Thursday, May 29, 2014

The horrors of war forged bonds that even jailhouse bars could not weaken

    Memorial Day has passed, and I suppose I'm a day late and a dollar short in sharing this story.
    My uncle, Danny Hurdle, served in the Pacific for most of World War II. He used to love to tell us about stealing a sack of apples and a large bag of sugar in order to make "Apple Jack." The sugar and apples were poured into some type of barrel in the woods and allowed to ferment. When Uncle Danny went out after a few days to sample his concoction, he discovered after taking a swig that he had stolen not a large bag of sugar, but of salt.
    But service in World War II was about a lot more than funny stories of failed attempts to make Apple Jack with salt. My dad said that if Uncle Danny had a few drinks he might mention his war service, and that often he would weep over the horrors that he and his friends endured.
    And these friendships did not end. I remember one war buddy from Pittsburgh visited Uncle Danny while I was a teen. He and his wife were kind of loud and Yankees with two capital Y's, if you could spell it that way. But Uncle Danny clearly loved his old friend.
    For whatever reason, Uncle Danny was assigned to a unit that was made up almost entirely of soldiers from Hillsboro, Ohio. In the late 1960s dad was going full-blast in the Ohio real estate market, and Uncle Danny was partners on a couple of deals around Hillsboro, Ohio.
    The man who was closest to Uncle Danny during the war was from Hillsboro, so naturally the first thing he did when he arrived in the county was to attempt to locate his old friend. And he did -- at the county jail. His friend was the town drunk, and spent most of his time in jail.
    And so, on each trip to Ohio, Uncle Danny spent a good bit of time at the county jail, visiting with his old friend. Uncle Danny wasn't worried about what people might say if they knew his good friend was in jail. And his friend was glad for the company.
    Wars are about great battles won or lost; we often hear tales of great bravery. But the real story of war is that of my Uncle Danny and his jailhouse friend, and tens of thousands of others just like it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Robert Khayat sings 'Long Black Veil'

Robert Khayat
    This is old news, but hey, if you haven't read it, it's still news.
    Almost three years ago Ole Miss held a reunion of Mississippian staffers to celebrate the newspaper's 100th anniversary. The journalism department videotaped the many events, posted them on Youtube, where they were promptly forgotten.
    Former Chancellor Robert Khayat did a little singing for us, and I have to say he wasn't bad at all. Plus, I liked his choice of music. He sang "Long Black Veil," which I've taken the liberty of presenting it today for your viewing pleasure.
    In introducing the song, Khayat referenced "The Eternal Triangle" of two men and one woman that seems to be at the heart of much if not most music and literature. Occasionally one can find two women and one man. Think about the popular "Twilight" series, "The Hunger Games," or any Louis L'Amour western.
    According to Wikipedia, "Long Black Veil" was written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin and originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell.
    Wikipedia also reports that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals referred to the song in the case United States v. Dayton, 604 F.2d 931, 935 n.3 (5th Cir. 1979). This case concerned the proper procedures trial court judges must take when accepting a guilty plea, and identified "the two most dangerous" pitfalls of a guilty plea as coerced pleas and ignorant pleas. In describing a modification made to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which governs acceptance of pleas, the court explained that the changed required that "the defendant be made aware of what might happen as a result of his plea, and that the court be satisfied that a factual basis existed for it." It dropped a footnote at this point which stated, "This change was doubtless effected to avoid such circumstances as are recounted in 'The Long Black Veil.'"
    As good as Khayat's version of the song was, my favorite cover is the one done by Jason and the Scorchers. I still remember their concert in Fulton Chapel back around 1985-86 when they opened for The Fabulous Thunderbirds. As far as I'm concerned Jason should have had top billing.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Oxford School District orchestra holds end-of-year concert May 14

    The Oxford School District held its end-of-year orchestra concert May 14 at Nutt Auditorium on the Ole Miss campus. I thought they gave a fine performance.
    For the past several years I tried to record some of my daughter's orchestra concerts. Obviously there are a lot more children involved than just my daughter.
    I didn't take my video camera to the Christmas 2013 concert, which featured some choral music as well as orchestra tunes. I was simply blown away by five kids performing "Mary Did You Know" in a street-singing style. I called my friend Ed Meek and asked him to have someone from film these kids, and he did; and so I was able to include it on my blog.
    In past years I've recorded snippets of songs. Last year I made a separate video for each song. One of the things that I find interesting is the obvious improvement that takes place as these children get older.
    This year I decided to just record the entire performance of each group in full, without any editing. I did miss the first song performed by the high school, Furiant, by Elliot Del Borgo, as they started player before I got the "record" button pressed. I zoomed in once on each group to try to get video of each performer; however, many were in the back and out of the view of my camera. Oh well!
    Most people won't want to watch all of these videos in their entirety. But here it is for those who might have friends or family members in the orchestra. For the general public, I strongly urge you to listen to a few snippets, anyway. Oxford is lucky to have a quality orchestra program in its schools.
    The Oxford School District Orchestra is under the instruction of Tyler Kuntz. Kuntz said the high school orchestra had to cancel its plans earlier this year to participate in a rating competition earlier this year due to inclement weather, but that the middle school participated and received outstanding marks, with almost no negative comments.
    Kuntz said he would announce in the fall the fact that he had registered the orchestra to participate in a four-day competition in St. Louis next year. The trip will include a visit to Six Flags, of course. Readers of this blog won't have to wait for the announcement.
    And now for the videos:

Monday, May 12, 2014

Cable news ratings show race from center

    Americans are continuing their march from the center if viewership of cable news networks is any indicator.
    The chart above shows last Friday's 25-54 Demo. Fox news is clearly way ahead of the other cable networks, and its lead only grows when non-Demo viewers are included.
    The network that is sucking air, and sucking air hard, is CNN. That network is slightly liberal, but not generally perceived as being far left in the way that MSNBC is.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Marriott summer promotion a a dud for casual travelers, but frequents guests doing fine

    The Marriott Rewards gravy train is dead. Long live the Marriott Rewards gravy train.

First the bad news
    Marriott Rewards has released its second Megabonus-type offer of the year, and it doesn't include the stay-twice-get-a-free-night room certificate offer of which I've been so fond. Casual travelers such as myself are offered the chance to earn double points starting with the third stay during the promotion.
    There has been a great deal of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth over on the Flyertalk board by Marriott customers upset over the changes. And indeed, for casual travelers the new promotion is virtually worthless.
    For two or three years now Marriott has targeted the free night certificate offer to its low-end customers. It was a sweet deal. Twelve Mariott Family stays per year would yield six free-nights at either Cat 1-4 hotels or Cat 1-5 hotels. If used wisely it was almost like getting a 100 percent rebate on the cost of a hotel room.
    I tend to stay at the cheaper Marriott properties, with room rates in the $79 to $129 range. So four stays with the old Megabonus offer would likely cost me about $450, and in exchange I would get two free nights. We've almost always gotten $150 in value out of our certificates, and I am using my Fall 2013 certificates for a $250-per-night hotel. So with most of the past Megabonus offers I've been about to spend $450 and get certificates worth $300 to $500.
    The new offer gives double points starting with the third stay during the promotion. My expected bonus after spending $450 on four stays will be about 2,200 point. If valued conservatively at a penny a point the value of the bonus is about $22. So not such good deal.
    Frequent travelers tended to be targeted for a better deal. Jinny was offered a 25,000-point bonus after 15 nights (not stays), with an additional 10,000 points after five more nights. She had the same offer in the last Megabonus, and earned the 25,000 points with exactly 15 nights. She earned an additional 25,000 through regular point earnings and elite bonuses, for a total haul of about 50,000 points.
    Marriott has one of the best aspirational awards in the loyalty club business, with a travel package offering seven hotels nights plus 120,000 airline miles for 270,000 to 540,000 points. That's enough airline miles for two round-trip tickets to Europe in the shoulder season, and unless one just has to stay in a Ritz-Carlton most hotels are available in a package costing 360,000 points or less.
    So even though Marriott Rewards has pulled the rug out from under casual travelers, the program continues to be very generous to the most-frequent hotel guests.
    I have a few Marriott points of my own. Spouses are allowed to pool their points with Marriott, so by my calculation we ought to have enough points next year to redeem for the free trip to Europe (or elsewhere). Where do we go? Ask Jinny.

Now the good news
    Marriott Rewards has gotten rid of the free-night certificates, which certainly hurts occasional travelers like me. But they have a new promotion that gives members up to 2,000 points per month for "Liking" and promoting Marriott on various social media platforms. The promotion lasts six months but we can hope it will be extended.
    The program is called Marriott Rewards Points Plus. You can sign up by clicking here. The Loyalty Lobby blog has a good description of how the program works. For a husband and wife team, that's 24,000 points for a few "likes" on Facebook, Foursquare, etc. That's about seven percent of the points needed for the free European vacation.
    A spoonful at a time, folks.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Oxford High School and Middle School to start later next year; science says the later the better

    The Oxford School District is going to separate bus routes next year so that high school and middle school students will be served by different bus routes from elementary students, the Oxford Eagle reports from behind a pay wall. The change will also push back the start time at the high school and middle school by about 30 minutes.
    District Superintendent Brian Harvey said there haven't been any problems to date, but that having separate buses would create a more comfortable environment for younger children. The change is also designed to address serious traffic problems that have existed since the opening of  the new high school, which have made it difficult for the buses to go to all schools in a timely manner.
    “This is something that we have thought about for a number of years because we want our parents to feel safe that their kids can ride the buses,” OSD Superintendent Brian Harvey told the Eagle. “We haven’t had any issues that other school districts haven’t encountered, but the school bus climate is something we feel we can improve on.”
    This is great news for Oxford's students, even though it appears that the primary reason for the change is due to logistics and not as an aid to student performance. Numerous studies have shown that teens are biologically programmed to go to sleep later in the evening and that early school days deprive them of the sleep they need. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan supports later start times, and sent out a "Tweet" last year which said, "Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later."
    And to Harvey's credit he did mention studies showing an increase in student performance with a later start time. “We’ve also looked at research that said that secondary students improve with student achievement and even ACT scores (by a later school start time),” Harvey told the Eagle.
    If you don't want to bother reading a study, just read this recent New York Times article, which reports on the benefits later school start times. Or check out the website of Start School Later, an organization that promotes reasonable and healthy school start times.
    When we first moved to Oxford we rented a condo that was the very first stop on the bus route. My recollection is that if the children wanted to ride the bus they needed to be at the bus stop at something like 6:25 a.m. The bus stop was at least a five minute walk away, so that meant they would have needed to be out the door by 6:20, and in order to do that the entire family would have had to get up at 5:30 a.m. Needless to say, the kids did not ride the bus.
    But enough of personal anecdote; let's go back to the study I cited above. The last sentence of the last page says it all: [T]he findings of this research study reveal that there are empirically-based positive outcomes for adolescents whenever the start time of their high school is moved to a later time — with the starting time of 8:30 AM or later clearly showing the most positive results.
    Students in the above survey were asked what time they thought school should start. Fewer than 10 percent wanted a start time before 8 a.m., which Oxford now has. Almost 51 percent wanted a start time of 9 a.m. or later, and 75 percent wanted a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later.
    Our schools exist to serve the students, and if they want and need a later start time that's what they ought to get. This is especially true when substantial empirical evidence shows that a later start will improve their academic, emotional, and physical health.
    The tardy bell at Oxford High School currently rings at 7:50 a.m. Superintendent Harvey mentioned a 8:20 or 8:30 a.m. start time for the middle and high schools next year. Eight-thirty would certainly be an improvement, and based on prior studies Oxford will see an improvement in student performance with these changes. I use the word "will" because I'm pretty confident that the later start time will produce measurable improvement.
    But if the school district really wants to improve academic performance and increase student health and well-being, the first tardy bell for the 2014-15 school year will ring at 9 a.m.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Oxford High School senior Zhao named one of 141 U.S. Presidential Scholars reports that Oxford High School senior Yuqi "Mark" Zhao has been named of of 141 U.S. Presidential Scholars. These scholars will be honored in Washington June 22-25.
    The 2014 U.S. Presidential Scholars are comprised of one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and from U.S. families living abroad, as well as 15 chosen at-large and 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts.
    The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, appointed by President Obama, selects honored scholars annually based on their academic success, artistic excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership, and demonstrated commitment to high ideals. Of the three million students expected to graduate from high school this year, more than 3,900 candidates qualified for the 2014 awards determined by outstanding performance on the College Board SAT and ACT exams, and through nominations made by Chief State School Officers or the National YoungArts Foundation’s nationwide YoungArts™ competition.
    Zhao was one of Oxford's eight STAR Students this year, as a result of an ACT score of 35 or 36, and is one of Oxford's 11 National Merit Finalists in the Class of 2014. He is an AP Scholar with Distinction, an honor given to students with a 3.5 or higher grade-point-average who score 3 or higher on at least five AP exams.
    Zhao is the son of Mei Wang and Jianping Zhao. He is Captain of the Envirothon Team, Co-Captain of the Science Olympiad Team, Captain of the Math and Science Quiz Bowl Team, and a member of the Robotics Team. He plans to major in Electrical Engineering in college.

Next year, many if not most Mississippi school districts will be able to feed every student for free

       A substantial percentage of Mississippi school districts may be eligible for a new federal program which feeds all students for free, with only nominal funding being required of the local school district. But an important deadline is fast approaching.
    Any school, group of schools, or school district which has 40 percent or more of students receiving a free or reduced-price lunch based on their status as an "identified student" qualified to receive benefits is eligible for the community free lunch program. Note the phrase "identified student." It's important.
    A student who provides the school district with evidence that his family receives SNAP, or that he is a foster child, or that he meets a number of other qualifications is considered an "identified student" eligible for free lunch with no further application or qualification. Other students qualify through a written application. My understanding is that the overwhelming majority of free-reduced lunch participants qualify through the "identified student" provisions.
    Participation in the following programs or students in these categories qualify as "identified students":

• Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);
• Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF);
• Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR); and
• Medicaid (in States and LEAs participating in an FNS demonstration project to test the potential for direct certification with Medicaid). The term identified students would also include the following students, as defined in § 245.2:
• Homeless children as defined under section 725(2) of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11434a(2));
• Runaway and homeless youth served by programs established under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (42 U.S.C. 5701);
• Migrant children as defined under section 1309 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 6399);
• Foster children certified through means other than a household application;
• Children enrolled in a Federally- funded Head Start Program or a comparable State funded Head Start Program or pre-kindergarten program;
• Children enrolled in an Even Start Program; and
• Non-applicant students approved by local education officials, such as a principal, based on available information.

    Students not qualifying for free-reduced lunch under the above can still qualify using a paper application. However, these students are not to be treated as "identified students" in determining Community Eligibility.
    The great unknown is how many subsidized-lunch students qualify automatically and how many qualify through application. And are there any who could have qualified automatically who submitted an application? If so, these recipients won't be counted as they should be.
    Currently the Oxford School District has about 50 percent of its students on the free or reduced program, with the lowest participation being the high school with 39 percent and the highest Bramlett Elementary with 58 percent. Many high school students don't sign up for the program just because they are afraid other students will find out.

How the program works
    Based on my reading, here's how the program works.
    To participate, a school must have at least 40 percent "identified students," and wish to participate. Participating schools must agree to feed all students both breakfast and lunch at no cost.
    Participating schools are paid the full free-lunch or breakfast price for 1.6 times the number of "identified students." So if Oxford were to come in just under the wire at 41 percent the program would provide full reimbursement for 65.6 percent of all lunches served. The remaining meals would be reimbursed at the paid level of about 35 cents per paid lunch served.
    I would guess that Oxford currently receives a high reimbursement rate, in part because so many kids who aren't on the free lunch program bring their own from home. Thus it is likely that even though only about 50 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, this group likely accounts for more than 60 percent of meals served, which gives the school a higher reimbursement rate.
    I'm not going to get into the math of reimbursements, because it's a complex process with lots of variables. If eligible for the community program, Oxford is likely to be reimbursed about $2.10 for each lunch served, which is less than it currently receives through the current combination of government and private payment. I would make a wild guess that Lafayette could get a $2.30-$2.40 reimbursement, and Marshall County and Panola County can feed everyone and receive around $3.01 for every lunch served.
    It should be noted that individual schools within each of these school districts could have a higher reimbursement rate; not every school has to participate. So a single school with a higher free-lunch rate might find it beneficial to provide free lunch to all under this program while other schools remain out of the program.
    As I said, this is a good program for a lot of reasons. Among them is the fact that many students, particularly high school students, are eligible but don't sign up. And I happen to believe that there is a benefit to treating every student the same: If one gets a free lunch, all should get a free lunch.

Steps every school district should take right now

    There is a June 30 deadline for eligible schools to sign up to participate in this program. Eligibility is determined by the percentages in place on April 1. I don't know if it's possible to go back and massage the April 1 numbers; I suspect that many school districts have not been diligent about getting all eligible students enrolled in the free-lunch program.
    1. Every school and school district should examine their free lunch numbers to see if they are near the 40 percent threshold. In the end some choices may have to be made concerning the grouping of schools, or making the program available to one school, but not all.
    2. If a school or district is anywhere close to qualifying, it should do a sibling check, to make sure that one child from a household isn't receiving benefits while another isn't. Once one child is qualified all are qualified, even if one child doesn't return his form. This should be done already, but the possibility exists that a few might slip through the cracks.
    3. Schools should audit those students in the free lunch program by application to make sure none were eligible for automatic enrollment, which would make them "identified students."

    I'm not a big fan of massive government programs, but the free lunch program is about as effective as they come, even if some of the food the schools are required to serve isn't very tasty. But that's a battle for another day.
    I will say that after looking at the numbers, the program really doesn't work for Oxford as a whole. It might work for Bramlett, which has a slightly higher subsidized-lunch rate. For the Lafayette County Schools the numbers work out a little better, but it will still cost the district money to provide every student with a free lunch; however there is a real benefit in providing each child with free meals, and the cost could well be worth it. For Panola County, Water Valley, Holly Springs, and Marshall County it's a no-brainer. It seems to me that these schools can provide a free lunch to every student at virtually no cost, and a failure to do so is educational malpractice.
    On a statewide level, 71 percent of all students are on the free or reduced lunch program. Clearly most schools will be eligible to feed all students for free, if only the schools make the proper applications.
    For many districts this program doesn't offer a "free lunch." In Oxford, for example, a large percentage of students bring their own lunch to school and are likely to continue to do so even if offered a free school lunch. For a school with this student dynamic to participate could be a financial disaster; Oxford would likely end up getting less money for each lunch served while serving few additional students.
    But for most Mississippi schools this program is a godsend. I hope these school districts will take advantage of the opportunity to feed all of their students for free.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Left-wing Amherst threatens to suspend or expel students who join off-campus fraternities

    Amherst College, one of the top-ranked liberal arts schools in the nation, is threatening to suspend or expel any student who joins an off-campus fraternity or sorority.
    The college had already withdrawn recognition of the Greek organizations 20 years ago, but recognized their right to function off campus. But now it is against school rules to join an off-campus organization on one's own time.
    The credit, or blame, for all of this goes to the same group that gets the credit for virtually everything that is wrong with America -- Liberals. Just consider the praise heaped on the decision by student Dana Bolger, who said the decision demonstrates the school’s commitment to “challenging the pervasive culture of white male privilege and entitlement on campus.”
    Ah, yes, those pesky white males. Clearly Bolger doesn't much care for the men who are in fraternities. Wouldn't it be easier for her just to stay away from them?
    I do wonder if Amherst officials have considered the Constitutional aspects of their edict. As a matter of public policy, people have a right to hang out with whomever they wish. Amherst is a private college, but it receives massive amounts of federal money through student loans, grants and other programs. A few colleges have gotten away with banning student involvement in off-campus groups, but that may change.
    The Supreme Court did rule a hundred years ago that colleges do have the right to ban fraternity membership, in Waugh v. Board of Trustees of the University of Mississippi, 237 U.S. 589 (1915). But while that case has never been expressly overruled, the reasoning is at odds with virtually all modern court decisions on the right of association. The history of Mississippi's ban on fraternities, as I understand it, is that a powerful legislator's son was cut out of rush at Ole Miss. So he just got a law passed banning fraternities.
    An interesting law journal article by Stetson University's Marc Bauer suggests that the recent Citizens United and Christian Legal Society Supreme Court Decisions offer additional freedom of association rights to students wishing to participate in off-campus Greek life. I certainly hope he's right. His article is worth a read.
    America's first social fraternity -- now an honorary -- was Phi Beta Kappa, founded at William and Mary in 1776. Most of its members were sympathetic to the Revolution, and the fraternity gave them a way to meet with others of like mind away from the prying eyes of the overwhelmingly Tory faculty.
    Greek organizations do today what they did in 1776. They allow members to gather with friends and share opinions that might not be popular with the left-wing establishment. That's why liberals hate Greek letter organizations, and why true Americans respect them.
    Nobody reading this will have any desire to attend Amherst in the first place, but we can certainly hope that college will face both legal and economic consequences as a result of its decision to trample on the most basic of human rights.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Liberals reject solutions in favor of hot air in global warming debate

    President Obama, desperate to find an issue to make himself look presidential, has seized on that favorite chestnut of the left, global warming. It's urgent, we're told.
    Well, if it's urgent then stop lying about it and start doing something. Be honest! Liberals keep telling us that we need to cut carbon emissions, yet methane is a far more effective greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Although methane accounts for only eight percent of greenhouse gasses, it is 21 times more effective at trapping solar radiation than carbon dioxide. And methane has increased far more than carbon dioxide over the past 300 years.
    And the primary source of methane in the atmosphere? Cow flatulence and cow burps. So reduce beef consumption and methane production drops automatically. Of course, this doesn't allow the United Nations the opportunity to levy huge taxes on highly developed energy-consuming nations to send to the pest holes of the world, which is what a lot of this global warming blather is about.
    Game theory tells us that getting everyone to cut carbon or methane emissions is virtually impossible. Unless every single nation and person on the planet participates, those who voluntarily cut emissions will be at a competitive disadvantage. But that doesn't mean we are helpless in the face of global warming.
    The book Superfreakanomics has a chapter which describes numerous very inexpensive solutions to the global warming problem. Oddly enough, no one seems interested in solutions.
    For example, in the 1970s the fear was that the planet was cooling. This was because high levels of sulfur dioxide pollution were indeed filtering out solar radiation. As this pollution was eliminated, the planet warmed.
    One scientist has proposed pumping sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere to offset global warming. This could be done relatively cheaply, with no negative pollution effects. Many other solutions have been suggested, such as putting biodegradable reflective confetti in the upper atmosphere to provide temporary cooling without permanently altering the biosphere. No one is interested. Liberals just want to tax and transfer.
    Of course, not everyone loses from global warming, as both The Washington Post and The Atlantic have noted. Many parts of the United States are currently too cold to be livable to the average person. If they warmed a bit that wouldn't be a bad thing.
    And people do have feet. When the federal government ruins a local school system, people slowly move away to areas with better schools. If an area should develop an unpleasant climate, people will drift to more pleasant locales. If less of the planet is inhabited, fewer greenhouse gasses will be produced. It's self-regulating.
    So let's quit with all the liberal hot air. It's warming the atmosphere!