October 03, 2015

Meltdown in Marlin ISD, or TEA commish kneecapping?

Well, it looks like the school district of my former newspaper home is in a heap of trouble.

Unless Marlin ISD has big improvement by next July, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams wants to shut it down, lock, stock and barrel.

There's several head-scratchers here.

First, a bit of background.

The TEA was threatening to close Marlin three or four years ago, as described here, due to district academic deficiencies. Then it hired a new superintendent, Michael Steck, who'd already done some degree of turnaround in his first spot, at Veribest ISD, where he was a finalist for superintendent of the year.

The middle school and high school at Marlin got off the TEA schneid, but the elementary school, where the district's problems were by far the worst, remained academically unacceptable, and so the district did as a whole.

The first link, from the Waco Trib, seems to have little information from the period after Steck was hired, including that it notes a warning letter from former TEA Commish Robert Scott back in 2011 with this quote:

“The monitor I appointed has been met with resistance and a lack of cooperation as she has attempted to implement her changes,” states a letter from Robert Scott, commissioner of education in 2011.
The fact is that I saw no such resistance after Steck got there. And neither did TEA monitor Jamie Morris (at least for public consumption), the last monitor to remain in place after the state reduced most of its oversight at the middle and high schools.

I'm not quite saying the Trib was doing a whack job; I don't think it was. But, while I know Marlin ISD still has problems, the Trib's Stephanie Butts didn't lay out much of a timeline of progress that has been made.

Indeed, the paper that serves Natalia ISD, where Steck went next, notes that improvement:
“He was recruited to take the position of Marlin ISD Superintendent by the Regional Education Center and TEA,” (Natalia) Board President Eric Smith said. “When he took over there, it was scheduled to be closed by the state within months due to their extremely poor academic status. They had seven state monitors on-site full time. Steck asked TEA for one year to improve academics before closing the district. Three years later all monitors are gone, except one TEA representative and things are headed in the right direction. Although Steck admitted improvements have been achieved, there is still work to be done.”
Still work to be done.

Steck's successor in Marlin, Michael Seabolt, who started there in June, discusses that in the Trib piece:
Seabolt said he already has made drastic changes to both teacher training and student instruction. 
Teachers are now required to teach using the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum, which wasn’t previously required, and received professional development on teaching literacy during the summer. Some teachers hadn’t seen any state accountability tests, he said. 
“They really had no idea of the rigor needed or what was being tested, in particular in reading,” Seabolt said. 
OK, so, did Steck do that much, or not? I know the elementary principal, Wes Brown, fairly well. (The comments are referring to the elementary.)
Surely Morris would have said something if major issues with teacher training still existed. Was Steck that far off? Is Seabolt claiming credit for things that Steck already had in place?

Anyway, I shot Brown an email, politely noting my interpretation of the Trib's piece and a couple of other things. We'll see if he responds. (As of Monday late afternoon, no.) The district is having a "save our schools" meeting; we'll see what turnout there is.

Update, Oct. 8: Turnout was very good, the Trib says.

Per the second link, Williams says state law requires the revocation of accreditation. Per this piece, he also says that the district failed to file timely appeals on the ratings. 

That, too, could cut two ways. Either some things got lost in the shuffle of superintendent changes or else Steck, burned out, out of magic wands or sleights of hand, hightailed it knowing that Williams was going to torpedo the ship in Marlin anyway.

Update, Oct. 9: A follow-up story by the Trib (same reporter on all) has the same "lacuna" problem as the original story on recent superintendent history. I've emailed Trib Editor Steve Boggs already and have yet to hear back from him. I Tweeted Butts now, giving her enough hints to work on filling this lacuna, and finding out what else comes up — if she wants to and Boggs wants her to.

Update, Oct. 13: Butts said she left messages with Steck, so he had his chance to comment. Again, there could be multiple reasons he didn't. He may just have "moved on," or he may have been turd-polishing. And, he's old enough, that Devine ISD could be his last pre-retirement stop, in which case, he wouldn't care what Seabolt is insinuating about him.

Update, Oct. 23: Seabolt has called Marlin Elementary instruction from before he arrived "Crayola curriculum." If he's even partially right, that explains who Steck wouldn't talk to Butts and Brown wouldn't talk to me. As for TEA monitor Jamie Morris, was she that bedazzled?

October 02, 2015

The truth on #conservative #SJW ideas and #climatechange, vs. Erica Greider of Texas Monthly

Using the term "philosobabble" as a philosophy-related counterpart to "psychobabble," Texas Monthly's Erica Greider engaged injust that earlier this week.

I quote from the third graf of her "Skeptics and Scare Stories":
For the record, though I’m not a scientist, I don’t doubt the scientific consensus that climate change is real and anthropogenic. At the same time, I don’t often feel oppressed by other people’s metaphysical and epistemological premises, and I rarely see a need to litigate such questions before policy discussions.
Beyond philosobabble in general, this did turn on a light bulb for me.

I had never thought before that conservatives could be labeled with the "social justice warrior" moniker often used to tag vapid, pseudo-intellectual thought of sections of the New New Left.

But,  there it is and there you have it. If some New Lefter were talking about whether or not they "feel oppressed by other people’s metaphysical and epistemological premises," we'd be on that like white on SJW rice.

Let's go on:
I … can’t recall asking any elected officials if they believe in anthropogenic climate change. I’ve asked people why they don’t believe in climate change. … But I’m hard-pressed to think of a scenario where I would find it relevant to ask Greg Abbott whether he believes in anthropogenic climate change.
Really? You wouldn't ask why this motivates him, both as AG and now as governor, to continue to sue the federal government? You wouldn't ask how much this is behind his infamous "I wake up and sue Obama" mantra? You won't ask why he keeps doing this even though he loses more than he wins and is the state's chief waster of taxpayer money, despite his claims, AND yours, to be fiscal conservatives?

Wouldn't you also ask him why, per the NewYork Times, he's now in the minority, not among Americans, not among Republicans, though he is in both counts, but, why he's in a minority of self-described conservative Republicans? 

See, that's just being a bad, or lazy, reporter. Or being an opiner/pundit while pretending to be a reporter.

And, it's not limited to climate change.

From earlier in the article.
Occasionally, for example, I’ve had occasion to ask legislators if they believe that human life begins at conception. I’ve never asked any of them how old they think the planet is; I don’t see why that question would even come up during the course of reporting.
And, again, why not?

Given that the so-called "intelligent design" movement has allies in the Texas Legislature; given that the State Board of Education has a history of trying to import bad science as well as bad history into Texas textbooks, you don't think this question would ever come up in the course of reporting on something like teaching evolution in public schools?

Back to climate change, though. Creating straw men may be a tool for a pundit, albeit not a good tool. But, it’s not a tool for a reporter. One can be both; it’s part of the community newspaper world.

However, one must know which mindset to use and when. Therefore, talking about reporting, not opining on this issue, while creating straw men like this:
Slowing climate change, after all, isn’t the easiest task imaginable. It would require drastic reductions in total global emissions of greenhouse gases; that would require most of the world’s industrialized nations to commit to major changes in their current consumption and production—course corrections that most countries would find costly and painful. Denouncing American conservatives for driving their gas-guzzlers all over the common good of humankind? That’s comparatively easy.
Is unacceptable.

Greider talks about the moral side:
According to many environmentalists, journalists who fail to ask such questions are being wantonly negligent about their responsibilities to the public interest.
It’s actually not that. It’s a question of journalistic ethics. And, you’ve shown that you don’t have much, if any.

So, let’s get back to that New York Times story, as it would inform you, Erica, how to actually do reporting on this issue:
North Carolina businessman Jay Faison and the Republican pollsters said that in order to avoid that characterization, Republicans need to move beyond questioning and start offering solutions.
Problem is, most Republican respondents reject regulatory solutions. They’d probably, even more, reject carbon taxes and carbon tariffs.

Which means they’re like Republicans on health care. They want to kill Obamacare, which is flawed in some ways, badly flawed in others, but which is a step forward compared to what we had before in a number of ways.

They don’t offer any solutions for a replacement, though. They just want to kill it.

That said, the same 54-percent majority supports a carbon tax — if rebated.

But, that’s either ignorance or a red herring. Rebating carbon taxes would take an additional bureaucratic infrastructure. And, if rebated to companies spewing carbon, not consumers, would eliminate the carbon tax being applied anyway. It would be robbing Peter to pay Peter. Duh.

Speaking of regulations, Greider then erects another straw man:
But if a supermajority of Texas is open to the idea of Congress (Congress!) passing regulations (regulations!) about energy production (energy production!) in order to reduce global warming, I don’t understand how environmentalists can, in good conscience, insist on the premise that the critical barrier to international action is rampant denialism about whether global warming is even real.
First, that “if” is just that. She knows no such supermajority exists.  And I don’t know why “energy production” is repeated in the parentheses.

Maybe the disinvestment drive will continue to gather enough steam until it hoists carbon polluters by a capitalist petard. Or an investment drive in publicly traded renewables companies, since renewables have now passed all fossil fuels combined in installations.

Second, why a "supermajority"? Is it because, if Faison is right, a simple majority already exists, even in Tejas?

Third, she knows that denialism lite 1, and denialism lite 2, exist, as well as full on denialism.

Denialism lite 1 is that, yes, humans have “some part” in global warming, but, it’s not that much.

Denialism lite 2, related, is that AGW’s effects are nothing to worry about, that humans have always changed the climate, etc.

But, I want to get back one last time to the conservative SJW angle. Between exchanges on Twitter, and even more, an exchange of comments on her blog post, she comes off to me as being at least as narcissistic as any new left type SJW. Per my skeptical and atheist friends, yep, I'd rank her in the same territory as Rebecca Watson.


And, yes, I wanted that long of a header, and hashtags, and all, since she thankfully made my light bulb come on about conservative SJWs.

Hat tip to Off the Kuff for bringing this particular stupidity to my attention.

(Sidebar: Her long history of wrongness includes believing that Rick Perry had an actual Texas miracle, when what he really has was lots of illegal immigrants. And created Big Gummint jobs. And, has a dysfunctional government.)

October 01, 2015

Western wildfires, firsthand

Having coming from California, and firsthand through some smaller wildfires, and ground zero for fighting a biggie, the Rough, I have a new appreciation for the work and cost.

The Rough Fire had a 50-acre command and living center. No, that's not hyperbole.

I was able to leave Sequoia National Park the first night the northern entrance-exit, via Fresno, reopened. Kings Canyon National Park, including the General Grant Grove, remained closed. (I had hoped to go hiking in the actual Kings Canyon portion of the park, but that remained very closed.)

About halfway to Fresno, I drove through the command center for fighting the Rough Fire. It was a vast sprawl of tents (firefighters live in them, and they're usually sleeping in shifts), gear and equipment, vehicles — both personal to drive to a fire site and official firefighting vehicles, supply vehicles for food, fuel, additional firefighting gear and clothes, etc., and more.

And, for the hundreds, even thousands, of actual firefighters and support that are involved with suppression of a Western wildfire that big, it takes 40-50 acres to hold them all.

And, that whole area smelled like a massive barbecue restaurant.

Carpenter ants in Yosemite/Steve Snyder
Later, in Yosemite, the Butte Fire was more knocked down, and I didn't come across too much in the way of smoke problems from it. The Tenaya Fire didn't affect Upper Yosemite too much. But, the National Park Service had a couple of lightning-started fires it had already controlled, and was managing them, as a burn tool, rather than killing them. The carpenter ants at left are grubbing through the Yosemite Fire, near the top of what is putatively Yosemite Creek, but was pretty much dry as a bone. (One pothole a mile east, in the drainage of what NPS maps show as a Yosemite tributary, had a bucket or two of water.)

And, as anybody who follows the West knows, our federal firefighting budget in western lands has skyrocketed. And, they know why. Climate change.

Screw the deniers. And screw the Associated Press who now says it's officially impolite to call them deniers.

September 30, 2015

Shell, oil prices, drilling, #txlege and budgeting

First, it looks like my poll for the quarter ending today was way wrong, though no more wrong than paid oil analysts, on average. Averaging votes, you and I said oil would be around $58-59 a barrel at the end of the month. And, we were off by, oh, only about $15 a barrel, per the latest numbers from Oil-Price.net.

Meanwhile, that same slump has caused Shell to pull back from Arctic drilling. Shed no tears, though; the oil giant will be back when oil gets above ... $70 a barrel, venturing on them holding on for a little while before premature withdrawal.

It's also caused greed machine Chesapeake to finally face the need for layoffs.

As for what's ahead for the coming quarter? Your guess is as good as mine, so I'll have a new poll up for those guesses. Let's just say that price points will be about $5 lower.

Meanwhile, our state's urban Jethro Controller, Glenn Hegar, is probably still masturbating his rosy scenario on the Texas budget, even as the falloff could be staggering — 13 percent in the Eagle Ford, 7 percent in the Permian. That much less drilling means fewer double cab pickups sold; fewer new houses bought; fewer remodelings; fewer fancy restaurant dinners; etc., etc. And, all of that means fewer sales tax dollars for Hegar's state treasury. Since the state has lost nearly 30,000 oil jobs this year, this continued slump in sales taxes is not an unrealistic scenario.

As for when things will pick up? Chris Tomlinson refers to U.S. oilmen who say the price needs not to get above $60, but above $70, or higher yet, for major investment in the American oil patch to pick up again. Per his piece, if $80 is really the threshold, that means waiting until the next decade.

Is our urban Jethro listening?

September 29, 2015

The AP tanks on climate change

In the biggest newspaper industry clusterfuck since refusing to use the word "torture" for torture, lest it be accused of taking sides, the Associated Press has said that "climate change skeptic" and "climate change denier" are both OUT.

"Doubter" is the official modifier.

However, this is itself taking the side of deniers.

It's just like not using the word "torture" to describe tortures that military and civilian representatives of the United States committed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And AP knows that. This is an issue of "legacy journalism." Sometimes, using particular language requires "taking sides" in an issue that has largely been settled scientifically (this) or otherwise empirically (torture).

And, if AP doesn't have the balls to do that, it can slide downhill along with individual legacy newspapers and other legacy properties.

And, of course, it has, for 20 years, since good old Dean Singleton was the chairman of AP's board, and started its clusterfuck on the business side. (Deano was a primary touter of the "TV model" of revenue for online newspapers, which of course was horribly wrong, including ignoring that, already in the 1990s, not only had cable TV been around for multiple decades, but pay cable channels like HBO had been around for a decade or more.) And, it's always fun to kick Singleton and his alleged newspaper business genius. (I've met him before.)

Unfortunately, when conservative pundits claiming to be reporters engage in philosobabble over this, the AP will continue to think it has to appease, yes, appease, "both sides."

September 28, 2015

TX Progressives talk about bad business, campaign finance, more

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes that everyone made it through the blood moon apocalypse all right as it brings you this week's roundup. (Assuming we're all still here to read it, and we've not been sent by John Hagee or other wingnut to the pits of their personal hell.)

Off the Kuff comments on the first poll of Texas we've seen in awhile.

Libby Shaw at Texas Kaos and contributing to Daily Kos notes that George P. Bush is a predictable clone of his father and uncle.  It's all about him and his cronies.  Texans should be wary.  George P. Bush: A Chip Off of the Old Block.

SocraticGadfly has a two-fer on Texas-related big business smackdowns. First, he compares VW to Blue Bell, without being sure who loses more in that. Second, after yet ANOTHER recent flight delay, he bitches about Southwest becoming more and more just another legacy airline.

With seven million bucks to spend and a Houston mayoral race that's putting people's feet to sleep, the Houston Chronic excitedly reports that the campaign air wars are about to begin.  PDiddie at Brains and Eggs points out that this is just one of the signs of a dysfunctional political system.

Neil at All People Have Value took a picture in Downtown Houston that suggested the important place of just plain luck in our lives. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

It may not generate much press during this election cycle, but Texas Leftist has been seeing the signs of a growing challenge for the Houston region. We are now in an affordable housing crisis that is likely to worsen in the coming years.


===================

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Eric Berger shows us what Sunday's lunar eclipse would have looked like if we saw it from the moon.

Offcite reports from Parking Day in Houston.

Greg Wythe wonders when the campaign for Houston Mayor will begin.

Glenn Smith notes that the late Yogi Berra was a beneficiary of birthright citizenship, which many Republicans like Ted Cruz would like to rescind.

Mean Green Cougar Red recalls Hurricane Rita.

I have found a newspaper worse than any in Texas

By "worse," I'm not referring to editorial content, op-ed stances or anything like that.

I'm referring to worse financially.

Back in the good old days, pre-financial bubble, pre-housing bubble, pre-auto sales bubble, and before Net 2.0 caught on too much, papers still hoped to have as much as 50 percent of their print content to be ads. They definitely targeted 40 percent, with the understanding that, way back then, even before the Advance chain cut back on delivery on these days, that some days, like Mondays, were slow for ads.

Well, regular readers have seen me bust the Austin American-Statesman in the chops for being as low as 10 percent adhole on Mondays.

And, in the online world, they've seen me slap the Dallas Morning News repeatedly for its digital misadventures, including starting a paywall then killing it.

(I know the Houston Chronicle has a paywall; I don't know what its print adhole usually is.)

Well, I have seen a paper that combines the worst of both worlds.

The San Francisco Chronicle.

Like the Snooze, it has no paywall, and it went down a similar road: It had a "premium" version at one time, then junked that.

Its adhole? Even worse than the Statesman's.

Just 8 percent on a Tuesday, which is not as slow an ad day as a Monday. Just 16 percent on Wednesday, which is definitely not as slow an ad day. Just 42 pages on a Wednesday as a result, for a paper in a major metro area with a vibrant economy.

Seems like Hearst needs to do an Advance, or something.

That said, Anschutz's wingnut San Francisco Examiner, if it's still around, has to be a money bleeder even worse.

That said, this was a "three-star" issue out in Red Bluff, California; I've been told that in-Bay issues have a higher ad percentage. That said, given that Red Bluff (up on the Sacramento River in northern California) is a lot closer to Sacto than San Fran, why is the Chronicle even circulating out there, weak adhole or not?

September 27, 2015

Southworst: Just another legacy airline

I am becoming more and more convinced of the fact that Southwest, if not yet fully a "legacy" airline, is becoming more and more like one.

Its vaunted hedging on fuel prices has backfired with the current oil glut. Even before that, many of its flights were only a few dollars cheaper than other airlines, even with the allowance for free checked bags.

And, even before Herb Kelleher fully handed over the reins to Gary Kelly, when I still lived in Dallas, it got a massive fine from the FAA for poor maintenance records, documentation, and possible actual poor maintenance history, as I note here (unauthorized parts) and here (the biggie) and here (the Blue Bell-like length of knowing about this). Southworst got fined $10M over that, but bitched enough to get it reduced to $7.5M. (And allegedly may have had a death threat against the wife of a whistleblower.)

After Herb let go of the reins, it muffed taking over Frontier because of shoddiness.

I have finally gotten to enjoy and use some vacation time, and for the second trip in a row, Southwest has had a delayed flight.

(And, I now realize, going through this blog, that Southworst flew me late back in 2009.)

So, editing a direct message on Twitter to Southworst?


Next spring, you will NOT be my first choice. I'll see who's available from Bush instead of Hobby, or even with a multi-stop flight, but closer to me, my options from Shreveport. (Actually, my flight out to LA was delayed 15 minutes, so, really, 3 of my last 4 flights have been delayed on these last two vacations.)

Oh, and after learning of the delay by calling on my cell phone (after your sucky voice recognition couldn't recognize "Los Angeles") I was TWICE disconnected when it attempted to transfer me to an agent.

The first longer delay, on my summer vacation? Plane mechanical problem. In its email alert for the 45-minute delay on my flight of later today, Southworst has no explanation. Since this is the first leg of this flight, I wonder if it's having to shuffle planes. (A Twitter reply confirms maintenance issues.) And so, at some point, given some of its past history, this now becomes a safety issue. Especially since the FAA fined it just two months ago over aircraft maintenance.

In turn, that follows on a 2014 fine of $12 million for failure to follow FAA compliance. As one would expect, Southworst is fighting this one, too, claiming it was just a single plane involved. Per my blog post at the time, the FAA said not true.

I told the person who responded to my DM it wasn't his fault. It's, rather, the fault of a company that has rested on its laurels for a decade.

Oh, and the myth that Southwest is better than others at on-time percentage? Not even close. It's near the bottom. And, no, the AirTran acquisition didn't make that worse; AirTran was better than pre-merger Southwest.

But, let's not blame all this on current CEO Gary Kelly. If I'm puncturing balloons, it's Kelleher's, not just Southworst's. Given that the maintenance issues go back before 2005, that's on his watch. That said, ugh that Kelly serves on the president's jobs competitiveness council.

But, things have gotten worse under Kelly. The on-time rate is worse. The maintenance problems are worse. The falsifying of maintenance records is almost totally on his watch. The fighting of FAA fines for this is all his.

Hell, at least Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn had the decency to step down (perhaps to avoid the board there canning him). Last week, I compared VW's FarMoreSmogging to Blue Bell's Triple Listeria Swirl, and wondered which is worse. Well, Kevin Kruse hasn't stepped down at the privately-run Blue Bell, either. Maybe it's something in the Texas business waters.

Honestly, I'd like to hear these words out of Kelly's mouth, and not to me personally, but in an AP story:
Dear customers of Southwest in particular and airline passengers in general: 
I can't deny it. Southwest as an airline has gotten worse in the last decade. Our on-time rate has gotten both absolutely worse and comparatively worse versus other airlines. Our maintenance problems have sadly gained national renown. 
I intend to address this as part of a new legacy at Southwest. To better focus on this, I intend to step down as chairman of the board. I also hope to find my successor as Southwest's CEO as part of this focus on addressing our decade's worth of problems.
Sadly, I'll never hear even the first paragraph, let alone the second.

(As noted by the Houston Chronicle, because of an ad in its pages, while it's long on PR and short on specifics, United just did something exactly like I'm suggesting.)

To me, Southwest is kind of like Apple. Some people think that because they're different, they're automatically special, and better. And that's not true. And, I invite people to be more skeptical. That's why I posted the link to Southworst's on-time rate, so that it wouldn't just be my anecdotal claims.

Finally, speaking once more of the FAA.

Fifteen minutes (or a few more) on the tarmac isn't enough to trigger official action from the FAA. But, given that we were already running nearly an hour late (not 45 minutes), it was enough to trigger me emailing the FAA. I have gotten an official acknowledgement email back. Again, it may not be enough to mean anything. But, given Southworst's ongoing history of FAA fines, and refusal to pay FAA fines, and the fact that I mentioned my delays were all aircraft-related, not weather-caused, maybe it will mean something.

That said, I'm not a blanket Southwest hater.