental hygiene, respiratory therapy and automotive technology – which once required only two-year associate degrees – to seek workers with a baccalaureate.
In general, whenever there's a big change I take the statistics approach to hypothesis testing:  assume the status quo and look for strong evidence that it is not "correct"; in other words, I want to be convinced beforehand that a major change is going to be beneficial.  For whatever reason, though, this isn't ticking me off, so I guess I'll take a "wait and see" approach to determine if this change is or isn't worthwhile.

My initial impression is that this is silly and not the way to go, but I don't know if that's me being right or me just being curmudgeonly :-)

Important Anniversaries

Tomorrow if the 50th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest men of the 20th century, Winston Churchill.

Today is the 10th anniversary of my first blog post, almost 10,000 posts ago.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Team Victory

During our scheduled and mandated "collaboration time" today our social sciences department organized a trivia challenge.  I missed last year's but was looking forward to this year's.

I got to the library early and one of our bright English teachers was there.  I offered to join up with her but was given the cold shoulder--we have our own pretty tight-knit group already, she said, since they'd won together last year.  And with that it was on.  I started assembling a team, calling ourselves Team Victory.

Thirty questions on a variety of topics, no multiple choice.  When the scores were tallied we didn't feel like we'd wrapped ourselves in glory, scoring only 19 questions right out of 30, but it was enough to take 1st Place.

I love the smell of ink on paper in the afternoon.  It smells like...victory  :-)

"Free" Community College

Joanne's post hits the nail on the head:
College is too late, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni in response to President Obama’s call for free community college in the State of the Union speech. Subsidizing tuition won’t help if students aren’t ready to do college-level work.
And Common Core isn't going to get students ready to do college-level math anyway:

"The speaker is Jason Zimba, one of the three drafters of the Common Core math standards. The questioner is Dr. Sandra Stotsky. This exchange took place at a meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on March 23, 2010. As you will hear, Dr. Zimba admits not only that the CC math standards aren't designed to prepare students for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) studies, but also that they're not designed to get a student into any selective college, even in a non-STEM discipline."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why I Didn't Listen To The State of the Union Address

I've heard the guy speak enough times, I know what he's going to say before he even says it.  And I know how he's going to say it, too.  This blogger calls it pretty much as I predicted:
No, I did not watch Obama’s State Of The Union speech. I haven’t bothered with most of his SOTU campaign speeches, nor do I bother watching any of his speeches. They are a raft of campaign speeches, replete with lies, half truths, and insults aimed at those who disagree with him. He typically calls for bipartisanship, for working together, then goes on to taunt and denigrate Republicans. He did that again last night. The Weekly Standard refers to the speech as “defiant“. And four Associated Press writers had to sit through his speech and fact check it...
When a news service I've periodically referred to as al-AP points out that the president isn't entirely honest/accurate, well, that means he's a freakin' liar, and I'm not one to suffer liars.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Idiots Should Have Known Better--And Freedom Is Lucky Only To Have A Near Miss

Six weeks ago I wrote about how the Alabama legislature, run by Republicans, was planning on credentialing only the "institutional press" to cover their proceedings.  Defining who is and isn't a journalist is not a conservative concept and, well, they tried to do it anyway, and did a darn poor job of it:
Here's Alabama's proposed official press credential policy...

Notice how much emphasis is placed on being paid and working for incumbent media outlets. This wording gives incumbent media preference over upstarts and quite possibly means those whose platforms aren't instantly recognizable by legislators will be deemed "non-press" and denied access.

Also notice how much information journalists will need to provide in exchange for a press pass. If you want to cover the Alabama legislature, you'll need to prove that you're a salaried employee of one of the entities on the "approved" list. Maybe something on official letterhead will be good enough for the legislature. Or maybe it's suggesting you bring a pay stub or two with you and a portfolio of your work (... and financial statements verifying your employer has subscribers, still in business, etc...). And God forbid you hold a part-time job with any "person, firm, corporation or association" that "attempts to influence legislative issues," but still attempt to "certify" that you have no connection to myriad entities listed in the "forbidden connections" section. You can kiss your credentials goodbye. And this part of the list about forbidden connections -- "or political party" -- suggests journalists are better off not registering to vote.

Beyond that, there's the weird stipulation that those receiving press credentials will need to be "engaged primarily in reporting the sessions of the legislature. (And be able to prove it.)
Anyone see any potential problems, any possible ways to abuse such a system? Fortunately, the disinfecting powers of sunlight brought enough of those legislators from both parties to their senses, according to this leftie web site:
Update 1/14/2015: The Alabama Legislature "declined" to change the rules for journalists yesterday, with senators from both parties objecting & warning of possible unintended consequences. Amazing how the bright light of media attention helps to bring sanity to the chamber!
Freedom of the press dodged a bullet last week.  And I'll celebrate this win along with that crazy leftie blogger!

This blog?  This blog is the press spoken of in the Constitution, along with the institutional press.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Statuary Hall, Liberal First Amendment Concern, and Today's Holiday--And How They All Relate

Several years ago I got a tour of the US Capitol, and one of the highlights was Statuary Hall.  In the Hall each state contributes two statues of prominent people from that state; California's are Father Junipero Serra, who founded the California missions, and the Reverend Starr-King, a minister whom President Lincoln credited with helping keep California in the Union during the Civil War.

I was the first person my tour guide had ever encountered who know who Starr-King was, which explains why every once in awhile there's talk of replacing his statue with Ronald Reagan.  As long as California remains a dystopian "paradise", though, that will never happen.  But it's still interesting to see two men noted for their religions memorialized by California.

I read at Joanne's blog that Serra is soon to be canonized by the Pope:
Serra was no saint, writes my friend Elias Castillo in A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions, will be published in a few weeks. “The missions were death camps where more than 60,000 Indian workers died, many as a result of whippings, disease, and malnutrition.”

“I”m astounded,” he told the San Jose Mercury News. “For the Vatican, which has apologized for how the Indians were treated, to now canonize one of their great monsters?”

It does seem rather odd, doesn't it?  Actually, it seems rather odd for both California (Statuary Hall) and for the Catholic Church.

7-1/2 years ago I was in an almost-ghost-town in California's Gold Country and came upon this:
(click to enlarge)

A year later I made my visit to Statuary Hall.  I didn't take pictures of California's statues, as no one on the planet would recognize Serra or Starr-King anyway.  And while I enjoyed Hawaii's King Kamehameha, I took a picture of only one statue in there:

Joanne has an author friend who wrote this book:

So that's how this post all comes together.

Have a great day.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Are You Kidding Me?

I just watched the 2nd lecture for my current (6th of 10) master's class, History of Math, and the instructor said that the textbook readings in the syllabus are not required.  They're great background information but...

Are you kidding me?  I paid over $100 on Amazon for a used copy of that book!  What the heck?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

What's Good For The Goose

I wonder if those liberals who today clamor for "self-censorship" in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders, who say that we in the West mustn't mock, criticize, or antagonize religions or their beliefs or adherents--and who seem to imply that the French paper "had it coming"--I wonder if those same people are criticizing these two for doing this:
Now Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, has taken another leap of confidence - and likely controversy - by proposing to his longtime love from what is renowned as one of the holiest Catholic sites.

Sam confirmed his engagement to college sweetheart Vito Cammisano on Twitter on Friday and posted a photo of himself getting on bended knee at St. Peters Basilica - one of the largest church's in the world - in Vatican City.
From the article:

Looks like the Vatican has raised the bars (literally!) since I went in 2012:

Friday, January 16, 2015

Smashing A Liberal Talking Point

Wait...Libs let illegal immigrants get a license, but say it's too hard to get one & oppressive for citizens to have one when they vote? OK

Good Idea, Or Not?

Arizona requires that graduating high school students pass a civics test of 100 questions with a passing score of 60.

I see a lot of good that could come out of this, but I also see a down side.  What do you think, good or bad?  And while we're on the subject, are high school exit exams good or bad?

Is this requirement a way to "compel" kids to learn something, or is it an admission of failure?