Sunday, November 20, 2011

Would This Blog Be Considered Above Average In Lake Wobegon?

An idea whose time has come is The No Blog Left Behind Act. How about Teach To The Blog? It is a chore to be upbeat in these troubled times. If this is (fair & balanced) classroom chicanery, so be it.

PS: This blog will go dark during a two-week hiatus over the holidays. Happy Turkey!

[x WQ]
Teach To The Test?
By Richard P. Phelps

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Every year, the education magazine Phi Delta Kappan hires the Gallup Organization to survey American opinion on the public schools. Though Gallup conducts the poll, education grandees selected by the editors of the Kappan write the questions. In 2007 the poll asked, “Will the current emphasis on standardized tests encourage teachers to ‘teach to the tests,’ that is, concentrate on teaching their students to pass the tests rather than teaching the subject, or don’t you think it will have this effect?”

The key to the question, of course, is the “rather than”—the assumption by many critics that test preparation and good teaching are mutually exclusive. In their hands, “teach to the test” has become an epithet. The very existence of content standards linked to standardized tests, in this view, narrows the curriculum and restricts the creativity of teachers—which of course it does, in the sense that teachers in standards-based systems cannot organize their instructional time in any fashion they prefer.

A more subtle critique is that teaching to the test can be good or bad. If curricula are carefully developed by educators and the test is written with curricula in mind, then teaching to the test means teaching students the knowledge and skills we agree they ought to learn—exactly what our teachers are legally and ethically obligated to do.

Yet there are two senses in which teaching to the test can indeed be harmful: excessive preparation that focuses more on the format of the test and test-taking techniques than on the subject matter, and the reallocation of classroom time from subjects on which students are not tested (often art and physical education) to those on which they are (often reading and mathematics).

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, for example, implicitly encourages educators to reallocate classroom time, because it requires testing in only reading and math (in seven grades) and science (in three). Researchers have yet to determine exactly what the effects have been in schools, but NCLB has created a clear incentive for educators who are worried about their schools’ performance to cut back on art, music, and history classes while devoting more time to reading, math, and science. (Since science results are not included in the school accountability calculations under NCLB, however, that subject may also get short shrift.)

What about all the time spent on schooling students in the techniques of test taking—how to fill in answer sheet bubbles, whether to guess or not, what to do when time runs short, and so on? This kind of instruction has been known to eat up weeks, even months, of class time during which students study old examinations or practice test-taking skills. It should occupy less than a day. The firms that write today’s standardized tests, such as the Educational Testing Service and CTB/McGraw-Hill, strongly discourage this kind of preparation, correctly arguing that teachers who spend more than a little time familiarizing students with test formats can hurt learning and test performance by neglecting to cover the subject matter itself. (As for the amount of time spent administering the tests, another source of complaints, it is insignificant. The tests required by NCLB, for example, are given once a year and take about an hour each.)

The evidence from commercial firms that offer preparation for college and graduate school entrance tests such as the SAT and GRE is clear on this point. Most companies, including industry behemoth Kaplan Inc., focus on subject-matter review. However, one firm, The Princeton Review, distinguished itself for years by arguing stridently that students need not master such material to do well. For a fee of several hundred dollars, it would teach test-taking techniques that it promised would increase scores. But dozens of academic studies failed to confirm these claims, and after sustained pressure from better-business groups, The Princeton Review agreed last year to pull the ads in which these assertions were made.

Why do so many teachers persist in extensive test preparation? Partly because they have been misled. But there is a deeper and far more troubling reason why this kind of teaching to the test persists: It sometimes works. And it does so for a very bad reason: Repeated drilling on test questions only works when the items match those on the upcoming test. But if those questions are available to teachers, that means test security has been breached. Someone is cheating.

Test security includes measures ranging from taking effective precautions against divulging any but the broadest foreknowledge of the test’s contents to educators and students to guarding against old-fashioned cheating when students take tests. It requires diligence both in proctoring test administration and in maintaining the “integrity” of test materials. For example, for a paper-and-pencil test, materials must be sealed until the moment test taking begins and students—and no one else—open their test booklets. Students should be the ones to close those booklets, too, with the completed answer sheets inside. Recent cheating scandals around the country, however, indicate how easily and frequently integrity is violated.

Unlike in most other industrialized countries, security for many of our state and local tests is loose. We have teachers administering tests in their own classrooms to their own students, principals distributing and collecting test forms in their own schools. Security may be high outside the schoolhouse door, but inside, too much is left to chance. And, as it turns out, educators are as human as the rest of us; some cheat, and not all manage to keep test materials secure, even when they are not intentionally cheating.

Lax test security has plagued American education for at least a quarter-century. The people in the best position to fix the problem, though, are the same ones who direct our attention instead to the evils of “teaching to the test.” But teaching to the test is not the main problem; it is the main diversion.

It was not always so. In the late 1970s, a group of 10 African-American students who were denied high school diplomas after failing three times to pass Florida’s graduation test sued the state superintendent of education. The plaintiffs claimed that they had had neither adequate nor equal opportunity to master the curriculum on which the test was based. Ultimately, four different courtrooms would host various phases of the trial of Debra P. v. Turlington between 1979 and 1984.

Debra P.” won the case after a study revealed a wide disparity between what was taught in classrooms to meet state curricular standards and the curriculum embedded in the test questions. A federal court ordered the state to stop denying diplomas for at least four years while a new cohort of students worked its way through the revised curriculum at Florida high schools and was tested.

Before Debra P., Florida and most other states that gave graduation tests purchased the exams “off the shelf” from commercial publishers while leaving responsibility for curricular standards management in the hands of school districts. Given that each state’s standards differed, when they existed at all, commercial tests were based either on an amalgam or, except in Iowa and California, another state’s standards.

Florida’s schools had been teaching state standards, but the standards underlying the graduation test were from somewhere else. Debra P. revealed a conundrum: In learning the Florida standards, students were not prepared for the graduation test, but if their teachers taught to the test, students would not learn the official Florida curriculum. The court declared it unfair to deny students a diploma based on their performance on test content they had had no opportunity to master.

Debra P.’s legacy continues to prescribe how high-stakes tests are made. The development of standards-based tests is time consuming and expensive. And the process starts only after the content standards have been set. Today, the standards dog wags the test tail.

Even so, some education insiders rue the effect on instruction. Complete alignment matches the content of the curricular standards, the test, and instruction as well, which means that every teacher in the state must teach the same content in a given grade level and subject area. That notion is anathema to many education professors and others who take the romantic view that each and every teacher is a skilled and creative craftsperson who designs unique instructional plans for unique classrooms. In this view, standardizing instruction “de-skills” teachers. Therefore, teaching to a test must always be wrong.

About the time Debra P. v. Turlington was decided, John J. Cannell, a medical resident working in rural Flat Top, West Virginia, read about the claims of local school officials that their children scored above the national average on standardized tests. Skeptical, he investigated further and ultimately discovered that every state that administered nationally normed tests made the same claim, a statistical impossibility. Cannell documented the phenomenon—later called the “Lake Wobegon Effect,” an allusion to radio humorist Garrison Keillor’s fictional hometown where “all the children are above average”—in two lengthy self-published reports.

As often happens after school scandals make the news, policymakers and pundits expressed dismay, wrote opinion pieces, formed committees, and, in due course, forgot about it. Deeper investigations into the issue were left to professional education researchers, the vast majority of whom work as faculty in the nation’s colleges of education, where they share a vested interest in defending the status quo.

Cannell correctly identified educators’ dishonesty and lax security as the culprits behind the Lake Wobegon Effect. At the time, it was common for states and school districts to purchase standardized tests off the shelf and administer the exams themselves. To reduce costs, schools commonly reused tests year after year. Even if educators did not intentionally cheat, over time they became familiar with the test forms and questions and could easily prepare their students for them. When test scores rose over time, administrators and elected officials could claim credit for increased learning.

These were not the high-stakes graduation tests of Debra P. Test security was very lax because the tests were given only for diagnostic and monitoring purposes. They “didn’t count”—only one of the dozens of state tests Cannell examined carried direct consequences for educators or students. Nevertheless, prominent education researchers, most notably those associated with the federally funded National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST), at the University of California, Los Angeles, blamed “high stakes” for the test score inflation.

In this line of argument, high stakes drive teachers to teach (successfully) to the test, which results in artificial test score increases. CRESST researchers and others simply ignored the abundant evidence to the contrary—that too much time studying a test format harms students—and, in effect, echoed the claims of The Princeton Review’s now-retracted advertising. Seldom do such critics mention their other reasons for criticizing high-stakes tests: These exams are often externally administered and thus beyond educators’ direct control, and the results can be used to judge educators’ performance.

Consider two particularly high-stakes tests, the SAT and ACT. A student’s score on these tests plays a large role in determining which college he or she attends. But these tests exhibit no score inflation. Indeed, the SAT was re-calibrated in the 1990s because of score deflation. The most high-stakes tests of all—occupational licensure tests—likewise show no evidence of score inflation. All of these tests are administered under tight security, and test forms and items are frequently replaced.

The harmful teaching to the test that Cannell uncovered was, unambiguously, cheating. Is it still practiced today? Probably not widely, but yes. This year, cheating scandals were uncovered in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. The 800-page Investigation Report on the Atlanta Public Schools named 178 school-based principals, teachers, and other staff who either pressured others to cheat or felt pressured themselves in a “culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation.” The most common illicit activity investigators uncovered was painfully straightforward: Teachers and administrators erased students’ incorrect answers and replaced them with correct ones.

In Washington, D.C., school administrators practiced a more elaborate form of score manipulation: the blueprint scam. During a test’s development, a contractor typically produces a “blueprint”—a document that matches education standards to the test items written for them. Blueprints show that the draft test items cover all the standards, and in acceptable and consistent proportions. Often they are kept secret along with other test materials until the tests are completed. But some states make their blueprints public, indicating that some standards are meant to be emphasized more than others.

Washington’s school authorities go a step further. Each year, they publicly identify a large number of standards—as many as half the total in some cases—that will not be represented by any test item. Teachers then face a moral dilemma. They are ethically and legally obligated to teach all the standards for their grade level and subject. But the students of their colleagues who do not do so—who teach only the standards they know will be tested—may well perform better on the year-end test. The official record will show the thorough, responsible teacher to be inferior to colleagues who take instructional shortcuts. And in Washington, teachers can be rewarded with pay bonuses or subjected to dismissal on the basis, in large part, of their students’ test performance.

Much harmful teaching to the test would be easy to fix: by tightening security, rotating test items and test forms frequently, and squashing sleazy deceits such as Washington’s blueprint scam. Test security is more likely to be tight when tests are externally administered, either by computer or by proctors unaffiliated with the schools. If neither approach is possible, test booklets should be made tamper proof, teachers who administer a test should do so in a classroom other than their own, school administrators who handle test materials should do so in a school other than their own, and the materials should arrive just before test time. Neither teachers nor principals can coach students on specific test items in advance if they don’t have them in advance. And educators can’t change students’ wrong answers if they never touch the answer sheets.

The problem is easy to fix, however, only if educators genuinely desire to stop the cheating. Although the fixes are simple and obvious, test security is effectively no better today than it was in Cannell’s time. The tests are better, but test security often is not.

The current flawed testing regime puts teachers in a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” bind. The only way out, according to many educators, is to eliminate testing, or at least the stakes attached to it. But without standardized tests, there would be no means for members of the public to reliably gauge learning in their schools. We would be totally dependent on what education insiders chose to tell us. Given that most testing critics are education insiders, that may be the point.

The furor over the recent cheating scandals could lead to real progress on test security reform, but the vested education interests are still trying to deflect attention elsewhere. Earlier this year, the National Research Council released a report that again asserts a causal relationship between high stakes and score inflation and ignores test security’s role. The report’s proposed solution is to administer new no-stakes “audit tests.” Under the dubious assumption that such no-stakes tests are inherently trustworthy and incorruptible, the resulting score trends would be used to shadow and allegedly verify (or not) the trends in the high-stakes tests. Thus, resources that could be used to bolster the security of the test that counts would be diverted instead toward the development and administration of a test that didn’t. Who would administer the new tests? Almost certainly it would be school officials themselves.

A more fundamental worry is that education researchers are now attempting to compromise the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, a set of guidelines developed by three national professional organizations for developing and administering tests that the courts use as a semiofficial code of conduct. The education insiders have incorporated their ideas into the draft revision of the standards. In its more than 300 pages, the draft says next to nothing about test security.

We have an opportunity to set things right with an agreement by more than 40 states to embrace the new Common Core State Standards Initiative for kindergarten through grade 12, beginning in 2014. The Common Core is sponsored by the National Governors Association; participation is voluntary. Standards for reading and math have already been agreed upon, and committees are drafting those for science and social studies. The design and administration of the relevant tests are being discussed now. Already, the liveliest debate concerns the lower grades, where many standards—such as those that require students to speak, draw, dance, and build—can be tested only through expensive procedures. If they wish to head off harmful reallocations of classroom time and ensure that “what gets tested is what gets taught,” policymakers will need to spend the extra money. That decision is itself a test of our determination to assure tight security in the new system, and a superior education for American children. Ω

[Richard P. Phelps is the Director of Research and Strategic Resources for The Association of Boarding Schools. He has had a lengthy career as a education policy analyst and a researcher in educational testing and assessment. Phelps received a BA in history from Washington University in St. Louis. He graduated with an MA in history from Indiana University at Bloomington. At this point, he moved into the study of public policy and received an MPP from the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University. He graduated with a PhD in public policy from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Phelps is the author of The Standardized Testing Primer (2007).]

Copyright © 2011 The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

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Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Turkey Day Ode To The L.O.

Today, this blogger goes unconventional again and becomes a foodie. The inevitable result of Turkey Day meals is a refrigerator full of the uneaten LEFTOVER leavings from the big meal. The LEFTOVER is known to hip foodies as the L.O. or L.O.'s. Today's post to the blog is an L.O. cookbook. If this is (fair & balanced) gastronomy, so be it.

PS: Avoid L.O. food poisoning by following these safety rules here.

[x NY Fishwrap 'Zine]
A Radical Rethinking Of Thanksgiving Leftovers
By Mark Bittman

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Everyone (yes, literally) says that leftovers are “the best part of Thanksgiving,” but I’m not psyched for dry meat on bread with a ton of mayonnaise, or even that exotic alternative, cranberry sauce.

And yet. There you are with four pounds of turkey, a pile of meaty bones, cranberry sauce destined to hang around until February and your grandmother’s stuffing, which wasn’t easy to make. Oh, and mashed potatoes, an always-challenging leftover.

Fear not. Here are 20 (you read that right) handy-dandy minirecipes designed to stimulate both your overindulged appetite and your tryptophanned-out brain. Although they may need adjustments based on your original recipes — stuffing, for instance: cornbread or Pepperidge Farm? — the range is broad enough for you to find a few things that work.


Turkey-Noodle Soup With Ginger

Cook chopped onion, carrot, celery, garlic and ginger in neutral oil until soft, then add chicken or turkey stock and bring to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling salted water until almost done; drain and stir it into the soup, along with shredded turkey; heat through. Garnish: Parsley or cilantro.

Turkey Salad with Scallions and Spicy Mayonnaise

Toss shredded turkey with chopped scallions, celery and cilantro. Fold in mayonnaise and pimentón and chili powder or paprika to taste. Garnish: Cilantro.

Indian-Spiced Turkey-Lentil Soup

Cook chopped onion, carrot and celery in butter until soft. Add a sprinkle of curry powder and cook until fragrant. Add lentils, a bay leaf and turkey or other stock to cover. Bring to a boil; turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender. Stir in chopped turkey and heat through. Garnish: Dollop of yogurt.

Pulled-Turkey sandwich

Whisk together ketchup (a cup or so), a splash of red-wine vinegar, chili powder, minced onion and garlic and some cranberry sauce if you like; add enough water to form a thin sauce. Cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, then stir in a pound of shredded turkey and heat through. Serve on toasted hamburger buns or rolls.

Turkey Seco Tortillas

Spread shredded turkey in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toss with olive oil, minced garlic, cumin, coriander and/or chili powder. Bake at 300 for about 30 minutes, or until dried and crisp, stirring occasionally; serve with flour tortillas and the usual garnishes.


Eggs Baked in Stuffing

Pack a layer of stuffing into the bottom of a well-greased baking dish or ramekins. (If you have time for a layer of caramelized onions, even better.) Make indentations and crack eggs into them and sprinkle with grated Parmesan or other cheese; bake at 375 until the eggs are just set, 10-15 minutes.

Stuffing-Stuffed Bell Peppers

Cut the tops off a few bell peppers and remove the seeds and stems. Pack a mixture of moist stuffing (add any flavorful liquid, if necessary), grated Parmesan and sautéed ground beef or pork into the peppers. Drizzle all over with olive oil and roast at 450 until the peppers are tender, about 30 minutes.

Savory Bread Pudding

Heat milk, a few tablespoons butter and some chopped fresh herbs until the butter melts. Beat one egg per two cups of stuffing, then slowly whisk in the milk mixture. Pour over crumbled stuffing, sprinkle a heavy amount of shredded Gruyère on top and bake in an 8-by-8-inch dish at 350 until browned and bubbly, about 50 minutes.

Pan-Fried Stuffing Cakes

For every 2 cups crumbled stuffing, stir in 2 beaten eggs and a little flour. Form into patties and cook in olive oil or butter until browned on both sides. Sauce: Whisk together equal parts sour cream and cranberry sauce.

Stuffing Breakfast Sausage

In a bowl combine stuffing, ground pork or turkey, chopped fresh sage and fennel seed. Form into patties, then cook in olive oil until the outsides are crisp and the inside no longer pink. Garnish: Maple syrup, cranberry sauce or a mixture of the two.


Mashed-Potato Pierogi

Cook chopped onion and garlic in butter until soft; stir into mashed potatoes. Fill wonton skins with a spoonful of the potato mixture (don’t overstuff); fold over and seal the edges with a little water. Working in batches, sauté in butter, or steam, or fry in an inch or two of hot oil until golden brown. Garnish: Sour cream and chopped dill.

Mashed-Potato Gratin with Jalapeños

Cook chopped onion, garlic and jalapeños in olive oil until soft. Stir into mashed potatoes and pack into a greased baking dish. Sprinkle with shredded Cheddar and bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 375 until browned and bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Garlic-Rosemary Potato Fritters

Cook lots of chopped garlic and rosemary in olive oil until fragrant. Stir into mashed potatoes along with beaten eggs (about 1 for every 2 cups) and enough all-purpose flour to bind. Form into patties (chill if time allows), then dredge in bread crumbs or flour and cook in olive oil until browned.

Mashed-Potato-and-Turkey Croquettes

Stir together mashed potatoes, chopped cooked turkey, chopped onion, beaten egg (about 1 per cup) and enough all-purpose flour to bind. (A little sage or thyme is good, too.) Roll into balls and dredge first in flour, then in beaten eggs, then in bread crumbs. Cook in olive oil until browned all over. Serve with cranberry or applesauce and sour cream.

Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

Cook chopped onion and carrot in butter or olive oil until soft. Stir in a little tomato paste, chopped cooked turkey, peas or other leftover vegetables and leftover gravy (or a spoonful or 2 of flour and some chicken stock); simmer until thick. Put the turkey mixture in a baking dish, spread mashed potatoes over the top, then top with crumbled stuffing or bread crumbs and a drizzle of olive oil or melted butter. Bake at 400 until golden brown. Garnish: Chopped parsley or sage.


Cranberry-Yogurt Parfaits

In individual glasses, alternate layers of cranberry sauce, Greek yogurt, honey and chopped pecans. Garnish: Fresh mint.

Cranberry-Swirl quick bread

Combine 2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor. Pulse in 4 tablespoons chilled butter. Add 3/4 cup buttermilk, 1 tablespoon orange zest and 1 egg and pulse just until combined. Pour into a greased loaf pan and swirl in 1 cup cranberry sauce with a knife. Bake at 350 until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, at least 45 minutes.

Cranberry-and-Gruyère Grilled-Cheese Sandwich

Spread cranberry sauce on a slice of bread. Top with sliced Gruyère and a second slice of bread. Butter the outside of the sandwich generously. Cook in a skillet until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

Cranberry-Braised Chicken

Cook chicken parts in butter, rotating and turning as necessary, until browned on all sides; remove from the pan. Add chopped onion, garlic and ginger and cook until soft. Stir in cranberry sauce and a little chicken or turkey stock or white wine; add the chicken. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, turning the chicken occasionally until it’s cooked through. Garnish: Orange zest.

Cranberry Negronis

Mix equal parts gin, Campari, vermouth and cranberry sauce in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain. Garnish: Orange or lemon peel. Ω

[Mark Bittman is a prolific author on the topic of food and cooking. In 1987 he became the senior writer (later editor) of Cook's (the predecessor of Cook's Illustrated), and in 1990 Bittman began writing for The New York Times. Within the next few years he'd written How to Cook Everything (1998, 2008) and begun to write a weekly column, "The Minimalist." Bittman is a graduate of Clark University.]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Are You Kiddin' Me?????

This blogger listened to the second half of the Jets-Broncos game last eve. It was past the blogger's bedtime, so he was listening to the radio broadcast on his bedside clock-radio. When Tim Tebo took off on 20-yard touchdown run with 58 seconds left, this blogger nearly fell out of bed. The only thing missing was a lightning bolt striking the stadium lights and a shower of sparkling lights. If this is (fair & balanced) incredulity, so be it.

Tim Tebowisms
By Tebow Fan(atic}s

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When the bogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks the closet for Tim Tebow.

The active ingredient in Red Bull is Tim Tebow's sweat.

A spike in Tim Tebow stiff arms caused the tooth fairy to go broke in 1997.

You don't hit Tim Tebow, Tim Tebow hits you!

Tim Tebow’s number is 15 because that’s how many players it takes to tackle him.

The quickest way to a man's heart is with Tim Tebow's forearm.

They once asked Ray Lewis if he'd like to run full speed at Tim Tebow, and he said "No".

SuperMan wears Tim Tebow Pajamas. So does Lou Holtz.

Tim Tebow can touch MC Hammer

Tim Tebow gets called for roughing the tackler.

When Tebow spikes the ball, he strikes oil.

You can lead a horse to water, but Tim Tebow can make him drink.

Tim Tebow doesn't wear a watch, HE decides what time it is.

Tim Tebow can get breakfast at McDonald's after 10:30 A.M.

Tim Tebow ordered a Big Mac at Burger King, and got one.

Tim Tebow can get Chick-Fil-A on Sundays.

People with amnesia still remember Tim Tebow.

Tim Tebow's family once threw him a surprise party. Once.

Tim Tebow hits blackjack with just one card.

The only reason you're still conscious is because Tim Tebow hasn't stiff-armed you in the face.

When Tim Tebow was a kid, he made his mom finish his vegetables.

Superman's only weakness is kryptonite. Tim Tebow laughs at Superman for even HAVING a weakness.

Tim Tebow doesn't do pushups. Instead, he pushes the earth down.

Time waits for no man. Unless that man is Tim Tebow.

When Tim Tebow was a kid he made his mom finish HER vegetables.

Tim Tebow counted to infinity. Twice.

In the beginning there was nothing. Then Tim Tebow stiff-armed that nothing in the head and said "Get a job". That is the story of the universe.

When life gives Tim Tebow lemons, he uses them to kill terrorists. Tim Tebow hates lemonade.

When Google can't find something, it asks Tim Tebow for help.

In a recent survey it was discovered the 94% of American women lost their virginity to Tim Tebow. The other 6% were incredibly fat or ugly.

Tim Tebow loves women. All of them. At the same time.

What color is Tim Tebow's blood? Trick question. Tim Tebow does not bleed.

Tim Tebow has been to Mars. That's why there's no life on Mars.

Tim Tebow once stiff-armed a horse. That animal became what is now known as the giraffe.

Tim Tebow is so fast, he can run around the world and punch himself in the back of the head.

Tim Tebow is the reason Waldo is hiding.

When Tim Tebow wants popcorn, he breathes on Nebraska.

When taking the SAT, write "Tim Tebow" for every answer. You will score more than 1600.

Tim Tebow can dribble a football.

Tim Tebow was once asked to repeat himself. The last thing that person ever heard was the whooshing sound of a stiff-arm.

Tim Tebow can kick start a car. Ω

[ is an online library of jokes, arranged by category.]

Copyright © 2011

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Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Roll Over, Ambrose Bierce! Make Way For Gonzo Matt!

Disclaimer: Ye with no tolerance for blasphemy, so not enter here. That said, Gonzo Matt Taibbi goes nuts over Tebowmania and the resulting article ain't pretty. Tonight, the Denver Broncos play the NY Jets on the WTF-NFL Network. Disclosure: this blogger will honor the memory of his late Bronco-diehard father by going to his favorite sports bar ("Cover 3") to view Tebowmania versus the 46-Defense. While the Detroit Lions made short work of The Chosen One a few weeks ago, the Jets will be in a fever-frenzy and the faithful had better pray for The Chosen One. In the meantime, if this is (fair & balanced) "assassinative prose," so be it.

[x RS]
God Fumbles
By Matt Taibbi

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God must not know shit about football if Tim Tebow is his idea of an NFL quarterback.

We all saw this coming. A year and a half ago, every NFL fan base in the league held its collective breath before the draft, praying fervently that their team would not make the
fatal mistake of selecting Florida Gators icon Tim Tebow with a high draft choice.

If football is America's real national religion, then the faithful knew that Tebow was born to play the role of the backup QB, the clipboard-carrying Savior, the first-round pick who spends the early years of his career being the knife end that impatient fans plunge into the starting QB's back every time he takes a dumb sack or throws an ill-advised pass.

Nobody has ever been better cast for this role than Tebow. We've had our share of plucky, try-hard athletes who dominated in college and brought huge fan bases with them to the pros — think of Doug Flutie, J.J. Redick and Tyler Hansbrough — but Tebow has inspired more Great White Hope cliches than all of those guys combined.

Before he even set foot on an NFL field, it was football gospel that the beatific Gator was a "great competitor" with "great intangibles," who was a "born leader," breathless descriptions that, in addition to being a galling overt insult to the thousand-plus other true NFL tough guys who apparently have been shallow, half-assing jerks all these years, carried with them one powerful underlying message: Tebow sucks.

Every man on Earth knows what it means when a guy describes a woman as having a "great personality," and yet somehow tens of thousands of grown men didn't know what it meant when one football analyst after another kept talking about how Tebow was a "special person." Watching Tebow play quarterback is an embarrassing, painful experience; the poor kid takes 10 minutes to pass the ball, and if he has to make more than one read in a play, his brain locks up like a truck axle caught on a tree branch, and he ends up either throwing the ball straight into the ground or running face-first into the defensive line.

In that respect, Tebow's first start, against the hapless Miami Dolphins, was one of the most amazing sports contests ever shown on television, with Tebow freezing at the sight of one open receiver after another while Dolphins coach Tony Sparano similarly stood dumbfounded, like a man whose brain was being eaten by beetles, as he made one catastrophic call after another. Seeing Sparano's late decision to go for two, despite being up by two scores, was like watching a man stand up in the middle of a live-fire exercise."

Yet when it was all over, and Tebow had "won" the game when his counterpart Matt Moore fumbled in field-goal range in overtime, the media orgy was fully on.

TIM-TASTIC! shouted The Denver Post. A new website appeared, celebrating the act of "Tebowing," defined as kneeling in celebratory prayer, "even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different." People around the world sent in photos of themselves "Tebowing" — soldiers abroad Tebowing, guys on forklifts Tebowing, old ladies and their miniature dogs Tebowing, etc. And the NFL's official website stooped to a new low when it marketed Tebow's next game, against the Detroit Lions and their fearsome front seven, as "Good versus Evil."

The NFL, of course, has seen plenty of extremely religious athletes before, including all-time stars like Reggie White and Kurt Warner, but it never sunk to marketing those players' godliness — for the obvious reason that you don't have to market a player's religion when the guy can, you know, actually play.

None of this, was Tebow's fault. A twentysornething kid who's just trying to make it in sports has no control over millions of fans and armies of sportswriters turning him into a symbol of righteousness and a warrior in the fight against cultural relativism. Nor does Tebow have any control over all the preposterous things that have been said oflate in a desperate attempt to preserve his legend, not the least of which being a Fox Sports columnist who hinted that Tebow's failures were the result of a Denver coaching staff bent on "sabotaging" him in order to escape from the media frenzy.

And yet, when Tebow came out in his next game and lost to Detroit, 45-10, turning in one of the worst performances in the history of quarterbacking, there was something perversely satisfying about the spectacle.

Witnessing the Tebowmania phenomenon get pulverized under a torrent of ruthless hits by Detroit's Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and Stephen Tulloch (who deliciously "Tebowed" after a sack of the Chosen One) was a little like reliving Clarence Darrow's savage cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Monkey Trial. In both cases you came away feeling sorry for the defeated, but it was just something that had to be done, like putting away an old dog with cloudy eyes. Ω

[As Rolling Stone’s chief political reporter (and sometime sportswriter), Matt Taibbi's predecessors include the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O'Rourke. Taibbi has written Spanking the Donkey: On the Campaign Trail with the Democrats (2005); Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire (2007); The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics & Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire (2008); and Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History (2011). Taibbi graduated from Bard College in 1991.]

Copyright © 2011 Rolling Stone

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Today's Blog Post Is Brought To You By... The Letter K!

The letter K got a workout last eve with Duke victory over Michigan State in Madison Square Garden. Coach K this, Coach K that, ad nauseum. Today's meditation on the eleventh letter of the English alphabet had resonance with all of the recent K-mania. The irony of all of this Coach K nonsense is that Coach K pronounces his name with a silent-K. Ditto for Coach K's mentor, Coach Night (spelled Knight). If this is a (fair & balanced) voiceless velar plosive, so be it.

[x TNR]
The Kase Against K: How The Kardashians Are Ruining The Letter
By Chloë Schama

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About 10 years ago, something terrible happened: Strangers began to get comfortable with my first name.

Throughout elementary school, I suffered mispronunciations (chole, rhymes with coal, was common) and misunderstandings (“What’s that short for?”). But what my name caused me in annoyance, it made up for in distinction. “Chloe” (or “Chloë or “Chloé”) was both classic and uncommon, I came to realize. Cookie-cutter was dull, different was daring—and yet “Chloe” was distinct without being ridiculous or made up.

Then, other people caught on. In the 1980s, “Chloe” was ranked at 586 among the most-popular baby girls’ names; in the ’90s, it crept up to 123. By 2005, it had climbed its way to 19. I began to hear my name at airports and playgrounds; mothers and fathers shouted it out at busy intersections. I suddenly knew what it was like to be a “Mike” or a “Sarah.” By 2009, “Chloe” was in ninth place. Supermarkets and shopping malls were no longer safe. Banish the thought of entering a McDonald’s with a plastic playpen area.

Then, something even worse happened: the Kardashians, especially third-sister Khloé. Reality television, as Laura Wattenberg wrote in Slate earlier this year, has had a noticeable effect on name popularity in recent years. “Maci”—the name of a main character on the MTV show “Teen Mom”—was the fastest-rising name of 2010. “Khloé”—a separately tracked, made-up variation of “Chloe”—has been the fastest-rising name of the past five years. (Khloé is a central character on “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” as well as the spin-offs “Kourtney and Khloé Take Miami” and “Khloé & Lamar.”) In 2005, as Wattenberg points out, the name was not even in the top 1000; last year it reached the 42nd slot. “Chloe” continued to rise in the rankings, but so did “Khloe,” a re-interpretation that was not even tracked by the Social Security administration before 2006. Now, it was not just the rarity of my name that was under assault; it was its integrity.

The Kardashians, as it’s very hard not to know, have turned their family into a ubiquitous commodity—or, as they would have it, a kommodity, as they grab every opportunity (even those rightfully belonging to the letter “C”) to advertise themselves. All the Kardashian daughters have names beginning with the letter “K”; the shows’ website is filled with phrases like “get to know who’s who in the krew” and invitations to view the Kardashian Kollection for Sears. Their nail polish line includes colors like Hard-Kourt Fashionista and Kendall on the Katwalk. When Kim Kardashian briefly married basketball player Kris Humphries earlier this year, there was a half-joking assumption that his first name played a major role in inspiring the short-lived union. The impetus here is clear: The family is the brand and the brand is the family. The more they can remind consumers (konsumers?) of this, the more they stand to benefit. They’re not the types to let spelling stand in their way.

Of course, the Kardashians aren’t the first to use alliteration to enhance their celebrity. Marilyn Monroe, Ozzie Osborne, and Joan Jett are just a few who ditched their birth-names for snappier single-letter combinations. But they are perhaps the first to so thoroughly embrace the single-letterness of their commercial enterprise. There are semi-scientific reasons why playing up the letter “K” may make some sense. According to some branding experts, companies and products beginning with the letter “C” are the most common, while “K” brands rank near the bottom of the list. The hard sound of “C” is appealing, studies say, but “K” variations are unusual, making “K” words ripe for brand-name cultivation.

“K” sounds are amusing, as well. Writing about the origin of the concept of “Podunk” in The New Yorker in 1948, H.L. Mencken wrote that “The letter “K” has always appealed to the oafish risibles of the American plain people.” Neil Simon worked this into his 1972 play The Sunshine Boys. (“Pickle is funny … Cup cake is funny … Tomato is not funny. Roast Beef is not funny … But cookie is funny.”) Even Mel Brooks proclaimed the inherent attraction of the eleventh letter of the alphabet: “Instead of salmon, turkey is a funnier sound," he reputedly said. Other poultry with clicky sounds also appealed to Brooks: “Chicken. There's nothing funnier than chicken,” Brooks told Entertainment Weekly in 2000.

So the “K”-shaped prism through which the Kardashians refract the world may be little more than a marketing ploy originating 30-something years ago when pregnant “momager” Kris Kardashian decided to stick to a single letter for her brood. She might not have framed it in these terms at the time, but she was cultivating a clan primed to capitalize upon an appealing but under-exploited sound, while imbuing their products (i.e., themselves) with a comic ring. We’re kooky! We’re krazy! Now go buy some klothes.

I can’t help but find this deeply annoying, and not just because they’re popularizing a version of my name that tramples on its classical roots. For the record, I’m not alone in my annoyance at overly creative K-based nomenclature. Writer Edith Zimmerman—no “c”’s or “k”’s to be found in her name—recently lost it in The New York Times magazine when faced with the “irrationally annoying (and sloppily spelled)” Internet sensation Kreayshawn: “Spell your name right! Or at least spell it shorter!” she wrote.

The Kardashian venture is objectionable not just for personal reasons but also because it subordinates coherence to catchiness, an altogether too frequent phenomenon these days. This isn’t meant to be a treatise on electronic-age eloquence—or lack thereof. (Read Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad or Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story—both of which imagine not-so-distant futures in which all communication has been broken down to text-message-style fragments—if you want to be truly frightened on that front.) But the Kardashians do deserve at least a little chastisement for further dismantling language in their self-involved, money-making hustle. E-mail, texting, tweeting have chopped up and garbled our sentences and syntax; we should resist letting marketing do further damage. I may have given up on the singularity of “Chloe,” but I’m not ready to embrace “Khloé.” Ω

[Chloë Schama — daughter of Columbia University historian Simon Schama — graduated summa cum laude from Harvard and received a master’s in English from Cambridge. She is a Deputy Editor of TNR and was the assistant to the literary editor at The New Republic from 2005–2006, the assistant literary editor from 2006–2007, and the assistant managing editor from 2010–2011.]

Copyright © 2011 The New Republic

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Today, Read Some Vintage "Assassinative Prose"

In a blog that is devoted to Rants & Raves, today's post features this blog's penultimate (thus far) rant. If only Ambrose Bierce lived in our day with the Dumbo poseurs who would be the POTUS 45. If this is (fair & balanced) imaginary invective, so be it.

[x CHE/Lingua Franca]
I Will Never Be A Ranter
By Geoffrey Pullum

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I realized the other day that I’m not qualified as a ranter. I used to think I was, but I was wrong. I’m just a bland, easy-going guy. Things are just great, everyone’s OK, have a nice day. I changed my mind when I chanced on a real piece of rant, on a level I will never attain.

It’s a fairly well known passage, though I happened not to have seen it before. It appeared as an unsigned comment about Oscar Wilde in a column headed “Prattle” in a satirical magazine called Wasp on 31 March 1882. It is known to have been written by Ambrose Bierce (as Ellmann’s biography of Wilde confirms, though without quotation). And quite frankly, after reading it I don’t think I can ever rant ever again. I can’t compete. I am never going to make it as a ranter. Bierce wrote it before Oscar ever had a play on the stage, but it’s hard to believe that a fun evening at "The Importance of Being Earnest" would have mollified a man with opinions as over-the-top negative as this slab of utterly assassinative prose:

That sovereign of insufferables, Oscar Wilde has ensued with his opulence of twaddle and his penury of sense. He has mounted his hind legs and blown crass vapidities through the bowel of his neck, to the capital edification of circumjacent fools and foolesses, fooling with their foolers. He has tossed off the top of his head and uttered himself in copious overflows of ghastly bosh. The ineffable dunce has nothing to say and says it — says it with a liberal embellishment of bad delivery, embroidering it with reasonless vulgarities of attitude, gesture and attire. There never was an impostor so hateful, a blockhead so stupid, a crank so variously and offensively daft. Therefore is the fool enamored of the feel of his tongue in her ear to tickle her understanding.

The limpid and spiritless vacuity of this intellectual jellyfish is in ludicrous contrast with the rude but robust mental activities that he came to quicken and inspire. Not only has he no thoughts, but no thinker. His lecture is mere verbal ditch-water — meaningless, trite and without coherence. It lacks even the nastiness that exalts and refines his verse. Moreover, it is obviously his own; he had not even the energy and independence to steal it. And so, with a knowledge that would equip an idiot to dispute with a cast-iron dog, and eloquence to qualify him for the duties of a caller on a hog-ranch, and an imagination adequate to the conception of a tom-cat, when fired by contemplation of a fiddle-string, this consummate and star-like youth, missing everywhere his heaven-appointed functions and offices, wanders about, posing as a statue of himself, and, like the sun-smitten image of Memnon, emitting meaningless murmurs in the blaze of women’s eyes.

He makes me tired. And this gawky gowk has the divine effrontery to link his name with those of Swinburne, Rossetti and Morris — this dunghill he-hen would fly with eagles. He dares to set his tongue to the honored name of Keats. He is the leader, quoth’a, of a renaissance in art, this man who cannot draw — of a revival of letters, this man who cannot write! This little and looniest of a brotherhood of simpletons, whom the wicked wits of London, haling him dazed from his obscurity, have crowned and crucified as King of the Cranks, has accepted the distinction in stupid good faith and our foolish people take him at his word. Mr. Wilde is pinnacled upon a dazzling eminence but the earth still trembles to the dull thunder of the kicks that set him up.

Great Caesar’s ghost. I don’t ever again want to hear anyone telling me that H. P. Lovecraft’s prose is a bit florid and overwritten. And taste the venom! People really let their hostility hang out back in those days. Today we have Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck as the pinnacle of nastiness; but once there was Ambrose Bierce. Ω

[Geoff Pullum was professor of linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for many years, and is currently professor of general linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. In 2012 he will take up a position as Gerard Visiting Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences at Brown University. He earned a B.A. in Language with First Class Honors from the University of York (England). Pullum was awarded a Ph.D. in General Linguistics by the University of London.]

Copyright © 2011 The Chronicle of Higher Education

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