Saturday, February 23, 2008

Global Swelling

The consensus among scientists today is that the earth's continents have drifted apart over the ages due to the spreading of the sea floor caused by the introduction into the crust of new rock from deep in the earth's mantle. This new rock, the theory goes, is exuded through crevices in the mid-ocean ridges and pushes the continents away from each other. The continents then slide under each other along contact faults in a process called subduction. This returns rock back to the mantle where it's melted.

There is a minority view, however, which holds that continental drift is not a result of sea-floor spreading and subduction but rather is caused by an expanding globe. According to this theory (see video) the earth is inflating like a balloon, and it's this expansion which pushes the tectonic plates(continents)apart. The earth's crust was originally a solid shell, the story goes, and over vast time the planet grew in size forcing the crust to fracture and spread. There are various hypotheses as to the causes of the expansion, but that it happened the narrator of the video, Neal Adams, is quite convinced:

Wait until the global warming people here about this. They'll be hurling themselves off of bridges.

HT: Jonah @ NRO


The Russian Bear Is Stirring

Recent statements and provocations by the Russian leadership and military suggest to some that Vladimir Putin wishes to initiate a new cold war with the United States by rebuilding Russia's military to a state of parity with American forces. Strategy Page thinks a rebuild of the Russian military is highly unlikely, however:

The government is making a lot of noise about rebuilding the armed forces, and another Cold War with the U.S., but this is all talk, to make the government appear like it's doing something. The military would need massive amounts of money (over $100 billion a year, for a decade or more) to restore any meaningful amount of military power. Nothing near that amount is forthcoming. The government is trying to get the population stirred up so there is less resistance to the purchase of many expensive warplanes and ships.

A lot of this is necessary because China is buying less and starting to offer their own stuff, often containing stolen Russian military technology, on the world market. China is threatening to offer its copy of the Su-27 (the J-11). Currently, half of Russian weapons export sales are Su-27s. The Chinese ignore Russian complaints about the stolen technology. To keep Russian weapons manufacturers in business, the Russian military has to buy more, to make up for the lost Chinese sales. Western firms are also going after the lucrative Indian arms market, which Russia has dominated for decades. Last year, Russia sold $7 billion worth of weapons overseas, and may have a hard time topping that this year.

In other words, the talk of a new military aggressiveness on the part of the Russians is all bluster. They haven't the resource base or the economic power to sustain the kind of program that would be necessary to catch up. The real problem they pose is that out of resentment toward western superiority they may provide assistance to those, like the Chinese and the Islamists who intend to,and can, hurt us.


Reforming Education

Sol Stern has an article in City Journal that should be read by everyone pursuing or contemplating a career in education or who cares about the issue of educating our children. Stern breaks education reformers into two camps, the incentivists who want to increase competition and rewards for success and the instructionists who believe that the best way to improve our schools is to impose rigorous curricula K-12.

Stern himself used to be an incentivist and acknowledges that they still dominate the reform movement, but he cites three reasons why he's moving away from it. First, alternatives to failing urban public schools are diminishing. Catholic schools, for example, are closing their doors. In Detroit only one Catholic school is still operating in the city. There's no place else for public school students to go even if they had vouchers and tax incentives to leave the schools they're in.

The second problem is that incentives like vouchers simply haven't won the allegiance of most voters and their proponents cannot compete in referenda into which the NEA can pump money and volunteers that choice advocates simply can't match.

The third reason he's reconsidering his position is Massachusetts:

...where something close to an education miracle has occurred. In the past several years, Massachusetts has improved more than almost every other state on the NAEP tests. In 2007, it scored first in the nation in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading. The state's average scale scores on all four tests have also improved at far higher rates than most other states have seen over the past 15 years.

The improvement had nothing to do with market incentives. Massachusetts has no vouchers, no tuition tax credits, very few charter schools, and no market incentives for principals and teachers. The state owes its amazing improvement in student performance to a few key former education leaders, including state education board chairman John Silber, assistant commissioner Sandra Stotsky, and board member (and Manhattan Institute fellow) Abigail Thernstrom.

Starting a decade ago, these instructionists pushed the state's board of education to mandate a rigorous curriculum for all grades, created demanding tests linked to the curriculum standards, and insisted that all high school graduates pass a comprehensive exit exam. In its English Language Arts curriculum framework, the board even dared to say that reading instruction in the early grades should include systematic and explicit phonics. Now a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, Stotsky sums up: "The lesson from Massachusetts is that a strong content-based curriculum, together with upgraded certification regulations and teacher licensure tests that require teacher preparation programs to address that content, can be the best recipe for improving students' academic achievement."

In other words, those who have been advocating that schools teach what and how they did two generations ago are being vindicated in, of all places, Massachusetts. It remains now for courts and legislatures to wake up and facilitate the removal from middle and high schools those students whose behavior acts as a drag on the rest of the student population. Combine the academic rigor which our schools used to demand of our students along with the behavioral expectations that once prevailed in our schools and our educational crisis will be largely solved. And it won't cost a dime of taxpayer money.

Stern goes on to say that:

The Massachusetts miracle doesn't prove that a standard curriculum and a focus on effective instruction will always produce academic progress. Nor does the flawed New York City experiment in competition mean that we should cast aside all market incentives in education. But what has transpired in these two places provides an important lesson: education reformers ought to resist unreflective support for elegant-sounding theories, derived from the study of economic activity, that don't produce verifiable results in the classroom. After all, children's lives are at stake.

Read the whole essay at the link. There's a lot of discussion on it at Tuesday's Corner blog at NRO.