Blogs

"Everyday Math," Every Child a Loser

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 12:55 PM EST

Who says American education isn't working? Via Slate, I just learned that our children are being taught something called Everyday Math that is going to make every day of their adult lives quite math illiterate. This is so stupid, it's hard to believe it's actually going on right now in class rooms across America. What the f*&^ is our problem? You know things are bad when you have to go to that nutball Michelle Malkin for ammunition (see below) that just adds up all too dismally. From Slate:

The [Everyday Math] authors also firmly believe that children are capable of learning a great deal more than previously expected."

Especially if they use a calculator. Or take a simple multiplication problem and turn it into a "cluster" of five other, simpler problems. Or make a pretty "lattice" box and input numbers. Apparently, like Barbie once said, "Math is hard!" and we have to dumb it down for everyone rather than figure out ways to let the smartest kids excel and provide help to those who need it. This video that Malkin posts is long but well worth watching. The woman in the video--who went back to school to facilitate a midlife career switch and was startled to see the youngsters in her class struggling--shows how bizarre and convoluted this "new new" math is.

As critics are pointing out, kids are not learning better with these techniques. Children aren't learning multiplication in third grade, since they are repeating the addition and subtraction they should have learned in first grade. And check out this sample question from a fifth-grade text:

A. If math were a color, it would be --, because --.

God help me, I put on a gas mask and forced myself to Malkin's site to watch one of the most disturbing videos I've ever had to endure. No wonder people home school; EveryDay Math in action must be seen to be believed. I've saved you the horror of visiting Malkin's site, so click the link above (it's You Tube), then call your child's school and make sure that Everyday Math is not on your child's curriculum unless you want to spend your dotage helping them figure out how to cut a recipe in half or balance their checkbooks.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Sad but Necessary and Inevitable? Cataloguing the Decline of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 12:27 PM EST

Ever heard of Wiley College? Me neither. But we all will when the great and powerful Denzel Washington's new movie hits on Christmas. From the New York Times:

When the light at University Avenue is green, drivers can pass Wiley College without a glance. There was a time, however, when this small black liberal arts college here caught the attention of a nation: in the 1930s, Wiley's polished team of debaters amassed a series of victories over white competitors that stunned the Jim Crow South....
On Dec. 25, "The Great Debaters" will appear in theaters with Denzel Washington as its director and star, and Oprah Winfrey as producer. The film depicts Wiley's most glorious chapter: 1935, when the black poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson coached his debating team to a national championship.

What a tragedy that this bastion of black excellence fighting the good fight in the depths of Jim Crow so neared extinction that it's faculty has had to accept unpaid furloughs and seen its student body dwindle to only 400. What a cruel irony that the very civil rights victory it helped bring about now spells it's own doom as black students opt for newly integrated educational opportunities. Read the Times article for a gloomy update on the slow death of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) which produced the greatest black American minds to date. Integration is here to stay, but at what cost? Perhaps the relevance of even trying to maintain the HBCU system is today's great debate.

Rudy Finally Steps Down as Head of Consulting Firm with Shady Ties

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 12:14 PM EST

The full client list of Giuliani Partners has never been revealed, but intrepid reporters have done an awful lot to expose its nefarious dealings (see here, here, here, here, and here). Yesterday, Rudy Giuliani finally stepped down as the head of the company, ending about a million and one conflicts of interest.

Conservatives Call for Habeas

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 11:27 AM EST

Ah, a bipartisan issue.

Today the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in two cases related to habeas corpus, Boumediene v. Bush and al Odah v. United States. Their quick hour through oral arguments will test the validity of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 which essentially strips federal foreign detainees at Guantanamo of their right to be heard in court. (Check out today's top story about a group of Algerians who were set to be freed from a Bosnian prison six years ago, only to end up at Gitmo, where they've been, without trial and awaiting this ruling, ever since.)

The Supremes will likely read dozens of amicus briefs in the case, many of which fall nowhere along party lines, like this one signed by a bevy of policy leaders and diplomats, and this one signed by 20 former federal judges. Both bipartisan briefs urge the Court to strike down the provision of the Act that eliminates the detainees' rights.

No telling how this one will turn out. The Supreme Court originally denied the detainees' petition for certiorari (essentially an appeal) in April, and, then did an about-face, reversing that decision in June.

Congress to Force Middle Class to Finance Hedge Fund Managers' Tax Break

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 10:40 AM EST

amtchart.jpg If Congress adjourns this month without fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), 23 million Americans will see their tax bills increase next year by about $2,000. The AMT was originally designed to snare a few super rich tax cheats but it now threatens to affect millions of upper-middle class Americans. Congress is now scrambling to come up with $50 billion to make sure this doesn't happen.

Bush administration officials have claimed the AMT increase was "unanticipated" and as such, they've been urging Congress to fix it with deficit spending rather than by raising taxes on, say, hedge fund managers. But that's incredibly disingenuous. The AMT "crisis" stems almost entirely from Bush's 2001 tax cuts for the wealthy. In fact, the administration and its congressional allies were explicitly counting on the extra AMT revenue to mask the impact of the tax cuts. Iowa senator Charles Grassley acknowledged back then that Bush's tax cuts would double the number of middle-class people stung by the AMT.

Were it not for those early tax cuts, fixing the AMT would cost a fraction of what it's going to cost today, according to the nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (see the chart.) Given Wall Street's major lobbying campaign against taxing hedge fund managers, it likely that Congress is going to punt this bill on to our grandchildren.

Mitt Romney Keeps the 'Sanctuary Mansion' Going

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 10:39 AM EST

You remember the CNN/YouTube debate from last week when Rudy Giuliani ripped Mitt Romney for keeping a "sanctuary mansion" that employed illegal immigrants as gardeners, right? And you would think that Romney, who defended himself fiercely, would have the sense to make sure those illegal immigrants had either been fired or were fired shortly after, right?

Wrong.

...the very next morning [after the debate], on Thursday, at least two illegal immigrants stepped out of a hulking maroon pickup truck in the driveway of Romney's Belmont house, then proceeded to spend several hours raking leaves, clearing debris from Romney's tennis court, and loading the refuse back on to the truck.
In fact, their work was part of a regular pattern. Despite a Globe story in Dec. 2006 that highlighted Romney's use of illegal immigrants to tend to his lawn, Romney continued to employ the same landscaping company -- until today. The landscaping company, in turn, continued to employ illegal immigrants.
Two of the workers confirmed in separate interviews with Globe reporters last week that they were in the country without documents.... Both were seen on the lawn by either Globe reporters or photographers over the last two months.

The Romney camp learned of the two illegal workers when Globe reporters asked Romney about them on the campaign trail. Romney then proceeded to fire the company that employed the two, claiming that he had made it clear to the company after the Dec. 2006 Globe story that it was to never hire illegal immigrants again.

This whole affair shows poor judgment and a stunning lack of political savviness on Romney's part. His opponents will use it against him mercilessly on the campaign trail. But more important than any of that, two dudes got caught up in political whirlwinds they probably couldn't care less about, and are likely out of jobs today. They might even get deported. And that's a real shame.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

How George Bush Could Win a Standing Ovation

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 8:49 PM EST

cop13_04_4_348.jpg You know he wants one. Desperately. All he needs to do is follow the lead of Australia's new prime minister Kevin Rudd. As Reuters tells us, Australia raised hopes of global action to fight climate change on Monday by agreeing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, thereby isolating the United States at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali as the only rich nation not in the pact.

Australia's decision won a standing ovation at the opening of tough two-week negotiations on the Indonesian resort isle. The talks aim to pull together rich and poor countries around a common agenda to agree a broader successor to Kyoto by 2009.

Think of it. George, alone in his corner, snarling at the world. He could travel to the lovely isle of Bali, relax, unwind, then stand before the summit and agree to Do The Right Thing. He would get so much more than a standing ovation. Hallelujahs. Laurel Wreaths. A Nobel. The relieved thanks of the world. A kinder place in history.

What a pretty dream…

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

How George Bush Could Win a Standing Ovation

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 8:40 PM EST

cop13_04_4_348.jpg You know he wants one. Desperately. All he needs to do is follow the lead of Australia's new prime minister Kevin Rudd. As Reuters tells us, Australia raised hopes of global action to fight climate change on Monday by agreeing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, thereby isolating the United States at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali as the only rich nation not in the pact.

Australia's decision won a standing ovation at the opening of tough two-week negotiations on the Indonesian resort isle. The talks aim to pull together rich and poor countries around a common agenda to agree a broader successor to Kyoto by 2009.

Think of it. George, alone in his corner, snarling at the world. He could travel to the lovely isle of Bali, relax, unwind, then stand before the summit and agree to Do The Right Thing. He would get so much more than a standing ovation. Hallelujahs. Laurel Wreaths. A Nobel. The relieved thanks of the world. A kinder place in history.

What a pretty dream…

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Don't Trifle with the Truffle: A Lost Opportunity for the Art World

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 8:37 PM EST

truffle%20on%20platter.jpg

A gigantic 3.3 pound white truffle mushroom was unearthed in the hills nearby Pisa, Italy last month and sold at auction for $340,000 this past weekend. Art star Damien Hirst and his fellow bidder Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi were defeated by Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho, who thus deprived the art world of another potential Hirst blockbuster. We may never know which of his regular tricks the world's most expensive living artist would have employed to transform a humble mushroom into an art object worth more than its weight in gold. Would he have suspended the fungus in formaldehyde or encrusted the dug-up edible with diamonds? Perhaps the exceptional Tuber magnatum would have inspired him to produce some more really detailed paintings. Most importantly, would this project-in-the-making have surpassed his previous $100 million price tag? Somewhere in Russia, a billionaire collector mourns the loss.

—Cassie McGettigan

Your Electric Car as a Battery in the Grid

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 8:02 PM EST

Paul%27s%20Civic%20-%20smaller.jpg Electric and hybrid cars could act as energy stores for the power grid when not being driven. New Scientist reports that researchers from the University of Delaware are using a new prototype by AC Propulsion to store or supply grid electricity (Washington DC got a first dose in October). If hundreds or thousands of owners opt into the system, the efficiency of power distribution could improve. A lot. The average US car is driven one out of every 24 hours. Combustion-powered cars are useless off the road. But plug-ins could act as backups to the grid while idle.

 

"Storage is golden for power companies because it is hard to do," [Willet] Kempton told New Scientist, who notes that the cost of storing excess electricity means that there is only capacity for around 1% of yield in the US and UK. Storage is particularly important for renewable energy because power supplied by the Sun, the oceans, or the wind, is often irregular.

 

Each plug-in can provide $4,000 of storage to an energy company per year, at a cost of $600 to install the high-power connection system. Energy companies need to pass on some of their savings to encourage drivers to help out, says Kempton… Hmm. Technology might be the easy part.