Friday, March 06, 2009

Why Johnny can't interpret these poll results.

First, we'll call this an a.s. instead of a p.s. The latest issue of Skepticwith my (too?) long article, "Positively Misguided," on the perils of today's brand of positive thinkingshould be arriving at a bookstore near you.


Well, the response to this week's poll question was underwhelming: just 32 total votes. Half of all respondents said the cartoon wasn't racist. I do, however, think it's significant that so many people picked that answer when they had the option of voting "it's not that simple." What this tells me is that, to the 16 people who voted "no," it really
is that simple. I was frankly surprised by that, and maybe it's good news; maybe we're more post-racial than we give ourselves credit for. At least here on SHAMblog. On the other hand, cynics might argue that I'm seeing things the wrong way. They might allege that the 16 "no" voters are the kinds of closet racists who don't see anything wrong with equating blacks and chimps. So in the end, maybe the poll doesn't tell us anything.

Although the poll didn't generate a large voting response (and the initial post didn't generate that many com
ments), I did get four emails off-blog that were quite strongly put. I invited three of the four to post their emails as commentsI even offered to do it on their behalf, anonymously if they preferredbut all three turned me down. The fourth email was a chilling, profane rant of the sort that reminds you that racismof a decidedly un-closeted naturehas not left us.


BY THE WAY, don't expect Pennsylvania high school seniors to know that 16 is half of 32. In another grand display of the "fairness" and "respect for the individual learner" that has eroded academic excellence ever since the self-esteem movement hijacked the American educational system, the state has decided that it's unreasonable to ask graduating 12th-graders to meet established 11th-grade math standards before receiving their diplomas and moving on to college. So it was that a proposed statewide "exit exam" went down in flames.* And we wonder why, in some regions, more than half of all incoming college freshmen need remediation in basic math skills. Which, to me, begs the question: Why is it assumed that such ill-prepared students deserve to be in college in the first place? But you know, one gets tired of swimming against the tides of so-called progress. If there's just a handful of us who give a damn about real excellenceas opposed to the faux, "I am special and I can do anything" kind that our culture widely championsso be it. I just wish people, then, would stop shaking their heads and acting so bewildered about America's continuing slide towards global mediocrity in all areas.

OK, almost all; we still lead the world in reality shows and drugged-out pop stars.

* Cost was a factor, too, in these years of the shrinking municipal budget. But let's face it: We find the money for the things we consider necessary.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if 'The Monkey That Became President' by Tom T. Hall. Would be considered racist by todays standards.

Anonymous said...


has there ever been a benefit to the lowering of standards in anything? High schools give a grade of B or better just for showing up and behaving. That allows more ill-prepared students to borrow money to go to college and then fail.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lowered the standards of people to whom they made loans - allowed lower credit history scores and accepted lower down payments. We'll be paying for that Trillion dollar mistake for the next decade.

The military recently lowered both body weight and physical condition scores for soldiers. Sure retention rates are strong, but do we want an overweight and out-of-shape military?

I could go on with hundreds more examples, but you get my point. The elimination of failure by lowering standards is really just creating more failure.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 10:17: Part of me hates to look at it that way in terms of the mortgages, because you want to think it's good to "give people a shot at the American Dream." But I guess, as it turned out, you're probably right. Credit guidelines are there for a reason. And now we're all suffering for it.

Anonymous said...

What drives lack of excellence? The more I think about the root cause, the more the idea of relativism, or “it depends”, comes to mind. When there are no hard standards in many of our family institutions (cafeteria style religion, for example), how can we expect our students, and even parents for that matter, to consider things like exit standards with anything but absurdity. When everyone is smart and a winner, and you combine that with the tendency in our family and religious institutions to coddle constituents, it makes sense that people want to adjust the rules and standards in our educational, public, and workplace environments to protect their identification with an expectation of being a success. When bliss or Happiness is the target, ignorance and delusion becomes the crutch of choice.

-- Case

Elizabeth said...

And how about laziness?

Dimension Skipper said...

First of all, I thought the encyclopedia article of the day (in the sidebar) about bloatware was very SHAMbloggy.

Second, did someone say cafeteria style religion? Here ya go...

SelectSmart's Religion Selector

I think it's fun to try once, anyway. I remember taking the quiz several years ago. I think I came out as Liberal Quaker at the time with Unitarian Unversalism a close second. I just took it again (apparently my top two have flip-flopped if I remember correctly) and here are my personal religious choices from best fit to worst:

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers - Religious Society of Friends (99%)
3. Theravada Buddhism (88%)
4. Mahayana Buddhism (84%)
5. Mainline - Liberal Christian Protestants (76%)
6. Secular Humanism (75%)
7. Neo-Pagan (75%)
8. Taoism (75%)
9. Jainism (70%)
10. Bahai (65%)
11. Orthodox Quaker - Religious Society of Friends (64%)
12. Sikhism (61%)
13. Hinduism (61%)
14. New Age (59%)
15. Non-theist (49%)
16. Reform Judaism (48%)
17. New Thought (38%)
18. Seventh Day (36%)
19. Orthodox Judaism (32%)
20. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (29%)
21. Scientology (27%)
22. Eastern Orthodox (26%)
23. Roman Catholic (26%)
24. Islam (24%)
25. Mainline - Conservative Christian Protestant (22%)
26. Christian Science Church of Christ, Scientist (18%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (16%)

I provided the full list just so folks can see the overall possibilities.

Honestly, I have no idea if that list is anywhere near appropriate for me, but what the heck, it's as good as any, I guess. But otoh I can't really interpret the quiz results due to my own lack of a proper edumication.

I am pretty sure I could never be a Jehovah's Witness. I just couldn't bring myself to go to anonymous strangers' homes and presume to tell them their religion/lifestyle is wrong (how the heck would I know, anyway?) and that my religion is absolutely right for them (because it must be right of reverybody!).

I admit I'm curious (if anyone else around here feels like taking the quiz) as to what sort of alleged (or idealized?) religious diversity/views there may be among the regulars (including you, Steve). But I also realize it's quite off-topic from the post, so maybe it's not a good idea to get too sidetracked.

Steve Salerno said...

DimSkip, you are too much. Seriously. Though the following phrase has spiritual overtones, I think I can say in a totally secular sense that this blog would be a lesser place without you.

Elizabeth said...

I am pretty sure I could never be a Jehovah's Witness. I just couldn't bring myself to go to anonymous strangers' homes and presume to tell them their religion/lifestyle is wrong (how the heck would I know, anyway?) and that my religion is absolutely right for them (because it must be right of reverybody!).

I think reverybody has a nice ring to it, DimSkip. I also notice that even though Jehovah's witnessing is not for you, New Age just may be. What gives?

Elizabeth said...

Steve, it looks like an interesting issue overall, this month's Skeptic.

Dimension Skipper said...

Well, I am considering researching neo-paganism to see what it's all about.  I figure anything 75% and above has personal potential at least.   :-)

I typoed "...for everybody" of course. But you're right about the term "reverybody" having a nice ring to it, Elizabeth, even suggesting "reverence for everybody."  Properly applied, that might not be a bad thing.

Elizabeth said...

I thought you may have misspelled, Dim. It happens a llot to me posst-surgery (nnot that anyone would nottice). But some of those misspelings sound just right, don't they.

A quick note on our "abandonded" pursuit of excellence.

I'm not really sure we've abandoned it. We may have relaxed our standards somewhat (and manage to settle with a better than average mechanic who works nearby), but when it comes to choosing, say, a brain surgeon, we still want the top notch, the best of the class, the most dedicated, brilliant and driven one. Luckily, I found him when I needed him -- and here he is, in case you need him too for yourself or your loved one:

(Yes, I trump his skills and personality on any and all available forums. He deserves that -- and more. The man is *amazing.* In so many ways. :)

Elizabeth said...

The pursuit of, er, a different kind of excellence -- a.k.a. how to spot a Ponzi monster (and no, we are not talking The Muppetts*):

How to Spot a Ponzi Con Artist? Follow the Yachts

By ROBERT CHEW Robert Chew – Fri Mar 6, 9:55 am ET

With so many Ponzis and so little time to know if you've been hoodwinked, there are some red flags even the most trusting investors can bank on: yachts, mansions, jets and women. If your investment adviser is dabbling in any of the above, there's a good chance you've been "Ponzi-ed" or are about to be.

Creating the illusion of fantastic success, of course, is chapter one in the Scammer's Handbook. But many, like R. Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff, among the most egregious alleged billionaire bamboozlers, are taking the art of thievery to the next level. Some don't even bother opening an investor account when new monies come in, they just go shopping. It's enough to make Gordon "Greed is Good" Gecko blush. (See 25 people to blame for the financial crisis.)

Take Stephen Walsh and Paul Greenwood, operators of Westridge Capital Management, with $1.3 billion in assets, who last week were charged by The Commodity Futures Trading Commission for allegedly "misappropriating" at least $553 million for either personal expenses or to cover trading losses. The CFTC is the sister agency of the Securities and Exchange Commission and covers fraud in the commodities, futures, and foreign exchange markets. (See pictures of the demise of Bernard Madoff.)

The charge alleges Walsh and Greenwood gave themselves $8.2 million in employee "advances" and another whopping $160 million for personal expenses. The complaint detailed funds being used for buying rare books at auction, purchasing expensive horses, laying down $80,000 for a Steiff Teddy Bear and providing the ex-Mrs. Walsh with a $3 million residence.

Also last week, North Hills Management, a New York-based $40 million investment fund run by Mark Evan Bloom was charged by the same agency for "misappropriating for personal use" over $13 million from its clients' fund. (See the top 10 financial-crisis buzzwords.)

*Not that it has any relevance to my life, mind you. But this life lesson, like similar others, can be summed up as if it seems to be too good to be true, it is; so run.

Jen said...

Hi, Elizabeth! That tinyurl link didn't work.

DimSkip, I remember taking that quiz one time and being pegged Jewish, which I'm not. It also listed me as Quaker, which is (perhaps?) nearer to the truth. And after that, universalist, which is probably even more true. I don't quite know. In fact, I tend to go out of my way to avoid being labeled this or that, futile as that pursuit may be.

Steve, I didn't vote in the poll but if I had, I probably would have gone for the "not that simple" response.

About math skills, my daughter was fortunate to have an enthusiastic math teacher who helped her develop a real love for math. We were talking about him the other day and she said she would love to see him again so she could tell him she decided to major in math. His site used to be called and if you enter that, the site still comes up; but its new name is

Jen said...

P.S. to Elizabeth: I was referring to the tinyurl to your doctor. (I just realized you posted more than one tiny.)

Elizabeth said...

An unexpected(?) side of recession:

In hard times, executions become a matter of cost

By DEBORAH HASTINGS, AP National Writer Deborah Hastings, Ap National Writer …

After decades of moral arguments reaching biblical proportions, after long, twisted journeys to the nation's highest court and back, the death penalty may be abandoned by several states for a reason having nothing to do with right or wrong:


Elizabeth said...

OK, Jen et al, here is an improved (I hope) link:

Lana said...

Can't resist taking assessments!

1. Secular Humanism (100 %)
2. Non-theist (92 %)
3. Theravada Buddhism (81 %)
4. Unitarian Universalism (79 %)
5. Liberal Quakers - Religious Society of Friends (68 %)
6. Mainline - Liberal Christian Protestants (60 %)
7. Mahayana Buddhism (46 %)
8. Reform Judaism (42 %)
9. Neo-Pagan (41 %)
10. Taoism (40 %)
11. Christian Science Church of Christ, Scientist (39 %)
12. New Thought (39 %)
13. Scientology (39 %)
14. Sikhism (39 %)
15. New Age (33 %)
16. Hinduism (31 %)
17. Mainline - Conservative Christian Protestant (28 %)
18. Bahai (23 %)
19. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (23 %)
20. Eastern Orthodox (23 %)
21. Islam (23 %)
22. Jainism (23 %)
23. Orthodox Judaism (23 %)
24. Orthodox Quaker - Religious Society of Friends (23 %)
25. Roman Catholic (23 %)
26. Seventh Day (23 %)
27. Jehovahs Witness (15 %)