Thursday, September 30

The Cerebral Ganglia Of The Beast

I AM the executor of my mother's estate. She died a few weeks ago when dementia took from her the memory of what to do with food. Condolences are not in order; the disease took her identity years ago, and death took away the disease. Dealing with dementia is much worse than dealing with death.

That's just set-up, of course: I mentioned a while back that posting here would be as light in quantity as it is in quality for a time. I didn't want to write about it then, and I don't now, not out of some personal or emotional tangle, but because writing is hard, while being a smartass is easy.

So this finds me not at the cemetery, nor watching the river flow (no water in it these days, anyway), but on the 17th floor of Indianapolis' City/County building, which the City Fathers erected in the early 1960s. I was so young I have but vague recollections of it being built, but the optimist in me has always chosen to believe we did so to stop people calling the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, aka the Circle, the ugliest edifice in the history of architecture.

It's an intensely uncomfortable building made much worse now that its welcoming atrium bears the twin scars of a Liposuction of Freedom, the crawling security lines where I was forced to disrobe. This, in turn, informs the wait for the elevators, which must've been insufficient by 1965, though if you knew Indianapolis in the 50s you wouldn't really blame the architects for figuring that within a decade at most the place would be all but deserted. There are maybe thirty people crammed into the hallway, migrating en masse like a hopeful covey as the electronic elevator scoreboard handicaps which descending carriage is likely to arrive next. (Fortunately their number grows slowly, since most people choose to put their clothes back on before continuing.) I managed to catch the third car, which I thought was probably pretty good for a rank amateur.

The trip up, naturally, reminds you that you share a country, not to mention the occasional confined space, with the sort of person who thinks nothing whatsoever of pressing a button to halt a roomful of people in order that the buttoniere may ride one or two floors to his destination. And, also naturally, that the very people who do this not only could've climbed the stairs between those floors in one-quarter of the time but, generally, could really have used the exercise.

Got there, found my lawyer, got in to see the judge. My sense of discomfort in such situations is profound. I sit making professional small-talk with His Honor, which is designed for him to decide if I am mens sana while I, entirely out of self-interest, pretend not to know that's what he's up to. It's like being the Washington Generals. I'm nearly overcome by the urge to grab him by his insurance adjuster's tie and yell, "You've got a lot to atone for, buddy." I manage to resist. He approves me. I can tell he's actually figured me for a potential tie-grabber, but the alternative would mean more paperwork.

On then to where the real work is done, the secretarial pool, where we witness a full quarter-hour of document stamping. Real document stamping, not virtual document virtual stamping. I wonder if I could have gotten coffee past Security. I marvel at the sweeping view of the city, dotted with taxpayer-swindling arenas and centers and malls and attractions hatched in this very building, back when all you could've seen from there was train tracks and warehouses and a block of 19th century department stores. The stamping resonates with that, a time when we did things with steel, and steam, and brawn. A time when we did things because we thought they were worth doing, not because they increased your odds of getting on teevee. Then on to another office, and more stamping. (This time, though, the fancy computer thing came into play, because my attorney failed to tell me I should bring a copy of the death certificate, or, alternately, memorize my late mother's Social Security number, and he had to sweet-talk the supervisor into looking it up for us. I had one in the car, a few blocks and seventeen floors away, but if I'd'a had to go through that line again they would have had a security problem.)

It was interesting, really, that when it comes to important stuff, like divvying up a dead person's possessions, we rely on people and paper and eyeballs and ink. I mean, it's not like we were just there voting or something.

Tuesday, September 28

A New Low, If Such A Thing Were Imaginable, Let Alone Possible

NBC's Education Week coverage last night was just some bottom-of-the-screen bunting shy of its Shock and Awe coverage. Is Our Networks Learning? Here's what we learned last night, courtesy NBC News Chief Personality and Tanning Salon Model Brian Williams:

1. American (public) schools are failing. We know this because we know it. Plus, millions of eighth graders do no read at eighth grade level. Plus a poll!

2. The reason public schools are failing is teachers' unions. Because bad teachers. Because hate Change. Because lazy. Because tenure. Because arcane work rules.

3. The obvious solution is Innovation. The obvious place to look for innovation is among people who earn all or a part of their sizable incomes bashing the public schools.

No, really. That's it. Go take a look. Lemme know where I missed the slightest hint there may be other viewpoints out there, or any problems with that one.

Here's Bob Somerby, the morning before this thing kicked off, commenting on a Richard Cohen column of equal value. Bob Somerby is one of the very best writers on education in the country. He has a blog. Pam Geller and Michelle Malkin are on the teevee regularly:
Cohen goes on to offer an offbeat assessment; he breaks from the society’s Standard Assessment about the alleged monstrous failure of the nation’s schools. In that Standard Scripted Assessment, teachers and their teacher unions are the villains of the piece; they are the reason—the only reason—why “this nation's schools, particularly the big city ones, are an unforgivable mess.” That script is part of a much larger war, in which the nation’s plutocrats began to target the nation’s unions about forty years ago. But when it comes to those teachers unions, every good journalist knows what to say. NBC’s mewling David Gregory recited the script on yesterday’s Meet the Press, although he doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about when it comes to the nation’s schools. As the day proceeded on MSNBC, Brian Williams, Joe and Mika all continued to pound the script home.

NBC came under fire last week because teachers, and their side, were all but excluded from its little summit. In response, NBC News President Steve Capus disavowed any responsibility for fairness, accuracy, or knowledge of the topic, insisting "the role of a news organization is to put a spotlight on these issues/challenges, and on the people who are doing incredibly strong work to try to affect change."

Interesting, really, that no one ever uses examples of our Plutocrats talking like that, and expecting other people to buy it, at full retail, to question the efficacy of our education system.

We got to hear--at length--from Geoffrey Canada, the CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone. Mr. Canada is a dynamic speaker, passionate, and a man who has accomplished much good. He is also the man whose flagship charter school has raised $100 million in private donations. Let's just say that under the circumstances I find his lack of enthusiasm for traditional public schools less than surprising.

No one seems to notice--certainly the raccoon-eyed Mr. Williams didn't interrupt the love-fest to mention--that Mr. Canada comes pre-loaded with a Charter School defense perimeter, which included, at one point, the out-of-the-blue declaration that there were failing Charter Schools and such should and could be closed. This was not in response to any tough questioning from Williams; neither did he follow up as to why, if closing failing charters is a sufficient response, why closing failing public schools is not sufficient to preclude charters altogether. The fact is that Canada needs a prolonged defense of the Charter Movement because it hasn't begun to live up to the claims its proponents were making ten years ago, and, in fact, it clearly has, on balance, simply drawn resources from the public schools while producing roughly the same results.
A lot of charters don't have unions, so they're free to innovate.

declares Canada, letting Brian and the rest of the NBC gang know he's caught the evening's theme. We get this with as much evidence as we get the rest of the evening, namely, none. The night's other theme.

Where does this come from? To begin with, anyone making such a statement is simply lying: there's no national teacher contract, no national test (the closest thing being the NAEP, which these people don't want to talk about, because test scores are pretty much exactly where they've always been), no philosophical basis for the claims of testing expertise or comparison of results. It's an argument (and an anti-union one) disguised as a profound moral truth. Because it has no other sort of truth to offer.

What are the possible impacts teacher contracts have on "innovation"? Well, it might depend on what state you happen to be in (there was a great deal of blather about tenure last night; there's no such thing as tenure in Indiana.) Here unions may bargain for teachers--it's an open, not a closed shop--over conditions delineated by the state legislature. Wages, class size, number of classes taught per day, prep periods, extra requirements, grievance procedures. Are these things dragging down the American education system?

We've known since the Coleman Report to the Johnson administration that economic level is the key predictor of educational achievement. Nothing's ever changed that or even challenged it. At the same time, we've known this since the Johnson administration. The primary issue is that we've done fuck-all about it for forty-five years, except continue using public schools as a political football. It is the height of insanity to imagine that we're going to get different results by changing the air pressure, or moving the kickoff back ten yards. If we'd pumped $100 million into every public school in America would we be getting different results? If we put $100 million into every community for health care and social services, would we be better off? How 'bout if we stopped creating Saviors, and started creating opportunities for poverty-stricken children that go beyond getting them to do better on a math test? The government's supposed to be deeply invested in turning out little earners, but the government's supposed to keep its corrupt and incompetent mitts off the Free Market.

Next up was NBC education reporter Rehema Ellis, fluffing Race to the Top. Ellis is NBC's education reporter because she's the one who reads education stories. It's not her full-time beat; Our Nation's Failing Schools don't merit a full-timer at NBC, nor one with any more expertise than a J-school degree bestows. Ellis, of course, was up on the night's purpose:
[Tennessee's bid elicited] promises from powerful players often labelled as holdouts against change--legislators, union leaders, and even some teachers.

Yes, even some powerful teachers signed on, allowing the governor and state legislators of Tennessee (Motto: Home of the Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park!) to proceed. (I'm going to say this again, and again, as long as necessary: How long have we be listening to demands for educational change and "innovation"? How much has already been put into place, over the anti-progress protestations of teachers and their powerful unions? When do the innovators start to be held accountable? When do the union busters' grades come out? When do the forces for returning our biology instruction to the 18th century, and making our history correspond to how some people would like it get called to account?)

And Ellis narrated the evening's telling statistic, the one moment of scientificalistics:
In a nation where 68% of eighth graders can't read at grade level...

If you froze the screen and caught the boilerplate, it credited the National Center for Education Statistics Learner Outcomes. Here's the graph. In case you were educated in a public school, I'll interpret. 2009: percentage below Basic 8th grade reading level: 25. Twenty-five. In case you were educated in public school, that leaves 75% reading at Basic 8th grade level or above. You have to throw Basic proficiency into the Trash Heap of Uncaring Union Teachers to get a 68% failure rate. I'm sure this was just an oversight.

Finally, well, look: Brian made a big deal about the final segment featuring a teacher who "tossed a grenade" at their Teachers' Town Hall meeting. Here we go I told my Poor Wife when I heard the exit tease. Go ahead: sit through the commercial and look at the clip, then come back and let me know who in the audience acted like they hadn't heard this same shit their entire professional careers. 1) Early Twenty-something 2) elementary school teacher 3) doesn't see the need for tenure (so move to Indiana, e.g.) because 4) what her students really need is Phonics (or Objectivism, Magic Crystals, and Alien Lizard Masters) and 5) Teachers who spend all their free time doing unpaid tutoring. As a rule I do not hit girls, or boys, and I don't care to now. Check back when you're married. Or check back when you've done this for twenty years, and tell us all the wonderful stories of your 1020 volunteer weekends. Right. Meanwhile, the instruction of ten-year-old Spanish speakers in the rudiments of test-score achievement is an admirable pursuit; I'm glad, and a little surprised, it hasn't aged you more yet. But it's not fucking applicable to every last education issue in the whole goddam country. You're young, and may learn; Mr. Williams is not, and won't. Hand-grenade? Not even a rubber horseshoe.

By the way: what does NBC's prime-time line-up contribute to Our Nation's Education exactly?

Monday, September 27

Back Home Again

AND these are the guys who say comedians have no place in the national debate. Douthat:
The Tea Party is a grass-roots movement — wild, woolly and chaotic — which sometimes makes it hard to figure out exactly what it stands for. But to the extent that the movement boasts a single animating idea, it’s the conviction that the Republicans as much as the Democrats have been an accessory to the growth of spending and deficits, and that the Republican establishment needs to be punished for straying from fiscal rectitude.

Brendan wrote me over the weekend to get the Disgruntled Hoosier take on Mike "Choirboy" Pence's stunning victory in some Iowa Church Basement Straw Poll last week, which, of course, led our nation's political insiders to start pundicating about his potential for a stunning third-place showing when the official Iowa Church Basement Straw Poll takes place just sixteen months hence.

Spite Across America! sounds like a good theme to me, especially since he's not going to go for Mike Pence: Holy Shit! my first choice.

(Of course, as you and Brendan already know, the Disgruntled Hoosier take is Lying cocksucking motherfucking thieving microcephalics! which is his answer to just about everything. This makes him sound dangerously like a Libertarian, except that the predictive value and real-world correspondence of his Answer For Everything can be expressed as a Natural Number, without recourse to the Integers.)

What Brendan really wanted to know was my take on what a potential Pence candidacy has on the odds that all those interested parties will convince the Reluctant Mitch Daniels to save the country. My short answer is "It's not for nothing that among this generation of Hoosier politicians the breakout stars were Dan Quayle and Evan Bayh, the Mamie Van Doren and Diana Dors of Marilyn clones".

And my long answer is "I spent a decade telling everyone that Americans would never elect Ronald Reagan President, and this was after they'd elected Nixon." I pretty much stopped talking to anybody after that. In fact, this the real reason I hate cellphones; the odds are there's a person on the other end of the conversation, and the two of you share a language, at least nominally.

So here's the thing, and if you can get someone to lay the bet off in Vegas for you, doubling down on the opposite of what I say is always a sure winner: Daniels is just the middling wet dream--the fantasy constructed in the odd bathroom half-hour with just the lingerie section of the Sears catalogue for assistance--of Republican insiders in the darkling of the second Bush administration, back when they--like Douthat, like anyone with a reasonable amount of sense and absolutely no familiarity with the moronic potentiality of the American voter--figured the Republican Jig was Up for at least half a generation and they'd better see what they could do to sound sensible. Options, of course, were few. Even in 2006 you needed a second helping of Kool-Aid to truly buy into Daniels' Indiana Miracle; today, well, you really should see what he's reduced to. The Mighty Atom has been convinced--he's constantly bombarded by advice givers, and oddly so for a man with such an oversized Ego--to use his PAC money to pepper the airwaves with ads urging Hoosiers to elect a Republican majority in the House. It makes the same fictitious claims about the state economy he made in his own Last Campaign, but he's now reduced to quoting the Wall Street Journal, some made-up anti-tax think tank, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone*. "While other states were raising taxes, we were lowering ours," he says, confirming that for the Big Brains of the Republican Economic Wing, sales taxes don't count as taxes (when you add in the 1% increase used to convince the rubes their property taxes were going down **, Daniels-era Indiana has the highest tax increases of any state east of the Mississippi).

Of course, this is why having Daniels and Pence in a Presidential primary has such a fantasy appeal: Mitch forced to attack God & Guns, while Pence has to spill the bean-counting about Daniels' little accounting tricks. It has, as St. Ambrose once said, the satisfying effect of witnessing our enemy's helpless gurgling after an imaginary debate with ourselves. Not gonna happen, in other words: Daniels is perhaps the first general in history to be fully prepared to not fight the last war, which didn't occur. Palin usurped his place in '08. He needed to come out swinging right then, but, of course, he couldn't. And these guys will for ever more run scared of the GOP primaries. (This is, by the way, part of the distinctly masochistic enjoyment of the current political landscape, this idea that the Grass Roots Teabaggers have shunted the religious nuts to the side. They'll be right back at the table as soon as there's the tiniest success come November. It's going to increase the criticism of the Republican party as insufficiently Teabaggerist for 2012. Daniels real hope is for a massive repudiation this fall. Otherwise he's in Iowa for the next sixteen months trying to out-flag-lapel-pin and Ten-Commandments-on-the-Courthouse-lawn the likes of Palin, Huckabee, and, yes, Pence. And you can take that to Vegas.)

As for Pence, well, I'll never say never again, and to the extent that intellectual incapacity for the job is now seen as a positive attribute he's well positioned. I would just add that these days one should perhaps take extra caution around the professional religious figure who hasn't been caught in a sex scandal. It's just not natural.

* That's a joke, in fairness to Mr. Travers' political beliefs, though not his movie reviews.

** Advance Indiana brings us the shocking news that nearly three-quarters of the ballyhooed Property Tax Relief is going to landlords and businesses; this, coupled with the fact that the real costs of roping yourself into pseudo-reform will become apparently only after Daniels and associated henchmen have skimmed the cream and skedaddled. California, here we come!

Wednesday, September 22

Don't Ask

THIRTY-five years of Nixon's Favorite Mayor Goes to Washington, appropriately crammed in a nutshell by the Racist Beacon:
Sen. Richard Lugar joined with all Republicans to oppose debate [on the 2011 Defense Appropriations bill].

Lugar did so even though the bill was a potential vehicle for a measure that Lugar has sponsored for years that would let illegal immigrants who grew up in the United States earn legal status by going to college or enlisting in the military.

Lugar voted against proceeding to debate because the Democrats wanted to limit how long the bill could be debated and which amendments could be offered, said Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher.

Mind you, the longest serving Hoosier in the history of the US Senate (you're welcome) doesn't oppose the Maybe We Might Possibly Occasionally Help A Brown Person In This Country Illegally amendment, as John McCain does, now that he realizes he's against it, and as the rest of his Senate colleagues do on grounds that it violates their party's principle of Unbridled Racism in the Pursuit of Votes. No. Lugar co-sponsored the amendment, but now doesn't think it should come to the floor because, for the first time in his third-of-a-century in America's Oldest Whites-Only club, it was attached to a political maneuver. Right out in public an' everything. And this maneuver would have helped Harry Reid, by making Hispanics love him, but now they'll be thanking Republicans.

And this from a man who last week, while in town for one of his bi-annual photo ops which, if you've seen Dick Lugar lately, you might imagine were contraindicated, bemoaned the hyper-partisanship of our politics. Because they prevent us from dismantling Social Security and Medicare like we need to. And yes, I'm paraphrasing, but not by much. If we'd all just follow Dick Lugar's example, and pay lip service to our higher ideals while voting reliably for every shit-grubbing, pro-Defense and Big Business piece of Republican legislation lobbyists can dream up, the world would be a much nicer place. At least the Senate would.

Don't Ask Don't Tell? Oh, like the Pentagon, Lugar needs more time to study the issue.

You may recall that the last time we saw Lugar in these parts he was explaining to the local hairdos how really truly sincerely he wanted to help Hoosier families (by extending unemployment benefits), if only we could clear up a couple of procedural problems he had with the vote, which he was confident we would. Then he voted against it and disappeared. (In fairness, the locals then reported his office had "no comment" about the results, which, for them, is like working up the courage to kick his dog while he's not looking.)

Lugar, of course, is a moderate Republican, meaning he occasionally counsels caution in executing the military disasters he votes for. He's ninety-six years old, and his first vote as a US Senator helped create the Trans-Atlantic cable. Yet, somehow, he's aware of political partisanship only insofar as it thwarts the minority party's desire to shred the social safety net. And Senate procedural prestidigitations are constantly thwarting his innate humanitarianism, but never his admiration for billions in military hardware with no purpose.

This is the sort of thing his "Democratic" junior, one Birch Evans Bayh III, just couldn't take anymore, right around the time people started insisting he either act like a Democrat on national healthcare, or explain to a curious public just what qualifications put his wife on the boards of so many pharmaceutical giants. This opened the door for former Senator, lifelong government teat-suckler, and Chamber of Commerce cipher Dan Coats to take another shot at the seat, although going through that door meant he had to drive in from North Carolina. Coats' retirement hobby--collecting pictures of famous Americans in exchange for access to his government contacts--got some play in the Republican primary, where his major opposition was Some Effin Teabagger, but shortly after he secured the nomination the revolutionaries discovered that most of the Founders had been lobbyists, too, so the matter was dropped. This allowed Coats more time to paint his opponent, Representative Brad "Blue Dog" Ellsworth, as a man who isn't a Stalinist only because Stalin is dead.

Seriously, the man's campaign ads are keeping Channel 8 news afloat, despite it's continuing difficulties in finding anyone who can read English. It's the Mitch Daniels' Drown Everything Else Out approach, featuring charges that Ellsworth "voted to close Gitmo and let terrorists loose on US soil" and "voted to bankrupt decent Americans to give healthcare to lazy illegals". This, despite the fact that two Novembers ago Hoosiers rather famously voted for the guy who promised to do precisely those things. And, naturally, Coats is leading the race by like 20 points.

And here's a guy who's about as exciting as the dessert menu in a Chinese restaurant, and half as innovative, so you might be wondering how he accumulated all that money. Assuming you're not familiar with which end is Up. But I would like to point out that he's already mastered the art of not letting what he thinks is right get in the way of a good political decision. So, thirty years in the Senate, here he comes.

Tuesday, September 21

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

Why does Ross Douthat have a job, again? Part 637

LOOK, Ross-boy, I'd be happy to ignore Christine O'Donnell; it's precisely the sort of thing I spend a lot of energy, on a regular basis, doing my best to ignore. If you think we all ought to live on a higher plane, eschew the cheap, the tawdry, and the facile guffaw, let's do so. You start.

And another thing: I don't really care that your party nominates idiots. It is, after all, a tried-and-true strategy for gaining a majority in Congress. But do you have to idolize them? Jesus Christ.
[C]an I make just one request? Can we officially retire the notion that liberals don’t like the culture war? That it’s something foisted on them by knuckle-dragging conservatives? That they would prefer to only talk about Very Serious Economic Policies, and that they hate the way the right wing keeps dragging the conversation around to sex and God and all the rest of it?

Sure. Can I make a request? Would you finally take a look at your oeuvre and die of embarrassment already?

You're thirty years old. Yes, it's hard to believe; I remain unconvinced that it's your chronological age, rather than some sort of average of your teenage beard, twentysomething html show-off persona, and seventy-year-old political outlook. There's been a "culture war" as long as you've been alive, and, unlike David "Springsteen fan" Brooks, you've been on the same side all that time. This means it is way, way too late for you to be making a crack about "your side does it too-ooo" without sounding for all the world like a miffed slumber-party attendee. If this really was the principled battle you pretend it to be, and not the accumulated disgruntlement because your Supreme Being won't let you zap everyone who disagrees with you with His Holy Lightning, you'd have gotten this stuff out of your system before you could drive.

Hell, yes, I enjoy it. What's not to enjoy? Some twenty-seven-year-old would-be Christian theologian with terminal mall hair publicly denounces masturbation; a decade later she's your nominee for a Senate seat, and you rush to defend her like she's a White Flower some Negro lad winked at. Sheesh, my one regret is that Jean Arthur and Preston Sturges aren't still with us to turn screwball into screwball comedy. You expect people to refrain from laughing? Did your parents even let you out of the house before your 21st birthday?

Really, if I get a request to match yours, it's this: let's have an honest Culture War, instead of an interminable pandering. No more pretending your moral objection to abortion is distinct from your objection to contraception. No more pretending you don't think masturbation, and pornography, are identical to adultery. No more running and hiding, as here, by claiming you aren't speaking about governmental coercion. The only time you explicitly take it out of politics is when you know you don't have the votes (which just happens to be most of the time); the minute you think Terry Schiavo is a jim-dandy opportunity you're on it like a drunken priest on a particularly dewey altarboy.
This is just further fuel for polarization, since it’s prompted conservative Christians to rally around O’Donnell just as they rallied around Palin. But more importantly, it’s a sign that in their heart of hearts, liberals love the culture wars too.

You put a loaded pistol in your mouth, then accuse your opponents of being insufficiently anti-suicide when they don't try to stop you.

But let's just get our history straight, if nothing else. Your people rallied around Sarah Palin before T Bogg had a chance to throw out the first snark. They did so, you may recall, because the campaign decided to release the news that she couldn't keep her own daughter unsullied. GOP delegates weren't heading back to the hotel to catch up on leftwing blogger reaction; they were watching the networks, and hearing questions about Palin's fitness for office and mental capabilities (sometimes, when the mic was supposed to be off, from the Right). And rightly so. But, conveniently, the natural level of mainstream news coverage is always biased against you whenever the news is bad, so you get to claim Palin as some sort of backlash, rather than the paragon of Stupidity Trumps Reason. (Doubly interesting in your case since, like Brooks, you won't come out and say it, and you have to flatter her admirers come Hell or high water: "As with Palin before her," you say, O'Donnell's "vulnerable to all sorts of possible attacks, and whose record and qualifications and positions provide plenty of fodder for either a high-minded, issues-based critique, or a more no-holds-barred assault on her honesty and integrity." That's not an opinion; it's boilerplate from the warranty for a particularly shoddy piece of merchandise.)

O'Donnell's no different. She's not rallied 'round on the issues, but because she appears to represent what you think Liberals don't like. And if they'd just forego making fun of her, why, this sort of thing would crawl back to the church basements and feed stores and Klan rallies where it belongs, and Reason would rule again.

Sure it would, Ross.

Monday, September 20

The Joys Of Congratulating Yourself For Being In Some Advertiser's Ideal Demographic, Part 6,521

Jessica Grose, "Christine O'Donnell, the First True New Media Candidate". September 20

WE last encountered Ms Grose's Where-else-but-Slate handiwork when she announced last spring that casual sex had lost its cachet for the under-twenty-five set, whose Voice she is (though I notice that she doesn't confine herself to tweetering and sexting and speaking in acronyms, and more's the pity). We scoffed. Naturally. But in the ensuing half-revolution of the Sun not a single twenty-something nubile has offered me an afternoon of unbridled and anonymous perversion, so I guess there's something to it at that.

And swear to God when I clicked the link I had no idea it was one of Ms Grose's pensées, or even associated with that godawful Reverse 180 post-post-feminist XX Factor thing; I'd seen some commenter say something similar elsewhere, and I thought Christine O'Donnell, (Negative) Harbinger of A New Political Age had merit as the potential Stupidest Thing Said About American Politics on the Internets Today. I just didn't realize that come January it would be in the running for some sort of annual award. And yes, you're right, it is my own fault for reading Slate.

O Lord, is there no way to put a stop to this sort of thing? O'Donnell's an idiot, and a Teabagger of the professionally religious sort. This has encouraged people who don't like Teabaggers, the professionally religious, nor the Republican party which succors them, to turn her into an icon of sorts, but that only gained traction when the GOP couldn't stop her from being its nominee for Joe Biden's old seat. Such is the glorious tradition of two-party politics in this country, which, as all good students know, is precisely the same age as Her tradition of political sleaze. But here's a certain class of people who imagine that their side of the argument is protected, not just by the free speech provisions of the First amendment, but by the Free Exercise clause as well, so that any attack on Christine O'Donnell, even one that originated with her innocent but artificially glistening lips, is an attempt to thwart God's Plan on Earth.

(So much so that Brave Indiana blogger Doug Masson finds the AP's Nafeesa Syeed explaining in a news story that the whole Witchcraft thing is Bill Maher's fault.*)

And I'll be happy to settle, if we might just stop pretending this sort of thing is new, rather than a decades-old dodge. Either it matters that O'Donnell (read: Sarah Palin) is such a religious nutcase and mental incompetent that she gives even this country pause, or it doesn't. That's the issue. It's not whether some people hate her. That's a given. Everybody in politics is hated. So is every religious nut. So's the intersection. It stopped being an epistemological question when O'Donnell filed for public office. When she says things that even marginally-sane people have to regard as iffy, then she has to answer for them. And the answer is not "some people hate me."

I was prepared for more of the same. I was ready, naturally, for that special Slate brand of If Rationality Doesn't Have All The Answers Stupidity Wins By Default. What I wasn't ready for was this:
Though certainly O'Donnell is an extreme example, I wonder if she is a harbinger of political coverage to come—by which I mean, I can foresee a media universe in which old, dumb Facebook posts and unearthed tweets become a consistent source of fodder for journalists.

Okay, one: unless there's some major threat, now invisible, that Future Journalists might come without factory-installed careerist obsequiousness toward the rich, powerful, and potentially sourceable, the risk is really low; consider, for example, what Frat Boy Bonhomie did, not just for George W. Bush, but his feloniously self-absorbed and binge-drinking offspring. Two: "youthful" indiscretion does not extend into your leaving the 18-25 demo. It's only a fractional part of the amusement over that Masturbation video that O'Donnell was a fame-whoring twenty-seven year old spouting absolute nonsense in hopes it would lead to a career; the larger joke is that she's now a 41-year-old woman who still imagines the same thing, and it's worked.
O'Donnell is 41, so her earlier transgressions were on an older media, television.

So old, in fact, that back then "media" was the plural form of "medium". Don't mind me.
However, the incredibly quick dissemination of O'Donnell's ridiculous comments is all thanks to blogs and online video. Budding candidates a decade or two younger have lived their entire adult lives with these media. They've also lived in a world where most people have camera phones and even video—so there is an even greater chance that mistakes they made in their college years and beyond will be available for public viewing. If he were 20 years younger, perhaps a photo of Barack Obama with cocaine in the background would have shown up on Facebook; or if they were 40 years younger, George W. and Clinton might have been caught red handed on camera, clutching doobies. Just look at what happened to wunderkind Obama speech writer Jon Favreau, who was embarrassed when photographs of him groping a cardboard cut-out of Hillary Clinton surfaced.

Y'know, here's an idea: if you stop congratulating yourself for being the inspiration for the Bestest, Most Technologically Advanced Era Evah, the one which allows you to be so remarkably shallow at light speed, maybe, just maybe, it'll all work out, and you and all the other teenagers will grow up to realize you're as idiotic as everyone else tells you are, just like the people who are telling you grew up in their turn. Otherwise, I wouldn't worry about it. We're doomed regardless.


* Which story included the line that "the context of the comment is not clear", despite the fact that the context, O'Donnell's anti-Halloween fetishism, was all over the internets by that point. This is the sort of due diligence and natural skepticism which saved Shirley Sherrod's job.

Thursday, September 16

Grading On A Scale Of 'F' to 'F-"

Tim Noah, "The United States of Inequality: How the decline in K-12 education enriches College Graduates". September 15

THE penultimate entry in a Slate series on US income inequality, which was motoring right along there (grading on a Slate curve) until we drove right over a familiar cliff:
For Katz and Goldin, the solution to this riddle isn't that computerization created a larger demand for better-educated workers than did previous innovations. Rather, it's that during the earlier upheavals the education system was able to increase the necessary supply of better-educated workers. During the Great Divergence, the education system has not been able to increase the supply of better-educated workers, and so the price of those workers (i.e., their incomes) has risen faster relative to the general population. At a time when the workforce needed to be smarter, Americans got dumber. Or rather: Americans got smarter at a much slower rate than they did during previous periods of technological change (and also at a much slower rate than people in many other industrialized democracies did).

Same sale stores up only 1%! What's wrong with you?

Okay, so maybe we should be glad, for once, that someone's trying to put Our Failing Schools in some perspective that doesn't involve sweeping pronouncements based on the comparison of incompatible test scores. (Of course, Noah keeps the other old standby, Comparison of Incompatible International Test Results, revved and ready.) The result, though, is the same: Our Failing Schools are Failing, and the fault lies with the failure of Our Failing Schools. (The piece ends with--this is America, after all--a sort of Top Ten list of causes of The Great Inequality. Education is assigned 30% of the blame, sharing the Number One spot with, get this, "Wall Street and corporate boards' pampering of the Stinking Rich". (Gee, which one is the result of a positive corporate and government effort for forty years, and which the result of those same entities "benign" neglect?)

This being BLTR, let's start with the wisecrack: how much has Journalism improved over the last fifty years? How much has governance? Is Corporate America churning out better products these days, or just better margins?

Who is it, exactly, who's letting Sweet Lady Liberty down? High school graduates? Not much beyond their voting preferences over the period. When I go to the grocery store the cashiers all seem to know how to operate them newfangled scanners, more or less, and the people who keep 'em running, and the people who program them to overcharge me on 10% of the items seems to do the jobs they're assigned. If I've been let down over the last three decades it's by the people who devalued the grading of meat (aka, the Reagan administration in full buttsexs mode with the cattlemen and meat packers), the people who're supposed to inspect the worthiness of foodstuffs before they reach my table (now there's a labor force that's been cut in half without automation entering into it!), and the general trend of bigger and bigger suppliers and bigger and bigger boxes in an endless circle jerk having nothing whatsoever to do with the consumer's wishes.

And on and on (while you're there, take a walk down the liquor aisle and note how many people these days earn a living from the simple expedient of selling actual beer, not the petrochemical-and-food-grade-mule-piss the "innovators" came up with in the 50s and 60s). Noah noted earlier in the series that most Ivies now get jobs in the financial sector. This is not due to some epistemological breakthrough of the last couple decades. It's due to greed, and government regulatory practices, or not-practices.

Yes, indeedy, in the first half of the 20th century, when the things around us were made of steel, worked mechanically, and were husbanded, US education gave a wide range of citizens (our great advancement!) the necessary skills (practical, mathematical, detail oriented) to fit into the marketplace. Today, when everything's made of plastic, works electronically, and is disposed of the minute it stops working or goes out of fashion (our worst advancement!) you're welcome to explain what those skills are, or should be for the next generation. I'm not exempting the so-called Educational establishment from such considerations--though we might point out that "herding everyone into a paycheck line" is not a universally-accepted standard for pedagogy--but I would like to note that this same period neatly coincides with the political Back to Basics movement which insisted that public education go back to doing just what it was doing in the highly successful 30s and 40s, and leave modernity to the Europeans.

Listen, I'm almost the opposite of mechanical--my dear Dad has, to this day, a toolbox under his sink containing 1 (one) hammer and one (1) flat-head screwdriver, probably as pristine as the day he bought 'em. He didn't give me a whole lot of hands-on maintenance experience. Yet even I could keep most cars built in the 50s in something close to running shape. Today I can't find the goddam oil filter on my truck. The world got immeasurably more complicated, and it sure as fuck is easy for someone who needs only the same skills a 1930s typist had to do his 2010 job to demand that Education move at lightspeed. Fuck, then type something that takes the stupid politics out of it so educators can at least concentrate.

The Greeks knew that rapid expansion was easier in a new enterprise than in a mature, established one; we've got a thousand examples of that bombarding us every hour, but we don't seem to get it. It's as if advertising was in our marrow, and we've forgotten that the whole thing's a shameless con to begin with. Washday miracle! Fast, fast, Fast relief! Unfortunately, Universal Truth and Waxy Yellow Buildup are two very different things.

And the other side is this: we seem to imagine that the Past has nothing to do with the present, that once an extravagant and useless war, or a massive oil spill, is out of the headlines, it's over. The major contention in American education over the past fifty years has been whether white students had to sit with the coloreds. That's what we've argued about. Not technological advancement. Prayer. Teaching Genesis in biology class. Rewriting History to make it more palatable for disgruntled Confederates. You can't be an anti-intellectual country and expect high achievement, or not high achievement that isn't the result of cheating on the test. Most people in this country think evolution is "just a theory". Half believe angels watch over 'em. A goodly number think the Earth is younger than many of its artifacts, and that Global Warming is a political subterfuge. Where'd they get those ideas? Not in class. At least not in public schools.

Wednesday, September 15

How To Tell There's A Real Daniels Groundswell: 1) He Appears Almost Life-Sized…

POLITICAL Season: the biennial period when political reporters pretend they don't know anything about politics.

So some over-ripe frat boy and Politico reporter (but I repeat myself) with the Mitch the Knife beat and a steno pad reports on the Bantam Menace's recent string of garden parties with Republican fixers, bag men, and...but I repeat myself. Daniels has been holding these soirées at the Governor's mansion, which immediately raises two questions: one, who told him how to get there? and two, are they having a problem keeping Cheri-with-an-i sedated enough to allow visitors into his real residence? I think if I were being asked to pony up a few black millions I'd be more than a little interested in what the wife is up to, and how many days per week she'd have to disappear from the campaign trail for "treatment". I mean, it can't be leftover anthrax from that bulging envelope someone sent her in 2001; that was another house. Plus we're pretty sure the talc-sniffing dogs found it all, and they dye all her powders fluorescent orange these days.

This, of course, and thank you so much, set off another round of "speculation" about Daniels' "intentions" among local "reporters". In fact, part-time Racist Beacon political columnist and full-time amateur Daniels flack Matt Tully jumped the gun over the weekend and wrote a column saying, c'mon, we all know he's running. Which, by the way, was amazing perspicacity, or might've been if he'd written it six years ago.

Because, well, look: I'm not paid to follow this shit full time, not that there's that much money anyway, but Daniels quit the Bush OMB to run for governor of Indiana (with, we might add, the same coy bullshit about "people urging him to do so"). Why? There was plenty of national economy left for him to wreck, and at the time, at least, two or three more Mideast wars to misunderestimate the cost of. Daniels isn't a Hoosier; he's a Princeton elitist, and if he were a Democrat he'd'a been laughed all the way back to Georgetown. The man finds a taste for elected office just as the Democratic incumbent dies suddenly. The national Republican field is wide open for 2008, because Dick Cheney insists he won't run, and, hell, even by 2003, in the midst of Victory Hoopla, he was generally regarded as a particularly noxious species of toad. And speaking of toads, this is the heyday of Karl Rove's New Republican Majority, and lemme tell you, friends, you do not want to get caught between Mitch Daniels and the open bar where they've just uncorked the new Kool-Aid.

Once elected Daniels set out to run up gaudy economic numbers by changing the rules (and exaggerating the state's financial condition to make it look like he'd started way behind), selling off any piece of state property that wasn't nailed down and could attract a buyer who'd agree not to raise rates until Mitch was out of office, and touting all the jobs he'd created in the burgeoning Vapor and Fantasy sectors.

Now, granted, the only thing required for these people to lie their asses off is sufficient oxygen to draw breath. And with zero concern about being discovered; Mitch hadn't suckled from the right side of the Strategic Federal Teat System for thirty years to no purpose. He clearly knew there was no way to underestimate the savvy of the American voter. It's possible all the man was after in 2005 was a second term as governor and a big enough McMansion that he wasn't kept awake every night by breaking glass. And I don't believe it for a moment.

Last year Daniels fought tooth-and-nail to keep his imaginary budget surplus over $1 billion, despite the fact that Hoosiers were suffering mightily from the continuing effects of the two Bush administrations they'd voted for. Why? He torpedoed a done deal between the Republican Senate and Democratic House which would have increased education spending, alone among all other government programs. Why? Not for Hoosiers. For Mitch.

Okay, so he lied about not wanting to be President. I don't give a fuck; I'm just astonished that no matter how many times you run the scam it manages to work.

This routine represents, at bottom, the desperation of those same Republican financiers now facing a party of Palins. I don't know whether this means they are smarter than your average Teabagger, or more cynical, or just differently invested. I do know they're busy fighting the last war. Daniels' luster has been rubbed to the pot metal underneath. Not that that'd keep him from being elected, considering all the other idiots who've made it. And maybe we deserve him. But he's not the Fantasy CEO the banking wing of the GOP thinks will tame the Teabaggers. Do yourselves a favor. Just slip him a few thou and move on.

Tuesday, September 14

Well, When You Put It That Way…

Marc "How Many Fucking Nutcases Did It Take To Write A Bush Speech?" Thiessen, "How will al-Qaeda mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11?" September 14

PUT on you tea shades, kids, and let's mess with The Man's head.

There must be hundreds of wobbly but still doddering Americans who remember how the War on Drugs worked back before Nancy Reagan got her husband to formally declare it. Namely, that it worked on lies. And not good lies, either, no. The transparent fumblings of emotionally stunted authoritarians, little Hoovers in and out of drag. The acid-tripping college students blinded by staring into the sun (twice!). Art Linkletter's dead daughter. The turkey in the crib and the baby in the oven. Hell, the historically minded may even recall that Federal marihuana laws are predicated on the causal relationship between the first puff of Weed and that lifetime pass on the Smack Train. Though that, of course, was really just cover for one of our earlier wars on chinks and mesicans, you gotta admit that in those days people knew how to lie. (Nancy Reagan, it turns out, may've been more concerned that a new generation of talentless Hollywood startlets, gag reflexes anesthetized by the Snow, would usurp her rightful crown.)

Okay, so Thiessen isn't The Man. He's a jock sniffer too cowardly to witness, let alone take part in, any of his torture fantasies. He's the poster boy for a certain type of Federal weasel; remember, it was the local Alabama boys turned the firehoses and billy clubs and German shepherds on King's marchers. The Feds drilled peepholes into his bathroom and sent dirty pictures to his wife.

Actually I'm not quite sure how I came to read this thing, except the Post offered it as the counterpoint to a Fareed Zakaria op-ed on how We're Safer Now Than We'll Admit, and the second worst sin in American political life today is pretending to be reasonable now when, in the heat of the moment, you thought 9/11 seemed like a good excuse to go kill Iraqis. I have so little regard for Fareed Zakaria I'm willing to read Marc Thiessen. So it was kind of a spite fuck. (I say "read" only because that's the conventional term; the reality is that Thiessen just rains on you, in the urological sense.)

Let's say one thing further about the rapid decline in the quality of our prevarications: it doesn't even seem to've occurred to Thiessen to consider whether this game is worth the candle. Thiessen "argues" (again we are prisoners of linguistic convention) that al-Qaeda will strike on 9/11/11. Sure, he fails to come within a parsec of making the case, but why fucking bother in the first place? Why is the idea that al-Qaeda is equally fetishistic about The Magic of 9-1-1 so important? Why are you so concerned that someone is laughing behind your back? Hmmm? Admittedly this is nothing new with the American right, elements of which are still skirmishing with Charles Darwin, but still: wouldn't your warning of the dire consequences of Complacency be a little more effective if you weren't still screaming about the subject 24/7? Complacent? Jesus Christ, it's tough enough just to get to sleep nights with all the screaming and yelling and banging pots and pans coming from that double-wide of yours.

Not to mention that maybe, just maybe, it'd be a little more convincing if you weren't the guys who allowed the attacks to happen in the first place.

Okay, sure, Thiessen has a career of sorts to protect, but what of the Post? Oh, hell, forget I mentioned it. The one notable thing about the 850 words (again, aside from the fact that they have nothing to do with the ostensible argument he's making) is that they're full of shit. Completely full of shit. Thiessen's first example of al-Qaeda's Hallmarkesque obsession with anniversaries--and the only one which happens to come attached to The Date, though purely by fiat--is the London Liquid Explosives case of 2006. (The Fifth Anniversary is traditionally wood, but, I dunno, maybe in the Middle East it's Prell™.) Thiessen's been peddling this one for years, with its "seven airliners" and "imagine teevee shots of floating wreckage" and "if they'd exploded over populated areas it could have been worse than 9/11", though formerly in support of waterboarding. Well, if you're gonna jerk off, it may's well be circular, I guess. Problem is that the whole "9/11 anniversary" thing depends on the London cops' telling. As do the "liquid explosives" "seven airliners" and "al-Qaeda" routine. You can mix up some Gee Your Bomb Smells Terrific in an enclosed space, but in 2006 even Walking Towards the Bathroom While Swarthy risked having some cub reporter for the Ladies Home Journal of Wall Street start screaming like Evelyn Ankers. And the stuff's too unstable to've mixed beforehand. Which would tend to argue against a successful completion of the Plot, except that's not really all that necessary when the Bobbies didn't actually find one, just some guys with martyr porn and great-looking hair. No liquid explosives, no instructions for manufacturing liquid explosives, and, in the ensuing investigation, no link to any financial support whatsoever. Maybe a couple pair of tea shades.

And that's the best he's got; we're then treated to Jose Padilla (convicted of conspiring with himself to fantasize about killing people), a not-quite specified plot to blow up our consulate in Pakistan or the Marine camp in Djibouti (is this terrorism, exactly? If the threat of someone attacking your Marine base in Africa gives you the interminable squirts, maybe you oughta think about keeping them home, and leaving the White Man's Burden to someone better equipped emotionally), an al-Qaeda anthrax lab (you can't kill masses of people with anthrax. Period. The domestic anthrax letter bomber had access to USAMRIID stuff, the Peruvian flake of the terrorist world, and he killed fewer people than Taco Bell does. Plus what, exactly, is the track record of Bush administration officials identifying Islamic Death Labs?), and, fer chrissakes, The LA Library Tower, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion of the War on Terra set. And, as they used to sing on Gilligan's Island, the rest, mostly classified, of course, but including the imaginary Heathrow Plot and this corker:
(imagine Big Ben collapsing like the Twin Towers)

Yeah, they'd love it in Pamona.

Of course the Tower is built of bricks, not substandard steel, but, y'know, there's no sense wasting a perfectly good pair of pants by not pissing 'em.

Friday, September 10

Give Me Twenty

David Brooks, "The Genteel Nation". September 9

THIS summer's bike obsession--it's now nearly a year since I was first able to climb on a stationary bike and do ten minutes without six hours of screaming knee agony following, and it's the continued health improvements, not the new Giro LX LF gloves (half price!) that drive it, no matter which it is I talk about more--has included a desire for backups of everything, so I could still ride while helmet pads were drying or clothing was being washed. Or the bike was being maintained, which led me to consider a cheapo second piece of steel, vs. holding out and buying a semi-dream machine later. Which led me, for the first time in my life, to this craigslist thing the kids are all into (next stop: youTube!). Then I had to learn to translate the ads into English. Then I went out last night to look at a bike.

It was on the Southside, which nowadays means the county south of Indy where the white population that couldn't afford the Preferred North Side fled. It's the former pastureland also known as Dixie. It's an excellent gateway to somewhere else you'd rather be.

I was supposed to meet this guy by the baseball bleachers at the local high school. Being educated in a previous century, I concluded this meant he would be by the bleachers at the local high school; he, of course, meant that I should drive to someplace near the bleachers, then take the cell phone from my ear long enough to call him before returning it to its permanent location. I need to get into the habit of making it part of my basic introduction: "Hi, Jimbo Riley, No Cell Phone." So I got out and started looking for someone with a bike and a hopeful expression. There was a guy on a distant diamond who appeared to be goofing around with a child; this turned out to be a man with a girleen who was either his daughter or his mail-order bride whom he was running through a bootcamp of softball drills. Not the bike guy. Back across the field was a mass batting cage filled with mid-teen boys being given hitting instruction. I ambled up, intending to have a word with one of the two assistants who were doing nothing but watching, or standing guard; I was about fifteen yards out when the Top Kick, who was standing in the cage, launched into what no doubt was the tenth or twelfth of the evening's ass-chewing sermons. I was caught out by my momentum, it still not being a good idea, knee-wise, to stop suddenly when I don't have to. I decided to stand quietly beside henchman #1 while waiting for an opening, but the Top Kick sensed a ripple in the placid ocean of his unquestioned authority, or else merely caught the unmistakable whiff of Perpetual Wise-ass, interrupted himself. Could he help me? by which, of course, he meant Would you like to leave, or would you prefer to be carried? I said I was looking for a guy who was selling a bicycle. "Is anybody here selling a bike? he asked, doing a damn fine John Barrymore impression though there's no doubt he has no idea who John Barrymore is. It was either fairly clear to me that at the word "bicycle" he'd pegged me for homeless, or maybe I'm just too sensitive around semi-pro Nazis for my own good. At any rate, he relayed the negative response to me, though I'd already started walking away. He then told his boy harem, "Well, that wasn't what I expected," as though I'd tapped him on the shoulder during the National Anthem to ask if he happened to have a Pinochle deck on him.

Coaches: the Lt. Colonels of the athletic world.

(Incidentally, it's entirely possible I stumbled upon an illegal out-of-season practice, assuming those were school baseball players and the Commandant there was a coach. Might explain his irritation, though, like Laplace, I have no need of that hypothesis.)

Goddam, I remember when I played baseball for fun, which now seems like a Wheaties Jack Armstrong ad faded to sepia and offered on eBay by somebody who can't spell. The Third Reich routine was something you put up with in football and basketball seasons, and then only in hopes that being on the team might get you laid. Not today. My two nieces are both high school varsity athletes. They both went to pitching school. Jesus H. Fuck! Throw some ground balls. Ground balls are democratic. Strikeouts are Fascist. Swing the fucking bat like there's a brain attached to it, and like there's a good chance that brain belongs to you, and you like it that way.

I walked around looking for the guy. Tennis matches. Football practice over, but band practice on the field. Big Dad's Club or CYO football meeting across the street. I drove back home through town, which took me past Manual High School, the Grand Old Dame of the vanished pre-flight Southside community, proud home of the Van Arsdale twins, and now the poster child for the crumbling IPS system, thanks to the Racist Beacon's political reporter spending last school year there. Lights out. Nobody home.

SO then here's Brooks, this AM: the real problem with the American economy is that the middle class refuses to accept its place. Too many clerks confuse typing a letter with writing a letter, and too many should-be mechanics think they're engineers. We should learn from the Industrial Revolution, the greatest epoch in human history. Unless you had to breathe.

Funny thing, y'know: the glorious single-class Indiana High School basketball tournament, the one the Van Arsdales almost won, is toast. Their school is now a pre-penitentiary, and we seem to like it that way. Sic semper, and good riddance. We vote for Reagan, or Bush, or Palin, for fuck's sake, if they promise to keep it that way. But we're nostalgic for the British class system.

I've said it before--maybe sometime it'll convince someone, myself included--that my interest in Brooks qua Brooks begins and ends with his career arc and soft landing on the Gray Lady. My greater interest lies in Brooks as the poster boy for Lickspittle America. It's that America that demands Total Economic Freedom so it can return it humbly to its master's feet, in exchange for an all-white school district, low gas prices, and pitching instruction. It doesn't fucking care who else goes with out. If the lights are off on that Black football field across the county line, well, that's more electricity for us, right?

And it doesn't understand, and maybe is incapable of understanding, that when people like Brooks talk about all the wonderful hyper-advances of Modern Life now at risk because some people don't know their place, he's talking about them.

Thursday, September 9

The Reconstruction Of The Fables, Now With Non-Union Labor!

DO read this piece on the end of the New Reconstruction from our blogging buddy Bill Hicks. For one thing, it makes a nice non-hallucinatory real world counterpoint to George Eff Will's latest pensée, "As GOP diversifies, South Carolina is rising."

No, really. He means it. GOP diversity. Because, you know, "Nikki" Haley and Tim Scott.

You toss in "Bobby" Jindal and the GOP is now 300% more diverse than the heady days of Senator Edward Brooke. Four-hundred if you count Michael Steele, which they don't. And it's 500% if you toss in John Boehner, which you might need to do since, as Will explains, Haley:
unlike [Jindal], does not look like someone from the subcontinent; her faintly olive complexion could be Mediterranean.

though I'm sure she's still a credit to her people, as well as Republican diversity recruiting. But how do we explain this remarkable groundswell of Republican Americans of Indian Though Variously Melaninated Descent? Will quotes Hoover Institute Fellow Tunku Varadarajan:
"Could it be that because Democrats put more of an emphasis on identity politics, an Indian American Democrat would have to contend with other ethnic constituencies that might think that it's 'their turn' first? And once you go down the 'identity' route, your success as a politician tends to rest more on the weight of numbers -- the size of your ethnic constituency, or your racial voting bloc -- than on the weight of your ideas."

Or--I'm just spitballin'--maybe more liberal Americans of the Subcontinental persuasion tend to resent having to change their birth names to something cuddly. (And, 'scuse me, guys. Fun's fun, and all that, but if the Republican party depends on Ideas not Numbers for its hold on the nation's power source, how is it still in existence?)

George Eff Will, mind you, is his party's leading intellectual and the inheritor of William Fuh Buckley's mantle, though we're not sure if that came with the hood still attached. It's enough, really, that he writes about the candidacies of an African-American religious wingnut and an olive-complected Kama Sutra enthusiast as though there were a tidal wave of GOP tolerance at the precise moment a few thousand of his retarded cousins do their whitest to co-opt the same Martin Luther King they reviled forty years ago (twenty, in Buckley's case). Leave us remember that it's going on ten years since the announcement of The Most Diverse Cabinet in United States History of Cabinets. Where're They Now?

Yeah, it's ludicrous, but how much more ludicrous is it that you get reduced to trying to make this argument in the first place? The Jab-it-in-your-Eye routine of "Liberals don't like Sarah Palin because she's a strong woman". The Great Black Teabagger Photo Scavenger Hunt. The History of the Civil Rights Movement, Rand Paul Remix. Th' fuck. How many seconds would a sane and conscious adult human entertain this sort of thing if it were, say, a pitch designed to sell him a piece of Florida property or the ingredients list of the soup du jour? Y'all chose a side fifty years ago, George, back when you were still in prep school. You were twenty-five years old when Barry Goldwater tossed the Coloreds out. You've lived with it since then, and without seeming to miss sleep, except maybe when it looked like it might cost you an election. You wanna renounce it now, then renounce it; you wanna deflect criticism you're gonna need a much bigger shield. Not to mention one that's less transparent.

And you wanna take an actual step or two, try giving Identity Politics back to the 1970s, and admit that White is still the most popular identity of the lot.

Tuesday, September 7

If It Ain't Fixed, Don't Brake It

Winnie Hu, "Teachers Get Chance to Fix Poorer Schools". September 6

HAPPY Belated Birthday to D. Sidhe, who is the reason I blog but is in all other respects a wonderful person.

As someone who's spent over half a century in America's Heartland (Motto: "If You Don't Like the Weather, Just Wait Five Minutes, and If You Don't Like Never-ending Discussions of the Weather, Move") yet still cringes every last time someone uses seen as the simple past tense of see (which, for example, occurs in 98% of all local news involving an eyewitness report), just let me say that if you suffer the same affliction do not go nosing around online through bicycle sales, where "This bike was rode very little" qualifies as the fancy book-larnin' version of "This bike is hardly road."

It is possible, I guess, that the confusion of see's past participle for simple past and the difficulty over ride's simple past, variously orthographed, as past participle, which manage to travel both directions down a one-way street and get it wrong each time, somehow cancel each other exactly in some grand Cosmic scheme. I won't speculate. I've never been a particularly big fan of the Cosmos, anyway.

Any road, the accompanying snapshots of said bike speak of a comfortable middle-class existence, or more, at least in our limited sampling. So while we bemoan the intrusion of partisan politics into every corner of American life, still, if some extension of Truth in Advertising regulations forced said eBayers and craigslisters to reveal their personal positions on Our Failing Schools we would all be in some ways the better for it. Once we seen it in action.

Now, I've been busy with more than window-shopping bikes, so that in addition to missing D. Sidhe's birthday I returned late to this post from brave Indiana blogger Doug Masson, which had taken note of Eric Bradner's August 29 piece in the Evansville Courier & Press chronicling the Dick Lugar-led takeover of Marion county by the city of Indianapolis, which put Republicans in charge of things for a generation by diluting the votes of African-Americans inside the old city limits. And which, specifically, did so while preserving the then-lily-white township schools on the outskirts. I said my piece; by the time I got back I found I'd been challenged to defend Gary schools, 140 miles to our northwest, on the grounds that Gary had not annexed Marion county in the 60s, and, as the district is 98% African-American, automatically qualifies as Failing, especially if one either makes up graduation numbers or borrows some from Colin Powell, a distinction without a difference. All of which proves, somehow, that We aren't racist.

I undertook the defense, anyway, which proved remarkably easy: beyond the typical misuse of per student spending, Gary's students, despite a poverty rate which was approaching 40% in 2007, score roughly 90% of the state average in math, and mid-to-upper 80s in English, on the state NCLB test. This is, of course, in comparison to the rest of the state's public school students, who are being prepared, more or less, for the same test; figures comparing the results to The Average Suburbanite With a Bicycle For Sale were unavailable.

If this is Failure it's a peculiar sort, in a world where C students become President, serial community-college attendees with no discernible language skills become nationally recognized political philosophers, and weak-hitting utility infielders pull down $3.3 million per. It's something we'd like these Do-Gooders from Teach for America to consider before they run off to the consulting careers they know await, leaving a generation of real career teachers to clean up more than the occasional lunch table: improving test scores is a noble enterprise, but a journey of a thousand miles begins, not by rushing off in every direction at once, but by switching on the GPS so you can figure out where you're standing to begin with.

Friday, September 3

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

David Brooks, "The Alternate History". September 3

OR: What's a Phone For, If Not Phoning It In?
The Democrats could be heading toward a defeat of historic proportions in November, but it is possible to imagine a scenario in which things might have turned out differently:

[Italics in original, apparently as the literary Op-Ed version of the cinematic flashback screen ripple. And, look, I'm a guy what loves him some italics, but they're intended for emphasis, or to highlight foreign words not in general use in English, not as general-purpose warning flashers. Especially when what we're being warned about is 1) David Brooks is about to write something which is more fantasy than fact, and, 2) that this will include some sort of ideal scenario which, had his political opponents but taken the advice he didn't actually give at the time, but can now, after the fact, graft onto his principled worldview and pretend he said so all along, would have made everything shiny and ducky and grand. We already know these things. We know them because it's a David Brooks column.]

So let's us just mention there's an Option Two, in which we will have experienced a Pre-Victory Gloat of Historic Dimensions, one which has marched in column all year with the Boy Incumbents Are Gonna Get It news script which, as of Labor Day, has gone 4-25 but for some reason is still in the starting rotation, followed by another let down. What then? Let's say we could be heading toward an average midterm election. At which point [indicating fanciful scenario with abrupt change in slope] are we going to get a column declaring your own failure, or one that repeats this one with the terms altered to fit? I know which way I'm voting.

Go ahead, reader, and write the rest of Brooks' column: gee, if only Barack Obama was more like me he'd have known to resist the Pelosi Pelosi Pelosi Democrats with their pent-up Let's Make Government Huge Again, And Spend Lots of Unnecessary Billions We Raise By Taxing Small Businesses and White People itch. If only the nascent President had overruled his Cabinetful of Left-over New Left New Dealers (Tim Geithner, Peter Orszag, Rahm Emanuel) and coupled his Historically Proportioned Stimulus and Bail-out Programs to lowered payroll taxes (speaking of something whose proportions are at a certified historical level: historically low), Republicans would have seen him as the second coming of George W. Bush and rallied to his cause, giving him an historically solid minority in both Houses. And if he'd just coupled that with focusing on energy policy, which would have been a helluva lot easier to scuttle, and put all that Health Care stuff he campaigned on on the back burned, why, we'd practically be Canada right now, just out of Republican good will. Because Republicans clamor to support massive deficits so long as they don't benefit any poor people, and the Grassroots Teabag Movement is fine with generational-genocidal levels of debt so long as it's going for something it supports, like bombing shit and arresting Mesicans.

I mean, the historical record's pretty clear about that, right Dave?

Let's just note how things work in Brooks' fantasy world:
At about that time, General Motors and Chrysler started teetering.

So, after the Bush administration handed 'em $17 billion? I thought that was the bailout. Was it just a nice thank-you note for eight years of Hummer production?
By doing energy first, Democrats were able to spend the entire summer talking about technological advances, private sector growth and breakthrough productivity gains.

Right. That'll get America to click over from The Jersey Shore. Assuming it hasn't hocked the teevee to pay catastrophic medical bills.
Americans didn’t like all of it. But this wasn’t conventional big government liberalism. The Democrats seemed to be a serious party attending to serious things. When November 2010 rolled around, the unemployment rate was still high, but Democratic leaders had prepared voters for that. In the meantime, America was rebuilding its core, strengthening itself for better days ahead.

Which gave David Brooks, and the Republican leadership, sufficient leisure time to drive the bedbug-crazy, perpetually-aggrieved, dim-bulb racists from their own midst, just like they're always intending to do, and come up with a positive program to lower federal debt, solve our healthcare catastrophe, put resources into our poorest school districts, and adapt our massive military spending to real world concerns, not fear-mongering hyperbole, helping to usher in the Era of Perpetual Goodness and High Productivity. Just like they're always intending to do except, y'know, there's only so many hours in a century.

Wait a minute, why's Obama still apologizing for high unemployment when he cut payroll taxes?

Thursday, September 2

2 + 2

TUESDAY night I was trying to figure out something to fix for dinner which wouldn't require me to wake up, which left my Poor Wife with the remote and free rein over local news. She was watching Channel 13, which is probably the most professional local newscast, in the same sense that somebody must be the most professional local purveyor of steamed hog testicles. Thirteen is rarely on if I'm in the room, because I break out in hives just looking at its stable of Talent.

I was looking in from time to time, because if I can't sit there and ruin it for her, I like to attempt the occasional commando raid, and caught the start of a story on Indianapolis Failing Public Schools. I generally remember not to talk over those.

The story was the Not Yet Storyness of IFPS going to a Year-Round Schedule (which was the Top Secret Plan my wife's principal let everyone at her school in on a couple weeks ago). It's already damned certain to, but it's too early to express it that way. So for the present the story is that there will be meetings held to discuss the possibility, to which the public will be invited, after which the decision--already made by Indianapolis Failing Public School Superintendent Dr. Eugene "Cufflinks" White--will be implemented. With tiny corrections designed to show that he listened to The Public, which are imperative if Cufflinks is to get all the credit. Not exactly an original approach, sure, but it's worked for Mitch Daniels, so what th' hell.

It's not like the man is incapable of making unilateral, hasty, and ill-considered decisions; they are, in fact, his hallmark. At least twice in his five-year tenure the Failing District has spent Untold Thousands defending in court--and losing--a snap decision which violated state law, teachers' contracts, or both. It sure ain't about democracy. It's that these massive PR, Look We're Doing Something About Our Failing Schools rollouts--the last one was the big Dress Code initiative, which has assured that Our Students Fail without droopy-ass jeans--are required to build up the artificial excitement.

So, now, we have a story which at least some insiders heard as a fait accompli at least two weeks ago being packaged as a proposal set for proofing in the Public Crucible, faithfully repeated from local teleprompters as though repetition were a charm against uncomfortable questions. (13 did mention--they, like the other locals, are nothing if not attuned to the upper-middle class perception of the world--that the change might interfere with vacation plans (Tout le ghetto is returning to the Hamptons this year!). And it's not like I'm expecting these people to do more than make a phone call or two to check on a PR release before they gargle it on air. But from there the thing turned into a pep rally, if pep rallies generally had anti-union overtones and the unmistakable waft of racism that's plagued Indianapolis education since the Klan ran things. I mean officially.

These are the same people who three weeks ago were gassing about School Starting Too Early. Now they're reporting on the benefits of school starting in July.

This isn't special pleading; my Poor Wife is actually in favor of the thing, in balance, especially the idea of a Fall Break. It's that 1) the Failing Schools Ditty is forty years old, or more; maybe we could look at that. I'm not even quite sure what schools are supposed to be failing at. Are students routinely coming out stupider than they went in? I'd be willing to believe some are, but then I'd tend to blame our running schools based on the wildly successful Privatized Penitentiary model, not Summer Vacation Amnesia and Disrespectful Pants. Nine of ten local teevee news anchors can't read a teleprompter at speed for thirty seconds without fumbling, and they're middle-aged, and most of 'em attended schools no one dares call Failing. Stop five random pedestrians on the street and ask 'em a question from first-week high school algebra. Read the attempted English of your average internets denizen. It's a damn sight more worrying that a fucking majority of Texas state legislators are butt-ignrant of American history, 19th century science, and the rudiments of epistemology than however many high school seniors it is who can't find Canada on a globe.

Y'know, I took up riding my ancient ten-speed of late, and I've nosed around some with replacement parts and vintage accessories. A couple weeks back I took a look at Brooks saddle bags. Some internet commenter objected (Brooks, to their credit, and maybe Britishness, puts customer comments right on their product page. Good and ill.) that he'd bought one recently and was disappointed to find it marked "Made in China". And the Brooks rep replied that when Brooks tried to restart its bag-making operation after many decades it tried to do so in England and Italy but found that the quality was unacceptable. They had to go to China to find quality stitching, because the trade had been allow to die in Europe. That's not a failure of education; it's the mark of abandoning markets the minute they become slightly less profitable. Write that a hundred or a thousand times over, and throw in racial and gender discrimination and intellectual poverty at home. No one says Our Failing Manufacturers haven't given the average fifteen-year-old urban kid a reason to complete his education. He might not be learned enough to pass his ISTEP test, but he knows which end is up.

2) We got the president of the teachers' union spouting the same platitudes as everyone else: "We need to try something." Maybe we do, and maybe this--unlike the last thirty or forty somethings we've tried--will be it. But in the meantime, you're the head of the teacher's union, so you may recall that two years ago you won a lawsuit because Cufflinks White unilaterally declared year-round school at a middle school, in violation of the contract and, in fact, without intending to pay teachers at all if he could've gotten away with it. I'm glad you think Teachers are primarily concerned with the well-being of their students. I know many who truly are, who work incredibly hard and do an often thankless job. But they also work for money, and not for so much that we could demand they behave as altruistically as we expect the Colts' receiver corps or the American Medical Association to, with mixed results. Teachers work for money too, lady, and you're supposed to represent that aspect of it. Why is it a dirty word for them? If you have to discount your basic tenets just to appear sincere then maybe you're in the wrong spot.

3) And all this because of the threat the Federal government will take over operation of Our Failing Public Schools based on provisions of the No Largely African-American District Left Unlooted Act of 2001, which was designed to designate them as Failing. Everybody knew this at the time, and everybody knows it now. The In-Indianapolis-But-Not-Indianapolis-Public-Schools public schools in the Townships, the White Flight of a generation ago preserved in amber, aren't faring much better, but don't routinely get Failing appended to their names. Maybe it's me, but it sure seems interesting that in a climate where every Republican and half the Democrats running for national office this fall scream about Big Gubment, no one questions whether it can come in and run a school district more effectively than locally elected officials.

I still had that taste in my mouth when the President came on, and it didn't go away. We gladly regulate our public speech lest we get too close to the truth. "We made a big fucking mistake invading Iraq, which we then compounded through hubris, greed, and a desire for cheap partisan advantage, and we're now slinking home while the Shi'a control the place sorta, but hey, USA! Greatest military inna world, am I right?" I mean, does it really require constant applications of horseshit to keep people's heads from exploding? And, considering the consequences, ain't it time we went ahead and risked it?