August 2004
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
« Jul   Sep »

Month August 2004

Chris Craft 1952 El Capitan Express Cruiser 33′ for sale

IMG_1291-smallI’m finally selling my boat. Purchased in 2000 by Carl Lipo and myself, the Free Spirit has given us immense pleasure. But given Carl’s departure to teach at California State University, Long Beach, and my involvement with a startup company, I can’t give the Free Spirit the time and attention she deserves.

So I’ll be advertising the boat in a number of localities, including probably eBay in the very near future. But you, dear reader, have a chance to buy her first!

The Free Spirit is a 33′ Chris Craft El Capitan Express Cruiser from 1952. During our ownership, the boat was mostly used on Lake Washington and Lake Union, with occasional trips through Puget Sound. During its lifetime, the Free Spirit has journeyed to Desolation Sound and throughout the inland waters.

Moorage is covered and in the fresh water of Lake Union; we “inherited” the slip from the previous owner and a new Seattle-based owner would be well served by simply assuming the moorage from me. Insurance is sometimes difficult with older boats, but we have been lucky to have Hagerty Boat Insurance assume coverage of the Free Spirit, and I’ll be happy to give the new owner details on the policy, etc. The new owner assumes ownership on site; shipment to a new location or new moorage will be your responsibility.

The boat is ideal for Chris Craft or wooden boat enthusiasts. Free Spirit has never been a show boat, with the careful restoration and constant attention that requires, but neither has the boat been neglected. Minor work on engine batteries and ignition is usually required after periods of non-use, but the boat and engines are otherwise reliable. We have greatly enjoyed owning Free Spirit, and hope to find new owners that will enjoy her as much as we have.

I’ll discuss price and arrangements with any seriously interested parties. Here’s a photo album with detailed photographs, taken Aug. 14th of this year.

Charter schools and the slippery slope

Strong opposition to charter schools and vouchers on the part of Democrats undoubtedly has much to do with garnering teacher’s union support. But in addition, I’m coming to believe that “slippery slope” dynamics also underlie this whole area of debate. Re-reading Eugene Volokh’s paper “The Mechanisms of the Slippery Slope” (Harvard Law Review 116, 2003), it seems evident that charter schools are an example of a “basic equality multi-peaked slippery slope.”

Multipeaked slippery slopes happen when separate groups each prefer the extreme position to compromise positions. Equality comes into this when the compromise position is perceived by each as violating equality or fairness of treatment. Volokh uses the voucher example, but it seems equally applicable to charters. One extreme is no school choice — the state only funds public schools. The opposite extreme is total choice, with some funds going to religious schools with whose ideology many may disagree. Intermediate solutions range from “no school choice is best, but better total choice than discrimination against religious schools” to “total school choice is best, but better no choice than discrimination against religious schools.” In the center is “secular school choice is best, but we can live with funding of religious schools.”

The ensuing dynamics show that supporters of secular school choice (via vouchers or charters) will come to regret their selection since a minority of voters exhibit an antipathy to unequal solutions, and will tend to drive the vote to one or another extreme. Thus, voters who might ordinary support some form of school choice, but do not believe public funds should be given to religious schools, should vote for no school choice in order to avoid the slippery slope to “total school choice with public funding.” The risk of the slippery slope depends upon the amplitude of the extreme “peaks” and thus the number of voters willing to support inequality of choice. It’s also likely that the risk depends upon the likelihood of judicial review overturning an unequal solution.

This is a powerful argument against pragmatic experimentation with school choice — if you believe that public funds should not be used for religious education, then you should restrict your educational reforms to the public schools. This doesn’t mean that school choice can’t and shouldn’t be implemented within the public school system, however.

To my way of thinking, the creation of a supply-and-demand market for quality within the school system, by allowing mobility of students to schools of choice (perhaps based upon academic qualifications) could create the needed reform pressure. Especially if combined with teacher pay incentives not only to create quality teaching environments, but with bonuses to implement those programs in less-desirable schools, there’s no reason why we can’t use market forces to improve education while still retaining public ownership and control over education. And, we could avoid the “slippery slope” result of abandoning our children to uncontrolled and often socially regressive curricula given the agenda of some for charter and private schools.

Charter schools: useful experiment or potential disaster?

The New York Times published today a national comparison of charter versus public school performance, from the National Center for Education Statistics. By themselves, the test results don’t look good — across racial, income, and geographic categories, fourth graders in public schools did better than charter school peers.

This is an issue which has become highly — and wastefully — politicized. Republicans are supposed to support privatization of education and charter schools in particular. Democrats are supposed to revile the charter school movement, and protect public schools at all costs.

But I have to admit this is an issue where I’m conflicted. I keep walking past the petition volunteers who want signatures against vouchers, because I’m not sure we shouldn’t be experimenting with better approaches to education. I’m definitely sure that current approaches to teacher’s union contracts provide little way to recognize excellent teachers and replace sub-standard ones (1). So, when I only consider the issue from an insular standpoint, thinking about how to improve education, experimentation beyond public education seems like a sound idea.

But then you read about 80 charter schools being closed due to financial malfeasance. And you have to wonder whether, since we can’t seem to incent and enforce ethical corporate governance, how could we possibly expect private charter schools to be any better?

And then you read reports by People for the American Way, documenting how political groups from the socially conservative right are making a concerted effort to use vouchers and charter programs to drive the religious privatization of education.

And all of a sudden it seems like we have no choice but to retrench our support for public education, and shut down venues like voucher programs and charter schools.

I need to read more deeply in this area. Does anybody know of good literature on the subject?


(1) And yes, I understand the difficulties involved in evaluating whether someone is a good teacher or not. But there’s a vast difference between the difficulty involved in making fine distinctions, and the ease with which parents and peers can typically identify someone who’s truly not able or willing to do a good job teaching.

The failure of the liberal left to adapt to the media landscape

Regardless of our success in this election, 2004 is going to teach the left-liberal community a great deal. I started the year talking with a good friend about how difficult it is for liberals to “get their message across.” In my “open letter” to John Kerry I implicitly accepted the notion that the job of liberal communication is harder, because we have to explain why dominant positions aren’t, and shouldn’t be, correct. I’ve chafed all year at the difficulty of communicating the liberal message — and squirmed in my seat watching Kerry fail to do so, speech after speech.

As a long-time Chomsky reader, I’m not sure why it took me so long to grok the obvious — that liberals had utterly failed to adapt to the contemporary, sound-bite-driven media. I’d long understood the concentration of media ownership and its connections to powerful conservative think-tanks and financial backers. I’d long understood the lie behind claims of bias in the “liberal media” — no such media really exists outside Harpers, The Nation, and a few columnists in the New York Times and Washington Post.

But the liberal failure to adapt to contemporary media didn’t really click for me until this week, writing about O’Reilly and Krugman’s “exchange” on Russert, and in particular Broken Letters’ excellent post “The devil of the medium.” I highly recommend the latter to anyone interested in the issue.

Sure, George Lakoff is right — conservatives and liberals use language in different ways, stemming from different root assumptions about the world. And sure, Chomsky is right — in a society this large, with large concentrated media and a relatively uninvolved populace, interest groups do “manufacture consent” for their agendas.

But the liberal left does bear responsibility for its own failures. When it comes to the diversity of media forms, we suck. Most viewers believe that O’Reilly kicked Krugman’s butt because Krugman was boring and “weak.” Left-liberals have consistently failed to master the language and style needed to dominate the “two-minute story.” As Broken Letters notes, conservatives have dominated the quick-meme media until today. And as Lewis Lapham documents in the latest Harper’s, they’ve quite consciously spent decades and many millions (if not billions) creating the “Republican Noise Machine” in order to achieve that dominance.

As we learn our lessons in 2004 — again, whether we win the White House or not — I would suggest that coming to terms with our media failure is perhaps the important lesson. Our effort, and brainpower, and most importantly, our money, should be dedicated to communicating the left-liberal, new-New Deal vision in such a way that the population who have the most to gain from hearing our message, are able to hear it, understand it, and pass it on. Only in this way can we turn our anger and fervor into the “Emerging Democratic Majority” envisioned by Judis and Teixiera.

A moment of silence for Julia Child…

Julia Child, the icon of American chefs, co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, died yesterday in Santa Barbara, days before her 92nd birthday. Julia educated and influenced generations of chefs as well as the public, and she will be sorely missed. Her kitchen has even become an exhibit in the Smithsonian. We are fortunate, however. Julia lives on in her books and television programming, so that the next generation can continue to learn from this remarkable woman.

In tribute, I offer a moment of silence on Extended Phenotype: there will be no further posts today.

Flip flops, cheap shots, and their irrelevance

Regardless of their effectiveness at cementing support among each party’s base, I have to admit that I’m very tired of reading the “flip flop” examples — on both sides. You’ll notice that Extended Phenotype has not featured any such material, and I intend this to be my only post on the subject. But I read blogs and media from “both sides of the aisle” and I think I finally went over the edge reading California Yankee’s post on Kerry’s “consistency” tonight. I don’t mean to pick on him specifically; this particular genus of campaign discussion is rampant in the regular press as well as the blogging world (I also have to say the term “blogosphere” is starting to drive me nuts).

I’m tired of how much we all focus on voting record and position inconsistencies, using them as cheap shots. And I’m not just saying this as a Democrat smarting from attacks on my candidate; anyone competent with Google can find lists of position changes and inconsistencies for George W. Bush in under a minute. (Hint: assault weapons, steel tariffs, military nation-building, Dept. of Homeland Security, and even gay marriage). I’m not going to present any links to Bush “flip flops” — you’re on your own there.

I will say, though, that in my opinion none of this means a damned thing, on either side. Expecting absolute consistency from any long-time politician is ludicrous, because it ignores the very real influence of compromises, deal-making, party-line voting, and negotiation that goes into the legislative process. We don’t send politicians to Congress to be rock-stable philosophers, we send politicians to pass legislation. And anyone who’s been involved in the process can tell you how messy it can get.

And that’s not to mention the possibility that a politican simply changes their mind on an issue given new information. People on both sides of the aisle have been known to do this, and when they do, we should applaud rather than condemn, because it means they’re learning and putting that learning to good use.

But none of that is discussed whenever we roll up someone’s voting record and use it like a club, to beat the opposition into submission. The complexities, which affect both sides, are conveniently forgotten.

Nevertheless, worse is the fact that Kerry seems rattled by such criticisms. California Yankee is correct (as he often is): claims by Kerry of “consistency” do nothing to defuse the power of the accusation, and merely look ridiculous. What would be more effective would be Kerry discussing the factors I mentioned two paragraphs ago. Kerry talks about how he is better suited to deal with complexity, and arguably he is, but what he isn’t showing us is any sign that he can explain it in the campaign. And to that extent, he’s losing opportunities to (a) gain support from intelligent folks still on the fence, and (b) defuse what may be the Bush campaign’s most powerful weapon.

In the final analysis, however, I’m mostly just sick of the space and words that cheap shots like this take up, when we ought to be spending our time figuring out what we expect the winner to do for the next four years. Regardless of who wins, the next four years present some mountainous challenges, and nobody is discussing realistic solutions — all we hear is “campaign solutions.”

So here at Extended Phenotype, you’re going to see me focusing less on campaign tactics, and more on what I believe the next four years ought to bring. Campaign discussion is interesting only from the perspective that it actually — and usually accidentally — reveals something about a candidate’s true agenda.