Sunday, May 26, 2013

You decide -- is this baby trying to read the newspaper or not?

    I have some old videos that I downloaded to my computer years ago. I've used Windows Movie Maker to turn a lot of my raw video into various Youtube-like shorts, but I've got a one hour-long video that is essentially six months or so out of our lives that's just been sitting there. I decided to see what was on it today.
    I won't bore you with a long home movie, but I did produce a 90-second short featuring my son Ash, who was then perhaps 10 months old, trying hard to read the newspaper. I read most of my news on the Internet these days, but back then I was an avid newspaper reader. It seems clear to me that my son is trying to figure out what all the fuss is about.
    The video was shot at my wife's maternal grandmother's house. I decided to pull away and get a little film on everyone in the room, including Jinny's grandmother. It likely is the only video that there is of Lucille Burkhalter, who died a couple of years ago after a prolonged illness.
    So I guess there are two morals to this story. First, get a little film on your loved ones as time goes by. Some day you will cherish it. Second, based on Ash's action's with the newspaper, be aware that the children are watching -- even when they are 10 months old!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The beauty of federalism: Blue States free to raise taxes while Red States make cuts

    The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story about how Blue states are raising taxes and spending pretty dramatically while Red States are holding the line.
    My personal opinion is that these Blue States are making a mistake. There has been a slow seepage of high-income people and businesses from Blue States due to high taxes. Raising them even more is likely to drive off more.
    But, on the other side of the coin, many people are glad to pay more in taxes when accompanied by better government services. Unfortunately, many of the Blue States, such as California, have a history of squandering tax money.
    What's the right choice? I have an opinion but I don't know for sure. But the beauty of federalism is that different states can do different things and hopefully learn from each other's mistakes. If higher taxes and spending -- presumably accompanied by better infrastructure and education -- end up attracting new businesses we'll know that the Blue State strategy is best. If the Blue States continue to hemorrhage jobs and taxpayers we'll know they have made a mistake. If Red States continue to slowly attract business and taxpayers we'll know they've done it right.
    I think it worthy of note that many Blue State residents simply would never more to a Red State no matter how high their taxes were. Most people from Southern California or Massachusetts simply are not going to be happy living in Mississippi or Alabama. They might like Naples, Fla., though. People aren't going to pack up and move overnight. This is a decade-by-decade process.
    What we have is federalism at its finest. Different states adopting dramatically different policies. Not only does it give American citizens more choices, but as a state we can look around at what works and doesn't work elsewhere and act accordingly.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Read the latest news about unfettered immigration and you can smell treason in the air

    As the United States Congress attempts to essentially do away with any limitations on immigration whatsoever with a bill that will legalize virtually anyone and make all non-citizens eligible for welfare and free health care, it might be a good time to look at the latest immigration news from around the world.
    In Great Britain, a soldier was beheaded in broad daylight by at least two Muslim extremists. Why? Because the British government was stupid enough to allow people who did not love Britain or who did not fit in with the British to immigrate to that county. We'll soon find out whether the killers were on welfare, but my guess is that they were.
    Of, and just for fun news, an English town has decided to stop displaying the English flag, on the grounds that Muslims might be offended, since England participated in the Crusades.
    Sweden has now endured its third night of rioting in immigrant neighborhoods, relating to the death of a knife-wielding man in Husby, a suburb from which native Swedes have been run off. The riots are made worse by the irresponsible decision of the police not to use machine guns to quell the disorder. The problem? Once again, like Britain, Sweden allowed massive numbers of immigrants who didn't fit in, weren't very employable, and didn't have a true love and allegiance to Sweden to enter the country. They are reaping what they have sown.
    Right here in the good, ol' United States, a Chechen immigrant with ties to the Boston Marathon bombers was shot and killed by law enforcement officers after he attacked them during an interview. Ibragim Todashev was no stranger to violence; he recently put an American citizen in the hospital as a result of a dispute over a parking space.
    Now here's an interesting question for you. How many Chechan immigrants have you even heard of in this country? For me the answer is three. All three have turned out to be murderous Islamic extremists or thugs. But the liberals tell us we must pretend there is no difference in people from different countries, that every potential immigrant must be assumed to be an altar boy. Just because 100 percent of the Chechans we've heard of have turned out to be ultra-violent thugs is no reason to subject other Chechans to increased scrutiny. Oh, no!
    Make no mistake, I support legal immigration. I think that as a society we need as many really smart immigrants who speak English and who love our country as we can get. But these immigrants must be able to support themselves, and be admitted on the basis of how much they will contribute to our society, not based on how cheaply they will pick a pint of strawberries to enrich some dirtbag berry farmer. We mustn't allow prospective failures to enter the country, as all they will do is blame their failure on American society and start killing people. Or maybe well be lucky and they won't kill; they'll just steal, or maybe just suck all the money out of our welfare system.
    There is a bipartisan group of U.S. senators known as the Gang of Eight essentially trying to eliminate America's borders and provide welfare benefits to the world. These men are nothing less than traitors to the American people. There will be another election in 18 months, and I seriously doubt the Gang of Eight can pack the voter rolls with enough illegal voters in that time to save themselves and their allies.
    So I'm looking forward to seeing a few of these guys turned out of office in 2014, provided one of their immigrant allies doesn't murder, behead, or blow me up before then.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

If you're sitting on unused Marriott Rewards certificates, book your stay by May 16

    I've said for some time that the Marriott Rewards program is one of the best for casual travelers who want to score free lower-end hotel rooms with a minimum number of stays.
    The Marriott Megabonus, offered three times a year, offers most members a free-night certificate for each two paid nights. In the past these certificates have been limited to Category 1-4 hotels. So in New Orleans we could get a free room at the Springhill Suites in the Warehouse District, but not at the full Marriott on Canal Street. This suited us just fine.
    Earlier this year Marriott announced a pretty massive "devaluation," whereby many of its Cat 4 hotels were moving to Cat 5. This leaves us without an acceptable hotel option in New Orleans, Little Rock, and elsewhere. The silver lining is that the changes don't take effect until May 16 -- that's tomorrow!
    So if you're sitting on some of these certificates -- Jinny has five of them -- now would be a good time to book a possible trip. I'm studying the Ole Miss "Away" calendar and trying to think of a good time to visit New Orleans this fall. If you don't book now, your options may be limited.
    The "Loyalty Lobby" blog has a good explanation of these changes, along with advice to book rooms one night at a time so one can make changes.
    On the good news front, this summer's Megabonus offer for most is for certificates that are good for Cat 1-5 hotels. So we can still earn the certificates and they still have real value, allowing Marriott to retain its status as the top loyalty program for casual travelers, in my view.

Monday, May 13, 2013

MrFrancyPants: We've arrived!

My nephew, Jesse Hurdle, is spending the summer on the Georgia Tech satellite campus in Metz, France. He claims that he is going to blog about his experience, so I've added his blog to my blog list, at left. I'm not so sure how much I like the name of his blog, but maybe it will grow on me.

MrFrancyPants: We've arrived!: We're waiting at the airport now for our shuttle. I only got about a twenty minute nap on the plane, but it's 8am here so the day is...


Saturday, May 11, 2013

After a long wait Ender's Game movie trailer is released; the book is available now

    I've never seen so much excitement over a movie trailer, but the first official trailer for Ender's Game has been released. The actual movie release date is Nov. 1, 2013.
    Ender has apparently been aged quite a bit. He's supposed to enter battle school just shy of his eighth birthday. Maybe the movie-makers decided the public couldn't stand to see an 8-year-old child being mistreated.
    The movie could be a dud, so by all means read the book. I encouraged Ash to read it in first grade and he cast it aside after finishing two-thirds of it, declaring it "boring." He took it up again in fifth grade and declared it among the best books he's ever read (if not the best).
   Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, has a Lexile rating of 780, which means it is slightly more difficult reading than The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson) by Rick Riorden (Lexile 740) and easier to read than most of the Harry Potter books. Most John Grisham books come in with a Lexile rating of below 700, so books like Ender's Game are truly written for all ages.
    Lucy has steadfastly refused to read Ender's Game, on the grounds that I recommended it. But I don't know of anyone who has read it who did not like it. So read the book so you can join the ranks of those who declare "The book was better," in six months.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I've got more statistics on ACT high scorers. In 2012, only 24 Mississippians made a 35 or 36

    My last blog post was about how eight Oxford High School students earned Star Student status by scoring a 35 or 36 on the ACT test. Normally there is only one STAR Student per school, but the rules stipulate that any student scoring a 35 or 36 with a 93 or higher average is entitled to STAR honors.
    I "guesstimated" that such a score would be in the 99.7th percentile or higher. Well, based on last year's scores it's far better. In 2012, 24 out of 28,288 Mississippi graduating seniors posted a best ACT score of 35 or 36. If these statistics hold true for this year, that means that these eight students are in the 99.9th percentile of Mississippi graduates.
    Nationally, 5,238 seniors graduated with a score of 35 or 36 on the ACT (which explains why Harvard and Yale are so hard to get in to!). This is out of 1,666,017 seniors reporting. So nationally, a score of 35 or higher places one in only the 99.7th percentile.
    It's really amazing. I would guess that you could take the 20th-ranked student from Oxford High School and place him or her randomly in any high school in the state; most times that student would likely end up being the STAR student and perhaps the valedictorian.
    I've said that the large Oxford National Merit classes are not an anomaly, but the new normal. Well, having such a large group of students scoring 35 or 36 on the ACT is an anomaly. I don't see another group like this any time soon. Of course, I hope I'm wrong!
    As always, good news like this should cause us to ask ourselves questions. Oxford clearly has some of the brightest kids not just in Mississippi, but in the United States. Is the school system doing everything it can to develop this talent, for example, by providing intensive foreign language instruction in the elementary grades, or AP classes starting in eighth grade? If not, why not?
    Second, is the city of Oxford prepared to capitalize on the school system's success in order to attract success-oriented parents? The city should plan a major advertising campaign aimed at getting highly successful people to move to Oxford to take advantage of the school system. Nothing breeds success like success. People with smart children are looking for good schools for their kids. Somebody just needs to tell them where the schools are. That's what advertising is for.

Here is a link to the 2012 National ACT score information.

Here is a link to the 2012 Mississippi ACT score information.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Oxford High School sets state record for number of STAR students -- 8 of them

    I'm not sure how I missed this story, but the Tupelo Daily Journal reported almost two weeks ago that Oxford High School has set an all-time state record by having eight students who have earned STAR Student status.
    The STAR Student program, operated by the Mississippi Economic Council, recognizes the student from each high school with the highest ACT score and an average of at least a 93. However, any student with a 35 or 36 on the ACT is also recognized as a STAR Student. Oxford apparently had eight students with either a 35 or 36 on the ACT test, and thus eight STAR Students.
    (Each STAR Student named a STAR Teacher, the teacher who most influenced him or her. One student named Jeffrey Jones, who teaches pre-algebra to sixth-graders at the middle school. Mr. Jones has certainly been one of the most effective teachers my children have had, and I think it's interesting that one of his former students recognized his efforts six years later.)
    All eight of this year's STAR Students were among the dozen National Merit Semifinalists that I named back in September, 2012. My understanding is that based on the scores already in and past-year's cutoff scores Oxford is looking at another bumper crop of National Merit Scholars for the 2013-14 school year as well.
    Having eight students score 35 or 36 on the ACT is actually a greater accomplishment than having a dozen National Merit Semi-Finalists. In Mississippi, it takes a score in roughly the 98.3rd percentile to earn Semi-Finalist status. On the ACT, the 99th percent starts with a composite score of 33. I would guesstimate that a score of 35 is in the 99.7th percentile or higher. Of course, the test-makes shouldn't force me to "guesstimate" these things, and should instead provide them in their charts.
    This is all just further evidence that Oxford has become a magnet for Mississippi's super-bright. The university has grown, and so we have more professor's kids. But lots of others are moving to Oxford in search of schooling for their children as well. And these children tend to be brighter than average; sometimes a lot brighter than average.
    I visited Oxford High School earlier this year with my son and left with the impression that students were encouraged to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. That's what education is supposed to be about. The school district needs to make sure this policy is implemented in all of the Oxford schools.

Oxford Middle School assistant principal Roberson to lead Senatobia High School

    Oxford Middle School assistant principal Bradley Roberson has accepted the principal's position at Senatobia High School, reports the Tate County Democrat.

    Roberson, a native of North Mississippi, graduated from Ripley High School and has a Masters of Education from the University of Mississippi, along with 13 years of experience in education as a teacher, coach and administrator.

During Roberson's tenure at Oxford, he has been named Teacher of the Year on three occasions and Administrator of the year once.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

New Mountain Dew ad draws lots of attention, just the wrong kind

    Mountain Dew has released one of the shortest-lived ad campaigns of all time. In fact, the company is doing everything it can to suppress the ad, including the use of copyright law to keep the ad off Youtube. What I want to know is who within that corporation thought this would be a great ad to sell products. has an article describing the ad, which features a goat which has apparently sexually or otherwise assaulted a white woman, who is then asked to pick him out of a line-up of black men. If the commercial I've linked to gets taken down Mediate has a copy up that will likely survive fair use challenge.
    The ad was the creation of hip-hop artist Tyler the Creator, who supplies the voice of the goat. The black men in the line-up are his band members. Oh, but this commercial did not go over well at all.
    There is no need for me to reinvent the wheel here. Read the Mediate article to get the back story on what one university professor is calling the "most racist commercial of all time." What gets my goat is that this is the same company that killed off our beloved Frito Bandito on the grounds that the commercials were "racist." Nothing racist about them, and the pencil erasers were really neat. They get rid of the Frito Bandito and give us this. Sheesh!

UPDATE: As I predicted, Pepsi has used the threat of copyright infringement to pull the link I had off of Liveleak. You can still see the ad by clicking on the Mediate link above. As it is part of a news story, I believe the ad qualifies as fair use and Pepsi will not be able to force them to take the ad down.

Oxford School District orchestra presents Spring 2013 concert

    The Oxford School District Orchestra, under the direction of Melissa Hathorn, held its Spring Concert Tuesday, April 30, 2013. She was assisted by student teacher Tyler Kuntz.
    I thought they did an outstanding job. The beginner group, in particular, put in a fine performance. It was far more than just one or two notes played again and again.
    Jinny was out of town and so I recorded the concert so she could see our Lucy. I decided to go ahead and record all of the groups. I think it’s really interesting to see the improvement that takes place from year to year, as these videos allow one to do.
    I’ve posted five videos. The first is the beginner group. The second is the Middle School's 7th and 8th grade orchestra. The third is the Oxford High School orchestra. The fourth is the high school advanced orchestra. And the final video is the School District orchestra, grades 6-12, playing Skyfall.
    Skyfall was a difficult piece. And the orchestra didn't get to practice together as a group very much as the students are at different schools. They did well.
    Graduating seniors were recognized at the concert. Kayla Owens was presented with an award recognizing both her hard work and good citizenship in promoting the orchestra program.
    Following the concert Ms. Hathorn announced that she had accepted a position in Los Angeles and that Mr. Kuntz would lead the program next year. (Actually Ms. Hathorn said she was going to L.A. Maybe she's going to Lower Alabama!).

Orchestra members

6th Grade and beginner orchestra
Violin I: Jessica Aten, Jonathan Masters, Rebekah Moen, Young Oh, Keelan Case, Calendula Cheng;
Violin II: Will Bunch, John Parker, Landon Parker, Isuru Hewanamma;
Viola: Hope Brown
Cello: Siena Cizdziel, William Hopper Shakevia Thompson, Noel Torma, Jalon Young

7th & 8th Grade Orchestra
Violin I: Tamjeed Azad, Sarah Booth, Madison Hickey, Spencer Huggins, Tony King, Christopher Le;
Violin II: India Austin, Abigail Castro-Rodriguez, Maddison Colston, Ivy Li, Harrison Tann;
Viola: Brian Aten, Ra’Anthony Perry, Jake Riffe;
Cello: Josh Alba, Lucy Hurdle, Neely Mullen
Bass: Zela Kihei, Raina Woolworth

High School Orchestra
Violin I: Yoomin Jo (Concertmistress), Kayla Owens, Lucile Easterbrook, Renee Sullivan-Gonzalez, Steven Le, Boatman Jacobs, Guy Farmer, Maia Payne, Alex Vinson;
Violin II: Cindy Torma, Shreya Mathur, Ethan Holmes, Chamil Jayaratna, Deterrias Pegues, Jasmine Minor, Alexander Minyard, Keyshawn Williams;
Viola: Cheyenne Griffin
Cello: Kashaun Wortham, Kendall Roy, Thita Thamutok;
Bass: Kevin Hill, Tyreq Roberson, Eboni Thomas
Percussion: Sydney Hansen, Connor Vinson, Kim Casissa
Piano: Joonhee Jo