Archived Ramblings



In the past couple days I've already received a few, um, comments on the reading and writing test.  Bad as that was, I found out today some information about how the writing portion was scored, and yes, it can get worse.
The writing samples were scored "holistically".  This meant that a student could get a proficient score on the test if "errors in conventions" didn't detract from meaning.  In other words, capitalization, punctuation, spelling and grammar didn't matter...  Still, only around a third of the fourth-graders scored in the proficient or higher categories!  Now, I may not be a spelling wiz, but I still seem to be far above the common level (that's what you get for reading voraciously).  I've even had an English-major friend tell me that I know more about writing than he does ;)  So how do these kids end up knowing almost nothing of the written word?  Is it because writing assignments are harder to grade, and most teachers don't want to spend the time grading them?  Is it because of "politically correct" teaching styles (I was scared when I found out about "new math" - all answers are considered equally valid.  These people are the ones that will design our homes and cars in the future...)?

There will probably be more ranting about this.  Give you three guesses as to why...




Well, it's been a while, and I have a few topics to comment on, and some of them can even be connected to Daria ;)

First, for those of you with shorter attention spans, the site news.  Sick Sad World is due a face-lift, and indeed it's on my "To Do" list (not that I actually keep a list of things to do, but you know what I mean).  I'm finally nearing the completion stages of The Book of Wraith.  With luck (and lots of work), I'll be putting that page back out on the net in a week or two - and if you think SSW is a bit, well, sprawling, wait till you see this one ;)

I saw Starship Troopers over the weekend, and well.  My opinion of the movie is pretty well summed up elsewhere.  If you've seen it, have decided not to see it, and especially if you're thinking about seeing it, you might want to check it out (the comments, not the movie).

This doesn't have anything to do with Daria, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.  A couple weeks ago I picked up a copy of Total Annihilation.  If you like real-time strategy games at all, this is one game you won't want to miss.

I'm also going to make a comment on the 'au pair' trial, since everyone else in the country seems to be.  Hey, even Quinn knows what an au pair is, that's gotta count for something...
First, I'll say that the limited amount of evidence I saw was enough for a reasonable doubt.  Of course, the problem with that is that I didn't see all the evidence, or even a significant portion of it.  Almost all the people sounding off about the case are leaping to conclusions based on the little the media has leaked out (I'm not even going to get into biased reporting right now).  However, I rather doubt that seeing all the evidence would help 99% of the population.  The one alternate juror who's made some comments, a Harvard grad and PhD, has said he couldn't follow the evidence.  It was very technical medical lingo.  There wasn't a single doctor on the jury that I'm aware of, and I damn well know someone who's having trouble stopping his VCR from flashing 12:00 all the time isn't exactly the one to go to judge between conflicting technical reports.  (This, of course, is one big problem with the U.S. justice system...)  I think the jury went for second-degree murder mostly because they felt they had to convict her of something, and that was the least they could go for.  That's not what they're supposed to do, but since when do humans do that?  The defense does have one point in it's favour, however.  Their theory was that the wounds were caused 3 weeks prior, and even the prosecution admits the wrist fracture did.  And yet... they never used the standard assault defense.  Even with Scheck (sp?) on the team, no conspiracies, cover-ups, or frames have been mentioned.  Rather startling anymore, no?  By the same token, this bothers me a bit.  If the wounds were caused three weeks prior, and then aggravated by the nanny, who caused the original wounds?  No-one has brought this up that I'm aware of.  The judge's decision doesn't bother me.  I didn't see the evidence, he did.  And his verdict has the true watermark of a fair and impartial decision in today's legal system... both sides went away angry.
I'm much more bothered by the lawyers actions afterwards.   Their interviews on TV, playing to the public, trying to convince everyone that they're right and their opponent is a lying sleeze-bag (which is what most Americans think lawyers are anyway, so they needn't bother).  These guys make their living off of words.  They should have a vested interest in the sanctity of the language.  And yet.. they spend their time twisting words, finding meanings that were never there or denying ones plain to see.  The judges comments on his verdict were released on the internet, and yet the lawyers of both sides quoted selected portions of it to make their side look better.  And both twisted words beyond recognition.  These guys were almost as bad as most op/ed columnists.  These are also, by and large, the people writing the laws in the first place.  Ever try to read a legal document?  I sometimes think that if we ran all the law books through a rigorous semantic analysis, we'd end up with maybe twenty pages of meaning...

(This one actually has something to with Daria.  No, really, it does.)
Last year, all Colorado fourth-graders took a test.  It was a state-wide standards test, to see how the schools were living up to fairly recently passed education guidelines.  The test covered reading and writing, two topics near and dear to Daria's heart.  Last week, the results were released.  Even before their release, we knew they'd be bad news.  The few people who did know the results would only say they were "grim", and there was one confirmed (and I kept an eye out for more, confirmed or not) report that the scores were being "readjusted" so they'd look better.  The results were even worse than I expected (this is not a good thing to hear from a pessimist).  Barely half of Colorado fourth graders were up to par in reading, and less than one third met the standards in writing.  Keep in mind, these are the adjusted scores.  I have yet to find out exactly how they were adjusted, but I have my suspicions.  There were several categories, such as 'superior' (unfortunately, the paper that listed them out is missing) and I bet the definition of what scores fit in which category was played around with, so that more would fit in the passing ranges.  The scores were also broken down by school... and three schools in Denver produced no students who met the reading or writing standards.  This comes after a few years of a campaign to improve reading, by the way.  This wasn't a fill-in-the-dots type test familiar to anyone who's ever heard the term "scantron".  There were section where they actually had to write - how novel for a writing test (I know, I know, very punny.  I couldn't resist).  Some of the kids were asked about the test, and they thought it was the hardest test they'd ever taken.  They'd actually had to think and not just fill in the dots (practically a direct quote, by the way, and it would be if I could keep this family from throwing out newspapers).  What can be said about this besides 'It's pathetic'?  Yet, it's not the worst news.  While there has been a massive 'literacy' campaign, they seem to have forgotten half the definition of literacy.  There are plenty of schools (most of them, in fact) that emphasize reading.  Not one of them specifically emphasizes writing.  Unless something shocks a lot of twits (remember, school-boards are a strange breed of political creature), we're going to be faced with a generation of people who can read well enough, but couldn't write a paragraph to save their life.  Anyone out there going for an English major (to learn how to write rather than because it's an "easy major" anyway) may have a great job market in a few years.  If all that doesn't frighten you, well, imagine a world where Wraith's Ramblings is one of the best-written pieces around.  Scary, no?

I'll end with a (long) quote from a book by one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchet:

The Patrician was not a gardens kind of person.  But some of his predecessors had been, and Lord Vetinari never changed or destroyed anything if there was no logical reason to do so.  He maintained the little zoo, and the racehorse stable, and even recognized that the gardens themselves were of extreme historic interest because this was so obviously the case.
They had been laid out by Bloody Stupid Johnson.
Many great landscape gardeners have gone down in history and been remembered in a very solid way by the magnificent parks and gardens that they designed with almost god-like power and foresight, thinking nothing of making lakes and shifting hills and planting woodlands to enable future generations to appreciate the sublime beauty of wild Nature, transformed by Man.  There have been Capability Brown, Sagacity Smith, Intuition De Vere Slade-Gore...
In Ankh-Morpork, there was Bloody Stupid Johnson.
Bloody Stupid "It Might Look A Bit Messy Now But Just You Come Back In Five Hundred Years' Time" Johnson.  Bloody Stupid "Look, The Plans Were The Right Way Round When I Drew Them" Johnson.  Bloody Stupid Johnson, who had 2,000 tons of earth built into an artificial hillock in front of Quirm Manor because "It'd drive me mad to have to look at a bunch of trees and mountains all day long, how about you?"
The Anhk-Morpork palace grounds were considered the high spot, if such it could be called, of his career.  For example, they contained the ornamental trout lake, one hundred and fifty yards long and, because of one of those trifling errors of notation that were such a distinctive feature of Bloody Stupid's designs, one inch wide.  It was the home of one trout, which was quite comfortable provided it didn't try to turn around, and had once featured an ornate fountain which, when first switched on, did nothing but groan ominously for five minutes then fire a small stone cherub a thousand feet into the air.
It contained the hoho, which was like a haha only deeper.  A haha is a concealed ditch and wall designed to allow landowners to look out across rolling vistas without getting inconvenient poor people wandering across the lawns.  Under Bloody Stupid's errant pencil it was dug fifty feet deep and had claimed three gardeners already.
The maze was so small people got lost looking for it.
But the Patrician rather liked the gardens, in a quiet kind of way.  He had certain views about the mentality of most of mankind, and the gardens made him feel fully justified.

"Men at Arms" -- Terry Pratchett


Sick, Sad World (the site) was created by Wraith