Sunday, May 15, 2016

Common Core alias PARCC alias Pearson in the wild

High-stakes punitive testing regimes run by for-profit companies like Pearson are not education. Colorado is subject to the PARCC testing. The sins of the fathers are now visited upon the sons: as long as the parents allow PARCC to rule the children will suffer its meaningless testing.

Here is a story from a teacher in New York about a fourth-grade PARCC reading test. This story was censored by PARCC on both the original weblog and on Twitter, on the grounds of copyright infringement. At what point did public education in the USA become subject to copyright infringement ? Why are the taxpayers of the USA paying for Pearson to copyright and profit from testing our children ?

Story follows:
Here is the critique of the 4th grade PARCC exam  by an anonymous teacher, as it originally appeared on Celia Oyler's blog before she was threatened by PARCC and deleted key sections.  See also my post about my tweet that was deleted  after PARCC absurdly complained to Twitter that it infringed on their copyright!

As an act of collective disobedience to the reigning testocracy, I urge all other fellow bloggers to paste the below critique and copy it into their blogs as well.

As the teacher points out below, "we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States. "

No high-stakes test that is used to judge students, teachers and schools should be allowed to be kept secret to escape accountability for the test-makers -- especially ones as flawed as these!  

The PARCC Test: Exposed

The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.

I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would be considered a “Security Breach.” In response to this demand, I can only ask—whom are we protecting?

There are layers of not-so-subtle issues that need to be aired as a result of national and state testing policies that are dominating children’s lives in America. As any well prepared educator knows, curriculum planning and teaching requires knowing how you will assess your students and planning backwards from that knowledge. If teachers are unable to examine and discuss the summative assessment for their students, how can they plan their instruction? Yet, that very question assumes that this test is something worth planning for. The fact is that schools that try to plan their curriculum exclusively to prepare students for this test are ignoring the body of educational research that tells us how children learn, and how to create developmentally appropriate activities to engage students in the act of learning. This article will attempt to provide evidence for these claims as a snapshot of what is happening as a result of current policies.

The PARCC test is developmentally inappropriate

In order to discuss the claim that the PARCC test is “developmentally inappropriate,” examine three of the most recent PARCC 4th grade items.

A book leveling system, designed by Fountas and Pinnell, was made “more rigorous” in order to match the Common Core State Standards. These newly updated benchmarks state that 4th Graders should be reading at a Level S by the end of the year in order to be considered reading “on grade level.” [Celia’s note: I do not endorse leveling books or readers, nor do I think it appropriate that all 9 year olds should be reading a Level S book to be thought of as making good progress.]

The PARCC, which is supposedly a test of the Common Core State Standards, appears to have taken liberties with regard to grade level texts. For example, on the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea by Peter Benchley and Karen Wojtyla. According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chart would be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X, or Y (using the same Fountas and Pinnell scale).
Even by the reform movement’s own standards, according to MetaMetrics’ reference material on Text Complexity Grade Bands and Lexile Bands, the newly CCSS aligned “Stretch” lexile level of 1020 falls in the 6-8 grade range. This begs the question, what is the purpose of standardizing text complexity bands if testing companies do not have to adhere to them? Also, what is the purpose of a standardized test that surpasses agreed-upon lexile levels?

So, right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.

Finally, students must synthesize two or three of these advanced texts and compose an original essay. The ELA portion of the PARCC takes three days, and each day includes a new essay prompt based on multiple texts. These are the prompts from the 2016 Spring PARCC exam for 4th Graders along with my analysis of why these prompts do not reflect the true intention of the Common Core State Standards.

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #1

Refer to the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” and the poem “Mountains.” Then answer question 7.
  1. Think about how the structural elements in the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains.”
Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem. Be sure to include specific examples from both texts to support your response.
The above prompt probably attempts to assess the Common Core standard RL.4.5: “Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”

However, the Common Core State Standards for writing do not require students to write essays comparing the text structures of different genres. The Grade 4 CCSS for writing about reading demand that students write about characters, settings, and events in literature, or that they write about how authors support their points in informational texts. Nowhere in the standards are students asked to write comparative essays on the structures of writing. The reading standards ask students to “explain” structural elements, but not in writing. There is a huge developmental leap between explaining something and writing an analytical essay about it. [Celia’s note: The entire enterprise of analyzing text structures in elementary school – a 1940’s and 50’s college English approach called “New Criticism” — is ridiculous for 9 year olds anyway.]

The PARCC does not assess what it attempts to assess

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #2
Refer to the passages from “Great White Shark” and Face the Sharks. Then answer question 20.
 Using details and images in the passages from “Great White Sharks” and Face to Face with Sharks, write an essay that describes the characteristics of white sharks.

It would be a stretch to say that this question assesses CCSS W.4.9.B: “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.”

In fact, this prompt assesses a student’s ability to research a topic across sources and write a research-based essay that synthesizes facts from both articles. Even CCSS W.4.7, “Conduct research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic,” does not demand that students compile information from different sources to create an essay. The closest the standards come to demanding this sort of work is in the reading standards; CCSS RI.4.9 says: “Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.” Fine. One could argue that this PARCC prompt assesses CCSS RI.4.9.
However, the fact that the texts presented for students to “use” for the essay are at a middle school reading level automatically disqualifies this essay prompt from being able to assess what it attempts to assess. (It is like trying to assess children’s math computational skills by embedding them in a word problem with words that the child cannot read.)

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #3
  1. In “Sadako’s Secret,” the narrator reveals Sadako’s thoughts and feelings while telling the story. The narrator also includes dialogue and actions between Sadako and her family. Using these details, write a story about what happens next year when Sadako tries out for the junior high track team. Include not only Sadako’s actions and feelings but also her family’s reaction and feelings in your story.
Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Common Core State Standards is there a demand for students to read a narrative and then use the details from that text to write a new story based on a prompt. That is a new pseudo-genre called “Prose Constructed Response” by the PARCC creators, and it is 100% not aligned to the CCSS. Not to mention, why are 4th Graders being asked to write about trying out for the junior high track team? This demand defies their experiences and asks them to imagine a scenario that is well beyond their scope.

Clearly, these questions are poorly designed assessments of 4th graders CCSS learning. (We are setting aside the disagreements we have with those standards in the first place, and simply assessing the PARCC on its utility for measuring what it was intended to measure.)

Rather than debate the CCSS we instead want to expose the tragic reality of the countless public schools organizing their entire instruction around trying to raise students’ PARCC scores.

Without naming any names, I can tell you that schools are disregarding research-proven methods of literacy learning. The “wisdom” coming “down the pipeline” is that children need to be exposed to more complex texts because that is what PARCC demands of them. So children are being denied independent and guided reading time with texts of high interest and potential access and instead are handed texts that are much too hard (frustration level) all year long without ever being given the chance to grow as readers in their Zone of Proximal Development (pardon my reference to those pesky educational researchers like Vygotsky.)

So not only are students who are reading “on grade level” going to be frustrated by these so-called “complex texts,” but newcomers to the U.S. and English Language Learners and any student reading below the proficiency line will never learn the foundational skills they need, will never know the enjoyment of reading and writing from intrinsic motivation, and will, sadly, be denied the opportunity to become a critical reader and writer of media. Critical literacies are foundational for active participation in a democracy.

We can look carefully at one sample to examine the health of the entire system– such as testing a drop of water to assess the ocean. So too, we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.

In this sample, the system is pathetically failing a generation of children who deserve better, and when they are adults, they may not have the skills needed to engage as citizens and problem-solvers. So it is up to us, those of us who remember a better way and can imagine a way out, to make the case for stopping standardized tests like PARCC from corrupting the educational opportunities of so many of our children.

Monday, March 21, 2016

on the desert air

boys at the edge of illimitable oceans
throw stones only to watch
flight, splash, descent
into an imagined peace
this is my stone

for #worldpoetryday also here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

robodog II - the sacrificial socks

Robodog 1 was only partially successful, so we had to try again. Here's Artie, bold and resolute, duct-taped and skid-plated, ready to throw himself into the fray of swamp-pheasant hunting. "Gentlemen: we can rebuild him. We have the duct-tape." 

In the course of the previous hunt, one of the $40 dog boots was left behind somewhere in a field of deep hard-crusted snow. I lose more boots (money) that way. Perhaps it's time to fabricate a pair of suspenders to keep the boots at least loosely attached. On the other hand, between the black leather look of the duct tape, and the suspenders, the whole endeavor is becoming a little disturbing. For Robodog II we went with a pair of sacrificial socks under the tape. This provides the warm, durable, yet stylish, armored leggings seen above.

The skid plate is for the low-slung underparts. His belly has a rich assortment of scars from all the cat-tails and other undergrowth he goes crashing through. If I could get him to slow down a bit it would help, but he doesn't do slow.

Artie started dragging his right paw while running, so it gets abraded on top and bleeds. Here is the early season Robodog version 0.9, on the Wyoming operating table (an ATV is useful for about everything, up on the farm) as Ken wraps the paw. Tau meanwhile looks alertly at the woodpile which is emanating suspicious scurrying sounds. Small rodents are also known as 'snacks!' to the dogs. If there aren't any birds around and they get bored, will usually starting hunting independently for a little supplementary protein.

Later that day we visited Ken's neighbor Casey, who had been working on AI in his barn. He had some computer troubles so Ken and I attempted to troubleshoot, concluding eventually it was hardware and not susceptible to our software wiles. Casey listened to us discussing it and observed, "I don't understand a single word you boys are saying, but I bet if I got you out in the barn to do AI, you'd be completely lost." We had to agree. This is of course Artificial Insemination cowboy style, rather than AI in the software sense - wrestling cows, with sensitivity. A good AI man or woman is hard to find, commanding high rates. We can conclude AI is a career with excellent prospects wherever you practice it, on the high plains or in the wretched hives of scum and villainy where software developers fail to mechanistically extract wisdom from data.

First hunt of the season, showing once more the kind of nonsense up with which the poor dog has to put. In the middle of the picture, there is a V of calm water with a black dot at its apex. That's Artie, swimming out to fetch the bird I didn't hit hard enough.

Glory be to God for dappled things. For the overcoat of burrs on the fur, not so much.

Two very truly run-after dogs loafing in the sun. It takes six hours of hard running in the snow to get them stationary for a photograph.

Midseason. Today Artie had to cover ground for three hunters, which he did beautifully as always. That means for every twenty yards we walk forward spaced twenty yards apart, he has run eighty yards up and down the line of hunters, two or three times. Do this across a fifty-acre field with deep cover a few times, add in a quarter-mile sprint down the dirt road after a running bird followed by a triumphant trot back with the bird in his jaws, and he needs a lift up into the car at the end of day.

We don't have a rustic barn with comfortable wood stove unfortunately, so have to make do with a bed in front of the gas fire for recuperation.

Here's a barn pic, from when we were all much younger.

Late season, looking for pheasants in the corn stubble. In these conditions the birds can see, smell and hear you coming, so they fled hundreds of yards ahead of us.

In the evening we huddle under the cottonwoods watching for the evening flight of pheasants into the swamp. The dogs are back in the barn resting so that the birds are not molested or disturbed on their way to bed: this is just bird-watching, the hunt is over. In the spring a pair of sandhill cranes nested here, successfully raising their chick and leaving with the fall flights south, their valedictory rattling bugle calls floating down to us.

Above us hundreds of blackbirds, which used to migrate away from Wyoming in the winter, back when there were reliable winters.

Sunset over the barn mediated by branches and cloud. It was a good year.

Colorado's season goes on for a month after Wyoming closes. For the first time in a decade, a wet spring and summer brought good cover so most of the broods could reach adulthood, and the pheasant population was up. We went out once. This was an historic occasion for me - ten years of hunting in CO, and this was the first time I'd actually fired a shot. It's not a blood sport the way I shoot, much to Artie's regret.

When Artie was young, he would render a chew toy into shreds within a day, so I stopped buying them. His cousins from Australia sent him some new ones which have survived for months now. Instead of getting a shoe to welcome me downstairs in the morning, or home from work in the evening, I get a hedgehog (above), white rat or badger. Of course now I feel terrible that I deprived the dog of his mouth-comforts for so long.

Anno Domini: measuring him by dog years, Artie and I are the same age this year; that is to say, in the prime of life. We'll have to get in some extensive hunts before we are old next year.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

a Weasley clock

tbornottb built an actual functioning (digital) Weasley clock, to show the location of family members:

It is perfectly wonderful.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. 
- Arthur C Clarke, 1973

This may be a borrowing, possibly unconscious, from H. Rider Haggard's fiction She (1886),
Have I not told thee that there is no such thing as magic, though there is such a thing as understanding and applying the forces which are in Nature?
Of course,
Don't believe everything you read on the internet.
- Ben Franklin, or was it Abe Lincoln ? hard to find a definitive source for this one.. 
However the wiring diagrams and other tech for the clock seem quite plausible.

Continuing with the quote theme, one of my favorites:
Oh, oobee doo (hoopdeewee)
I wanna be like you-hoo-hoo (hapdeedoobydoowop)
- Louis Prima, 1967

Monday, October 26, 2015

refurbished split cane

being a short story about the South Bend 359-9 split cane rod that took me all summer to rebuild. It was bought off ebay as a ratty not to say raddled set of tomato plant stakes; varnish peeling, guides rusty or not there, reelseat loose. The work included reset and reseat the ferrules, strip and revarnish the bamboo, new guides except for the agatine red stripper reused, rewrap all bindings, clean repair and reset reelseat. This is properly understood as a kind of occupational therapy rather than simply about fishing, though both are a mostly harmless form of self-medication.

Once I had it stripped of the old varnish, the ferrules polished and refitted to seat nicely, the job stalled for a month or more. The bare wood and silver was so simply beautiful I hesitated to inflict my workmanship on it. Experience has taught how difficult it is to get a good varnish job, without runs, drips, bubbles, or dust to mar its smooth finish. Many of the surviving older splitcane rods were made by the old masters, named and venerated: Hiram Leonard, Edward Payne, Goodwin Granger and later Bill Phillipson here in Denver.  Repairs on these are usually entrusted to skilled craftsmen,  among whom I am not numbered.  Nonetheless I wanted to honour the nameless workman who had produced this rod with my best efforts.  The tip of a splitcane rod is a thing of wonder, a piece of precision craftsmanship disturbingly frail in appearance yet strong enough to survive years of abuse and neglect.

Here it is on its first outing for largemouth bass. The fly is 5 inches long, a saltwater monstrosity on a heavy hook, tied by brother Charles many years ago. Bass like a big meal.

The reel is a Weber Kalahatch. In some ways it is the platonic fly reel, a nearly irreducible simplicity of design. They were rebranded versions of the Duncan Briggs reels from Rhode Island, made only for a few years in the early 50s. 

The weakness of the design is that retaining screw for the spool, which tends to loosen and fall out. As can be seen in the first picture, the screw is now a Phillips shoulder screw which doesn't quite fit. I contrived a washer from some milk bottle plastic, to get a yielding low-friction layer between screw and spool. This worked surprisingly well. Ideally the screw should be a slotted button or pan head low shoulder machine screw 10-32 3/8" long. For some reason this fully specified screw has been hard to source.

A few small bass in the dusk before dawn, then this handsome fellow in early light, from the black water. This pond has steep banks covered in bramble so it is difficult to cast a flyline and keep it out of the bramble behind. Instead the trick is to cast along the shore putting a hook on the last false cast, to drop the fly in deeper water. Adding the precise timing needed to cast a heavy bass fly made for an enjoyably technical morning of fishing. My fishing skills are much like my craftsmanship, at best serviceable: so that actually catching fish is an event happy and unexpected. This time a slight tension on the line signaled the occasion. Tightening on that suggestion brought a heavy boil welling up in the clear water, indicating a fish of real size.

This bass is 19" and 3 or 4lbs in weight, the biggest bass I've caught in decades. An auspicious beginning for the tackle, briefly reclaimed from time.

The pond went dead after this. I drove over to the river, to see if anything had survived the week of zero releases from the dam. There is a small flow from some ponds, plus a steady 5cfs or so from the sewage treatment plant, which prevent the river from completely drying up.  Two smaller walleye, released to take their chances in low water and winter coming on.

There was a tremendous hatch of tricos from the remnants of the stream, but sadly no trout to feed on them.

On a later morning I hooked a truly enormous bass. The fly stopped dead on the retrieve, apparently snagged on a silver and green beam of light embedded immovably in the water. Then it moved, ran and jumped several times, set off on a strong run and the fly came loose. At least I got to see those huge jumps. The problem is now I can't forget them.

Carp like it hot. In the deeper waters they have already retreated to the depths. Shallow ponds still have an occasional fish wandering the margins. The cane worked on these as well.

This picture seems almost a still life. The fish lives on, though.

It's been great fun fishing with this older gear. The logical next step is to regress to Izaak Walton's equipment: cut myself a hazel wand, thread a berry on a braided horsehair leader, and call it tenkara.

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
Song of Wandering Aengus, WB Yeats

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

weminuche wilderness

This was a backpack trip with a pack of scouts, plus a few other boys who aren't into scouting as such but like to get out nonetheless. The original plan had a summit day for attempting the class 3 scramble up the Rio Grande Pyramid. In the event the summit day was discarded but not the summit bid, which turned out to be the wrong approach.

The Pyramid is a 13er rather than a 14er, which thins the crowds something wonderful. I've never climbed a 14er only because recreating in a crowd is not that appealing. 13er peaks tend to have more ptarmigan than ptourists, better for grumpy old misanthropes.

We drove nine hours from Denver and started hiking by 2pm. The climb up to this beautiful valley from the Rio Grande reservoir was steeper than expected, a good 2000 ft pull.

The view up valley wasn't bad either. The saddle visible at the horizon seemed oddly close to have such a large stream flowing down from it. The explanation is another drainage that jinks to the right invisibly just below the saddle. This stream looked quite trouty but I did not get time to investigate.

The first view of the Window (the gap in the rock wall at left on the skyline) and that inaccessible peak, snowfields blocking the trails as we would discover.

Headwaters of a different pretty little creek, on the evening of the second day. Fishless. I followed the trail of a bear from the campsite down to the river. Since these are black bears, and hunted, they have a becoming modesty in the face of humans.

There were the usual consolations, acres of useless beauty. I took a skinny dip in these icy waters, contemplated on the sand in the sun until the freeze eased.

Next day we attempted an early start but did not start walking until 8am what with all the sodden camp-packing. Packs were ditched trailside, with a flu-ridden boy and my wife left on guard. Here we are wandering around, looking for a path up to the peak.

Lacking a path, we did the scree scramble instead. The actual faint trail cuts along the bottom of this slope, then rears up across another boulder field covered in snow and ice. My rule of thumb is to retreat from any snow/ice crossing with significant exposure, unless everyone in the party has an ice axe and knows how to use it. The scree scramble is tedious but a whole lot less dangerous.

Supervising the climb, from the top.

Someone here needs a haircut..

Portrait of the mountaineer as a disappointed young man.

Eventually we toiled up to the saddle below the last scree to the summit. At this point I put both my feet down, the father foot and the Scoutmaster foot, and refused to permit a summit bid - we could see the weather moving in, it was already 12:30pm, and we had another hour or two of hiking at altitude with no cover, once we got off the peak. Lightning danger was deemed high by me at least, though the boys were convinced we could do it, easy Dad, let's go..
I am surely a coward, but at least still a lively coward. 

The abandoned hikers are over near the lake in the top right. Here we meander back to them through the marshes. Don't follow the lights, silly hobbitses.

Continental Divide, 12500 feet, 10th July.. there's that weather I was talking about.  There is basically no exposure here, as the snowfield ends in a shallow grassy bank.

The picture at the head of this entry shows our reward - one of the best views I've seen in my decades of rambling around the mountains. The flowers do not show well in the picture, but the slope beyond this was covered with blooms. On this rocky slope there were plants I've never seen before, purple with tendrils, looked like Triffids.

No pictures of the gallop downhill from here, as we were trying to get to treeline before it all broke loose, and the hairs on the back of my neck were stirring. Upon reaching the first wizened pines so the thunder boomed. The show was continuous for the next half-hour until showers of hail brought the curtain down, followed by a mild persistent rain that wetted through all our raingear.

Luckily the scouts are helpful, friendly and courteous, so we figured out a strategy to pitch the tents without soaking the inner - several scouts on the flysheet holding it over the site, then set up in the relative shelter. The easy dehydrated meals straight from the pouch were very helpful tonight to get everyone fed and bedded down before 9.

Next morning we had a fragrant backcountry experience, sodden boots roasting over an open fire.

Look at those innocently blue skies - you would never guess they rained six hours straight yesterday, and were preparing a similar treat for today.

Further down the drainage were some beaver ponds and plentiful trout. I guess this is a Rio Grande cutthroat, but it is hard to be sure, the spots look like a Colorado River cutthroat instead. Distinguishing the two is a question like angels dancing on a pinhead, or maybe atoms waltzing around a helix..
Colorado River Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii pleuriticus)  - Behnke (1992) and Baxter and Stone (1995) observed that this subspecies had 170-205+ scales in the lateral series, and 38-48+ scales above the lateral line, which were greater than counts in all other subspecies except greenback cutthroat trout.
Rio Grande cutthroat trout possess similar coloration, but usually have fewer scales in and above the lateral line and more irregularly shaped spots on the caudal peduncle.
That peduncle thing would be a tail, to the rest of us. You could count the scales; or you could count its teeth, which are not there.
Rio Grande cutthroat trout have irregular shaped spots that are concentrated behind the dorsal fin (largest fin on the back), smaller less numerous spots located primarily above the lateral line anterior to the dorsal fin, and basibranchial (located on the floor of the gill chamber) teeth that are minute or absent.
So I will boldly proclaim that we caught some Rio Grande cutthroats in their native drainage. At the very worst that statement is nearly right, which is as close as I expect to get to the truth in the time left to me.

We caught a couple.

Then we ate them, fried up with a little salami for the grease. Delicious. Normally I would not kill native trout like this, preferring to slaughter the invasive Eastern brook trout, but the boys wanted to eat their catch. The ethics of catch-and-release fishing bother me every time though admittedly not enough to actually stop fishing. It seems unpleasantly close to torture as I pull in a struggling frightened creature, for nothing but my entertainment: in a way it's a relief to simply kill and eat, putting our needs above the trouts' needs as they put theirs above the damselflies'.

Trout for lunch also simplified waste disposal, as the skellingtons and body parts could simply be tossed in the river for damselfly nymph food. At dinnertime these morsels would have to be taken far from the campsite, in case a bear came to investigate, then stick his head in the tent to see if we had any more of that delicious-smelling salami.

Shortly after lunch and stream crossing storms rolled over the valley to begin that mild persistent rain once more. It escorted us personally all the way down, sun on the hills around but a damp cloud for us. A second stream crossing required a little pioneering with some handy driftwood logs. At that night's planned camp after three more hours of rain, we found a mutinous crew ring-led by my wife, who all wished to hike the remaining miles out. We did that, ending up with 11 miles and 2500ft of descending for the day. Unexpectedly fine dinner in Creede, home by 2am more than somewhat shattered. Never did get a second look at that trouty stream: I will have to go back.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Greece again says όχι to the tyrants and despots who wish to rule their country. Bravo to the Greek people, who despite all temptations to fascism still think that democracy would be a good idea.

The story is long, complex and sorry. I can't pretend to understand it fully. Now the debt has to be understood as a political quantity, not a simple heap of euros. Economics used to be called 'political economics' - it seems to me a great deal of damage has been done by the divorce, when economics tried to become a mathematical instead of a social science.

There seem to be no innocent parties except perhaps the poor and new poor of Greece, driven to suicide, dying for lack of medication, starving quietly. However the profligacy and corruption of the previous governments caused only debt: whereas the austerity imposed by the Troika, in defiance of common sense and elementary economics, has immiserated the country and punished the innocent. The Troika has had five years of austerity which has utterly failed by every metric conceivable, even their own forecasts. Via Felix Salmon on Twitter, here they are.

Notice how as the situation gets worse, so the forecasts detach further and further from reality. 

Syriza has had five months of desperate fighting in a rearguard action to preserve its country and people. After these five months, the Troika decided the best bet would be to propose a deal that would discredit Syriza and render them unable to govern. As a bonus, this deal would enforce the austerity policies that have been failing for five years, and guarantee more needless deaths.

Some extracts follow. I particularly like the morality tales of the first one.

Yes, the Greek state was an unworthy and sometimes unscrupulous debtor. Newsflash: The world is full of unworthy and unscrupulous entities willing to take your money and call the transaction a “loan”. It always will be. That is why responsibility for, and the consequences of, extending credit badly must fall upon creditors, not debtors. There is one morality tale that says the debtor must repay, or she has sinned and must be punished. There is another morality tale that says the creditor must invest wisely, or she has stewarded resources poorly and must be punished. We get to choose which morality tale we most use to make sense of the world. We do, and surely should, use both to some degree. But if we emphasize the first story, we end up in a world full of bad loans, wasted resources, and people trapped in debtors’ prison, metaphorical or literal. If we emphasize the second story, we end up in a world where dumb expenditures are never financed in the first place.
Pre 2009, financial markets were happy to hold Greek sovereign debt at rates not much above German. Either
(1) financial markets reliably aggregate all available information, in which case the Greek government was correct to trust their judgement that its borrowing was cheap and sustainable, and was subsequently the victim of an unforeseeable shock. Or else
(2) financial markets do not send reliable signals about social costs and the probabilities of future states of the world. In which case, the commitment of the euro system to maximum freedom of financial flows is fundamentally flawed and will inevitably produce crises.
I don’t think there’s any way, even in principle, to tell a story in which the Greek debt crisis is mainly attributable to the actions of the Greek government.
Nobody denies Greek governments were profligate. But reckless borrowers require reckless lenders. It is those reckless private creditors who were bailed out by eurozone governments and the International Monetary Fund in 2010: nine of every ten euros lent to an insolvent Greece since then went to pay back debt that should have been restructured. Because of eurozone governments’ refusal to accept a restructuring of Greece’s debts in 2010, the austerity subsequently imposed and the depression that this caused were unnecessarily great – perversely causing public debt to soar as a share of Greece’s shrivelled GDP. One quarter of positive growth after a collapse of GDP of 21 per cent over five years – a cumulative loss of more than 100 per cent of Greek output – scarcely vindicates the creditors’ strategy.

Update: ex-finance minister Varoufakis on the deal of July 13:
‘This has nothing to do with economics. It has nothing to do with putting Greece on the way to recovery. This is a new Versailles Treaty that is haunting Europe again, and the prime minister knows it. He knows that he’s damned if he does and he’s damned if he doesn’t.’ 
‘In the coup d’état the choice of weapon used in order to bring down democracy then was the tanks. Well, this time it was the banks. The banks were used by foreign powers to take over the government. The difference is that this time they’re taking over all public property.’
‘In parliament I have to sit looking at the right hand side of the auditorium, where 10 Nazis sit, representing Golden Dawn. If our party, Syriza, that has cultivated so much hope in Greece ... if we betray this hope and bow our heads to this new form of postmodern occupation, then I cannot see any other possible outcome than the further strengthening of Golden Dawn. They will inherit the mantle of the anti-austerity drive, tragically.
The project of a European democracy, of a united European democratic union, has just suffered a major catastrophe.’