Saturday, 3 September 2011

"Warrior" School?

This is what we know.  There's a Stockholm, Sweden regional school which had a spot inspection.  I'm kinda shocked that inspectors run around a country....inspecting high schools....we'd certainly fail half the schools in America on an average day if we did that kind of thing.  But in this case, the inspector came face-to-face with a bunch of warriors.  World of Warcraft warriors to be honest.

The school had a serious shortage of teachers.  So in their brilliance of making up for this shortage....they decided that they'd set up a substitution for gym class.  The wisdom was....they put out a X-Box and probably start up one of the Wii-type physical episodes where people do "fun" stuff.

The inspectors walked in and then discovered....because there was no football coach (as we'd have in America), or Miss Wanda-the-volleyball coach around....that the kids ran things themselves, and played World of Warcraft.  This might have been ok for an hour.  But the problem after talking to the punks became more obvious to the inspectors....they were staying in the room most of the day...playing World of Warcraft.

This lead onto an interesting teacher and student relationship.  The teachers had cooked up this educational agenda where they were each in World of Warcraft....with the teacher and students interacting via their own avatars and talking via the online message service Skype.  Thus Teacher "A" sat in one classroom, while Johnny was sitting in the gym.....and everything thought that actual work was being done, but it never was.

So the inspectors wrote up this report.  Shockingly....the Swedish inspectors finally came around to this notion......that World of Warcraft was entertainment, and was never supposed to be part of education.

The principal was asked for a comment.....by the regional newspaper Expressen....and her response was: "When you start up a new project, you can't get everything right at once."

I sat and pondered upon this.  I continually watch various "experts" chat and want to speak out how lousy the American education system is.  I listen to folks complain about "bad" students, lousy educational topics, poor teachers, unqualified leadership within the school sector, and lack of funding.

The blunt truth is that kids over the last fifty years have changed.  We were all kinda tired of school by the time you turned sixteen.  Somehow, we lasted through that last two years and just accepted this mythical twelve year idea as being logical.  Today?  There's probably thirty percent of these kids going through the last two years of high school and they are absolutely bored and unwilling to put any effort into the classes, period.  If you offered them the choice of school or World of Warcraft for six hours a day......they'd pick the game.

So what happened in this case....a number of teachers sat around and came to this obvious conclusion....somehow balance World of Warcraft into the school and pump-up these kids.  The program in this case actually stamped "social science" on the gaming period.  It all made sense to them but I doubt if the national education guys ever realized what the heck was going on.

Somewhere out there....there's a World of Warcraft guy looking at this and scratching his head.  What if he could add in forty thousand lines of gaming code that forced a kid to find the magic sword and you had to answer five questions on Thomas Edison's light bulb.  What if you could require a warrior to cross a bridge over a deep river....but you had to complete sixty math problems that you had to complete in twelve minutes.  Or how about magic unicorn becoming your property if you typed in the ten major components of communism?

Somewhere out there....sits a World of Warcraft designer....who just be save the American education system.  He or she might even win a Nobel Prize for something....just by forcing the gamers to get smart while playing.  Stranger things have happened.

Meanwhile.....if you were taking gym class in Sweden and expecting some warrior sessions....you'd best now bring your tennis shoes and expect some dodgeball....just my opinion.

Could Have Been, Would Have Been

One of the major topics from the book I finished this week....The Forgotten Man....was Wilson Dam.  It's an odd topic to drop into a discussion of the depression era, and I ended up doing more research over the dam and it's unique history.  I grew up just down the road from the dam and just never grasped any significance over it.

For most who don't know...as we entered WW I....the military let congress know that we simply didn't have the capability to manufacture massive amounts of ammonia nitrate for explosives.  For the amount they were talking about....you'd need a massive complex, and massive electrical power.  In 1918.....you simply didn't have any ability to produce that much power.  So a short discussion came up.  Two Alabama Senators were involved, and at the end....Alabama holds up its hand to be the volunteer.

What the Senators and state leadership basically signed onto....was they'd force thousands of folks to accept some money and leave their property in a rural area of northwest Alabama.  In exchange, the largest dam in America would be constructed....using government money....not state or private funds....to complete this project.  All total?  Around forty-six million.....which would into the tens of billions today, face massive environmental lawsuits, and be questioned by the media on a hourly basis.

The nifty thing about this project is that it'd take six years and the war would be over long before it was completed (1924).

What shocked the locals after the dam was finished....was that they were barely a mile from this massive hydroelectric plant when finished, and they couldn't get a single watt of power.  They even got around to insulting their Congressmen and Senators in DC.....because the guys in charge of the plant weren't willing to "share" their electricity.  It'd take a couple more years before the details were ironed out and folks around the region started to get their "share".

So now, we come the most fascinating part of this dam, which was barely thirty minutes from where I grew up.  Two years before the dam was completed (1922)....along came Henry Ford.  He had this deal.  Even though the US government had spent $47 million on this.....it was now worthless in terms of war appeal.  So Henry Ford offered up $5 million in cash to sell him the dam and the power concern.

The intended plan here.....was that this vast amount of open area, with the largest power plant in America sitting next to it.  No major towns around except for Florence....which barely had 10k residents.  Ford had this vision of a major industrial site that would stretch for miles along the river, and be powered by his own plant.

The US government simply couldn't see a deal here.  They would not part with the dam (still under construction) for the $5 million.

So I sat and pondered over this.  What if a deal had been worked out?  What if Henry Ford had ended up in 1923 with Wilson Dam?

Massive construction would have started by 1924 and a major car plant would have been up and running by 1927.  Local population?  Ford would have built some customized suburbs in the middle of these cotton fields....with a trolley car operation likely delivering guys to the front door of their plant.  By 1929, I would imagine over 100k people living in the Muscle Shoals area and Florence.  With the electrical power as an enticement....Ford would have signed up another dozen folks to build onto his "site".  You probably would have seen a number of major industries settled into the Shoals region by 1930.

The depression might have come and slowed things down, but we would have seen a massive revival by 1943 and various war enterprises set into motion with Wilson Dam providing power to all of them.

By the 1960s, the Shoals would have had well over 300k residents and likely been one of the largest cities in the south.  When you talked of Detroit.....you would have compared the Shoals easily to the Motor City, and the Shoals would have eventually taken over the title of Motor City.

Today, we'd likely have a major league baseball club....an NFL club...and a NBA team.  We'd have an airport that brought 10k people a day into the region.  It'd likely have made it as one of the twenty largest cities in America.

It could have been.....it would have been....a totally different story.  I would have grown up in one of the largest urban areas of the United States.  But a bunch of Congressmen and Senators just wouldn't settle on selling an over-priced dam to Henry Ford.  And Ford wasn't about to pay forty million.  The rest is history.

The Real Elmer Fudd

So, this is what we know.  The US government has decided to sue seventeen banks....because these were evil banks....selling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac billions and billions of mortgage notes that fell apart when the housing market stumbled and fell.

At the head of this lawsuit...is the Federal Housing Finance Agency, who kinda oversees Freddie and Fannie.

The amount that we could be talking about?  It differs between which news source you read.  We could be talking about $196 billion max.  But the odds are that we will never get to that peak.

I sat and pondered over this "opera" of sorts.  It reminded me of Elmer Fudds various battles with Bugs Bunny.  No matter how things started off....Elmer was always a loser.

First, we are heading into a campaign season and there just might be a necessity by some folks to pump up their campaign funds by pressuring banks to pay them something under the table....to screw up the bank case in court, and then the whole mess falls apart with only $200 million slipped to the campaign business to make folks happy.

Second, what if the banks pull out their records and start to show various Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac folks were absolute idiots and couldn't possibly grasp bank or mortgage financing?  What if a dozen senators and congressmen's names start to show up as having their hands in the pot back in 2004 or 2006?

Third, even if you make it to court...then you have to be able drag out tens of thousands of documents....all relating to finance and economics....and somehow make a case that Fannie Mae was lied to on a hour-by-hour basis and just never was smart enough to grasp how the banks were manipulating them?  Really?  Can some jury actually believe that story?

Fourth?  It's a curious thing....here we are on the verge of another recession....and the US government has decided to screw with seventeen major banks in America?  Let's say the government wins their $196 billion....then what?  The banks will likely declare themselves in a terrible position and just basically say they are bankrupt.  Imagine the government standing there with a massive finance liability problem....banks failing left and right....and the $196 billion would be just a quarter of what they'd need to fix things.  Brilliant thinking?  Sounds like something you'd get out of a Harvard finance guy who never saw the housing bubble coming.

Finally....let's say the government wins their case.  What stops a hundred million Americans from turning around and suing in their own interest?  Lots of folks lost money on Goldman Sachs....and you'd think they'd like to have their money back.  We could open up a fifteen year court battle where the top banks in America are totally destroyed in the end....with everyone wondering what naive idiot started this mess in the first place?

If I were one of the top one hundred finance experts at Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac back in 2003 or 2005....I think I'd be planning a move to Costa Rica about now.  You will be dragged into court to explain what you knew.  You'd be asked just how stupid you really were.  You'd be trying to make the court understand that you barely graduated from Harvard Business School....that you really don't know that much about finance....and that you never deserved the $250k salary you made.

Frankly, the only reason Bugs Bunny won every confrontation that he had with Elmer Fudd.....was that Elmer was as stupid as he looked.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.....look an awful lot like Elmer Fudd....if you ask me.

Only in America.