jaime escalante, 1930-2010

From the LA Times

Escalante was a maverick who did not get along with many of his public school colleagues, but he mesmerized students with his entertaining style and deep understanding of math. Educators came from around the country to observe him at Garfield, which built one of the largest and most successful Advanced Placement programs in the nation...

"His passionate belief [was] that all students, when properly prepared and motivated, can succeed at academically demanding course work, no matter what their racial, social or economic background. Because of him, educators everywhere have been forced to revise long-held notions of who can succeed."

Escalante's rise came during an era decried by experts as one of alarming mediocrity in the nation's schools. He pushed for tougher standards and accountability for students and educators, often irritating colleagues and parents along the way with his brusque manner and uncompromising stands.

I think one need look no further than the state of public education to know that Mr. Escalante was definitely pissing off the right people. We need more like him.

Escalante's work in East LA was portrayed in the movie Stand and Deliver, and thus indirectly inspired on of the better recent jokes in South Park:


brian's laws of personal epistimology

1) As the quality your idea improves, the probability that someone has beaten you to it approaches unity.

2) Any hypothesis about human behavior that involves yourself being somehow exceptional is almost certainly wrong.


senate votes to oppress minority drug users only 18 times more than others

I guess this is what passes for liberalization of drug laws in the United States:

After more than a decade of debates, hearings and lobbying, the Senate has passed a bill to change the punishment for possession of crack cocaine.

The bill had strong support from both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. While the current law punishes crack users 100 times more heavily than powder cocaine users, the new Senate bill brings the 100-to-1 ratio down to 18-to-1.

What really got to me when I heard this on the radio this morning was the post hoc justification for this atrocious policy on the part of drug warriors:

Congress enacted these rules in the early 1990s, when crack was ravaging urban communities. In those days, Reggie Walton worked on drug policy in the first Bush administration. Back then he supported the sentencing disparity, but now he is a federal judge in Washington and feels differently.

"We believed it was a different chemical substance. [emphasis added] We now know that's not the case," Walton said. "The reality is that crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the same chemical substance."

What, they didn't have analytical chemistry all the way back in the 1990s?

Look, making crack from powdered cocaine ain't a big mystery, folks. In fact, it's so easy, even a crackhead can do it! The end product consists of two major chemical constituents: 1) cocaine and 2) sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda). Separation and analysis of these molecules could be accomplished in a high school chemistry lab, never mind the fine professionals at the DEA.

Either Judge Walton is seriously misremembering the context in which this policy (which he has subsequently testified before Congress about) was made, or the policy was made without any serious inquiry as to the actual nature of this drug they rushed to legislate on. Come to think of it, I'm not sure which is worse. (Or more likely.)


actual conversation

Wife (looking over my shoulder, apparently): Do you really have 5700 emails in your inbox?

Me: No, just 5700 unread ones.

Wife: How can you stand that?

Me: At this point, I'm holding out for 10,000.