Author Archives: David Silbey

December 16, 2013, 3:53 pm

Your Flow Of Touch Screens And High Fructose Corn Syrup

HeaderlogoThe Duffelblog is the military equivalent of The Onion and frequently just as funny. Today, a (fictional) serviceman responds to a 1st grader’s letter:

Despite my distaste for limp platitudes, I am, by all rights, a patriot. For this reason, I find your depiction of our nation’s flag with six stars and five stripes particularly offensive. The United States flag has fifty stars, one for each state, and thirteen stripes to symbolize each of the original colonies. Perhaps if even a fraction of the $680 billion blown on this war had been reapportioned to public education you would know this.

Well worth a place in your regular rotation.

December 12, 2013, 8:22 am

Military & Political History Linkage

Two military history links worth a look:

Underwater D-Day Wrecks:

A unique expedition to map sunken allied vessels off the Normandy Coast has revealed stunning never-before-seen images from beneath the waves. Using state-of-the-art sonar technology, experts have shone light on ships, submarines and even tanks which still lie at the bottom of the sea, 70 years after D-Day.

The creation of Gettysburg National Cemetery:

The Union soldiers and Gettysburg civilians that looked over the battlefield on July 4th saw a level of death and destruction that was overwhelming and seemingly impossible to take care of. Faced with over 7,000 human bodies to bury and many more wounded to care for, the Union army only paused for a day before it too left Gettysburg in pursuit of Lee’s retreating army, leaving doctors behind to care for the living and provost marshals to organize the civilian…

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December 11, 2013, 7:44 am

Flags Reflected, 2013


December 10, 2013, 6:45 pm

A Short And Probably Partial List Of Historical Analogies Currently In Heavy Rotation

Historical event or person with potentially applicable current parallel:*

Pearl HarborBenghazi

MunichThe agreement with Iran.

Cold WarNelson Mandela, Communist! President Obama shakes hands with Raul Castro, COMMUNIST!

World War II: President Obama shakes hands with Castro, just like he did with the Emperor of Japan a few years ago!

Hitler – Obama and Castro, just like shaking hands with Hitler, per John McCain. I would much prefer that they had asked John McClane about this, but…

Van Gogh’s odd self-portraits – Obama, taking selfie at Mandela’s funeral. (Actually, no one’s made that connection yet, but I wanted to put it in anyway. Frist!)

*As anointed by VRWC.

December 8, 2013, 5:37 pm


Montgomery County weather alert included the following:

If you must drive, please use extreme caution and allow plenty of breaking distance as pavement conditions remain unfavorable.


December 6, 2013, 2:49 am

The Man In The Arena

Teddy Roosevelt, 1910:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Nelson Mandela gave this passage to the captain of the South African Rugby team in 1995, shortly before the team won the …

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December 5, 2013, 10:02 pm

Niall Ferguson, Redux

I would like to offer translations of parts of Niall Ferguson’s recent blog post.


In any case, our 2010 letter did not make a prediction about inflation. What we said was:

The planned asset purchases risk currency debasement and inflation, and we do not think they will achieve the Fed’s objective of promoting employment.

Note that word “risk”. And note the absence of a date.

means “I’m not quite wrong yet!”


Now, when someone of that caliber calls you out for having been wrong about the future path of inflation, you have a right to remind him that one of his “many mistakes’ included … being wrong about the future path of inflation. Guess what? Predicting the future path of inflation is actually quite difficult, whether or not you have a Nobel Prize.

means “I won’t even say ‘Paul Krugman’ because it’s that political thing where I can delegitimize someone by refusing…

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December 2, 2013, 9:04 pm

Everything Was New Once

A random tweet

led to a snarky response on my part:

I decided to go back and look at the Beloit mindset list from its early days. For those who don’t know, Beloit College published a “College Mindset List” for its entering class. They explain it this way:

What started as a witty way of saying to faculty colleagues “beware of hardening of the references,” has turned into a globally reported and utilized guide to the intelligent if unprepared adolescent consciousness. It is requested by thousands of readers, reprinted in hundreds of print and electronic publications, and used for a wide variety of purposes. It has caught the imagination of the public and has drawn responses from around the world, including more than a million visitors to the website annually.

From the 2017…

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November 26, 2013, 5:15 am

Snatching The Victuals From The Table, Or, The Munich Of The Middle East

Piece of Paper
Piece of PaperLG

“The German dictator, instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course.” Winston Churchill, October 5, 1938.

Bret Stephens, at the Wall Street Journal, writes a…well…basically loses his mind:

After World War II the U.S. created a global system of security alliances to prevent the kind of foreign policy freelancing that is again becoming rampant in the Middle East. It worked until President Obama decided in his wisdom to throw it away. If you hear echoes of the 1930s in the capitulation at Geneva, it’s because the West is being led by the same sort of men, minus the umbrellas.

Worse than Munich, 1938; worse than Paris, 1973. Just worse. The worst.

The column is impressively unhinged. The treaty with Iran will cause all sorts of disasters in the six months it lasts. Apparently, both the Saudis and…

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November 26, 2013, 3:07 am

Fun with Numbers

Shorter Jonathan Haber: If I just make numerical assumptions as favorable as possible, I can get a MOOC class completion rate up to 48%:

Using the number Coursera sent him of “Total Registered Students” (i.e., the number of people who hit the Enroll button) as a denominator does indeed give you a completion percentage of 5 percent. And if you instead use Total Active Students (the number of students who logged onto the site at least once after registering) that completion rate climbs to 10 percent (still within the range MOOC critics use when they complain about attrition).

But if you use the number of students who watched at least one video as your denominator, completion percentages climb to 15 percent. And if you make the assumption that only students who complete at least one assignment (even a short quiz at the end of lesson 1) should be considered serious enrollees, his…

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November 22, 2013, 4:01 pm


My beloved ordered a new phone last night, including the chance to inscribe something on its back. The choice wasn’t completely unlimited, however:


This, of course, led to 10 minutes of trying different, NSFW things, and some giggling (or dignified chuckling on my part). Yes, we are ten years old.

November 20, 2013, 1:59 pm

Wait, What? You Can’t Have Poor People Doing This!

Sebastian Thrun, he of the MOOC evangelism:

The way Fast Company has it, Thrun chucks those San Jose State students under the self-driving Google car faster than he chugs up a hill on his custom-made road bike, leaving a panting Max Chafkin in the dust to ponder the following Thrunism: “These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives. … It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit.”

Marie Antoinette called and wants her cake back.*

Oh, go and read Rebecca Schuman’s article. She does a much more extended job of demolishing him.

*Yes, I know it’s likely that she never said the cake thing. They also didn’t have phones in 18th century France, making it hard for her to call. Finally, she’s dead.

November 19, 2013, 4:44 pm


USA522letterBWPrintThe New York Times surveyed 7,000 college freshmen on their knowledge of history and geography. They did not know that much:

The students have but a faint idea of the geographical formation of this country. They place Portland, Ore on the Mississippi River, and St. Louis on the Atlantic Ocean.

Their history knowledge was no better, as educators lamented in the article: “Why are names such as Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Jackson, [and] Hamilton almost unknown?”

Clearly, the Times intoned, the educational system was in crisis and Things Needed To Be Done. Congressional hearings! Subcommittees! More standardized tests! Answering the most important question of all: “What do students learn in school, anyhow?”

Given the existential threat threatening the United States, how, the Times said, could we not ensure our students were well-educated?

It is felt at this time, with the United …

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November 16, 2013, 7:50 pm

Parental Interference

Jill Silos-Rooney talks about the “The Problem We’re Afraid To Name:” parental interference in schools.

In recent years, I’ve had to deal with parents much more frequently than I ever imagined I would have to as a college professor. One father even tried to blackmail me into giving his son easier work and higher grades so that he wouldn’t lose his football scholarship. I’m not alone: Many of my colleagues report hearing from parents more and more frequently in the past 10 years or so.

From the New York Times:

1985, “About Education: PARENTAL PRESSURE AT ISSUE:”

Commenting on a recent survey that found parents asking for a greater voice in running the schools, Judi L. Wallace wrote that a distinction should be made ”between parents who want only the best education for their own children and those parents who want to mold the schools to conform to their own religious…

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November 15, 2013, 5:18 pm

The Greek Chorus Of Junk Mail

Random excerpts from the junk mail I’ve received today:

Barack Obama May Be Finished Friday! Hang A Bunch is a 6-in-1 hanger that creates up to 600% more space in your closet. Organize your tops, jeans, dresses, and more;Donating-a-car is less work than selling it;September 10, 2013 (New York, NY): In a recent study by fat loss expert and two-time “Trainer of the Year” Billy Beck III, over twenty of his clients LOST between 20-40 lbs each…Their secret? Eating 1 TINY Fruit that is literally taking the diet industry by storm…News: Attention all present U.S. Homeowners: Obama has just eliminated all REFl-Requirements. This new-change will cut your current monthly home-payment in HALF; Do you desire to impress your woman at night? Off in the shower and DONT RUB IT OFF like a moron let it get soft and then gently help it off WORKS BUY IT NOW DID I MENTION IT WORKS APPLY TO BACK ARMS TO…

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