Thursday, October 30, 2008

Alliteration at the Caps Game


C’est vrai.

Male high school sophomores from Hermitage High School in Leesburg sat behind me at the Caps game Tuesday night. They were utterly charming and gentlemanly.

“Fight! Fight!” they screamed. “We want to see a fight! Fight ‘em!” they yelled constantly at the teams on the ice throughout the night (Caps and the Nashville Predators). My daughter would credit testosterone for it all.

“Let’s start a wave. I know we can do it. Come on, you guys,” urged one. I turned around and agreed to join them in “the wave” but it never got going.

Washington Wizards. Where are they?” one asked. The Wizards’ banners hung from the ceiling. They play at Verizon Center, too.

“Where did that name come from?” a buddy wondered. “Alliteration,” said another.

I was stunned. How many adults can define “alliteration”?

I turned in my seat and asked: “What did you say?”

They smiled and said in unison: “Alliteration.”

“Are you studying that in English class?”

They all gleamed and nodded yes.

“Your teacher would be proud,” I exclaimed.

Amidst the “fight, fight!” they practiced their third-year Spanish including “Por que, Jose, por que?” which they shouted at the Capitols’ goalie, Jose Theodore, whenever Jose would almost miss a stop.

When some of the group left their seats momentarily, the rest of the crew decided to play a trick when they returned.

I half listened. Hockey is fast moving and one must pay attention!

Sure ‘enuf, they played their trick.

“Oh, no! I don’t believe it! “ one grimaced as he took his seat. “We missed a fight?” one yelled.

Soon unbelief and consternation led to action and I felt a tap, tap tapping on my shoulder, and the ones who “missed” the fight wanted confirmation from me: “Was there a fight?”

I could not tell a lie which led to big hoo-haws and guffaws and laughter, and the guys put up their fists for a fist-bump with me.

They came with the DECA Club from their high school, a big impressive group out to have a good time with their schoolmates and show a stranger a good time, too.

It was a good night for victories all around for the Caps won 4-3 , and so did I.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Algebra Students at Brookings

By the Queen of Free

On Wednesday I attended a presentation at Brookings (which I gather is trying to shorten its name): "The Misplaced Math Student..." where presenters debated the values and disadvantages of placing all students in Algebra in the 8th grade.

The president of the Education Trust, Kati Haycock, was quite persuasive and knowledgeable and said all students should be placed in 8th grade Algebra since all 8th graders, despite poor math performances, gain from the environment and perform better than 8th grade students who are not placed in Algebra.

California and Minnesota have mandated that all 8th graders will take Algebra and are gearing up for their new required classes.

Ms. Haycock contradicted the findings of Tom Loveless, the featured speaker, National Math Panel member, and senior fellow at Brookings who based his report on findings from the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress).

Mr. Loveless said trends show advanced students have falling grades in Algebra while less advanced students have rising grades, and implied (said Ms. Haycock) that less proficient students are dragging down top students, a finding Ms. Haycock disputed.

Less experienced teachers, 80% of whom do not have math degrees, are assigned to poorer schools and do not teach math as well as degreed math teachers who produce Algebra students who make better grades, Mr. Loveless said. Some 8th graders "know as much math as 2nd graders" and come from disproportionately poorer, larger schools, and are minorities.

In its final report the National Math Panel found knowing how to work fractions is critical to math success, but many students do not understand fractions. (Some of the panelists said many teachers who teach math do not understand fractions either so how can you effectively teach what you do not understand?)

Henry "Hank" Kepner, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, another panelist, said teaching Algebra to all students is a civil rights issue.

Vern Williams, a Math Panel member and 35-year math teacher (which he stated four times), supports teaching Algebra to 9th graders, not 8th graders, "for equity reasons" (whatever that means).

He said administrators who often have little or no classroom experience dictate curriculum to teachers and demand that teachers promote students. He is an award-winning Fairfax County, VA math teacher.

Ms. Haycock disputed Mr. Williams' administrators' curriculum requirement which she said was often non-existent. "Teachers are handed an Algebra book and that's all they get sometimes," she said emphatically.

Mr. Williams supports teaching Algebra to students "when they are ready for it. I know some sharp 4th graders who are ready for Algebra, and some 8th-graders who are not."

Throughout the morning "pretend Algebra," "fake Algebra," and "pretend math instruction" classes were often mentioned.

Ms. Haycock said parents deserve some blame for their students' dissatisfactory grades.

Mr. Williams: "The system is also to blame, not just the teacher." And "teachers are under tremendous pressure to pass children."

A math professor in the audience stated that college freshmen increasingly enter university with inability to figure fractions. He supports strengthening state certification requirements for teachers.

Another audience member, who identified herself as a former chancellor of New York state schools, said the panel's presentation was the same content as that which would have been presented 40 years ago so what do "we" do now with all the information presented?

"What works?" she asked. "Are we going to sit here and do nothing and present the same information in 40 years?" Mr. Loveless' answer was evasive, non-committal, and insouciant. He came to present, not to act.

About 60 persons attended the briefing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I interrupt this programming to

spend every possible available moment until November 5, 2008 canvassing, calling, cooking, hosting, volunteering, driving, pollwatching, writing checks for the Democratic cause, namely:

To elect Barack Obama President of the United States

and many other notable Democrats, too, like

1. Mark Warner, candidate for the U.S. Senate (VA)

2. Judy Feder, candidate for the 10th Congressional District (VA)

Please send Judy a check:

Judy Feder for Congress
6816 Tennyson Drive
McLean, VA 22101

3. Jim Martin, candidate for the U.S. Senate (GA) running against the sleeze, Saxby Chambliss who
defeated our own Max Cleland because Max wasn't "patriotic" enough! Max, triple amputee
from Vietnam! That was the Karl Rove - George Buzh duo at work. Let's beat them now! Here's
your chance. Please send a check to:

Martin for Senate
P.O. Box 7219
Atlanta, GA 30357

Thank you. This programming will resume in November, 2008.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

12 Hours Chasing John Wilkes Booth

Yes, it is possible to do it on your own. But the time! The wonderful little side trips and the hard-to-find locations. Plus all the spoken history as you ride. The camaraderie of like minded individuals who have the same curiosity as you.

I am speaking of another of the Smithsonian’s excellent day trips, this one entitled, “John Wilkes Booth’s Escape Route,” a 12-hour tour of the places and stops he made after he shot Abraham Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865, in Washington, D.C. which Ed Bearss, the famous historian and narrator, led last Sunday.

(One of my new comrades told me: “When you see Bearss is the guide, jump on it (the trip) since his tours sell out quickly.”)

Bearss is the retired chief historian for the National Park Service who also leads tours to Civil War battlefields and other places more than 200 days per year, one of the day trippers said.

Whatever, Sunday’s trip was superb.

We began at 8 a.m. sharp (don’t be late or you’ll miss the bus) making the first stop at Lafayette Park, the location of the home (now demolished) of Secretary of State William Seward. Mr. Bearss laid the groundwork for the evening of April 14 describing an attack upon the Secretary in his home by one of the conspirators. (Seward survived.)

From there, we stopped at (hold on):

the Peterson House (where Lincoln died on April 15),

the alley behind Ford’s Theatre (the theatre is closed for renovation),

Mary Surratt’s boarding house a few steps from Sixth and H streets (now a Japanese/Chinese restaurant),

the Surratt Tavern in Clinton, Maryland,

Samuel Mudd’s home near Bryantown, Maryland where lovely costumed Civil War ladies greeted us standing out beside tents. Uniformed Confederate soldiers fired muskets into the field. One played “Dixie” on a flute.

We stopped briefly at St Mary’s Church where Dr. Mudd met Booth in 1864 and where Dr.and Mrs. Mudd are buried, and:

Rich Hill, the home of Samuel Cox,

a thicket like the one where Booth and his accomplice David Herold hid for four nights (the exact location is unknown),

Cleydael, the home of Richard Stewart, where friendly horses, sheep, the current homeowner and four McCain signs greeted us,

Port Royal where Booth and friends crossed the Rappahannock River,

the Peyton House (now boarded up and unlikely to be restored, Mr. Bearss said because a Kansas museum, I think it was, owns most of the artifacts. Kansas? ),

and ending at the location of the Garrett House and Barn where Booth was shot and died.

All that remains of the Garrett structures on the hill between highway lanes amidst vines, trees, and a leaf-strewn path is a small plaque placed within the past year, Mr. Bearss said, by the 21st Century Confederate Memorial group to honor Booth.

And there was more, but don't ask me what.

Mr. Bearss knows all the details of the tragedy and the players upside down and backwards, and after speaking almost non-stop all day, answering questions and describing events and people, times, and places, he took questions on the way back.

The dictionary does not have enough superlative adjectives to adequately describe the day. An excellent detailed map is supplied so you can easily follow the route and timing by the half hour in some cases.

The price ($114 for Smithsonian Associates members) includes a delicious, quick lunch at Captain Billy’s Crab House in Popes Creek, MD, and light refreshments on the way back. (The "Smithsonian Sherry" is better left undrunk.)

A splendid trip in every regard, but perhaps I exaggerate.

Kudos for sure to Kay Weston, the Smithsonian representative, and to “Winfield,” the bus driver.

Because of all the steps and stairs and climbing throughout the day, I do not recommend this trip for handicapped persons, but I can recommend the book about the chase of Booth: Manhunt by James Swanson.

Oh, would that money were no object.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Book: The Warren Buffet Portfolio

No, I don't know of any connection between Warren Buffet and Washington recently (other than the reported relationship between him and Katharine Graham in Monday’s Washington Post),

but I read so you don't have to:

Subtitle: Mastering the Power of the Focus Investment Strategy (John Wiley and Sons)

From these pages and this old (1999) book, I offer a few tips garnered which may prove helpful, especially with the erratic market.

For definitions, try and BusinessDictionary, and I love Google's finance pages.

* Index funds are usually better than mutual funds.

* Focus on return on equity rather than earnings per share.

* Invest in no more than 15 companies. (Buffet prefers 10).

* Buy low!

*Keep your turnover rate between 10 and 20%, and Buffet thinks lower is better. (Do I have to define turnover rate? Okay: from For a mutual fund, the number of times per year that an average dollar of assets is reinvested. )

*Hold for a minimum of five years. (Holding reduces transaction costs and raises after-tax returns. Also, when you hold for several years, say, 10, you reduce your risk.)

*Hold on during bumps. ("It's going to be a rocky ride" said Ms. D.)

*Hold forever if the company is performing above-average, to wit, do not sell superior companies.

(You often hear about the "beta factor" which is a degree of correlation between the stock market as a whole and an individual stock. If a company's stock has a beta of 1, it means the stock is rising and falling exactly with the market. If a company's beta is 2, it is rising and falling twice as fast as the market, meaning it is riskier than the market, and the inverse is true: A beta less than 1 means the stock is "safer" with less risk than the market and therefore, generally performing below the market.)

*Share price is not as important as a company's intrinsic value since an investor may be able to purchase a company's stock at bargain rates. Study stocks selling lower than their intrinsic values. (How do you figure intrinsic values?)

*Compare annual reports of a company you like with similar companies. Compare performance with forecasts. Look for low ratio of price to book value, low price/earnings ratio or a high dividend yield. The value of any investment is the present value of future cash streams.

For additional reading the author recommends Philip Fisher's Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits: Paths To Wealth Through Common Stocks, now considered a classic and re-issued in 2007 by Wiley with a foreword by Fisher's son, Kenneth Fisher.

Buffet respects John Maynard Keynes.

Note to self: Check out the Sequoia Fund.