Print Story Until it is time to learn to plough
By TheophileEscargot (Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 08:58:19 AM EST) Reading, Spain, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Swords and Ploughshares: Bringing Peace to the 21st Century". Travel advice: Spain? Web.

What I'm Reading
Finished Swords and Ploughshares: Bringing Peace to the 21st Century by Paddy Ashdown. It's almost a how-to guide to successful conflict resolution and statebuilding, heavily based on his experience as High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also with plenty of references to other conflicts, successful and failed.

For non-UKians, Ashdown is a former UK politician, former head of the Liberal Democrat Party, before which he was a Marine officer.

His summary of how initial stabilization should go is:

The early hours after the conflict are the crucial hours. The interveners are now for all practical purposes the government. Their first task is to respond to the human needs of the population and here Maslow and his Hierarchy of Human Needs is likely to prove a better guide to their first actions than the prejudices or plans of the interveners. The first thing the population will want after war is security, and if the interveners won't or can't provide it they will look to someone else who can. So, it is essential to dominate the security space and introduce the rule of law from day one, moment one-- even if, at the start, the soldiers have to do it through martial law. The police, too, need to be operational as early as possible. But establishing the rule of law means more than improving the police. It means reforming the whole range of legal structures, from judges through to the penal services. This holistic approach is crucial elsewhere, too. Rebuilding states can't be done in a linear fashion by just concentrating on some sectors and ignoring others. But sequencing the challenges is also important. Economic reform should be an early priority, especially currency stabilisation, liberalisation, privatisation and cleaning up the public utilities. Security sector and education reform should also come early. But elections should be left as late as decently possible. Apart from humanitarian aid, all other aid should be conditional. Think twice before going too deep in de-Nazification, it nearly always rebounds.
Excellent book. He abstracts several key principles to a successful intervention, but accepts that particular circumstances will always vary. He also puts forward specific proposals for how to improve the international community's efforts. Hard to see how many of them will be adopted: the basic problems seem to be very difficult to politically resolve.

It's a pretty short book, without any waste: only about 200 pages are spent on the main sections. However it also contains another 100 pages on his specific experiences on his first year in Bosnia: fascinating stuff, but poorly structured, reads more like hastily fleshed-out notes than a book. Hopefully a proper book is on the way.

Even so, it's fascinating to see how the details actually work. Basically the job seems to be half diplomatic whack-a-mole, constantly flitting around trying to cajole or threaten domestic or international players into cooperating. This has to be somehow combined with keeping a steady strategic process of achieving a set plan. He has to be notably devious to get things to work: delaying corruption reports that will affect one faction until he's dealing with another; calling in favours.

Overall, whether you agree or disagree about interventions in general, this is essential reading for anyone who's interested in current events.

Economist, Guardian, Spectator, Independent, Spiked reviews. Interview, author article.

Me: Travel
So with Brussels ticked off, the next general destination on the Slow Art Tour of Europe should probably be somewhere in Spain. Maybe could do another pre-Xmas jaunt since that worked last year. Not sure where though: Spain seems very inconveniently arranged with the main sites spread far apart. Mostly interested in Barcelona, Bilboa and Madrid but wouldn't mind seeing Cordoba and Granada too.

Any suggestions or advice on where to go, climate, ease of travelling? Or anywhere else to go? I've already done Amsterdam, Dublin, Edinburgh, Paris, Florence, Rome, Brussels and Bruges; might try Scandinavia, Vienna or Germany sometime but will probably leave that till next summer.

Alternatively, you can always not reply to this diary and then say "I can't believe you didn't go to..." when I come back.

Old news, but the Dresden Files TV show has been officially dropped.

OMG Hedgehog: Are you my Mummy?

The mudbrick Manhattan of Yemen.

Metafilter voting systems roundup

VoxEU: Testing culture leaves poor students behind:

It is ironic that, during this same period, economists who study the design of jobs and the structure of incentives within private firms began to take more seriously the task of explaining why firms rarely attach performance pay to objective measures of output. Most incentive pay takes the form of raises, promotions, or bonuses related to subjective evaluations of a broad range of qualitative and quantitative information, and Holmstrom and Milgrom (1991) argue that, in many instances, firms find it optimal to pay workers a fixed base wage and monitor their allocation of effort among tasks even if the firm has access to "good" performance measures i n a statistical sense. Their key insight is that jobs may involve multiple tasks, and as a result, incentive pay based on any given performance measure can easily lead to undesirable distortions in the amount of effort allocated to various tasks, even if the performance measure is highly correlated with total output. They discuss "teaching to the test"in response to test-based accountability systems as an example of such a distortion, and in recent years, a significant literature has explored the extent to which test-based accountability systems actually create increases in subject mastery or only increases in measured performance on a specific type of exam.
In recent work,1 we explore a different effect of test-based accountability systems on the allocation of teacher effort, and we find evidence consistent with the hypothesis that test-based accountability systems not only shape decisions of teachers concerning what to teach but also whom to teach. We show that even though advocates of NCLB offered it as a remedy for disadvantaged children who receive poor service from their public schools, the design of NCLB almost guarantees that the most academically disadvantaged children will not benefit from its implementation and may actually be harmed.
< on a brief update | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >
Until it is time to learn to plough | 29 comments (29 topical, 0 hidden)
If you're going to Barcelona by spacejack (4.00 / 1) #1 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 09:20:03 AM EST
then I'd recommend Girona, which would be a short train ride away.

Barcelona was my favourite city of all that I saw in Europe, but I didn't see much more of Spain. The weather was still nice when I was there in November.

Vienna++ by Merekat (4.00 / 1) #2 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 09:27:48 AM EST
As a city I preferred Madrid to Barca but more people are likely to disagree with me there and the Gaudi stuff is definitely worth seeing at least once in a lifetime.

IAWTP by Horatio Hellpop (4.00 / 1) #8 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 12:20:42 PM EST
Wien is gorgeous year-round, great art and plenty of other activities.

"You can't really know something until you ruin it for everyone." -some guy who used to have an account here

[ Parent ]
in hindsight, that result was predictable by lm (4.00 / 1) #3 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 09:50:33 AM EST
``test-based accountability systems not only shape decisions of teachers concerning what to teach but also whom to teach.''

All a teacher has to do is the math. If the children in a classroom sit on a bell curve with regards to the potential to increasing performance on the test, teachers who are measured by increased performance of their pupils on a test will target those children who are thought to offer the largest gains for the least amount of effort.

I suspect that most teachers might assume that it is true that the further behind a child is to start with that more effort will be required on the part of the teacher to get the same amount of improvement. Once this assumption is made, a teacher has no self-interested reason to offer help to those who are behind.

Regrettably, though, I don't see any other practical way to objectively measure the success of a teacher within the time frame of a year. Maybe I'm just unimaginative, but measuring performance by standardized tests seems to me to be a necessary evil.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
The problem isn't the tests by debacle (4.00 / 1) #5 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 11:46:26 AM EST
It's that the fucks that fail the tests aren't held back when they're clearly shown to be unable to handle basic things like addition and grammar.

If all of the students in grade X were forced to pass before moving on to grade Y, the grade Y teacher wouldn't be ignoring those students that, for whatever reason, didn't make it through grade X.

If american parents didn't view failure (and failure is such a shitty word) in their children as failure in themselves, we'd be much better off. It's not even really failing - for some people, it's a lack of effort, and for others there is a ceiling of "I can't handle learning that." Uneducated parents are not going to, in most cases, have well educated children. It's not in the cards. So what you see is this plaque that is building up generation after generation of students who, because of upbringing and lack thereof, cannot make it.


[ Parent ]
That ignores the fact that different people exist by lm (4.00 / 1) #6 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 11:55:00 AM EST
Your assessment ignores their is a very real difference between how well different students can perform. Even in a world where all the students were fully capable of passing the tests, some students would pass with higher scores than others. In any system where teachers are rewarded for increasing performance, it will be in those teachers' best interest to ignore students that are more difficult to teach.

One possible way around this might be to use a sliding scale for improvement where an improvement from below average to average counts for more than a n improvement from above average to excellent. If done correctly, teachers would then have incentive to spend more time with the poorly or barely adequately performing students than those that are already doing well. But even this modification would only smooth out the consequences of standardized testing that the statistics have brought to light. It wouldn't do away with the new bias entirely.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Semi-troll by gazbo (4.00 / 2) #7 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 12:15:57 PM EST
What makes you so sure that teachers' time is better spent promoting poor students to average rather than pushing the very good students to excellence?

I recommend always assuming 7th normal form where items in a text column are not allowed to rhyme.

[ Parent ]
I think you'll find by ambrosen (4.00 / 2) #10 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 02:17:25 PM EST
That the role of very good students is to sit there looking bored in all the academic lessons trying to spread the work out so no├Âne takes the piss, then in the lessons where their talent is only average, the teacher should make sure to knock them down a peg or two so they don't become bigheaded. When they do work hard on something, that work should always be criticised.

That way they'll get all the way to grad school before they realise they have no study skills, and no trust that when they ask for help they'll be supported.



Well, that's my experience.

Why on earth do I still get wound up about my schooldays? My heart is bilious and poisoned.

[ Parent ]
The problem isn't necessarily the results by lm (4.00 / 1) #13 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 05:52:14 PM EST
The problem is that the results are the unintended consequences of a particular policy. Unintended consequences are unlikely to be examined closely before they've been brought to light and sometimes aren't even examined after they've been brought to light.

That said, aside from the moral principle of giving priority to those who need help the most, I think a good argument could be made that society stands to benefit more from elevating the bottom 10% with regards to learning potential than it does from elevating the middle tier.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
While you're at it abolish the minimum wage. by dn (4.00 / 1) #15 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 08:12:40 PM EST
And maybe put in a flat across-the-board tariff. One of the bottom 10%'s biggest problems is being not allowed to use skills.

    I ♥   

[ Parent ]
Value add by DullTrev (4.00 / 1) #23 Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 12:53:58 AM EST

The league tables for schools here in glorious UK now include a measure of "value-add" - how much improvement the school has given the pupils given the quality of the intake. It was, predictably enough, met with howls of protest from the independent (private school) sector, and the nice middle-class grammar and comprehensive schools.

Makes me laugh, though - it finally provides the ability for schools with a poorer (and therefore (statistically) a generally lower academic achievement) intake to compete with those whose intake actually get support from the home.

Depressingly enough, though, all the statistics (he said, with an unsourced claim from memory) indicate that the one indicator which can reliably show what your child's academic achievement is likely to be is how much you, as a parent, earn.

[ Parent ]
In UKia by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #11 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 02:48:20 PM EST
PC thinking largely abolished the streaming system (in my schools, anyway).

So, you have a group of disruptive students who don't understand what they're being taught, and a group of bored students who grasped the concept of the teacher's subject immediately and are acting up for something to do.

Gotta keep 'em separated.

[ Parent ]
unstreamed by Merekat (4.00 / 1) #17 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 09:32:59 PM EST
Unstreamed with sufficiently small class sizes and good teachers can work ime. I was only streamed where the actual syllabus for different levels was not the same.

[ Parent ]
And also by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #18 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 10:28:28 PM EST
It prevents students feeling like they're looking like teacher's pet in front of the hard nuts.

For which the reward is a bit of a kicking after class.

So, keep 'em seperated by ability.

As an aside, boys exam results are on average lower than girls, possibly because of this effect.  Why is the UKian government not throwing money at this inequality?

[ Parent ]
I am skeptical by Merekat (4.00 / 1) #19 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 10:50:18 PM EST
I think the hard nuts will find any excuse, including the mere fact of people being streamed above them, and it is as well to learn about that shit before you get somewhere where there is absolutely no protection from it.

But I do think that if you don't stream, you really can't have more than 20 students per class for everyone to get the appropriate amount of attention and you should also consider extra curricular support.

[ Parent ]
'largely abolished the streaming system' by gpig (4.00 / 1) #20 Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 12:05:52 AM EST
From teachers working now I hear that this has been reversed to a large extent. In some circles at least, those who still advocate mixed ability classes for all subjects are not taken seriously.

(Caveat: this might just be Scotland)
(,   ,') -- eep

[ Parent ]
Blimey. by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #21 Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 12:36:45 AM EST
I wonder what nomenclature they came up with for the lower order streams in today's PC climate...

[ Parent ]
A primary school teacher I know by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #22 Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 12:47:59 AM EST
Complained about the inspector asking one of the groups in her class if they were the top set. The sets were supposed to have neutral names (from colours I think).

The group said "yes" though: they knew it perfectly well...

[ Parent ]
What do adults want for themselves? by Alan Crowe (2.00 / 0) #28 Fri Aug 31, 2007 at 07:28:44 AM EST
It starts getting really interesting when one goes looking for lessons for oneself as an adult.

I claim that us adults put a lot of effort into getting into the right set. Too easy is boring and we learn slowly, but getting left behind sucks even worse. We know that we are wasting time and money when we are floundering and either give up and try an easier class next year, or give up and come up with serious money for individual lessons.

It is all to clear that we want to be in the right set, even if that is not the top set, and yet that clarity goes when it comes to thinking about what is best for children.

[ Parent ]
Teacher friend by gpig (4.00 / 2) #24 Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 01:08:28 AM EST
Has mentioned sensible sounding things like set 1, set 2 etc.

No idea whether that's what the 'public' names for them or teacher shorthand.
(,   ,') -- eep

[ Parent ]
Nah by jump the ladder (4.00 / 2) #25 Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 02:12:00 AM EST
Dumb, dumber and dumbest is much better :)

[ Parent ]
Hedgehogs by Vulch (4.00 / 1) #4 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 10:17:09 AM EST

I was expecting a gas mask to be involved...

Goddamn Sci-Fi channel by Gedvondur (4.00 / 1) #9 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 01:09:38 PM EST
I'm gonna rant for a minute here.

I have to say that the Sci-Fi channel is really becoming a garbage heap.  Between the professional wrestling and the incredibly bad B grade "giant animal" movies it really stinks the joint up.  Their latest movie of the week is called (I kid you not) "MegaSnake".  They are trying to be more like "SpikeTV".  Which to me seems to mean that they are dumbing it down as much as possible.

The only two shows that seem to have any redeeming value on Sci-Fi Network are Battlestar Galactica and Eureka!   And a fair number of folks don't like BSG either.  But I think we can at least agree that dislike of BSG has more to do with direction than it being a bad idea.

Just sad.

Then we have ABC authorizing "The Masters Of Science Fiction" and letting it sit in the can for a year.  When they do decide to break it out, it's at 9:00 on Saturday night.  A time slot virtually assured to kill any hope the series might have had.  On top of that, they did little or no promotion.  I heard about it on NPR of all places.  They are now characterizing it as a "special".

At least they haven't canceled "Heroes" which is about as close as you can get to good sci-fi these days on TV.
"It is virtually impossible to effectively aim a jellyfish, a creature created by God almost solely for the purpose of not flying."- CRwM

shit and I just cancelled cable by R343L (4.00 / 2) #12 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 03:16:58 PM EST
(broadcast doesn't come in). I'd like to see that Masters of Sci Fi. Oh well. It'll be on DVD some day.

Also, IAW everything you said about SciFi. It's a complete crapfest. For god's sake -- they show wrestling now.


"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot

[ Parent ]
Masters of Science Fiction by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #14 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 07:01:10 PM EST
It's pretty much a given that they will never broadcast more than four.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
true true by R343L (4.00 / 2) #16 Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 08:22:10 PM EST
/me grumbles about lack of good visual scifi.

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot
[ Parent ]
Vienna by Scrymarch (4.00 / 2) #26 Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 05:06:05 AM EST
It's a great city for the sort of holiday you seem to be doing, just remember, like we didn't, that almost all the music leaves town in, um, I think it's September. Gave more time for the Kunsthistoriche museum though.

That whole ex-Hapsburg stretch through Llubjana, Budapest and Bratislava is worth checking out if you get sick of western Europe.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

Sevilla by bob6 (4.00 / 1) #27 Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 07:15:52 AM EST
Sevilla is the most interesting city I visited in Spain, I strongly advise it. Once based in Sevilla, you can trip to other places in Andalusia for a couple of days. Cordoba's a nice city but it won't entertain an educated guy like you for a whole vacation. Granada isn't so nice but Alhambra is one of the most beautiful medieval places I've ever visited.

Madrid, Vienna, Barcelona, Berlin by Tonatiuh (4.00 / 1) #29 Mon Sep 10, 2007 at 04:51:22 PM EST
That is my order of preference.

The great advantage of Madrid is that the down town area is very compact, so you can get a real feeling about how life in town is without moving long distances. The 3 major museums are walking distance from each other (in order of importance, IMHO, Museo del Prado, Museo Reina Sofia which is a must given that Picasso's Guernica, the most important painting of the last 100 years, is there, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, which I found rather underwhelming, but I had museum overload by the time I went there).  In close proximity to the museums is Parque del Retiro (a beautiful park) and Atocha train station (worth the visit for the palm trees inside the station and the wonderful restaurant overlooking them, serving authentic Spanish fare, no tapas in sight). Not so far is the Royal Palace and the colourful area around Puerta del Sol.

Vienna is also a great town, the only problem is the Viennese, which I guess are fed up with tourists and can be quite rude (I am talking about the waiters, hotel desk people, etc. that is, the people that are supposed to be friendly, initially I thought it may have been racism but later I was comforted by European friends that experienced the same). Having said that I recommend it thoroughly. I like the museum in the Velvedere Palace and the Palce itself, was mesmerized by the Natural History Museum and its incredible collection of stuffed animals. Art galleries are fantastic as well. Try the sacher torte in the Sacher Hotel. If you possibly can go to a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic, perhaps the best in the world.

Barcelona is doing a great job marketing themselves, but the cultural offerings can't really rival Madrid. The Picasso Museum is better than what I expected, they have a very good ceramics collection and a series of works based in  Diego Velazquez "las Meninas" which are quite impressive. Gaudi's Sagrada Familia Cathedral and Parc Guel are a must, and the Catalonian National Museum in the Mountjuic area has one of the best collections of medieval religious art I have seen.

I liked Berlin very much as well, the museums and architecture were very impressive, but when I visited it still had that sense of East is East and West is nicer, if you know what I mean, by now that may have changed. Funnily enough the most important attractions where all in the Eastern part of town.

Last winter Madrid was pretty hot, I was wearing short sleeves most of the time, this was unusual I was told though, but don't expect the inclemency that Berlin or Vienna could throw at you  at around the same time of the year.

Bilbao's only saving grace is the Guggenheim Museum, which is one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen, unfortunately the collection inside is not up to scratch IMHO, not worth the visit if you have alternatives like the ones above (life is too short :-( ).

Have you considered Turkey? Istanbul is absolutely fascinating, flights are cheap, food is great.

Until it is time to learn to plough | 29 comments (29 topical, 0 hidden)