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west wing

Barack Obama called for longer school years and getting rid of poorly performing teachers, in a speech about education that had me wondering where I’d heard that before.

Oh yeah. Here.

Let’s compare the two. Here’s Obama:

“That month makes a difference,” the president said. “It means that kids are losing a lot of what they learn during the school year during the summer. It’s especially severe for poorer kids who may not see as many books in the house during the summers, aren’t getting as many educational opportunities.”

[ . . . ]

“We have got to identify teachers who are doing well. Teachers who are not doing well, we have got to give them the support and the training to do well. And if some teachers aren’t doing a good job, they’ve got to go,” Obama said.

And here’s his fictional model, Congressman Matthew Santos, played by Jimmy Smits on the West Wing, circa 2005:

“America is 49th in the world in literacy. That’s down 18 spots in the last four years. Why? Well, for starters, the 180-day school year, that’s based on the agrarian calendar. But we’re in a global economy now. Japan’s at 243 days; Germany’s at 240. ”

[ . . . ]

“… which is why we need to end teacher tenure and get rid of failing teachers.”

Life imitating art? In the case of Santos/Obama, it’s certainly not the first time.

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Census woes

07.29.10

Statisticians as a group have always kind of flown under the radar, perceived as boring number-crunchers even geekier than accountants who are constantly going on about confidence intervals and accuracy within plus or minus three percentage points.

That is, until the Tory government dropped its inexplicable bombshell decision this month to abolish the mandatory long-form census in favour of a voluntary version.

The public outcry over this move, fuelled in large part by the angry resignation of the head of StatsCan, has all of a sudden made the statistician into a folk hero, a lone crusader for level-headed facts in the face of a government that seems to think that listening to the people is, well, voluntary.

Kevin Liban in the National Post hits the nail on the head on the Harper government’s failures:

But after four and half years of governing Canada, the Prime Minister still doesn’t know how, or maybe, care to, go through the tactful political efforts it takes to win friends and influence people. This is, and appears destined to remain, his weakness, believes Tom Flanagan, the University of Calgary political scientist and Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff and organizer. There was the sudden, surprise announcement to cancel taxpayer funding to parties — which almost brought down the government; the sudden, surprise announcement to cancel subsidies to Quebec artists, that may have cost him a majority government; the sudden, surprise announcement to prorogue Parliament. All without warning; all without consultation; all without properly preparing the ground in advance with notice, persuasion and rationale.

In this case, the government doesn’t seem to have any rationale – at least not any rationale that makes sense or that stands up to the smallest amount of scrutiny. And this decision, which comes out of nowhere and will have ramifications for years to come, has made us a laughingstock in the world and has sparked angry protests from all sides of the political spectrum.

It’s not even a budgetary move. The government wants to send out an additional 10,000 forms to compensate for less people filling them out. In addition to clearly never having taken a statistics class, Tony Clement must have failed basic arithmetic, because sending out all those extra forms will cost more money, not less.

Here are links to an online petition and a Facebook page that have set up to protest the Harper government’s decision.

And, for the West Wing fans, see Sam explain the (U.S.) census to CJ in a classic episode here:

Update 8/4: The new census policy is being challenged in court:

A French-Canadian group has launched a legal attack on multiple fronts against the federal government’s move to scrap the mandatory long-form census.The group has not only asked Federal Court to void the Harper government’s new policy, but also wants an injunction that would keep the new type of census from being distributed this year.

It is also asking the court to fast-track its case so that it can be heard by mid-October, before the government distributes the 2011 census.

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Life imitating art?

06.02.2008

Peter Funt makes the case in the Washington Post that the current US Presidential Campaign has a plot straight out of Season 7 of The West Wing.

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Leadership battle in Britain

08.07.2006

Pieter at Peaktalk links to the latest news from the UK, where Tony Blair is fending off the leadership challenge from Gordon Brown as long as he can manage it. Pieter’s not impressed and, as he rightly points out, the situation mirrors that of the Canadian Liberals a little too closely: Many have pointed to […]

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Why Naomi Ragen is wrong

07.31.2006

This piece by Jerusalem-based writer Naomi Ragen has been making the rounds online. I expect it will show up in my e-mail inbox about a dozen times over the next few days: Please remember this when you hear about the “atrocity” of the Israeli bomb that killed many civilians in Kafr Qana, a place from […]

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By the way

07.25.2006

Number of references to The West Wing on this blog: 18. Number of references to this blog on The West Wing: 0. Just in case anyone was wondering.

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Taking a moral stance?

07.25.2006

L. Ian MacDonald thinks that Harper’s position on the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon is one born out of conviction, not out of politics: As Harper said: “There is a crisis because of the actions of Hamas and the actions of Hezbollah.” Exactly. Who kidnapped Israeli soldiers? Who fired rockets into Israeli neighbourhoods? […]

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West Wing’s curtain call

01.23.2006

This season will be the West Wing’s last. NBC announced that it is pulling the plug on the show at the end of this, its seventh season. The show plunged downhill after Aaron Sorkin left three seasons ago but has recovered a little bit this season. However, its move to Sunday nights has caused the […]

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When death imitates art

12.16.2005

Actor John Spencer died of a heart attack today. He was 58. Spencer is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Leo McGarry on The West Wing. The character of Leo also suffered a sudden heart attack in Season 6, which, while not fatal, led to his replacement as White House Chief of Staff by […]

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West Wing live debate episode

11.06.2005

Sure, it was scripted – but these days, what real political debate isn’t? Sure, it was cheesy at times – but nowhere near as ridiculous as Dubya’s mixup between Saddam and Osama in the real debate. And sure, it was fiction that bordered on the completely, utterly unrealistic. But the live debate episode between West […]

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