no teacher left standing. (except those who cheat.)

Well, paint me green and call me Gumby! Who could have predicted that No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on standardized test scores—and tying financial rewards to those scores—would result in widespread and rampant cheating by teachers and administrators?

Genius…pure genius. Of course, the smart people who came up with NCLB won’t have to fix the mess they’ve created. But then again, that’s true for most unintended consequences created by well-meaning but short-sighted legislation.


new fiction thursday.

I’ve secured the world-exclusive publishing rights for a short story called “Quinn and his Dinosaurs”, written by Quinn, age 5.

Here’s the original manuscript:

And a transcript:

Quinn and his Dinosaurs

Quinn and his dinosaurs get in a cave.  It was really dark.

“Oh dear, it’s too dark.” And Quinn turned on his torch. “That’s much better,” said Quinn.  Will was scared. Quinn was not scared. Quinn’s dinosaurs were not scared.  Nothing is in the cave.

Let’s see: third person, (mostly) consistent tense. Rising action, climax, denouement, series potential.  I think he’s got the basics down at least as well as Paolini.  Give him another two or three years, and he’s ready for the Science Fiction/Fantasy slush piles.

the view from the kitchen table at lunch.

“What’s the deer doing?  What do deer eat?  What do they drink?  What’s that on the deer’s tail?  Is that a girl deer?”

The term “homeschooling” is really a bit of a misnomer.  With all the stuff going on around the house, and all the things the kids see and do every day, I’d have to make a conscious and intense effort not to teach them new stuff all the time.

when entitlement whiners attack.

That salty scent you can smell in the air this morning?  That’s the smell of millions of hippie tears, wafting over from the Left Coast, where the students of UC Berkeley demonstrate that Economics isn’t much in demand at their institution.

Look, kids: your home state is broke as shit.  It’s broke because you folks voted yourself free everything with crunchy gratis glaze and no-cost sprinkles on top, and even the super-sized tax rates your state collects aren’t enough to pay for everything.  The money to run stuff has to come from somewhere, and when your state cuts education budgets (see “broke as shit” above), then the only way to keep the lights on is by raising user fees.  But you go ahead and throw your hissy fits because you’re asked to pay for the services you’re receiving, and see how far the sympathy-o-meter gets pegged.  To me, it’s just another conclusive demonstration that your idea of taxation is “Free Means Free To Me”, and “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree.”

(On a side note: even after the rate hike, the bill for a semester at UC Berkeley is $10k per semester.  Compared to other universities in its weight class, that’s a screaming bargain.  Get a scholarship, get a side job, put some elbow grease into it…but stop whining about having to contribute to your world-class education what are basically slightly inflated community college fees in other parts of the country.)

you keep using that word. i do not think it means what you think it means.

Yesterday morning, on my weekly sojourn into town for Dadcation Day, I spotted a bumper sticker in the Borders parking lot that had me shaking my head:


Now, health care is certainly an important commodity.  I sure like being able to see a doctor when something ails me, and to get my teeth cleaned and fixed on occasion.  I’m also a big fan of antibiotics, x-rays, vaccinations for the kids, and all the other medical advances that have doubled human lifespans in just a few generations.  Health care is great, and I wouldn’t want to be without access to it.

But a “human right”?  Hippie, please.

I have no doubt that the owner of the thusly-stickered car considers him- or herself to be educated, informed, and thoroughly on top of things.  By proclaiming health care a “right”, however, he or she demonstrates a rather galling unfamiliarity with the nature of rights.

Let’s get the most obvious point out of the way first.  You cannot have a right to something that necessitates a financial obligation on someone else’s part. 

When you look at our Bill of Rights, which enumerates (not “grants”) a bunch of rights, you won’t find a single Amendment in there that recognizes the right to receive a material commodity, free of charge or otherwise.  In order for me to let you enjoy all the rights enumerated in that fine document, all that’s required of me is to leave you the hell alone, which doesn’t cost me a penny.  Your rights to free speech, to free exercise of your religion, or to be free from unreasonable search and seizure do not make the slightest dent in my wallet or my schedule.  The Second Amendment refers to a physical commodity (arms), but it only recognizes that you have the right to own a gun if you have the desire and means to acquire one, not the right to get one for free from the rest of us.

If you promote health care to a human right on the same level with freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, or freedom of speech, you face an interesting quandary.  Health care, unlike all those other things mentioned, is a commodity, exactly like the bread and milk on the shelf at your grocery store.  That commodity needs to be created and distributed by other people.  Doctors aren’t made by waving a Magic Government Wand, they are educated at medical school.  Penicillin and Tamiflu don’t grow on trees in some publically-owned grove, they are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies.  If you have a right to all those things, then those doctors and medical companies have the duty and obligation to provide you with it.

Now picture every single doctor, hospital, and pharmaceutical plant in the country closing overnight.  The doctors are sick of piling on a quarter million in student loans just to work sixty-hour weeks for crap pay and the risk of ruinous lawsuits.  From sea to shining sea, every single doctor in every specialty just closes shop, and takes up basket weaving or Slabovian folk dance instead.

What happened to your “right” to medical care? How are you going to claim that right when nobody is able to provide that exam, or make you that blood pressure medication?

Oh, I know that the argument put forth by the owner of that bumper sticker would be something along the lines of “government has/should have the duty to provide it.”  The problem with that, of course is that government doesn’t actually produce anything to provide.  Government isn’t in the business of creating stuff, it’s in the distribution business—widget A shuffled to consumer B, for a not-so-small cut of the profits to feed all the people working in the distribution center.  Government takes a resource from someone, allocates or transforms it (tax dollars to asphalt to roads, for example), and then redistributes it.  The government cannot provide you with health care directly, it can only take someone’s money and pay some doctor or pharmacist to do the job.  What would the government do if all the doctors in the country just didn’t want to be doctors anymore, and all the medical students followed suit as well and dropped out?  If health care is a human right, shouldn’t the government then be able to arrest all those doctors and bring them up on federal charges of human and civil rights violations?  If health care is a human right, shouldn’t the government be able to charge any doctor thusly who refuses to treat a patient for free right now?

In fact, why stop there?  If health care is a human right, surely food has to be bumped to the same status?  I mean, lack of health care means you’ll die sooner, possibly in a decade or two—but lack of food means you’ll die in a few weeks.  Why don’t we just make food a human right, too, and seize the means of production over at Wonder Bread to make sure they won’t profit from their bread while people starve, deprived of the inalienable human right to stuff themselves with free starchy carbs?  And why stop there? Is the all-you-can-eat buffet over at CiCi’s Pizza a human right, too? Can we bring up the folks at Denny’s for human rights violations if they dare present us with a check at the end of the meal?

Health care is important, and awesome, and I’m a huge fan of it.  It is not, however, a human right.  It’s a commodity just like any other product and service, and thus cannot be a right by definition.  Calling it a “human right” sort of makes a mockery of the term, since actually treating it like a human right would make a whole class of professionals slaves to the rest of us.

toy gun control.

I know there are parents out there who refuse to buy toy guns for their kids.

As a responsible gun owner, I’m of two minds on the issue.  On one hand, I don’t want to encourage or even tolerate picking up the habit of unsafe gun handling.  On the other hand, I don’t believe in the “pretend it doesn’t exist” prohibitionist approach to anything—guns, drugs, sex, or what-have-you—because those methods don’t work.

I got an object lesson in the futility of toy gun control the other day, when Quinn got up early from his nap, and caught a few scenes of Eight-Legged Freaks, the silly Giant Spiders movie I was watching at naptime.  For the rest of the day, and the entire next day, he was reenacting those scenes, shooting imaginary giant spiders, and talking about how “the spider wanted to eat the woman, so the woman shot the spider with her gun.”  He doesn’t own any toy guns, so he just used other objects as substitutes, even toys that bear no physical resemblance to any firearm, shooting the imaginary spiders with wind-up toys and Matchbox cars.

Isn’t it futile to “keep kids from playing with guns” by not buying them toy guns, if they can use any object and pretend it’s a gun?  Hell, they don’t even need objects—all they need to do is to make a gun with thumb and forefinger.

Now, what’s a responsible parent to do in this case?  He wants his own gun, and just yesterday, he was lamenting that he doesn’t own one.  The way I see it, there are several courses of action for me at this point:

  • Total Prohibition: Don’t buy any toy guns, don’t let him play with anything that resembles a gun, rigorously watch his movie intake to screen for any use of firearms, and punish him every time he pretends to be shooting at something.
  • Weak prohibition: Don’t buy a toy gun, but ignore the use of other objects as “guns”, because they don’t look like guns, and because rigorously enforcing the Total Prohibition would take up most of a parent’s day.
  • Directed Interest: Buy him his own toy gun, but tell him that he is not allowed to aim it at people.  Teach him the basics of safe gun handling, trigger discipline, and stress that he is only to shoot pretend spiders and the like, not people.  Confiscate the toy gun if he violates the rule.
  • Total Acceptance: Shrug, say “boys will be boys”, get him a toy gun, and let him go to town defending the homestead from imaginary monsters.
  • A combination of any of the above.

So—what’s the right thing to do for a parent who believes in the value of responsible gun ownership, the futility of prohibition measures, and the right to self-defense (even if it’s against imaginary giant spiders?)  How do I reconcile my personal beliefs, the rules of gun safety, and my kid’s inability to fully understand the concepts of death and killing?

(For the record—the kid in question just turned four years old in February, and I fully intend to teach him how to handle and shoot a real gun when I consider him to be old enough to understand and internalize the basic safety rules.)