Your host is in the throes of final exams. It is getting ugly, good friends, once again seeking that right and appropriate balance between the evaluation instrument that adequately tests students' mastery of course objectives while at the same time not turning finals into the academic equivalent of a slaughterhouse.
Of course, there's also the small consideration of not wanting my tires slashed, too.
So what do I do? The same thing I've done for more than two-and-a-half decades. I write the finals, then I walk away from them for a day, then I go back and look at what I've done. When I see a question that makes me wince, I kill it and put in something easy as penitence. One big problem is perspective: everything I ask looks easy and obvious to me, but that is most decidedly not the case for students. Setting aside the undeniable fact that students in this era are woefully underprepared not just for the coursework, but for learning, itself, any teacher who thinks he or she is giving an "easy" test needs to step back and ask, "Easy for whom
It's still frustrating. The so-called "No Child Left Behind" initiative is a miserable failure. Ask a hundred parents, educators, and politicians what its primary objective was supposed to be, and you'll get a surprising diversity in answers. Was the objective to make students 'smarter'? better able to take standardized tests? more capable of performing well in the work place? more prepared for the next level of learning?
Even the best program of education rehabilitation could not achieve all of those noble objectives; but NCLB most definitely is
compatible with the increasingly pervasive institutionalization of productive environments everywhere from the work place to the schools. Even colleges are becoming more institutionally rigid, with catch words and phrases like "standards," "assessments," "learning outcomes," and all manner of complicated, multi-word babble starting to sneak out of the administrative ranks and into the classrooms, themselves.
It all becomes a game with most outcomes not very attractive. On the one hand, I can be the outspoken, acerbic, snarling Luddite, growling, "Oh, knock it off
with that crap, already," thereby becoming the lightning rod for all kinds of punitive administrative measures that come like finely honed knives in the back.
On the other hand, I can play right along, perhaps even out-doing the out-doers with babble-phrases and reams of evaluation instruments and proposals for assessment enhancements and multi-dimensional learning outcome checklists, thereby attempting to short-circuit the nonsense with the administrative equivalent of sensory overload. I thought this one was a good idea, so I did it a couple of years ago. Much to my horror awhile later, my crowning glory of utter insanity in a learning outcomes checklist (what is sometimes referred to these days by the gag-inducing term "rubric") actually showed up as a recommended instrument for implementation! Dear God, you want to talk about hate speech: no one would have believed me if I'd said the whole thing was supposed to have been a joke
. Fortunately, the way academia works, if an idea can be stolen by bigger fish, it will
be stolen by those bigger fish, and that's what happened. Only a small group of people ever knew that the instrument was my doing.
So much for creative rebellion.
I'll be administering tests next week. Most of my students will pass. Most of them will have learned quite a bit. Sadly, though, I cannot guarantee you that their grades reflect some absolute level of achievement or even aptitude with respect to the content of the course. They're not well-prepared academically when they come in, and they're not well-prepared academically when they leave, even if they have passed. But they do have knowledge and skills leaving that they didn't have when they started. Whether they wanted to or not, they learned quite a bit.
Although I cannot give you any assurances, I can say that it is my hope that, not only did they learn a lot about the subjects of the courses they took from me, but they also learned at least a little bit about how to learn.
Enough about that. Allow me a few disparate remarks on topical matters.A Rant
If you are an Internet Explorer user and have not upgraded to IE7, DO NOT
. It is an abomination that is hated by God.
As many of you know, I am no fan of Firefox. I have, however, really warmed to Opera: I keep getting more impressed with it the more I use it. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that Microsoft, albeit through criminal acts committed in the 1990s, controls the market, and I have to live with its products despite my eternal disgust with the company and with justice and regulatory systems in the United States that still, to this very day, are filled with ignoramuses and hide-bound by a statutory framework thoroughly incapable of handling the modern age of machines and the corporations and people who menace the world with their anti-competitive practices.
The point, though, is that I cannot do Web work without recognizing that the overwhelming majority of platforms on which my work will be seen and used come from Microsoft. More importantly, when I teach computer science, I would be grossly malfeasant if I were to spend much of any time at all on anything other than the Microsoft environment, and that goes for Internet Explorer as well as for the Office Suite. I would be nailing the coffin shut on my students' job prospects if I were to put in a syllabus, "Get Firefox."
On a much deeper level, the coding regimentation demanded by Firefox just set off my rebellious, Type B personality all along, and now that I understand just how that school marm of W3C is greasing the lightning of data mining millions of Websites these days, every fiber of my paranoid being is playing a high note.
However, I cannot fault those who prefer and like Firefox. Aside from its gimmicks and my personal paranoia about the way its developers present it as the obvious choice for those who want to fight the corporatization of the Internet embodied by Microsoft, I honestly grant that it's a good browser. I use it myself, especially when I'm testing changes to cascading style sheets on Websites.
All of that aside, Microsoft is once again displaying classic symptoms of monopoly. IE7 is outrageous. Install it, and you'll first notice that Microsoft is now trying a knock-off of that "tabbed browsing" from Firefox. It was a ruse with Firefox, and it's a ruse with IE7. (No, you can't get something for nothing: tabbed browsing is like painting the windows of a car with different scenery so people think the car is multi-dimensional and super fast, when in fact it's nothing of the kind.) Far worse, though, is that IE7 goes into the workings of Windows, itself, and in its little "upgrades" for its own purposes, it suddenly makes older programs having nothing whatsoever to do with it or even the Internet suddenly stop working. Any federal regulator within half a light-year of astuteness would see this as a blatant violation of antitrust law. Microsoft uses that sneer for which it's famous about "legacy" programs and how they might be affected, and that's just Microsoft-speak for another round of destroying competitive companies and their products that are so good that people are still using them after five years.
Let me get off the Microsoft rant now before that pain starts radiating through my left arm.A Few Up-coming Events
Readers might have noticed a few minor architectural changes both here at The Dark Wraith Forums and at Big Brass Blog. Here, I also finally repaired the links to previous months' content, and I updated the links to major posts, including in the list a couple never posted here at The Dark Wraith Forums: "Assassinations and the Beneficiaries
," published at The UnCapitalist Journal, and "The end of all things
," published at Pam's House Blend.
Over the next month, the advertisements will be removed. The only one I'll retain is the Barnes & Noble book ads, but that's because I need a way to promote books I want to recommend. Other than that, I have finally and completely wearied of giving free exposure to companies that use the extraordinarily unlikely prospect of commissions to get hundreds of thousands of Webmasters suckered into what is a one-sided game of 'You do for me, and I'll do nothing for you'. Should flat-rate, reputable advertisers with tasteful ads (specifically, those that don't go blinky-blink, dancy-dance, jerky-jerk) contract for exposure across my Websites, then readers will see advertising again here. That is not likely to happen: just like the mainstream news media, advertisers are completely convinced that the Blogosphere comprises a handful of giant, dinosaur blogs, along with some undefinable, unworthy, amorphous mass of damnable and useless little Webpages in the caverns underneath. Fair enough.
More changes to the Websites of Dark Wraith Publishing Co. will be coming once I've turned in final grades for this semester. At Big Brass Blog, I'll be widening the center, main column. The principal reason for this is so that the contributors can put in YouTube video screens at full size. Here at The Dark Wraith Forums, I'll be moving the site to Nucleus. The layout will fill the entire screen at 1024x768, with symmetric sidebars girding the middle. If I get ambitious, I'll add a third color scheme for people who don't favor either the default Midnight Embers or the Afternoon Ashfire. The third, if I do it, will be Blue Ice: a sheer white background with blues and greens for text and borders.
I shall also be completing my repairs of The UnCapitalist Journal, and I'll finally get around to bringing Big Brass Alliance back to life.
Finally on this topic, as I mentioned quite a long time ago, I still have the intention of running a blog radio news and talk show. The hold-up is hardware: about three thousand dollars worth, to be a little more exact about the nature of the impediment. We'll see how the new year plays out. To be brutally honest, if I'd get off my fat ass and stop being precious about myself, there's janitorial and other low-end work just going begging right now.
That goes right to a point that was made by the Classical economists: all unemployment is voluntary. If I want a job, I can get a job. If I want more, I can work more. It's one thing for me to be sympathetic to the plights of others in their economic difficulties, but I know very well that in my personal life, I cannot play the game of claiming oppression by some mean-spirited engine of systematic economic violence. That's just not the way it is, and it puts me in the somewhat self-contradictory position of being a progressive economist in the public sphere while being unable to ascribe my personal circumstances to those same views.
I often wonder how many others share that seemingly contradictory duality of perspective.
Enough of that, too.An Observation on Geo-Politics
Readers who've been following the tale of the recently assassinated former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, might or might not agree with the following observation I must make, but I am compelled to lay this on the table. We now have at least two other people who are clearly sick and will probably die from the same radioactive poision, Polonium 210, that killed Mr. Litvinenko: Italian security specialist and professor Mario Scaramella and former Russian agent Dmitry Kovtun have both been hospitalized. In addition, Polonium 210 has been found in Litvinenko's wife, in Kovtun's wife, and in two London Metropolitan police officers, as well as in others. As I set forth in my article, "Assassinations and the Beneficiaries," Litvinenko minced no words in laying the blame for his murder right at the feet of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Now, put the current round of poisonings in the following context: twelve journalists killed in the last six years, including an American editor for Forbes
. The last of those journalists was Anna Politkovskaya, who was preparing a scathing investigative article on the Russian army's outrages in Chechnya. Throw into the mix some imprisoned, formerly prominent Russians, individuals who were in the way of the oligarchic thugs who are Putin's friends and who are now languishing in ungodly, Soviet-era prisons after ludicrously phony trials.
Here's the question: At what point does some government, any
government of a supposedly respectable nation, state the obvious? This madness is now, without question, terrorism; and the possible involvement of Putin or his associates puts it right smack into the league of state-sponsored
terrorism. A deadly poison, traces of which are showing up all over Europe, in airplanes, hotels, restaurants, apartments, even people
? For Heaven's sake, if this kind of fool's assassination weapon isn't creating terror, what could
Where's the outrage? And never mind the dullards in the Bush Administration. What about the British? Does Tony Blair not grasp that a foreign interest, possibly even a foreign government, is using Great Britain as an assassination field and doing so with a stupidly dangerous weapon? There's a reason why radioactive materials like Polonium 210 are handled in those labs with the people sticking their hands into gloved holes in thick containers: radioactive materials are indiscriminate in whom they kill. And now we have the former spy Kovtun probably having been poisoned in Germany, and the Germans are staying eerily quiet about all of this?
Yes, there's a reason for the roaring silence. It's not a good reason, but it's a reason, nonetheless. I shall leave it to the readers to offer speculation, should they so desire.And Finally, Concerning that Handbasket
Several posts and comments I've seen lately have either directly or implicitly had to do with the recent plunge of the dollar and the dangers facing the U.S. economy. To the matter of Iran shifting away from denominating its oil in U.S. dollars and toward denominating it in euros, as I have stated before, this is not going to happen anytime soon, at least not as some instant, shocking switch-over. It is a process; it's underway, and it's not just Iran that's doing it: all across the Middle East, oil producing stateseven our so-called allies thereare denominating some contracts in euros, now, and this practice will get more and more common over the coming several years. As I explained before, the euro is just not strong enough, nor does it have nearly enough depth, yet, to absorb the full weight of an enormous commodity market like petroleum. It will be able to do so in time, and what's happening right now is the process by which the financial markets are developing the complex machinery necessary for the euro to be the currency of choice and standard. Eventually, a "market-basket" of currencies structured as a denominational index might show up, but that's not as likely as a single currency coming to the fore. An index might be a good front, however, and might be used as a way to keep the U.S. dollar from becoming completely ostracized from the international scene, but the euroat least as the overwhelmingly dominant currency in a market basketis still my call for the long-run choice. Just pray that the yuan never gets much of a foothold. That would be a disaster, considering the overhang of that lousy toilet paper just waiting to blow back into a hyper-inflationary spiral on the Mainland.
The descent of the dollar from primacy in world markets won't be the end of the world for the United States, but it most certainly will be the death knell for the American people living high on the hog as the banker's kids. Soon enough, we'll be subject to the retail market for financial capital, and that will be a hard adjustment for us, given that we've been getting borrowed money at wholesale for quite a few decades.
Going to war with Iran will not stop the inevitable. Unfortunately, the neo-conservatives and a whole lot of other people who don't know any better are thinking right now that this process can, in fact, be stopped if Iran gets its ears boxed back.
I'll tell you right now that we are gearing up for a military confrontation with Tehran. I'm getting too many independent lines of evidence to dismiss the prospect. Whether or not war comes, however, does not depend upon us. Even if the Bush Administration neo-cons weren't the incompetent, lying war-mongers they are, the United States could only marginally alter the current trajectory of events.
Yet another war in the Middle East, this time involving Iran, is not inevitable. It is likely, but it is not inevitable.
So what can weyou and Ido to ensure that this new war does not come about? That's easy: absolutely nothing.
The Dark Wraith invites comments on anything and everything.UPDATE:
Via Shakespeare's Sister
comes a short quiz
ostensibly designed to determine how evil one is. These are the results for the Dark Wraith.
How evil are you?
The Dark Wraith is altogether unamused.