Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Media Goodness on Parade

The piles are overflowing my filing cabinet once again, so here's a roundup of some things I've been saving to share.

F Minus cartoon of two people at a picnic, with little bears peeking out at them
Close up of one teddy bear's faceI've written before about Tony Carrillo's F Minus, but something about this strip made me laugh, as they say, out loud. I think it's the idea of cute little teddy bears being perceived as pests. How can anyone be mad at them when their little faces are such a mix of sad and sweet? Awwwww.

Somehow, I didn't even realize it was a reference to "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" until my daughter mentioned it.

A New York Times op-ed, reprinted in the Star Tribune, led me to the work of Rose George. She's the author of a book called The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. Her article gives a basic rundown on how human waste at sewage treatment plants can be turned into energy. 5 million gallons of waste are needed each day to generate energy through anaerobic digestion; about a thousand U.S. plants meet that level. Of these, only 544 do anaerobic digestion, and 438 of those just burn off the resulting gas, rather than do anything with it. As George writes: "If those 544 treatment plants generated energy from their sewage, the EPA concluded in a 2007 report, they could provide 340 megawatts of electricity (enough to power 340,000 homes), and offset 2.3 million tons of carbon... equivalent to planting 640,000 acres of forest or taking some 430,000 cars off the road."

The Star Tribune's personal finance writer Kara McGuire had a column on the seminars sponsored by the AARP and Better Business Bureau to educate seniors about the many scammers who prey upon them. Now if the Strib would just stop running ads that target the credulous...

Author Gail Sheehy wrote about One Last Magical Evening a few weeks ago in Parade magazine. Sheehy's husband, magazine editor Clay Felker, died in 2008, and she tells the story of the last weeks of his life. I always assume that writers choose to be in Parade because they know they'll reach a wide audience of primarily older readers, and in this case that makes a lot of sense. Here's hoping some younger folks read it, too, because we all need to think about how we want our lives to come to a close.

Retired professor Gary Joselyn wrote convincingly on the Star Tribune op-ed page about the arbitrariness of Minnesota's high-stakes graduation tests (so cleverly named the GRAD test). Given his career in educational measurement, Joselyn's opinion seems pretty reasonable to me:

The most serious problem with high-stakes testing is that there is no scientific way to establish the score below which students "fail." Despite the best efforts of objective professionals, in the end the "cut score" will be arbitrary....

When using an absolute standard as with the GRAD, it is theoretically possible that every student could pass or that every student could fail, because it is theoretically possible that every test-taker is qualified or that none are. When a panel sets the cut score, it is supposed to be considering only whether the student is "college-ready" or "employment-ready," not how his or her performance compares with other test-takers.

But the panel cannot do this because of two other constraints. It knows it must not set the cut score too low, such that all or nearly all pass, lest it be accused of not being for "high standards." And it cannot set the cut score so high so that all or nearly all graduates fail, because that would result in a political uproar. So it must establish a cut score somewhere between these extremes. Or, to put it more starkly, it is forced to decide, arbitrarily, how many students will "fail."
Last Wednesday's Star Tribune (May 5) op-ed page had two stories side by side, both well worth reading. Law professor Eileen Scallen wrote a well-reasoned argument for disconnecting religious marriage from civil marriage, pointing out that numerous churches will now perform same-sex marriages. Yet those same churches are allowed to sign the civil marriage documents for only some of their members. "It is religious discrimination to deny my partnership and the religions that would perform our marriage ceremony the same religious freedom and respect."

The other May 5 piece was by skeptic Michael Shermer, whose book Why People Believe Weird Things has been on my Future Favorites? list for quite a while. Shermer recounts all the ways that life today is "the good old days," from lower crime to pollution to higher standards of living worldwide. Clearly, he's right, although he glosses over many challenges we face if we're going to make those gains sustainable.

1 comment:

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Thanks for another good roundup. You're right, Gail Sheehy's piece is something that people should read to get an idea of what's possible.