Florida, the Strangest News State of All

Joyce Reingold at the Shiny Sheet assures us that it’s so:

But after a review of 2,000 AP news stories from the past year, it’s official: Florida is the weirdest news state of all.

In fact, not only was The Sunshine State the biggest source of strange news, it was the “runaway winner,” according to a press release from Tableseed.com, the company behind the study.

Here are some of the 169 headlines that helped Florida secure this honor:

  • Man calls 911 after eatery runs out of lemonade — Boynton Beach
  • Florida lotto winner seeks to open a nude dude ranch — Brooksville
  • Dead shark left in Miami street after failed sale — Miami
  • Man wearing sleeping bag as cape attempts robbery — Gainesville
  • Man allegedly flings jellyfish at teens at beach — Madeira Beach

“Where the animals are tame and the people run wild” isn’t just my slogan any more.

Things are made worse by the fact that Drudge, who lives in Florida, gives preference to weird Florida news all of the time.  And that means that everybody knows the truth.

Obama’s Right: The Military Does Make a Good Photo-Op

For once, we’re in agreement:

Obama arrived on the (Osan Air) base 3:19 p.m. local time (1 a.m. Eastern Standard Time), and received a rousing welcome from 1,500 troops in camouflage uniforms, many holding cameras or pointing cell phones to snap pictures.

“You guys make a pretty good photo op,” the president said.

Evidently the Navy thinks so, too, as the photo below demonstrates.  It comes from their photo gallery, and was taken during his trip to Jacksonville last month.

One thing you see in this photo (and the Navy has plenty more like it) is a good shot of those teleprompters in action that he’s made so famous.  You don’t see that in many news photos.

But the question is now: what’s he going to do with our fine men and women in uniform in harm’s way in Afghanistan once the photo-op is over?

The Navy has what is, IMHO, one of the world’s best public domain, royalty-free collections of photographs on the earth, and I have used them extensively, as you can see here.

No, You Really Can’t Get Credit

David Goldman lays it out:

Here’s year on year growth in commercial and industrial loans from weekly reporting banks in the US:

A 20% decline year on year does not look like a recovery. In fact, it looks like nothing we have seen since the Great Depression. C&I loan growth lags the end of recessions, to be sure, but this extreme level of credit reduction suggests profound trouble.

In a rational market, lending institutions which have sustained losses (and most have) would be able to raise interest rates.  This would ration credit via the price mechanism, but it would a) allow investors of all kinds to improve their yields on interest-bearing instruments and b) allow lending institutions to recoup their losses via higher interest rates.  However, our government (for a variety of reasons) has opted to keep interest rates low.  This gives the illusion that credit it cheap and available but, if the lending institutions tighten the loan qualifications, then the result is the same: credit rationing.

Higher interest rates are no fun to those who pay them, but having them winnows out lending to ventures of marginal rates of return.  It’s better if the quality of the venture being borrowed for can be quantified by the spread on the rates of return rather than artificial guesswork on the part of a lending institutions whose rates do not correspond with reality.

Choking credit to small businesses, as Goldman is fond of pointing out, is a sure-fire way to prolong a depression.  But small business people, by and large, are in the opposition to our current government, something the Chicago-style rulers currently occupying the White House are well aware of.

Cream: Pressed Rat and Warthog

I almost overlooked this musical gem alluded to in the novel The Ten Weeks.  It’s Cream’s “Pressed Rat and Warthog” which appeared as a single along with “Anyone for Tennis” (an appropriate subject for The Ten Weeks.)

“Pressed Rat and Warthog” also appeared as the first song of the second side of the first disc of Wheels of Fire, which was the first double album to go platinum and whose cover art won several awards.  (Update) It was co-written by Ginger Baker, who passed away in 2019.

Cream first performed it live in 2005, and that live performance is below.

Madoff’s Auction Exceeds Expections

It’s good news (hopefully) for at least some of these he cleaned out:

Auctioneers did better than expected during a sale of items that once belonged to Bernard and Ruth Madoff. The Saturday auction in New York, run by Gaston & Sheehan, netted $1 million for Madoff victims.

The auction is part of a series of sales of Madoff property. The Madoffs’ real estate properties in New York and Palm Beach remained on the market as of Nov. 11 and an auction will be held Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale.

Saturday’s sale included items from their homes that were seized by the U.S. Marshals Service. Among the items at auction were Bernard Madoff’s blue satin New York Mets jacket, which commanded $14,000; a Hofstra College ring, which fetched $6,000; his golf irons, which netted $3,600; and two pairs of Ruth Madoff’s diamond earrings, which were sold for $70,000 each.

If I had been in New York, I would have bid on his clubs and, assuming I was successful (unlikely at these prices,) I would have taken them home and played with them on my $18 green’s fee course. I’m sure the Shiny Sheet would have loved to have put a photo of this old Palm Beacher on a mangy golf course with Madoff’s clubs on the front page (LOL!)

Obama on Fox: He’s Trying to Upstage Hannity

Sure is suspicious with the timing:

It’s official. Fox News’ Major Garrett will interview Pres. Obama at 9:20pmET tonight. He tweets:

I will interview POTUS on camera Wed am here in Beijing. 4 other networks will too. 10 mins per. Many had asked. Can say now.

After the ten minutes, the Great American Panel will have plenty to talk about.

Reply to New Lifes City’s Alan Hawkins on Ted Haggard’s “Restoration”

Pastor Alan Hawkins of New Life City Church in Albuquerque, NM, took exception to my post on Ted Haggard’s church restart in Colorado Springs:

Liberal used to mean tolerant. It is apparent that you are unaware of what has transpired with Ted Haggard in the last 3 years. You could probably have found out with very little effort. It is easy to scorn but it isn’t that hard to seek out the truth either. Give it a try.

Two important notes:

  1. Ted Haggard spoke at New Life City Church back in April, so it’s unsurprising that Hawkins is an apologist for him.
  2. Liberal churches may have well meant tolerant in the past, but anyone who follows the Anglican-Episcopal world knows better (as evidenced by this.)  Emergents such as Brian McLaren should take a lesson from this, but I doubt they will.

Now to the heart of my response.  Hawkins is doubtless unaware of this, but I have worked professionally with ministers for over a decade.  I’ve known some great ones, men and women of selfless dedication and service to God.  Most of these will never have the fame (or infame) of a Ted Haggard.  But anyone who works with ministers for any length of time and who is realistic about them finds uncritical adulation impossible.  Some people who hold credentials simply have no business doing so, and that includes “successful” pastors and ministers (those with a large following and the income to go with it.)  Maybe I’ve worked in the church for too long, but I just don’t buy a lot of what ministers have to say about themselves any more.

Having said that, there are a few things that Pastor Hawkins has probably not considered:

  1. The incidence of moral failure (I’m not fond of that phrase, but that’s what they’re calling it these days) is rising amongst ministers.  To put it bluntly, that’s mostly driven by pornography on the internet, although Haggard took moral failure to a new level with his gay prostitute.  That’s just a reality we have to deal with.
  2. Independent churches do not have a really effective method of performing ministerial restoration.  Denominations struggle enough with this, but to use Al Gore’s infelicitous phrase there’s “no controlling legal authority” with independent churches.  In addition to exaserbating the problem I discussed two years ago in Authority and Evangelical Churches, restorations end up being self-validating.  And I don’t believe in self-validating restorations any more than I believe in self-validating leadership, which is another plague in Evangelical churches.
  3. Ted Haggard’s ability to reconstruct a church will probably be based on the personality cult he has created more than whatever restoration he has experienced.   I’ve given ministers a jab, but now it’s the laity’s turn: lay people are too prone to hang their relationship with God on the man (usually) to whom they are attracted.  If some of those are well heeled–and my guess is that Haggard has some “heavy-hitters” in his quiver–it’s easy to get an institution going.
  4. Ministers are notorious for confusing their core relationship with God with their ministry.  They thus conflate “restoration” with “forgiveness” when in fact the two are distinct.  One thing you should learn early in ministry work is that it’s more important that you go to heaven than have a ministry, and you can do the former without the latter.  “What good will it do a man to gain the whole world, if he forfeits his life? or what will a man give that is of equal value with his life? For the Son of Man is to come in his Father’s Glory, with his angels, and then he ‘will give to every man what his actions deserve.'” (Matthew 16:26-27)  That applies as much to ministers as it does to wealthy lay people.
  5. No one is indispensible to the furtherance of the Gospel.  If that truth would sink into the church world, we would be much better off, because there is simply too much driven by personality rather than purpose.
  6. Ted Haggard’s new church will definitely drain people and resources from the existing New Life church he started before.  He doesn’t even have the common decency to change cities before doing this, even though he is a national and international figure with good name recognition.  Whatever he does will also bear the taint of his past actions whether he likes it or not, and that will be a bad reflection on all of us.

These are the reasons why I am cynical about Ted Haggard’s re-emergence from the shadows.  Experience is a hard teacher, but some of us are trying desperately to learn.  Some are not.

The Sad State of American Mathematics Education

As a) a civil engineering professor and b) a veteran of a school superintendent search, with all of the research that went with it, I can concur that American mathematics education leaves a lot to be desired of:

The statistics on U.S. math performance are grim. American eighth-graders ranked 25th out of 30 countries in mathematics achievement on the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which claims to assess application of the mathematical knowledge and skills needed in adult life through problem-solving test items. We do better on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), whose test items are related to the content of school mathematics curricula. (Differences in participating countries aren’t significant.) But according to Mark Schneider, a former commissioner of education statistics at the Department of Education, the United States lags behind too many countries in “overall mathematics performance and in the performance of our best students.” And achievement gaps between different student groups within the United States, Schneider says, are “about the same size or even bigger than the gap between the United States and the top-performing countries in TIMSS.”

Although the general allergy to math and science is rooted in a culture that values socialisation above all else, there are two specific forces that are driving the problem:

1) The structure of teaching in public schools as enforced by the trade union.  As is the case with most trade unions, the ideal of the teachers is to have a system that bases pay solely on seniority and rank (teacher, administrator, etc.,) and not much of the latter.  Since people with math and science skills can make more outside of the education system, that means that it is more difficult to retain them in the face of a level educators’ pay structure, thus it is more difficult to attract qualified people into the system.  Some districts have addressed (or attempted to address) this issue but many have not.

2) The rather ridiculous belief that a strong mathematics curriculum–with the sequential march through elementary school into algebra and geometry–is somehow racist, sexist, homophobic and even religiously biased.  The article describes this as follows:

Some influential educators sought to dismiss the traditional curriculum altogether, viewing it as a white, Christian, heterosexual-male product that unjustly valorized rational, abstract, and categorical thinking over the associative, experience-based, and emotion-laden thinking supposedly more congenial to females and certain minorities.

Those trying to overthrow the traditional curriculum found mathematics a hard nut to crack, however, because of the sequential nature of its content through the grades and its relationship to high school chemistry and physics. Nevertheless, education faculty eventually figured out how to reimagine the mathematics curriculum, too, so that it could march under the banner of social justice. As Alan Schoenfeld, the lead author of the high school standards in the 1989 NCTM report, put it, “the traditional curriculum was a vehicle for . . . the perpetuation of privilege.” The new approach would change all that.

If we look at things from an international perspective rather than the pseudo-sophisticate one so common in our country, this is absurd.

To start with, even if we exclude Europe, we are still behind, especially if we factor in the per pupil expenditure.  Excluding Europe puts us in competition with countries which are for the most part non-white and non-Christian.  (Including Europe puts us in competition with countries that are non-Christian and rapidly becoming non-white.)  And connecting Christianity with “rational, abstract and categorical thinking,” although with basis in fact, will produce howls of derision from the New Atheists, who are themselves struggling with the simple fact that, on the whole, those who major in the hard sciences and mathematics do not see their religious involvement drop as a result of this education.  But I digress…

It’s also interesting to note that, especially in engineering, before 9/11 many of the top graduate students, academics and practicioners in the sciences came from the Third World, a vacuum created by the dislike of Caucasian worthies for the rigor of such fields.  (The change after 9/11 was caused by changes in student visa requirements.)

We need to face reality: we cannot prosper in a country without a strong scientific educational system, and we cannot have a strong scientific system without a strong mathematical one.  The consequence of this will be simple: the non-white (but not necessarily non-Christian) world will eat our lunch, and we will only have ourselves to blame for it.

Ted Haggard’s Kumbaya Moment: His New Church

This is just awful:

Former New Life pastor Ted Haggard greeted warmly the more than 110 people who arrived for his Thursday evening prayer gathering at his home in north Colorado Springs.

“It’s a Kumbaya moment,” Haggard said. “People here tonight believe in resurrection and me. They understand love.”

Several people spoke of grace, forgiveness and redemption to explain why they came.

“Christians are to forgive, and I have forgiven Ted,” said the Rev. Alan Hawkins, who drove from Albuquerque to be at the gathering.

For those of us who have come out of liberal churches, a “Kumbaya” moment can only evince one reaction: “Oh, Lord!”

It amazes me that ministers somehow feel that they, unlike other professions, can simply pick up where they left off after a major failure and some dead time.  In many professions licensed by the state (medicine, law, engineering, etc.) if you lose your license due to malfeasance in your profession–or even a criminal conviction unrelated to it–you find another line of work.

From what I understand, Ted Haggard was doing pretty well selling insurance.  Selling financial products of any kind has become a hard way to make a living of late.  But he’ll find out that funding a substantial church isn’t a piece of cake these days, either.

If he does expand: one venue he won’t get is the chapel at the Air Force Academy, shown below.

DSCN2848

If he gets some well-heeled donors, he could rent space at the Broadmoor.  This is the back of the main building, across that pond they have; the complex surrounds it.

Since Christmas is coming up, one can view the gingerbread village before and after the service.

The venue he really deserves: the top of Pike’s Peak.  Nearly three miles above sea level.  Looking out from the gift shop to the observation deck.

DSCN2796

The reaction of his male prostitute to this news is interesting, too.

The Cost of Forgiveness: When the IRS is Involved

My newest follower on Twitter is Black Tie Magazine, dedicated to high profile philanthropy (like this.)

In a lengthy article by one Jaime Dermody on how to fix our current financial mess, he says the following:

(E.) Congress accommodates (B.) above by amending the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 to waive recognition of ordinary income for debt forgiveness on primary residences only if:

(E.1) borrower obtains consent of a servicer or substantial holder of the mortgage, or a bankruptcy court, associated with the debt in question; or

(E.2) demonstrates to the IRS that he or she was the victim of any predatory lending.

This will remove the incentive to misuse SCICS described in Subsubsection (2.1.3) above, except where it is part of a resolution or untoward lending.

This mention of a waiver illustrates a little-known aspect of our internal revenue code: as a general rule, if a debt is forgiven, the amount of the forgiveness is taxable income to the beneficiary!  Other people’s forbearance (irrespective of the motive) becomes your penalty!

Our government at work.  And yes, you need to see your tax professional if you think you’re subject to this.  (Other terms and conditions of this site are here.)