High School Diplomas

by Harry on February 17, 2004

This story about the inflation of high school diplomas simply states what anyone working in a US high school knows — graduation simply requires attendance plus a modicum of obedience. Failing that, it helps to have parents who are willing to make life sufficiently difficult for administrators and teachers that they will give you a passing grade anyway. There are multiple culprits. One is the ludicrous system of having classroom teachers be the sole assigners of grades. I spent Sunday watching two teachers spend 90 minutes preparing for a meeting one of them was having on Monday with a parent of a student. The sole purpose of the meeting was to negotiate over the grade. The teacher had assigned a B and the parent was not satisfied. In the end, the parent refused to be satisfied (having recalculated the grade herself) and is insisting on a meeting with the Principal. My prediction — the parent will win, because the Principal will think — ‘this is a complete waste of my time, caving on this won’t make things any worse between me and the teacher, and it’ll get this p-i-t-a off my back’. Total waste — about 5 hours of school teachers and principal’s time. (I don’t care about the student’s or parent’s time — lets assume that harassing teachers is their hobby).

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by Chris Bertram on February 17, 2004

There’s been light blogging from me over the past few days as I’ve been in “Bilbao”:http://www.bilbao.net/WebBilbaonet/home_c.jsp?idioma=c , biggest city in the Basque country and home to Frank Gehry’s wonderful “Guggenheim Museum”:http://www.guggenheim-bilbao.es/idioma.htm. The Guggenheim is really the main reason to visit the city and is a visual and technological marvel. The computer-generated curves link sufaces of stone, glass and most memorably titanium scales which shimmer over the bank of the Nervion river. Gehry isn’t the only architect in town, though, with Norman Foster represented by “the new Metro”:http://www.metrobilbao.net/Indicei.html which runs all the way out to the sea. Building the Guggenheim cost around US$100 million of public money but the effect has been to regenerate a decaying industrial city and put it back on the map as a tourist destination. Good to see a practical demonstration of the power of compulsory taxation and state-sponsored public works projects!

Political theory and molecular biology

by John Q on February 17, 2004

While we’re on the subject of anniversaries, I just got an invitation to a conference on the 300th anniversary of the death of John Locke (Southern Hemisphere readers can email j.jones@griffith.edu.au, there are also events at Yale and Oxford.

I was first introduced to Locke through his demolition of Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarchia in which the divine right of kings is derived from the supposed natural rights of fathers, beginning with Adam. Locke has great fun with this, pointing out that if Filmer is right, there is a single rightful monarch for the entire planet, namely the man most directly descended from Adam under the rules of primogeniture – by implication, all existing monarchs (except perhaps one) are usurpers who can justly be overthrown.

I was very disappointed then, to discover that Locke’s own analysis of property rights was no better than Filmer’s theory of divine right; in fact worse. Rights to property are supposed to be obtained by the first productive user and then passed on by inheritance and voluntary transfer. So, if we could locate the Garden of Eden, where Adam delved, his lineal descendent, if not king of the world, would be the rightful owner of Eden. To determine a rightful allocation of property, we would need to repeat the same exercise for every hectare on the planet. The Domesday Book wouldn’t even get you started on this task.

That was thirty years ago or so, and science has advanced a lot since then, to the point where we can award victory to (a modified version of) Filmer. By careful analysis of DNA, we can now postulate a mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam from whom we are all descended (of course, there’s no reason to suppose the two were contemporaneous). Suppose, following the practice of various hereditary monarchies, we identify the rightful heir of Y-chromosomal Adam as the man with the smallest number of accumulated mutations (defects from the point of view of a strongly hereditary principle). In principle, this man could be identified uniquely. In practice, I imagine it would be possible to identify the ethnic group to which this man belongs, probably somewhere in Africa, and crown some prominent member of that group. A feminist version, with descent on matriarchal lines, is equally reasonable and, on the current state of scientific knowledge, a litte more practical.

Of course, for those of us who don’t buy patriarchal/matriarchal arguments in the first place, this isn’t at all compelling. But I don’t find Locke’s theory of property any more compelling and, unlike Filmer, his theory is no closer to implementability than it was 300 years ago.
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