Tuesday, March 31

By the Way, Sixty Years After Hiroshima A Guy Standing In Front Of A Blackboard Covered With Arcane Formulas Does Not Really Inspire Confidence

Nicholas Dawidoff, "The Civil Heretic". March 25

SUNDAY was busy; we've got the neighbor's animals to look after while they join in the mass Hoosier migration to the swamplands of Florida, which I'm pretty sure Juan Ponce de Leon named The Land of Flowers for the same reason Erik the Red called it "Greenland": to separate real-estate suckers from their gold. You're heading to sunny climes just as the weather gets nice here. By the time it reaches an average daily temperature here matching the one you've escaped to--two months, tops--you'll be cowering indoors with the AC up full blast. Yes, the ocean and the beach are invigorating for as many as forty-eight hours provided you manage to get through them without second-degree burns, which I guarantee you my neighbors will not.

So it wasn't until yesterday evening that I finally dug down through the Sunday Times pile and came face to face with Freeman Dyson, those titular blackboard scribbles, and the boilerplate note that he "infuriated environmentalists".

I had, in fact, read much of the piece the previous Thursday, and if someone can explain to me what's up with the Times publishing its Sunday Magazine cover story four days early it will probably go a long way towards understanding how it could have imagined hiding the online David Brooks and Maureen Dowd would increase paid subscriptions. So I was already aware that the infuriated environmentalists featured on the cover were the species who write stinging emails and subject their targets to well-timed WTFs in "Chat rooms [and] Web threads". Which--I'm just playing a hunch, here--are not the best locations to contact an 85-year-old mathematician, or to gauge the reactions of the "Environmentalist" community at large.

They are, however, good places to find anonymous people hurling shit anonymously, as you may have heard. Which, of course, is right in the best traditions of modern journalism.

We think we know enough about academics and academicians to understand that some discipline-poaching octogenarian eminence insisting that the overwhelming consensus in someone else's field is Just Plain Wrong probably draws fifty good-natured smiles to every instance of outrage. But then we also know that academic rifts can be as vicious as a reality show. And we don't object to that any more than we object to Professor Dyson's opinion. It's just that by and large we conclude that that front-page outrage is, well, a journalistic invention.

And we don't quite understand it, really; does the Times imagine its Sunday Magazine readers wouldn't take to a cozy feature story about a still-kickin' 85-year-old physics legend without a phony Intellectual Celebrity Feud! hook? Because the whole frickin' article goes out of its way, roughly every 75 words, to paint Professor Dyson as Otherwise A Liberal Dreamboat Emeritus. He's an Obama man! He opposes nuclear weapons! His Christianity is more a Guide to Living than a system of belief! He's tolerant of the Lower Classes, and opposed to Star Wars. Though, somehow, this did not lead to "Freeman Dyson Pisses Off Right-Wing Munitions Magnates" ending up as the cover sub-head.

Professor Dyson can go on believing whatever he wishes, and best wishes for him continuing to do so for another thirty years, assuming either that Princeton isn't underwater at that point, or that the superannuated are more naturally buoyant. I happen to be a Global Climate Change Heretic myself, of a sort: I think mass drownings are something the human race has got comin' to it, though this doesn't mean I don't support every effort being made to avert catastrophe, including the liberal use of volcanoes and sacrificial Global Warming deniers found to be on corporate payrolls.

Nah, his opinions are okey by me. What the piece made me wonder about is why Noam Chomsky or Ward Churchill never appear on the cover of the Times Sunday Magazine with an examination of how either enrages the Right. (Chomsky did get to play 20 Questions with Deborah Solomon in 2003; she went so far as to read the blurbs on the back of his most recent book, or, in other words, two solid weeks of research.) And I was thinking about this while searching for the cat food next door ("in the garage" the note says, without mentioning which pile it was hiding under) when it hit me: you can't really make that big a deal out of someone infuriating the Right when that's the default setting.

Monday, March 30

Look, Kid, I'm Sorry To Have To Tell You This, But If You Think Nobody Cares About You Now...

Andy Gammill,"Students Give Lawmakers a Bleak View of IPS". March 28

THIS was front-page Saturday stuff in the Racist Star (meaning, again, that you can read it in the next twelve minutes or watch it disappear into the pay-per-view archives), and it's been smoldering and re-erupting at Casa Riley ever since; let's take it from the top:
Margrette Lowe wants state legislators to understand that they have given her a raw deal when it comes to her education.
She and a dozen other Tech High School students met with eight lawmakers Friday and painted a bleak portrait of their district: Many teachers don't care; the district doesn't offer the challenging classes commonly offered elsewhere; and some students receive such bad guidance that it can affect whether they graduate.

Indianapolis Public Schools students have to fight to get what is considered basic in many communities, said Margrette, 16.

"For the past 11 or 10 or 12 years, through every single class, we've always had to go around asking teachers for extra help or extra work or extra projects or extra mentors," she told them, "just so we can get what is considered as basic education."

In a heartfelt outpouring that surprised lawmakers, the students drew attention to administrative problems in IPS and inequities in teachers, facilities and school environments between their district and suburban ones.
Students told how they weren't allowed to take an Advanced Placement U.S. history course that is standard at most schools. One boy said his brother might not graduate because he didn't know he had to make up geometry credits.

IPS' low test scores and high dropout rate are well known, but Friday's meeting was an urgent plea of raw emotion from college-bound students who said they weren't getting an education equal to that of their suburban peers.

Make no mistake about it; the complainants have our utmost sympathy here, and if we happen to feel that "Students Dislike Teachers" is not exactly news we'll recuse ourselves. The problem here is that we have a loose thread or two to pick, and once we do so the whole thing winds up on the floor and the story's standing there in its boxer shorts.

As I say, the thing kept flaring back up all weekend. My Poor Wife, the one with the expert knowledge, first wanted to know Who booked the meeting? Who chose the students? The story, at least, gives the impression that this was a sort of command performance; are state legislators in the habit of taking children out of class? At the very least one imagines somebody from the Tech administration would have attended, but none comments, or even refuses comments. We do hear from Mary Louise Bewley, who did attend, and who is IPS Superintendent Eugene White's designated mouthpiece for stories he doesn't want his name anywhere around (as well as those times when he's left early for Spring Break):
The students raised real concerns, said district spokeswoman Mary Louise Bewley, who attended the session. But the picture isn't as bleak as they made it seem, she added.

"I think a lot of positives came out of today's session," she said. "I think we already have some solutions."

The AP class, for example, shouldn't have been canceled because IPS can offer such courses via computer when classes can't be scheduled, she said.
Most alarming was students' perception that many teachers did not care about them or their education, Bewley said.

"I'm sure there are isolated instances where they have teachers that aren't caring," she said, "but I think the majority of their teachers do care."

Damn loose threads...look, we're glad to hear that Ms Bewley thinks that Teachers Who Care still constitute a majority, however slim. We think her concerns show that she'd make an excellent candidate, should she decide to get into the actual education side of Education, and we hope that she's spending her vacation week examining the resumés of all the cashiered administrators littering the halls of the IPS administration building for other caring individuals with time on their hands. Which reminds us: before we grab a dustpan and broom and start dealing with the cotton fillament...

Why th' hell was the meeting on a Friday? And the Friday before Spring Break?

Oh, do not get ahead of us! We have a tiny inkling about that which'll turn up later.

Ms Bewley was at the meeting; Ms Bewley has the answer about the AP History class. Ms Bewley is therefore presumed to be aware that this is a guidance counseling problem--and therefore an administration fuck-up--regardless of how little a large minority of teachers cares for the little bastards. Same with the brother lacking geometry credits. The grand academic overview of a student's career is the business of the school and the district administrations, not the people known as "teachers", whose job involves , uh, teaching.

Another Riley flare-up here, as this caused me at some point to relay my own guidance counseling stories. There aren't many of them, since there wasn't any guidance or counseling to speak of.

And that's in a middle-class, suburban, mostly white establishment, though long before we as a nation started to get really manic about testing little Connor and Melissa to death lest they wind up at a state school. I went to see a counselor the summer before I changed junior highs; he managed to enroll me in the wrong math course, which I, district neophyte, had no way of knowing until months later, and which resulted in my being a year behind in math studies. I got called in twice to see a high school counselor: the first time as an incoming sophomore, except it wasn't my counselor, it was the new basketball coach who was using his office as an excuse to interview all his new players. The second time was late in my senior year, when whoever it was informed me how sorry he was he'd somehow forgotten to make sure I signed up for the National Merit Scholarship test the previous week.

The guidance office was widely known around the school, among teachers and students, as what became of teachers who couldn't teach, or, in one case, as where they sent the woman who couldn't go an entire class period without a cigarette, whose desk drawer was a notorious spot for glomming free smokes during her regular, King-sized absences.

So, y'know, you kids have my sympathy, but I'm holding onto to my sense of amazement.

Oops, there's another hot ember, as Mr. Riley reacts to something Ms Too-Feminist-To-Be-Called-"Mrs. Riley" says by replying that, again, he learned fairly early that he could read ahead in class textbooks and go to the library study halls, convocations, and after school and read to his heart's content without any guidance from anybody. To which The Expert he married replies--and rightly so--that The System doesn't work that way anymore, that nowadays children need every bit of Official involvement, and every last credit they can get, to compete for schools and scholarships. Which prompts Riley--whose colossal ignorance is largely self-taught--to remark that the complaints themselves, sadly, sounded too much like bright students in urban districts who've been forced to adopt the very attitudes of the people who have been keeping them in underfunded programs since the Klan ran Indiana, and Whoosh! it's a flashover. Somebody call the Student Fire Brigade! Oh, right; they're busy elsewhere:
March 28, 2009

North Central is preparing its pool and natatorium for an April opening

The nearly $14 million project has stirred much debate about taxes in the township

By Gretchen Becker


Water filled the new pool at the North Central High School natatorium this week as officials began testing the facility and planning its unveiling next month.

To begin the testing, three garden hoses slowly spilled water in to cover tiles on the bottom of the pool, said Phil Smith, Washington Township Schools director of operations. Then a 2-inch pipe was used to add more. Thursday, the J. Everett Light Career Center firefighting students used fire hoses to fill the pool to its brim.

Damn, and on the very same day. Curse the luck.
Four locker rooms -- two for physical education classes and two for the swim teams -- with plastic lockers instead of metal ones, which can rust from exposure to pool chemicals.

A wet classroom, for students in their swimsuits.

Walls and ceilings designed to endure harsh natatorium conditions.
Measures to ensure high air quality.

25-yard lanes and a diving well, or 50-meter lanes, depending on how it's set up, Smith said.

It's an Olympic-sized pool -- just like Carmel and Fishers high schools have -- and will let North Central host large meets. All NCHS students will use the pool for physical education classes, and the Washington Township Swim Club also will use it....

The $13.8 million natatorium became a symbol of the debate about tax reform in Indiana in 2007, when Washington Township residents fumed about double-digit increases in property tax bills. Homeowners began complaining in May 2005 about the district's decision to proceed with the renovation.

The district is in the midst of renovating its football stadium, a $5.7 million project to repair bleachers, improve the press box and replace 50-year-old locker rooms.

'Cos nothin' says Education like a spacious new pressbox.

I've lived in Indianapolis proper for thirty years, and I was born and raised in its suburbs. If you were to write me some snail mail, or send me a box of origami cranes, you'd send it to Indianapolis. I vote for the mayor of Indianapolis and for representatives on its City/County Council. My US Representative's district includes most of Marion County and all of the IPS district. And my tax dollars went to filling that fucking Olympic-sized pool. I've never bought those Tech students so much as a pencil.

Wow, I didn't realize loose threads burn so fast. The Indiana State Legislature shows up right at the exact moment when they're sure no teacher or school administrator will be available for a week to answer any of this and they bleed all over the fucking floor about the poor students who suffer in an underfunded program mostly because the property taxes from wealthy Indianapolis districts go to their "own" schools, not every school in the city, thanks to the system put in place by--you did get ahead of me, didn't you?--the Indiana State Legislature, the same organization which rubber-stamped Mitch "The Education Governor" Daniels' across-the-board cuts in education in the name of artificially balancing the budget and getting re-elected. Gosh. The same Legislature that approved the consolidation of Marion County while preserving its de facto segregated school systems when these kids' grandparents were in school.

And thanks for orchestrating a front-page effort to blame teachers for the hated Indianapolis Public Schools and its well-known distaste for the skinned and scorned it must try, however futilely, to educate, just as teachers complete another full year of working without a contract and begin making noises about "working the contract" instead of putting in extra effort for a district that doesn't give a shit about them. Save me from Holy Coincidence, St. Teresa!
"To have to beg for rigorous courses and qualified teachers is not something a 17-year-old should have to do," said Sen. Teresa Lubbers, R-Indianapolis, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. "What I heard them saying was the most legitimate thing in the world to ask for"....

Reached a few hours after she left Tech, Lubbers said she hadn't been able to stop thinking about the comments.

And thanks for taking time out of your busy evening of empathy in the face of sudden discovery in the inequities in public education in Central Indiana to take a call from the reporter writing up the story for Saturday's deadline.

And look: Teresa Lubbers, R-Indianapolis, is not just the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, or a seventeen-year-member of that body which her party has controlled all that time. She's also the wife of Mark Lubbers, arguably the most powerful and best-connected Republican insider in the state, a man whose career dates to his work for Governor Bob Orr in the early 80s, and who was Senate campaign manager for Dick "Nixon's Favorite Mayor" Lugar, the man who set up that fabulously successful exercise in pocketing white votes for a generation in the first place.

We have to admit that we sincerely hope this was just an exercise in public hypocrisy; the idea that Teresa Lubbers, et. al., were actually that ignorant of what they and their party has been doing to public education in poor districts for the last forty years is probably more knowledge than anyone should bear.

Friday, March 27

Oh, I Thought They Said $800,000 For The Toastmaster General. My Bad.

THIS from Wapo's Joe Davidson got dropped from yesterday's olio when it suddenly developed a theme; it may be added to the growing Then They Came for My Roth IRA, and There Was No One Left To Publish a Specious Defense of Cosseted Entitlement file. And, in fact, it actually introduces the "refutation" of those horrid, horrid things people have been saying about the Seventy-Second Postmaster General of the United States, the Hon. John E. "Jack" Potter, with the very words, "Now the sideshow."

And here's the first thing, I think: we are, nominally, a Republic; we've certainly played off our heritage as the world's unwashed and unwanted for a couple hundred years now. So I think we can say that something is seriously wrong already if we actually number our Postmasters General.

In fact, it occurs to me that the political impulse to look for big matters and give the trivial the short shrift has led us to focus on the wrong things, on the GOP's thirty-five year war on the lower classes, rather than how it actually spends all the money it "needs" to keep the economy humming along so the rest of us can eat. Forget $1.25 M in antique commodes and wallpaper made from hummingbird skin; forget $100 toilet seats and $300 hammers and $45 billion worth of aircraft carriers frequently named for racist dickheads. Remember C. Everett Koop (13th Surgeon General of the United States) and Bill Rehnquist (her 16th Chief Justice) dressed like a pair of Gilbert and Sullivan spear carriers. These things were reported as sort of comical personal aberrations, when the fact is they pointed clearly and directly to the fact that the Great Goldwater Purge had left one of our two political parties in the hands of a vast, sweeping array of Douglas MacArthur-level, silk dressing gown/gold brocade/aviator shades-affecting lunatics. There's a reason why people in authority assume the airs of imperial heirs, and it generally has to do with erectile disfunction or poor potty training, and almost never with any demonstrable need for an actual emperor, nor any particular aptitude for the job if one were required.

Yes, indeedy: there was Nixon's palace guard and Nancy Reagan's Tinseltown Empire Revival chic, plus her hubby's love of the empty spectacle part of the job and distaste for the rest of it. Sure, it was all reported, but as is now becoming abundantly clear, generally by a profession filled with people who found nothing particularly odd, let alone disturbed, or Simply Wrong, about public servants of the Great Melting Pot behaving as if they were the consort of the Sun King. Who, in fact, secretly longed for the day when they too could afford to dress the servants up in an Arabian Nights fantasy and drink Romanée Conti on ice while eating their salads with their dessert forks.

Who decided this was America, and how'd they get away with it for so long?
On Feb. 17, ABC News reported: "Potter's base salary went from $186,000 in 2007 to more than $260,000 last year. On top of that, an incentive bonus of $135,000. Add in retirement benefits and other perks, total compensation was more than $850,000."

But Potter's salary was not that high, as this and other reports would lead you to believe, if you miss the point about retirement. Almost $381,500 of the $850,000 was due to an increase in the value of his retirement fund, which will be paid, of course, after he retires. Another $70,000 covers the cost of his security detail, insurance, annual physical and other items.

A bonus of $135,041 also is included in the $857,459, but that will be paid out over 10 years after he leaves federal service. And note this: Postal operations and salaries, including Potter's, are funded by the postage we buy and not the taxes we pay. Congress, however, has said that postal employee pay should be comparable to that in the private sector.

Okay, okay, Joe. Get back up and wipe your face. First, whether the "bonus" is paid in ten or twenty or a hundred years it's part of his compensation, and apparently for one year's work, while he was earning a base of over a quarter-million bucks, plus perks, plus retirement. Not to mention that that "bonus", equal to half his salary, arrives with no explanation of what it was for. And, look, I think we all know what last year's going rate for a CEO who can manage to lose $2 billion a year was; maybe the argument now is about how it ought to be adjusted in the current environment of a modicum of sense among the rampant plunder. If General Potter's so hot, perhaps he should be applying for that $9 M a year he'd get at UPS, and stop having his flunkies lament what he's losing.

But mostly, it is always interesting to see just what you people imagine the rest of us will fall for. $70,000 for security? What, is he leading us into battle with Chinese letter carriers? Has he pissed off some rogue Ninja Philatelists with his penny-pinching regime? Is he trying to protect his new uniform design from John Roberts?

Thursday, March 26

Olio, Ab Ovo Edition

• Recommended reading: Dahlia Lithwick, "Irony Board: How many ways can Senate Republicans show intellectual hypocrisy?"

Or, for that matter, How did Dahlia Lithwick come to be writing for Slate? (Our theory is that she's the Anti-Contrarian Double Reverse with a Half Twist version of their staff, just as it's likely they have a water cooler somewhere where the water is dispensed downward.)

So the very gang responsible for the Filibuster Is a Sacred Rite! No, Wait, It's an Unconstitutional Pillaging of Our Sacred Order! Oh, Sorry, It's a Rite Again! routine, and the very guy who publicly defended the stealth confirmation of Sam Alito, now demand answers! and more answers! from Elena "There Is A Good" Kagan on the grounds that she may have supported reproductive rights at some point in her life.

And, y'know, fine by me; the Senate is supposed to be the deliberative body, and this is the modern substitute. I'd just like to know where Chuck Todd is, and what th' hell happens to all those people who pop up to complain about Congress wasting precious time on, say, AIG bonuses, or overt cheating in a designated anti-trust proof professional sport, the other 51 weeks of the year?

• Southern Baptists may wish to readjust their ballast when Newt Gingrich converts to Roman Catholicism this Easter. And remember, a nice Thank You note is always a sign of good breeding.

• This plan, not surprisingly, has already given quick theological study Newtie a free hand to call the President "anti-Catholic" and object to his speaking at Notre Dame.

Although if Newt were really savvy you'd have expected a religion where your own sins are kept private, but you get to complain loudly and long about everyone else's, would have attracted him much earlier. And if you're like me, familiar with both the details of Newt's romantic history and the techniques of the fight game, you're counting the days until he suddenly finds himself trapped in an elevator with a supple and accommodating Hindu woman.

• The Notre Dame thing--can you guys not shut up about anything?--prompted Richard Viguerie--I've got no idea how I wound up on his mailing list--to email his shock! shock! at the school's abnegation of sacred religious principles to which Viguerie himself does not, apparently, subscribe. (He did, however, get his start working for ambidextrous kiddie diddler Billy James Hargis, so there's some degree of kinship.)

And look, Carter, Reagan, and Bush II all spoke at Notre Dame, despite the latter two being, respectively, the guy who denied working people their just wages and rejected the idea of community obligation to the Poor, and the guy who took a, well, rather rampant delight in executing prisoners, and the former being a religious non-hypocrite.

• Meanwhile, America's Third-Worst State Legislature™ (Motto: So "Bobby" Jindal's A Foot Taller Than Our Man. What National Economy Did He Ever Set On The Road To Utter Disaster?) ponders requiring hospital admitting privileges for any doctor who performs an abortion in the state, based on allegations of complications linked to a Fort Wayne doctor.

(Again, you can find the details at the Racist Star if you wish, at least for the next few hours, but I'm not linking you to it when there's any chance at all you'll see the comments.)

Abortion would be the only out-patient surgery affected, of course, since Jesus was notably silent about the morality of installing big plastic hooters. And this is the same Third-Worst State Legislature™ which continues to shield faith-healing cults from the advances of 19th century medicine, including, especially, dependent children and women in childbirth.

The good news is that we've made our peace with irrational numbers.

Tuesday, March 24

Recommended Reading

Matt Taibbi, "The Big Takeover".

Glenn Greenwald, "Howard Kurtz: government and media need a "cease-fire" now and then".

Joe Conason, "AIG is Chump Change--Let's Find Corporate America's Hidden Billions".

Paul Krugman, "Financial Policy Despair".

(bonus corporate media cluelessness, via Digby:)

John Harwood: Well Chuck, I was going to say, if the White House to choose between praise from Paul Krugman or plus 300 points on the Dow, I suspect that they would happily take the latter.

Ah, Schooldays! The Friends, The Pep Rallies, The Strip-Searches...

ITEM: "Strip-Search of Girl Tests Limit of School Policy".

ITEM: "Racy Phone Images Can Haunt Teens". (N.B., Indianapolis Racist Star link, so it will disappear behind a Pay For Reprint wall in several hours, a policy which, so far at least, has had the unfortunate effect of keeping the paper afloat. Also, and as always, do not read the comments in the Racist Star, which are right there at the bottom of the page and require no clicking to link, particularly if you have recently eaten, have sensitive digestion generally, or are literate.)

YES, the savviest of Hoosier school administrators have tumbled onto the cryptic and deliciously dirty teen world of "sexting", which means the local media types they cultivate like a rosarian with a tender new hybrid are now hip to it as well. So we've had three public cases in five days, and all the local stations had to come up with graphics. It is the rare instance of public stupidity that nonetheless manages to contribute to the Arts.

In each instance the girls were underage and were reportedly filmed surreptitiously. One vid was making the rounds of John Marshall High School in Indianapolis, which led school officials to call in the girl's grandmother (her guardian) and show her the tape.

And here's the odd thing about that: I'm married to an IPS teacher, and I'm involved in local educational issues, and I never realized that public school officials have plenary powers which allow them to posses, and display, child pornography. I'm thinking we have a whole new avenue to help with school funding which is being underutilized.

[You'll note that, as always, the ubiquitous electronic gizmos which make all this possible get a free pass, especially in the wealthier districts, such as Carmel, which says it managed to reduce the problem by making it against the rules to have sexual materials in school (it wasn't before?), thereby avoiding hundreds of calls from the parents of thousands of Meghans and Joshuas who just had to have their cellphone/camera/text messenger/mp3 player/vibrator at hand at all times, in case of emergency.]

And this comes as the Arizona strip-search case nears its date with the rabid defenders of personal rights the current Court comprises. Presumably that one did not involve videotaping, since the equipment six years back was a lot bulkier. It did involve forcing thirteen-year-old Savana Redding to disrobe for a school nurse and a secretary--both of whom, I trust, have now completed their prison sentences and are fully rehabilitated--on the grounds that another student, caught with prescription ibuprofen, had (falsely) named her as the source. And all this apparently took place without so much as a phone call to the girl's parents, let alone any of the adults menacing this eighth-grader, this thirteen-year-old, showing the least sensitivity for her rights or the slightest compunction to inform her she had any, because they apparently thought she had none that weren't superseded by their own.

For fuck's sake, listen to what these people are saying now, six years and an Appeals court loss later, apparently secure in their belief that the Court will sanction anything remotely resembling brute authoritarian force. It raises the question of how John McCain manages to get re-elected in Arizona time and again despite the occasional bout of lucidity:

• the search was “not excessively intrusive in light of Redding’s age and sex and the nature of her suspected infraction.”

• In a sworn statement submitted in the case, Mr. Wilson [the vice-principal in charge of inmate relations] said he had good reason to suspect Ms Redding. She and other students had been unusually rowdy at a school dance a couple of months before, and members of the school staff thought they had smelled alcohol.

• The fact that she had a clean disciplinary record is irrelevant.

“Her assertion should not be misread to infer that she never broke school rules,” the district said of Ms. Redding in a brief, “only that she was never caught.” [emphasis mine; you can't expect the Times to highlight official insanity. I hope that, in the event the Court finds in Ms Redding's favor, the school is forced to adopt this as its official motto.]

Note that Ms Redding says she was never asked whether she had the pills before she was searched. The fact that she was being accused by a former friend was the sort of detail school officials needn't find out about until after a lawsuit is filed. Note, for fuck's sake, that school staff members thought they smelled alcohol on rowdy junior high students at a school function and did nothing.

LET'S part the beaded curtains of memory and step into my own high school days for a moment.

I had a standard white suburban 60s upbringing, which is to say that my parents started fighting when I was in fourth grade, separated in the fifth, divorced in the sixth, and my mom married an alcoholic salesman and moved us to a new district in the eighth. Sports were my social entrée; playing in garage bands was my real love. I tired quickly of the bullying Neanderthals who coached football and basketball; when I entered George S. Patton High I switched to track and cross-country, where the coach was a cool guy, an actual teacher (chemistry) instead of a drivers-ed functionary, and an early adopter of environmental concerns. I was no distance man, but I was a pretty fair quarter-to-half-miler, and qualified for the regionals in the latter my sophomore year. Then I got called into the athletic director's office, along with my best friend on the team.

"The state athletic commission passed a new rule. You can't run in state meets unless your hair is above your ears. You two get haircuts or you're off the team."

Now, neither of us exactly looked like Mark Farner at this point; more like George W. Bush in college. My buddy cut his hair. I drove over to my dad's apartment, bummed his Brylcream, and slicked mine back. It is, to this day, my most cherished memory of high school, when the AD called us back into his office and shook our hands for our compliance while I grinned back at him like a moron.

So we get to the stadium, and they call the race, and I go to line up; we're being seeded according to our qualifying times. And number one is a guy from a county school, the fastest half-miler in the state. And the guy has a Jewish Afro that Darnell Hillman would have been proud of.

So thanks, guys. Learning the vital lesson about trusting adults at such a young age has stood me in good stead ever since. Mere telling wouldn't have had near the impact.

And look: it's a lesson we need to re-learn. We jumped the rails a quarter-century ago. Abuse of power, by petty tyrants, cops, prosecutors, politicians, yes, even military heroes, is a constant, and serious, threat. Check the dissenting opinion from the Ninth:
Judge (Michael Daly) Hawkins concluded, “I do not think it was unreasonable for school officials, acting in good faith, to conduct the search in an effort to obviate a potential threat to the health and safety of their students.”

Now, I'll tell ya, I smoked my share of reefer in high school, and a couple of other kid's shares as well, and I still maintain that a far greater threat to my health and safety were the parallel bars in gym class. And I've had the occasional sweet, sweet illicitly-dispensed-in-violation-of-Federal-law prescription ibuprofen, which moderately dulled the pain in my knee for a time. I'm not sure how many would be required before you jumped off the junior high roof while imagining you could fly, or stared at the sun until your eyeballs melted, but a rough guess is "more than a thirteen-year-old girl could comfortably hide in her "underwear".

And, y'know, in a long and varied career I can't even recall ever having drunk enough that I'd've ordered the strip-searching of a girl barely in her teens and under my legal guardianship, or obeyed someone else's orders to do so, or rolled film of one having sex. They do have some shade in Arizona, right?

Monday, March 23

1. Find Money. 2. Start Getting It Back. 3. Finish Getting It Back.

Here's the dirty little secret, though. Most of the stuff that got us into trouble was perfectly legal. And that is a sign of how much we've got to change our laws -- right?

-Barack Obama

What this story needs is a good gibbet.

-with apologies to Rex Stout

WHO'S up for a morning stroll? Good. The neighborhood's full of historical interest. For example, just ahead is the Roberts Commission, the first inquiry into the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which began eleven days after the attack itself, and was tasked, by Franklin Socialist Roosevelt himself, with determining if there had been any dereliction of duty. (I suppose if David Brooks had been columnizing in those days he'd have explained to President Pinko that he had enough on his plate already.) Over here on your right is the US War in Afghanistan. It's only seven years old, but if you'll look closely at the foundation you'll note it consists of coarsely-ground international law produced by our insisting that the then-government of the World's Most Godforsaken Country hand over some criminals we wanted, and make that before sundown. This was despite the fact that said government's expertise lie more in stoning to death young girls who tried to go to school, and despite the fact that said criminals were ensconced in an area so hostile that, as it turned out, we couldn't get them out ourselves without huge bombs and huger* bribes. The hole there across the street is all that remains of the old Justice for War Profiteers Place, which stood from the Civil War up unto the time that some bright boys figured out how to go to war every 4.5 years, on average, without ever declaring one. Which, by the President's formulation, makes profiteering perfectly legal.

I first learned about our latest difficulty on Sunday, as I took a break from lawn care, head cold, and brunch-level Alcohol Ingestion Syndrome to catch up on newspapers and breeze through tapes of the Sunday shows. The Market, that arbiter of the Good and the Reasonable, was having another one of its spells, due to the possibility of the Evil Congress (how dramatically Life would improve in the instant that Harry Reid, let alone Nancy Pelosi, turned up before the cameras with Spock's goatee!) would just Keep Coming Back for Our Gallant Traders' Hard-Earned Money Until It Was All Gone. This was also apparently the one question of substance Leno couldn't help but sneak in: the "frightening" effect of the supposed precedent-setting post-facto bonus taxation. Then they came for my warehouses of antique vehicles, and there was no one left to protest!

The absolute nadir, though, was Meet the Press, where half the program was given over to CNBC anchor Erin "Just Remember, Without The Lead Paint The Price Of Chinese Toys Will Skyrocket" Burnett, and Tom Fucking Brokaw; apparently she was his choice as designated NBC henchnetwork artificial resuscitator, which is now in his contract like the Red White and Blue M&Ms only, motherfuckers! clause. Burnett explained that this violation of our sacred prohibition on Ex Post Facto laws Just wouldn't fly! at which point I was hoping David Gregory would thank them both and spend the final twenty-five minutes of the program playing an imaginary jew's-harp. Thanks for putting your personal stamp on the program so quickly, Dave! By god, when the nation faces towering financial collapse the first person I think of turning to is a guy who used to read a teleprompter twenty years ago, and whose one real claim to fame was coining the term "The Greatest Generation" while the Generation in question still had enough disposable income and visual acuity left to buy his crappy book. The great thing about Brokaw is the way he combines Conventional Wisdom banality with the sort of personal intellectual banality that really sells it, and which makes you want to invite him right into your living room to bore you to death in person. "They (the administration)'ve got to get their act together", he said, suggesting that he's now zeroing in on the Last of the Hippies and their bread stash.

(Yes, I know he's already "written" a "book" about the Sixties. If you've read it feel free to leave a review, and also a description of the people who forced you to do so, including their weapons.)

The Times, either fearing it was falling behind in the Meaningless Blather race, or else contractually obligated to fill the Week in Review section down to the fold, minimum, with vapidity, had Sheryl Gay Stolberg compare the "distraction" over AIG bonuses with the "distraction" over Reagan's Ketchup as a Vegetable and $1000 Military Hammers, and Bill Clinton's commerce-halting haircut. Never mind that a simple, straightforward understanding of those earlier trivialities might have produced some benefit: the Ketchup as School Vegetable story showed, not just the tone-deafness of that administration, but the preposterous levels it was willing to sink to in pursuing budget cuts that actually hurt people, while claiming it would all be made up by putting an end to Big Guvment Waste, and the military procurement scandals were less the fault of bad Reagan administration actors than they were the continuation of decades-old military graft now even more flush with cash. As for the Clinton story, which the Times apparently needs to bring up at least once every year or two, consider all the good the ability to lie, boldly and in public, has done for us in the interim. (And, fer chrissakes, would have led us to the Times while Judith Miller was still a star. Stolberg mentions the Clinton story twice without ever mentioning it was fiction; that tidbit is left to a quote from Stan Greenberg, who was Mr. Clinton's pollster. It comes as the article nears twice the 350-word length it had achieved when the charge was relayed, baldly.)

Dirty little secrets? Fuck, I wish we had only little secrets to worry about. It may very well be that none of the derivatives shenanigans reached the level of explicit illegality--I'm an idiot, if that tempers my doubt, Mr. President--but in aggregate they amounted to the largest robbery in the history of the world, and if we can't find any illegality we can certainly assign blame with the same ethical certitude we applied to the Taliban. And if our carrier force is inappropriate, or busy elsewhere, and our ground forces depleted, well, we've sure used RICO statutes for much smaller outrages in the past. I think it's time to consider just what side of the torchlight you'd care to be on. And you've got til tomorrow night to consider it.

* Attempted enallage thwarted when the spell checker, to my astonishment, passed huger, which turns out to be an actual word, though not a very good one.

Friday, March 20

Who You Callin' Myopic, Four Eyes?

David Brooks, "Perverse Cosmic Myopia". March 19

CONSISTENCY gets horrible Press, thank you Mr. Emerson, and undeservedly. Without consistency there's no meringue, no concrete, and no pancakes, though personally I pretty much equate the last two. Without consistency watercolor is spackle and spackle is all over the floor. Given that "Tiny" is the most popular size in Minds anyway, is it too much to ask that Consistency's many virtues come in for the occasional extolment?

Just to give you one example: if the New York Times had placed its daily columnist listing where it always goes, instead of selling the right half of the page to Lowe's--for that matter, if Lowe's itself concentrated on running a retail chain instead of reminding me that Spring is when grass starts to grow and barbecue grills to smolder, and spent some of that ad money hiring and retaining cashiers who could put in a full three minutes work without stopping to take personal calls on their cellphones--then I could have avoided Brooks' column like I'd planned and would be outdoors this very minute screwing up the lap joint cuts for the sagging half of my garden gate, necessitating the purchase of more lumber at...Lowe's. Chaos theory, dudes.

I ran into the link in the middle of the page, and I clicked on it, and I'm sorry.

For one thing, of the various stratagems and personal tics (pop sociologist, Professor of Applied Burkanomics, Former Liberal, Reformulator of Red Meat Republican Talking Points for Sensitive Stomachs) Brooks has developed over the years in an effort to save his lunch money, Passive-Aggressive Brooks is the one I find most infuriating, I think because the literacy level required to read his stuff precludes, at least in theory, falling for this sort of thing over and over:

In times like these, you’d expect prudent leaders to prepare for the worst. After all, the pessimists have recently been vindicated by events. But that’s apparently too painful to think about. In normal times, leaders like to focus on the short term at the expense of the long term. But now the short term is really confusing, so leaders take refuge in projects that are years or decades away.

The president of the United States has decided to address this crisis while simultaneously tackling the four most complicated problems facing the nation: health care, energy, immigration and education. Why he has not also decided to spend his evenings mastering quantum mechanics and discovering the origins of consciousness is beyond me.

So he ought to leave those things for a later administration, one that, say, looks more like that American political supermajority that is centered somewhere near David Brooks' transverse colon?

Aren't every one of those 'tangents' actually integral to future economic health? Didn't the previous administration--the one that so resembled Brooks' colon at the time--address education, immigration, and energy policy (we think that's what Cheney was up to) in its opening months in office? Okay, so their only health care initiative was deciding who got the Cipro, and "Cut Taxes!" doesn't really take a whole lot of calculation time, but, what? they get points for not doin' shit, and doin' what shit they did wrong, and having time left over, because they didn't have to waste any effort cleaning up the Sewer of Despond, because they were only just then creating it? Jesus Christ, Dave, just because you've got a two-day workweek.

And y'know what? Our fucking Presidential campaigns are two years in length now, even longer if you're Sarah Palin. Candidate Obama had a position on all of those issues, and a whole shitload more, as we say in Indiana; I know because I read 'em all, the better to explain his positions to his supporters during the primaries. Th' fuck do you want? Blue-ribbon Commissions? He's the President, and these colossal messes, generally agreed to be so, are the result of a thirty-year plan to increase the wealth of the wealthy by encouraging the mass transference of paper wealth and the abrogation of regulation and anti-trust policies which kept things reasonably honest. Public education is a fifty-year-old political football kept in play so your party could appeal to racists while retaining what it felt was enough deniability to refute the charge. Immigration? Always been an issue; owes its present prominence to your party looking for new avenues of crypto-racist appeal.

Is this sort of shit supposed to pass for concern? It doesn't. It doesn't pass for anything much, except a prominent "thinker" caging political talking points in spasms of Faux Concern. When the President's initiatives have failed due to over-reaching, then you'll have a point. And then, of course, is when you'll write it up as Your Opinion All Along, not hide it under a bowl of mush.

But we were talking about Consistency. How 'bout trying some sometime?
The Washington political class has spent the past week going into made-for-TV hysterics over $165 million in A.I.G. bonuses. We’re in the middle of a multitrillion-dollar crisis, and our political masters — always willing to throw themselves into any issue that is understandable on cable television — have decided to risk destroying the entire bank-rescue plan because of bonuses that account for 0.001 percent of the annual G.D.P.

Christ, y'know, I really don't remember, back when you were washing the wishy over the enormously unfair cost of GM's labor obligations, you ever converting it into percent of GDP, let alone comparing it to the cost of doing nothing. Hundreds of millions of tax dollars going to a few dozen employees doesn't count, because the US economy is so large. Th' fuck does that have to do with anything? Billions loaned to US automakers, though, is controversial because some of the money will go to thousands of workers who would otherwise be unemployed, devastating whole communities. Yeah, I see where your principles come into play there.

Sideshow? Some might say undercard; some might consider the vast number of people who've been left to fend for themselves the past thirty years with ketchup as their only vegetable. You'll forgive me for calling you a liar again, Mr. Brooks, a liar so profound he now imagines that great American landscape, whether carefully manicured and sprayed with enough 2,4-D to defoliate Southeast Asia, or fadishly gone to Bohemian seed, cares one whit about how "miniscule" a $4 million bonus seems when compared to the age of the Solar System.

Thursday, March 19

How Much Better Can Ya Eat? How Much More Tastefully Subtle Can The Pattern On Your Dress Shirt Get?


DOES anyone watch Bloggingheads? I admit, to my embarrassment, that I've been advocating a return to talking heads television since 1970, or roughly the very moment when the nightly news became Happy Talk for Happy Earthworms, which is what I call it because almost simultaneously, and certainly not by coincidence, the broadcast air became filled with enough crashes and flashes and starbursts and sonic booms and swooshing rainbows to keep an eyeless, earless, and brainless Oligochaete or other sensory Manichaean entertained. And, of course, once you devalue sensory perception to the Lowest Pan-Species Denominator, a reasonable assumption is that abstract content is the next to go, as it was, replaced, within a decade, by more easily digested moral precepts as sold you by people with really good teeth.

Now, don't get me wrong: no way do I offer this as a panacea, and I'm not even suggesting that the news itself was much better in the overrated days of the overrated Edward R. Murrow. I just think it would be of some small psychic benefit if there was a half-hour of network television dedicated to something resembling, even shamming, gravitas. I guess there's some congruence here with some folks' idea that regular church attendance is good for you even if you have to lie about going.

But then, teevee news, whatever else is wrong with it, crams the day's events into 22 minutes; Drezner and Frum are up there for forty-five minutes, and it's still not long enough for me to figure out why they're there, let alone together. This is not the same thing as saying I don't know why they're up there, since those few times I've been directed to something at Bloggingheads have reinforced the idea that it is populated by a small-lecture-hall-sized sample of the group under consideration for Atlantic Monthly columns after that august publication was taken over by pod people. And like those Atlantic columns the thing seems disproportionately representative of both the "liberal" centrist who hopes to sound reasonable by finding some area of rough agreement with "conservatives", and the "conservative" who is willing to talk to "liberals", provided "liberal" is defined as "Ezra Klein" and "rough area of agreement" as "just how far Right we can continue to push the supposed center despite our having screwed various pooches, on tape, from several camera angles, because 'liberals' are still afraid of us". And nearly all of them of whatever stripe seem to be laboring under the rather frightening hallucination that what this country needs is more of their already-way-overexposed brain droppings.

It's a Win-Win situation, in other words, provided no one ever looks up at the scoreboard and notices the game's been over for a few years now. The idea that the domestic political universe is bounded by Matt Yglesias and Andrew Sullivan, or David Frum, for that matter, is a variety of poison to which only these folks are immune, apparently. (For fuck's sake: Frum now has a tidy little sinecure writing, over and over, that the "conservative" Republican party will be back on top just as soon as it jettisons its base, which Frum now finds gauche to associate with now that they haven't voted him back into power. And this works.)

I wound up watching half of The Reasonable Republican Seeks Common Ground With A Libertarian Republican-in-Denial Pretending To Be A Centrist Show because I clicked a link at the Times, which was puffing the "Comparing Obama to Reagan" bit. And, as I think you know, I believe this is probably the premier issue facing America today: how do we reconcile the pernicious vapidity and historical disinformation that has attended the beloved 40th President with the ongoing administration of a man the soggy Centrist--and especially the fictional "conservative" centrist--would like to present as his Second Coming, equal parts movie-star charisma, hidebound ideologue, and Lucky Lotto winner? You may already suspect that I did not tune in to Drezner/Frum expecting to find an answer.

I did, however, imagine that I might be in the presence of two men who between them could have managed to cough up who appointed Paul Voelcker (Carter) and when the Fed went to war on inflation at all costs (1979), especially seeing as how they can now speak of Obama having to get along with Ben Bernanke.

This is, of course, the really remarkable thing about the "Reagan Legacy"; not that it was constructed of jaw-dropping falsehoods but that these seem to hold so much power that even today people can't help adding to them whether they mean to or not. So that you have here Drezner saying that the Carter administration was to "liberal" failure what the Bush administration was to the "conservative" when they're about as similar as an oil stain in your driveway is to the contents of the Exxon Valdez spilled across a thousand miles of coastline by a drunken incompetent. By the time Jimmy Carter took office the fundamentals of the US economy had been in trouble for nearly a decade, exacerbated by one global oil embargo and the faulty timing of Nixon's Wage and Price controls. The Carter administration spun its wheels. He had begun his campaign as a "fiscal conservative", moved leftward, then filled his administration with nominal liberals who were nonetheless in the thrall of proto-Friedmanism, which resulted in, as someone once put it, an administration equally convinced of what needed to be done about the economy and why they shouldn't do it. Then Carter let our puppetally the Shah into the country for medical treatment, which resulted in the shutoff of Iranian Revolutionary Brand Petroleum, and more economic bad news.

Now, two things here: one, I cannot understand in any rational way why the Right did not rise up in defense of Carter's humanitarian gesture towards yet another of our Cold War Worst Dictator in the World pals, but then Politics over Even Reasonably Rational Reaction to Your Own Definition of Self-Interest was about to enter a plane of existence previously unimagined. Two, the idea of Carter as a liberal, and, by extention, the virus it died from, is pure fucking laziness.

But then, y'know, you hear Frum say that Reagan "had one or two big ideas, then spent the rest of his Presidency defending his tax cuts"--which, you'll note, seems to leave out the part about his rescinding most of them before they could do any more damage--or announcing "Market economics works!" as though the theory behind what you pay for your choice of toothpaste should more than make up for the looting of your retirement savings, as though the real problem with the markets are that they've been insufficiently shilled. And Drezner announces that while he's one of Frum's 5-8 Percenters--the Leaders and Doers and Associated Lickspittles and Accounting Firms--he's been "turned off 'conservatism' " by the Bush administration.

Let me repeat that. Dan Drezner was "turned off 'conservatism' by the Bush administration". Can anyone explain to me why a professor of political science would talk about domestic politics the way a disappointed Star Wars fanboy would talk about Jar-Jar Binks?

And how much energy do we really need to expend in this country so that people who were horribly wrong at the top of their lungs for two decades or more can still feel like they're part of the process?

Wednesday, March 18

Decency? No, I Don't Think... At Long Last? So We've Been Out? Now, Is That D-I-E-S-E-N-S-E-Y? Diesensey? No? Could You Hold?

Richard Cohen, "Don't Blame Jim Cramer". March 17

LAST week brave Hoosier blogger Doug Masson brought word that the Big Stewart-Cramer (what? It wasn't a debate. More like a sentencing hearing) Thing has been suggested as a "Have you no decency, sir?" moment. And to which we suggest that Decency is now so long gone, "ripe", as they say in the funeral biz, as to be no longer recognizable by its next of kin (Dignity, Honesty, Fairness, Reportage, and Zeppo), had any of them survived the Clinton impeachment.

This spurred me to poke around a little in the post-Thing recaps, not exactly a genre I'm fond of, and while I never did find any Army-McCarthy Hearings references I did, in very short order, start seeing comments about a pro-Cramer, "journalists"-circle-the-wagons response that led first to Alessandra Stanley, MoDo Gal Pal and reviewer of programs largely aimed at ten-year-olds for a major metropolitan newspaper:
Mr. Stewart has always had a messianic streak to his political satire, as when he ripped into Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala on “Crossfire” for “hurting America.”

Which, okay, is an ad hominem and a poor choice of words, not to mention the fact that the thought is so ill-concidered it gives every indication of being the first substantial object of hurling heft Ms Stanley's hand came into contact with. Plus she throws like a girl. On the positive side, she spelled both "Tucker Carlson" and "Paul Begala" correctly, and placed them on the proper now-defunct program. So at least this counts as Progress.

I didn't really find much of a backlash, either, indefatigable researcher though I am. There was Marty "Those Who Can, Think. Those Who Can't Think, Write. And Those Who Can't Think Or Write Write Think Pieces" Peretz, which probably doesn't count, but who deserves to be quoted anyway:
What I think has happened between Cramer and part of the entertainment industry--which the fact and opinion industry is fast coming to resemble--is that Jim is actually animated by a passion. It is the passion of democratic capitalism. That concern is very different from the concerns of the $10-20 million television comedians who ride around in stretch limousines. Those folk are happy when the people are in trouble. Even Jon Stewart and the makers of his "Daily Show" are happy. Jim Fallows, an always righteous commentator (like his ex-boss Jimmy Carter), has elevated him to Edward R. Murrow who was also over-rated in his time.

I haven't checked back to see how the Peretz-Murrow feud is working out, but the smart money's got to be on the dead guy, who, after all, has a longer reach and an unanswerable arsenal of commas, complete thoughts, and sentences which do not attempt to walk on stilts.

Then there was someone at Salon who turned out to be a salon blogger, who criticized Steward for unfairly crowding Cramer before quoting Alessandra Stanley.

There is, of course, a way to check such matters without getting involved in a daisy-chain: go to Slate. And Slate pretty much ignored the Thing--one square-shouldered piece calling it "unsatisfying"--meaning the editorial board kicked it around for an hour, then came back 48 hours later, and decided both times there was nothing to be gained from a double-reverse counter-contrarian gotcha! defense of Cramer. Or maybe it's just that Stanley had gotten there first.

Well, all this noise went an' woke up Richard Cohen, and he's a little cranky.
What Jon Stewart needs is Jon Stewart. He could use a droll comedian to temper his ferocity and correct him when he's wrong, as he was about the financial media, particularly CNBC and its excitable analyst Jim Cramer. They didn't cover up the story of financial shenanigans. They didn't even know it existed.

Cohen's Amazing Proof! of this is that Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, former AIG CEO, lost a lot of money. Curiously, the Cohen piece links the claim to WaPo's coverage of the lawsuit Greenberg has filed over those losses, which is based on his claims of being misled. And while that might seem to suggest that CNBC could be easily led astray as well, that's strictly true only if they were taking the word of a former CEO as gospel. Which they may've been. Yes, criminal enterprises are routinely covered up, and yes, a small band of dedicated criminals can loot a corporation for billions (even one; see Société Générale, which, y'know, should have been familiar to the gang at the CNBC water cooler). This is why reporters are supposed to remain objective, or they were in the last century; sorry, I haven't been keeping up. And it's why the good ones remain skeptical. (Let me ask you, O Reader: consider anything you have a degree of specialized knowledge about. How long did it take you to become fairly cynical about some aspect of it, or the motives of some of the people involved? Don't the two pretty much go hand in hand?) At some point the infotainers at CNBC either refused to recognize they were being lied to, or they looked the other way. Or they weren't doing their jobs. Or they were doing their jobs, but saw their jobs as Financial Clown Troop, but with bigger cars. None of that is good. All of that is damning.

And this is not a question of "looking for a scapegoat". For one thing, scapegoats are blameless. For another, what's happening here is the reevaluation of previous conduct in light of newly-received information. It's a fairly common practice in every field except professional journalism and Republican administrations.

Cohen goes on with the list of Big Wheels That Caught a Flat in the Collapse, which is to say he names two more and insinuates a crowd scene to fill in behind them. But so what? Lots of people ride criminal enterprises to their Slim Pickens-on-an-H-bomb conclusions. Charles Ponzi. Ken Lay. Most Republican administrations.
The acclaim visited on Stewart for spanking Cramer tells you something. In the first place -- and by way of a minor concession -- he's got a small point. CNBC has often been a cheerleader for the zeitgeist -- up when the market's up, down when it's down. This is true of the business media in general.

Business media? It's true of your entire profession, Mr. Cohen, and had your paper, or Ms Stanley's paper, been doing their jobs the past three decades instead of being run as happy little cogs in a larger scheme to corner as much of the information markets as possible, Jon Stewart wouldn't have nearly such an open field to run in.

Look, anyone who's been watching Jim Cramer, or taking advice from the rest of his network, and did so over the past eighteen months for any reason other than a hunch bet that he or she was being let in on some vast criminal enterprise, is likely a fool so wooly as to have deserved shearing. But that's not the way it's supposed to work. As Stewart noted time and again (and specifically in response to the oleaginous Joe Scarborough), he wasn't the one claiming prescience. These guys aren't a bunch of Charlie Lunchbuckets punching in every day to do a dirty, thankless job. They're Big Money egotists who've already demonstrated a willingness to do what it takes to get there and stay there. This is not surprising, it's not controversial, and it sure isn't "scapegoating"; it's a description of what the hostile takeover of the public airwaves, combined with the long-term relaxation of anti-trust standards, the Reagan-era encouragement of the accumulation of paper wealth, and its ending of the Fairness Doctrine has wrought. Surely you weren't unaware of this, Mr. Cohen, just because neither you nor your colleagues ever talked about it in print?

Tuesday, March 17

We'll Be Right Back To All-Nite Informercial Swindle Western Theatre After This Brief Downturn

Shelby Steele, "Why the GOP Can't WIn With Minorities". March 16

David Brooks, "The Commercial Republic". March 17

I DON'T know if it's just old age, but I've been subject to a vague dis-ease about the abuse of US history that I don't remember being there before. Not that it's a recent discovery or anything; I grew up in a contentious decade where Leftist tricksters were given free rein to convince the young me that the Vietnamese war wasn't being fought for any of the reasons commonly bruited about, that the Cold War wasn't quite the one-sided heroic stand against evil world domination I'd been told it was, that Jim Crow laws were shameful, and the treatment of African-Americans beginning in the 1920s was as brutal as in slavery days, that the story of American labor in general was one of repeated head crackings; there were some bits tossed in there about strings of broken Indian treaties, trails of dead Chinese railroad laborers, support for brutal dictatorships around the globe, and treating Latin America as our personal produce market. Plus the Plej-uh-lee-junce I'd been forced to recite for twelve tax-funded years was a piece of jingoist Boys' Life crap with God crammed into it to improve Ike's reelection prospects. And, as it turned out, the lousy lying bastards had told the Truth, proving you can't trust a Commie, ever.

I mean, I'm more than prepared for the daily onslaught of convenient fictions I've experienced since grade school, but in the past few years I run into things now and then that just give me a little jolt, like it's not the promulgation of easily-accepted Feelgoodism and willful blindness, but it's more like there's a well-financed operation somewhere cranking out continual updates to meet current emergencies, like a 24-hour Jingo-Nut factory filling sandbags for three shifts, five-and-a-half days a week. It's experienced as a sort of positional vertigo, like I'm standing still but the world keeps moving counterclockwise in little jumps.

And what I suspect that is is this: it's the result of hearing sorry-assed faux nostalgists like David Brooks try to reconstruct the thing as though the very act of happy confabulation magically made the long-overdue public revelations about race and war and exploitation (the Sixties™, q.v.) disappear again. Race, war, and exploitation being, of course, three minor matters his Party of Wealth got its collective feet tangled in, losing the ability in each instance to simply tell all the poor people to shut th' fuck up and get back to their duties. Brooks is able, somehow, in 2009, to write about US economic history as though the native American population invited the 15th century Spanish over to help with municipal planning.

I was going to rake Dr. Steele's piece toward the compost pile after Roy brought it to our attention. It's one thing for a man born of mixed black/white parentage in 1946 to grow up to describe himself as a "Conservative" and occupy a race-bombing sinecure at the Hoover Institution; it's quite another for him to act as though what happened to black Republicans in 1964, when he was an 18-year-old college student with a political science major, simply escaped his notice. Goldwater was a prisoner to his libertarian instincts! He rejected the Civil Rights Act of 1964 sadly, and on principle! Yeah, of course he did. Those same libertarian principles were the reason a number of long-time African-American delegates to the Goldwater Convention, refused seating (1964 was the first time post-Reconstruction the Republican convention seated lily-white delegations across the South), left the Cow Palace festooned with principled Republican saliva hockered their way as they left.

But then it took me three passes just to finish the thing, and, worse, its one suggestion for bringing minorities to the Republican party is for minorities to smarten up and realize they should be Republicans. That is, it could have been written anytime between the '64 campaign and now, and whether the modern GOP was at its political apex or in its present unspeakable shithole. There is much calumny available for heaping on nearly any voting bloc's collective hairdo in this day and age. But of all of 'em I would say the African-American voter is the one most notable for not having fallen for a stranger's promise of candy if he'd just get in the car and vote against his own interests.

Odd that while these "principles" that drive the GOP are supposed to be so beneficial to the racially benighted, the quarter-century of Republican rule just passed wasn't able to fully demonstrate those benefits. Just bad luck, I suppose.

We may have mentioned this before, but pace what "Conservatism's" best eight-grade minds have conjured up, "principle" is what the Goldwater Republican party resorted to when brute racism and unchecked robber baronage began to lose voter appeal. And we'll move along after noting that Steele said, after November's election, that "White America has made tremendous moral progress since the '60s... And they've never given themselves credit for that. And here is an opportunity at last to document this progress." By which he meant by voting for Barack Obama, also known as The Guy Who Can't Win, according to the title of a 2007 book by Hoover Institution fellow Shelby Steele. We mention this not to suggest that Shelby Steele is Full of Shit, but so we can reply that Black America has never been given sufficient credit for not murdering the rest of us in our beds at any time over the last 400 years, despite slightly greater provocation than the prospect of sharing public facilities which all those brave White people have stared right in the face for more than a generation without credit. "The women and girls out there know what I'm talking about," as candidate Goldwater used to say.

I had to move on from whatever Circle Hell is reserving for Steele, though, when I made the mistake of reading today's Brooks. It's one of those fainting spells the man experiences when there's no pressing GOP taking point for him to denature:
Over the centuries, the United States has been most conspicuous for one trait: manic energy. Americans work longer hours than any other people. We switch jobs more frequently, move more often, earn more and consume more.

This energy was first aroused by abundance, by the tantalizing sense that dazzling wealth was available just over the next hill. But it has also been sustained by a popular culture that celebrates commercial ambition. From Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, through Horatio Alger and Norman Vincent Peale, up until Donald Trump and Jim Cramer, popular figures have always emerged to champion the American gospel of success, encouraging middle-class people to strive, risk and make money.

Okay, so my first reaction--and likely yours, too--was what? does Brooks have some sort of hitherto unrevealed personal connection to Jim Cramer that's about to hit the headlines? Jim Cramer? Jim Cramer, American fucking folk hero, like the Donald, Horatio Alger, and Speedy Alka-Seltzer?

And my second was, y'know, this is the guy who, just in the recent memory of someone whose memory is all but shot, has suggested that Hamilton specifically designed the US banking and monetary system for the express benefit of 19th century robber barons and late 20th-century multinational corporations, and who just got done eructing the idea that there's never been any class-based unpleasantness in American history never ever ever, uh-uh, no siree.

Okay, so I've been a curmudgeon pretty much since age 8, except for the period between 15-23, when that was superseded by hormones and other chemicals. As such I am more than fully, I am fully and painfully aware than a sizable number of my fellows seem to require large, permanent, and imposing mental structures whose single function is to convince them that All is Light, Airy, Positive, Fun, and Loving as a New Pup. I do not say I understand this, not that I believe any of them, only that the appearance is there and it is guarded ferociously in many cases. I have never been able to figure out what is supposed by such folk to be lurking on the Other Side, unless it is themselves as a Manson girl. I'm unapologetically unpleasant, perpetually gloomy, and I've got a grievance list forty-years long, yet I go into a museum, or the wilderness, or even a cathedral and drink in their Beauty, not look around for something to deface. I have never once looked at a Caravaggio and wondered how enlightened Italians continued to fall for all that Jesus shit. No. This America: Good n' Plenty! may be prevalent, but so are Tarot readers, and they sell copper bracelets for arthritis at the drug store.

Further, is anyone really supposed to believe that Horatio Alger is on David Brooks' bedstand?
This gospel gets dented during each of the nation’s financial crises, but it always returns with a vengeance. The late 19th century was a time of economic turmoil. Yet it was also a time when this commercial creed was preached most fervently. Andrew Carnegie published “The Gospel of Wealth.” Elbert Hubbard published “A Message to Garcia,” which celebrated industriousness and ambition and sold nearly 40 million copies. The Baptist minister Russell Conwell traveled the country delivering his “Acres of Diamonds” sermon to rapturous audiences more than 6,000 times....

The Great Depression suppressed economic activity, but not the commercial spirit. In the middle of it, Dale Carnegie published “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” which promised imminent success and went on to sell more copies than any other book to that point but the Bible. The stagflation of the 1970s didn’t discredit capitalism. It gave rise to the supply-side movement and the apotheosis of the entrepreneur.

Okay, so Brooks has already demonstrated his capacity for wishing away any historical unpleasantness that might tend to cost his party votes; is he also oblivious to the fact that one can stand upon any of those fervent rallying points of Damned Good Positive American Energy and spy the inevitable crash ahead? The one that would flush all of Carnegie's positive thinkers, Alger's shoe-shine lads, or Bernie Madoff's elite marks downstream like the Johnstown Flood, and similarly, because we equated political freedom with the right of wealthy people to build dangerous contraptions free of evil government regulation, provided we ourselves had a dry seat well upstream? Bullshit. The argument never was about whether our poor, put-upon, unloved Free Markets could turn a tidy sum given the unfettered right to act, government financial assistance where required, or demanded, and a 150-year legal travestiment of the Fourteenth Amendment which held it to protect corporations, but not the people it was written about. Yes, rapine is frequently efficacious, and you can find a greedly little sucker willing to say anything for a buck on nearly every streetcorner. The argument was, in 1932, 1978, or 2008, what the rest of us are supposed to do to keep from being washed away in all this frothy Freedom Goodness? Because that point always comes, and somehow the Little Guy is always waiting for it in his underwear, because some rich guy had a real good positive reason for needing the pants.

Monday, March 16

Frayed Knot.

Kathleen Parker,
"Frayed Thread in a Free Society". March 15

HONESTLY, I have no idea how I came to be staring at a Kathleen Parker column. Three days ago I did something foolhardy: I taunted the mucus gods in print, telling Scott how wisely I'd foiled this cold my Poor Wife gave me ten days ago by the vigilant application of zinc and vitamin C. I remember falling into a fitful sleep sometime after that; I remember dreaming that Thomas Pynchon and Marcel Proust were chasing me across some endless lake of stuff so viscous you could run on it, and how they were dressed in matching sailor suits. I woke up a few hours later to find some impudency had arranged for a large batch of Jell-O to set inside my head while it was tilted 23º to stabbard; once I'd gotten to my feet I found I had to walk with my head nearly on my right shoulder while keeping my left eye closed to prevent vertigo. I say "walk", but it more closely resembled the pathetic rightward lurchings of a grounded bird. This proved, of course, to be nothing but an airy prelude to the following 72 hours, which were notable because with every fresh 12 the thing would transform itself into something qualitatively worse than the previous half-day, a process which frankly, by the 36 hour mark, I could not imagine continuing without a replay of that scene from Alien. And about 1:30 this AM I woke up, walked into the kitchen and felt normal. Sick, but normally sick. (What is that "normal" we return to, that feeling Like Ourselves? It's just sort of a flick, and you don't know, your understand that you're normal. Some satisfying snap and everything is back in place again. And then slowly back again to that place were feeling normal isn't nearly good enough.)

Occupational hazard, for a teacher, but my Poor Wife was just at the homestretch of two straight years of not coming home with a Science Fair's worth of accidentally-spilled microbial growth experiments, and then the last days of February got her. And that means it's the first really full-blown mucus shedder I can remember having around Larry the OCD cat. Do not tell me that "all cats have OCD". I've had cats for over forty years. Larry is an order of magnitude beyond the average cat OCD, and one of his best? favorite? obsessions is anything small, especially if handled by people first. There is no piece of jetsam around here that, should you leave it on a table, or counter, rather than under a latch he cannot operate or a weight he can't budge, you mayn't lose for days, even months, before discovering where Larry was when he dropped it. Location of said object is of absolutely no consequence to him. There is no shelf he cannot reach, no awkwardness or precariousness he won't face, and certainly no such place as one "where Larry's been trained not to go" (!). (Fortunately, Larry has no interest in human foods at all, excepting what might be found on an egg skillet not immediately stashed in the dishwasher, or the occasional biscuit or cracker if he can get one. We also seem to have a working agreement about the south wall shelves, which are crammed with various mementos of my Poor Wife's carnival career and would require a fairly energetic leap to manage. These he leaves alone, so far, and excepting my wife's large collection of Mardi-Gras beads, which sort of spill over the top shelf to the west, which he can reach by extending himself full length while standing on the center speaker over the teevee. In exchange Larry gets to knock stuff off the mantle on the north wall, no matter how many times he's threatened with death for doing so. Larry laughs at death.) So you're on your deathbed, and great gobs of mucus are coming out of you like 19th century stage ectoplasm, and your cat is walking up to you and stealing your used kleenex, helping himself to the wadded up wrapper of New! Ricola elderberry, or just picking up a whole fresh lozenge, and walking out with it. Or just eats it right there. Not just the lozenge. The paper, the kleenex, whatever. Unless, of course, you pry your corpse off the mattress and try to prevent it.

As I was saying, I found myself staring at Kathleen Parker without knowing how I came to be there, a woman I cannot recall ever having read unless someone else had already made fun of it. The conditions which would change that, Parker becoming a writer, say, or branching out from wingnut talking points that weren't already trite by the time five other Townhall columnists rung them out ahead of her, are almost unbelievably remote. Parker has a running "feud" with the Limbaugh "wing" of the party dating to her anti-Palin comments during the Late Sadness. Whenever I run into these "Who thought this was marketing genius?" moments in the GOP I try to remind myself that Branson, MO, is practically recession-proof. Ms Parker--we were nearly at the point of reminding you, anyway--has been a columnist since 1987, or, so far as we can tell, about two drudging weeks after she first went to work for the Osceola County Times & Shopper. This means she not only lived through, but presumably covered, in a stop-at-nothing-to-get-the-story style, the latter days of Reagan, Bush/ Quayle, Bob Dole/ Jack Kemp (comparatively the "What're You Poindexters Doin' Here?" team), and Bush/ Cheney, and she didn't speak up before Sarah Palin? Why does every last blessed one of those little Republican issuelets come down to one of these Encyclopedia Brown moments? But the drinking glass was found on the nightstand! The answer, I think, can be found in Branson, MO: Parker, like the rest of her ilk, has too long dealt with an audience so easily amused any spectacle still as boldly white as an old Andy WIlliams Christmas special. She's a fourth-rate hack mysteriously making first-rate money, and she's spent twenty years being outraged by Bill Clinton's dick, Al Gore's makeup, Elian Gonzalez' repatriation, Travelgate, Vandalgate, Kerningate, all the way to Hillary's plan to give every illegal immigrant a drivers' license, a reconditioned Hummer, and a carton of smokes, and Barack Obama's Muslim lapels, depending on what was called for that minute. Yet she imagines that you and I imagine she was writing nought but unvarnished truth, that each morning's paper was a tabla rasa when it hit her hands, which she converted into pearls for the masses down below, and that her Palin column wasn't just the case of a vacuous careerist jumping off the McCain/Palin shipwreck, the better to, what? get invited back to Matthews? Noonan did it more believably, and first, but then she didn't know it was being broadcast and she took it all back the instant she realized it had. But I read the thing like you would a six-month old People at the dentist's, and I'll be damned if she didn't go from 0-60 on the crazy scale in three paragraphettes:
The biggest challenge facing America's struggling newspaper industry may not be the high cost of newsprint or lost ad revenues, but ignorance stoked by drive-by punditry.

Yes, Dittoheads, you heard it right.

Drive-by pundits, to spin off of Rush Limbaugh's "drive-by media," are non-journalists who have been demonizing the media the past 20 years or so and who blame the current news crisis on bias.

Now, that's sixty-five words, and maybe it's just that I'm not used to a Parker column, but my impression by this point was that if she could keep this up another 181 she had a chance to out-Gettysburg Honest Abe.

Look at the thing: not just a standing start, but a cold one: a phone-in Unkempt Bloggers Destroy Journalism, Plus Leave Empty Bottles Lying Around, And Won't They Ever Be Sorry When We're Gone tree killer if there ever was one, helmed by the Mistress of the Wingnut Phone-in. And yet in a few simple sentences she's reminded you of her Limbaugh feud bona fides, fobbed off the crisis in print journalism onto ignoramuses and a few "too liberal" editorial pages, so swiftly that we barely notice she's turned that same twenty-year stretch with the GOP on its head as she passed, apparently relegating the whole Librul Media business, except a few!, including her own liturgical claims of bias over the years, to wherever this stuff is supposed to go when it becomes inoperative or inconvenient. Then she screeches to a halt, coughs once, and that "blame the current crisis on bias"cloud sorta settles over everything.

Whoa, golly, I know you're way ahead of me; the woman blaming drive-by punditry has spent twenty years as a pundit with a) no discernible qualification for being elevated to the post and b) no evidence since that she deserves it. But walk a few more steps with me.
There is surely room for media criticism, and a few bad actors in recent years have badly frayed public trust. And, yes, some newspapers are more liberal than their readership and do a lousy job of concealing it.

But the greater truth is that newspaper reporters, editors and institutions are responsible for the boots-on-the-ground grub work that produces the news stories and performs the government watchdog role so crucial to a democratic republic.

Now, wasn't that worth it? Twenty years sweatin' in the coal mines of modern journalism, and Ms Parker still can't manage, apparently, to sense any presence at all to her Left, yet another common affliction among the wingnut pundit class that, should it appear as a physical symptom and not just a writerly tic, would have it under the care of a pathologist and a neurologist with no time lost. I know plenty of people on the Left who accuse mainstream journalism of of a more profound bias than the Right ever did, and who do so with better examples than Rathergate and hi-gain mushroom cloud manipulations, and yet none of them argue that "bias" is causing Inevitable Worldwide Journalist Extinction. They're pretty much aware that pro-status quo mass-market journalism has been a source of rich and varied fortunes over the past thirty-five years; they just think it was short-sighted to abandon all responsibility to the truth in exchange. The Librul Bias business has been going on for over forty years now. It's supposed to just now be taking hold?

I mean, kee-rist, you've just proven your strawman argument by demolishing another strawman which, until quite recently, had been living above your garage, eating at your own expense, for the past twenty years.

She can't sustain, of course; before too many more words we're on what appears to be the Courtesy Trolley to the Great Hall of the Animatronic Harvard Business School Seminar Speakers, before we head around the corner to view the Tomb of the Unfairly Criticized Journalist. Then maybe one of those waffle-cone things. Better snacks! Maybe that'll bring the Daily back. In the meantime, I can't really say much for having the worst representatives of second-generation "conservative" sinecures, coming from their modern birthplace, the Washington Post, which cannily managed to hire George Eff Will between his National Review gig and his appointment to the Presidential Debate Integrity Commission, out defending in public the idea that real journalists are a ethically superior to all those toughs who've been calling them bad names.

Friday, March 13

Good Weed.

PROFESSOR Stipes (did anyone see that?) brings up Borges on Patriotism, which reminds us, 48 hours later, that 3/5 of our personal 20th century pantheon of reading (NB, not a Top Five list, just those I have the highest regard for and enjoy reading a lot. Unlike, say, Joyce or Kafka I regard but don't re-read) was some species of monarchist or other (Eliot, Nabokov). It's odd that I've never thought about it exactly that way before, don't you think? And two of them were great essayists, and one a great memoirist.


I wonder if that is true, mutatis mutandis, for anyone, say, at The Corner? That if the lot of 'em ranked their five most readable authors of fiction from the last century, and we exempted Sci-Fi, that you could find three writers in toto whose writings clearly skewed left politically?

Oh, Proust and Pynchon, the one a superb essayist and the other, eh.

There May Be Three Scarier Words Than "Brooks: Education Reform" On The Times Home Page, But It Was Too Early To Start Drinking

David Brooks, "No Picnic For Me Either". March 12

IN case you don't know, I am married to a public school teacher who works for an urban school district that last year was a particular target of Colin and Alma Powell, two Americans so concerned with the state of our public education that they were forced to lie about out-of-date figures just to set the record straight.

[I excoriated Powell, the only Four-Star US General of African-American descent with a 1-2 war record, for his command performance, which included saying "We shouldn't get bogged down by facts" when his were challenged by local media, however gently (you'd think grilling Colin Powell about the "facts" he presents would come as automatically as searching John Dillinger for weapons before you locked him up, but then we Hoosiers blew that one, too). Of course, leadership and inspiration are complex and tenuous things; had I known the Powells would convince Tony Dungy to abandon his coaching career while still young enough to lose ten more first-round playoff games I might have been more circumspect.]

Anyway, I heard news snippets of the President's education speech last week, and I intended to find a transcript, but work presses and I spaced the whole thing. However, it's probably best to filter it through Brooks' assent, since that convinces me I'm right to think it's another fast train trip to Derailment Town.
In his education speech this week, Barack Obama retold a by-now familiar story. When he was a boy, his mother would wake him up at 4:30 to tutor him for a few hours before he went off to school. When young Barry complained about getting up so early, his mother responded: “This is no picnic for me either, Buster.”

That experience was the perfect preparation for reforming American education because it underlines the two traits necessary for academic success: relationships and rigor. The young Obama had a loving relationship with an adult passionate about his future. He also had at least one teacher, his mom, disinclined to put up with any crap.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't know if the whole speech sounded like the worst of candidate Obama's Candy-Flavored Ponies For All stumpers, or if that was just the part that attracted "news" editors, but I do know this: if the President had delivered the same sort of homily designed to shame bankers, or defend strident regulation or higher taxes, Brooks would have written 800 words on the President's out-of-touch Ice Cream and Cake Big Spending Liberalism.

And we're not going to bother speculating on why Kick 'Em in the Ass and Put 'Em To Work! is such a popular solution when it comes to urban school districts. Draw your own conclusions.
The reform vision Obama sketched out in his speech flows from that experience. The Obama approach would make it more likely that young Americans grow up in relationships with teaching adults. It would expand nurse visits to disorganized homes. It would improve early education. It would extend the school year. Most important, it would increase merit pay for good teachers (the ones who develop emotional bonds with students) and dismiss bad teachers (the ones who treat students like cattle to be processed).

And we have no need of speculation about how the solution always comes down to featherbedding unions "good" teachers. "Good" teachers in this regard resemble "good" grill cooks, when both are evaluated according to the Entrepreneurial Imperative: are they willing to fry up whatever shit is provided, put it on a bun, and serve it? Or do they insist on smelling it first? "Good" teachers are always, in this world, ready, even eager, to work with those vast numbers of highly qualified but totally inexperienced adults out there who are stumped by union requirements and unreasonable education standards from signing up en masse and reforming education one emotional bond at a time. Right. We'll just ask what the response of Mr. Brooks' agent would be should Pinch show up tomorrow morning and announce that the badly-needed reform of failing journalism means Dave'll be writing an extra column per week, and that his pay will be determined by the test scores of his readers, compared to the test scores of Glenn Greenwald's readers, plus he has to make sure that every column is carefully explained to non-English speakers and six different forms of learning disability, but none of them lives in Greenwald's district. Specifically, how many seconds will elaspse before the agent says "We have a contract!"?
Thanks in part to No Child Left Behind, we’re a lot better at measuring each student’s progress. Today, tests can tell you which students are on track and which aren’t. They can tell you which teachers are bringing their students’ achievement up by two grades in a single year and which are bringing their students’ levels up by only half a grade. They can tell you which education schools produce good teachers and which do not.

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has data showing that progress on tests between the third and eighth grades powerfully predicts high school graduation rates years later — a clear demonstration of the importance of these assessments.

Or, just perhaps, it's a powerfully clear demonstration that children who do well on tests do well in school, especially in a test-happy environment designed to assign failure and blame from age eight.

Measuring progress? Well, perhaps we could start by measuring the competence of New York Times Op-Ed columnists to accurately portray the current state of understanding about our incontinent testing, say by at least admitting there's nothing remotely resembling such consensus, and plenty of evidence testing is counterproductive. What we might agree on is this: we've come up with a way to put numerical rating on something as complex as Education. This is something Americans do a lot of ("Best 100 Movies of All Time"; "Best Wines Under $10"), but not well, as something in our national character seems to preclude understanding how stupid the exercise is. My Top Two Guesses being "Inferiority", and "An almost pathological need to kiss ass if there's a dollar in it somewhere".
The problem is that as our ability to get data has improved, the education establishment’s ability to evade the consequences of data has improved, too. Most districts don’t use data to reward good teachers. States have watered down their proficiency standards so parents think their own schools are much better than they are.

Flunk. Here's the fucking problem, Mr. Brooks: a group of people--let's just call them "conservative" Republican mouthpieces--have been milking votes from the public schools, and in particular the racist underpinnings of White Flight that began with the closing of public schools across the South in response to Brown, and continued with Nixon's southern strategy.

And it worked, quite well. It's almost as difficult to find a voter these days who thinks public schools aren't failing--generally exempting that of his own children--as it is to find one who can marshall a single piece of data in the notion's defense. Excepting, of course, the "evidence" from something like The Colin and Alma Powell Tax-Emempt Association for Finding Some Reason To Give Colin Powell Another Public Job, Ever Again, or some dim idea about testing failure rates garnered from extra-bold headlines and presumed, therefore, to have some connection to reality. It's bullshit. We have no basis for comparison, and we wouldn't even if such testing had a suitably long history; we cannot teach students in 2009 the same things we did in 2004, let alone back twenty or thirty years, unless the entire curriculum consists of twelve years of Latin and Ancient Greek. You cannot solve the epistemological question at the center of the thing.

And you can't solve anything with All Faith and No Facts. Look at your column, fer chrissakes. The single "fact" is the result of your extensive interviews with high school graduates and dropouts to see how many teachers they remembered.

Here's what you claim: the key to academic success is relationships and rigor. We must separate good teachers from bad, based on their emotional bonding with students, then pay them according to test scores. The keys to improving education are testing and accountability; such tests have predictive value, according to Joel Klein. NCLB has established an unquestioned methodology for measuring progress. The self-serving Education Establishment interferes with any attemps to improve education which would involve getting off its lazy butts, and especially vouchers, which prove how little that group of over-paid featherbedders actually cares about students. (It is one of the great ironies of unfettered capitalism that somehow the people who really care about education, and particularly the education of the urban poor, all have chosen to work in some other field.)

Where's the facts? None in the column. Can you defend two of those ideas if I spot you that Joel Klein is a real person? Why is this always the fucking case? Y'all praise Good Teachers, but you sure don't quote any. Testing works because you say it does; schools are failing because you want them to. [Let me interrupt here for a story I can't remember if I told a while back: my Poor Wife rescues decommissioned library books for use as art material; on occasion she'll bring one home to read first. She found one originally from a high school she didn't recognize (closed in the 70s), and when she went looking for info she found a reference to the Indianapolis Public Schools graduation rate in 1957 or '58, thereabouts, and it was under 50%, the same level the Hero of My Lai gets to pontificate and junketeer about today. Yes, apples and oranges to some extent, but not entirely: those schools didn't have a 10% non-English-speaking population, or 20% learning-disability rate, and those with learning disabilities had no recognized legal right to required care or as much mainstream education as possible. They didn't have nearly as many private schools--and no charters--willing and eager to dump any problem student back into the public system to keep their own "results" up. Fifty percent of students weren't from single-parent homes, and 80% weren't receiving free or reduced-price lunches due to family income. Yes, a high-school education was "less important", job-wise, in those days, but does that make students today more academically fit to begin with? And what reason do many of them have to graduate--a job in a fast food joint? The level of pure butt-ignorance that surrounds public education is astonishing, particularly given all the rhetoric about how important it is, but the amount of that ignorance that can be classified as Willful and Politically Motivated is just shameful.]

And, y'know, it's funny, but besides making Top Ten lists the thing this country seems to be good at is raising millions tax-free to support a concerted effort to repeal inconvenient facts in Biology. Though we still can't seem to figure out why, every time some Former Little Lebowski Achiever relates his rags-to-riches tale, all the other poor people in the country don't jump on it and become President of something themselves.

Of course, none of this would be complete without an appeal to Please, Won't Someone Think of the Children:
Democrats in Congress just killed an experiment that gives 1,700 poor Washington kids school vouchers. They even refused to grandfather in the kids already in the program, so those children will be ripped away from their mentors and friends. The idea was to cause maximum suffering, and 58 Senators voted for it.

Interesting. 'Cause here in Indianapolis, thanks to a Republican administration which cut education 2% across the board in an ersatz effort to "balance" the state budget, and which now refuses to consider loosening the slush fund created by raffling off the Indiana Toll Road for anything other than paying wealthy Republican districts to massively screw up road projects, many hundreds of children have been ripped from their mentors and friends because there was no fucking money to keep their buildings open, with many more to come. But they can dry their own salty tears, I suppose, since their football landed on the wrong side of the fence.