Morning Ed: United States {2016.03.20.M}

If you ever wanted your own supervillain lair, there’s one for sale in Arizona.

If you live in St Louis and you seek to have a goat, or more than one chicken, you are out of luck.

In light of Kevin Williamson’s controversial piece on letting dying communities die, Justin Fox reports that it’s actually hard to move out of a dead-end town. I would argue that maybe this would warrant some kind of plan to help people relocate (we could call it the Kansas City Plan), though Adam Ozimek just doesn’t see that as a solution.

To combat terrorism, a federal pilot program is reaching out to Somali youth in Minnesota.

From Native Times, an article about how political correctness is disrespecting their identity. Like most kids, I was taught to refer to them as Native Americans growing up, only to move west and find out that they’re fine with Indian. I’ve since shifted to Amerindian when possible.

There’s a house for sale for $70k. Looks nice. It has some pictures. The first forty or so look nice, but then you get to the last five and what the hell.

Alec MacGillis looks at the always-interesting question of poor areas voting Republican.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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210 thoughts on “Morning Ed: United States {2016.03.20.M}

        • I feel like it’s more of a house than a home.

          That is – it looks ah-may-zing with absolutely no sign of life in it. Stick a kid’s easel in a corner, with paintings and boxes of paint spreading out from there, a backpack on one of the chairs, the sewing machine and mending pile out – and instead of looking inviting and homey, it would look like some pesky humans have made a mess of the world’s most awesome art gallery lobby.

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          • has a good point here. Many High Architectural houses, for lack of a better term, are really unliveable. Many of FLW homes have this same problem, at least in my eyes. The lines become so important to the general aesthetic that any sort of living style takes away from what is the gallery effect of the locatioin, thus exposing how hard it would be to actually live there. YMMV

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            • Frank Lloyd Wright had a pathological hatred of clutter.
              His homes discouraged storage at all costs.

              Other “high architectural” ideas have been better managed.

              Only in Japan can you actually steal a house by helicopter, though. (and replace it with a new one).

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        • It’s amazing, but the interior shots are interesting in what they don’t show. The one shot of the kitchen makes me think “cramped”.

          Lovely house, but unless it’s your vacation home you’ve got to live there, you know.

          I did like the shelving around the bedroom walls, with the built in seat. That was fairly interesting.

          It’s gorgeous, though.

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  1. Does the super villain lair come with a mad scientist’s lab or secret underground military base to train my agents?

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    • The mad scientist’s lab is cheaper to rent than the isle of goats in Maine, but still more expensive than the only hunting blind in Rhode Island.
      (a friend of mine has a lot of properties for rent…)

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    • Dude, it’s a LAIR. You want a lab, create your minions and have them dig it out. Shesh. Lazy good for nothing super villains. What you expect a ready to move in lair/lab/mutant army breeding grounds, research facility? I think Syndrome’s island is available.

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  2. Does the super villain lair come with a mad scientist’s lab or secret underground military base to train my agents?

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  3. Okay, that whole thing about dead-end towns?
    That’s for minor crapola. It’s not for anything major.

    Are people even bothering to write pieces on what we ought to do about 5 million people trying to get out of a dead town? 30 year mortgages ain’t gonna last forever…

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  4. Re: Moving and Dying Working-Class communities.

    Williamson’s piece basically showed that the NRO conservative elite have nothing but absolute contempt for Working-class whites. It is another break in the alliance. WWC were useful when they could be riled up to vote for someone like Brownback or Walker. A guy who would do whatever the business leaders and rich wanted but now that the WWC are realizing the sham, the gloves are off.

    The Bloomberg article strikes me as right. Besides costs, the other issue is whether the jobs being created are those that can be done without much education or are the jobs being created stuff that need special skills. There are also sociological concerns of getting used to a big city environment. I’ve heard stories from others of rural residents being confused and alienated in mid-sized cities like Eugene and Medford.

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    • “When conservatives talk about cultural dysfunction they only talk about urban blacks, which is pretty damning.”
      {Conservatives talk about dysfunction among whites.}
      “This proves that Republicans are phonies who are actually hostile to the working class whites they pretend to champion!”

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        • Williamson himself has more standing to make his arguments than most. I’d have responded pretty differently if Lowry himself had written it.

          That said, anyone who knows Williamson’s work knows he’s a pretty… uhhh… contempt-prone individual in general.

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          • Only tangentially relevant, but Schopenhauer states that all actions with moral worth are based in mitleid (suffering with, usually translated as compassion in Schopenhauer’s texts), while Nietzsche calls mitleid (usually translated as pity in his texts) the pathological infection of suffering and suggests that good cannot be based in it.

            Then there’s Spinoza:

            Pity (Def. of the Emotions, xviii.) is a pain, and therefore (IV. xli.) is in itself bad. The good effect which follows, namely, our endeavour to free the object of our pity from misery, is an action which we desire to do solely at the dictation of reason (IV. xxxvii.); only at the dictation of reason are we able to perform any action, which we know for certain to be good (IV. xxvii.); thus, in a man who lives under the guidance of reason, pity in itself is useless and bad. Q.E.D.

            I suppose the lesson for those of us who are less than perfectly rational is that pity/compassion/sympathy is necessary, but if we ever achieve Spinozan rational enlightenment or overcome Christian nihilism (the ethic of mitleid), we won’t need it anymore. Obviously, Williams has acheived one of these.

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            • When pity is about them, maybe it will inspire changing things.

              When pity is about us? It’s masturbation.

              Encountering someone who isn’t feeling pity gives the perfect opportunity to judge this person for not having the moral fortitude required to inspire them to change the world…

              Sure. But it should be noted that they’re also not masturbating.

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        • I was thinking about this in connection with a comment thread from last week. There’s a lot of capital built up behind the idea that liberal elites look down on poor whites because they’re liberal, and this reflects badly on liberals.

          Turns out that they do it because they’re elites, and it reflects badly on elites.

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          • Or it could be that elites are just right and poor whites really are not respect worthy.

            Let me put it this way: You could respect people on the basis of an arbitrary allocation of some mysterious metaphysical property or you could do it on the basis of choices that they actually end up making. If the latter, then you are going to end up disrespecting people who you think consistently make bad choices. If you have some kind of substantive view as to what sort of choices are bad life choices, then a negative evaluation of some set of people who consistently make such choices is required by consistency.

            You could escape this consequence by being completely sceptical about the substantive goodness or badness of one choice over the other*. But this takes you into “what’s wrong with racism?” territory.You could try to allocate respect on the basis of attributions of some mysterious metaphysical property (a la Dignity or any other non-material basis upon which we allocate respect to people), but because such properties are by their nature mysterious, it is strange to suppose we have any better reason to think that everybody has it in equal measure rather than it being distributed unequally among people. This again takes us to what’s wrong with racism territory. So, pick your poison.

            *Saying that all options are equally choice-worthy is the same as being sceptical about the notion of choice-worthiness.

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            • There are structural issues that go into the choices people make. Whether they are rich or poor. Urban or rural. Basically, these communities have been screwed for several generations now. The reasons why people don’t list are described well enough in the other articles listed to.

              I suppose I am questioning what choices these people have in the first place.

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              • They could leave.
                They could have a bit of ambition
                They could have studied harder in school.
                They could not take drugs, smoke or do a number of other things that damage their health, especially since they really can’t afford to do so.
                They could, if straight and male not get their highschool girlfriend pregnant and ruin both their futures. Birth control is a thing that requires two people to screw up.

                But even if I’m wrong about all the above, as long as Williamson can reasonably hold the above then he can reasonably blame the non-working poor for their own ills.

                Saul, let me put it this way: One of the biggest ways in which guys like you and me are privileged is in the way that our parents raised us right. We make the right sort of choices in our personal lives so that we don’t get into the kinds of trouble* that would get us stuck in the cycle of poverty.

                The point even isn’t that doing the so-called right thing is not an incredibly hard choice for them, its that one of the things making it so hard are the cultural factors at play in the situation. Moreover, unless you are to give up on morality as a whole, then you should (except in particular artificial situations) find people praise or blameworthy for their dispositions regardless of how they come by those dispositions.

                *It also helps that we have more leeway to make bad choices, but its highly unlikely that you have made the same sort of choices that someone that Williamson is criticising makes.

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                • So, if you’re the type of person who makes the right choices, studies hard and is ambitious, and has parents who raise you right while being allowed a lot of leeway to fuck up, you’re responsible for the prettydanggood! situation you’re in and white trash losers who don’t have any of those things have no one to blame but themselves?

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                  • I don’t have to be responsible for my traits in order to be praised or blamed on the basis of my traits. If I did, there would never ever be any basis for praise or blame.

                    Also, perhaps, if they had a disposition to blame themselves for their current situation they may not be in the situation they currently find themselves in.

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                      • Praise and blame are accorded to actions you are responsible for only in the compatibalist sense, not in the absolute sense. Moral responsibility in the compatibalist sense requires having the capacity to be motivated by the right sort of reasons. You can’t appeal to a lack of absolute causal responsibility in order to ground the impermissibility of assigning blame or praise.

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                        • You can’t appeal to a lack of absolute causal responsibility in order to ground the impermissibility of assigning blame or praise.

                          No, but the concepts of praise and blame sorta intrinsically require being able to ascribe causality to the agent. Otherwise you’re, for example, merely praising the elitist-culture in which an “agent” (scare quotes, yeah?) was raised and exists in for his praiseworthy attributes.

                          Seems to me you’re saying that some cultures are better than others, and that’s fine. But if so, it doesn’t follow that other folks are more/less praiseworthy because they’re a member of a lesser culture. The opposite in fact: they’re not responsible for that fact at all.

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                          • Its getting late for me right now, so I can’t pull out the right Strawson article for you, but something something reactive attitudes underlying praise and blaming practices something something essential to our moral practices.

                            Or…

                            Blaming and praising persons and actions are essential to any functioning practice of morality and these are underwritten by attitudes which are responsive to particular sorts of judgments: Crucially, judgments about how well you have responded to the relevant moral reasons.

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                            • If you wanna pick it up later I’d be into it. As a first pass, tho, of course moral judgments are essential to the practice of morality. But that can occur even when we’re attributing moral praise to people for things they have no personal responsibility for. Stuff they have simply outa luck. Teasing out those things is where it’s at, seems to me.

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                        • Moral luck is the thesis that no one deserves to be praised or blamed for anything they do since luck – good or bad – was the deciding factor on how it all turned out.

                          ETA: I wrote that before your edit. Still, I’m not sure how you defend your initial view while accepting the reality of moral luck.

                          Unless you wanna say that it ain’t all moral luck, of course.

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                          • You know, I’m a moral nihilist, in the sense I don’t believe in any mind independent moral reality. In other words, morality is a thing in our brains, and in our words insofar as we can communicate it to other brains.

                            So should we help people born into difficult life circumstances? Should I judge them according to their choices, when I made choices under a very different set of social pressures? If I were in their shoes, what would I have done? Should I care about this?

                            Well, I don’t want to be around uncaring people. I’ve made errors. I have survived according to the capacity of others to pick me up. Most of us have, to some degree. In other words, our society survives insofar as people buy into its fairness. Likewise, people can learn why others act as they do, and see how they, if in similar circumstanced, might succumb to the same pressures.

                            It turns out most people are not utterly selfish. Furthermore, many people find such unabashed selfishness manifestly anti-social.

                            Are they right or wrong? Well, as I said, those words mean what you want them to. But all the same, you can complain all you wish as you are ostracized. I support ostracizing utterly selfish people, and organizing society around people willing to regard the hard experiences of others. I am not alone.

                            You will be judged according to your character.

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                          • Not exactly:

                            From the stanford encyclopaedia of philosophy:

                            Moral luck occurs when an agent can be correctly treated as an object of moral judgment despite the fact that a significant aspect of what she is assessed for depends on factors beyond her control.

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                            • Yes, I agree. But once you eliminate all the other factors that contribute to praise and blame, what are you left with? In your initial example, all the factors upon which your judgement rested fell effectively into the moral luck category, yes? They were accidental factors of birth, psychology, inclination, parentage, etc.

                              I’m focusing on the stuff that individuals can control and be responsible for within the matrix of luck they’re born into. Personally, I think that’s the only place where praise and blame make sense.

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                              • The mistake is in seeing moral responsibility as tied to control at all. Once you spell out what control requires, I think you will be hard pressed to find any degree of control at all. It is instead tied to responsiveness to reasons. When you see it as about being responsive to reasons instead, then clear cases of when luck undermines moral responsibility clearly emerges. There are lots of cases where people act for the right reasons, but their actions nevertheless turn out badly due to bad luck. We do not find these people blameworthy for their wrong actions. Similarly when someone does what turns out to be the right thing out of malicious or otherwise impermissible motivations, we do not think that the person thereby deserves credit for that action. But, when luck instead affects which reasons you are responsive to, that does not mitigate moral responsibility.

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                • The most successful people seem cautious enough not to do thinks that might seem fun at the time but could lead to problems latter but courageous enough to take great risks that could cause you to tumble down if things go wrong. . I’m cautious enough not to do the former but kind of not brave enough to do the latter.

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                • Finally, if you were to push me really hard on this, I’ll retreat to the kind of moral scepticism that makes it difficult to criticise racism. My principled stance is the scepticism, my instincts and upbringing are elitist: While I don’t think my instincts are fully defensible, neither are anyone else’s. More importantly, viz my scepticism, I don’t think my instincts are any less defensible than the anti-elitist’s.

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        • Are we? Because it seems like what we’re actually doing is accepting that Kevin Williamson thinks that. Well, and implying or stating that that’s the belief of conservative elites more broadly. But I imagine most liberals would tell you that WWC poverty and misery have nothing to do with WWC culture, because most liberals don’t hew to the idea that culture, broadly speaking, is what produces economic outcomes.

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      • The left has answered for Detroit, economically the left moved right under Clinton and bailed on the economics that hurt Detroit.

        Thing is the majority of what did in Detroit was more pedestrian can kicking, corruption and parochialism leaving the city unprepared for the huge challenges it faced those are phenomena restricted to the left.

        What happened to Kansas and Louisiana, on the other hand, was the Right doing exactly what they said they wanted to do and what their principles say they should do. Now we know the outcome of the rights preferred policies.

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        • What happened to Kansas and Louisiana, on the other hand, was the Right doing exactly what they said they wanted to do and what their principles say they should do.

          Well, no. Their ostensible principles say they should cut spending as well. That’s actually the more important part. The problem is that tax cuts are much more popular than spending cuts, so in practice it ends up being all candy and no spinach. Say what you want about (some) conservative government in practice, but small government means lower spending, not just lower taxes.

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          • Their ostensible principles say they should cut spending as well.

            They’re getting to that part, in both states. To anyone who has watched state budgets during economic downturns, there are no surprises in what gets cut (regardless of the color of the state). Higher ed. K-12 education to the extent that it’s not protected by the state constitution. Roads and bridges. Social services, starting with those for the developmentally disabled, then the poor in general. At the peak of the Great Recession, a few brave states actually looked at getting out of Medicaid entirely (usually drawing back because doing so would bankrupt their state’s nursing home industry).

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          • It’s definitely what they said they would do. I don’t think they shouted from the rooftops that they’d slash aid to the poor, the sick etc…

            But yes their principles call for cutting spending as well, but I suspect when they are faced with that their electorate is going to turf the GOP out on their asses (though most likely the GOP will just draw down on their agenda and win as a more moderate GOP, we are talking about Kansas after all).

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          • small government means lower spending, not just lower taxes

            That is certainly true, but no one actually wants smaller government, repeat no one, anywhere, ever, full stop.

            So conservatism relies upon everyone’s fantasy of smaller for thee, but not for me.

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            • Perhaps the exception that proves the rule… I had a chance to talk to one of the people in charge of the “51st State” organization here in Colorado. They took the position that yes, the new state would be too poor to afford to participate in Medicaid, to provide any funding for higher education, to have public schools offer anything beyond the three R’s. Those were features, not bugs. Of course, it’s one thing to get the question of investigating setting up a new state on the ballot in some counties here in Colorado (doesn’t take a lot of signatures); it’s another entirely to get enough people to vote for actual secession when you lay the budget details out in front of them.

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              • I have to add here that Kansas never started out as some bastion of out-of-control liberal spending. It’s always hewed Republican and conservative and social services have always tended toward the low end of the scale. So when Brownstain and Friends commenced upon their Koch-fuelled Tea Party jihad the simple fact is that there really wasn’t a hell of a lot to cut.

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          • Brandon Berg,

            Well, no. Their ostensible principles say they should cut spending as well.

            They have. And the cutting is way past fat and digging into muscle and bone. Many school systems are shutting down early for running out of money and the rest can’t hire teachers due to salary freezes. The highway patrol is laying off troopers. Highway maintenance is being deferred. They’re resorting to increasingly dodgy accounting tricks to maintain some illusion of balancing the budget.

            Of course all of this is justified / predicated on the amazing growth that would magically materialize due to the tax cuts (Arthur Laffer is one of his economic advisors). Just leave aside moral arguments and such; the plain fact is that the economic theory simply doesn’t work. It’s fairy tales and pixie dust.

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            • To the extent that highway patrol troopers (in every state) are revenue agents that disproportionately target poor and/or minority folks, I can’t say I’m unhappy about layoffs in that occupation.

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              • I hear ya. But understand, this is being done by a Republican legislature. So cutting spending on LEOs is digging into bone from their perspective and illustrates just how desperate a situation they’ve dug for themselves.

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        • LA’s main issues is the fall in oil and gas revenue. AK is suffering from the same thing. Maybe you’re going to tell us that the right messed up AK as well? The politics in both those states hasn’t caught up to the new realities of oil prices.

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          • Yeah oil prices have tanked. And how have the pols responded? If they have rigid ideological responses that lead to disaster, that seems like a fair point to note. Lord know that is what the R’s in the Ak house/senate are doing right now.

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          • And Kansas? What happened with Kansas again?

            I agree with you that a lot of economic downturns are a confluence of factors. AK and LA are definitely there. But Kansas is a really interesting laboratory state. It’s a state where one ideology went in and said, “Were going to do X, Y, and Z and all of these great things will happen. This state is a laboratory demonstrating our brilliant ideas.” Then they went in and did X, Y, and Z in a perfect controlled experiment, and now that the results are out, we have something serious to talk about. Kansas was exactly the laboratory state they wanted, so here we are.

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              • Right. The question is, given that the outcome isn’t matching the hypothesis, does that suggest adjusting any priors about the probability that the hypothesis is true? This is where the rubber hits the road. We finally have what appears to be a *good* experiment that’s low on confounding variables (practically a miracle when it comes to public policy research), so how long do we wait before we start drawing some conclusions?

                I’m going to predict that a lot of people don’t factor this into their world view. It was kind of like all of the people predicting massive inflation over the past several years. Inflationary spiral fails to appear and they say things like, “It’s a miracle we haven’t seen it yet.” Not, “Clearly, there’s something wrong with my model if it’s making such obviously wrong predictions.” No, it’s probably just a miracle. No reason to do any world view adjustment at all.

                I don’t want to be too hard on the Republicans here because it’s a nasty tendency for everybody. If Bernie Sanders got everything he wanted and the 20% growth or whatever nonsense he needs to make his budget work shockingly didn’t appear, I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of disillusioned Sanders advisors rethinking their world view. It’s just that Sanders is about as far left as the Democrats go and he’s not likely to win the nomination. The Kansas Miracle is pretty much a direct implementation of bog standard Republican articles of faith that you must profess to even get on the stage in a primary.

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    • As long as the Republicans keep winning elections in Kansas and Louisiana than they have to answer for nothing. Kansas has been solidly Republican since the Civil War so chances of that happening soon are non-existent. This goes into Will’s post about why do areas that need the Democratic economic policy the most vote Republican. The people who are prospering compared to others vote Republican because they see themselves as the ants in an ant and a grasshopper scenario. They seem to resent others getting benefits that they do not. Those that need Democratic economic policy do not vote and are unengaged with the political system. This is why universal benefits for everybody rather than need based benefits survive politics better. It doesn’t create ant and grasshopper feelings.

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        • Absolutely nothing. People have voted for a low-tax / low-services state government and they are enjoying / suffering for the consequences of that vote.

          If, perchance, major employers prefer not to move to that state because they are looking for something else, there’s nothing wrong with that either.

          For me personally, I think that rejecting the Medicaid expansion is unnecessarily cruel, but I’m not the one voting on the issue so I don’t think that my opinion should count for much.

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        • That’s not what Lee said.

          The GOP promises that huge tax cuts would pay for themselves. Right-wing think tanks put out paper after paper about all the revenues that would be generated by cutting taxes. For years, right-wing states have made fun of Taxachusetts and California as places where businesses would flee.

          Kansas and Louisiana embarked on the right-wing tax cut formula full-stop. The budgets are gone. Jindal took a billion dollar surplus into a huge deficit. Businesses have fled the state. When does the GOP admit that tax cuts don’t lead to economic boons?

          Or are you going to dada all these questions away like you always do.

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          • Jaybird was making a funny and rather good one. The problem with Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas” thesis is that he used a very bad example. Kansas has always been a deeply Republican state since it was admitted into the Union. There never really was a time when Democratic candidates did well in Kansas on any level. This makes using Kansas as an example of a place where the Democratic Party lost to the Republicans over cultural issues, a bad one. I actually pointed this out in my response. Jay just made a joke about it.

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          • Of course the GOP promises were absurd. Anybody who looked seriously at the issue knew that revenues were going to collapse.

            But politicians lie all the time, especially about the expected consequences of their proposed policies. Everyone promises that Candyland will be the result of their policies and utter devastation will be the result of the policies of their opponent.

            Personally, I’m voting for the Democratic nominee for President not for what they promise but for what I expect that they can achieve and for what they can prevent. The Kansas voters may have hoped for Candyland, but they expressed a first preference for lower taxes, and that’s what they got.

            When does the GOP admit that tax cuts don’t lead to economic booms? When voters stop putting that version of the GOP in office and not before.

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            • “When does the GOP admit that tax cuts don’t lead to economic booms?”

              Or when they finally figure out what the missing Phase 2 was and actually do make it to Phase 3: Profit.

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    • Tangentially, the Denver Post reported that a plumbing manufacturing company is relocating its headquarters operation from Wichita to the Denver area (they’re currently looking in one of the suburbs). The manufacturing facility in McPherson, Kansas (pop ~13,000) will remain where it is.

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      • I find it interesting that the white-collar jobs are fleeing Kansas and the blue-collar ones remain. Looks like gutting K-12 education does not attract a lot of people with school-aged children. They also probably dislike the lack of infrastructure and amenities.

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        • One of the sessions that I worked for the legislature’s budget committee here, I was responsible* for the Governor’s Office budget. That included the Office of Economic Development, which did things intended to attract businesses to Colorado. During one of our “friendly chats” before the session started, I asked what things companies asked about. They told me that minimum-wage sorts of companies asked about taxes and regulations. Companies that paid more (ie, white-collar or skilled labor) asked about transportation, communication, educated workforce, higher ed, K-12 ed, and assorted quality of life issues, with taxes and regulation far down on the list.

          * In the sense of preparing assorted reports and recommendations. The only real power I had was that in the back-and-forth involved in setting that budget, I got to speak to the committee first. Too many people don’t understand just how much framing the issues can matter.

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  5. Re Indians/Native Americans, this is an interesting situation. The rule, traditionally called “common courtesy” but now called “political correctness” is to call people by the term they prefer. There are, and always have been, common-sense limits to this. If I tell you I prefer to be called “Lord and Master” you are well within your rights to ignore this. But the general principle is sound.

    The problem here is that there is no universal preference within the group. This shouldn’t really be surprising. It’s a big, spread out group with wildly varying histories and cultures. I grew up in the western US. The one place I had frequent personal contact with Indians was in Flagstaff. I mostly called them “Navajo” because that’s what the ones I interacted with mostly were. (Pro tip: Be careful not to call a Hopi a “Navajo.” That would not go well.)

    The upshot is that there is no perfect answer here. If addressing an individual, use the term that individual prefers. In a more collective context, well, if someone wants to find reason to take offense there ultimately isn’t any way you can stop them, so don’t lose sleep over this. This is not license for purposeful offensiveness, but a pragmatic response to an otherwise untenable situation.

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  6. Despite the headline, this story is less* about Common Core, and more about the problems with Standardized Testing and why we really have trouble with Math in th this country.

    *Actually, as I understand it, this has nothing to do with Common Core.

    ETA: A better wording of the question would be, “What is the largest value you can express using numerals, and only numerals?”

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              • Interesting point. If only 3 9s are allowed but multiple operators, then 9!^9!^9! would be even better. down that road, however, lies madness. Because then you can do (9!^9!^9!)! and so on.

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                • Which gets to point down thread.

                  Kids like to get creative & show off, especially if they learn something faster than the rest of the class.

                  How teachers deal with that is pretty important.

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              • No, I think the concept here is that *no* symbols, at all, are allowed. No ( or ), no +, not even technically a ^.

                But you can write 9^9^9 without any symbols at all. 9(smaller nine over that)(smaller nine over *that*) The ^ is just an approximation we use on computers.

                Speaking of computers, everyone here seems to have limited themselves to *decimal* numeration. F^F^F, in hex, is obviously higher than 9^9^9.

                And the highest base with ‘standard’ representational digits is base 36, so Z^Z^Z.

                Although you can make the argument there are standard symbols for base 64. (Improbably, those are first the letter A-Z, a-z, and *then* 0-9, and then + and /. Yes, a ‘5’ in base 64 means ’57’.)

                Number 63 in base 64 is ‘/’ (Because that’s not confusing at all.), so, insanely, the highest number you can write in that is /^/^/ (Crazed mathematical equation or invalid regexp, you be the judge!)

                I have no idea how high that number is, my calculator says that 63^63 is 2.2827303634696707E113, so take that to the 63rd power.

                OTOH, it technically asks what the largest number *I can represent* with three digits is. Not using any standard representation. So I hereby invent base googolplex, in which googolplex-1 is represented by the symbol ~. (I have yet to decide on all the other symbols. Probably all of unicode, over and over, in slightly different fonts and rotations.) So my answer is ~^~^~. That’s the highest number that I can-

                Wait, no! I just invented base ~^~^~! And ~^~^~ -1 in *that* base is represented by %, so %^%^%…

                Also, does the infinite symbol count as a digit? That is, to quote wikipedia’s definition of ‘Numerical digit’, ‘a numeric symbol (such as “2” or “5”) used in combinations (such as “25”) to represent numbers (such as the number 25) in positional numeral systems’. (Does the *aleph* symbol count as a digit?)

                Ah, standardized testing trying to be clever. Is there any question it can’t screw up?

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            • Nope, exponents work a bit differently. It’s why powers/exponents/logarithms can be challenging, because the rules are just different enough to be confusing (as opposed to radically different enough that the student can easily internalize them as a a unique ruleset).

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                    • I think the Monty Hall thing would have gone better if the embodiment of the correct analysis hadn’t been the most unfortunate example of nominative determinism of all time.

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                      • I got tired of even listening to two people argue about it once, wrote up a quick C program that simulated the problem 10 million times (twice: Once switching, one staying with the same door). I handed the results and code over to the people arguing about it, told him the simulation showed who was wrong, and if they didn’t like it to find the error in my code or stop arguing. Or at least take it to email or something if they persisted in it.

                        Code simulations don’t require any statistics, so the common error in human thinking is easier to avoid. Plus the parameters of the problem are clearly laid out. I suspect it’s easier for some people to understand, it it really is a very simple problem to simulate.

                        Three variables, one randomly assigned a true value. Then a quick set of decisions (randomly pick a door, reveal a second door — that’s a bit more complex because if both are false you randomly pick one, otherwise you pick the door with the false value) — then if you’re testing “switch doors” you swap the door chosen, then tally up the results. Repeat 10 million times. Then do it for “don’t switch”.

                        Then turn the tallies into percentages, output the result, and tell arguing people to “Find the error or STFU”. :)

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                        • The way I see to help people see Monty Hall is a suggestion I saw once, namely: What if Monty always opens the lowest numbered door that has a goat?

                          If he opens the *higher* door, he obviously had to skip the lower door…so we know it has a car.

                          So, in this version of the problem, there are three possibility if you start with #1:

                          The car is behind #1, so Monty picks #2.
                          The car is behind #2, so Monty picks #3.
                          The car is behind #3, so Monty picks #2.

                          Or, to recap: If Monty picks #3, it is always correct to switch. If he picks #2, switching and staying are 50/50.

                          This is easy to understand. And, once they’ve understood this, some people will get the rest of the problem.

                          Other people will might point out that Monty has no such rule. Although they will be uneasy thinking that removing Monty’s rule rule will somehow turn two ‘should switch’ and one ‘shouldn’t switch’ into equal odds…and they’re right to be uneasy.

                          So you point out that we can act *as if* he either has a rule to open the highest or the lowest without a car. Because he only has those two choices! He has to do *one* of those things, either open the highest without a car, or the lowest without a car!

                          And we don’t know *which* set of rules he’s following, highest or lowest… but under *both* of those rules, switching is 2/3 good and 1/3 bad.

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                          • I always started with the extended Monty Hall problem. Imagine a million doors, behind one of which was a car. The car never moves. You pick a door, Monty then opens 999,998 other doors (showing 999,998 goats) and asks “you want to stick with your door or switch?”.

                            Because in the end, the choice isn’t really “your door” or “the other door”. Your choice was “your original door” and “ALL of other doors” —- which Monty cheerfully collapsed into a single choice.

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                        • Having initially been incredulous at the answer to the Monty Hall Problem, I ended up sketching out a decision tree. It was only then that I realised that there was a crucial part of the rules that hadn’t been explained to me – Monty Hall randomly opens one of the remaining doors that doesn’t have the prize. I had been assuming he opened one of the remaining doors at random and if he opened the prize door then you lost the game. That makes a critical difference as to whether it is better to switch or not,

                          The important life lesson for me was that if you actually want to understand a problem you need to model it out – whether through code or math or diagrams or something. Only then will the hidden assumptions and gaps in your knowledge be revealed.

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    • While the dad has a point about the teacher and principal’s response, holy shit what an ass. And given the daughter’s response in the office, it is possible she was both correct AND disruptive.

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      • I disagree , the dad gave them ample opportunity correct the mistake that they were making, both for the daughter and for education in general. When they doubled down on it, then he acted. If it was my child, I propably would have done the same, especially as I have a lawyer friend with children. And while the daughter might well be disruptive, that is when you pull them out for advanced work.

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        • I’m going to reply to everyone here and I’m on my phone for apologies for not being a fully fleshed out…

          The father was right to object to the teacher and principal’s reaction (as he offered it). A young child shouldn’t be dragged to the principal’s office in tears because she objected to a teacher, even if that objection was disruptive. There was a real “teachable moment” there about how to challenge authority and frame counter arguments that was missed; shame on the educators.

          But the father took a scorched earth policy — yes, after being denied a compromise that was likely out of either person’s power to approve — that I fear taught his daughter some very perverse lessons. Especially when be declined that same offer later on. He wasn’t “wrong” perse to do any of those things but I worry about the messages he’s sending his daughter. The question was worded poorly but the intent was under by almost every student; now they are punished to “make a point”. And all so his daughter could maintain her perfect average, which is likely of little practical value relative to the 99.99% or whatever she’d have otherwise had.

          What I would have done?
          1. Emphasized to my daughter the appropriate way to voice dissent in the clasroom.
          2. Help her recognize a losing battle (a verbal spat with a teacher) and identify alternative strategies (talk to me).
          3. Explain to her that everyone — teachers, principals, test makers included — make mistakes and even if they carry great authority or responsibility, empathy is the best response.
          4. Follow up separately with the school and others; leave the kid out of that.
          5. Check the math and, if she was indeed correct, tell her that remains so no matter what a test says and she shouldn’t stress a 99 vs 100.

          The dad was right to be upset and justified in pursuing action; I just think he might be turning his daugher into someone who will pursue perfection above all else.

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          • “I just think he might be turning his daughter into someone who will pursue perfection above all else.”

            Or maybe he taught her not to pay attention to stupid bureaucrats more concerned with the process that they fail to see that they are wrong.

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          • I have to agree. Lawyering up and escalating to change the scoring on a national test is an absurdly disproportionate response to a single ambiguous question on an elementary school test. Yes, it sounds like the teacher and principal were horrible to his daughter (though, to be honest, I have my doubts about the narrator’s representation of their actions), but an elementary schooler is going to benefit more from learning life lessons like “it’s OK not to be perfect” and “you don’t need to sue over everything” than preserving a perfect test streak.

            Boomers: still the worst*

            * Based on that profile, it looks like he was born a couple years late to be a Boomer, but he gets to be an honorary Boomer in my book for this story.

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            • Nah, it was the admin’s refusal to seek an accommodation and to drag this out for months than caused him to go scorched earth. Frankly, he should. The question WAS wrong and needed to be fixed. Could been solved quietly a lot earlier, but they weren’t interested. BOOM. Maybe next time they will pause a bit and think, but doubtful.

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            • I think the lawyering up to change the scoring was excessive, but I applaud the dad for backing the kid up.

              Early math education requires a lot of confidence in ability and events like this can toss a wrench in it. Dad stepping up to the plate at all was pretty damn important, even if he did go too far.

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              • I agree, . We had a bunch of adulta acting poorly, some worse than others.

                I have a piece of paper somewhere titled “An effective mathematician* might say…
                – I agree because…
                – I disagree because…”
                And many others. If the girl really did yell out, “You’re wrong!” that’s the lesson the teacher likely failed to offer. If it was offered and went unheeded, dad as an influence wouldn’t shock me.

                * I wouldn’t limit this to mathematicians but I received it from a math prof. One of the things emphasized in “new math” (including CC) is communication; you answer is only as correct s ypur ability to communicate it. It seems this girl might not have bee offered that either.

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                • We should also remember that we are only hearing half of the story. As much as I love a story that aligns with my priors, they also tend to trip my Bullshit Alarm to some degree (the real world rarely aligns so nicely with all my priors)..

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                  • It does have a few elements of “The Atheist Professor” story, doesn’t it?

                    But yeah, my experience with parents (mostly vicariously) and the education system is that when it comes to flaps like this — anyone could be biased to all heck and back, and unless you’re reading the document trail and watching video, you’re more following your own biases than seeing some truth.

                    I’ve seen school districts stonewall, sidetrack, and run rings around the parents of special needs kids to prevent them from getting the help they’re required by law to offer (to be fair, because that law didn’t come with funding and the school district resorted to “we’ll give it to the people who figure it out and lie to the rest, and this way we’ll only be spending 40% more than we can afford instead of 300%). I’ve seen parents talking about their precious angel and how a lengthy fist-fight initiated by said angel over an argument about whose lunchbox was prettier (true story) was entirely the other student’s fault. Or the teacher’s. And that their precious angel, bloody knuckles and all, most certainly didn’t hit the child with the bloody nose.

                    And that the tooth marks on the wrist were self-inflicted, pay no attention to the bloody grin their saintly offspring is sporting.

                    And dear god, the worst are the people that get angry about grades in 3rd grade. Who personally show up to should because their son’s science fair project came in second, or he got a 98 on a test instead of a 100, and YOU’RE KILLING HIS FUTURE YOU HEARTLESS BEAST AND I HAVE FRIENDS ON THE BOARD AND I’LL SUE.

                    There’s a reason teacher’s drink like fishes. Because if it’s admin screwing you, it’s the parents. (80/20 rule applies, of course)

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                    • It does. The way the dad wrote it gave me a “special super smart snowflake” feel, which is what tripped my BS alarm, and why I don’t want to be overly critical of the teacher, but rather focus on the issues we have with such testing, and with math education.

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                      • Testing is such a bear to deal with. There’s a lot of understandable and necessary things that are just in huge conflict.

                        You want to actually measure student growth, somehow, and have some sort of metric for teacher ability besides how the Principle or Superintendent feels about Bob the Teacher. (But actually judging a teacher in a method that’s not almost entirely subjective? Really hard, because kids are malleable and their personal lives shift year to year. I mean my bosses, in my real life job they pay me fore, have been known to grant more or leeway to someone’s performance if they’re aware of outside factors — a spouse with cancer, a death in the family, new kid. A lot of proposed teacher metrics not only ignore the teacher’s own life, but those of her 100+ kids — I saw one teacher almost get fired because her student’s English performance dropped markedly one year. Because the number of ESL students doubled, not because she suddenly couldn’t do her job).

                        You also want to make sure that Bob in District A is learning roughly what Bob in District B is (just as you want to be sure Sandy and Susie in the same school, but with different teachers are). Colleges want to be sure that schools are all getting students to at least roughly the same place.

                        Parents want their kids to be getting a class A education, so they want numbers they can compare to other numbers (preferably with their kids on the “better than” side).

                        And of course everyone hates and bemoans standardized testing, even as they demand standards they can benchmark their kids against…

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                        • Oh I know.

                          Relatedly, where I live we have a Facebook group/page for the community & my wife & I read it and pity the poor teachers in the local elementary school, because damn if the parents aren’t involved to a fault.

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                    • Adding to the weirdness around this story: clicking through to the author’s LinkedIn profile shows that he attended Drexel. Googling 9^9^9 brings up a couple of posts from a Drexel-affiliated math education site, framed around the same “largest number written with three digits” setup.

                      Some other results suggest that this answer is a reasonably popular one around internet math fora, though, as says, there isn’t really a good reason to allow exponentiation but not other operations that would allow us to achieve even larger results. The one argument I can come up with is that 9 ^ 9 ^ 9 can be written with three digits and no other symbols using superscript notation. However, the second condition is not specified in any of the questions to which I’m seeing this presented as an answer, and both rely on a lawyerly interpretation of “digits.”

                      My priors (most notably, that Boomer parents are the worst) are strongly affirmed by these findings.

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                      • Googling 9^9^9 brings up a couple of posts from a Drexel-affiliated math education site, framed around the same “largest number written with three digits” setup.

                        I have, in fact, see that question on dumbass ‘IQ tests’ before, which makes me actually suspect that is being too kind in his assumption that we’re only hearing one side of the story.

                        I think we’re hearing a *total work of fiction*. Completely made up.

                        No standardize test is going to include such a strangely worded question, especially not one that *is literally being passed around as a brain-teaser*.

                        In fact, checking the comments there, they agree with me.

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                          • Yeah. And I hate to go crying “hoax” after spending a bit of last week complaining about how we’re too eager to cry hoax at narratives that conflict with our ideological priors, but there’s way too much fishiness in this story.

                            I mean, it starts with the idea that a teacher is discussing the answers of a standardized test with her class. Obviously, that’s massively disallowed during the test itself, and while I can see that “post-game”ing a standardized test might have some pedagogical value, it seems impractical and especially so for younger students.

                            Next, standardized tests don’t typically use a raw score. And missing a single very hard question isn’t necessarily going to effect the reported score, because that’s a weighted score that takes into account the difficulty of the test and expects that even the best students might miss a question or two.

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                        • The more we’ve been discussing this, the more I want to find that teacher, buy him/her a beer and get their side of it.

                          I remember my senior year of High School, my dad had the opportunity to go head to head with my school admin (principal & superintendent) and force them to back down over a rather minor thing (school punished me excessively over said minor thing and dad got to hit them with their rule book to make them back down), and boy did he enjoy that. He also spent the summer encouraging me to setup the confrontation.

                          I get the same vibe here.

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                      • Oh man, did the dude just make the whole story up? He may be even more of an ass than I thought.

                        Googling, it looks like there are posts on this going back to at least ’05, and that’s without digging, so I bet it goes back even further.

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      • BS.

        The teacher and the principle were wrong. The fact that the other students hadn’t been tough that is irrelevant. Poor choice in wording on the standard exam too. So what? The teacher and the principle had the opportunity to fix this early and dug in their heels. They got what they deserved. I’ll bet you the question has been re-written.

        I’ll second veronica’s comment: go dad!

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      • Sure, but why was she disruptive? There is a difference between “This is the answer the test is looking for.” and “You are wrong.” A kid being disruptive after being told they are wrong, especially if said kid is usually right, and well behaved, should have been a red flag that perhaps her answer deserved a closer look.

        I have to wonder* if this isn’t a nice example of why having teachers with little to no background in mathematics is not a good way to teach mathematics.

        *I wonder because I don’t know the teacher’s background. Even I have to look up the rules every now and again if it’s something I haven’t used recently, or I haven’t had enough coffee.

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    • The question is, as what point do you want to teach a child about the power of faceless and deeply stupid bureaucracies? The father wanted it to be later in life. The teacher and administration wanted to do it right then and there — although it seems to me, the teacher and administration are not disinterested observers.

      Go Dad!

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    • Don’t digits usually exclude exponents. In fact, if I remember correctly, when you talk about the number of digits in, say, 9^9, you wouldn’t say it has 2 digits, you’d say it has 9. So 9^9^9 has what? 82 digits? Somewhere around there. So since the question was 3 digits, not 3 numbers, I’d have marked her wrong.

      But perhaps I’m wrong.

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      • IIRC that is a valid way of interpreting the question, but not the only one.

        I agree with you in that given the wording and the grade level, the question was pretty obviously looking for an answer of 999, so the answer she gave was wrong in that context, and that context only.

        In the larger mathematical context, her answer was correct.

        The real problem, as many have expressed here, was not the answer, but rather the fact that standardized tests have some pretty glaring weaknesses* and that the teacher and principal failed to handle the situation with, for lack of a better term, appropriate grace.

        *Such tests fail to catch really smart kids and can cause trouble like this. I got a few wrong answers like this in science class back in the day, where I gave a correct, albeit advanced, answer that was not what the test wanted. After a long talk with my parents, I learned how to game the tests such that I gave the answer it wanted. On the plus side, that skill made Multiple Choice tests pathetically easy from then on.

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        • The teacher, the principal, and ultimately the father (who demanded that everyone else be counted as wrong for what is genuinely a correct answer).

          That said, the inflexibility is definitely a problem. English is not as precise as mathematics, so there will always be ambiguities that allow more than one correct answer, and standardized tests should be able to accommodate such ambiguities.

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          • I don’t know if the test itself should, because ‘Standardized’, but parents &/or teachers should be able to appeal the grading if an answer was technically correct but not specifically what the test wanted.

            That would be a much more useful experience than the one she got.

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            • What I would do, if I were running one of these standardized test grading companies, is log any answer (that comes up through appeals process, say, or that might be flagged by teachers or administrators), and include a supplement for those answers. So, “What is the largest number that can be represented with three digits” would admit 999, and 9^9^9, and maybe some other possibilities as well. Supplements go out to schools regularly so that they can correct/update grades.

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            • FWIW, I’ve never heard of standardized tests factoring into grades. They’re used to assess schools and ensure comptency. So IF the school did this it was outside the norm and probably wrong. If they didn’t, the father’s complaint is ludicrous. She’d be deemed highly proficient or its equivalent whether she had a 99 or 100. It is essentially pass/fail for students.

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        • “After a long talk with my parents, I learned how to game the tests such that I gave the answer it wanted. On the plus side, that skill made Multiple Choice tests pathetically easy from then on.”

          I always hated the times when this would turn into a “which wrong answer are they looking for this time?” pop psychology question. On the bright side, that’s an important question to be able to answer in the Real World(tm), so it’s teaching a valuable skill.

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            • Me too. But actually, I’m a fan of how the military handles the advancement exams. They consist of a set of, IIRC, 140 questions, presented in random order. And then, when all the results are in, they toss both the twenty questions that garnered the most right and wrong answers, leaving 100 that they base the individual scores on.

              This eliminates the easy stuff that everyone knows as well as problematic questions that may be ambiguous, poorly worded, no correct answer presented, just too damned hard, etc.

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              • My wife, when she grades her tests, routinely discounts (for grade purposes) questions too many students missed. When handing back results, she’ll actually go over the questions most commonly answered wrongly and poll students to see what they thought it meant.

                It’s helped her reword tests for better clarity pretty often — and occasionally retool lessons when it became clear that students weren’t linking two concepts together. (As a simple analogy — like students who can define “protagonist” and if asked can identify the main characters in a work — but if asked for the protagonist, blank entirely. Like you suddenly started speaking Spanish. That sort of pothole kind of issue).

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                • My 7th grade science teacher was the exact opposite. His tests were all perfect and any lack of understanding was on us kids. Of course, he was otherwise a very good teacher and I learned a hell of a lot from him, but man he could be a dick about his tests.

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    • Teacher was right, question was worded correctly, kid was wrong.

      Nothing in the problem statement suggests that additional notation or operators are part of the solution space.

      It is exactly as valid to answer “9^99” as it is to say “a hundred thousand million billion trillion quadrillion quintillion sextillion septillion octillion nonillion 9s times a hundred thousand million billion trillion quadrillion quintillion sextillion septillion octillion nonillion 9s times a hundred thousand million billion trillion quadrillion quintillion sextillion septillion octillion nonillion 9s”. I mean, that’s only three digits, right? Only someone obsessed with pointless bureaucratic minutiae would argue differently!

      Or just say “any two-digit number divided by zero, that’s infinity, I win”.

      ********

      Now, you can say, “hey, that’s a good, creative answer! However, it’s bringing in things that weren’t part of the actual question, so it doesn’t count. Sometimes it’s important to follow the instructions instead of looking for a trick or a shortcut. In school this is because we’re teaching lessons, not just finding answers; in life, it’s because if you skip steps and jump ahead you might forget something. But since you brought it up, let’s talk about some other ways we could put three numbers together to make the biggest number possible…”

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    • For all in this discussion, Thanks. I know this (math education) is a topic I harp on a lot, mainly because of how much I struggled to learn math when I was young, and because I don’t want my son, or any kid, to struggle through math any more than is necessary. We have a lot of legacy ideas in the US about how math should be learned, and that math proficiency is some innate talent (hence the evils of “S/He just isn’t good at math…”), and excising those old ideas, and finding new ones that work well, is tough.

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  7. http://www.mrconservative.com/2014/01/30924-secret-fema-death-camps-already-at-a-location-near-you/

    All the nutbar conservatives I know have been promising me for years now that Obama was building secret FEMA death camps where “true American patriots” (read: said nutbars) would be rounded up and incarcerated, after first having their guns confiscated by government goon squads. They told me that, inevitably, he’d do this in his second term, when the voters couldn’t vote him out. I know, it sounds too good to be true, but these were upstanding family men and veterans assuring me of this, and they wouldn’t lie to me, would they?

    Well, you’re almost out of time, Mr. President! I voted for you twice, dammit! When are you going to deliver on this? I’m starting to feel really let down.

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