Southern Man

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Like many, Southern Man gets paid on the first and is celebrating the end of a fairly lean month. Well, "lean" by Southern Man's standards - living in this land of plenty he's never known a day of want in his life and merely had to dig deeper into the dry goods and do without a few luxuries for a few weeks. Next month will be "lean" as well simply because he's putting money into his emergency account to get that back up to the proper level and putting a few bucks back for a new cell phone as his three-year-old Wing is slowly dying one function at a time. He'll try to squeeze another month out of it so he can check out the upcoming HTC G2; it'll probably either be that or a switch to Sprint for the HTC Evo. And that is pretty much the extent of his problems; everyone should be so lucky. Lord, continually remind me of the many blessings of my life, and that the most precious of these are family and friends. Amen.

[added later:] And of course upon hearing this the Hyundai immediately coughed up a $240 fault so it'll be two months on that new phone...sigh...but, again, a minor bump in an enormously blessed life.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Southern Man hears a lot of noise about the underfunding of public education. Indeed, Glorious Leader has just promised to hire 10,000 more math and science teachers. Being a math and science guy, this may be good for Southern Man's future employment prospects should he decide to depart higher education for lower. This of course is contingent on his ability to convince a prospective employer that his graduate degrees in nuclear physics and computer science and twenty-odd years of university experience actually qualify him to teach math and science in the public schools.

However, according to the Cato Institute the reality is a bit different:

Over the last thirty years, inflation-adjusted cost of K-12 education has increased tenfold, yet test scores in language, math and science remain flat. So the solution is to pour even more money into our public schools?

And where did that money go? The following graph illustrates:

Southern Man remembers his public schooling in the 1970s - a building with one principal, one assistant principal, one secretary, a few custodians, and a host of teachers, some of whom doubled as counselors. Today teachers make up less than half the employees of a school district; Southern Man's teen daughter goes to a school that has more employees in the student attendance office than managed his entire high school. But those administrators and teachers have job security that are the envy of the rest of us: annual turnover is less than a tenth of that in private industry, where one must actually demonstrate continual value to an employer to keep one's job.

Southern Man has a plan to fix public education, and it looks like this:

  • Fire all but the most essential administrators. Yes, Southern Man realizes that every administrator believes that he or she is essential. Hate to tell you, but it just ain't so. Require all administrators to have substantial teaching experience and cap salaries to that of the highest-paid teachers.

  • Incorporate voucher programs to encourage growth of private schools. Public schools will whine and fuss but they always improve - often dramatically - when forced to compete with private schools.

  • Eliminate school districts and allow school choice to encourage competition between public schools.

  • Adopt double tracks in high school: college preparation and vocational training. We need to stop pretending that every little snowflake is potential college material.

  • Outsource infrastructure such as HR and groundskeeping; the private sector is much more efficient at these things than the public.

  • Abolish tenure and add regular testing and other evaluations to eliminate ineffective teachers and reward good ones.

  • Require teachers in grades 6-12 to hold a minimum of a bachelor's degree in the subjects they teach with significant salary incentives for graduate degrees in teaching areas. Sorry, no brownie points for that "Master of Liberal Arts" so popular with the administration crowd.

  • Use the money saved on administration cuts to increase teacher salaries across the board.
Trimming the fat, voucher programs, and school choice will force schools to compete for students and for the best teachers. Offering higher salaries coupled with genuine job performance reviews and rewards for solid credentials will attract and keep better teachers at the higher grade levels. A return to vocational training (an unintended casualty of No Child Left Behind) will ensure that students will be prepared for something more than flipping burgers after graduation. Administrators and poor teachers will hate it; students and parents and good teachers will rejoice.

Hat tip to PowerLine, who in turn tips Instapundit but without linking to the original post.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


As a university professor Southern Man is occasionally presented with gifts from students - often candy or trinkets from a student's home country, but sometimes books. As a result he has quite a collection of Korans. Today one of his astronomy students surprised him with this:

On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres by Copernicus, with an introduction by Stephen Hawking. By coincidence, Southern Man had just assigned a student an extra-credit project to make him a couple of large posters illustrating the Ptolemic and Copernican systems with accurate depictions of the epicycles and epicenters and deferents and such. A thoughful gift and one that is much appreciated.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Autumnal Equinox 2010... tonight at 10:06 Central Standard Time (That's 3:09 UCT). By coincidence, a couple of nights ago the planet Jupiter was the nearest it's been to Earth in about thirty years and there's a lovely full moon (the Harvest Moon, if you must know) right above tonight. Go outside and celebrate!

Hat tip to TG for details.

Yet Another Political Quiz

In between the rigors of grading and teaching and such today Southern Man took yet another political quiz, just for the fun of it...

Left-Leaning Freedom Lover on political map

...and decded to post the results because, for the first time, one of these things puts him left of center - no doubt due to his evolving views on sex, the war on drugs, and his increasing rejection of the Republican's stand on social values in favor of individual rights and individual responsibility. But this one puts him in his usual right/libertarian slot:

Of the various examples they cite Southern Man maps into very nearly the same square as Milton Friedman, which isn't so bad considering the other names on the list (Hitler, Stalin, and so on).

So what kind of political creature is Southern Man, Well, he finds kindred spirits within the local Tea Party and finds the "Libertarian Republican" site of interest as well. He almost always votes Republican but wishes they would replace their "family values" planks with "individual freedom."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hurt The Children

Eleven-year-old daughter and Southern Man spent most of today at the State Fair. Daughter had saved up enough allowance to chip in for half the cost of a ride wristband and so we slapped on on her and Southern Man watched her gleefully run from ride to ride. Then we would take breaks and go through the exhibit buildings and watch kitchen-gadget demos and eat unhealthy but delicious fair food. Repeat, several times. It was great fun, lasting from just after lunch until well after dark. At this point Southern Man will admit that he is not as young as he once was; she flat smooth wore him slick today.

There were several "fun houses" of similar design with moving floors and oscillating stairs and various other amusing obstacles. Many featured a large rotating cylinder through which the children would exit. And at one the cylinder wasn't rotating on its own so the kids would all get together and run up the side and make it spin anyway, to the great amusement of all. And as Southern Man stood idly by watching these laughing children at play a worried female voice behind him caught his attention.

Those kids are going to hurt themselves!

And Southern Man thought, what's wrong with that?

We coddle and protect our children far, far too much these days. The 'net is full of articles with titles like "Should Your Child Play Sports?" and "Game Of Tag To Be Banned At Recess" and "Are Playgrounds Safe Enough For Our Children?" We overreact when children are hurt; Southern Daughter's last school actually banned running in the playground after a child tripped and busted a lip. Heck, Southern Man can hardly remember a childhood game of Red Rover when someone didn't get hurt. It was just the way it was.

The truth is there's never been a safer time or place to be a kid than today in the United States of America. And as a result our children aren't getting some of the life experiences they need as children to function as adults. We need to let our kids run wild a little more often; let them wander and explore and even get lost every now and then; let them get into minor scrapes and figure out how to get out of them on their own; even let them get hurt from time to time. The last thing we need to do is treat our kids as though they were porelain dolls that must be confined in padded rooms to protect from the unknowable dangers lurking around every corner.

And there are plenty of parents who understand this. Southern Man recalls reading about the New York City mom who let her young son take the subway by himself. This actually made the papers. And her reaction, when interviewed, was to look puzzled and say "Well, how is my son supposed to function as an adult if he doesn't learn things like this now?"

Southern Man applauds her and hopes to atone for past sins by giving his kids a chance to get lost and fall into trouble and even get hurt every once in a while.

Friday, September 17, 2010


The other day while eating lunch and stalking an ex-girlfriend on Facebook Southern Man noted a comment by a family member on the rising number of folks considered to be "poor" in this country. Her claim upon reading that 14.3% of Americans lived below the poverty line was that the fiscal model used was outdated and the true value was probably double that.

Well, let's see just what it means to be poor in the United States of America. Quoting from Michael Medved's excellent book The 5 Big Lies About American Business:

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation did just that [measure the effect of poverty by looking at what was in the home] in an important paper in August 2007, using detailed and authoritative government figures. According to this research, among the 37 million Americans officially classified as living below the poverty line, 97 percent own color televisions, more than 50 percent own two or more color TVs, 78 percent have a VCR or a DVD player, and 62 percent receive cable or satellite TV reception. Eighty percent of poor households boast air-conditioning, 89 percent have microwave ovens, and nearly three-quarters own a car. An impressive 31 percent have two or more cars.

Most surprisingly, 43 percent of all poor households actually own their own homes, and the average home owned by households classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one and a half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio. Even considering poor people who rent apartments, or live with extended family, the average poor American enjoys more living space than the average middle-class individual in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other European cities.
So how does this change with "updated" models? Are fully a quarter of us poor? Do you have any idea at all of what it meant to be poor fifty years ago? Does the analysis above even mention refrigerators or indoor bathrooms or limitless potable water piped directly into the kitchen? No, because pretty much everyone in the USA has these things today.

The truth is, "poor" in the USA is "middle class" in Europe and "rich beyond the dreams of avarice" in much of the world. And to claim that even fifteen percent of us live in "poverty" reduces that term to irrelavancy and diminishes the very few among us who are truly poor.

Just so you know, Southern Man is rich, rich, rich in every way that matters for no other reason other than having (a) a wonderful family and (b) been born in the United States. It's like winning the lottery. He'll always be grateful.

Hat tip to TigerHawk.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Qui-Gon Was An Idiot

A blog I read had a post about "One Hundred Movie Scenes That Assert Themselves" that is a pretty good list of awesome scenes. Number fourteen was "Qui-Gon's demise."

Southern Man has been a Star Wars fan since opening weekend of the original film, seen with his best friend and our girlfriends from the middle of the first row of a packed-to-the-rafters theater. And by "fan" he means he's built the models and has many of the books and keeps the original trilogy (but not the SEs) in more or less constant rotation in the DVD player and saw the prequels at midnight showings and dressed his five-year-old son as a Jedi for a Halloween party which resulted in an epic lightsabre battle with a five-year-old Darth Maul.

That said, Qui-Gon was an idiot.

First he walks into a trap that results in the destruction of his ship and the deaths of his entire entourage which he and his apprentice survive only because they are Jedi.

Then because he's Qui-Gon he has a
Crowning Moment of Awesome but fails to gain entry to the bridge or control room or whatever and has to run away. He then decides that the best way to "warn the Naboo" about the imminent invasion is by riding down to the planet with said invasion. And he decides that in the process he will ignore the principle that two Jedi together are ten times as effective as two Jedi apart and has Obi-Wan ride down on a different ship.

No matter; they quickly find each other on the ground, run into Jar-Jar, swim to the bottom of the ocean, take a cruise through the planet core, and arrive in the capital city. More awesomeness ensues and they get away with the Queen and her entourage. While doing so he says nothing while their pilot flies directly towards the largest starship in the enemy force but thanks to R2D2 they survive.

Then they go to a planet run by the Mafia where Qui-Gon decides that the best course of action is to have a kid he's just met enter a ridiculously dangerous race to win money to buy parts to fix their ship.

No matter; Anikan wins and they try to go home and encounter Darth Maul but get away. But apparently Queen Amidala flies around in the only unarmed starship in the entire Star Wars universe so they don't blast Darth Maul into Sith dust from on high. Then they go to the Capital and appoint Jar-Jar as ambassador and then go back to Naboo where Qui-Gon decides that the best course of action is to enlist the aid of a race he'd never heard of, led by someone who at their last meeting had set him up to die, to go forth and do battle against killer robots. We don't question why Gungans who live in an underwater city have huge domesticated land mammals trained to carry shield generators. Fortunately for them the Trade Federation had never watched Aliens either.

And during all of this time he had never does figure out who Queen Amidala actually is in spite of having been at her side almost continually since the rescue on Naboo.

Then they meet Darth Maul and have an epic battle in which at one point all three combatants are separated by those energy shields or whatever and Qui-Gon again ignores the principle that two Jedi together are ten times as effective as two apart and sits down instead of sticking his tongue out at Darth Maul and strolling back down the corridor to rejoin Obi-Wan and is promptly run through.

Having never figured out who the Sith Lord is in spite of hanging out in his office earlier that week.

Obi-Wan was an idiot, too, but that's another post.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Day At The Land

Yes, there were plenty of centennial activities today (and two of the three friends he met yesterday will be there for all of it) but there is no way on God's green earth that Southern Man will be found in the same county as his alma mater on a home-game day so he spent his free Saturday at The Land and got a fair amount done. He finished all of the siding he could by himself on The Woodshed (so he'll enlist a friend to go out and help him get the rest up one day soon), sorted through the various piles of lumber and rock and such, made some progress rebuilding an old homemade picnic table that had washed up on his shores some years ago during one of the frequent floods (other past flotsam includes a dock, two complete pontoons, several ice chests, and most of a sailboat), and grilled some burgers in the firepit to end the day. Sure, to everyone else it's just ten acres of unimproved scrubland and they wonder just what the hell will ever happen out there but to Southern Man it's an island of tranquility in an ocean of chaos and he is most grateful that he was able to keep that property after the divorce. Chances are he'll find his way there tomorrow as well.

Friday, September 10, 2010

In Memorandum

We put a dear friend to rest today - a professor who left the school last Friday with his usual cheery wave and was felled that evening by a massive heart attack as he walked down his driveway to fetch his mail. We have been in a state of shock all week.

My colleague, a man who was something of a mentor to me, was a Muslim from Iran and the University offered the use of the Chapel for a memorial service with all Christian decorations removed and the service conducted by anyone they named. The family said yes, thank you - and leave the cross in place and would the University Chaplain (a Methodist) please officiate? The resulting service was as moving a blend of faiths as I have ever seen.

This blog is pseudo-anonymous and I will not link to his obituary here. Just know that the world lost an entrepenuer, scholar, poet, musician, and lover of all things beautiful this week. With the hustle and bustle of today's life I missed a few opportunities to lift a beer or two with him after work (he met a reading group after hours in a local bar) and deeply regret it today. He will be missed and he will be remembered.

Visit to Alma Mater

The department where Southern Man earned his doctorate 'way back when - for which he has many fond memories - is celebrating their centennial year so he made the hour-ish drive up there to a reception and presentation of a play. And much to his delight he ran into three dear friends that he hadn't seen in easily twenty years. So we spent a most pleasant evening catching up on old times and old (but absent) comrades and on our current lives and then went to see the university's presentation of the play Copenhagen, which was absolutely spellbinding.

Rush-hour traffic and university parking were so frustrating that Southern Man very nearly gave up and just turned around to go home. He's very glad he didn't. Hopefully he won't let another two decades slip by before next time.

Play Review: Copenhagen

Copenhagen desribes a tense meeting between old friends, physicists Werner Heisenberg (German) and Neils Bohr (Danish), along with Bohr's wife, in 1941 when Demnark was occupied by Germany and both sides were, unknown to the other, working to harness the power of the atomic nucleus. To say that the audience must pay close attention is an understatement; there is no real plot, the action is non-linear and switches without warning from dramatic re-enactment to personal thoughts and observations, and one must be fairly conversant with European history through both World Wars, Shakespeare (particularly Hamlet), the Farm Hall interviews, and both the nature and history of physics - particularly quantum mechanics and nuclear physics. And it helps to have read both The History of the Atomic Bomb and Heisenburg's War at some point in the past. Not to brag, but it is his blog - Southern Man qualifies on all points.

And he found the play to be absolutely riveting. The two acts - with only three performers on a nearly bare stage - were each over ninety minutes long but there was never a moment that didn't demand almost rapt attention. And the joy of being in the company of friends that shared his intimate understanding was priceless. All in all, a fine, fine evening.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day Weekend

...was pretty uneventful at Casa Southern Man. Six hours on the road on Friday to get eleven-year-old daughter for the weekend and six to return her today were bookends for relaxation at home, some time at the grandparents, a little shopping, a movie (Vampires Suck, which is so silly it deserves neither a link nor a review), and a little geocaching...and tomorrow it's back to work. Thursday's email contained a request for an assessment report to be on the Dean's desk by eight o'clock in the morning, so Southern Man will have to burn a little midnight oil to get that done tonight. Or nine o'clock oil; Southern Man plans to be asleep well before midnight. That's right, the single life is just one long endless party. Isn't it?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Islam Day

Today Southern Man's university employer, which is very big on inclusion and diversity and not offending anyone, is hosting Islam Day. There was a big tent and food and t-shirts and literature and such.

Southern Man celebrated by going to the chapel service instead, where we sang "All knees shall bow and every tongue confess, in Heav'n and on Earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Alleluia!"