Wednesday, March 21

How Many Different Ways Is It Possible To Be Wrong With The Same Idea?

Via Roy, where my comment seems to have disappeared, we bump into Dr. Mrs. Ole Perfesser again:
Bumper Stickers--Personality Warning Signals?

Do you ever wonder at the bumper stickers people have on their cars and feel thankful that you have been warned about their thinking processes in advance? Yesterday, at the bank, the car in front of me had the tired old 60's bumper sticker slogan, "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." This bumper sticker owner looked exactly like you would expect a guy like that should look, long hair, young (of course, older boomers love these slogans also) and idealistic.

I wondered if he had ever thought through the gist of the bumper sticker or had ever read Jay Greene's book, Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools and Why it Isn't So. Greene points out that "despite nonstop whining to the contrary, the truth is that public schools receive a fairly large amount of money for each child. And that amount has been rising steadily for the last few decades, easily exceeding the dollars spent on defense." But idealistic guy probably doesn't give a damn about this fact and drives around feeling superior that he is an educated twit whose freedom is preserved by the very Air Force he belittles on his bumper sticker.

Like the recalcitrant mule the man was cursing at a crossroads, that bumper sticker is never going to learn your language, so if you want to argue you need to learn his. That defenseless, if strongly adhesive, little fellow has two factual claims to make: one, that schools do not have all the money they need, and two, that the Air Force acquires bombers without resorting to neighborhood fundraisers. There is, further, the expression that, were both situations reversed (presumably by taking money from the one and giving it to the latter, though this is not made explicit) it would be a great day. We quickly note--we do not intend to teach reading comprehension--that our braying bumper buddy is expressing a hope that bombers would, in the shiny future, be unnecessary, since the alternative explanation, a 100% Democratic Congress which unilaterally disarms the US, is probably just a pipe dream.

So what can we say about this? I'm willing to risk the suggestion of near-unanimous agreement that US Air Force procurement procedures do not involve bartering or baked goods, though with this crowd you can never be too sure. I suppose it is hopeless to expect that the expressed opinion, how great that day would be if it were to dawn, would meet with a possible rebuttal rising above "educated twit." Which leaves us with the question of schools getting all the money they need. This could be answered by inviting all concerned parties to the cafeteria for a 20-minute lunch of hot dogs, tater tots, and raisin surprise--plus loads of body-building GOP Brand ketchup--but frankly, my stomach isn't in it.

And in fact we are willing to admit a scintilla of doubt that the anti-union propagandist for a right-wing think tank (who speaks of his opponents as "special-interest groups"!) and the founder and President of the Tennessee Valley Facile Libertarian Blogads Travel Club have much interest in competing facts, so we offer a simple thought experiment: let's see them run their children's schools for ten years on the smallest budgets in the nation. Just that. They don't even have to admit all comers, or non-English speakers, or provide for every special-needs child born in the district. Then I'll believe they really think money doesn't matter to education.

Now let's look at the opposite side of the slug. Although this was not what the car bumper was saying, is it germane to the argument that school spending "easily exceed[s] the dollars spent on defense"? And before the swifter among you reply, "Bite me," let's add one small but juicy tidbit:

It ain't true.

At least, it hasn't been true since ignorance and gullibility teamed up to build a golden skyway to Baghdad. Let's take FY 2006, the most recent year for which anything approaching As Much As We'll Ever Know is known. The Department of Education estimate for public education spending, K-12, is $536 B. To say--as the DoEd also does, by the way--that this "exceeds spending on national defense" is pure bullshit. The official Defense Department budget is $450 B. That doesn't include the cost of our minor skirmishes in Iraq and Afghanistan ($120 B). Bingo! We already have a winner, and it ain't Dr. Helen's research technique. But, of course, that is hardly the sum total of our "defense spending", even if we could guess at the black ops portion: there's military aid to foreign countries, nuclear weapons (in the Energy budget), Homeland Security ($41 B), Veterans benefits, and another $250 B plus in payments on debt for previous military expenditures.

To be fair, the Greene quote is from early 2003. He could still be seen workin' that damned bumper sticker last summer, but the claim seems to have disappeared. Not so with Doc Helen, or the Bush DoEd, though.

So how exactly do you get a post-graduate degree in psychology without the ability to read critically? "You should read x" is not an argument accepted in a high school debate program. Forget the predisposition to agreement--how does the good Doctor permit herself to be seen as so sloppy?

Finally--like the fat woman of the late, great Robin Harris' acquaintance, we're not full, it's just that our arms are giving out--there is that Air Force which "preserves our freedom". It's the low-manpower, Big Ticket branch (the latter in competition with the Navy). Its current posterboy, the B-2 "Stealth", was a $44.3 B program which produced planes at a cost overrun of nearly five times, required ten years to do so, and produced 21 aircraft instead of the originally planned 133 (for $58.2 B). This leaves aside the list of operational problems as long as your arm, assuming you're an orangutan, and the fact that its vaunted radar-invisibility has never really been established. Its predecessor, the B-1, came in at over three times the original estimate, as was so dumbed-down in the development process it couldn't carry enough fuel to fly at supersonic speeds with a bomb load. These are the folks who spent a billion of our 1950s dollars in a futile attempt to develop an atomic airplane, because intelligence sources claimed the Soviets had already done so, and who stockpiled half-million-dollar artillery shells in the 1960s before realizing that they couldn't protect them overseas or use them without starting a nuclear war. When public education starts getting away with those sorts of shenanigans, I'm sure you and Mr. Greene will let us know.

In the meantime, the present-day Air Force serves very little in the way of a "defensive" function, apart from transport; it's the offensive threat wing, and as we've seen clearly in our struggles against tenth-rate military forces with no air components whatever, it's not much of that. The enormous cost-efficiency ratio of air power has been well-known since the Second World War, but political leaders like it since it produces few friendly casualties and almost no body bags. It's just damned curious that the same people who insist that extra money doesn't affect education think unlimited military spending makes us safer.


Anonymous said...

The suggestion that the schools get more money than defense is laughable on its face. I can't decide if that's an admission that Iraq is not "defense", and therefore really is an offensive war of aggression, or if she's just plain damned dumb.

Anonymous said...

Calling her dumb would be to attribute an inability to grasp facts, particularly those nasty ones that don't conform to one's world view.

No, I think malevolent is more appropriate, as in eager to rile up the truly dimwitted who share your world view.

Anonymous said...

You the Man. Thank you for puting teeth behind the rebuttal of yet another tired old Republican smear.

Anonymous said...

She's right about bumper stickers representing a warning about the car owner's personality. I see those "W" stickers from '04 (they are fewer now than used to be) and think "Better watch out! Idiot driving!"

School funding reminds me of a Molly Ivins' observation, something along the lines of: Don't believe anyone when they say you can't fix education by throwing money at it, 'cuz it ain't been tried yet.

Anonymous said...

I (stupidly) started reading the comments at the ole Dr's place.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. This is a superb post.

punkinsmom said...

I know that I tend to give people with "Jesus is my co-pilot" bumper stickers quite a few car lengths.

Anonymous said...

My 9-year old daughter came home with an "Honor Student" sticker. She was thrilled! How could I refuse to let her put it on my car?
Slightly OT, a bumber sticker from long ago: "I FOUND IT!..... and now my finger smells" (remember the "I found it" stickers? Sort of the beginning of the Religious Rite. -Kathy in Sparks

Anonymous said...

BumPer sticker, not Bumber. I kind of like Bumber tho. A real sniglett.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Imagine my horror when I looked up the web site for the bumper sticker I saw yesterday - Eeek.