Back to previous post: In other political news

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: No fries with that

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

November 5, 2008

The content of his character
Posted by Avram Grumer at 04:27 PM * 455 comments

Lots of people seem to have thought McCain’s concession speech last night was “classy” (that’s the word I’m seeing a lot), perhaps because of the way he tried to silence his audience’s booing at Obama. This part soured me on it:

A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt’s invitation of Booker T Washington to visit — to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African American to the presidency of the United States. Let there be no reason now — let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.

As proud as we feel, this election doesn’t mark an end to racism in the US. I fully expect to get sick of hearing coded racial slurs in criticisms of Obama over the next few years. I’m already seeing comments in various blogs about how the Obama victory means liberals “don’t get to play the race card anymore” (whatever the hell that means). But I was a bit surprised to hear quite so blatant a slur quite this soon, quite this high up the media food chain. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s our old buddy Ralph Nader, pissing in the punch bowl:

To put it very simply, he is our first African American president; or he will be. And we wish him well. But his choice, basically, is whether he’s going to be Uncle Sam for the people of this country, or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations.

Watch the video to see Shep Smith of Fox News give Nader multiple opportunities to crawl back up out of the ditch, and Nader refuse them all, and call Smith a bully for offering.

Comments on The content of his character:
#1 ::: Hank Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 04:47 PM:

> let there be no reason now for any
> American to fail

It's a prayer.

Like "and crown thy good with brotherhood" and "patriot's dream that sees, across the years, thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears"

-- these are, as they say, forward-looking statements, not guarantees of performance.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we were grownups ..."

#2 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 04:50 PM:

I sure didn't get the sense from McCain's speech that he was claiming racism had gone away, just that the country could be proud that we'd come far enough to elect a black guy. That seems right to me. Fifty years ago, there were plenty of places where he wouldn't even have been allowed to vote, or to buy a house, or to send his kids to the local public school, or to enroll in a university. That's an amazing amount of social change, IMO. It's something to be proud of about our country, in a decade that hasn't offered a hell of a lot for us to be proud of.

None of this means that racism is gone, or that the performance gap in education will now magically vanish, or that blacks will suddenly stop ending up in prison so often, or that any number of other bad things will stop happening. But it seems like some very strong evidence that racism has massively declined, that the world has truly changed for the better.

#3 ::: Redshift ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:00 PM:

I’m already seeing comments in various blogs about how the Obama victory means liberals “don’t get to play the race card anymore” (whatever the hell that means).

"Playing the race card" means using race as a political weapon by demonizing another race (Willie Horton and the infamous "black hands" ad being classic examples.)

Conservatives, as part of their general war on political language that doesn't favor them, have been working for years to define "playing the race card" as any acknowledgment by a politician that race exists, and we don't live in a perfect post-racial society. Hence the idiotic complaints about "liberals playing the race card." (Which is not to say that liberals can't, just that most of the attempts by conservatives to put actions in this category are fundamentally dishonest.)

#4 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:10 PM:

Um, what's the big deal? Nader said this throughout this campaign:

http://tinyurl.com/6rjjaz

"Nader was asked if Obama is any different than Democrats he has criticized in the past, considering Obama's pledge to reject campaign contributions from registered lobbyists.

"There's only one thing different about Barack Obama when it comes to being a Democratic presidential candidate. He's half African-American," Nader said. "Whether that will make any difference, I don't know. I haven't heard him have a strong crackdown on economic exploitation in the ghettos. Payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead. What's keeping him from doing that? Is it because he wants to talk white? He doesn't want to appear like Jesse Jackson? We'll see all that play out in the next few months and if he gets elected afterwards."

The Obama campaign had only a brief response, calling the remarks disappointing.

Asked to clarify whether he thought Obama does try to "talk white," Nader said: "Of course.

"I mean, first of all, the number one thing that a black American politician aspiring to the presidency should be is to candidly describe the plight of the poor, especially in the inner cities and the rural areas, and have a very detailed platform about how the poor is going to be defended by the law, is going to be protected by the law, and is going to be liberated by the law," Nader said. "Haven't heard a thing."

"We are obviously disappointed with these very backward-looking remarks," Obama campaign spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said."

He was ready to use race then, and he won't stop now, if he can peel off liberals who are uncomfortable with someone who isn't as, um, liberal, as Nader.

#5 ::: ScottEM ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:13 PM:

Yet another reason to dislike Ralph Nader. As if I needed one.

#6 ::: Doug Cadmus ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:15 PM:

It occurred to me while watching McCain deliver his concession address that: a) he had a new speechwriter, b) he was speaking in stark contrast to the innuendo and dog-whistle-filled rhetoric of his campaign speeches, and c) probably all the better to distance himself from any unpleasantness engendered by his prior remarks, and the fueling of racial and vague hate/fear of "otherness" they inspired.

And his audience was having none of it.

I worry still about the long-term consequences of McCain's campaign. I wonder at just how easy it was for a nominally respectable gentleman from a mainstream political party to surface deep-seated resentments and stir up demons in want of exorcising.

And Nader? Complete tool. Unsafe on Any Channel.

#7 ::: Flippanter ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:20 PM:

"Classy," like "mandate," ceased to mean much long ago.

#8 ::: Jon Sobel ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:22 PM:

I think you're reading too much into McCain's speech. Saying we're "a world away" from where we were doesn't imply all racism has gone away. I myself feel like we're "a world away" from where we were during the Civil Rights era. That doesn't mean we're rid of evil and hate, far from it.

As for Nader, he just doesn't seem to know that "Uncle Tom" is a racial slur. He seems to think it's just an expression meaning "someone who is beholden." That's not despicable of him, it's just ignorant, and a further indication of how marginal he has become.

#9 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:25 PM:

Not that it matters at this point, but it looks like the Nader vote in Missouri is running larger than the gap between Obama & McCain and McCain is ahead. So in principle, Nader may have cost Obama one state.

#10 ::: Doug Faunt ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:29 PM:

I went to a segregated high school, and the University of SC was integrated about the same time as that school. We have come a long, long way. We're not there yet. Both of these have to be acknowledged.

#11 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:42 PM:

I lost interest in Nader a long time ago. Which is a shame, because every now and again he says something sensible; this is not one of those times.

It is, still, a baby step in the right direction that a(n indeterminate but undoubtedly significant) number of (presumably but not necessarily exclusively) white voters voted for a black man because he's competent rather than voting against a competent man because he's black.

Baby steps.

#12 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:42 PM:

I think anyone who suggests that racism is no longer alive and kicking because a black man has been elected president should observe the way that women are now invariably paid fairly for their work in the UK*, a generation after our first female Prime Minister.

*To save you checking: nope. It's going *backwards*.

#13 ::: Carol Maltby ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:46 PM:

The word that came to mind about McCain's concession was "gracious," and I've heard a lot of other people who had that impression. Perhaps we're grading on a curve, but maybe we can afford to be generous on that point anyway.

It was a relief to not see the angry, whiny, blinky McCain that we've been seeing so much of recently. Was he relieved too? Or did they change his meds?

Palin's outfit was a real change of mood from her campaign togs. Reminded me of Victorian widow's weeds.

#14 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:49 PM:

I liked McCain's concession speech just fine: for me, it evoked the McCain that I liked from 2000, who wasn't willing to buy into the more invidious Republican tactics of the day.

But it wasn't enough to make me like him again. When you let your surrogates call your opponent a socialist terrorist-loving troop-hating middle-class-taxing danger to America in October, and in November you turn around and admit that your opponent is actually a decent guy whom nobody need fear, I am not going to like your November self more simply because I agree with it. Tuesday's McCain didn't make me say "McCain's back" so much as it made me wonder whether the McCain I liked was ever more than the Good-Cop side of the man.

#15 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:53 PM:

I'm so ashamed that I once, long ago, voted for that man.

#16 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:58 PM:

True, Katherine, but those Bob Barr votes have a MUCH higher probability, in a two-person race, to have gone to McCain than the Nader votes do of having gone to Obama. (See Indiana.)

While (Nader - Barr) (ca. 6,400) is larger than (McCain - Obama) (ca. 5,900), I wouldn't give odds that Obama wins a two-person race there. You probably have to assume that fewer than 25/640 (ca. 4%) of the Nader voters would have gone for McCain.

That's a Leap of Faith that Steve Martin and Indiana Jones together wouldn't try, even with pre-Snake River Evel K. helping.

#17 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 05:59 PM:

It doesn't look to me like McCain said racism was completely gone, but rather that the current situation is "a world away" from one in which a black man couldn't even be invited to dinner at the White House. I agree with him; the situations are a world apart.

#18 ::: Zeynep ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 06:00 PM:

That opening of McCain's speech made me twitch, too, but I thought the rest was classy because he basically concluded with "He will be the President now, my President as well, and I will work with him, and I want you to work with him instead of against him, too."

Actually, I just searched for the bit I liked best:

"...And I pledge to [Obama] tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.

"I urge all Americans ... I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited."

His supporters and the boos, however, put me in search of a word that is the antithesis of "classy." I still cannot come up with one that fits my irritation enough.

#19 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 06:00 PM:

carol,

Palin's outfit was a real change of mood from her campaign togs. Reminded me of Victorian widow's weeds.

now, i've read the text of the concession speech, & i don't really feel like watching it. but i felt such nice schadenfreude hearing people say how upset & shocked palin looked.

i'm reproaching myself for this, but, um, are there any good pictures of that?

#20 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 06:09 PM:

Ken #15: Perhaps so. I guess I have a hard time imagining why -- at this juncture -- anyone would vote for Nader except as a mistake or in the same spirit as voting for Mickey Mouse.

#21 ::: elfwreck ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 06:13 PM:

One of the commentators noted that it's seemed for some time that McCain was aware this election was full of issues bigger than he could encompass, that Obama is the right man at the right time--and although he couldn't admit that aloud, his concession speech hints in that direction.

It puts his campaign actions in a different light--someone had mentioned that his first debate with Obama looked like basic fear: that McCain looked like a man who knew he'd lost, and was trying not to flub his lines too badly on his way out.

Palin, however, seems to have convinced herself that they really were going to win. She surrounded herself with supporters, avoided (or was kept away from) all contact with questions that would indicate doubts, and rode the wave of excitement at her own rallies, while ignoring that Obama's rallies were just as emotional... and larger.

#22 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 06:13 PM:

McCain started off by claiming that blacks, and *only* blacks elected our new President. Eeew, talk about racist dog whistles. He did eventually backpedal almost enough to satisfy me.

Voters whose ancestors were here 10,000 years ago voted for Senator Obama, as well as voters who just got their citizenship. We all did it. Together. In the next four years, we may not always agree... but we can cooperate and compromise and look for the best solution. We may not find it, but we can keep trying... it's not like we're short on problems.

#23 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 06:25 PM:

elfwreck @ 20 - Palin thought that God was going to give her the Presidency. It could be you're not familiar with the rabid evangelical mindset, but trust me on this; even at the last, she utterly believed that she had been called to Washington to lead in Jesus Christ's name. (Or that God was giving her a pony in the form of the Presidency -- there's not much distinction between them.)

At this point, she has to be having a crisis of faith. She'll unfortunately get over it, but look at her trajectory. She's called to get into politics, runs for mayor of Wasilla, wins. Runs for Governor of Alaska, wins. Asked to be running mate of presidential candidate ... loses?

She can't have been prepared for that. It's always come so easy. The $150,000 of clothing was just icing on the cake -- God always rewards the faithful with material goods in this world. It's how you know you're on the right track.

Now she has to wonder: was God's purpose for her simply to serve as a negative example for somebody else? (She'll never think of that on her own. Perhaps we should organize a letter-writing campaign.)

#24 ::: Tom Barclay ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 06:41 PM:

Torrilin @ 21: +1.

#25 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 06:41 PM:

Good thing I didn't have any respect for Ralph Nader left to lose. Some day, the folks who voted for that souless, sanctimonious, self-promoting, hypocritical *racist* gasbag in 2000 will have the decency to be embarrassed about it. Jesus Christ on a pogo stick.

#26 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 06:47 PM:

Ulrika: I didn't get to vote in 2000--hadn't been registered before, moved to a new city for college, and then my life exploded in a dramatic and messy way and I forgot about the election entirely until the very day--but I was seriously going to vote for Nader then. I am indeed embarrassed by my younger self and have since repented and learned better.

#27 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 06:53 PM:

I still think it's far less about skin color and heritage than it's about this nation repudiating arrogant, corrupt, criminal insanity.

Yes it's partly about color, and it certainly helped persuade a number of people to vote who might not have voted. But we all voted for this guy because we believed he was a far better candidate than his opponent.

We voted for him because we wanted a stop to the agenda that ever more degraded the republican party into a criminal syndicate and abjured rationality and facts in favor of dominionist irrationality. It's particularly about repudiating the last 8 years, and its agenda to destroy any effective government, while remaining permenantly in power. Iraq and Katrina both were terrible dramas that showed the nation what that means, in horrific detail.

This election was about getting good government back, government that is run with intelligence and reason, not gut irrationality, a government that recognizes we're a part of the larger world.

Love, C.

#28 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 07:06 PM:

Renatus-

If you were just starting college in 2000 you were awfully young to have any idea about who Ralph Nader was beyond how he presented himself. Lots of people who were old enough to know better bought that load of crap he peddled despite having been around long enough to have noticed that he didn't have a track record accomplishing anything beyond torpedoing the American automotive industry's early venture into compact, fuel-efficient, German-style cars.

#29 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 07:07 PM:

I'm with albatross@#2 on that comment. Yes, a graceful concession speech doesn't completely make up for his bad behavior during the campaign. Even so, making a full and prompt concession (especially, not getting into tha "they stole the election" thing) keeps me from tossing him in the same mental trashcan as the ShrubCo mob.

Barely. I'll certainly be keeping a sharp eye on his behavior for the remainder of his term.

On the gripping hand, Nader, lost my goodwill, and my interest, years ago.

#30 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 07:12 PM:

Ulrika: Gaaah, that's true. I was a silly fuzzyheaded idealist at 21 (waited to go to college), which was part of why my life exploded... anyway. I'm still embarrassed, but less so than if I'd been the age I am now or older, because yeah. What you said.

#31 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 07:13 PM:

miriam beetle @18, this is the best picture I could find quickly.

#32 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 07:18 PM:

Constance #26: That's my take, too. Obama could not possibly win on the basis of being black. He could and did win on the basis of honestly seeming to be the right guy for the job, and running against a guy who, in several independent ways, seemed the wrong guy for the job.

#33 ::: anaea ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 07:29 PM:

I was in Grant Park last night watching the speeches with the rest of Chicago. I was floored that there was minimal booing when McCain appeared on the screen, quite a lot when he mentioned Palin, but otherwise the audience was quiet and respectful. Most people seemed to agree that if that version McCain had been running, we'd still be waiting for the results instead of watching him concede. I found bits of the speech abrasive, but it didn't seem like anybody in my immediate proximity felt the same way.

As for Nader, well, give the man his due. He's doing an excellent job of remaining a solid punchline election year after election year.

#34 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 07:39 PM:

I've pretty much been watching BET, because they did a whole day of recapping his candidacy, nomination and winning, speeches and all. I'm full of warm fuzzy feelings of happiness.

I know he can't solve all the problems at once, but he's not a smirking Bush butt-head who wants to give all the bananas to his buddies and leave the rest of us out.

McCain's speech? Feh.

Palin? I didn't listen last night. But today I was flipping channels on commercials and CNN or Faux had her on. It sounded like she still felt anointed, She extended an offer to help Obama with energy policy or foreign affairs or some other such crap. It sounded like she expected that she was owed some position or other in government because of her self-perceived 'goodness.'

#35 ::: sburnap ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 07:43 PM:

I don't think McCain meant to imply that racism is entirely dead. But all too often, in our zeal to point out that racism is not dead, we minimize the progress that *has* been made, which, in truth, is massive. The danger is that by minimizing the progress, we can start to feel like it is a hopeless task, which can inhibit progress as much as a false sense of completion.

As far as Nader goes....why are we still talking about him? Let's please just let the idiot fade into a well deserved obscurity.

#36 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 07:48 PM:

#21 - Torrilin - Thank you!!! I was beginning to think I was the only one who thought that way.

From a comment of mine last night: I know it's debatable, but when he leads his concession speech by basically saying that it was the black vote that won this election, I have a problem with that. Barack has an amazing following right across racial lines. To me that was the first salvo in a future campaign to reach out to that old Republican fiction, the "Silent Majority." It also laid out the groundwork for assigning blame for his own loss, and trying to save face. But he does this by trying to drive a racial wedge. To me that is more than a little contemptible.

For me, McCain's whole speech was ruined by that beginning. While later parts were more polished, and had more of the grace we expect from a veteran politician, it didn't overcome that start. Good bye, McSame, see ya!

#37 ::: Descartes ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 07:48 PM:

Racism is often used as an excuse for everything from low pay to lack of esteem to crime and just about everything else that happens in America. The real issue for me is one of wealth and poverty, not race-and Obama seems rich enough to be President.

#38 ::: elfwreck ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 07:50 PM:

@22: I'm familiar with rabid evangelicalism and the "God appointed me for this job!!!" mindset. It's just... fascinating to watch it in a major political race; I'm used to seeing it push for legal changes or pet projects.

It'll be interesting to watch Palin in the next couple of months. Oh, wait. I don't need to watch Palin. It'll be interesting to watch Saturday Night Live for the next couple of months.

#39 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 07:59 PM:

I suspect Tina Fey will be grateful to not have to play Palin for a few years.

#40 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 08:03 PM:

Today FOX has been surprisingly decent. It's as if for one day they don't have to play wingnut to keep their jobs.

#41 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 08:43 PM:

Was I the only one who was bothered by the end of McCain's speech?


And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties but to believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.

Americans never quit. We never surrender. (Cheers, applause.) We never hide from history, we make history. (Cheers, applause.)

Given the booing earlier in his speech, it felt to me like a call for his supporters to... I don't know what. "Make trouble." I felt like it was a bit of a retraction of his earlier talk about working with Obama. Without the booing, it might have made sense, but with it... I think if I were McCain giving that speech, I'd have extemporized a different ending after hearing the booing.

Maybe my tinfoil hat is just on too tight after the past eight years.

#42 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 08:43 PM:

I was polite to a coworker today who said she had voted for Nader, because she is so unhappy with the concept of a two-party system that she wanted to vote for someone neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I settled for saying that I had things against Nader that had nothing to do with his running for President, and that if I had been feeling similarly I would have voted for McKinney. (Had she asked what I had about Nader, I would have explained about him and Cylert, but she didn't, just noted that more people in her district chose McKinney (Green) than Nader.)

#43 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 08:56 PM:

I sure hope the first hairdo on the panel who spoke was right. I'm hoping we won't see much of RFN after this. Did anyone else think it looked like the left side of his face was paralyzed? His right eye was expressive and the lid moved occasionally, but his left eye was fixed and lifeless.

Scorpio 39: Today FOX has been surprisingly decent. It's as if for one day they don't have to play wingnut to keep their jobs.

Hmm, I haven't watched Faux News any more than I could avoid for years, so you may be right. That's a perspective I hadn't thought of on the video here. I interpreted it as them preparing to use RFN as the standin for "liberals" going forward...as in "Remember, it was a liberal who called Barack Obama an Uncle Tom!" I don't have the stomach to watch Barf O Rile Me to find out if I'm right, though.

Kevin 40: Maybe my tinfoil hat is just on too tight after the past eight years.

OMG, I just realized that in two and a half months, this t-shirt will be obsolete! I'd better get maximum wears out of it now!

#44 ::: El ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 09:11 PM:

Kevin @40:

Yes, I was totally bothered by that ending. After a subdued speech all the way through, McCain had the only moment where he really seemed invested in what he was saying as he tells his supporters that "Americans" (all Americans? or, as it seemed to me, Palin's real Americans?) never quit, never surrender. Sounded like he may have lost, but he wasn't done.

#45 ::: Ian ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 09:14 PM:

Vicki @ 41, Ulrika @ 27:
What's so bad about Ralph Nader? (Besides the video at the top, of course) I just read the wikipedia article, but it didn't mention anything and I don't know anywhere else to look. Everything else I've read about him is generally laudatory, so I'm curious. (I'm also 19, so forgive my ignorance)

#46 ::: Chang ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 09:26 PM:

I use this word only for very special people.

Ralph Nader is an absolutely arrogant, irrelevant, egotistical cunt.

#47 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 09:29 PM:

Ian @44: Here's a thread about his getting Cylert banned. That's just one item, but it's one that particularly burns around here.

I'm sure others will be offering further links shortly!

#48 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 09:36 PM:

Jon Sobel #7:

As for Nader, he just doesn't seem to know that "Uncle Tom" is a racial slur.

Nader's been in public life and in politics for decades; I can't imagine him not knowing that it's a slur. He's not just saying Obama's beholden to corporations--he's also saying that this is a betrayal of the poor, starting with African Americans. I think he knew what he was saying. If he didn't, he should have asked Smith why he was pressing him to retract it...given how shocked Smith was, that should have tipped him off that he'd made a faux pas. Instead, he just seemed pleased with himself.

We'll see how he spins it in the press tomorrow, I guess.

#49 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 09:43 PM:

Jon Sobel @7, Seth @16, it's not the "world away" part I object to, it's the end of that paragraph: "let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship".

I read that as a clear reference to Rev Wright's "God Damn America" speech, and Michelle Obama's comment back in February that "for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country".

And this is all tangled up in a long, convoluted discourse about race and political privilege, and who's allowed to criticize the country and how without being accused of being unpatriotic or radical or whatever.

#50 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 09:45 PM:

Chang @45, please don't use that word for any kind of people at all when you're commenting on this blog.

#51 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 10:00 PM:

Ian, #44: Well, for starters, here's a question for you to consider: why don't we ever hear about anything Nader is doing between Presidential races? There's a lot of Green work he could be doing; he's also got (or had -- after this, I think it's past tense) some influence with other people who could make a difference.

For that matter, after his first failed Presidential run, he could have regrouped and run for a lower office to build a platform on. But he doesn't do anything like that, because that would be work. He just wants to have things handed to him on a silver platter.

Re Palin, Time Magazine's special edition on "How He Did It 2008" includes the tidbit that she wanted to speak at McCain's concession, but her request was denied. I really do wonder what she would have said, because I can think of at least 3 separate ways she could have gone, none of them particularly helpful to the Republicans!

Oh, and if Nader honestly doesn't realize that "Uncle Tom" is a racial slur, that speaks very ill of his education... especially since he's from my generation.

#52 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 10:05 PM:

Avram, #48: I think you're dead on target. I think that was the opening salvo for a meme of, "Why are you still complaining? We elected one of your kind President!" whenever a black person calls shenanigans on racism in society.

#53 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 10:09 PM:

The other person the "let there be no reason now" line reminds me of is Ward Connerly. The anti-affirmative-action backlash is all about the majority getting to decide that racism is over and they don't have to do anything about it any more and if the still disadvantaged and discriminated against minority has a problem with that, it's reverse racism.

I thought it was a gracious speech in general, but McCain could have left out his musings on race and it would have been even more gracious. McCain didn't lose because of his skin color. He lost because he was not as good a leader.

#54 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 10:54 PM:

I didn't watch McCain's speech, but I'm glad he gave it, if you know what I mean!

#55 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 10:57 PM:

See McCain revise the image he's trying to project, again?

Hmm.
Mitt Romney was much more moderate than e.g. Dr Silber of Boston University--was it Romney or someone else who Silber lost to? Anyway, for quite a while it was socially liberal Republican versus social rightwing Democrat in gubernatorial races in Massachusetts. His last year and a half allegedly being Governor, however, Romney was mostly running around putting himself forward as someone interested in running for President, and turned into a caricature of the fellow who'd originally run for Governor of Massachusetts, backpedalling and disavowing all social views he had run on as Governor, as regards religious tolerance and reproduction, rights for homosexuals, etc. His spinmeisters were claiming he had fooled the citizens of Massachusetts regarding his views....

Anyway, McCain isn't an honest politician, he keeps putting himself up for sale to different sets of bidders/women, and to my cynical view he's doing it again....

REALLY tacky comment: he would have been an excellent candidate for "the black syph" if he hadn't gotten that extended stay in the Hanoi Hilton from an airplane incident, instead....

#56 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 11:56 PM:

Descartes @ 36:

FWIW, Obama earned the vast majority of his money as royalties on a book written in part to get normal people excited about participating in politics. I think this makes him a poor target for class warfare.

#57 ::: Mortimer ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 11:57 PM:

I'm really disgusted right now. I think you're calling Nader a racist mostly because he's telling you what you don't want to hear: that Obama may wind up being a diverse face on the same old oppression.

I think your attitude here lends support to the progressive idea that moderate liberals want the status quo, only with less guilt, so they advocate superficial changes that hide the oppression.

The "Uncle Tom" expression has been used to descibe lots of different individuals from traditionally marginalized groups getting into power and then forgetting where they came from. Reading a racist subtext into it is just as nasty and dishonest as the conservatives reading something anti-feminist into the "lipstick on a pig" figure of speech.

I wish you guys would stop blaming your party's failures on the few have to guts to call for deeper change.

#58 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 12:03 AM:

Yeah, what does the term "Uncle Tom" have to do with race, anyway? You people* are so sensitive!

* ahem.

#59 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 12:07 AM:

#56
You're missing the entire historical background of 'Uncle Tom'. It goes back, IIRC, to Uncle Tom's Cabin, an abolitionist novel from the mid-19th century (see: Harriet Beecher Stowe). The racism was there from the beginning; the non-racist uses (such as they are - always insulting) are much more recent.

#60 ::: Mortimer ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 12:09 AM:

@ Jen Roth, 57

If that was directed at me, I didn't say the term had nothing to do with race. Perhaps you'd like to rephrase?

#61 ::: Mortimer ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 12:20 AM:

Since two people in a row misunderstood me, perhaps I was unclear and should be the one to elaborate.

I'm well aware of the term's history. Of course it's racial. And it points to something that often really does happen: historically-screwed people often work their way up by stepping on those below them. Obama doing that looks like a legitimate danger to me, and saying so by reference to a literary example of it doesn't have to imply anything negative about Black people.

I had a friend the other day who got called racist when he told a Democrat he was voting Green. The Democrat's logic was that the only reason not to vote for Obama was not wanting to see a Black man succeed.

It looks to me like moderate Democrats, especially in this election, have read something unenlightened into the words of anyone who says something inconvenient. It's a subtle kind of ad hominem and so it's unfair. Why won't you guys look at the idea instead of speculating about the hidden intentions of the personality that made it?

#62 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 12:24 AM:

Mortimer, first read the thread. Then comment on it. (If you want to respond that you did read the thread- not really, there's at least one post to wich you obviously didn't pay attention, or you wouldn't say what you're saying about the motives of people here.)

The "Uncle Tom" expression has been used to descibe lots of different individuals from traditionally marginalized groups getting into power and then forgetting where they came from.

Examples? I can't remember ever seeing it being used against non-blacks.

#63 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 12:26 AM:

Why won't you guys look at the idea instead of speculating about the hidden intentions of the personality that made it?

If you had paid attention to every post in this thread, you wouldn't ask that.

#64 ::: Mortimer ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 12:50 AM:

@ Raphael, 61-62

I assume you're referring the comments which suggest that maybe Nader wasn't aware of the problems with the term. If you're thinking of something else in the thread, please point it out.

Saying that Nader is ignorant instead of racist is still talking about what the personality might think instead of examining the issue. And the two ideas are not completely separate: racism is often attributed to ignorance. It's still subtext-hunting to the exclusion of examining the explicit message.

I'll google for some examples of "Uncle Tom" in reference to other minorities and post that separately because it'll take some time.

#65 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 12:58 AM:

Xopher, #42, all my anti-Bush buttons will have to go into the inactive political button box.

#66 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 12:58 AM:

Mortimer, first, I'm calling Nader on a racist remark he made. You, and he, both know the history of the term "Uncle Tom". You, and he, both know what it means. If he wants to be taken seriously, he can talk like a person who wants to be taken seriously. It doesn't actually take all that much thought or effort to avoid calling a black man an "Uncle Tom".

I have doubts myself about the upcoming Obama administration. I'm waiting a few weeks to write about them, so as not to harsh the afterglow of the election. When I do write about them, you can be damned sure I'm not going to call him an "Uncle Tom".

As for Nader himself, it's been years since I had any respect for the man, even if I happen to agree with him about one or two things. He's clearly more interested in his own enrichment and aggrandizement than in actually furthering the causes he claims to serve.

#67 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:00 AM:

Mortimer @60: Using "Uncle Tom" wasn't a literary reference per se. The name began as one, clearly, but it has taken on a life of its own outside Harriet Beecher Stowe's work, and a much less pleasant life at that.

A little like saying "But his choice, basically, is whether he’s going to be Uncle Sam for the people of this country, or Judas in the pay of the giant corporations" and claiming no disrespect was intended -- it was a literary reference. (Or, speaking of a Jewish person -- Lieberman, say -- to compare em to Shylock. Substitute names and marginalized groups ad nauseum.) However apt it may be, it's still rather offensive to allude to age-old stereotypes, and, in this case, to apparently consider Obama living up to that stereotype as a possible outcome of his presidency.

It is almost certain that Obama will disappoint many of his supporters in the coming years, for many reasons. Obama said so himself in his acceptance speech last night. (There's a reason I have this bumper sticker up on my wall.) But to phrase that sentiment the way Nader did was tactless at best -- not a hanging offense, but it does nothing to improve my opinion of the man.

#68 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:07 AM:

Mortimer @63: Saying that Nader is ignorant instead of racist is still talking about what the personality might think instead of examining the issue.

The racial aspects of Nader's remark are the issue. You know how I know it's the issue? Because I'm the one who wrote the post that started this thread. That means I get to decide what my post is about. Not you, and not Ralph Nader.

#69 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:07 AM:

Nader's comment doesn't strike me as being racist in any simple or traditional way, though it was strange as hell

I first heard "Uncle Tom" decades ago as a term of disdain among blacks for other blacks, and it always seemed to carry more emotion than, say, "Oreo cookie"--it indicated a kind of collaborator or apologist. The only time I would hear whites use it would be when reporting on the opinions of blacks about each other--it wasn't a judgment that an outsider got to make. I can imagine (barely) an angry, suspicious, radical black posing the underlying question that Nader did, and maybe even invoking the Tom insult, but it's amazingly arrogant and tactless of Nader to frame it that way. It's very far into "we get to say it but you don't" territory. (Though I have not heard the term used in earnest by anyone for a very long time.)

#70 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:08 AM:

I had a friend the other day who got called racist when he told a Democrat he was voting Green.

Your friend was called racist for voting for a black woman?

Later in the interview, Nader said that Obama could choose between being a good president or being a toady for corporate interests. If he had said that the first time instead of using a racially charged insult, nobody would be calling him on using a racially charged insult. He chose the ugly but more attention-grabbing approach. That was his choice, not the choice of people on this thread.

#71 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:10 AM:

Ian @ #44, besides the Cylert ban, the other principal reason Nader is persona non grata for many Democrats is his remark in 2000 that there wasn't a dime's bit of difference between Democrats and Republicans, justifying his run for the Presidency that year. Consequently, he siphoned a lot of votes away from Al Gore in that election, particularly in Florida.

Hence, there's the sense that had he not run what was essentially a vanity campaign (vanity because he's done nothing to establish the Green party since that failed attempt, contra what someone serious about his party would have done), Al Gore would have won in 2000 and the country would have been spared the criminal behavior of GWB and his cronies for the past eight years.

#72 ::: Mortimer ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:14 AM:

Here are some examples of "Uncle Tom" that do not reference race, but other kinds of oppression.

Here's a feminist blog calling Sarah Palin an "Uncle Tom":

http://girlinshortshorts.blogspot.com/2008/09/sarah-palin-as-female-uncle-tom.html

Here's a blog that describes Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter as an "Uncle Tom":

http://girlinshortshorts.blogspot.com/2008/09/sarah-palin-as-female-uncle-tom.html

And here's one that refers to "Uncle Tom Log Cabin Republicans":

http://girlinshortshorts.blogspot.com/2008/09/sarah-palin-as-female-uncle-tom.html

In looking for these, I did run across plenty of very-inflammatory uses of the term. It's certainly not polite and the very fact that we're discussing it so much, and ignoring his point, suggests that Nader could have chosen his words better. But racist or ignorant? That's debatable, and it's a great way to change the subject when someone's trying to quickly indicate the thorny paths that circle complicity and assimilation.

And, on a more personal note, speaking as someone who's left of the Democratic party (who has never voted for Nader,) I usually am either hated or ignored. So I rarely have much to gain by being polite.

I see similar things happen with other marginal voices: they say it nicely, no one hears. They get frustrated and say it rudely. People talk about how rude they are and ignore what they're saying. Nader seems to try hard to stay out of that dynamic. Maybe he's finally being radicalized.

#73 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:14 AM:

Kevin, I have that bumper sticker on my car. It expresses my opinion pretty well.
I expect to be disappointed by politicians. But I don't expect Obama to shock me or horrify me or make me ashamed of either him or my country - and Bush and Cheney have done all of those.

#74 ::: [YouTube linkage deleted] ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:15 AM:

[posted from 71.141.107.33]

#75 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:16 AM:

A lot of people who voted for Nader are already embarrassed about it. I, for example, am embarrassed that I voted for Nader in '96. I had good reason to be disappointed in Clinton, yes, but voting for a destructive little twerp like Nader was the wrong way to express that disappointment.

As for why you don't hear about Nader's work on building the Green Party between elections... I'd say the most likely explanation for why he has no interest in helping the Green Party is that he's not a Green. This time he didn't even bother to pretend. There was a Green Party candidate, and it wasn't Nader. He was running on his own vanity ticket. I'm glad that the events of this election made him inconsequential.

#76 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:23 AM:

And, on a more personal note, speaking as someone who's left of the Democratic party (who has never voted for Nader,) I usually am either hated or ignored.

Lots of people here are left of the Democratc Party. It's unfortunate that you chose to pigeonhole them as moderate, self-deceiving Dems who just can't handle Nader's truth-telling.

#77 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:28 AM:

I assume you're referring the comments which suggest that maybe Nader wasn't aware of the problems with the term.

No.

If you're thinking of something else in the thread, please point it out.

Post 46.

Maybe he's finally being radicalized.

Radicalized against whom? The various major corporations in whose stocks he's invested his personal savings? The wealthy business people who finance his campaigns?

#78 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:34 AM:

What Austern said.

I vote Green for all sorts of local offices - our Green candidate for state Representative took 30% of the vote yesterday, three times what the Republican in that race took. In '96 and in 2000 I voted all Green & Red, no major party candidates in any races that offered other left choices. I was registered Green until the 2004 primaries.

Nader gutted the Green Party by pushing up into Presidential politics instead of focusing on local parties. Then he turned around and pulled the knife out the other side by splitting off into his own party the first time the Greens didn't tow his line, instead of putting his considerable resources into growing the party at a sustainable level in the areas where it's doing well.

Look at the electoral map and see all the places where the Greens were growing in 2000 - Iowa City, Iowa. Kirksville, Missouri. Cambridge. Minneapolis. Seattle. How are they doing there, now? I saw in the county Kirksville's in, "other" got 1% of the vote. There are a lot of reasons for that, but Nader is one of them.

Since 2004, he's repeatedly acted like a clueless, sexist, whiny, self-important jerk. This is just another example of that.

#79 ::: mea ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:40 AM:

Nader is a yudz. But this thread is reminding me of a story that shows that lots of folks can be vague on the origins and current meaning of "Uncle Tom". I am NOT defending Nader, who should know better, I just want to tell my story:

Scene 1: In San Francisco one day, a black bus driver was doing his job and trying to keep an unruly passenger (also black) from failing to pay for passage. The driver finally kicked the passenger off the bus and as the passenger left he yelled to the driver "You are an uncle tom! You are worse than an uncle tom, you're Clarence Thomas!"

Scene 2: Professor with lots of experience in Asia but new to the Midwest is teaching Constitutional Law in a small midwest college, explaining about the different supreme court justices, recounts the SF bus story to show how some people view Clarence Thomas. Gets met with a sea of blank stares from the room of midwest white college students. Professor asks students if they know what the term Uncle Tom means. One student raises a hand shyly and says it is someone who helps lovers escape. (Professor then explained origins and evolution of term "Uncle Tom" to blinking students)

Scene 3: Professor tells me Scene Two. I immediately ask Professor "So, the student only knew about Uncle Tom's Cabin from The King and I?" Professor: "How did you know? And what did she mean? I've read Leonowens' biography of being a Governess at the Siamese Court and I don't know what that student was talking about."

Me: "I grew up in that corner of the Midwest. If you don't understand musicals from the 1950's you won't get the culture." I then proceed to explain to the completely unbelieving professor the traditional Thai costumed scene in The King and I that is based on Uncle Tom's Cabin.

For the uninitiated, the Uncle Tom Cabin play within the movie from Ytube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ByIPzAvmsk&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HawdubD4hqE

#80 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:49 AM:

And, on a more personal note, speaking as someone who's left of the Democratic party (who has never voted for Nader,) I usually am either hated or ignored. So I rarely have much to gain by being polite.

Mortimer, there's a lot to be gained here by being polite, or at least by avoiding the cliches-of-aggression that usually get featured on troll bingo cards. Not saying you're a troll, because you're carrying on a conversation now, and trolls don't -- but your intro could have gone into troll land pretty quickly. And unless a troll turns out to be a pinata, they're not much fun. And even a good pinata is trumped by excellent conversation, which is definitely available hereabouts. (At least, in my opinion.) Also poetry, inspired lunacy, and a whole lot of fun.

Me, I am currently doing stuff within the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in my state (and I keep wondering why the rest of the country doesn't get the Farmer-Labor part in there too, but never mind that), but I'm lefter than the average bear there, as far as I can tell. However, it's getting some stuff done at the moment. We'll see how it goes.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, Nader can bite me. (I used to take Cylert. Now I take prescription amphetamines, to the detriment of my blood pressure and my risk of heart attack, et cetera. Ahem.)

Anyhow, McCain's opening bugged me for exactly the reasons it bugged Torrilin and Edward Oleander. So did his implication that racism's over -- which is very much how it sounded to me -- and so on. But I do give him some points for some of the good stuff he said. I just wish he would have shut those booers down once and for all. But then, he cultivated them for long enough. I suppose their shock at his about-face was understandable.

*sigh*

#81 ::: Holly P. ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:49 AM:

Mortimer @ #71:

I think the problem here is similar to an issue discussed rather thoroughly on Making Light a few months ago, which is the existence of loaded terms which may seem benign to outsiders but which carry toxic baggage. "Uncle Tom" is one of those terms. Ralph Nader is some kind of career... something, possibly a politician, but at any rate a big part of his job is to use words. It's his responsibility to avoid those loaded terms in public speech, and in this case he failed.

I would also like to point out that it really doesn't matter whether other people have tried to generalize the term "Uncle Tom" -- the reactions of people in this thread make it clear that "Uncle Tom" has not lost its sting, not by a long shot. The practice of reclaiming is a tricky one. Best not to get into it unless you are deeply immersed in the culture, and in this case, well, Ralph Nader is white.

#82 ::: Mortimer ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 02:05 AM:

I don't have much more to say. I have my beefs with Nader as well. I don't assume every single person here is a moderate Democrat. And I am probably wrong about which left-leaning party my friend voted for.

But criticism of the Dems, especially from the left, too-often gets met with talk about how the speaker is secretly bigoted in some way.

Discussions about proper terminology are ongoing, and language is rich in meaning. Anyone reasonably competent in lit crit can find an oppressive subtext in almost any long-enough text.

And, once again, when you're on the margins your options are often to be a jerk or be invisible.

I think that often people who get bogged down in these kinds of debates are making easy, superficial changes (i.e. ones in language,) while ignoring deeper, structural problems that require risk and sacrifice in order to fix.

And the responses to me have been about everything except that.

#83 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 02:19 AM:

Mortimer, if you're serious, please stick around. Seriously.

(And if you're hair-trigger about language stuff because you've been thwacked by lit-crit stuff at a college or university, you have my sympathies... and my assurance that this ain't that.)

#84 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 02:21 AM:

Mortimer, if you think there's no criticism of Democrats to be found here, you haven't looked very hard. Since this looks to be your first appearance here, that's understandable.

My impression is that a lot of commenters here (including myself) would be happier if the Dems reverted to the liberalism of Humphrey, McGovern, Wellstone, and even the non-warmaking part of LBJ. But we're realists enough to know that's not gonna happen anytime soon, so we focus on trying to nudge the Dems we have in directions we want to see them go.

Margins are elastic.

#85 ::: dichroic ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 02:28 AM:

Laertes@14: I don't think you (or I) need to be ashamed for voting for McCain long ago. He was a different person then - at least, in his public face.

(The recent Rolling Stone article made a good case that he's been the same paragon of entitlement all along - but I didn't have access to that information then, and neither did most of us.) Similarly to those who voted for Nader long ago. All you can do is to make your best judgement based on the information you have at the time.

#86 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 02:29 AM:

And, once again, when you're on the margins your options are often to be a jerk or be invisible.

Maybe. But it's important to be a jerk in useful ways. Nader failed miserably on that score.

Discussions about proper terminology are ongoing, and language is rich in meaning. Anyone reasonably competent in lit crit can find an oppressive subtext in almost any long-enough text.

What Nader said wasn't subtext. Words have meaning.

#87 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 03:32 AM:

Jen, #69: Not just that, but when pressed, he said he was "not sorry at all" to have used the racist terminology.

Although to be honest, as jolted as I was about that, what really pissed me off was that he then went on to repeat a number of Republican talking-point-lies about Obama, such as the canard that his tax plan was going to hurt poor people. Which makes me wonder if he used the term "Uncle Tom" deliberately to distract the interviewer from calling him on any of his factual misrepresentations...

Mortimer, #81: I think you're missing an important point which is much more consciously part of the culture here than it is in many other places*: Language matters.

One of the reasons the Republicans have been so successful over the past couple of generations is that they've put a lot of effort into framing the language of the discourse. The language people use to discuss an issue shapes the ways that they think about it on a level that often isn't consciously noticed. How, for example, did "liberal" come to be a pejorative in the first place? When and how did a person using a high-school-level vocabulary become suspicious as an "elitist"?

Yes, we're sensitive to language and its use (and misuse) around here; that's because we've seen what it can do. Talking about the language isn't avoiding the problem, it's going to the root of the problem -- and changing the way people address an issue often makes it easier to implement the real changes you're talking about.

* Very likely because a lot of the folks who hang out here are writers, editors, and readers.

#88 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 03:42 AM:

Speaking from a trans-oceanic point-of-view, the book Uncle Tom's Cabin just isn't part of the culture. I get the idea of somebody being some sort of toady for his oppressors, but the label just doesn't have any specific sting for me.

On the other hand, I knew people who had worked for the British colonial governments in Africa, and I've read more Kipling than most of the people who froth at the mouth at a mention of The White Man's Burden. I've very mixed feelings about the Bonsil family, but the idea of African countries having an administration which wasn't overwhelmed by tribalism wasn't an evil idea. And look at the wailing about colonial oppression--Kipling wasn't wrong about the thanks you get.

These things are complicated. And you can say them in dumb ways. Most of all, America seems hobbled by a long history of racism.

Nader sounds like another one of the idiots. And, sorry to say, we have them in Britain too. You don't have to be a fascist to be stupid.

#89 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 03:58 AM:

Chang @ 45: "I use this word only for very special people."

Only using a sexist insult on people you really, really hate doesn't really make it better or less sexist. Quite the opposite, actually.

Mortimer @ 71: "Here are some examples of "Uncle Tom" that do not reference race, but other kinds of oppression."

That's not very exculpatory, truth be told. You're right that using the expression "Uncle Tom" when you're talking about something other than race isn't racist, but that's only because you aren't talking about race. Removed from context, it lacks the same sting. If you're using it to talk about a black man however, then, well, it's racist. Compare your argument with this one: speaking about "fifth columns" is a lot less serious accusation when you're talking about, say, the lack of enthusiasm for your high school's sports teams than when you're talking about actual war.

#90 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 04:05 AM:

Chang@45

I use this word only for very special people.

Ralph Nader is an absolutely arrogant, irrelevant, egotistical cunt.

I don't, speaking as a philologist and a woman, see cunt as any more acceptable than Uncle Tom.

Think about it; Nader is using a term that is so offensive that the first association, the only association it has, is racist. Only someone perceived as black can be an Uncle Tom. Possession of a cunt means, among other things, that one is female--and it's reserved for "special people," as if it's the worst thing you can call Nader.

#91 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 04:15 AM:

Dave@87: I'm a purebred Australian who has never read Harriet Beecher Stove and yet I know what it means to call someone an Uncle Tom. Ralph Nader must have known, and even if he didn't, he could have made a quick retraction and reiterated his point using a different phrase.

#92 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 04:15 AM:

Or, to put Lisa@89's point more bluntly: You know how there's the joke about how you'd call someone an ass but that's an insult to donkeys? Calling Nader a cunt is like that except that it's an insult to women, and not at all in a joking way.

Besides which, that particular usage of "cunt" is a metonymy of using a rude name for a woman's genitals to refer to the whole woman. As such, it's a reinforcing of sexist thought patterns by its very existence, and thus using it is doubly an insult to women.

The fact that Nader is perhaps worthy of extreme insult doesn't excuse the collateral damage.

#93 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 05:05 AM:

Mortimer: One other thing I didn't think to mention above -- a strong insistence that "it's not about the language, it's about X" is a fairly common obfuscation by troll-types who are trying to duck out of being called on abusive language. Obviously this does not apply to you (the context is completely different), but I know that I, at least, am a lot more sensitized than I used to be to that particular argument after 15 years in online circles! And I doubt I'm the only one; you may be catching a certain amount of cumulative affect.

#94 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 05:55 AM:

zeynep @17:
His supporters and the boos, however, put me in search of a word that is the antithesis of "classy." I still cannot come up with one that fits my irritation enough.

boorish?

#95 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 06:50 AM:

#83 now that--"Margins are elastic."--would make a great bumper sticker.

Jane

#96 ::: Tyg ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 06:52 AM:

Hi,

I delurked for the first time (I think) on the Smulp thread, but was illmannered enough not to note that. So, hello everybody.

I'm Australian and I recognize the negatives of Uncle Tom, though I haven't read the book. What I am unsure of is Uncle Sam - I know it as a nickname for the USA, but I usually only hear it as negative, I thought Nader was trying to use it as positive contrast - is that correct?

As for cunt, maybe we are less sensitized to it here in the Antipodes, I tend to use it as an endearment. Although not to all people. Only in special, very loved, cases if you will.

#97 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 07:23 AM:

Tyg, #95: If you've mostly heard "Uncle Sam" as a negative, that probably reflects more on the U.S.'s recent behavior than on the term. Usually Uncle Sam is an affectionate national personification, like the old "John Bull" figure in England. He's the guy on the famous "I want YOU" recruiting poster and he's used in American political cartoons to this day.

#98 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 07:34 AM:

linkmeister @ 83... if the Dems reverted to the liberalism of Humphrey

"You realize you will never get out of here. Every entrance is guarded."
"Aaah, don't try that line on me, Jack. This is Broadway, not Berlin!"
"It's a great pity, Mr. Donahue, that you and I should oppose each other. We have so much in common."
"Yeah? How's that?"
"You are a man of action. You take what you want, and so do we. You have no respect for democracy - neither do we. It's clear we should be allies."
"It's clear you are screwy. I've been a registered Democrat ever since I could vote. I may not be Model Citizen Number One, but I pay my taxes, wait for traffic lights, and buy 24 tickets to the Policeman's Ball."

(Bogart to Nazi Veidt in 1941's All through the Night)

#99 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 07:49 AM:

#95: I don't think it's unusual for an expletive to be highly offensive in one culture and less so in another. The C-word and the N-word are nuclear devices in American English. As such, I don't ever use them except possibly in quotation. I suppose it's interesting that to say "the C-word" or "the N-word" isn't offensive, but to say either actual word is. However, this takes me into a realm I'm slightly deaf to, social interactions. I'll shut up about that now.

As for McCain, I'm afraid I took it as Avram had. I think it's because McCain was missing that crucial second component where he's supposed to talk about how much distance we have yet to cover. Without it, it sounds very much like "Yay, racism is a thing of the past." To me, anyway.

I fervently hope that the day will come when we don't have to talk about how far we have left to go because we will have gotten there. However, John McCain isn't the guy who gets to make that call. No, not even for himself. His job is to express his ideas in a way such that people will understand them the way he wants them to. He's then dependent on how people hear things.

This, BTW, is why Nader earns a Total Fail. It's like when Lynn Westmoreland called Obama "uppity." Very much an "Oh no he didn't" moment. (Ok, one might argue that Westmoreland wanted the racial connotation. I'm trying to be generous.)

#100 ::: Paul Herzberg ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 08:02 AM:

Alison at 11 said:

I think anyone who suggests that racism is no longer alive and kicking because a black man has been elected president should observe the way that women are now invariably paid fairly for their work in the UK*, a generation after our first female Prime Minister.
*To save you checking: nope. It's going *backwards*.

Well, maybe if Thatcher didn't put the boot into the unions, the workers and the very idea of society, then society might have continued to become a fairer place.

I probably have a whole rant about this and how good the weakening of collective action and the privatisation and deregulation of everything has been for Britain, but equally probably you don't want to hear it.

Let's just say I doubt very much that among Obama's first actions will be to start attacking Civil Rights groups.

Then again I have very little idea what Obama's first actions might be. I hope very much that most of them will be to mend the damage of the previous regime.

#101 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 08:03 AM:

I've been on the road, and so couldn't respond earlier, but it seems to me that the core of Nader's comment is not simply racist in the traditional sense as something else. It is that, being an Arab-American,Nader feels that he can speak on behalf of black people and that black people will see the brother within. Now I have a moderately hard time seeing that, and I suspect that most other people do.

#102 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 08:10 AM:

Mortimer, #71: And, on a more personal note, speaking as someone who's left of the Democratic party (who has never voted for Nader,) I usually am either hated or ignored. So I rarely have much to gain by being polite.

Sometimes people are hated and ignored because they've decided they don't have much to gain by choosing their words carefully.

Not that invective is bad. In the right place it can wake people up, or give courage, or just help blow off steam. Hunter Thompson, for instance, could be brilliantly scathing on Nixon:

If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning.

But you'll notice that, in that passage, Thompson did not choose terms carrying a history of offensive baggage like "Uncle Tom," and did not choose terms that incidentally clawed masses of innocent bystanders like (as seen elsewhere on this thread) "cunt." They would have distracted from the point. They would have hidden the point.

When I see Nader use "Uncle Tom," I don't see a guy trying to communicate an idea in any forceful way. I see an attention-seeker who gets off on shocking people. Why, then, should I waste time looking at Nader's "ideas?" As far as I can tell from his language, the whole "corporate crusader" schtick is just an alibi.

#103 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 08:15 AM:

I haven't read Stowe's book, but my recollection is that the negative connotations of "Uncle Tom" come not so much from the book itself, but from the numerous plays (both authorized and unauthorized) that were based on the book, and which make Uncle Tom a much less respectable caricature.

Someone who's read the books and plays may be able to say more about this. I have a list of online works of various sorts featuring Uncle Tom, and would be glad to add to this if anyone wants to suggest other online books.

#104 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 08:15 AM:

Holly P.@80: The practice of reclaiming is a tricky one.

IMO it kind of works on the educated, sympathetic sectors of the target audience and just serves to convince everyone else that the original taboo's been lifted, hey whoopee, we can all say "N*" (or whatever) again. ISTR someone here pointing out that Chris Rock had stopped doing his (very funny) "N*s and Black People" routine for that reason.

Any substantial successes anyone can point me to? Wouldn't want to be heaping scorn on a valid and constructive linguistic process.

#105 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 09:08 AM:

Fragano @ 100... Nader feels that he can speak on behalf of black people and that black people will see the brother within.

'The Brother Within' reminds me of Keenan Wynn's character in Coppola's musical Finian's Rainbow.

#106 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 09:57 AM:

Holly P. @#80: the existence of loaded terms which may seem benign to outsiders but which carry toxic baggage.

The ultimate irony being that "Ralph Nader" is himself in danger of becoming such a term.... ;-)

#107 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 10:08 AM:

re the "literary allusion" defense:

Reading Uncle Tom's Cabin is not actually necessary to understand what calling somebody an "Uncle Tom" means in US culture: most of the US hasn't read it or can't remember it either. The meaning of a literary name ("Big Brother", "Frankenstein", "Judas", "Scrooge", "Lady Macbeth") is its actual current meaning, not the meaning that a naive reader of the original work might deduce that it ought to have.

Similarly, if somebody calls a black guy "Sambo", it's kind of useless of him to claim that all he meant was that the guy was forgetful, or prone to tiger attacks, or say that nobody should be offended because the Sambo character was Indian and not African. Nor do folks who haven't read Helen Bannerman's book need to withhold judgement.

(Parenthetically, I'd give Uncle Tom's Cabin a skip as literature. It's interesting as historical propaganda, but if you want a genuine historical slave narrative, read an autobiography of Fredrick Douglass, all of which should be subtitled "Action Hero and Renaissance Man".)

#108 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 10:11 AM:

Oops: one more.

Calling somebody a "Machiavelli" means that they are an unscrupulous and calculating politician, not that they are a writer of scandalously unsentimental political treatises.

#109 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 10:33 AM:

Avram #48: Nobody has the right to say anything without being criticized in any particular way.

Everybody in the world who ever lived or will live is unpatriotic, radical, or whatever. There; now they've all been criticized for that, proving my point.

Who I choose to allow to say what without being criticized by me (that is, who I choose to criticize for what reason) is my personal idiosyncratic decision. I have the right to make it however I choose, just like everybody else.

#110 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 10:34 AM:

miriam beetle @18:
This one isn't bad either. Notice the arched brow, the strained smile.

#111 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 10:43 AM:

johnofjack 2 109... The photo makes it look like McCain is levitating that blue thingie with the mere power of his mind.

#112 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 10:46 AM:

Lighthill @107, Oops: one more.

Calling somebody a "Machiavelli" means that they are an unscrupulous and calculating politician, not that they are a writer of scandalously unsentimental political treatises.

Off topic, but that's kind of a pet peeve of mine. What "machiavellian" about, for instance, having a well-oiled system of getting your talking points into the media? AFAIK Machiavelli never mentioned that.

#113 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 10:56 AM:

Serge @ 110: The photo makes it look like McCain is levitating that blue thingie with the mere power of his mind.

The witch-doctor shrunken heads at his chest are helping too.

Actually, in that picture, it looks more like it's Palin who's doing the real spellcasting work.

#114 ::: Karin ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:00 AM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @102: It's been a good many years since I read Uncle Tom's Cabin, but I'll see what I can dredge up here...

IIRC, Harriet Beecher Stowe originally conceived of the character of Tom as a noble Christian ideal, enduring his sufferings with humility, etc., and eventually undergoing what amounts to martyrdom (at which event, incidentally, his sufferings cause the conversion of the two overseers who beat him to death on their masters' orders). In the context of the time, this was pretty radical stuff, in effect making a slave the hero of her novel.

There's a lot of interesting stuff to unpack about this book, and I'd have to go back to my old notes to dig it all out, but a few things are worth mentioning. There's a parallel plotline involving other slaves alongside whom Tom is bought and sold, and the happy ending for these characters is that they travel to Liberia, so yes, they gain their liberty, but they leave the country. Make of that what you will. Also, after Tom's death, we learn that the son of his original owner frees his slaves, more or less in honor of Tom's sacrifice and Christian goodness; from a certain point of view, one might be reminded of the "magical negro" character in current cinema whose stellar qualities and/or personal sacrifices enable the elevation of the white hero.

Anyway, my impression is that over time and through the dint of various adapations and spinoffs, the whole "Good Christian Humility" aspect of Tom's story got twisted around or misunderstood or misinterpreted, resulting in the derogatory meaning we have today, implying subservience or ingratiation.

Hmm. Wonder if I still have those old notes somewhere that I can get to them...

#115 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:05 AM:

Paula Lieberman (#54): It was Silber/Weld in 1990. (As someone who'd experienced BU under Silber, I was all for Weld; I joked that Silber would put a statewide curfew and guest policy in place....)

Romney beat Shannon O'Brien in 2002.

#116 ::: Juliet E McKenna ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:05 AM:

I just caught the end of a film clip on the BBC here, where Sarah P, back in Alaska, was essentially telling reporters how she blamed the media for their unfair reporting etc, trying to be nice but gosh darn it etc.

Deadpan does not begin to describe the faces of the two anchors back in the studio.

Possibly some kind of memo went round after the phone-call fiasco, when they really couldn't keep a straight face, however hard they tried.

#117 ::: Karin ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:05 AM:

P.S. The relative merits of the concepts of Christian Humility, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom, as interpreted by Stowe and embodied in the character of Tom, are, I think, another debate for another day.

Also, Lighthill @106: you are exactly right about Frederick Douglass's autobiography.

#119 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:23 AM:

Chris Lawson @90: He could have retracted, indeed. But he had hold of what he thought of as a neat alliterative phrase, practically a slogan, and he wasn't about to give that up.

That's Nader all over: he's a walking illustration of form trumping substance. He loves presenting himself as the lone martyr of working class concerns, and using offensive language to express his thoughts furthers that goal. He's no longer even trying rouse the rabble. What he wants is for everyone to hate him. Man's really no more than a troll these days.

#120 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:27 AM:

#111:

[More Machiavelli digression.]

From your mouth to God's ear. Machiavelli, judging by his life and writings, was a far more interesting, thoughtful, and decent people than he gets credit for in our public imagination. He deserves better than his reputation, and far better than to have his name used (as in your example) as a generic term for "a political actor who is too organized and clever for my taste."

Reading Machiavelli's Discourses on the Republic along with The Prince it's hard not to get the impression that he greatly preferred republics to principalities. This is borne out by his own public life (councillor and diplomat under the Florentine republic; torture victim and exile under the restored Medici).

Personally, I read The Prince not only as an early (and somewhat cynical) exposition of political realism, but also as an indictment of princedom itself. After all, if somebody wrote a supposed how-to book about being a landlord, and they included the advice that "[a landlord] never lacks legitimate reasons to break a promise" or "[a landlord] cannot observe all those rules of conduct in respect whereof men are accounted good, being often forced, in order to preserve his [property], to act in opposition to good faith, charity, humanity, and religion", and they dedicated the book to a landlord whose family had ruined the writer personally, I think you might reasonably conclude that they didn't like landlords very much.

(Also, don't get me started on Machiavelli references in Shakespeare.)

#121 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:40 AM:

Karin @113 and 116: I'd like a discussion on the novel too, one of these days. It's been thirty years since I read Uncle Tom's Cabin (and I don't want to read it again; Itend to agree with whoever it was who said that the book is worth reading mostly as historical curiosity), but it would be interesting. I think Stowe caught heat for her feminism as well as her anti-slavery stand, didn't she?

From what I remember, though, John Mark Ockerbloom @102 is on the right track when he attributes the strength of the insulting "Uncle Tom" to the various plays based on the novel that were immensely popular from between the 1850s and 1900s. The plays--performed by traveling theater companies--varied widely, but most of them were minstrel shows, and some of them went so far as to be actively pro-slavery. Tom was far less the hero--suffering Christian archetype or not--and far more the stereotype of the "kindly old darky." And, of course, he was played by a white man in blackface as late as the early silent movies based on the plays.

To my mind, the history of the word has always made it nastier than even the contemporary context, in some ways . . .

#122 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:40 AM:

Harrington's Oceanea (1656) has a nice defense of Machiavelli's Prince. He argues, like Lighthill and Raphael, that Machiavelli gets a bad rap as someone who recommends political corruptions, when what he actually is, is a person who observes them and realizes that they are inevitable. He's a realist, not a fiend in human shape.

And yes, a fan of Republics.

#123 ::: El ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:42 AM:

Here's post on Nader from a couple of years ago, where Teresa and a bunch of commenters opened my eyes at least....

#124 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:47 AM:

Lighthill @106:

or prone to tiger attacks

Hee! Well said. mmm, delicious buttery tigers...

#125 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:54 AM:

Chiming in late: If Nader'd wanted his remarks taken seriously, why give Shep Smith a way to distract from his message? If Nader understands the term and its history (as he insisted he did) why would he use it when it so clearly might distract from his point? And sure enough, the discussion became all about Nader, his faux pas, and his career, not his concern that Obama might be a corporate tool.

In the end it just seems to me to be more "all about him" than about his message; this ain't the first time, either.


#126 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:54 AM:

Mortimer --

The thing that rots my socks about most anyone talking about structural or systemic change is that they're not; they're talking about a romantic ideal of political goodness. (I have encountered very few exceptions to this.)

If you can -- and I do, for real, hope you can -- define oppression in a way a statistician could measure, then you can talk about structural or systemic change in a useful way; you've got an objective and a test for the success of the mechanisms chosen to meet that objective.

Not having that test means you're into an argument about doctrine, not results, and that's just choosing your own preferred flavour of rivers of blood in the end.

The other thing is that once you start quantified argument, you can make the oligarchs and those in their service defend specifics, at which point they tend to lose.

#127 ::: Karin ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:56 AM:

Mary Frances @120: IIRC, you're right about the feminism angle as well. Basically, she was a pretty massive political radical by the standards of her day; according to her daughter, Abraham Lincoln greeted her with the words, "So you're the little lady who started this Great War."

Re the reinterpretation of Tom as the "kindly old darky" by the minstrel shows: I remember there being some surprise in class* when we read the book and discovered that the Tom of the novel, while not young, is actually a strapping fellow and physically imposing; that aspect of his character was definitely filed away by the plays based on the book. (In fact, Tom's physical presence was key to Stowe's characterization of him; physical power is nothing without spiritual grace and so on.)

But yeah, I agree: the history only loads the term up even more and makes it all the more unpleasant.

*(The class in question was a survey of melodramatic literature, and while we concentrated primarily on the tropes of melodrama in Uncle Tom's Cabin, you can't really avoid also talking about race history when you're dealing with it. The same class also included, by way of comparison, The Color Purple, both book and film. Wow, did the film ever get the class going...)

#128 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 12:28 PM:

Lee 86: what really pissed me off was that he then went on to repeat a number of Republican talking-point-lies about Obama

Nader is a crypto-Republican shill. He runs ONLY to hurt the Democrats. He had exactly the effect he intended to have in 2000. His behavior since then has been entirely consistent with that. He tears votes from the left of the Democratic party in order to shift the whole election to the right. He understands how these things work; he's doing it on purpose. If he's anything other than a right-wing parody of a liberal, I've never seen any evidence of it.

Re Machiavelli: One of my political friends has called him "the father of descriptive political science."

#129 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 12:28 PM:

I didn't watch the concession speech, but Nader is on my list of People Who Should Just Shut Up Now and Go Away Quietly. (Other members include James Dobson, Jesse Jackson, .....) Loud and not entirely connected to reality is not what public discourse needs.

#130 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 12:38 PM:

All this talk about Machiavelli makes me want to watch Time Tunnel's episode where Machiavelli (played by Malachi Throne) winds up being yanked to Gettysburg by the Tunnel, and he sides with the South.

#131 ::: Holly P. ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:02 PM:

Re Xopher 127, IIRC Nader actually has received quite a lot of money from right-wing interests -- yup, according to this 2004 article from the San Francisco Chronicle, almost 10% of Nader's major contributors in the 2004 race had also recently given to the Bush/Cheney campaign; presumably donating to Nader was a tactical maneuver designed to sap votes from Kerry.

Nader's running mate deplored this, but Nader didn't seem to mind.

#132 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:30 PM:

I read Uncle Tom's Cabin last year. As Karin and Mary Frances say upthread, Uncle Tom in the novel is a strong slave with a deep Christian faith, who ends up in appalling circumstances, treated terribly by a brutal owner. At the crux of his story, Tom has the opportunity to kill his master and free himself (and the other slaves, one assumes); rather than so violate his religious principles, he holds his hand. He dies not long after, from the abuse he has suffered.

Tom is the hero of the novel, in his religious conviction, which is one reason the novel was so influential. He was a better man than any of the whites in the novel, in a moral sense, and for that he was martyred.

For what it's worth, while the novel is completely melodramatic, the storyline about the escaping couple who flee to Canada is based on a number of real stories. Stowe was connected with the Underground Railroad and knew both many people who'd both worked with escaping slaves and many escaped slaves.

Um, which doesn't have a great deal to do with Ralph Nader, I admit, since the social meaning of the term "Uncle Tom" has changed a great deal.

I'm happy someone pointed out the inappropriateness of Chang's slur in #45.

#133 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:35 PM:

I teach Machiavelli as a republican and a nationalist (anyone who reads chapter 26 of The Prince as anything other than a call to kick the foreigners out of Italy is reading it wrong). The Discourses on Livy is clear advocacy for republican government, with special attention paid to the problem of how to found a republic (the problem of the armed versus the unarmed prophet).

I read The Prince as being advice to the founder of a free state on how to get to the point of having a free state to found. That, is, not a how-to book for tyrants, but advice for would be Ataturks or De Gaulles.

#134 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:37 PM:

Using "uncle Tom" and "tomming" as slams is all over hip-hop music, aside from whatever older pop culture meanings it has.

I think it got smushed together with the concept of "house negro" a long time ago. I know the blogger Field Negro uses House Negro, but I haven't ever run into otherwise except in Black liberationist writing from the 70s, in history classes.

#135 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:42 PM:

Hey, whaddya know. Nader accused Obama of "talking white" back in June. (via Wonkette.)

#136 ::: Reileen van Kaile ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 01:57 PM:

#134 Mary Dell:

I love how Nader thinks he knows what a "black American aspiring to the presidency" SHOULD do. Because Nader knows everything, of course.

#137 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 02:17 PM:

Among other things going on with Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin is that she modeled it deliberately upon the slave narratives of the time -- particularly on that of Harriet Jacobs's. Many of the incidents that happen to the female slaves in UTC are from Jacobs's experiences. Stowe not only knew Jacobs's book very well, she knew Harriet Jacobs too.

An interesting sidebar to this is that these slave narratives were attacked by pro-slavery spokespeople as being fakes, that no 'black' person could possibly have written a book, that white people manufactured the writer and the events in the books and were passing them off as real people, who had written a real book, both of which were impossible.

What was one of the constant accusations against Sen. Obama from the opposition these last months? That he did not write his own book. They even went so far as to hire an Oxford specialist who had created a computer program to identify commonalities between texts, to prove that Ayers wrote Obama's Dreams of My Father. One glance at Obama's book and Ayers book and the Oxford don laughed them out of countenance.

Every bit from the old confederacy playbook was pulled out and thrown at Obama.

Love, C.

#138 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 02:27 PM:

I want to go back to Ian's question about "why hate Nader" and sorry for not giving a number in reference but too much election reading has pretty much fried my eyeballs.

The thing about Ralph Nader, if one has been paying attention to him back as far as the articles which proceeded Usafe at Any Speed, is that he seems unable to understand that there is such a thing as incremental change. If a perceived wrong is not replaced by an absolute right, he labels it failure. The inertia of social systems and physical culture infuriates him, and the idea that it might be possible to be moderate, careful, and conscious and indulge once in a while in rich desserts and driving over the speed limit instead of hewing perfectly to virtue as he understands it is anathema to him.

He is, in short, a narcissist of the sort who finds any choice he does not share to be an expression of evil or stupidity.

I have a friend who has preferred to drive nothing but Corvairs his entire life purely to spite Ralph, who he had the misfortune to encounter personally when he was too young to drive.

#139 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 02:33 PM:

I was raised in a (white) mostly pacifist family, and I read Uncle Tom's Cabin as I child when, I think, I hadn't questioned any of my family's beliefs yet, so I found Tom pretty impressive at the time. I'd say there's a lot that can be criticized about Tom's kind of attitude, but based on the book, I don't think you can call him a sellout. It's understandable when people find his attitude so wrong and misguided that they gat angry about it.

Fragano Ledgister @132, yes, that's the interpretation that makes the most sense to me, too.

#140 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 02:36 PM:

#137
That sounds like the same thing his group pulled with Cylert: it's possibly fatal to some people under some circumstances, so therefore it's too dangerous for anyone to use at any time.

Maybe we can now get the FDA to take a second look at that decision.

#141 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 02:38 PM:

Has anybody ever seen 1987's movie Uncle Tom's Cabin? Avery Brooks was Tom, and Edward Woodward was Simon Legree.

#142 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 03:00 PM:

If you want to know what Obama is likely to try to do, http://www.change.gov (if you can get through).

#143 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 03:09 PM:

I'm currently trying to get through. In the meantime, is that site for real? What does it say? As a sidenote, in what capacity did the Obama campaign get a .gov URL at this time?

#144 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 03:17 PM:

The site is for real. It has a bunch of pointers to Obama's proposed policies in many areas.

I suspect the President-Elect can get a .gov domain.

#145 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 03:28 PM:

Raphael @142:

The site looks real. It's headed "Office of the President-Elect". It's got a blog, a news section, participation areas, and—most interestingly—a section called "Agenda" with proposals about:

* Civil Rights
* Defense
* Disabilities
* Economy
* Education
* Energy & Environment
* Ethics
* Faith
* Family
* Fiscal
* Foreign Policy
* Healthcare
* Homeland Security
* Immigration
* Iraq
* Poverty
* Rural
* Service
* Seniors & Social Security
* Taxes
* Technology
* Urban Policy
* Veterans
* Women
* Additional Issues

It's worth persisting to have a look.

#146 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 03:45 PM:

I heard something on CBC radio this morning about Obamba having stated that he intends to close Gitmo as soon as possible, and to have the detainees tried in civilian courts. "In a speech posted to his website, he spoke of his faith in U.S. civilian courts, and proposed phasing out military commissions, like the one that would hear Khadr's trial" according to a current item on the CBC website. But I couldn't find anything on that site about it.

#147 ::: Dave Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 04:00 PM:

I always read The Prince as a ruthlessly pragmatic and relentlessly practical statement about gaining and holding political power in Renaissance Italy. It's not about either morality or his personal beliefs.

Of course I also think that most of his reputation comes from people who have never read anything else of his.

#148 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 04:23 PM:

Mary Dell, #134: Geez, what a maroon. Of course Obama uses a relatively unaccented dialect and standard English; that's the language of power. It's why English teachers in majority-black schools got so incensed over "Ebonics"; if you, as a minority person in America, want to get out of the service industry, you had damn well better learn how to "talk white". Cynical, but sadly still true. White politicians, especially white male politicians, can get away with a regional dialect because their other privilege factors cancel it out. But one of the things Sarah Palin has taken heat for is her backcountry accent and idiom, the "gosh darns" and "you betchas". There's an American equivalent to BBC Standard Received, although it doesn't have a specific name -- and those who want to succeed in high places ignore it at their own peril.

The other thing I see in the quotes from that article is Nader exercising a fair amount of racism of the "how dare you not be what *I* think a black person should be?" variety.

#149 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 04:30 PM:

Joel Polowin @145: Really? This would be pony-for-Christmas awesome if it's true.

#150 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 04:57 PM:

Getting real trials for the prisoners in Gitmo is just a start. For me, the pony for Christmas is setting up policies against torture with a good enforcement system.

And for the Machiavelli fans, try Paul McAuley's Pasquale's Angel-- an alternate history with the industrial revolution in Renaissance Italy and Machiavelli as a reporter.

#151 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 05:00 PM:

abi, thank you. I can get through now, and I've saved some of the main pages. Some disappointing stuff, but that could be expected.

#152 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 05:04 PM:

Lee @#147: Nader clearly has decided that Obama is supposed to represent poor people, because he's black, and black = poor. And he really makes no bones about saying that.

#153 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 05:04 PM:

Honestly, the underlying idea behind the modern American usage of "Uncle Tom[1]" is pure poison. The racial aspect just adds an extra dose of nastiness.

Barack Obama has been elected president. His job and obligation is to represent all Americans, to do the best he can for the country. That doesn't leave any room for some obligation to act in the interests of blacks (or whichever other group you like) as understood by Ralph Nader, nor of anyone else. No more than Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin would have been especially obliged to women, or John McCain to old white guys.

That said, I substantially agree with Mortimer that it's very common for a discussion about ideas to get derailed into a discussion about terminology, or (worse) about why you would be such a horrible sh-t as to make the argument you're making. Those are signposts on the road to a flaming wreck of a discussion. If Nader had used some racially loaded term by accident in saying something basically reasonable, I'd be inclined to figure that everyone speaks first draft and to ignore it[2]. But he's expressing a fundamentally ugly idea, and using ugly terms to do it. That sort-of maxes-out the badness meter.

[1] By virtue of being a member of group X, you are no longer allowed to be a full, free human. Instead, you must live up to my ideas about the agenda of group X, even if that violates all your beliefs. You may even be condemned for holding your own beliefs or values (and expressing them), when they go against the common beliefs/values of your identified group.

[2] This is a matter of some argument here, and I'm overwhelmingly in the minority here, as far as I can tell.

#154 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 05:08 PM:

albatross @ 152... it's very common for a discussion about ideas to get derailed into a discussion about terminology

Never!
("Never?")
Well, hardly ever!

#155 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 05:15 PM:

Lee #147:

Yep. Language (diction, accent, grammar) is an expensive-to-fake marker for education and upbringing by educated parents. Both Barack and Michelle Obama speak like highly educated people, because that's what they are.

It would be really odd if Barack Obama spoke with any of the common American black accents, given his background.

#156 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 06:09 PM:

albatross @ 154: Yep. Language (diction, accent, grammar) is an expensive-to-fake marker for education and upbringing by educated parents.

It is, however, a very easy to fake marker for intelligence and knowledge, as can be seen by observing most right-wing columnists.

#157 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 06:09 PM:

People like Obama who have spent significant amounts of time among a variety of people who speak in a variety of dialects, languages and even among themselves varieties too, have a vast array of dialects and accents to draw upon, with an array of significations.

Educated minorities (including women0 have always had that ability. Sheesh.

Entertainers, musicians too.

Love, C.

#158 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 06:12 PM:

Lee @147: When I took speech and drama courses in High School, I was told the American equivalent of BBC Standard Received was called "Broadcast English" and the slang term at that time was "white-speak."

(When I was 9 years old my family moved from Virginia to Ohio -- and when I went to school that Fall, I spent 2 hours a week with a speach therapist, whose task was to rid me of my Southern accent...)

#159 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 06:41 PM:

"...never quit, never surrender..." I thought he was channeling Galaxy Quest for a minute....

As for Nader, the sheer effrontery, when he tries for upbraid Obama for not talking about "the poor"enough, and then says "we'll hold him to a higher standard.."

Excuse me?

*Nader* is trying to equate himself with "the poor?" And *he* thinks he is qualified to hold Barack Obama to a "higher standard?"

#160 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 06:52 PM:

I had almost 40 hours of post-election warm fuzziness before one of my patients informed me "they've already pulled up the roses at the White House. So they can plant watermelons."

*sigh*

#161 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 06:53 PM:

#133: I know the blogger Field Negro uses House Negro, but I haven't ever run into otherwise except in Black liberationist writing from the 70s, in history classes.

It's from Malcolm X.

#162 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 07:31 PM:

Lila @ #159, wait for the crack about fried chicken being served at state dinners.

Anybody know what the origin of the chicken and watermelon mythos is?

#163 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 07:37 PM:

People are such assholes.

I want a species transplant.

#164 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 08:31 PM:

Linkmeister:

At a guess: Most blacks have roots in the south, where both are common. Even in Missouri, where I grew up (at the edge of the south), fried chicken and watermelon were simultaneously:

a. The stereotypical "black food"

b. Things you fervently hoped to see at dinnertime (fried chicken) or as a snack on a hot day (watermelon). I'm not sure I knew anyone as a kid that didn't like both.

#165 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 08:37 PM:

Linkmeister #161: Anybody know what the origin of the chicken and watermelon mythos is?

The Authentic History Center has a multimedia collection on that topic.

#166 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 08:50 PM:

Earl, thanks. I realized that I'd heard the stereotype for years but never knew the origin. Even the History Center says it's ambiguous, although its best guess (slaves' theft from their masters) is a lot better than mine would have been.

Huh.

#167 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 09:35 PM:

Raphael #142:

I'm currently trying to get through. In the meantime, is that site for real? What does it say? As a sidenote, in what capacity did the Obama campaign get a .gov URL at this time?

Well, he is a Senator until 20-Jan-2009, so he does have an official capacity. The Registrar is part of the Executive branch, but I expect that a Senator could get any reasonable .gov address with a little work (is the addy appropriate for the stated task?, does it follow the policy guidelines?)

This fast? I expect someone had already done the groundwork for it. Since it is for government accessibility, I expect it was an easy sell. The Gvt is supposed to use the Internet to make itself* more accessible, more accountable, and to cut costs.

* Is the Government an "it" or a "them"?

#168 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 09:51 PM:

Lori @ #157, I spent a lot of my summers in northeastern Oklahoma (with my mom's family).

My father was the arbiter of speech and did his best to delete all the Y'alls, ain'ts, etc plus any 'twang' out of our speech if we spoke that way in his presence.

And I have a knack for understanding English spoke with a strong dialect (i.e, districts in England, Scottish, etc.). The only person I have ever found unintelligible was a C-store clerk here at home. I'm not sure what she spoke, but I had to ask several times and then she showed me what she needed. But I think it was that she was speaking without much space between words and flattened consonants.

#169 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 09:51 PM:

John 166: Is the Government an "it" or a "them"?

It's an "it" in the US and a "them" in the UK.

But you said "is" the Government, so you'd already decided.

#170 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 09:56 PM:

John Houghton @ 166: * Is the Government an "it" or a "them"?

It's an "us". Oh, I suppose in this context "it" and "itself" apply.

#171 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 10:10 PM:

On our North Dakota farm, summer dinner commonly was fried chicken (raised and butchered and put up at home) and watermelon in season (raised and taken out of the family garden, which was huge). Dinner meant noon, btw.

Watermelon is, I believe, an import from India.

Love, C.

#172 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 10:11 PM:

And chickens, of course, were first domesticated in India too, iirc.

Love, C.

#174 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 10:35 PM:

John @166: An it. (Says the person who just corrected that about 85 times in a gov't report.) So are government agencies and entities, unless it's a specific person.

#175 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 10:36 PM:

Lila @ 159

I hope you reminded them that the Republicans are still in charge of the WH, so s/he ought to be blaming Bush for that (I don't actually think they took the roses out).

#176 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 10:58 PM:

#166
* Is the Government an "it" or a "them"?

U.S. usage seems to be the singular for such collective nouns. I prefer (and often use) the plural (as common in the U.K.) because it implies a "just a bunch of guys doin' stuff" and hence that the guys can be replaced by some who'd do other stuff, rather than that it's a monolithic structure against which opposition or struggle is hopeless.

#177 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:07 PM:

Watermelon is one of the few world-wide crops that originated in Africa. I have no idea if that fact has anything to do with the racist stereotype, though.

#178 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:13 PM:

Oops, sorry Constance. I hadn't read your post. Wikipedia says Africa, and if I recall correctly so does Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel.

My possibly-misremembered understanding (also from GG&S) is that genetic testing indicates that chickens were independently domesticated in several different places, much like cattle.

#179 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:15 PM:

I like to think Government is an "us". Which is why I'm so very very very happy that Obama will be our President: he seems to agree.


re: watermelon:

Not long ago, I had an acquaintance who, two years running, gave me a birthday card featuring a grinning French-looking maniac wielding machetes and licking his lips while stalking a nutria in the tall swamp grass. 'Cause, see, my family's Cajun. So it's funny, see, 'cause it's a card featuring a Cajun. (The inside was some garbled sentence attempting to use every New Orleans-ism the card-giver could think of, the result of which didn't even parse.)

I was griping to another friend about this, saying that if this person gave me that card for a third year running*, I would feel compelled to complain at last. And what exactly would I say? "I guess I'll say to her, 'Would you also think it funny to give [mutual black friend] a card featuring a grinning black boy chowing down on a slice of watermelon?'"

My friend looked blank--"Why would that be an insult?"--and it came to light that this particular ugly stereotype/racial slur had passed her by. So it fell to me to try to explain it. And I couldn't. "It's, um, well, it's always been the southern insult-stereotype for southern blacks. Maybe because it's the food of poor people? Or because the image of someone biting into these large hand-held foods invokes an impression of simple barbarity? Maybe because the watermelon rind mimics the exaggerated wide mouths of black caricatures? I don't know--I just know that when my cousin sneers and says, 'Them black people sure love their fried chicken,' I know he's making a racist statement."

I guess I'm glad to see it's as hard for others to explain too. It's just been there, all my life. I'll have to check out that link provided above.


*She didn't. Thank goodness.

#180 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:23 PM:

#159

Oh? My understanding is that this new, Elite, Snobbish Regime is planning on planting Arugula (possibly even calling it "Roquette", which sounds suspiciously French to me) in what has been The White House Rose Garden. But the D.C. climate zone won't be warm enough for that until about March, so there's no need for Barack to hitch up his mule before then.

(Here in Southern California, now is a good time for planting it, and I seem to have hundreds of seedings germinating in a seed-pot, though I'm pretty sure I won't want more than two or three plants, if that.)

#181 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:29 PM:

Watermelon is, indeed, African. And the domestication of chickens (although there are arguments that chickens have mostly been commensal, rather than domesticated, for most of human history) was so early that it is not possible to determine a precise location; SE Asia is as close as most archaeologists are willing to go. The red jungle fowl, popularly considered to be the wild forebearer, could just as easily be a feral population of tame birds (again, with chickens, feral is a rather iffy word; the birds could have travelled along with moving human populations rather than being transported, and been left behind rather than escaped).

#182 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2008, 11:31 PM:

Mr. Smith's "Really!" at the beginning of that video clip is the best "really" I have ever heard from a news person. In fact, I believe I have been waiting all my life to hear a newsperson say "Really!" in that tone to an interviewee (and they have so often deserved it), and when it happens, it's on Fox? FOX??

#183 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 12:16 AM:

re cunt: I was sort of shocked when a brit used it. I am not comfortable with it as an insult, but I know there are places it doesn't have the same sting (and, so far as I can tell in England it's not sexist; or if it is the association is really weak). That said, this obviously wasn't one of those uses.

Rosa: I seem to recall Steve Gilliard using House Negro. I know my second step-father (who is black) used it.

albatross: I'd be willing to give some weight to the idea of first draft but for two thing (neither of which has to do with it being Nader); it's not the sort of thing an aware american can claim was innocent, and that he didn't retract it, but amplified it was what he meant.

Don: My volunteer lettuce, dill, poppies and onions are all doing well. It would be nice of the grapes to go dormant.

#184 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 12:59 AM:

Fragano @100: "I've been on the road, and so couldn't respond earlier, but it seems to me that the core of Nader's comment is not simply racist in the traditional sense as something else. It is that, being an Arab-American,Nader feels that he can speak on behalf of black people and that black people will see the brother within. Now I have a moderately hard time seeing that, and I suspect that most other people do."

Nah, Nader probably thinks he's such a champion of the downtrodden that he has earned honorary black status.

#185 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 01:07 AM:

John Houghton @166: * Is the Government an "it" or a "them"?

It's fairly obviously not a 'she'.

#186 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 01:12 AM:

Raphael @142: " As a sidenote, in what capacity did the Obama campaign get a .gov URL at this time?"

"Under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, the U.S. General Services Administration is responsible for providing a new administration with office space, information technology, furniture, equipment, and logistical support."

The day after the election, Obama's transition team was handed the keys to 120,000 square feet of office space in DC, already set up with desks, phones, and computers.

If they can do that, a domain would be a pretty small deal.

#187 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 02:05 AM:

Nicole @ 178: It is hard to explain why some things, pictures, phrases, whatever are racist or sexist or ist-ist to them as don't hear the dogwhistle. It's like trying to explain a punchline to a joke, you're doomed before you start. My impulse is to just say, "Well, it is," and then thwap 'em upside the head, so if they don't remember anything else about the picture or story, they'll remember being thwapped upside the head and maybe that'll keep them in line.

But then, I'm getting older by the minute. I feel like I've been swimming in a xenophobic soup most all my life, and trying to be a lifeguard is just giving me grey hairs, and I'm no better'n most if it comes to that. I'd like to be all rational and stuff when it comes time to raise the consciousness of the differently-travelled, but more and more it seems like it's faster, easier and more lasting to just smack them.

#188 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:04 AM:

Wow, the thread has covered anything I might contribute already. Well done. Except this:

When my Theatre History course on melodrama covered the Uncle Tom's Cabin phenomenon, our Prof liked to make the point that it was easily the longest running, widely produced play in American history (running for decades), far eclipsing Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, which he had a special hate for. And so of course he spoiled the ending, so no one would ever have to see it.

So in that spirit, I feel obliged to tell you,
The detective did it.

#189 ::: Naomi Libicki ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:21 AM:

I can't say when and where the chicken was domesticated, but "chicken" (tarnegol) is one of the very few Sumerian loan-words in Hebrew.

#190 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:37 AM:

I did not know there was a detective in Uncle Tom's Cabin.

#191 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:48 AM:

Terry @ 182: according to Delete Expletives from the BBC back in 2000, it was the most severe insult in the land. WRT to insults and genitalia, it's strange that "prick" has no positive connotations, but "bollocks" can have. I guess the relatve acceptance/lack of severity of prick is because it has many non-insulting uses.

#192 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 06:09 AM:

Abi @ 189... Probably, since Avery Brooks and Edward Woodward were in it.

#193 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 09:27 AM:

Perhaps Nader should watch some British TV sitcoms/drama. I've finally gotten used to the way that any random person, regardless of race, can turn up speaking in an Oxbridge accent

re 137: I think that's a very accurate assessment.

#194 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:01 AM:

Constance @156

And that flexibility of language has long been seen as a hallmark of a good leader. It's one of Prince Hal's major talents, and something that distinguishes him from his father...

"To conclude, I am so good a proficient in one quarter of an hour that I can drink with any tinker in his own language during my life."

1 Henry IV

#195 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:02 AM:

Marilee:

Xopher, #42, all my anti-Bush buttons will have to go into the inactive political button box.

Waiting for Jeb, eh?

#196 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:12 AM:

Bruce #194: No they can't!

#197 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:16 AM:

So far as fried chicken is concerned, it's kind of amazing that eating it can be an insult considering that McDonald's built an empire on selling fried chicken to everyone.

However, I'm haunted by "Words don't have meanings. People have meanings." I'm not sure that it's true, but it's got that ring of plausibility.

Eating fried chicken (with or without watermelon) is an insult because of the tone. The whole thing gets complicated when an insult has been used for so long that it becomes a matter of habit with no active malice for some people, but in this case, the stigma certainly isn't dead.

#198 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:38 AM:

Graydon @ 125

We have lots of data to use as metrics: average life expectancy by racial, ethnic, and economic class groups; average income by gender, race, and ethnos, average level of spending of taxpayer money by neighborhood, factored by majority race, ethnos, and class of the neighborhood, usw. One of the things the Constitution-mandated decennial US Census makes possible is almost endless statistical inferences about the relationships among race, gender, and society.

The other thing is that once you start quantified argument, you can make the oligarchs and those in their service defend specifics, at which point they tend to lose.

See, that's the problem. Just because you have the facts to back you up doesn't mean people will listen to you. The classic technique, as perfected over the last couple of decades by the Republicans in the US, is not to defend, but to attack anyone with the temerity to use facts to argue political and socio-economic questions. It took near-destruction of the economy for this recent election to have the outcome it did, and at that there are still people screaming about "socialism" and "affirmative action" as if those were morally repugnant antisocial acts, that make anyone even alluding to the possibility of their usefulness a social pariah.

"Don't confuse me with the facts; I've made up my mind."

#199 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:45 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 197... "Don't confuse me with the facts; I've made up my mind."

From 12 Angry Men...

Juror #10: Six to six... I'm telling you, some of you people in here must be out of your minds. A kid like that...
Juror #9: I don't think the kind of boy he is has anything to do with it. The facts are supposed to determine the case.
Juror #10: Don't give me that. I'm sick and tired of facts! You can twist 'em anyway you like, you know what I mean?
Juror #9: That's exactly the point this gentleman has been making.

#200 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:47 AM:

Terry @ 182
My Muscat has gone dormant, but it wakes up really early too. The rest are, as you say, not going there yet. Like roses, they tend to think that anything not-winter is growing season.

I have a couple of lily bulbs in the fridge, trying to convince them that it really is winter. They'll get planted around the end of the year, when they've been sufficiently convinced.

#201 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:51 AM:

#196
McDonald's? I thought it was KFC!

#202 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:52 AM:

PJ Evans @ 199...

Your muskrat has gone dormant? Next to the groundhog?
("It's Muscat, Serge.")
Oh.
Nevermind.

#203 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:53 AM:

The "fried chicken" stereotype got an interesting twist in Chicago, not that long ago--Wal-Mart opened its first store on Chicago's west side, in a heavily African American neighgorhood, and picked a long-time local favorite for the "in-store" eatery (as opposed to Subway or McDonald's). The restaurant in question? Uncle Remus's Fried Chicken . . .

I've no idea what the story-behind-the-story is--or even if there is one--but I do remember being slightly bemused when I walked into the store for the first time, and noticed. I also remember thinking it was kind of neat--sort of thumbing a nose at the stereotype, as well as a fairly major economic break for a neighborhood business.

#204 ::: Stevey-Boy ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 11:34 AM:

It looks like the video is no longer on YouTube. Anyone know where else I may find it?

#205 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 11:47 AM:

Bruce @197 --

I asked Mortimer if he (?) could do that; that doesn't mean I can't do that.

And note that I said "make them defend"; it's not enough to present facts, you have to do things like "over your three senate terms, senator, the median income in your state has fallen 17% in real dollar terms. Why is that?" and not tolerate any amount of squirming away from the question. Attacking the question gets treated as an admission of guilt.

All of this has been done before. It'll be tougher with the present homogenized state of the media, but not a whole lot tougher than the 1930s version and way easier than the 1890s version.

#206 ::: Inquisitive Raven ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 12:19 PM:

Getting back to Machiavelli, I read The Prince in high school for history class. One thing I remember is that he advised getting honest (and presumably competent) counselors. Honest counselors who know when to shut up, but honest ones nonetheless.

One hopes that Obama will take that bit of advice.

#207 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 12:58 PM:

Bruce #197:

Looking at the data you described, the main things that struck me were:

a. All of that data measures something, but it's not obviously quality of government or level of oppression.

b. All that data offers enormous scope for different explanations of its causes.

Look at your list: average life expectancy by racial, ethnic, and economic class groups; average income by gender, race, and ethnos, average level of spending of taxpayer money by neighborhood, factored by majority race, ethnos, and class of the neighborhood.

All of those are interesting things to know, but not a single one seems to tell me much about whether the government is doing a good job, by itself. Even when those measures are changing in bad directions, it's usually not a simple matter to determine why. For example, blacks have a shorter average lifespan than whites. Men also have a shorter average lifespan than women. Which one of these is evidence of bad government or oppression? Your answer is determined way more by your prior beliefs and your model of the world than by the data.

In general, the data you're talking about tends to give useful answers to rather narrow questions. Where does our tax money go? How are black kids doing in school? How many people are in poverty, and how many in jail?

But when you get beyond those questions to the really meaty ones, like "Are affirmative action policies in education having a positive or negative effect on the recipients of preferential admissions?" or "Are we locking too many people in prison for too long?", the data get harder to interpret. And harder-to-interpret data lends itself to people explaining away inconvenient data that violates their starting beliefs, or searching through contradictory data for the odd piece that supports their argument.

The data is important, but it seems to only rarely resolve political arguments.

#208 ::: Inquisitive Raven ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 01:08 PM:

Silly human. Posted that last comment to the wrong blog. That was supposed to to up on Pharyngula.

#209 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 01:14 PM:

Graydon #204:

The main thing required for this is not the participation of most of the media. There are serious discussions of the issues around for people who want to find them; Entertainment Tonight exists on the same medium as Charlie Rose.

The main thing that's required is for the voters to demand participation in this kind of discussion/debate/whatever. The three debates we had in this election were enormously low-content affairs (though none as unintentionally funny as that last Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama debate). Campaigns go to a great deal of trouble to spin media coverage and punish harsh stories by limiting access to the candidate, and they often do their best to avoid ever having their candidate get stuck answering a question where all answers will upset important groups of voters. Both candidates spin pure worlds of candy-sugar fantasy in the debates where it came to their economic and tax and energy policies, largely because honesty would have upset voters.

It doesn't work for one of the two candidates to abandon that, because then you have one guy saying "I'll cut your taxes and give you more money" and the other guy saying "I'll raise your taxes and give you less money," just because only one is being honest. They both have to abandon it. And the only way that happens is if the voters demand straight answers and participation in (for example) detailed issue/opinion surveys and honest, in-depth, feet-to-the-fire discussions with the candidates and their relevant advisors and informed skeptics who are more interested in getting to the truth than making a name for themselves or getting a scoop or whatever.

#210 ::: Holly P. ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 01:58 PM:

Albatross @ 206:

Perhaps you could make a case for obfuscating factors in average income and average life expectancy, but I fail to see how "average level of spending of taxpayer money by neighborhood, factored by majority race, ethnos, and class of the neighborhood" does not speak directly to quality of government.

I also think that contrary to your argument, average life expectancy speaks pretty clearly. As you say, men live shorter lives than women, on average, and black people live shorter lives than white people, on average, and so, you say, this must mean that it's impossible to tell who is being oppressed from the data. Okay, sure -- from those data. But when you break it down to causes of death, you can see what's really going on. For example, in Canada, women live longer than men, just as in the US. But if you remove deaths related to smoking and other preventable causes, men live longer than women. In the US, black life expectancy increased from 1993 to 2003, because HIV/AIDS related deaths, homicides, and accidental deaths decreased.

So, just looking at the available data, it seems that the gap in male and female life expectancies is mostly created by life choices such as smoking, whereas the gap in black and white life expectancies owes a great deal to deaths from disease, homicide, and accidental causes.

I would be interested to find out how my pre-existing beliefs have influenced this interpretation of the data.

I do think, however, that data alone isn't enough. My thesis advisor always told me to look for the story in the data, because stories are what humans like. In order to change public opinion, progressives need to be able to tell data-driven stories about conditions in the United States; we need a reality-based equivalent to (for example) Cadillac-driving welfare queens.

#211 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 01:59 PM:

You're right. I checked on JSTOR. According to

"Wild Watermelon Emergence and Control"
D. T. Smith and A. W. Cooley
Weed Science, Vol. 21, No. 6 (Nov., 1973), pp. 570-573
Published by: Weed Science Society of America and Allen Press

CULTIVATED watermelon (Citrullus vulgaris Schrad.) is thought to have originated in tropical Africa near the equator (8). Some areas near the equator reportedly were covered with watermelon vines, and the melon was read- ily eaten by aborigines and wild animals. Watermelon has been cultivated for centuries in the Mediterranean area and the fruit was well-known in many early cultures. The general morphology, anatomy, and taxonomy of cultivated watermelon have been reviewed (8). Since cultivated wa- termelon is extensively cross-pollinated (1), wild water- melon probably evolved as an escape from the cultivated species and (or) by crossing with native cucurbits.

As far as the first domestication of the chicken, I found this in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, v.91, pp. 12505-12509, 12/20/94, Fumihito et al.:

The new findings by the Japanese researchers suggest that domestication took place more than 8,000 years ago in what is now Thailand and Vietnam, the region in which this red junglefowl is found today. Moreover, this data indicates that the chicken is a notable exception to the general rule that the domestication of a species results in the extinction of its wild ancestor, the researchers note.

That I was so certain that both chicken and watermelon were first raised domestically in India came from a reading of Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal by Margaret Visser, about 16 years ago. I must have mis-remembered what I 'thought' I read.

So many thanks for the needed correction of what I thought I knew and turns out that I didn't know at all!

Love, C.

#212 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 02:06 PM:

I'm really disappointed in change.gov. Last night the links in Foreign Policy for "Latin America and the Caribbean" were dead. This morning they no longer even exist. Evidently foreign policy is confined to: Iraq-Iran; Israel-Palestine; Russia and nuclear weapons.

So I submitted what I thought about that, plus 10 points they should consider re Cuba.

Also, it seems that if each of us picks a subject, topic, issue -- something that we feel needs some deep change, reform -- and make that our issue for this administration, researching it, following it, pressuring the local powers that be about it at least as much as at any state and federal level, something might get accomplished.

My issue is the Fairness Doctrine, and by extension the monopoly ownership of so many small-town local newspapers. The newspapers don't fall under the Fairness Doctrine, since they aren't broadcast media.

However, as limbaugh and hannity and all their ilk aren't letting up even a modicum on their 24/7 drumbeat of hate and lies, no partisanship in the world, no matter how well meant, will be able to turn around the bitter and hateful partisanship that so deeply divided the nation. Something has to be done about this. The best thing that can be done, or so it seems to me, is that these markets must be able to hear some countering and disagreement with them. In most places of the nation you simply cannot hear anything else except them and their kind and armageddon radio.

Love, C.

#213 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 02:08 PM:

Oh, I don't know, I think he should start calling arugula "rocket" and convince all the cowboys that it is the most manly and agressive green ever allowed to be sold in grocery stores.
"Rocket will rock your world, and make your enormous all-american beef burger that much more delicious!" Or something.
Which reminds me, the "all-american burger" at the chip shop down the street from my MIL's house has a deep fried patty. Which is slightly frightening, but completely beside the point.

#214 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 02:42 PM:

The disappointing thing about Change.gov is that the search engine returns 0 results for "torture" and "Guantanamo".

Other than that, though, I'm swooning. (And I already sent notice to them about torture and Guantanamo. Maybe nobody will read it -- but maybe they will! And that maybe is already change!)

#215 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 02:57 PM:

pericat @#186: It is hard to explain why some things, pictures, phrases, whatever are racist or sexist or ist-ist to them as don't hear the dogwhistle.

Ultimately, many things are offensive simply because they are so well known to be offensive, that anybody who says them is openly advertising their willingness to give offence. All we should really have to say is "a lot of us find that really offensive. You shouldn't say it unless you're okay with folks thinking you don't give a damn about offending us."

Out-group insults may have different origins and denotational content, but they all mean the same thing. They mean: "These are contemptible people, and their good opinion matters nothing to me; these are powerless people, and so I am safe in giving them gratuitous offence; these are outcast people, and I do not expect anyone really important to think the less of me for offending them gladly."

#216 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 03:02 PM:

My issue is the Fairness Doctrine, and by extension the monopoly ownership of so many small-town local newspapers. The newspapers don't fall under the Fairness Doctrine, since they aren't broadcast media.

However, as limbaugh and hannity and all their ilk aren't letting up even a modicum on their 24/7 drumbeat of hate and lies, no partisanship in the world, no matter how well meant, will be able to turn around the bitter and hateful partisanship that so deeply divided the nation. Something has to be done about this.

I don't like that idea at all. Even aside from the free speech issues (who gets to decide what kind of presentation on the radio or elsewhere is fair?), the most likely result of reinstating the fairness doctrine is that people will turn in during the crazyness and switch stations during the response.

My main issue is that apparently, there'll still be US troups in Iraq in 2012, wich most likely means that they'll still occassionally get into fights with whatever groups will be temporarily against them then, wich, in turn, might mean that the 2012 election will be decided by wich side has been more effective at manipulating itself: The Democrats by staying in Iraq, or the Republicans by moving even more into crazyland than they are now.

#217 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 03:02 PM:

Michael Roberts @ 213 -- Good for you.

There's so much of immediate concern that isn't reflected on changedotgov.

Torture and rendition are really high up there.

Love, C.

#218 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 03:42 PM:

"In most places of the nation you simply cannot hear anything else except [limbaugh and hannity] and their kind and armageddon radio."

I don't live in places like that, but when I've driven through rural areas that were like this, there also seemed to be plenty of empty spectrum in either the AM or FM band (or at least, lots of frequencies where I don't hear much of anything during the day; I realize the AM profile is rather different at night).

Does anyone here live in a place where there's nothing but right-wing and religious content on the air *and* the spectrum is full? I'd much rather encourage lots of voices to use the airwaves (through things like ownership limits and much more hassle-free licensing of low-power community radio) than dictate what each voice has to say.

(And yes, I agree with you that ending torture and "disappearance" have to be high on the new administration's agenda. I'll go off now and write them about that.)

#219 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 03:44 PM:

Raphael @215: I don't think you're familiar with the Fairness Doctrine, because I grew up with it, and its' major tenet was "equal time." The broadcasters don't decide who it's fair to cover or to allow on the air, they have to cover them all.

The rule was that if you broadcast one political viewpoint you had to give the other(s) equal air time -- that's all.

So if the Fairness Doctrine were reinstated what it would mean is that for every hour your radio station broadcast someone like Rush Limbaugh (right wing), you'd have to air an equal number of hours from, say Rachel Madow (left wing), and then you'd still need to find a centrist to give their point of view of the topic under discussion.

It also limited the number of different media one corporation could own. That's why local TV and Radio stations were affiliated with certain networks, not property of them. And I'd toughen the rules by saying you can own one TV station, or one radio station, or one newspaper in a metropolitan area -- period.

The idea behind the Fairness Doctrine is to get as many viewpoints on the air as possible -- that's what doesn't happen when Clear Channel or Rupert Murdoch are calling the shots.

#220 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:18 PM:

re 209: I feel obliged to point out that homicide and HIV infections are connected with "life style choices," remembering that homicides of black men are largely homicides by black men. Behind both of them stands hard drug use.

re 186: Somewhere along in here the term "dog whistle" is getting in the way. Insults are meant to be understood by the target as well as by the listener, so in that respect the ultrasonic metaphor is ill-suited. An allusion takes this even a step further, because it relies on shared culture. My kids stand a good chance of understanding in context that "Uncle Tom" is meant insultingly, but only my eldest would be likely to know the specific meaning, and only because he is interested in history and therefore pays attention in class. I'm old enough to remember it being used in the '60s, but I hadn't heard it used in decades. If someone called one of them a "honkie" I imagine they wouldn't understand.

214: I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "outgroup". There's a subtle but crucial status sense that appears in-context. When I got called names in school, it was powerful to powerless, and in that sense your analysis applies. When you have men of little class standing exchanging racial derogation about others, the only powerlessness of the insulted is in their not being present; what it's really about is the powerlessness of the speakers.

#221 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:18 PM:

Constance wrote: "However, as limbaugh and hannity and all their ilk aren't letting up even a modicum on their 24/7 drumbeat of hate and lies, no partisanship in the world, no matter how well meant, will be able to turn around the bitter and hateful partisanship that so deeply divided the nation."

You are mistaken.

Conservative talk radio, and FOX News, are the means by which the GOP will eat itself alive, casting out the "moderates" in favor of an ever-smaller core of ideologically pure impotents.

#222 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:23 PM:

Behind both of them stands hard drug use.

Evidence, please?

#223 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:23 PM:

219: " Insults are meant to be understood by the target as well as by the listener, so in that respect the ultrasonic metaphor is ill-suited."

Not all insults. Dog whistle insults are a way for cowards to get a childish buzz out of saying something insulting in front of an unknowing victim and a knowing audience.

I bet lots of kids have had the brilliant idea of telling a co-conspirator that some made up nonsense word now means 'shit'. They then crack themselves up saying "Hey Dad, you smell like Flarn!" or whatever in front of the oblivious parents who would not tolerate the use of 'shit'.

It's all "hee-hee we're getting away with this!".

#224 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:29 PM:

I'm hoping the lack of reference to torture, Guantanamo, etc, is due to a desire for the site to appear non-confrontational during the transition, not because they are not priorities at all.

I submitted a suggestion for a new policy calling for new cars to include average and instantaneous MPG displays, because those help drivers optimize their driving style and improve mileage.

In the 'your other priorities' field I noted Science, and SWAT abuse/militarization of police.

#225 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:30 PM:

re 217: Here in central MD the only approximation to that is that WETA went from all NPR/leftish politics to almost all classical in the course of a weird deal that left WTOP with WGMS's old frequency (WGMS was one of the very last commercial classical stations in the nation). I'd thrown in the towel because the last thing I want to hear in the car, which is where I do my radio listening, is politics, of any ilk; therefore I listen to WBJC in Baltimore, which has been all-classical since the dim times. (Their fundraising is very low-key too.) But I gather that part of what motivated the rearrangement was that there was much more demand for music than talk. The fourth classical station in the area, WGTS, went all-Adventist years ago; in the winter on Fridays they used to play all sacred classical between sunset and the start of the weekend religious programming. I think the Howard University station still has a strong program of NOR political/etc. features. Someone around here runs Rush et al. but I have no idea who. WTOP is all news but very MSM.

#227 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:44 PM:

Holly P #209:

Hmmm. Trying to respond, I'm getting kind of hung up on your examples, which seem kind of messed up to me. I'm worried I'm missing the forest for the trees, here.

I was trying to make two big points:

a. Data is good, and it's worth looking at. But the data we have is often ambiguous or incomplete, the measurements we have are often of the wrong things (we measure what we know how to measure, not the hard-to-observe thing we really care about[0]), and we often just flat lack the information to interpret that data.

For an example, consider the measure of money spent per resident of different neighborhoods, broken down by race and income and such. Now, what we care about is that the right services are provided to the residents everywhere, and are provided well. Dollars spent is a deeply imperfect measure of this. If we put a gold statue of the mayor in every housing project in Chicago, it won't make the poor better off[1], but it will increase the amount that's spent on them. I recommend against judging how well the Bush administration has done keeping us safe from terrorists by the amount we've spent on DHS and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

b. More fundamentally, the data is almost never enough to decide about whether government is doing the right stuff. That also depends on an underlying set of ideas about government--what should it be doing, what methods are acceptable in doing it, etc.

For example, consider your expanded discussion of life expectancies[2]. How do you get from your postulated causes for the differnces in life expectancy to whether they're the result of bad government or oppression? That requires a model of government. If men die younger because of bad lifestyle choices, does this mean we need higher sin taxes on cigarettes and alcohol? Or a ban of both? If some fraction of the black/white lifespan difference is caused by differences in HIV infection, does that mean the government has failed blacks by not running more safe-sex PSAs? Or for that matter, by not sending all the HIV+ people to concentration camps or some such horror?

The only way to answer those questions seems to me to be to argue about what government ought to be doing, which simply isn't available in the data.

Now, I want to be clear: I agree that looking at the data is important. In narrow places, when honest people are discussing things, it can be used to resolve narrow policy questions (like "does the current version of abstinence education work?"). But most questions aren't that narrow, and they often center on some bigger moral or political principles that are still points of disagreement.

[0] Think of NCLB school testing, or IQ scores, or number of unmarried mothers in a community. None of these measure what you really want to know (how is this school doing, how smart (whatever that means) is this person, how many kids don't have a functioning family at home). They measure the stuff that we know how to measure. Most available data will count the stable lesbian couple raising a kid as a single mom and a roommate, which totally misses what's going on.

[1] Except for the folks who manage to steal the statues and sell them off--those guys will do okay, but the rest of the residents won't.

[2] I'm skeptical of the idea that the male/female difference in lifespan is really just lifestyle choices, since it's so widespread across times and countries. But it's not my field, so I could just be all wet. I think you made a logical error when you talked about the cause of the black/white lifespan differences, as seeing a rise in the average lifespan of blacks relative to whites caused by some identifiable stuff (decreased HIV infections, decreased violence, etc.) doesn't tell you whether those things explain the remaining difference between blacks or whites.

#228 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:51 PM:

C Wingate:

The prison/HIV connection is a good example of a place where data helps with discussions. To the extent it can be quantified (I'm sure it can), we get a really nice bit of information: The cost of putting more people in prison includes higher HIV rates. That's something we'd like to include in discussions of whether having lots and lots of people in prison is a good thing.

#229 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:52 PM:

re 222: I'd thought of that case. And maybe I'm a bit more on the ball then some fathers, but I think I could figure out what's going on. I got tagged by one of those in high school, BTW; but I suspect what happened was that my tormentors didn't expect me to not hear the insult. In retrospect I reacted exactly the wrong way when I finally found out what was going on, something I've always regretted. At any rate, as you say the pay-off comes in the sense of sinning; the whole dynamic is different.

#230 ::: Holly P. ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:58 PM:

Re 219, 225:

I think you may be equating proximal with ultimate causes in comparing "lifestyle choices." As I see it, the important difference here is that the harder drugs are both much more addictive and illegal. Regardless of your assessment of how it would affect society in a broader sense, and I am not sure where I stand on that either, if cocaine and heroin were legal, you'd be able to buy hypodermic needles in a drugstore -- and there goes a lot of shared-needle HIV/AIDS -- and you'd be able to buy cocaine and heroine from a liquor store, grocery store, convenience store, wherever -- and there goes the corner trade culture and its attendant shooting deaths. Also, it removes prison from the equation, of course. What would be left is deaths from the actual drug use, which would probably still be higher than deaths from tobacco use, but not so much higher, and not quite so concentrated.

So yeah, I think the government is still quite involved in those statistics. The choice then becomes about whether legalizing hard drugs will be better for society than keeping them illegal. But I think it's pretty clear that keeping them illegal is bad for the parts of society that are predominantly black.

#231 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 04:59 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @ #217, "Does anyone here live in a place where there's nothing but right-wing and religious content on the air *and* the spectrum is full?"

Kinda. Honolulu has a lot of commercial stations, but the principal English talk-radio one is full of Limbaugh and imitators, including local versions. No Air America here, for example.

#232 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 05:18 PM:

Ah, this thread is a dark thrill for me, for it allows me to indulge in three separate unwholesome delights: politics, back-biting, and slagging off Ralph F***ing Nader.

I personally have my own modest (heh-heh) proposal. I think that there should be a bold new party a sixth thread in American politics if you will. The Solipsist Party, for people who know *exactly* how important they perceive themselves to be. The Solipsists, they are aware of America, insofar as it affects their own personal agenda...the Solipsists! Nader/Lieberman (for let us be frank, Joe Lieberman is the Grima Wormtongue of modern DC...always a henchman...) Three snivels for the Solipsists!

Hip, hip - (Well, Cokie, you know this is a *conservative country, regardless of what the voters might say...)

Hurrah?

#233 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 05:23 PM:

I don't think the NCLB testing is quite as bad as some people think. It does eat up time, and it has every drawback of standardized testing in terms of biases-- though administered over large groups, the latter should tend to vanish (unless you're a sex/racial difference believer, anyway). Abuse of the information is obviously an issue. But the sheer scope of it produces a lot of data, particularly diagnostic. For instance, in my county you can go to the school website and pull up very nice statistics about each school as well as the system as a whole, including MSA (the Maryland NCLB version) results broken down in a variety of useful ways. They don't tell you what causes poor performance, but they can tell you whether what you're doing differently is having an effect.

#234 ::: Holly P. ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 05:31 PM:

albatross @226:

I agree with you that the data we have are not good enough. However, I think what got up my nose initially is that I perceived you as saying that that's it, data are never good enough, and don't really get at the interesting questions. My position is that if the data aren't good enough, we need better data. So the Golden Statues spending plan wouldn't stand, because we'd have data broken down by spending on education, public services, etc.

I do think you're moving the goalposts a bit in your latest comment; in #206, you were talking about identifying oppression, quality of government, and causes of problems with data. Now you're talking -- "what government ought to be doing, which simply isn't available in the data" -- about solutions. Not the same animal. I think solutions need to be informed by data, but that of course they have to also be informed by ethics. Shipping all HIV+ people off to a prison camp would almost certainly reduce the spread of the disease, but it is an utterly morally loathsome solution. So on that point I agree with you; data's not sufficient for solutions.

Also, you're right, I didn't make myself entirely clear in describing the connection between black deaths and governmental failure; sorry about that. What I meant was that if black deaths are disproportionately due to homicide, AIDS, etc., those are external causes: somebody shot somebody else, or gave someone AIDS.[1] Whereas smoking and other lifestyle choices are internal: somebody decided to smoke. External causes are much harder to guard against on a personal level; for example, if you're born in the projects, right there you have a much higher chance of being shot or getting AIDS, and so I think government ought to address those causes with a bit more vigor.

Of course the water's more muddy than that, because tobacco companies try very darn hard to get people to start smoking early, and as C. Wingate pointed out, AIDS & homicide are related to the drug trade. But as I tried to show in #229, I think the drug culture is the way it is because certain types of drugs are illegal, and that's a governmental choice.

[1] Re your footnote 2, I did not say that I thought homicide, AIDS and accidental death were the only cause of difference between black and white life expectancies, just that they made up a large portion of the difference. By which I still stand.

#235 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 05:39 PM:

#232
I don't think the problem is the standardized testing - those have been around for decades, in one or another form - so much as that it's so important to the school districts that they have good scores, that the students are taught 'to the test', taught only what they need to know in order to score well, rather than actually teaching them the subject or how to learn in and outside of school.

IMO, teaching test-taking should be less important than teaching the subject of the class.

#236 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 05:40 PM:

The trouble with NCLB testing isn't with the tests, *exactly*... it's that every dollar a public school gets now is dependent on keeping the scores up. Nothing else matters, nothing. The high school my teenagers go to is on some kind of NCLB probation, and anything that doesn't increase those test scores has gotten tossed. Vocational classes, art, all gone so that kids can get better at remembering that "if you eliminate one possibility, mark one of the others at random because it'll increase your score." It won't work, of course, so in another two years they'll lose something like half their funding and they'll have to... what, exactly? Close, when it's the only high school in the district? Start selling ad space to be discreetly printed on every homework sheet?

#237 ::: Holly P. ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 05:46 PM:

C. Wingate 232:

I'm not clear on how socioeconomic and cultural biases in standardized tests disappear when the test is administered over large groups?

Also, I am inclined to doubt that the statistics generated by NCLB are trustworthy, because of the huge incentives for school districts to increase their performance on the test. The minute a test becomes tied to money, people start cooking the books. At best, if schools are using "teach to the test" methods, improved scores tell you that the kids are capable of learning how to take the test, to the detriment of art, music, and anything else that can't be bubbled into a Scantron sheet. At worst, improved scores tell you that school administrators have figured out how to make poor-performing children "disappear."

#238 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 05:53 PM:

re 229: But presuming that there is no meaningful physiological difference between blacks and whites, the problem question is that since drug trafficking/use is human behavior, why aren't whites having the same kind of trouble? Or to put it in other terms, what is driving those "lifestyle choices"?

I'm not up to or even all that interested in scoping out possible answers to that. Part of the answer is, of course, that some whites are susceptible; and perhaps part of the answer for blacks lies in what lies behind that "some". But then comes the kicker: can the government do something to change things, and should the government do something to change things? The latter keys into a lot of moral imponderables that ultimately are going to come down to a vote, and also to a lot of nuance as to which "can"s transgress on "shouldn't"s.

For me the biggest problem is the long chain of consequences between putative causes and measurable effects. Racism is of course bad by its nature; but just exactly how do particular attitudes translate into specific black suffering? To say that my unconscious racism, whatever it may be, is equivalent to (say) Jesse Helms's rather overt (and quite empowered) racism is enough of a stretch as to demand some pretty extensive proof. And surely there must come a point where some effort at overcoming lingering adversity has to be expected. Determination of that point, not to say whether it has been reached, is utterly subjective.

I think that's one of the reasons why affirmative action raises such ire. I'm high enough up the ladder where there's not much chance of it affecting me except in one odd spot, so I can afford not to care. White men of more precarious circumstances really can't afford not to care. They can't see how much prejudice is tilting the playing field, so they are surely going to be paranoid about the perception of playing at a disadvantage. They also see the class/power difference between the regulators and themselves very strongly and adversely-- and why shouldn't they? The only objective answer to this is objective data-- statistics.

#239 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 06:10 PM:

"Affirmative Action" as it's currently used refers to racial discrimination, for different groups than used to be discriminated for. Those who believe racial discrimination is bad (period) don't like it.

The earlier meaning, which allowed for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action both to be true, referred to making decisions on an equal basis (choosing the most qualified independent of race), while taking affirmative action to notify people that they were eligible and would be considered. (E.g. putting ads in newspapers mostly read by groups that were previously underfavored was Affirmative Action.)

#240 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 06:10 PM:

re 236: I think you have to prove that those biases exist. Showing correlated differences is inadequate to that task, and is even question begging: if a particular subculture begets people who test poorly in (say) basic arithmetic, it's entirely arguable that the subculture ought to change. Cultural influences are not sacrosanct.

To all: I'm not saying that the particular climate in which the tests are administered is all that great. I have to say, though, that where teachers are even willing to teach to the test to that degree, education probably isn't going to be that good, with or without tests. And any statistic can of course be abused. I am not as negative about the incentive end of the thing, at least in the abstract; obviously a system that penalizes particular schools by taking away their teaching resources is stupid and counterproductive. On the other hand, saying teachers should not be held to any performance standards is an effective way to reinforce class boundaries in the system, because the schools in poor areas are not going to be able to protect themselves from the duds. Really what I'm saying is that uniform, collected data is better than the alternative. You can at least look at any given place and see whether what you are doing is having an effect, whether or not you thing interschool comparisons are valid.

#241 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 06:28 PM:

C Wingate, do we have evidence that Black people use more hard drugs, or just that they get arrested more and get harder time for the same behaviors white people do?

The powder cocaine/crack cocaine sentencing laws are the big thing I hear about here.

#242 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 06:34 PM:

I don't think you're familiar with the Fairness Doctrine, because I grew up with it, and its' major tenet was "equal time." The broadcasters don't decide who it's fair to cover or to allow on the air, they have to cover them all.

The rule was that if you broadcast one political viewpoint you had to give the other(s) equal air time -- that's all.

So if the Fairness Doctrine were reinstated what it would mean is that for every hour your radio station broadcast someone like Rush Limbaugh (right wing), you'd have to air an equal number of hours from, say Rachel Madow (left wing), and then you'd still need to find a centrist to give their point of view of the topic under discussion.

Ok, so that means broadcasters couldn't make things even worse by putting on someone like, say, Lieberman and creating the impression that the two possible viewpoints are Lieberman's and Limbaugh's? But that still leaves questions open- wich of the hundreds of viewpoints would get the 48 fifteen-minute-segments in half a day of broadcasting? And who would decide who would represent each viewpoint?

I think my point about people simply listening to one viewpoint and switching stations when the other one comes on still stands, though.

#243 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 06:43 PM:

My impulse is to just say, "Well, it is," and then thwap 'em upside the head, so if they don't remember anything else about the picture or story, they'll remember being thwapped upside the head and maybe that'll keep them in line.

I fear I miscommunicated. The thwapping was not deserved on the part of my friend who didn't get the fried chicken and watermelon thing. She simply, through reasons of age and a multicultural nomadic upbringing, hadn't come into contact with it before. She wanted it explained so that she'd know about it and not inadvertently stick her foot in it. The point of the anecdote was my bemusement at being unable to explain it adequately, was all.

Now, the thwapping was richly deserved by the birthday card perpetrator. I'm sorry I didn't thwap her at year 2 - I was just too flabbergasted that she'd done it again.


219: Insults are meant to be understood by the target as well as by the listener, so in that respect the ultrasonic metaphor is ill-suited.

222: Not all insults. Dog whistle insults are a way for cowards to get a childish buzz out of saying something insulting in front of an unknowing victim and a knowing audience.... It's all "hee-hee we're getting away with this!".

There's a by-product role these dog whistle insults play. It starts out as "getting away with this" but it smoothly transitions into "what do you mean, 'getting away with'? Everyone does it. It's OK to do it." The coward getting that childish buzz, he's also helping create an ambiance of permission for that knowing part of his audience. The more people feel that talking like a bigot is OK, is normative, the worse things are going to get for the people they're bigoted against. That permissiveness offers no incentive to keep the bigotry to just dog-whistles, or indeed just to speech.


Ah, this thread is a dark thrill for me, for it allows me to indulge in three separate unwholesome delights: politics, back-biting, and slagging off Ralph F***ing Nader.

Want some pie?

#244 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 06:44 PM:

Jon H

Conservative talk radio, and FOX News, are the means by which the GOP will eat itself alive, casting out the "moderates" in favor of an ever-smaller core of ideologically pure impotents.

I've been hearing this for years. The ways this has worked out like that, let me show you them. Ooops. Not.

There's a reason limbaugh and the ilk starting beating their drums weeks before Election Day about what a disaster it will be for America is that Fairness Doctrine gets back in. And that terroristcommienazimuslim who is taking away all our guns and our money and giving them to black people to rise up and take over is going to do -- reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. O noes!!!!!

Not that they describe it correctly, honestly or even, um fairly. Not that their listeners even know what it was -- just as one is highly doubtful they know what Marxism is. But their listeners got the message and they know the Fairness Doctrine is part of the arsenal of the Terrorists that are coming to get 'em TONIGHT.

Love, C.

#245 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 06:47 PM:

mfjgates #235:

In addition, there's a sort of Catch-22 operating with NCLB: You've got to raise your scores *every year*, or else. In the best of all possible worlds, at sometime or other, you're going to run out of scores to raise, because all your children will be, as in Lake Wobegon, above average. At which point your school gets shut down.

The more likely scenario played out here this last year: the shutting down part actually happened to a local high school, not because they ran out of scores to raise, but because they have a highly-transient population who don't always have English as anywhere near a first language, and therefore never could get their scores anywhere near where they needed to be even to start with. They've rejiggered themselves for a year as more of the same, and next year are doing some extremely stupid-sounding magnet/academy/special subject programs. Nobody has quite explained what happens to the non-magnet students.

#246 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 06:59 PM:

As far as living in a place that has hardly any, if any, choice as to what you hear?

I don't live there now, but when I go to visit family in North Dakota its all around you. Sports, limbaugh, religion, the farm reports, bland blah c&w for music -- NOT Hank Williams, Johnny Cash or, save us, the Dixie Chicks. In fact, a tornado hit without any warning because Clear Channel owns all the stations and there are no people -- the bland broadcast is sent via satellite to the receivers.

Try driving across the country sometime with your radio on all the way. And I don't mean satellite radio.

Every drive from NYC to New Orleans and / or back, once we left home we went for miles of nothing but Armageddon -- went very well with all the signage for businesses owned, run and staffed by Christians only. Yes, your linoleum company is born again. The xtian fish is always part of that signage, it seems, and it's on the bumper stickers plastered on most of the cars too that you are passing or are passing you. It's only when you approached the broadcasting range of the metropolitan areas you found anything else, and that was almost always a rap station.

Now the last time I did this was at the start of this year, granted, but it's really hard to think that any of this has changed.

When you stop for coffee or to eat, it's Fox News on the televisions. (If you're in the military, stationed in Iraq, limbaugh and Fox is what it ws decided you get to hear and watch.)

I'm a radio person -- I don't even own a television, and haven't my entire adult life, just about. I pay lots of attention to radio, just like I do the small town local newspapers. Hardly anyone does. Limbaugh and his ilk are heavily funded from very deep pockets. Limbaugh didn't make a profit for years, but it didn't matter.

He's on 3 hours a day 5 days a week. Then there's Dr. Laura and Savage, and all the local imitators trying to break into this very lucrative gravy train.

They aren't going away. They are on all the stations with the biggest radius for broadcasting. They are still the radical rightwing dominionists' greatest, whitest hope, just as they were when they started out in the late 70's.

Love, C.

#247 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 07:11 PM:

In the days before all the major news media was strangled owned by Murdoch and that ilk, there wasn't much of a problem in terms of figuring out how to put on reputable representatives for 'equal time.'

We're just so unused to even the idea since any vaguely liberal viewpoint has been squeezed off the airwaves for so very long now. That's another reason we don't have that many Rachel Maddows available right now -- there was no place for them to work, to learn, and work their way up to national recognition.

You don't think that Coulter and Buckley and Kristol and all that ilk suddenly saw the light and are mending your ways, do you? That they really support Obama and what we think we supported him for? No. They recognize that the zeitgeist change is upon them and they are falling all over their feet to get another cu$hy berth in the media to tell us what they think.

The neoCONS and religious right wing have funded these people amply, generously all these years (why are they powerful? the $pend monie$, lot$ of money), along with their thinktanks, their magazines, and now even their travesties of law schools. None of this is going away. There's an entire, national infrastructure (born again businesses as I mentioned in a previous post) to keep it going.

The Fairness Doctrine really is the most effective way, democratic way, to combat this, because it is still pouring out hate and divisiveness.

Love, C.

Love, C.

#248 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 07:26 PM:

C. Wingate @ 219: "When you have men of little class standing exchanging racial derogation about others, the only powerlessness of the insulted is in their not being present; what it's really about is the powerlessness of the speakers."

Rarely so. Typically the people being insulted in absentia--women, racial or religious minorities--are of even less power than the speaker. It's about staking a firm claim to what little power does accrue to them, especially vis a vis the people who are around to hear the insult, usually other members of the same class. It's communicating "I hate those bitches/n*****s even more than you do, therefore I am more manly/whiter than you, and so more powerful." I feel that most people miss this about insults: it's not fundamentally about making someone else feel bad and weak. It's about making yourself feel good and powerful. Sometimes hurting someone accomplishes that, but a lot of the time it's the respect of your peers that's the payoff.

#249 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 07:28 PM:

My brother works in educational statistics in the UK.

There are things that can be tested on multiple-choice tests. They've been used as part of the exam toolset for decades (we both faced them in the Seventies).

And if you're designing them to cover the full range of ability, you are going to have some pretty stupid-seeming questions.
Part of the reason for the recent mega-fail on standardised testing in the UK is that an experienced American contractor was low bidder for the marking, and they apparently didn't realise, when making the bid, that there was more to marking the British tests than feeding cards into scanner hardware.

As for teaching to the test, he can easily be provoked into ranting about the low quality of teaching when we we both at school. With reasons.

My NaNoWriMo experience this year tends to support his views. We were, even then, explicitly taught more about answering multiple-choice tests than we were about how to write an essay answer in half an hour. And I'm still writing, at one heck of a rate, in seat of the pants mode.

(Because I've just been writing a scene involving flying a large aircraft at night, analogies about the perils of blind flying are inevitable--consider the example of the spiral dive[1], which seems applicable to recent works by some best-selling authors.)

So, yeah, I'm not inclined to trust teachers to really know when they're going wrong. And I didn't do Latin at school, so I can't get away with throwing in tags about who watches the watchmen. Part of the politics of exams in the UK is the self-proclaimed elite of the public school system seeing the equivalent of Hogwarts exam results compared with those of Grange Hill Comprehensive.

One of the things my brother will bend my ear on is the old Oxford and Cambridge system of a special admission exam. Which wasn't designed to test for subject-specific knowledge. And, he reckons, was too much like work for our teachers.

We didn't know, back then, how you got an MA degree from those universities. John got his master's degree the hard way.

[1] You can think you can feel up and down, but when an aircraft is banked in a turn the down you feel is a combination of gravity and the sideways acceleration. Add a bit of sink--planes often change altitude with the throttle, rather than by raising or lowering the nose==and you can with perfect confidence make a huge hole in the ground.

#250 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 07:34 PM:

Here's an example of what they're up to this minute They're not defeated, they aren't finished, they aren't going away.

Within the past 48 hours, the RNC has sent out memos (the famous talking point memos that rush&co faithfully bang their drums for) blasting the president elect for appointing Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff and hiring David Axelrod to serve an advisory role.

"Barack Obama's first White House hires are hyper-partisan operatives," read a statement from spokesman Alex Conant. "For a President-elect who promised to change the tone in Washington, it's disappointing that he is filling his White House with partisan bomb-throwers."

#251 ::: Holly P. ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 07:50 PM:

Re C. Wingate 239:

You haven't actually answered my question, which was how administering a test over large groups makes biases disappear. Now you say you don't believe biases exist in the first place, because correlation is not causation and even if it is (wait, what?) then maybe those poorly-testing cultures are at fault and should be changed.

But the tests are being administered now, and they have major repercussions now for the children who are members of those disadvantaged cultures or socioeconomic groups. If the test is supposed to measure intelligence, any cultural or socioeconomic bias is a major problem. If it's supposed to measure education, as in the NCLB, it's a possibly less major problem -- because education isn't innate, and the test is measuring how well students can jump through this particular hoop, and maybe that's relevant to their future success in our society -- but may still not give accurate results, because a question may be posed in such a way that it is confusing to ESOL students, or may include cultural knowledge which is not relevant to the test's goals.

Also, regardless of the quality of the test itself, while I understand your preference for lots of tasty data, the NCLB system results in bad, untrustworthy data, which is much less tasty. If the NCLB is only a good measure of performance in good schools to begin with, because bad schools teach to the test, how exactly is it useful for improving bad schools? No one is saying schools shouldn't be able to fire bad teachers; they're saying that a system where schools are automatically penalized for not bringing up their test scores every year is begging to be abused. And really, how is a system where one must frantically teach to the test, as one must in poor, struggling schools, going to attract good educators? Good educators hate teaching to the test.

#252 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 08:04 PM:

Holly P. @ 233: "I do think you're moving the goalposts a bit in your latest comment; in #206, you were talking about identifying oppression, quality of government, and causes of problems with data. Now you're talking -- "what government ought to be doing, which simply isn't available in the data" -- about solutions. Not the same animal."

I think the point that albatross was making was that what you see as problems is dependent on what you think ought to be. Something is only a problem if you think things ought to be different. For example, one could look at the data that shows a widening income gap in America, and think "Good! People are finally being rewarded according to their worth. The government is doing exactly what it should." Or one could think that income inequality is bad, but that fixing it isn't the government's role. Which is to say, information can help in figuring out what is going on and how much of a role the government is playing, but it can't help you determine whether there's a problem and what solutions if any are appropriate.

C. Wingate @ 239: "To all: I'm not saying that the particular climate in which the tests are administered is all that great. I have to say, though, that where teachers are even willing to teach to the test to that degree, education probably isn't going to be that good, with or without tests."

You don't seem to understand that teaching to the test is not a decision that teachers make. It is a decision that is made for them, at a school- or district-level. You also don't seem to get that teaching to the test isn't a moral failure--when the option is teaching to the test or watching your school be defunded by the state and federal government, teaching to the test is simple survival. Holly P. already said it: "The minute a test becomes tied to money, people start cooking the books."

Teaching to the test at the detriment of actual education is also something that disproportionately affects schools that are already on the edge. Who is more likely to feel the need to teach to the test, a teacher at a math-and-sciences magnet school starting her sophomores on calculus, or someone at a poor, minority school with a 35% graduation rate? So NCLB catches the poor three ways: their school is already bad, AND they're being taught to the test, AND their school will be defunded when it inevitably fails.

Education does not operate on a business model. Punishing failure and rewarding success doesn't make the whole system better, it just makes the inequalities more severe. Good data is needed to identify the weak spots, but tying test results to existence creates so much incentive to cheat that it's worse than useless. What is needed is a system that finds out where the weakest teaching is, and helps those students and teachers.

#253 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 08:06 PM:

Male v Female longevity: Wasn't the average woman's lifespan shorter up to the time when antisepsis & anaesthetics made death in childbirth or by puerperal fever so much rarer in the 'civilized' world?

I suspect you may find average shorter male lives isn't all that consistent 'across times and countries'.

#254 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 08:27 PM:

Constance @243 wrote: "I've been hearing this for years. The ways this has worked out like that, let me show you them. Ooops. Not."

How about this election?

The Palin rallies were concentrated FOX/talk radio audiences. Talk radio was a major booster of Palin. Talk radio is a major proponent of Palin in 2012. Talk radio is highly invested in the idea that the GOP failed this year by being too moderate.

In reality, the vast majority of people in both parties don't support Palin. In reality, McCain failed so bad because he ran to the base, not to the center. In reality, Palin doesn't stand a chance in 2012.

So talk radio is pushing the GOP to double down on the failing strategies of 2008.

If talk radio and FOX keep promoting these 100% FAIL strategies, they'll be sealing the GOP's long-term fate.


#255 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 08:27 PM:

heresiarch #251:

Thanks, I think you summarized my point better than I did.

And the thing about teaching to the test is, it's a very common behavior in every field. Give me a metric that determines what my pay raise will be next year--say, lines of code written, or number of papers published, or billable hours, or dollars in sales this quarter--and I will do my best to maximize that number. Often, the best way to do that will not be what my employer was hoping for--they demand lots of publications to get me to innovate, and instead, I slice the bologna very thin and write five papers on different aspects of the same idea. Or I make sales this quarter by committing the company to providing tech support or consulting services next year, since that doesn't affect *my* bonus. Or I spend the whole year's algebra class teaching kids exactly the kind of problems on the test, with no time for anything else. It's very hard to find a measure of performance that can't be gamed.

#256 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 08:28 PM:

(242) - Oh Christ in heaven, I clicked that link, and yea verily, I followed that recipe. And on seeing the (albeit low-resolution, God be praised!) images of said pie, feelings of lust did enter my heart. For yea, verily, I live in a teeny-tiny flat, that posseses not a convection oven, nor even the smallest of freezers that could preserve but a single Cornetto. So lust after that pie I did, I had and I shall. I have sinned!

(Bloody hell, an I'm not even REMOTELY sorry! Give us a slice of that, it looks incomparably yummy!)

#257 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 08:46 PM:

albatross @ 254: You're welcome! I thought I had it, but you never really know for sure...

#258 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 08:55 PM:

Epicris @252, the best studies we have indicate that higher death rates for males of all age levels is pretty standard over time and culture; women may die more of puerperal fever without antibiotics but men are more prone to die of infection from other causes.

#259 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 09:38 PM:

I'd been seriously considering voting for Nader - this remark of his makes me glad I didn't.

I'm a long-time Libertarian who's annoyed that my party's been so taken over by quasi-Republicans that it was able to nominate somebody like Bob Barr, and a vote for Uncle Ralphie normally indicates a None of the Above position - somebody who's ethical, has done some good things, and hasn't a chance in the world of winning, and California was so obviously going to Obama that I didn't need to vote for him. I ended up holding my nose voting for Barr anyway; he's one of the few politicians talking seriously about privacy, tearing down Bush's executive branch power grab, and ending the worst excesses of the War on Drugs, and he has a stronger anti-war position than Obama even if it's recently acquired.
But voting for somebody who thinks drugs shouldn't be fully legal, doesn't like immigration, and helped with the original Defense of Marriage [sic] Act a couple of wives ago just sticks in my craw. It's almost as annoying as having had to vote for Mondale back in 84.

#260 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:12 PM:

JESR @257, perhaps the data are updated & changed since I heard them.

But there are many more hazards in pregnancy & childbirth than puerperal fever, which spiked in, I think, the 18th & 19th centuries — improved vastly more by antisepsis than antibiotics.

One example, & a worthwhile charity, tho' — back to another theme re education — antenatal & obstetrical prevention would be even better.

#261 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:14 PM:

Lee said in #147 "Of course Obama uses a relatively unaccented dialect and standard English; that's the language of power."

Ahem. Obama doesn't talk Ebonics because he didn't grow up where Ebonics was the local dialect, and his parents weren't N-th-generation African-Americans. He grew up in Honolulu and for a few years in Indonesia, and while the prep school he went to was elitist, the dialects they'd be trying to teach the kids not to speak would be the Hawaiian pidgin that mixes English and Hawaiian with Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Pilipino, etc. My wife went to high school in Maui, where the dialects and ethnic mix are a bit different, and Oahu has a military base so there'd have been some African-Americans around (plus the US military's standard white-Southerner dialects.)
I can't really judge how Southern the Kansas accent Obama's mother might have had would sound like (my father's family eventually settled there, but they'd moved around a lot and my aunts say they really sound more like Okies than Kansans.)

Obama could have picked up some African-American accent while organizing communities in Chicago, but he'd already been to Harvard, so if he's got an elitist accent, it's much more native, and he earned it :-)

Also, it amused me that Palin's we-ain't-elitist crowd were talking about elitists eating brie and drinking chablis. Dude, the 80s called and they want their cliche' back. We're fine with brie, especially if it's from one of those boutique dairy places in Marin County, but chablis was replaced by big oakey chardonnay a decade or two ago and is getting edged out by pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc. Maybe a few real elitists are drinking real French Chablis, but the comment inspired me to go out and buy a jug of cheap Almaden for nostalgia's sake. (And the arugula bit? That always struck me as much more of an Italian thing than a yuppie thing, though I suppose there's probably some in the usual spring-mix.)

#262 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:45 PM:

#260
Obama's mother's accent would probably have sounded pretty ordinary to most people, if my family's speech is anything to go by. (Same part of KS, and a couple of generations of people.)

#263 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:51 PM:

"As far as living in a place that has hardly any, if any, choice as to what you hear?"

I'm not sure if you're replying to me or someone else, but my question also asked whether there were such places that didn't have room for more stations.

We also have family in Canada north of the North Dakota border, and when we visit, we not infrequently fly into Minot, site of the infamous 2002 toxic spill that figured in debates about media policy at the time. (Most of the broadcasters there were running remote feeds on autopilot at the time, and warnings didn't get out in a timely fashion. At the time of the spill, there were reportedly only 9 radio stations in town, 6 of which had recently been bought by Clear Channel from two previous owners.)

Minot's local radio has since diversified somewhat, and radio-locator.com now reports 15 stations in Minot and adjacent towns, all of which can be clearly picked up in Minot. Two of them are low power stations (operating under the FCC's new low power licensing regime) that still cover all of the town, according to the radio-locator.com's coverage maps, and one of those is a new nonprofit local community broadcaster.

Even so, that still leaves 44 empty FM frequencies that could be filled in. Other larger cities in North Dakota also have empty FM frequencies (Bismarck and Fargo have 18 each, according to radio-locator.com.) And it appears to be fairly inexpensive to broadcast in low-power, seeing as I've encountered more than one unlicensed station in my area operating out of people's homes. (Transmission to longer ranges gets more expensive, of course, but howstuffworks suggests that a few thousand dollars is enough to buy a transmitter capable of reaching a few miles in any direction.)

Unfortunately, the FCC didn't give out many low-power licenses, and they appear not to have taken any new applications since 2003. I'd rather open up the airwaves to more broadcasters, with preference given to those offering local programming and protections against any one entity owning too much of the spectrum, than try to arbitrate what selection of viewpoints have to be broadcast on any given station.

#264 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 10:53 PM:

PJ: My freesias, and Maia's lilies have come up, the grapes are, slowly, putting forth new leaves, the rue is happy (and the caterpillars on it, though some seem to have been eaten; one is in chrysalis, here's hoping for a couple more), the garlic, onions and shallots are running riot. The melons died eight weeks ago, and the pineapple will be ripe enough to pick tomorrow afternoon, though Monday is probably better.

Holly P: Average is a slippery thing. Alaska's per capita average of federal spending is very high. I don't know that the money for "the bridge to nowhwere" counts as quality gov't. What that money is spent for makes is more important than how much is spent.

C. Wingate: re 30 seconds of research: Bully for you. You made the claim, it's your responsibility to defend it.

re NCLB: I live with a teacher. NCLB has completely changed how she teaches. The need to keep the scores climbing means the district is constantly changing the curriculum, lest they fail to show a better score than last year.

That's expenisive, and means she has a hard time improving what she does, because every other year (at the least) some aspect of what she has to teach is something she got handed; to learn, three weeks before the start of the year.

C. Wingate: What's driving those lifestyle choices? It's a damned good question. Since the same "problem" (blacks in the cities having a higher rate of crime) predates the present, profitable, illegality of drugs, it might be something apart from the dugs, qua drugs. It might be the white kids have options the black ones don't.

It might be they have better schools, which lead to better jobs. It might be they aren't being discriminated against, which leads to less poverty, and so less need to find a way, outside the system, to make money. Part of it might be the differential in penalties when a white kid is arrested, compared the sentence a white kid gets (and the crack/powder coke argument is really strong there), which leads to the problem of trying to get a job on parole/after conviction.

Some of those "choices" are pretty constrained.

Constance: I think (hope, pray, dream) the thing is that right-wing radio/television is a positive feedback loop. According to Rush, et al., George Will, Chris Buckley, Peggy Noonan, etc.; everyone who didn't support Palin with their heart, soul and actions, is "dead to the party." If they really do that, make the the litmus tests more severe, they will spin themselves to irrelevance.

#265 ::: Holly P. ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 11:28 PM:

heresiarch @253 -

That's a very good point, but I'm not convinced it's the one albatross was making; the examples he gave were all of problems everybody seems to agree are problems, like disparities in life expectancy, the spread of HIV/AIDS, and so on. But again, a very good point. I think a lot of seemingly insurmountable disagreements start from people having an unexamined assumption or two about Just What Is Wrong Here.

Terry Karney @263 -

I absolutely agree that "average" is a slippery thing, but you'll note that when I talked about it, I was either talking about average spending broken down by neighborhood and factored by race, class, etc., or average spending broken down by category, such as education, public services, and so on. "Average spending by state" is a slick and wily creature indeed, but "average" tends to approach cleanliness as the stats get finer-grained. For a given value of cleanliness. And "median" is still its more stalwart, upright cousin, of course.

#266 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 11:36 PM:

re 250: There are several kinds of biases involved here. Obviously to the degree that the test is badly written, simply giving it to more people isn't going to eliminate that, although universal administration can in fact mitigate some of this, as I'll explain a bit later. And if you're interested in saying that testing in general is biased, it seems to me that you're engaged in an argument with the educational system that I cannot step up to. Looking at the stuff tested in the MSAs, though, it's going to take a lot of argument to say that people don't need to learn the kind of skills that those tests are directed at. People need to be able to read, write, and do arithmetic, regardless of more abstract skills.

Also, it isn't as though at this late date that the test makers don't know about testing biases, at least as far as race is concerned. I remember when soe of the fairly work on this was appearing in Sci. Am., back when I was in middle school. There were some problems with what I was being presented at the time, which I don't think we need to repeat here. Suffice to say that the assumption that tests have racial biases that don't play off other differences (e.g. social class, which is another bias category they have to watch for) need some demonstration at this late date.

But at any rate, universal standard testing does eliminate two big sources of bias. First, if everyone is using the same test, then there is some hope of comparing results. Second, universal testing eliminates sampling errors brought about by the choice to take or not take the test (which is why the SAT is a problem). It's impossible to even identify whether there are biases if you don't have the testing results to investigate it.

Which leads to me to discussion of this:

You don't seem to understand that teaching to the test is not a decision that teachers make. It is a decision that is made for them, at a school- or district-level. You also don't seem to get that teaching to the test isn't a moral failure--when the option is teaching to the test or watching your school be defunded by the state and federal government, teaching to the test is simple survival. Holly P. already said it: "The minute a test becomes tied to money, people start cooking the books."

This last is not really a counterargument, in that it's not really an argument that one situation is better or worse than the other. If students are performing poorly on the test because they are poorly taught, then being differently poorly taught may not mean a difference at all. If students are performing poorly for some unrelated reason, then one can at least hypothesize that again changing the teaching isn't going to make much of a difference.

Right now the argument seems to bet on a third possibility: that the the current good teaching is being impeded by outside circumstances, and that therefore teaching to the test is going to make things worse. There are reasons to believe that this isn't so, and that poor districts and schools get staffed, often enough, by inferior teachers, because the other coinage of teacher pay-- job satisfaction and vicarious achievement-- is lacking where student performance is lacking, and because the parents lack the know-how and clout to fight this. Indeed, among the reasons districts choose to teach to the test are (a) they are already corrupt and don't care about achievement, (b) they think their students are going to do poorly and therefore are unwilling to risk that they might do well if teaching were changed, and (c) the figure the parents aren't going to be able to mount an effective opposition. This kind of thinking led to poor performance before NCLB was a gleam in the Republican eye; it isn't a problem that the act created.

But anyway, as I said above, I'm not really concerned here with the incentive end of NCLB, but only the opportunities afforded by the testing. There would still be benefit to be gained if all the NCLB act did was mandate the testing.

#267 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2008, 11:53 PM:

Bruce E, #193, no, I just have a box of political buttons going back to Hubert Humphrey/Richard Nixon. I don't expect to use those again, either!

It will be interesting to see where Obama sends his girls to school. Traditionally, presidents' kids went to private schools because the DC schools are so bad.

#268 ::: Holly P. ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 12:15 AM:

C Wingate #265:

Okay, so you say we're so good at writing tests now that racial biases are pretty much nonexistent, and socioeconomic biases are the ones that are left. Maybe. You also say universal testing eliminates the bias brought about by selective testing; sure, I'll buy that.

But socioeconomic bias is still one heck of a bias, and I don't believe you've addressed ESOL bias either, which is a big problem, particularly in urban areas. Should ESOL students who have good reading comprehension in their own language or good math skills when they understand the problems be held back? What if they're taking classes in a mixture of English and a native tongue?

What if, contrary to what you say, they're not being poorly taught at all? What if their teachers are competent and the students are hammered by the socioeconomic or ESOL bias in the test? Their teachers get penalized anyway. I'm not sure you realize the true extent of "teaching to the test." It's not that the teachers have to go back to the basics. It's that the teachers have to take time out of classroom activities to teach kids to underline thesis statements in paragraphs, restate the question before answering, bubble the Scantron in properly; teachers have to spend hours drilling kids on test questions, getting them to memorize phrases, doing practice exams. It's horribly boring for the kids, especially the at-risk kids. And it doesn't teach them anything they can use.

Also, you didn't catch the other problems with tying testing to money. When I said cooking the books, I didn't mean just teaching to the test. I meant discouraging low-scoring kids from continuing, letting them fall through the cracks in the system, hiding drop-out rates in other numbers. Molly Ivins, who was thoroughly, charmingly biased (God rest her soul) but a generally excellent source of information, goes into some impressive detail with coauthor Louis Dubose about the Texas system, on which NCLB was loosely based, and its disastrous effects on Texas schools. The Texas school system, where all students must pass a test to graduate, reports its dropout rate at 4%; independent estimates put it somewhere between 40 and 52%. There's also a nice little trick where students who have failed one course can be kept at that grade level, sometimes for a year or three, in order to keep them from taking the exam.

This is what happens when there's an "incentive end" to a nationwide test like this. You don't seem to understand that the data generated by the NCLB is corrupt. It doesn't mean anything, because there is cheating of various kinds in the system. In Texas, the scores rose over 10 years to a point where most students were passing. Looks like improvement, right? Except that scores on the SAT and ACT didn't rise. Whoops.

If all the NCLB did was mandate the testing, it would be a much better program. As it is, it weakens schools, discourages kids, and puts massive burdens on already-burdened school systems.

#269 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 12:36 AM:

Epicris, the 18th and 19th century are recent in my perspective, and the data from Europe is far too local. Cross-culturally and archaeologically, the evidence is that males of all ages have higher mortality and morbidity from all causes than females in the same population. The only exception to this is in cultures with preferential female infanticide. Population models which include a significant negative differential toward women of childbearing age in populations approximating known pre-modern densities have a charming tendency to rapid extinction.

The peak of perinatal mortality you mention is also closely related to the medicalization of childbirth.

#270 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 12:50 AM:

C. Wingate: If students are performing poorly on the test because they are poorly taught, then being differently poorly taught may not mean a difference at all. If students are performing poorly for some unrelated reason, then one can at least hypothesize that again changing the teaching isn't going to make much of a difference.

But that's a question begging problem. How do you show poor teaching? At present the test is the means. So if the cause of the poor scores is independent of the teaching, there is no way to fix it.

Just mandating the testing isn't really a solution. I live in Calif. Calif. has mandated a statewide test, to all high school students for some 35 years. The wealth of data is there, and (one presumes) has been used. It doesn't seem to have changed much, except that every other year there was a sudden change in the curriculum for a few weeks, to cram the students for the test, so the schools would look good.

It hurt the education of those students in those classes that semester, because they lost valuable time which might have been spent being taught how to think, so they could be taught how to game the test.

And gaming the test is what was taught. I recall being shown how to rule out the obvious "distractors" from questions, so that my guesses; should I not know the answers, would be more likely to hit the right answer.

I've talked with kids, this is one of the things they are being taught. It's one of those perverse incentives, which mandatory testing can't avoid.

Look at what happened in Texas (which mandated an NCLB style of teaching before the rest of the nation). It was used as the model. It turns out the model was fraudulent, because the books had been cooked.

#271 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 01:03 AM:

Holly P: but neighborhood is slippery too. The infamous bridge was sold as a needed infrastructure item for a small neighborhood (50 some people on the island).

#272 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 01:03 AM:

Jon H @ 253: McCain failed so bad because he ran to the base, not to the center.

Large portions of the Republican "base" were likely to have sat on their hands this year, if McCain had not selected a running mate who strongly appealed to at least the actively "religious right" component thereof. This is also the component which has consistently executed the most effective GOTV operations on the Republican side, during the last 25 years or so.

By calculatedly appealing to this bloc, McCain in effect "bought" a relatively high probability that a substantial majority of them would (a) actually go to the polls, and (b) vote for him when they got there.

The trade-off was, of course, that by doing so he also reduced (though, I think, by a smaller fraction) the level of support he subsequently received from the rather larger but ill-defined "moderate" portion of the electorate. Since much of this potential "centrist" support (which also lacked any meaningful GOTV component) was relatively soft, even before the economic shocks of the last two months, McCain may well have decided he was better off conducting a lower-risk "holding action" first, and only then going after the larger but more amorphous centrist portion of his target audience.

The first phase actually seems to have worked fairly well, at least by the standards of McCain's previous relationship with the religious right. The second phase, rather less so. How much of his loss of potential centrist support was due to his actions in first courting the religious right, compared to the impact of the economic situation, might make an interesting topic for some PoliSci graduate thesis.

#273 ::: Holly P. ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 01:15 AM:

Terry Karney @270 -- I yield, I yield. Averages remain slippery, read the Methods section and the footnotes, watch the error bars, look to the skies, Alaska is a crazy place. Also, re 269, have you read that Molly Ivins/Louis Dubose article on the Texas exams I linked to in 267? It's terrific, though it may be stuff you already know.

#274 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 01:40 AM:

I'm kinda late to the party, but Jesus Christ, people!

I haven't read the whole thread, because it came down to people defending fucking Ralph Nader for using the the fucking term "Uncle Tom."

Do you not understand that there is no defense?

Do you not understand that it is indefensible?

Do you not understand that for a white man to use that term is incredibly presumptuous?

Do you not understand that while I love my seatbelts, I wish for Ralph Nader to eat a bag of dicks?

#275 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 01:45 AM:

I haven't read the whole thread, because it came down to people defending fucking Ralph Nader for using the the fucking term "Uncle Tom."

No, it didn't, and you would have noticed that if you had read the thread.

#276 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 08:29 AM:

For shame, hamletta. Read the rest of the thread. We're analyzing what could make RFN so completely crazy that he thinks it's OK for him to use the term.

Few if any of us want to defend RFN. I, for example, think he's a complete scumbag and wish he would shut the fuck up. I know he won't do that while he's alive, so...I still hope for it.

By the way, using the phrase 'eat a bag of dicks' is pretty fucking homophobic and insulting to gay people. What makes you think there's any defense for YOU doing THAT?

#277 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 09:01 AM:

Xopher, not to dispute you on calling out homophobia -- you have way more right to make the call than I do! -- but somehow, the presence of the BAG in the phrase "eat a bag of dicks" has always distracted my focus from the homophobic aspects and turned it towards the dismemberment imagery. And so the phrase feels more childish gross-out and less homophobic than the simple "can suck my dick" or epithet "cocksucker."

That may be just me. I'm also a traditionalist, and find the phrase "fuck off and die" perfectly adequate for the sentiment.

Like in Tank Girl. "Don't say 'butt-munch!' Say... 'asshole.' It's more ladylike."

#278 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 09:21 AM:

hamletta #273: I haven't read the whole thread [...] I wish for Ralph Nader to eat a bag of dicks

I haven't quoted your whole post; are we talking about an upcoming episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern?

Seriously, though, tl;dr responses tend to touch a nerve for me regardless of content, as they seem fundamentally disrespectful of the concept of discourse.

#279 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 09:49 AM:

I was going to drop in a cute comment here with a link directing Hamletta to http://www.ddir.com/ but when I preview it I get a rel="nofollow" added to the URL. Am I doing something wrong, or has Making Light come out against nice cheap hamburgers?

#280 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 09:52 AM:

Bruce @278, rel=nofollow is standard practice at Making Light, to decrease the blog's value for spammers and spiders. The link will still work, it just won't count for Googlebombing.

#281 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 10:14 AM:

C Wingate @ Multiple places, re: test bias.

This is my wife's area of research (google Laura McCullough FCI for cites if you'd like) specifically gender bias in physics tests. One area that she has been examining is the overwhelming gender bias in physics question contexts, i.e. in the most widely used multiple choice physics force conceptual test the vast majority of figures are male. There is research that suggests that sort of contextual emphasis of one type of person over another can have impacts on test scores--see Steele's work on stereotype threat. Just because you don't know about ongoing bias in testing and the huge body of research on same doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

#282 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 10:20 AM:

The button I have just retired says "Regime change begins at home." I had lost track of it a while ago, and when it turned up in October I pinned it to my backpack.

I don't think I need it anymore.

#283 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 10:56 AM:

Rikibeth: thanks for the explanation. I must not have looked too closely when I've done links in the past.

Marilee: no, I just have a box of political buttons going back to Hubert Humphrey/Richard Nixon.

Now there's a fusion ticket that makes my head hurt...

#284 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 12:31 PM:

I'd never heard the "bag of dicks" phrase before, and, yeah, it veers into rocky-mountain oyster territory in the images it can evoke.

But, coming from the insult territory, it's a weird one. All the cocksucker stuff, with its homophobic loading, seems to come from men who would be overjoyed at the idea of a woman sucking their cock.

And that, to me, makes it worse.

#285 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 12:40 PM:

Yes, a lot of homophobic insult is based on the idea that comparing a man to a woman is the worst thing you can say about him. Says a lot about their attitude toward women, doesn't it?

#286 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 12:53 PM:

Xopher: BINGO.

I was tempted to type "Bimbo!" the way that one character mispronounced "Bingo!" in Weird Science, but despite the multiple levels of amusement at using that word in the current context, it really doesn't work unless you can HEAR it to recognize it as a quote.

#287 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 01:24 PM:

Fox & Co are leading the rally to put Spln out there as the candidate in 2012.

They have her on television and radio constantly for the next 4 years, this is going to have an effect with that base that she energizes, that has lots of money.

She is a center around which they can rally, and she's also the saving of them. Win-win for them both.

Love, C.

#288 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 01:57 PM:

Rikibeth @ 285... Weird Science... Anthony Michael Hall, right? I personally preferred Real Genius, as far as teen comedies about Science are concerned, but that's just me.

#289 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 02:06 PM:

Serge, Real Genius is much better, no question about it, but I was, after all, a teen when BOTH those movies came out.

#290 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 02:33 PM:

Serge and RB, you're both wrong about the quote. The Indian scientist who kept saying "Bimbo!" was in Short Circuit; he was one of Johnny Five's developers.

#291 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 02:39 PM:

Xopher @#284: I understand that you've got your own (natural) perspective on masculinity vs. femininity... but from both the psychological and sociological standpoints, that whole category of insult is ultimately based on an ingroup/outgroup distinction. This is just reinforced by the pecking-order differential between the genders.

#292 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 02:40 PM:

Mark, I knew you'd know it. I suspect you'd have gotten it if I posted "Bimbo!" without the explanation, at that.

Silly 1980s teen science movie... is it that much of a surprise I got it confused?

#293 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 04:22 PM:

Rikibeth @ 291... Silly 1980s teen science movie

Rmember My Science Project?

#294 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 04:27 PM:

Serge, I can't say I ever saw it. Or heard of it, if it comes to that.

#295 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 04:41 PM:

Rikibeth @ 293... Oh, that was no big loss.

#296 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 05:04 PM:

I have a rather wearing cold, and I'm not up to much in the way of sustained response right now. But there are two points I'd like to make before I collapse.

First: If one can identify bias in testing, then it seems to me that within certain limits one can correct for it. That limit is the standard of the lack of bias. For example, in the example from 280 one can posit a lot of subbiases (e.g., that the higher prevalence of AS in males is going to give them some immunity to this particular bias). But then again, it's a useful testing strategy to train the kids to resist that particular problem-- and on top of that, it improves their thinking in general (or at least, one could make such an argument). One need not take any dimorphism that appears for granted.

Meanwhile, back at "teaching to the test": I am dubious about the hidden assumption that these places that switched to "teaching the test" were houses of puissant academia before the switch. I think it's much safer to assume that they were corrupt before, as after. At any rate, one needs some other indicator of whether performance has declined if the NCLB test is tainted; absent that, the valid conclusion is that one cannot tell, that not things have gotten worse. As a side note, strategies for taking standardized tests are a useful skill which kids whose parents can afford test prep classes get an advantage with. To that degree, teaching to the test should have been done all along.

#297 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 05:35 PM:

#273 Do you not understand that while I love my seatbelts...?

Ralph Nader wasn't responsible for seatbelts. (He's always been a champ at taking credit for other people's work.) In this case, the person who should be given credit for seatbelts in American autos is Robert McNamara (yes, that Robert McNamara), who started putting them in Ford cars as an option while Nader was still an undergraduate. Seatbelts were already standard in US autos by 1964, the year before Nader wrote his book.

#298 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 05:36 PM:

#295
If the students are taught well, they should do well on any kind of test (at their level), without having to be taught how to get a good grade on the test.
If you have to teach them how to take tests, then you're already in trouble.

This assumes the students actually want be in school and to learn.
In a community where learning is treated with disrespect and the educated are looked down on, you should expect that the students won't want to be in school and would prefer not learning any more than they absolutely have to.

#299 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 06:13 PM:

C. Wingate: As a side note, strategies for taking standardized tests are a useful skill which kids whose parents can afford test prep classes get an advantage with. To that degree, teaching to the test should have been done all along.

No, there is a difference between teaching test taking strategies, and teaching the limited subject set of the test. I realise I used the former as an example of poor pedagogy; because it was substituted for real teaching of the subject. For that mea culpa.

I note that your comment about needing to add more tests to validate the testing going on with NCLB is therefore going to add another source of gaming. I don't think there is a way to, easily, find and correct for bias, in the tested group. It's a sort of Gödel problem. Without a way to get a study group both broad and deep, the thing being measured is a small enough subset it's hard to validate.

And without being able to step outside the study group, to see what the operating varables are, one can't correct for them. What we can do is see where the disparities are, and try to analyze what the correlative factors were, and see which are the ones more likely to be causitive, and then correct for them.

The one which seems most constistent... money. If we did away with the link of property tax to school funding, we'd see a more leveled playing field. I know the black kids who were bussed to my school (suburban area, with a more motivated teaching staff; for whatever reasons) did better than those who stayed in their own neigborhoods, where the district sent lesser teachers.

How much of that solid performance was casusitve (from the better teaching) and how much was self-selective (kids, or parents, who wanted to go to better shcools) I don't know. A study of how many involuntarily bussed kids did well, compared to those who chose to bus would have to be done.

I do know that when white kids were sent to "black" schools, the teachers who were sent there went up too, which implies insitutional racism (even if passive) still has a large part to play in the problem.

#300 ::: Betsy-the-muffin ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 07:01 PM:

@C. Wingate, various:

As someone who has actually taken the MSAs, I agree with you that they're much better than some other approaches to standardized testing. Unfortunately, "better" doesn't mean good.

For those less familiar with the MSAs--they try to avoid the main pitfall of standardized testing by decreasing the percentage of your score that's determined by multiple-choice questions. They're still there, but they're joined by BCRs and ECRs (Brief/Extended Constructed Responses)--that is, essay questions and bits of the math sections where you have to show your work.

Unfortunately, to ensure consistency and objectivity in the grading process, the MSAs use very strict rubrics.

What would generally happen, in my magnet-program-super-honors-AP-whatever classes, is that teachers would first explain the right way to do things. After they were pretty sure we had that down, they'd tell us the way that we needed to do it when we were tested, to make sure the grader marked us well. Now, that latter class time could have been spent on other things, and its waste is bad enough--

But like I said, I was in the special-people classes. In the other classes at my school, teachers didn't always have the luxury of teaching both approaches. Guess which one they were forced into picking?

#301 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2008, 09:35 PM:

C. Wingate @ 295: "Meanwhile, back at "teaching to the test": I am dubious about the hidden assumption that these places that switched to "teaching the test" were houses of puissant academia before the switch."

Who said that they were? I made the opposite point--the schools that will switch to a heavily test-based approach are probably the worst ones to begin with. We're all quite happy to admit that the school system had plenty of problems prior to the implementation of NCLB. The question is, is NCLB making the problems better or worse? You seem to be arguing that at the very least it isn't making them any worse. I disagree--I think that it damages schools by incentivizing the teaching of test-taking skills, especially in the schools that were already more marginal--the ones who can least afford it. It widens gaps between good and bad schools, when the goal should be to close them.

"At any rate, one needs some other indicator of whether performance has declined if the NCLB test is tainted; absent that, the valid conclusion is that one cannot tell, that not things have gotten worse."

The valid conclusion from the test scores is that one cannot tell if there has been any improvement or not; ignoring the tests entirely it is still patently obvious that teaching kids how to follow scoring rubrics doesn't make them better at math. To the extent that the existence of the test forces schools to substitute test-taking skills in the place of genuine education, the ultimate effect of the test can only be negative.

Tests can be useful, but the instant they are tied to the life or death of the school, they become tainted and their usefullness vanishes. They cannot be both the carrot and the stick AND the means to tell how effective the carrot and stick are.

#302 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 12:51 AM:

Constance, #245: My partner and I travel a lot with our business, most of it within a day's drive of Houston. And over the last few years, we've started to notice some differences.

- It was indeed true several years ago that the TV in any public location would be tuned to Faux News. These days, it's about half-and-half between them and either CNN or MSNBC.

- Similarly, the radio/Muzak soundtrack at truck stops used to always be country-western, and the obnoxious "America, love it or leave it" type at that. Now a fair number of them are playing Golden Oldies instead.

- A lot of those same truck stops have taken down the "Daily Terror Level Indicator" which used to be ubiquitous on their doors.

I find all of these to be encouraging signs.

heresiarch, #251: I would hazard a guess that C. Wingate has no children of primary- or secondary-school age, and no friends or reasonably close acquaintances who teach at that level. I have no children in that age group, but enough friends who are teachers that I get to hear chapter and verse of all this on a semi-regular basis. Bluntly speaking, no competent teacher has anything but the utmost contempt for NCLB because they perceive it (correctly IMO) as an active interference with their ability to do the job they're SUPPOSED to be doing, namely teaching their subject to their students.

Jon, #253: I'm with Constance on this. Remember that it took a combination of an economic meltdown of truly heroic proportions plus a new, highly charismatic candidate to swing this election -- and for all the electoral-vote landslide, the difference in the popular vote wasn't that huge. And it's already been demonstrated that there are an awful lot of folks out there with the attention span of a flea, who will cheerfully parrot whatever Limbaugh's latest talking point might be without ever remembering (or even noticing) that he said exactly the opposite two months (or two weeks) ago.

The minute we don't get everything we want plus a pony, the drumbeat of how It's All Obama's Fault and Things Would Be Better If A Republican Was In Office will start going full force. If things prove hard enough to sort out (and/or the remaining Republican legislators prove obstructive enough) that there hasn't been really obvious progress made by 2010, the Republican candidates will all campaign on, "Obama can't fix this, but I will!" More frustratingly, if there has been significant improvement by that time, they'll simply shove it under the rug and start harping on every little discontentment as if it were the end of the world.

And there is absolutely no reason to believe that people won't start buying it again.

#303 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 08:08 AM:

Lee@300: I would hazard a guess that C. Wingate has no children of primary- or secondary-school age, and no friends or reasonably close acquaintances who teach at that level.

Guesses can be hazardous -- given that I've known C. Wingate in offline life for close to two decades, I can safely say that you'd be wrong on the first count, at the very least.

#304 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 10:07 AM:

heresiarch #300:

I'm not sure we should just discard the data because they're imperfect. After all, SAT and bar exam scores are also high-stakes tests with lots of incentives to cheat, on which a school's reputation may be partly based, but my impression is that they still give some useful information despite these problems.

A problem we have here is that we need good data to determine which schools are failing. But once we know that, it's pretty irresponsible not to take some action. That action is often not going to please the adminstration or teachers of a failing school.

Now, this assumes (my model) that schools and teachers vary widely not only in their student population, but also in their quality and appropriateness for their students. If that's not true, if all schools meeting the minimal requirements for accreditation are more-or-less the same, and the differences in performance by students is overwhelmingly about the difference in students coming in, then this won't fix anything[1].

But if schools do vary in quality, and some of the worst schools are so bad partly because they're badly run, then it surely makes sense to try to find those schools and fix them. Is there a good way to do that?

Anything we do that imposes change on failing schools is going to trigger bitter complaints, because administrators and teachers will often be told what to do from on high, and will sometimes be fired. Anything we do to test these schools will similarly raise some problems with "teaching to the test," moving low-performing kids into special ed programs to exempt them from taking the tests, or outright fraud by schools that are borderline.

But the existing situation seems to be to do nothing when there are large school systems that are disasters for the kids sent there. That can't be the right way to do things.

[1] There's clearly a large effect from the kind of students coming into the school--a school full of middle-class white and Asian kids usually looks *very* different from one full of poor black and Hispanic kids. But I'm assuming here that this isn't the only effect that matters.

#305 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 10:32 AM:

#303
But the SAT and ACT scores aren't generally assumed to reflect the school's performance. They're more a measure of the individual students' performances. Or used to be, any way. Also, because they're done at the end of high school, they really don't affect the earlier grades and how those classes are taught.

The NCLB testing starts early and goes all the way through, and doesn't make allowances for physical and mental handicaps, or for English not being the primary language of a student.

#306 ::: Fiona ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 12:04 PM:

NCLB = teach for the test.

My kids go to good suburban schools. Since NCLB, there has been a change in the school curriculum to "teach for the test" and you can see it in the test scores--they are very high. But that comes at a price. Many things that were taught before, and things the school made time for, are lost.

Example: in fifth grade at my youngest son's school, there has been the tradition of a three day environmental retreat. The kids, teachers and a few parents would go a couple of hours away by bus, and have an outdoor learning experience with wildlife biologists, environmental educators and others and these kids would come back ready to make some changes in their family, school and community. We now have corn-based "plastic ware" in the cafeteria, and a recycling program that includes composting cafeteria waste. We have water gardens, and in the spring, the kids plant a "pizza garden" of tomatoes, oregano, onions and peppers to make pizza the first week of school.

Because of NCLB, the environmental retreat has been cut. They need the class time to continue to improve out test scores. What a loss of life experiences for the kids, and a loss for the school and community of the projects that he kids won't start in the future.

#307 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 05:04 PM:

Terry, an update on the grapevines.
The Muscat is indeed starting to leaf out again - it had shed all of them already. I think that next weekend it's going into a much larger pot, with or without pruning. (I don't want to prune it now; I'd rather wait until New Year's or a little later, when it's really dormant.)

The rhubarb is growing again, now that it's cooler.

#308 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 05:21 PM:

Another point against C. Wingate: Even the worst schools have some teachers who are dedicated and inspirational. NCLB effectively neuters them, and often drives them out of the profession.

#309 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 05:40 PM:

NCLB is a significant part of why one of my editorial colleagues is now an editor. She was teaching middle school science, and while there are some standardized tests in science, they weren't what schools passed or failed on (and I think still aren't), so science got less and less time in the school week. The amount of science out there hasn't shrunk, nor has its importance in the world, and the amount she was being told she should teach hadn't shrunk, though the flexibility in what she taught kept decreasing.

It got too frustrating for her: she liked teaching, it was all the stuff that had grown up around it. So now she's in textbook publishing. Specifically, we're helping students deal with those tests.

Note that while NCLB is a federal law, it has not produced anything resembling a nationally consistent curriculum; I don't know how much this hurts a hypothetical student whose family moves from, say, Alabama to Ohio, or vice versa, a month before the state test is given.

There has always been some state-specific content in the curricula (some of it as trivial as that one's state has the world's longest suspension bridge); it looks as though there's less room for the teacher to look at a student who is doing okay, if not outstandingly, on math, reading, and writing, and has some understanding of what the U.S. Congress is, and how plants make food, and pass them even though they missed test questions because they didn't have the classes that covered Texas natural resources, or the importance of the space program to the economy and culture of Florida (that's in a science standard, folks).

Again, this isn't hurting the best, or best-prepared students, it's going to affect the ones this law is allegedly supposed to help.

#310 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 08:23 PM:

Vicki #308:

So, what would be better? It's clearly possible to measure the performance of schools in better ways than NCLB. But that still leaves a measurement, and that measurement will still be subject to some kinds of gaming by the schools, and school administrators will still have incentives to trade off student well-being for improved standing in the rankings if that determines their standing in the community or their career prospects or whatever.

It's easy for me to accept that NCLB is flawed, maybe fatally flawed. But the alternative needs to be something other than just throwing up our hands and saying "well, there's no way to compare these schools, so let's just ignore the problem schools and hope that their students somehow get a better education on their own." What I'm not clear on is what that other alternative should look like.

#311 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 08:28 PM:

I must say that "No Child Left Behind" has always evoked the image, at least, of "Oops, everybody slow down until Timmy catches up with the rest of us."

#312 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 08:44 PM:

albatross @ 309: "But that still leaves a measurement, and that measurement will still be subject to some kinds of gaming by the schools, and school administrators will still have incentives to trade off student well-being for improved standing in the rankings if that determines their standing in the community or their career prospects or whatever."

The problem isn't merely that measurement is subject gaming--most every measurement is, and yet some are better than others. What makes NCLB so worthless is that a) gaming these tests is so easy and b) that failing to game them has heinous, incredibly destructive consequences. Both of these things can be fixed.

1. Change a portion of the test from year to year. Instead of having the exact same style of test every year, have a test made up of multiple sections several of which are different. Use a one or two parts to maintain continuity of scores, and use the rest as an absolute measure of how each school compares.

2. Instead of cutting federal funding to schools who test poorly, single out those schools for intensive intervention--run workshops during the summer for the teachers*, send evaluators to figure out the school's particular problem, pay a bounty to good teachers who move to that school. Ignore the schools who do well. If failing the tests got you the help you need, rather than shutting your school down, there's much less incentive to cheat.

(Also, I'm a bit irate at the assumption you make in 303 that any time anyone criticizes NCLB we're somehow beholden to the teachers and are terribly, terribly afraid of upsetting them. Refusing to ignore their input doesn't mean we think they're infallible gods.)

*Taught by the teachers who have received excellent scores.

#313 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 10:26 PM:

Albatross @ 309:

What I'm saying is that it appears, in some significant ways, such as science education, that NCLB is worse than the absence of NCLB. If a measure or intervention is harmful, we should at least consider removing it even if we don't know what would be better than doing nothing.

There may be ways in which NCLB is better than doing nothing, and better than what was being done before NCLB. To the extent that that claim is true, it should be demonstrable; it should not be taken on faith, or treated as an axiom, merely because people agree that something should be done, and this is something. Furthermore, it should be possible to identify where it is helpful, where the effects are slight or inconsistent enough that they can't be identified, and where it is harmful, and use that as a basis for improvement. Or is everything testable and measurable except the value of the current set of tests.

#314 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 10:35 PM:

#301 ::: Lee

Thank you for that local information. Everything has to be built locally, and go bottom up.

In the meantime, the beat has named this recession, maybe Depression, "The Obama Recession sliding into Depression."

So all the people who are already hit the hardest are being told 24/7 that Obama and the Dems are responsible. The lies included in this memo are many and hideous -- and still out of the originator of the neoCON playbook, Lee Atwater.

This is only going to divide the nation more -- that 30 + percent who believes Sarah is the second coming and so on and so forth.

The Secret Service released the information that with the final drumbeats of the mcpln lynch mob whip 'em up the number of death threats to Pres. Elect Obama increased many-fold.

These things matter.

Again, I cannot see any realistic AND democratic, constitutional antidote to this other than re-instating the Fairness Doctrine.

Love, C.

#315 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 07:21 AM:

Constance @313: Repealing the Fairness Doctrine may have led to right-wing talk radio and FOX News (I think it did), but I would worry that a Fairness Doctrine today would result in a story about global warming requiring countervailing claims from a climate change denialist, and a science report about how a fossil find fit in with evolutionary theory would have to also provide a creationist/ID point of view.

#316 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 09:49 AM:

Is it possible that we're all talking past each other here? I'm pretty sure I wasn't assuming that anyone critical of NCLB was beholden to teachers unions or whatever, and I'm not really defending NCLB. I am saying that the goal of determining which schools are failing and addressing the failutes is a good one, and that even the flawed data from NCLB probably does tell us something about which schools are failing.

I'd love to see some measurement of whether NCLB does any good. I'm not sure how that would be measured, though. Graduation rates? College graduation rates from that school? Some kind of tracking of success in life?

And the place where we go back to differences in assumptions about the world is where we start thinking about goals. Is the goal of a school reform to bring up the bottom, so that the people in the worst failing schools do better? Or is it to bring up the middle, so that more average students do a bit better, and maybe make it into some kind of college? Or to bring up the top, so that the future doctors and scientists and engineers arrive at college really well prepared? Or something else?

My rather uninformed take on this is that the stated goal of NCLB is to bring up the bottom. I'm not sure if it accomplishes even that, but it might be a reasonable tradeoff (depending on your assumptions) to make the average kids waste a lot of time on test-taking skills, if it did help the kids at the bottom[1].

I like heresiarch's idea of how to handle failing schools. My impression is that there are big administrative problems with some school systems (ghost employees who get paid but don't ever show up to work, large salaries for administrators but not enough money for textbooks, etc.). It needs to be possible to address those larger problems, too.

One thing I think is really important to remember in talking about school reform is that those three goals, above, pull in different directions. Similarly, the problems middle-class parents see in their school systems tend to be rather different from the ones poor parents see in their school systems, and it's common to see proposals that would solve the middle-class parents' problem but not the poor parents' problem.

[1] Honestly, honing your test-taking skills is pure loss, since the only advantage to doing that is to help you score better on a test. It's like the difference between trying to raise IQ scores by getting rid of lead paint in homes and providing decent nutrition, vs. doing it by practicing on the specific kinds of questions used on IQ tests.

#317 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 09:51 AM:

I wonder what political appointees of the Bush Administration, expecting a permanent Republican majority, would have done with the Fairness Doctrine.

#318 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 10:38 AM:

heresiarch @ 300: Tests can be useful, but the instant they are tied to the life or death of the school, they become tainted and their usefullness vanishes. They cannot be both the carrot and the stick AND the means to tell how effective the carrot and stick are.

This is the problem, in a nutshell. (Warning: mangling of cliches, ahead!) The tests are used to beat the schools about the heads, except when they're used to reward them.

When the test results are presented, small sample bias is completely overlooked, and data based upon an N that is less than 10 children is compared with equal weight to data based upon N>10. I saw this with my own eyes in my son's elementary school; the error bars, which were helpfully included on the graph, were so wide they could not make any significant distinction between that "failing" group and the rest of the "passing" groups, yet this school was labeled a failure in that group. I couldn't get the Principal to understand, so I gave up.

I think that NCLB was originally a decent idea -- have some way of comparing schools to each other and across time -- and then using that information to direct financial assistance, etc. It's been the administration of this concept that has been extremely flawed, probably because it's based on a flawed model (i.e., the Texas model, in which the data were massaged to make the system look good).

In order to make this work, we'd have to scrap NCLB and replace it with something better.

#319 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 10:55 AM:
....but I would worry that a Fairness Doctrine today would result in a story about global warming requiring countervailing claims from a climate change denialist, and a science report about how a fossil find fit in with evolutionary theory would have to also provide a creationist/ID point of view.

But the Spewers have been pumping that anti-human caused Climate Change, anti-science 24/7 for years in their faux cocoons.

So let them have well-informed people who will counter them. Real debate again. The primary and public media have been giving the anti-science, climate change deniers, creationists a lot of broadcast time -- and they do softball them.

This is would be win-win. If enough true information and facts do get out there, in a level playing field, I believe they will prevail. When they aren't getting out there at all, it's bad money driving out good.

Already rush&cronies are spewing that FDR made the Depression, and that Obama caused this economic catastrophe. Among other out-and-out lies.

Well, that's my opinion anyway. I'm excellent at having opinions!

Love, C.

#320 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 11:01 AM:
I wonder what political appointees of the Bush Administration, expecting a permanent Republican majority, would have done with the Fairness Doctrine.

Que-que?

It was already repealed -- in 1987, under Reagan.

Then so many other regs that safeguarded the media from monopolist viewpoint and ownership -- were sold out by Clinton in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

So I'm confused as to what you mean.

Love, C.

#321 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 12:48 PM:

heresiarch, #311: Those suggestions (especially #2) would make a lot of sense, were it not that one of the primary (if unstated) purposes of NCLB is to convince enough people that public education is worthless to get popular support for a proposal to dismantle it altogether and replace it with some sort of voucher system. It is doing exactly what it was designed to do, and doing it very well.

#322 ::: sherrold ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 02:05 PM:

Though I'm still bitter about Darcy Burner, one of the high points of Tuesday night was knowing that Teresa (Terry) Bergeson was no longer our Superintendent of Public Instruction. She was a fervent WALS supporter (what WA uses for their NCLB testing) long after there was sufficient evidence that it was unevenly written, not predicative, that the math tests have too high a reading component. etc., etc. The best part was when she was interviewed by The Stranger (the Seattle equiv. of the Village Voice), and they put some WASL questions in front of her...and she got them all wrong.

FWIW: 4 years ago, I went back to school to get a teaching degree. I loved the kids, and my grad classes...yet during the last quarter of student teaching, I...gave up and went back into industry. I couldn't face how little agency I would have had to make changes -- how straightjacketed teachers (at least at those two schools, in those two districts) were.

#323 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 02:19 PM:

Sherrold, my sister and I were talking about Bergeson the other day, and out feeling for her tenure as WSSPI was that she dealt with problems in the way effective teachers and principals have to- by taking imperfect materials and trying to adapt to them. This lead to the problem getting more complicated and the materials becoming more imperfect because what was needed was to raze the testing structure to the ground and start over.

I lost all faith in NCLB when one of my infinite number of cousins spent an afternoon describling the loss of progress resulting from interrupting the consistency and predictibility needed to help the two nonverbal Autisitic students she worked with to meassure their progress. I was already very sceptical because of the ways in which the test punished dysgraphic students, but had no state-wide plans to deal with that learning disability (that is, no way to make sure students with dysgrapia or other writing problems to access keyboards).

#324 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 03:01 PM:

re 315: Bringing up the bottom would indeed appear to be the stated purpose of NCLB.

I disagree that honing your testing skills is "pure loss", because testing poorly versus well has consequences. There's a lot of lossiness being talked about here which is really about resource allocation, and this is one of those.

and back to 300: I'd have to agree that the "do better or we'll withhold money" approach presupposes a certain model about why students in some schools are doing poorly, and makes things worse where poor performance isn't explained by that model. Also, the whole thing is shot to hell to the degree that teacher performance doesn't influence student performance. In that wise, I'd say it's useful to mandate the tests for reasons I've given, but to take a rather different approach to using the results.

And for the record: I have three children: a 15 year old boy, a 12 year old girl, and a 9 year old boy with Downs. All are in Montgomery County, MD public schools.

#325 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 03:43 PM:

Albatross @#315: My rather uninformed take on this is that the stated goal of NCLB is to bring up the bottom

Sorry, but regardless of stated goals, Joel Polowin @#310 has it exactly right, as does Lee @#320.

The design is a classic, and vicious, case of "making the perfect the enemy of the good". Further, the nearly-explicit intention of its creators was to double-bind the public school system, killing off any "competing" programs -- and any hope of genuine improvement in school quality.

#326 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 04:04 PM:

So... it seems to me that one of the ways to get rid of NCLB would be to get more stories out there about the things schools have had to abandon because of it, especially if there was a concomitant drop in SAT/ACT scores. Is this sort of information readily available?

#327 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 04:05 PM:

The standardized test I met in school was this one: Iowa Tests of Educational Development. Three days (roughly) of multiple-guess bubble-filling on IBM cards.
Actually it wasn't bad. The school I was at didn't give it to us every year; it was something like 9th and 11th grades only.

It wasn't used to rank the school, AFAIK, but it probably did help the administrators decide which level of English (and possibly math) we'd be in the next year.

#328 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 05:49 PM:

re 325: OK, it's my turn to be the anti-naysayer (as opposed to the designated pessimist, which is my usual position). What would people suggest to evaluate and improve school quality instead of NCLB?

#329 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 06:26 PM:

Constance@319

I suspect what albatross is suggesting is that Bush appointees would have interpreted the Fairness Doctrine in such a way that Fox News and talk radio were left alone while more liberal outlets (at least liberal compared to Fox News and talk radio) would have been forced to be more conservative.

#330 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 06:33 PM:

Perhaps a reading-comprehension test (appropriate for age level, and with allowance for people whose first/home language is not English) should be part of it. Certainly there appear to be a lot of people working for the news media who would fail such a test, and one wonders how they graduated from high school! And reading comprehension is very hard to "teach to the test", especially if the test paragraphs change every year; the only sure way to pass it is to have the ability. Furthermore, it's an ability which feeds into many other areas, so improving that one item yields a larger ROI than a lot of other things would.

More to the point, one of the things that needs to change (as heresiarch has pointed out) is that a failing school should be earmarked for extra assistance, not for being immediately shut down. That one facet of NCLB is extremely telling about its intended purpose.

#331 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 07:37 PM:

I think simply repealing NCLB (that is, returning to the way things were before it) would be a huge improvement. Then we can worry about fixing the schools.

Let's fix the peeling paint AFTER we put out the fire, in other words.

#332 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 10:45 PM:

JESR, #322, describling = scribbling your description

#333 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 12:52 AM:

Marilee, I fear I will never be inerrant, but that's a good turn-around on my scrambled typing.

#334 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 02:14 AM:

Xopher, #330: Excellent point! This is a combination of three well-known aphorisms:

- First, do no harm.
- When you're in a hole, STOP DIGGING.
- Fix what you can tell is broken first.

NCLB is known to be broken -- to be actively harming precisely the people it is purported to help. There is no reason whatsoever to allow it to continue while we try to come up with something better.

Every minute spent on teaching to the test is one less minute which could have been spent on basic skills, on teaching the actual subject, on teaching critical thinking. If I were looking for a way to produce a population incapable of rebellion against even the stupidest imaginable policies, destroying actual education is where I would start. Wait...

#335 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 02:28 AM:

albatross @ 315: "I'm pretty sure I wasn't assuming that anyone critical of NCLB was beholden to teachers unions or whatever, and I'm not really defending NCLB."

@ 303 you wrote "Anything we do that imposes change on failing schools is going to trigger bitter complaints, because administrators and teachers will often be told what to do from on high, and will sometimes be fired."

Maybe I’m reading that wrong, but it looks to me like you just completely dismissed the validity of any criticisms of school reform that teachers might make. You’re setting teachers up as these natural enemies of school reform, as if some vast majority of teachers and administrators are more invested in perpetuating a broken system than they are in educating kids. I’m not denying that those people exist, the Iron Law of Institutions extends everywhere, but they are few and far between in an under-paid, over-worked market like education. There are better places to be an institutional hack. In my experience, teachers’ violent allergy to politicians telling them how to teach is a well-founded reaction to clumsily-designed “educational reform” that makes it harder to teach kids, not easier. Reforms like, oh I don’t know, NCLB, for example.

Some teachers will scream and complain at any effort at reform. I went to public school, I knew which teachers were in it for the three-month vacation. But they were a tiny handful out of the teachers I knew. Most of them were teachers because they believed it was their calling. When not one or two, but all education professionals tell you that an attempt at educational reform is doing more harm than good, you should listen.

"I am saying that the goal of determining which schools are failing and addressing the failutes is a good one, and that even the flawed data from NCLB probably does tell us something about which schools are failing."

Well, no one is debating the first half of that. It's the second half that's in question. Sometimes, having bad information is worse than having no information at all. NCLB creates bad information by the bucketful, and then destroys schools on the basis of that information. I can't see how that's helping anything.

Lee @ 320: "Those suggestions (especially #2) would make a lot of sense, were it not that one of the primary (if unstated) purposes of NCLB is to convince enough people that public education is worthless to get popular support for a proposal to dismantle it altogether and replace it with some sort of voucher system."

Yes, but describing what a good system would be like and how completely NCLB fails to resemble that system is crucial to proving that point.

C. Wingate @ 327: Did you miss my post @ 311?

#336 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 02:41 AM:

JESR @ 322

loss of progress resulting from interrupting the consistency and predictibility needed to help the two nonverbal Autisitic students she worked with to meassure their progress

Oh, holy crap! I have known for some time about the damage NCLB is doing to the educational system in general, but it never occurred to me that they would be so stupid as to apply it to learning-impaired, neurologically damaged, emotionally disturbed, or developmentally-delayed children. That's just plain, old-fashioned idiocy. No, it's worse than that: it's downright evil. Just to get their little political machinations going perfectly, they have to dick around with the chances of kids whose odds of having any sort of decent life depends vitally on their teachers and therapists working on their educational needs as hard and as continuously as possible, often in ways that go counter to the normal methods of educating undamaged kids. Grrr! that pisses me off so badly I could spit nails. I sincerely hope that those so-called people come to an extremely bad end and failing that, they come back as bedbugs in their next reincarnation; I'll be standing by with a big boot to thwack them.

#337 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 06:21 AM:

re 334: Actually, 327 was meant as a response to 311. Apparently my phrasing was misleading: I was more interested in hearing ideas about how improvements could be made. That's one thing that's disappointing me here: it's easy to jump on the bandwagon of how bad NCLB is based on various anecdotes about cheating etc., but without a pre-NCLB baseline of comparison, it's hard to show that things have gotten better or worse. I was hoping for something beyond "it's bad and just stop it."

But in the interest of speculation, simply increasing funding for places that test poorly is as problematic as taking it away. In fact, it's probably worse, because it creates an incentive for poorly performing systems to stay poorly performing.

#338 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 06:52 AM:

Lee @333: If I were looking for a way to produce a population incapable of rebellion against even the stupidest imaginable policies, destroying actual education is where I would start. Wait...

School in Japan is said to be a treadmill of tests.

I wish I could find the source, but I recall reading that after the outbreak of student radicals in the 60s*, the government redesigned the educational system to prevent further radicals from arising.

What they came up with, was to get the students so focused on 'the next test', that they would never have the time to look up, or think.


* There is a famous photo of a student radical knifing a government official; I can't remember any details that would allow me to search it out, or find info on the event. Searching through books on photojournalism at the library would be where I would have to start.

#339 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 08:20 AM:

C. Wingate: What would people suggest to evaluate and improve school quality instead of NCLB?

First, start at the top: Obama should outright purge the originators and partisans of NCLB, and appoint a Department of Education chief whose experience as a teacher and administrator runs back to before NCLB started corrupting the system. That person should have an explicit brief to cleanup the federal hierarchy from the top down, and to force the state education agencies to do the same.

Second, teaching should be explicitly recognized as a true profession, with all the traditional privileges of one:

1) There should be both national and state accreditation boards for teachers and their administrators. The boards need to have sufficient power to withstand political interference from outsiders, and they will be the final appeal for accusations of professional misconduct.

2) The minimum requirement for service on that board (that is, authority over teaching standards) should be a Master's degree in Education. This doesn't mean you need that merely to teach, but anybody without it must follow the lead and policies of the professional teachers.

3) The boards will be requested to provide distinct policy goals for the multiple goals of public teaching:
* Education and advancement of the "normal majority" of schoolchildren.
* Identification and remediation for children with individual handicaps.
* Discovery and correction of systemic or external handicaps to the education of troubled populations.
* Identification and advancement of children with exceptional abilities and gifts.
* Discovery and correction or removal of abusive, incompetent, or otherwise unsuitable teachers.
* Identification and advancement of teachers with exceptional abilities.

You'll note that despite your implied challenge, I have not gone into details about particular tests and standards. That's because, while I'm the son of three schoolteachers and the grandson of three more, I am not myself a professional teacher -- and the essence of a profession is that only members of the profession are competent to judge the work of their peers!

At this point, the educational profession knows a great deal about what's needed to teach children -- what non-teachers need to do is, to stand back and let the experts do their job.

#340 ::: David Harmon sees a bug in ML code ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 08:35 AM:

Aaack! Firefox/NoScript now considers ML's Preview as a suspicious XSS upload! The console seems to suggest an missing close-bracket }.

My temporary workaround is to disable the NoScript option: "Turn cross-site POST requests into data-less GET requests".

Errors from the console include:

3x: Warning: Error in parsing value for property '-moz-user-select'. Declaration dropped.
Source File: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/010774.html#307254
Line: 0

[NoScript XSS] Sanitized suspicious upload to [http://www.nielsenhayden.com/mt/spqr.cgi ...URL embeds my comment
from [http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/010774.html#307254]: transformed into a download-only GET request.

Warning: Selector expected. Ruleset ignored due to bad selector.
Source File: http://www.nielsenhayden.com/mt/spqr.cgi
Line: 96

Warning: Unexpected end of file while searching for closing } of invalid rule set.
Source File: http://www.nielsenhayden.com/mt/spqr.cgi
Line: 97
Unexpected end of file while searching for closing } of invalid ruleset.

2 more "error in parsing property...

Error: getStylesheet is not defined
Source File: http://www.nielsenhayden.com/mt/spqr.cgi
Line: 16

#341 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 08:48 AM:

C. Wingate @ 336: "...it's easy to jump on the bandwagon of how bad NCLB is based on various anecdotes about cheating etc., but without a pre-NCLB baseline of comparison, it's hard to show that things have gotten better or worse."

Which is why I'd argue it's so important to listen to what teachers are saying. It isn't a one-hundred percent correlation between teacher satisfaction and good education, but I'd bet it's pretty high.

"In fact, it's probably worse, because it creates an incentive for poorly performing systems to stay poorly performing."

Being nationally recognized for your exceptionally high levels of failure isn't an incentive that will excite much enthusiasm, I think. Not to mention that being a failing school is something of its own punishment. People don't make themselves sick just for the high levels of money that will be spent on their hospital bills. Well, not very many.

***

As for more detail on what I think good school reform looks like: as I see it, the major pitfall of trying to legislate education is that nobody agrees what makes for good education. More teacher freedom or less teacher freedom, student-led learning or nationally-determined curricula; people don't even agree on the basics. My solution is to black-box it--instead of attempting to put together a study group to determine what the entire country ought to do all at the same time, try to create a system that will let the best methods emerge and evolve on their own terms, without excessive bureaucratic interference.

This is the idea behind my second suggestion at 311: let the best teachers in the nation teach the other teachers to do what they do, whatever it may be. Instead of giving teachers a long vacation, send them to teaching symposiums all summer. Let other teachers learn how the best teachers do it, and let them play with it, modify it, and then come back again a year later to talk it over. Repeat. Repeat again. Have multiple layers of feedback: evaluate student's improvement based on the methods used to teach them; have the teachers evaluate what worked and what didn't, and where. Get gobs and gobs of data, and use it to guide and polish, not guilt and punish.

Obviously, a good, reliable national test would be crucial to figuring what's working and what isn't. (I'm not opposed to testing--I just want it to be a good test that people don't feel the need to game.) This is where my first suggestion comes in. At the same time you're experimenting with teaching methods, you can be experimenting with evaluation methods. Some year to year similarity will be necessary to track changes over time, but other parts of the test can try out different evaluation strategies. Figure what sorts of tests exhibit bias for or against different groups, and which ones don't. Figure out which tests are the best predictors of success, defined however you wish.

That, I think, would be a good start.

#342 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 09:53 AM:

I agree that the professionals are at the heart of figuring out what to do.

I'm not sure that any profession should be "black-boxed" so that outsiders aren't involved.

Of course, sometimes the boundaries are fuzzy: if you're talking about testing methods you need an educational statistician, because the nitty-gritty of designing good tests, and knowing why they're goof tests, is a bit beyond the range of a teacher's likely knowledge.

And some sort of evolution process might give good results, but how much can we afford to fail?

That's a political question, and the whole idea of NCLB seems to require that nobody fails.

Am I right in thinking that High School Graduation has become a necessity in the USA, even for low-skill jobs?

Combine that with a no-failure policy, and what do you get?

#343 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 11:35 AM:

#341
One thing you get is a lot of people who drop out of high school but are still on the school's rolls.

#344 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 01:08 PM:

heresiarch, #334: Sometimes, having bad information is worse than having no information at all.

AKA "Garbage In, Garbage Out" -- yet another well-known aphorism. It's amazing how many of these commonly-understood precepts NCLB is in violation of!

and @340: C. Wingate is making the "welfare programs do nothing but produce lazy layabouts" argument here, applied to schools instead of people. All of the already-identified flaws in that argument are still valid.

Dave, #341: Am I right in thinking that High School Graduation has become a necessity in the USA, even for low-skill jobs?

Pretty much.

Combine that with a no-failure policy, and what do you get?

Among other things, you get "degree creep". To have any hope at all of getting out of low-level service-sector jobs in America at this point, you MUST have a college degree. One of the reasons I've seen stated for this is that a high-school diploma is no longer a guarantee that an applicant will be even minimally capable in the areas of reading comprehension, the ability to write simple grammatical sentences, and basic arithmetic.

#345 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 02:08 PM:

Right at the top of the list for schools before anything else would be adequate funding, which is lacking in the vast majority of American schools. The teachers I know even in great school districts are often spending hundreds of personal dollars buying materials for student use--basic things like pencils and paper. Until adequate funding is given to schools, the rest of it is at best putting pretty bows and nice wrapping paper on a broken present and at worst throwing rocks at the people who are trying to fix a lot of already broken windows.

#346 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 02:10 PM:

Bruce Cohen @335, that was pretty much my reaction when she told me about it- we'd started with the dysgraphia problem, as my son is dysgraphic and is just a bit too old to have gotten remediation in our school district. She commiserated, talked about several students in her district who had hit the same wall, and then told me about her kids, whose progress was best meassured by educated observers and gained by daily routine; not only was there the matter of having to interrupt that routine to be tested but also the test itself had to be invented from the ground up by the special education staff, since it had to be a modified WASL to fit the federal definition of acceptable tests, and no standardised modification exists. The intersection of NCLB and IDEA is littered with wrecks.

#347 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 02:13 PM:

Lee @343, To have any hope at all of getting out of low-level service-sector jobs in America at this point, you MUST have a college degree. One of the reasons I've seen stated for this is that a high-school diploma is no longer a guarantee that an applicant will be even minimally capable in the areas of reading comprehension, the ability to write simple grammatical sentences, and basic arithmetic.

Which is why I think that employers should start doing their own damn testing on this stuff, or, alternatively, there should be some kind of generally accepted, carefully granted "can read, write, and calculate satisfyingly well" certificate. It looks to me as if, because of the hiring policies of the last couple of decades, careers like, say, Patrick's would be impossible in most of the Western World today, and I think that's silly.

#348 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 02:34 PM:

David Harmon @339, the last time I saw cross-scripting error messages like that when previewing a post on ML was when the message I was trying to post turned out to have a link to a website with questionable design flaws. I removed the link and rewrote the post and the second time it passed through without incident.

#349 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 02:43 PM:

#346
The company I work at does that. They test for the highest level in a progression of jobs, using commercial (presumably standardized) tests, and that means a lot of people get weeded out who otherwise could qualify for the lower levels in the series.
That includes people with years of experience in the field of work, but who aren't native English speakers. (Heck, I had trouble with those tests, and I am a native speaker. [I can't pass the graded-by-who-knows-what-standard hands-on test on an improperly-set-up CAD system.] But I did enjoy the mechanical reasoning test!)

#350 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 03:39 PM:

re 337: This isn't consonant with what I've read. It is certainly true of Japanese high-school-equivalent; however if I recall correctly the college entrance exams are the big hurdle. After that, college is pretty slack. At least, that's what I recall reading from Alex Kerr.

re 338: Teachers are already licensed; in fact, the software I work on is used in Virginia and Tennessee to do so. Teacher licenses, unlike typical professional licenses, are composites of a basic certification and a collection of specialization attributes, including subject areas and various types of administration.

Now I personally am nervous about turning teaching entirely over to the teaching profession. There is simply too much of a history of faddishness, for one thing. How many of you are old/young enough to remember open classrooms? I just barely missed them; they were being built while I was in elementary school, and I missed them by going to private school at the point where I would have started attending one. They are almost all gone now. Also, the standard-setters as far as teaching outcomes are properly those in the fields being taught (e.g., physicists, for physics).

re 340 & 343: Plenty of school systems were nationally known for poor performance before NCLB. Mere stigma is not enough of a motivator; indeed, when we go down the "inadequate funding" argument, the larger problem is that being stigmatized as a community for having poor schools is an insufficient motivator to the populace to raise taxes or whatever else is needed. Also, teachers at a failing school are not making themselves sick, because they aren't the patient; the students are.

#351 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 06:56 PM:

Earl Cooley III @#347:

the last time I saw cross-scripting error messages like that when previewing a post on ML was when the message I was trying to post turned out to have a link to a website with questionable design flaws.

Not this time -- the message in question was my response to C. Wingate, with no links at all. I do use Adblock Plus -- I wonder if a link from one of the hidden ads might have done it? Certainly my next message after the bug report posted fine.

#352 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 08:14 PM:

lee@333: If I were looking for a way to produce a population incapable of rebellion against even the stupidest imaginable policies, destroying actual education is where I would start. Wait....

John Taylor Gatto's book is worth perusing on this, if occasionally a little weird.

#353 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 10:07 PM:

albatross: While I agree that a way to measure the success of schools; and then a means to improve those which are in need of it without hurting those which are doing well, is a good thing, NCLB isn't it.

The measure of, "failing" is doesn't continue to improve. No school can actuall avoid eventual failure under the metrics NCLB mandates. And it skews the teaching. A friend just got her degree/credential. A full quarter of instruction (14 hours of credit) was devoted to NCLB related subject. That was, basically, a removal of instruction related to actual pedagogy, because the degree takes no longer to get today than it did before.

When I look at the ideology of those who designed it, I am left with the idea the purpose of NCLB was to build a huge belief that schools are failing, and so make the dismantling of the public schools easier to sell to the body politic. I wish I didn't think so (that I could believe they meant well and did poorly) but all the other mendacities in the record convince me they were operating with fell intent.

C. Wingate: I'd mandate a broader curriculum. Fund the arts, work to reading comprehension; stop paying attention to narrow-cast results such as, "how well does the student solve quadratic equations". Patrick is an example of how edcuation and schooling are not the same. I am, in a lot of ways, an auto-didact. I passed alegebra, and carried a high C average for high school.

In college I got an education, not a degree.

So music, drama, dance, art, these things need to come back. Those are things which make learning enjoyable, and cause people to want to use their brain. When the student has a built in reward (in my school a less than passing grade in any class killed all extra-curricular activities for the next grading period, this is part of how I managed to stick my nose to the grindstone enough to pass; I didn't want to lose my theater classes).

One of the things I did for the army was teach. One of the things we knew was the students needed to see some reward for the work. These were adults, but when a class is "results" driven, the results suck. I've seen people, "pencil-whipped" out of schools, to prevent the failures which would reflect poorly on NCO Efficiency Reports too, both turned out graduates who weren't really qualified, no matter what the forms said (I had to retrain some of those who ended up in my unit).

Time to play, and to let things percolate matters.

I'd also like to see teachers who get the time they need to teach. I live with a first grade teacher. They suffer through the summer because they aren't paid enough (when her husband lost the ability to work they were forced to a bankruptcy, and one income and his Disability helps, but money is tight), and in the school year, she is at school 40 hours a week, comes home and does prep-work, grades papers and works on the new curricula mandated this year (because of the need to keep the NCLB scores from slipping). So she's working on average, about 65 hours a week (she goes into the classroom for eight to ten hour on Saturday, or Sunday). She is spending a couple of hundred a month to keep her kids supplied (the paper budget for her entire GRADE, is one mille per teacher, for the year. The PTA kicks in, but since the present principle is a hack, and the subsequent lack of engagement has led to a change in the student population the amount of money the PTA is providing has fallen).

That money (a few thousand a year) is part of why they've had to re-fi the house twice. To add to that she gets to hear about how teachers are the source of the problem.

She teaches first grade.

Hire more teachers, and reduce the class load (when I was in high-school the teachers had five classes a day, of 30 students each. They got one hour of non-class during the day for grading papers, working lesson plans, taking care of adminstrative problems). They need to teach not more than four classes a day, and three might not be too few.

When you discuss the "inadequate funding" argument, I have to point out that property taxes as a funding vehicle automatically means we have a system full of inequities, which perpetuate.

And those inequities are probably the reason for many of the, steady state, poor performers. I very much doubt (based on my acquataince with teachers for the past 20 years) they were sanguine about the state of the schools in which they worked. They just weren't given the means to do better. The usual commment when a school is said to be failing isn't, "What can we do to fix it," but rather, "the teachers are screw-ups, and the students don't care, so close it, ship them to other shcools and call it a day."

Is that a generalisation? Sure, but so too is the idea that "stigma" doesn't matter, which implies that you know the people in those schools 1: don't care, and/or 2: have been doing nothing to fix it, and 3: the problems are completely independant of things like neighborhood and budget.

#354 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 01:15 AM:

Lee @ 343

a high-school diploma is no longer a guarantee that an applicant will be even minimally capable in the areas of reading comprehension, the ability to write simple grammatical sentences, and basic arithmetic.

My impression is that the same might be said for a college degree, at least in a lot of colleges and for a lot of students. Certainly the gems that Fragano comes up with near the end of every term would indicate that. And my experience in the last 5 or 6 years interviewing junior programmers with fewer than 3 years experience out of school corroborates it. Or even some who portray themselves as senior programmers.

I suspect one of the reasons for the decline of the requirement for good documentation of software (aside from the usual pointy-haired schedule considerations) is that so many software developers never learned how to write it.

#355 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 07:08 AM:

C. Wingate @ 349: "Plenty of school systems were nationally known for poor performance before NCLB. Mere stigma is not enough of a motivator"

Nor did I say that it was. I said that the disincentive of "rewarding" failing schools with more support would be cancelled out by the stigma of being labelled as failing, not that stigma would spur America's schools to greatness. Obviously something more needs to be done to improve schools beyond just making them feel bad about themselves.

"Also, teachers at a failing school are not making themselves sick, because they aren't the patient; the students are."

Weird to hear you say that, given that it's the school system that you're constantly trying to diagnose.

"Now I personally am nervous about turning teaching entirely over to the teaching profession."

Why? Isn't it always the conservative argument that people will figure out the best way to do things on their own if government just gets out of their way? Really, this ought to be a plan that warms the cockles of conservatives' hearts: I'm in favor of creating a competitive market for teaching methods! Let the best plan win! Or does it not count if there's no cash involved?

"There is simply too much of a history of faddishness, for one thing. How many of you are old/young enough to remember open classrooms?"

Are open classrooms* really the worse example of educational experimentation gone wrong you can find? Evidence is mixed on the success of open classrooms (it's better for some kids, and worse for others) and a fair number are still around today. Nor does one major fad since B.F. Skinner a faddish profession make.

Honestly, it seems mindbogglingly insane to suggest that the problem with education is its faddishness and fey inconsistency. If anything, the opposite is true: the vast majority of teachers are incredibly hide-bound and completely unwilling to try anything outside the curriculum they worked out twenty years ago. Not without reason, either: it's a lot easier to mess a lesson up than it is to make it better. It's also hard to come up with great new lesson ideas and pedagogical techniques when you're working 65-hour weeks (see Terry @ 352).

Might be a good idea to try to stir things up a bit, to get ideas out and circulating, now that I think of it. Hmm, how could we do that...

*God! What a bunch of hippies.

#356 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 09:18 AM:

Re: open classrooms

I had the pleasure of attending middle school in a brand new building. The entire second floor was "open classroom" and it didn't really make a difference to me. My parents had been worried that I would have trouble hearing, but the sound dampening techniques were adequate for regular classroom sounds, and the times when another class cheered -- well, it was short and we all got back to work.

About the only distraction I can recall is once in math class when a neighborhood boy who was a brat had a class next to mine, and was making faces at me. I never paid much attention to him anyway, so it died off quickly.

This is not to say that open classrooms are the best thing since sliced bread; only that as a fad, it was far more amenable to education than something like the damned ITA reading program of the 1960s.

This was a British-designed reading supplementation program for children who were having trouble learning to read. So, naturally, the American schools started using it for all children. When I entered first grade, I was already reading at a middle school level, and hated ITA with a passion.

Fads are a unwanted effect in just about every profession you can think of. In a sense, the current market meltdown is based on a fad. In some cases the fads help a bit, and in most cases they do nothing, and ultimately fade* away.

*Starting with the last letter, which is why they're known as fad's, to begin with. If they stuck around longer, we'd call them fa's, or even f's, and I'll thank you to get the "f" outta here.

#357 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 09:26 AM:

Isn't it always the conservative argument that people will figure out the best way to do things on their own if government just gets out of their way?

With *their own* money, I think the theory is.

#358 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 10:03 AM:

About reading comprehension.... I used to edit earnings call transcripts - ending with discussions between company management and stock analysts.

Each of these people has either tremendous business success a high degree or both. And yet the way they all mangle language is incredible. Misusing words, sentences that make no sense at all (even once you figure out the jargon) - it's insane. In fact, the only trend towards apparent literacy I ever noticed was that the most articulate CEOs and CFOs belong to the worst-off companies - companies seem to choose leadership more for PR value as their real value slides.

Right now most of my customers are masters and doctoral students, almost all professionals in their fields. Few can spell, punctuate, add or subtract with accuracy. And yet I think at least half of them must be perfectly competent in their professions.

Overall I suspect that if employees are displaying an inability to follow written directions, it's at least partly because the people who write the directions are incapable of clarity. And if your system is beset by user errors, it's bad system design, not that people are getting stupider.

I don't think we've lost some golden age of American literacy. Companies just used to hire more admin and support staff. Now that everyone does their own correspondence and business documents, you can see their true abilities.

#359 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 01:27 PM:

Terry, #352: I have to point out that property taxes as a funding vehicle automatically means we have a system full of inequities, which perpetuate.

No shit. Plus you get the empty-headed arguments from people of privilege about how the teachers and students in ghetto schools "just aren't trying hard enough" -- even as those same people fight tooth and nail against the very idea of spending any budget money at all on the schools that need it the most. Add to that unfunded Federal mandates (and NCLB is entirely unfunded -- every school has to carve out the money to implement it from an already-hard-pressed budget) and you have an instant recipe for disaster.

Oh, here's another aphorism that NCLB breaks: "Power without responsibility leads to tyranny. responsibility without power leads to insanity." Under NCLB, the Federal government has ultimate power over the schools, but no responsibility to them; the schools have all the responsibility for implementing the program, but no power over its effect on them. The results are predictable -- and I agree with you that this is an entirely deliberate attack on the public school system as a whole, done with malice aforethought. Remember that the entire goal of the Republican Party, since the days of FDR, has been to repeal the New Deal and return us to the era of the robber barons. Everything they do must be evaluated with that thought in mind.

Ginger, #355: Oh ghod, ITA. I was fortunate enough to miss that, but the younger brother of a friend got caught in it. I have two vivid memories from that period: (1) looking at one of his school reading books and seeing that it was absolutely incomprehensible to an English reader; (2) going to the library with them, picking out a kiddie book that I remembered liking and thought K might like as well, and being told, "Oh, he's not allowed to read anything but ITA." (emphasis mine)

My reaction to this was the age-12 version of WTFF?!! Even at that age, I was smart enough to figure out that teaching kids to read something which was effectively a foreign language was NOT going to help them learn to read English! I could see that poor K was going to end up doing the equivalent of learning to read twice, and it made no sense to me at all.

I have no idea how K's reading ability turned out; that friend and I drifted apart shortly thereafter. But I'd be really surprised if he ever became aware that reading could be a pleasure.

#360 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 02:32 PM:

Lee @ 358: it was absolutely incomprehensible to an English reader

Yes. I came home and told my parents that it hurt my eyes to read ITA. Of course, the teachers ignored my protests until I demonstrated my reading ability, and then they moved me out of first grade altogether. Probably overkill, but at least I wasn't in their classrooms complaining about ITA any longer.

#361 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 02:41 PM:

Lee #358:

This isn't my field, but I'm pretty sure that increasing funding doesn't generally track with improving results, and that many genuinely awful school systems spend a lot per pupil. (But I'm not sure how much of that is adminstrative or other costs that don't have much to do with students. If you pay administrators in the high six figures but can't afford books for the kids, more money ain't gonna help much.) One thing I don't know, though, is how accurate that is overall. Do school systems spend as much as they need to to keep from falling apart, and waste the rest on fancy desks for the higher-ups or expensive football fields? Is there a noticeable fraction of schools that don't have enough to take care of their students, and which are failing as a result?

The whole break between power, responsibility, and knowledge is a problem. I wonder whether education wouldn't be better left entirely to states, with only civil-rights-type mandates imposed by the feds. There's not much reason to expect someone in an office in DC to be able to guess what needs to be done with some school in Houston or Boise. NCLB is one more piece of evidence about that.

My impression is also that the credential of a high school diploma (and good grades) has been heavily inflated, to the point where having graduated high school doesn't indicate anything about whether the student learned much, or developed anything like decent work or study habits, or whatever. And one result seems to be a cascade of inflated credentials--in order to get a job as (basically) an office clerk, it's really helpful to have a college degree or some kind of vocational training. There's something profoundly wasteful about requiring an English or business degree from Secondtier State U in order to get a job whose real requirement is functional literacy and a three-digit-IQ. And this further bumps up requirements--my wife's old job required a science or engineering BS when she started, but all their new hires had masters' degrees when she left.

This spends a vast sum of money on credentialing that doesn't make anyone better off. Making someone get a masters degree for an entry-level job that really requires some technical knowledge and noticeably higher-than-average intelligence amounts to imposing a two or three year, $30K or so tax on everyone who wants to have a professional job. That means starting their working lives two or three years later, perhaps marrying or having kids later, etc., and also starting out further in debt.

My (relatively informed) impression is that this credentialling stuff is widespread in education, with teachers constantly encouraged to take more classes and get more advanced degrees for raises, without any reason at all to think any of this is making them better teachers[1].

[1] You'd expect people who get masters degrees to be better teachers than people who didn't, even if the program was a complete waste of time, just because you have to be smarter and harder-working to get through grad school.

#362 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 03:01 PM:

heresiarch #354:

I think it's pretty hard to predict--some schools are already known to be failing, so they will accept added funding (and may do something worthwhile with it, or may spend it on lavish parties for the top administration[1]). I don't know.

It's clear that any measure which affects your future creates incentives to game it, and that we'd better take that into account. If the administrators of a school system see a big loss of funding, should their test scores ever rise above the "failing school" level, I predict that they will not be trying real hard to get their scores up.

All:

Is there good data somewhere, from a reputable source, that explains how much of the variation in school performance is just variation in students? Like, in simple ANOVA terms, how much of the variation in relative school scores is accounted for by ethnic mix or percentage of students on free lunches?

My impression (this isn't my field) is that rather different teaching methods work well with different kids--smarter kids benefit from more open-ended exploration, dumber kids benefit from more repetition and drill. But this is just the sort of thing I'd want to believe (I was always awful at repetition and drill), so I'm not sure I'm not just selectively remembering the flattering stuff here.

[1] No, wait, that's recently-nationalized insurance companies, not schools.

#363 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 03:03 PM:

Bruce #335:

I thought some states were moving kids into LD/special ed programs to get them out of the pool of kids on whose NCLB scores they were judged. Is that wrong? (It might be state-by-state....)

#364 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 03:52 PM:

albatross @ 360 - DC public schools spend the most per student of anywhere in the country. (Y'know, if you're looking for a "per-student funding != good schools" example.) Nobody's really sure where the money goes, which I think is part of the problem - whenever they do look, they always seem to turn up a giant embezzlement scandal. They certainly don't spend anything on infrastructure, books, or teacher salaries. I'm not sure what it means, though - it's not like giving them less money is going to make the schools any better. And they keep getting halfway through reforms and then starting over again. I do have great hopes for Chancellor Rhee's ideas, though - as much as they annoy people, I hope she actually gets to implement them and they get a chance to work.

I went to Montgomery County schools. I understand why someone who's familar with that as the standard for a school system wouldn't necessarily see the same problems with public education that other people see. When I found out my husband only got 1150 on his SATs, I wondered how he got into college at all. I didn't know anyone who got less than 1500, and they were embarassed about it. (On the original 1800-point scale.) Turns out, he was one of the top scores in his school. It was definitely a shock to see the differences in the education I'd gotten and the education the people I went to college with had. (Girl from my freshman philosophy course, re: one week's homework: "Three page paper!? I've never written three pages for anything!")

#365 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 04:05 PM:

I really don't have time to engage all of this (much of which I agree with anyway) there were two points I want respond to.

First, I pulled open classrooms out of a hat; it was simply a fad that I had some brushing experience with. I missed the ITA reading thing, but I did learn to read whole-word (my parents taught me-- it is one of the few really vivid memories of that early in my life). Both are at least out of fashion these days, and when we taught our two eldest to read, we used a phonics system.

Also, maybe it's not that way elsewhere, but in these parts (Maryland) the teachers don't determine curriculum; the school system imposes it on them. I had at least one instance with one of my eldest's teachers where she told us that she was deviating a bit from the official curriculum because she thought it didn't work well with some kids, with this info delivered in a "it would be just as well if the admins didn't find out about this" tone. At any rate, that sort of structure encourages fads, because the administrators are relieved of the immediate consequences of having to teach the stuff. Hidebound teachers get fired or find jobs elsewhere.

Second, Heresiarch's riposte that "Isn't it always the conservative argument that people will figure out the best way to do things on their own if government just gets out of their way?": I don't know, but in any case I'm not that kind of conservative. Also, the statement doesn't make sense; it should think it follows from my uneasiness that more (or at least better-tuned) regulation is needed, not less. To carry this off into a digression: I don't have a theory about what would happen if the public education system were dissolved, and in my conservatism I'm reluctant to make such a radical change. Whatever is wrong with public education, it isn't that bad. Therefore I'm presuming in all this discussion that public schools will remain the primary system for the vast majority of the populace. Now, If I Were Emperor With Infinite Resources there are a number of changes I'd make which would have the effect of making public schools look more like private schools, particularly with regard to classroom and school size (both smaller). But this whole discussion is predicated on what to do with public schools in terms of directing them to better performance where possible. Attributing to me stereotypical right-wing nutcase views is not the path to understanding.

#366 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 04:09 PM:

albatross @ 362, in fact, all states are supposed to be testing all developmentally delayed, learning disabled, and ESL students; NCLB rates those groups against each other, though, and not against unsorted groups/"normal" kids. The only kids who are not counted against the school's score are the ones who've been bounced from school entirely: homeschooled, private school students, or just plain drop-outs.

Schools succeed or fail according to scores in several groups; putting people in the group where they'll do the least harm to the school's score has been popularly misinterpreted as removing them from the test-taking population altogether.

#367 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 04:33 PM:

JESR: Thanks, that makes much more sense now!

#368 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 04:44 PM:

Cat #363:

One obvious question is why federal intervention in every school across the country is done, but federal intervention in the DC system (which is plausibly sort-of within reach of the feds, and which is genuinely awful) isn't done. Among other things, I'd like to see the feds successfully fix some broken school systems, rather than impose lots of costly crapstuff on functioning systems. If they can't fix the broken ones, then maybe they should leave the working ones alone. Also, if you're looking for places to try radical new fixes, perhaps the places where the kids are currently not getting a decent education at all would be a better place than the schools where the kids are doing okay.

My sense is that a lot of horrible big-city school systems become more politically important as sources of patronage and jobs than they are as places to teach kids. This has consequences, though I don't know whether, say, DC's awful schools are a result of this, or of other problems. And I rather expect that the Dept. of Edcuation has the same set of problems; what fraction of their employees are actually helping any students get taught?

#369 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 04:23 PM:

#226 albatross: In all the discussion of racially associated life expectancy (and cardiovascular risk, &c, &c), I find it odd that I've never heard of anybody doing anything so obvious as measuring blood-cortisol levels (short-hand measure of chronic stress) and stirring that into the model.

#370 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 04:39 PM:

One factor that often does not get mentioned by those who want to apply market principles to schooling is that school provision is inelastic in a very important way: location.

A child who has the funding to go to another school may not have the funding to get there, if the public transport is unavailable or too expensive, if their parents work and cannot drive them there, or if fuel prices are too high.

And even if transport is available, one way or another, a long commute robs the child of those hours for homework, or socializing, or play.

Anyone who tries to sell you the idea that vouchers alone are enough, and that children can go to any school they like with no reference to the practicalities of getting there has either not thought the matter through, or is arguing from bad faith.

#371 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 05:35 PM:

Abi @369: And even if transport is available, one way or another, a long commute robs the child of those hours for homework, or socializing, or play.

Isn't this true of public schools as well? My commutes to private grade school and public high school were of roughly the same length (about 30-40 mins each way). Though the privately-owned bus chartered by the private school used to break down more often.

#372 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 06:04 PM:

abi #369:

It seems to me that vouchers are a reasonably good solution to a common set of middle-class problems with public schools: Stuff like goofy teaching fads, horrible teachers or administrators that can't keep order or make learning pointlessly difficult, decisions at various levels (often from the feds or the textbook mafia) about what will be taught and how it will be taught that offends you, problems with the other students at the school, etc.

For poorer families, they may be a good solution, but there are some logistical problems. The biggest one is very generic: poorer people just tend to have less flexibility to handle weird requirements. Less extra money to buy uniforms, less time to participate in mandatory "volunteering" activities (especially during normal business hours!), less extra time to drive the kids to two different schools 20 miles apart, etc.

That said, my son goes to a Catholic school that is not remotely an enclave of middle-class whiteness. A fair number of the students speak Spanish[1] at home, and a fair number are on financial aid from the archdiocese. Those parents manage to get uniforms and do their volunteer hours and get their kids to school, and I'm pretty sure they all believe they're getting a real benefit for their kids--enough that they spend some of their own money and time getting that education for them. So it's not like only middle-class people can benefit from some choice in which school to send their kids to.

My guess is that one advantage private schools have that vouchers will never replicate is that willingness of parents to pay their own money and spend their own time getting their kids a better education. If your parents care enough about education to spend their own money, they almost certainly also care enough to encourage you to do your homework, to demand proper behavior at school, etc. A whole school full of kids with parents like that has a lot of benefits.

Oddly, my son was at a much more expensive and exclusive school for preschool and Kindergarten. I don't think they were pushing him any harder academically, though they had a very good reputation. (Their kids were all drawn from wealthy families, overwhelmingly white and Asian, and the kids had to take an IQ test to get into the kindergarten. Do your selection of students right, and you can always have great academics!) His current school seems like way more of a community.

[1] My biggest complaint about his school is that their Spanish classes aren't done better, given that maybe 1/4 of the students and 1/8 of the staff are native Spanish speakers. Why not keep giving the Spanish speakers their all-but-automatic A (they have a much harder time in English grammar and spelling to make up for it), but spend most time on learning how to say and understand key phrases. Even simple stuff like ¿Cómo estás? or ¿Donde está el cuarto de baño? would be worthwhile, and they have native speakers to practice with.

#373 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 06:32 PM:

C. Wingate: Also, maybe it's not that way elsewhere, but in these parts (Maryland) the teachers don't determine curriculum; the school system imposes it on them.

And that's why curriculum and methods should be determined by professionals (that is, not just the people who worked their way up the administrative latter, much less parents on the town's school board).

PS: The same posting bug just hit me again. If this goes through, the same workaround apparently worked.
The thing about "more money != better schools", is that just throwing money into a general budget never works! There needs to be specific targeting and accountability, so that a budget increase goes to (say) hire more teachers and reduce class sizes, not the proverbial "parties for the administrators". (Yeah, right -- see below.)

Likewise, if a school is physically decrepit (increasingly common), money needs to be specifically allocated for repairs and maintenance. If a given amount of money does not get turned into appropriate results, somebody needs to get out of their central office and go down there, to find out why and raise hell about it. (And that's actually a much more likely money-sink -- nepotistic contracts with no accountability can soak up a lot of dough!)

And yeah, district-by-district funding by property taxes is a losing game. Yes, some states try to transfer some of the funds between districts, but you can imagine how unpopular that is with the voters! Not only do the poorest districts get shafted, so do the poorest states (i.e. Missouri). Ditto for the states whose voting population is tilted away from families with children (i.e. Florida).

This sort of issue is actually one of the main arguments for a per-head tax, but of course that's regressive as he**, and fixing that for the poorer people/areas just reopens the original problem. Personally, I suspect heavier federal funding is the only real answer, but that makes the whole system hostage to federal policy and goodwill. Of course, that's where this discussion started, with the federal sabotage known as NCLB!

PS: The same posting bug just hit me again -- I'm now using the same workaround.

#374 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 07:54 PM:

Avram, #370: It depends on the size of the area involved. Magnet schools are especially exposed to this; here in Houston, for example, the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) draws from something like a 40-mile radius, with Houston traffic in the mix. They do run some buses -- and this year, they've instituted a change in the bus routes such that students are picked up/dropped off at the nearest public school to their house, in order to conserve fuel -- but a lot of the students either have their own cars or are transported by parents.

albatross, #371: I have a friend who is making considerable sacrifices to send her two children to a private school where their needs can be met (both very bright kids, but with varying degrees of ADHD). You should hear her rants on the topic of the school's casual expectation that every student's family is well-off enough to contribute significant amounts of money to the school, over and above the so-very-not-cheap tuition. She wouldn't mind being asked to contribute extra time nearly as much, but apparently that's not a form of contribution they value.

David, #372: Oh, don't get me started on money being spent in the wrong places. My partner has sworn never to donate another penny to his alma mater, after they took a muiti-million-dollar donation from a rich alum, which was intended to fund structural repairs on several of the academic buildings, and built a velvet-lined sports palace with it instead. The same sort of thing happens, on a smaller scale, in a lot of the public school systems here in Texas, where Football is God.

#375 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 10:02 PM:

I've seen stories about the magnet schools in LA, where the enrollment information somehow ends up going mostly to middle and upper-income white people. Or the poor and minority parents don't get it far enough before the deadline to get it in, if they get it before the deadline at all.

#376 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 10:52 PM:

369: My sense is that vouchers were especially a gift the Catholic parochial system, which was in the best situation to take advantage of them. At any rate a policy of assisting everyone whose parents care to leave a sinking ship isn't like to improve what's left.

372: Again, the question is: who is a professional? If we're talking high school math curriculum, for example, I'm quite prepared to insist that mathematicians and not educationalists get the final say. Also, frankly, I am not nearly so sanguine as to think that educational fads do not come from education professionals.

#377 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 01:24 AM:

It seems to be a conceit of educators, that if they have a well written lesson plan to follow, that they don't actually have to know the subject.

I don't think this is true.

I don't think I got a math teacher who understood the subject until I reached 8th grade; but I learned a lot from that teacher.

There was a J.G.Ballard story that had it that language was what we hooked telepathy to (how is it that you understand what I am saying?); in the context of teaching, I think there is something to that.

My favorite notion of how classes might be run, is that there is one teacher who knows the subject, and another teacher who knows how to manage the classroom.

The subject teacher is in the front of the classroom teaching the lesson; the student teacher is at the back, keeping an eye on the class and stepping in to slap students as necessary. The student teacher is the educator who knows best how things might be presented to the age group. The subject teacher knows the subject, but takes direction from the student teacher how to the present the material.

#378 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 02:52 AM:

albatross @ 361: "It's clear that any measure which affects your future creates incentives to game it, and that we'd better take that into account. If the administrators of a school system see a big loss of funding, should their test scores ever rise above the "failing school" level, I predict that they will not be trying real hard to get their scores up."

True enough, but in this case the incentives are operating opposite directions, which should minimize their distortion. Most people don't actually put all that much effort into gaming the system, I've found: when they do, it's because gaming the system is either incredibly important or pathetically easy.

C. Wingate @ 364: "Attributing to me stereotypical right-wing nutcase views is not the path to understanding."

You are right. I apologize, and will try to stick to debating you in the future, not stereotypical right-wingers.

However, I'm still unconvinced that faddishness is a problem in education. The fact that different strategies have been tried and discarded over the years doesn't prove a) that the changes were a product of fashion, not evolving pedagogical knowledge or b) that they did any harm to the students. I don't know if whole-word or phonics teaches kids to read better,* but I'm pretty sure the only way to find out is to try both, and see what differences there are.

*My hunch: each works better for some kids, and worse for others. This is the direction I'd really like to see education take: instead of trying to find the one true technique that'll work great with everybody, figure out which approachs work with which kids, and tailor your approach to fit.

"At any rate, that sort of structure encourages fads, because the administrators are relieved of the immediate consequences of having to teach the stuff."

I'm confused--are you arguing that the administration should have more or less control over the curriculum?

Avram @ 370: "Isn't this true of public schools as well?"

Depends where you live. You're a New Yorker, right? In urban areas, population density is high enough that there may be several public and private schools with overlapping bus routes, all within a reasonable distance. In rural or suburban areas, the local public high school might be the only high school within an hour's drive. What use is school choice when the other choices are hours away? Some schools have a natural monopoly.

C. Wingate @ 375: "Again, the question is: who is a professional? If we're talking high school math curriculum, for example, I'm quite prepared to insist that mathematicians and not educationalists get the final say."

@ 376 Rob Rusick suggests that it is a conceit of educators that a well-written lesson plan is all you need to teach; it is a conceit of non-teachers that knowledge of the subject area is all you need to teach. Both are wrong--to teach, you need to know the subject matter AND how to teach it. You can be a great pianist and not be able to teach it worth squat, and you can be a great music teacher, but you can't teach piano if you don't play it. When it comes to math curriculum, the professionals are professional math teachers.

#379 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 04:40 AM:

[..] how to the present the material.

[..] how to present the material.

Preview is fairly effective, but posting will show the rest of the mistakes.

#380 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 09:03 AM:

C. Wingate:

Again, the question is: who is a professional? If we're talking high school math curriculum, for example, I'm quite prepared to insist that mathematicians and not educationalists get the final say.

Bzzzt!. A mathematician is a specialist in advanced mathematical theory, who is not required to be socially competent, let alone a trained educator. In contrast, "high school math" is a specific and well-understood curriculum, whose mastery is implicitly (if incorrectly) presumed for most college students.

A professional-level math teacher will have a Masters or better in Education (ignoring degree inflation for the moment), fortified with a comprehensive knowledge of, not merely high-school level mathematics, but the specific issues involved in teaching high school mathematics. E.g., how to get the various concepts across to students with visual vs. auditory or tactile learning styles, how to manage dyslexics/dysgraphics in your math class, how to recover students who have clearly not learned underlying concepts, et pluribus alia.

C. Wingate, again:

Also, frankly, I am not nearly so sanguine as to think that educational fads do not come from education professionals.

I'm with heresiarch on this one -- just because curricula or teaching methods can vary over time, that doesn't make them "faddish". Compare to the political taunts of "flip-flopper" for any change of position....

#381 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 09:12 AM:

Decades ago, I talked with someone who believed that money was getting taken from a poor school district and given to a better off one. The idea sounded plausible because I can be very cynical, but does anyone have evidence of such happening? Is there a chance that it's pervasive?

#382 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 09:13 AM:

Decades ago, I talked with someone who believed that money was getting taken from a poor school district and given to a better off one. The idea sounded plausible because I can be very cynical, but does anyone have evidence of such happening? Is there a chance that it's pervasive?

#383 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 09:56 AM:

Abi @ 367 - and the related problem - what happens when all the schools in a district fail under NCLB? All the parents get to move their kids to a different school, but which one? Seriously, MoCo isn't going to let DC kids bus in to use up their resources.

Also a matter of scale - a few years ago, during the sniper scare, the football teams in Montgomery County weren't allowed to play out-of-county games. My husband, utterly perplexed, asked who they played, then? I said, all the other high schools in the county, duh. He insisted that was insane. It took a few minutes for us to realize that he'd grown up in a place where there was one high school. For everyone. And the rural kids had to ride a bus for an hour just to get there. We had 24 high schools, for a much smaller physical area. So if one of them failed, no problem, get on a bus and go to a different one. If Kingsville HS fails, what are you supposed to do? Even if you gave full tuition to a private school and a limo to take them back and forth to every kid in the district, it's not like the private schools could absorb that many new students. (Also a problem in DC now - there are a few really good schools that all the parents are trying to get their kids into, as is their right under NCLB when their home school is "failing". In reality, only a tiny fraction get in, because it's just not possible to stuff 500 kids in a 200-kid school. And if you do manage it, that school is then so overstretched that it becomes failing, and the process repeats.)

albatross @ 367 - Patronage is a big problem in DC schools, which is one reason why I like Chancellor Rhee - she decided that the head office really didn't need 500 people who sat around and ran second businesses from their desks all day. There were people on the rolls who nobody had even seen, because all they did was collect paychecks. Eesh.

But that doesn't mean the feds get to step in. DC is a real place, with real, taxpaying citizens, who don't even get a vote in Congress. I wouldn't trust the creators of NCLB to "fix" a single classroom, much less an entire city's school system, especially when that system gets zero input into the "solution". (And to be fair, there are good public schools in DC. They're just not the standard, yet. But they're improving, and if things keep going the way they are, in a decade the DC plan might become a blueprint for effective school reform. At least, that's my hope.)

#384 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 10:31 AM:

#377
The county my grandfather grew up in still has only one HS. He stopped at eighth grade, because his father couldn't afford to have him boarded in town, and there were no other options. (County has a population of about 30,000, and it's mostly ridges and hollows.)

#385 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 10:56 AM:

C Wingate #375:

I guess the other side of the voucher issue is that our current solution is to say "Well, if you have enough money, you can get your kids out of this broken, destructive, unsafe school system. Otherwise, well, I guess your kids aren't really that important." I mean, everyone who opposes vouchers says we should fix those melted-down school systems, but that never seems to happen. Instead, we hear that letting the concerned parents get their kids out would make the system even worse, but then the system they want to leave is not improved. I'm not sure vouchers would solve the underlying problems there, but I'm damned sure that doing nothing to improve those kids' schools while opposing them having a chance to leave for better schools adds up to a pretty horrible policy.

More pointedly, would any of us here voluntarily send our kids into the DC public school system? How many congressmen or lobbyists or other people with any money or power do so? If not, why is it okay when it's other (mostly poor, mostly black and brown) peoples' kids who get sent into a system that has been a disaster for decades?

#386 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 11:07 AM:

albatross @ 384
I'd suggest that officials responsible for schools, at all levels, be required to send their children to those schools. (The principle here is that if you aren't using it, you shouldn't be running it.)

I remember when one of the CA governors was talking about public schools, and it was pointed out that his kids went to private schools and to private colleges out of state.

#387 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 12:44 PM:

@379 David Harmon,

Applause on the mathematicians issue. My wife is a physicist and physics education researcher. One of the things that physics education research has found is that traditional curricula designed by physicists tends to not be a very good way to learn physics for the vast majority of students.

One of the main reasons for this is that physicists do lots and lots of cognitive steps all in one go--works great for solving a problem if you already understand the material and terribly if you're trying to learn it. One piece of research showed that a physicist (college professor in this case) was doing something on the order of 20 separate cognitive steps in the space between two statements in a problem solution. He only thought of it as one step because he had a suite of cognitive tools developed over the many years he had been learning the field. Without the professor unpacking all those steps and demonstrating them, only a tiny fraction of students were able to make the jump and the professor wasn't aware that there was anything to unpack until the research was done.

#388 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 04:36 PM:

re 379: You would think that "high school math" is a specific and well-understood curriculum, but judging from the "math wars" of the last decade, you would be wrong. Indeed, have reviewed some of the material, what I see is a basic dispute over what needs to be taught at all. There seems to be a considerable faction which doesn't see a need to be able to work the algorithms, much less understand them.

I tutor in math, so I fully understand the tendency of pros to telescope the intellectual process. The flip side of that is that a great deal of math pedagogy is directed towards students being able to telescope the process too. And really, in a classroom approach, the best that is going to happen is to pick a method that is going to work for some (hopefully large) group of students. But "work" here has to specifically include teaching the canonical methods for students who are going to use math heavily in other disciplines, which is where the mathematicians come into play as authorities.

In recent US history, the teaching of math has not been a story of incremental replacement of inferior by superior teaching technique. It has been semi-panicky response to the perception that American technological prowess has slipped. Therefore we've had a series of ground-up reconstructions of math teaching, rather than the spot replacement of superior techniques as time passes that one would expect from progressive improvement. The chief criticism of each of the math fads, especially those spawned in the wake of the 1989 NCLM report, is not that the standard algorithms for arithmetic et al were being taught ineffectually, but that they weren't being taught at all.

I guess what I'm saying is that "final say" should really translate into determination of what the outcome ought to be, which is to say, the methods taught (but not the methods of teaching).

re 384: We got faced with this personally, because we had to decide whether to fight the assignment of our eldest within the three school "consortium". Each of the schools has a somewhat different emphasis, but beneath that is a distinct variation of underlying population. School choice here is a two-edged sword: for example, the science programs are at the blackest school, to try to lure Asian and white students there. But if you don't choose, then racial balancing is likely to dictate where your kid goes. We applied for Blake, the arts school, partly because James is really talented musically, but also because of concerns about discipline at Paint Branch (where racial balancing would have put him). After two rounds, he did end up at Blake. Did we do wrong? In terms of the arts, no. Otherwise, well, I think a lot of parents are unwilling to bet the farm. We didn't do anything outside the system to get him placed at Blake, so we didn't really cheat. But as parents who care a lot about education, we got what we wanted because we cared enough to push the system that little bit. Kids whose parents didn't care to push, if they were white, got assigned by race. Well, if they were black they were so assigned as well, but they got put into the otherwise whitest school. My son took a place that otherwise would probably have gone to some other kid whose parents less successfully kicked up a fuss, or maybe some kid whose parents didn't care, or didn't have to time or what-have-you to fight. Given my lack of greater power, I had to choose for the welfare of my son.

#389 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 06:06 PM:

albatross: Part of the drive to add credentials is that we only pay teachers for a nine month year (this is true [generally] even in, "year round" systems, the same percentage of teachers are off as are students, it's pretty much the only way to keep things synchronised).

So the only way to keep money flowing in, during the off season, is to attend district approved (and therefore salaried, though the teachers have to pay for fees and materials) courses. The district, naturally, wants to have teachers with more credentials, because that translates to a higher standing with the feds.

Nancy Lebovitz: I can't address your specific question, but when I was in community college (in Calif. where the schools are paid in the same way as primary/secondary schools, i.e. butts in the seat = dollars in the coffers, 3 absences and you were dropped from a class) my shcool was in a district. There were two schools in the disctrict which were losing money. One was new, and the other was in a more affluent part of LA (which posed some interesting problems, a smaller percentage of people from the surrounding area went to that campus; they were going directly to 4-year schools, and there were other schools in the area, so the competition for those who were going to community colleges was tougher).

My campus had the largest budget surplus. It also had the largest facilities, and the largest faculty, and the largest student body (thus producing that large surplus).

We were treate like crap. About 40 cents of every dollar we earned came back to the campus. A lot of that went to stupid things at the district level (they sold their downtown office space, and then leased new buildings, which might have seemed a good idea; had it not also needed millions of dollars in new equipment to furnish, as well as the yearly lease payments).

Our buildings were falling apart. The campus in the well to do part of LA got a new library, theater, and I know not what all else.

So robbing Peter to pay Paul does happen.

#390 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 06:51 PM:

Albatross @ #384:
I mean, everyone who opposes vouchers says we should fix those melted-down school systems, but that never seems to happen. Instead, we hear that letting the concerned parents get their kids out would make the system even worse, but then the system they want to leave is not improved. I'm not sure vouchers would solve the underlying problems there, but I'm damned sure that doing nothing to improve those kids' schools while opposing them having a chance to leave for better schools adds up to a pretty horrible policy.

More pointedly, would any of us here voluntarily send our kids into the DC public school system? How many congressmen or lobbyists or other people with any money or power do so? If not, why is it okay when it's other (mostly poor, mostly black and brown) peoples' kids who get sent into a system that has been a disaster for decades?


These are things that have concerned me even though I don't have kids. A while back I spent a couple of years volunteering in the local elementary school -- I figured that since I didn't have kids, I probably had more time to volunteer than people who did -- and I wound up helping in the library/media center. I shelved things and did whatever simple repetitive tasks there were, because the librarians were short-staffed and were expected to do a lot of interaction with students and, frankly, a lot of teaching. I could tell that what I was doing made a difference, but what was really needed was more teachers and more librarians. (I also bought books and donated them. This made me especially popular with the librarians when I brought in extra copies of books that had waiting lists of ten and twenty kids.)

I don't know what the solution is, but I did what I could when I could. There's probably something more I could do now, but I don't yet know what it is.

(I stopped volunteering when Mike got his kidney transplant, because he was on immunosuppressants and the significant chance of me bringing some bug home from school was not one I was willing to take. These days, I think my own health wouldn't support it so easily either. Sigh.)

People without kids think about this stuff too. (Not that anybody was saying we don't, but... I just wanted to say. And we do more than think about it, sometimes. We do stuff when we can.)

What would it look like if we genuinely were willing -- no, eager -- to demand and support good education?

(Long digression about having gone to a one-room parochial school in the country deleted; suffice it to say that public schools are not my familiar turf in the first place, but I was glad to volunteer in one.)

#391 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 07:03 PM:

About the DC schools, which have been getting bashed a little bit: if you don't watch The News Hour you've not seen the two-year-and-ongoing series they're doing about the DC public schools' new Chancellor and her efforts there. The link is to one of the most recent stories, but there are links to earlier ones in the sidebar. Michelle Rhee is her name, and she's one tough lady. She's also (so far, anyway) got the full backing of the Mayor.

It's hard to watch, but it's fascinating too.

#392 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 07:32 PM:

C. Wingate:

I guess what I'm saying is that "final say" should really translate into determination of what the outcome ought to be, which is to say, the methods taught (but not the methods of teaching).

In the context of a professional board, that would come in when the government (and/or business) gives the board its mandate. (It can also come up in funding discussions.)

The problem is, when the parents are in charge of the system (typical local school boards), they effectively control not just curriculum (which is what you're discussing), but also teaching technique, and evaluation standards too! And in general, they can't expertly judge any of those... in particular, they're easy game for hucksters and outside manipulators (such as creationists).

That is actually a strong argument against P J Evans' suggestion at #385 -- there's a conflict of interest! As in, "how dare you give my precious child a "C" in math -- how's he supposed to get into Harvard?" (Never mind how that plays out with "legacy admissions" at Harvard!)

#393 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 09:00 PM:

David @ 391
Probably happens just as often at those private schools, but it doesn't get as much public attention. (The irony was that the governor in question was pushing for more students to go to the public colleges. If he hadn't been doing that, no one would have paid much attention to where his kids were going to school.)

#394 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 09:26 PM:

albatross, #384, the Carter girl went to public school in DC, and she's the only one recently. The scuttlebutt is that the Obamas are looking at Sidwell Friends, Georgetown Day School, and Maret. Apparently the girls have been in private school in Chicago, too.

A lot of congresspeople's families stay back home in their regular schools, but of the congresskids here, they probably mostly go to their local schools in the suburbs. Generally, only lone congresspeople live in DC.

#395 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 10:55 PM:

albatross @ 384: "I'm not sure vouchers would solve the underlying problems there, but I'm damned sure that doing nothing to improve those kids' schools while opposing them having a chance to leave for better schools adds up to a pretty horrible policy."

The question is, are vouchers an incremental step towards a better education system, or a step away? Those of us who oppose vouchers see it as a stopgap measure that actually makes it harder to get to our actual goal.

As far as I can see, the big difference between private schools and public schools is that private schools serve a richer, more educated, and more motivated population. That means that the natural constituency for school reform--parents who care passionately about their kids' education, and have the money to do something about it--are siphoned off from the general population. And who can blame them? The making the connection between one's own kids' future and the future of the education system as a whole isn't very intuitive, or very pragmatic. But it means that the remaining, relatively poor and disinterested parents aren't passionate or wealthy enough to change anything. Expanding the private system through vouchers will just further stratify education based on who has money and passion--the public system will be left with an even more apathetic population, and the private system will have its own hierarchy, based on how much over* the voucher the parents are willing (or able) to pay. And the best private schools will be the best, because parental involvement is one of the best predictors of educational success. People will basically be paying for the privilege of sending their kids to school with the kids of equally passionate parents.

Think about it in terms of Pareto distributions. A stable distribution is one where enough parents are satisfied with the education their kids are getting that they are making waves. The current distribution isn't stable, because too many parents are too dissatisfied. Vouchers are one path to a more stable distribution, because it buys off the most dissatisfied parents with access to elite (private) schools. But it isn't a more equitable distribution, and because it is stable, it prevents a more equitable distribution from developing.

*You think the existing private schools won't just increase their tuition by the amount of the voucher?

#396 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 10:59 PM:

***aren't making waves***

#397 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 01:39 AM:

Marilee @393: The Obama kids attend the University of Chicago's Lab School, which--given Obama's ties to U of C and the family's residence in Hyde Park--wasn't a big surprise to me.

#398 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 01:53 AM:

It would have been more equitable to burn all the lifeboats on the Titanic, so nobody got away. That doesn't mean it would have been better to do so. That's true, even though the richer, prettier, and pushier people were a lot more likely to get one of the limited lifeboat seats than others. Where you have a genuinely bad school system, one that's been lousy for decades and still is, fighting against vouchers looks to me very much like setting fire to the remaining lifeboats just after the first class passengers have gotten away. At least *all* the remaining kids will get a crappy education, so it won't be unfair.

More broadly, there's a disagreement of models about what effect vouchers will have on school quality. How well does political involvement, going to school board and PTA meetings, etc., do at pushing beneficial changes to schools? Alternatively, how well do parents' decisions about where to send their kids (overlapped with willingness of schools to take their kids) push beneficial changes in schools?

I don't know. I suspect the existing trials can't tell us all that much, because the systemic effect of parental choices directing money/lack of activist parents in the public schools won't be seen until vouchers are pretty widespread. For interested parents, both systems have a lot of problems: It's not easy to decide whether school X is doing a good job or not from the outside. It's even harder, from the outside, to judge whether some particular policy or new technique will lead to an improvement or not. Your voice will inevitably be diluted by the voices of many other people. Etc.

And what value do you put on choice by parents when it's not just about academics? Moving your child from a school where he's unhappy or floundering or where the school doesn't account for his needs or just doesn't fit his personality and learning style seems like a good thing. That's true even if he does about as well academically in the new school as the old one.

#399 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 04:43 AM:

albatross @ 397: Comparing the US school system to the Titanic seems just a tad loaded, doesn't it? I don't think the US school system's straits are quite so dire yet. A better metaphor, in my mind, would be a boat that's got a nasty leak that can only be kept under control if all the passengers help bail--we might even be able to repair it if everyone chips in. But the first class passengers are rushing to their personally monogrammed life boats, saving their own skins at the cost of everyone else's. Vouchers are like asking everyone to direct their efforts to building more life boats, when there's no chance of building enough for everyone. Sure, that way fewer would drown, but if we all work towards keeping the boat afloat, no one will drown.

"More broadly, there's a disagreement of models about what effect vouchers will have on school quality."

A fairly good proxy for the effects of a system that divides students up according to how much their parents can or are willing to pay can already be seen in the effects of parents who move in order to get their kids into better schools. The results of that voting with one's feet is a big part of what has made many schools as bad as they are, as fleeing families drive down property values, which reduces school funding, which in turn drives yet more families away and so on.

"I suspect the existing trials can't tell us all that much, because the systemic effect of parental choices directing money/lack of activist parents in the public schools won't be seen until vouchers are pretty widespread."

At which point, if the anti-voucher side is right, the public school system will be sunk.

#400 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 08:06 AM:

#s 394,397,398: Prisoner's dilemma?

#401 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 09:17 AM:

Another difference between public schools and private schools is that private schools can turn students away for (pretty much) any reason.

I have a friend whose son is very gifted mathematically. (He's currently in some kind of University of Minnesota program which teaches advanced math to junior high school students.) She tried to get him into Minnehaha Academy, a local private school with a very good reputation.

They said absolutely not. He also has ADHD, and even though it is controlled with medication, the teacher would have to spend class time monitoring his interaction with other students. They don't do that. End of interview.

Public schools educate everyone.

#402 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 10:02 AM:

Juli, #400: A good point, and one that isn't made nearly often enough. The inevitable effect of a voucher system as it's generally described on schools will be exactly the same as the effect of unregulated capitalism on the economy: both the best (or least-problematical) students and the most money will be concentrated in a relatively small stratum, the lower-achieving students will be abandoned to schools with no resources (and therefore little or no chance to break out of that loop), and anyone with special needs of any kind is just SOL. It just frosts me to see people who ought to be smart enough to figure this out arguing that exactly the opposite will happen. An unregulated* free market DOESN'T WORK, as we've had ample opportunity to observe over the past decade. Even Alan Greenspan was finally forced to admit it.

* That's the key word: "unregulated". And yet the whole idea behind a voucher system is deregulation for school funding. Wait... no wonder it's so popular with greedball capitalists; they see another opportunity for exploitation.

#403 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 11:11 AM:

Actually, before we commit to a widespread private school voucher program, I'd sort of like to see us at least try to institute some sort of public school voucher program, so to speak. That is, allowing parents free choice of which public school to send their kids to, at least within a given geographic area. With large school districts, such a system might be tried within a district; with smaller ones . . . as people have indicated in this thread already, I dunno. But some sort of "free choice, you can't turn a kid away, but his/her parents get to pick the school" might encourage competition between public schools. Magnet and charter schools seems to be heading in this direction, but--not far enough, maybe?

One of the problems I have with private school vouchers is that private and public schools really don't have the same philosophies--and can't, so long as private schools can be selective about accepting, rejecting, or expelling students for any reason whatsoever. That isn't necessarily a slam at private schools: they just don't have the resources to deal with disabled or difficult kids. (I'm remembering acquaintances from my childhood, who--despite coming from a very Catholic family--had no choice but to attend the local public school because the local Catholic school did not accept visually-impaired students, or deaf students.) Nor does it mean that I am anti-private school vouchers, necessarily; but the voucher system as it is usually proposed does seem to indicate an acknowledgement that the public school system is broken and (by implication) not worth fixing. If that's the case, fine; then we need to bite the bullet, declare that American's great experiment of schooling-for-all is a failure, and close down all public schools. I doubt very much that that is going to happen--and I don't think the public school system experiment is a failure yet, anyway.

In other words, vouchers as a temporary measure might be acceptable, but they aren't usually proposed as temporary--and before we even start to fix the public school system, I think we've got to start at the bedrock, with what the schools are for and how they are funded. Tying school funding to property taxes at least seems to be part of the inequity of the system . . . I've heard people say that schools ought to be funded by income taxes, but that just seems to me to create another kind of inequity. Does anyone have any thoughts about this part of the problem to share?

#404 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 11:29 AM:

This is from an NPR story a while ago about Russian emigres getting Russian-style math tutoring for their kids. It was said that American schools kind of dab at math ideas, and then come back to them the next year, while the Russian style is to make sure ideas are understood before going on. I'm not sure that's correct about the US, but it did sort of seem to resonate with my memories. On the other hand, I was in school some decades ago, which means both that my vague memories of how I was taught math might be wrong and that current practice might be different.

In any case, I do think that a major cause of the financial crisis is a lot of people who didn't believe that understanding things is important and/or didn't believe they could manage to do it, and I'm wondering if part of this was that math comprehension wasn't adequately encouraged.

#405 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 12:21 PM:

#403
That goes along with the one I ran into, to give every kid a calculator in first or second grade, because using a pencil and paper is so old-fashioned (my version of what they were saying, or not saying). Absolutely no recognition that you have to learn how to do the stuff before a calculator is useful, and that's what ticked me off.

#406 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 01:09 PM:

Nancy #403:

Disclaimer: I'm speculating far from my expertise, here. This may be full of holes.

I think a lot of the financial crisis (and many, many other problems) relates to the decision of when to stop thinking. Like, when you're considering some idea or problem, when do you stop thinking about it and decide that you've worked out what you need to know? When do you stop looking for more evidence or data? When do you stop seeking out new opinions?

There's probably some kind of ideal rational way to make that decision. But in all kinds of places, from technical discussions/papers in my own field to political discussions on the net to casual conversations with other parents/neighbors/acquaintances, I see this other pattern: We stop thinking when we get to an answer we like, one that makes us comfortable. We delegate our thinking to some external source/system when its conclusions make us comfortable, we accept data when we like what it says, we reject data when we don't, etc.

The claim I've read and heard from people involved in the industry is that pretty much everyone knew that a lot of those mortgages being bundled together were toxic as hell. But they were also making a lot of money. To think deeply about what you were doing was to become very uncomfortable about your job, which was making you rich. To come to a quick answer (the computer says it's okay / the risk models say it's okay / it's being sold on a market to sophisticated buyers who know what they're getting into / everyone's doing it so it must be okay) saves you mental pain, and the need to make a hard choice between walking away from a lot of money (or asking your employer to do so) or feeling like a bad person.

Watch for this pattern in political discussions and you'll see it all the time. Look at the huge number of weird objections raised about Obama. Why were they there? My guess is that lots of people felt uncomfortable about voting for a black guy with a funny name, and also uncomfortable about that determining their vote. So giving them a comfortable reason not to vote for him (he's a secret Muslim / he's a far leftist / he's a radical black nationalist) gave them a comfortable place to stop thinking[2].

Start having a discussion about the death penalty, or gnu control, or Barton, or gay marriage, or global warming, or any other issue, and I think you'll notice the same thing. This drives a lot of propoganda and political/issue advertising. You're not trying to convince me on the issues, you're trying to give me an argument I can use to quiet my own doubts, to justify ceasing to think about the issue any further.


[1] I have had a couple of long conversations with a guy who was involved in mortgage-writing during the ramp-up to the crisis, and it was obvious that he had been suppressing thought about the full implications of what he was doing--which involved helping the folks constructing mortgage-backed securities find a few sh-t mortgages (his term) to fill out their bundle.

[2] I know at least one guy who's a racist in the Arthur Jensen/Charles Murray sense of believing blacks inherently mentally inferior to whites, who voted for Obama, so this can go the other direction.

#407 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 01:35 PM:

Mary Frances #402:

Yes, I like the idea of a within-the-public-schools voucher program. I suspect that in places like Montgomery County, this would be fought tooth and nail because of its effect on property values. The quality of the public schools to which your kids will be directed has a huge effect on house prices around here, and one thing driving the crazier house prices in some parts of the county was the desire to buy a place for your kids in one of the very well-funded schools.

I see the problem with letting schools be selective, but I don't see an alternative. To the extent that some kids are higher-cost than others (say, because of special-ed needs), the vouchers should try to cover the extra costs. But:

a. The ability to kick out disruptive students is really important. One really disruptive student can consume essentially all of the teacher's time, shorting the whole rest of the class. One violently disruptive student can leave a bunch of his classmates in fear all the time, and can make the whole school year a nightmare for them.

b. Selecting students by ability makes it possible to have advanced classes. You have a limited number of classrooms for, say, 6th grade science class. You probably can teach one or two different levels, but not five. If you require the science teacher to teach kids who probably shouldn't have been advanced to 6th grade, the bright kids in the class are going to get shorted out of an education. Similarly, if you put the kid who probably shouldn't have been advanced to the 6th grade in a class focused on the bright kids, he's probably going to spend the whole year getting further and further behind. Ruling this out pretty much rules out specialized schools like magnet schools.

c. Requiring every school to be able to support the full spectrum of ability in every grade, and a wide range of special ed needs, pretty much rules out small schools. A school with one classroom per grade plus a few special purpose rooms (music, art, science, nurse's office) isn't going to be able to support that. They're probably not going to be able to handle the blind student, or the student who speaks no English, or whatever. I don't think it makes sense to rule out small schools a priori.

d. Good schools will get a lot more applicants than bad schools, so there will be some selection going on. It could be by lottery, or by test score, or by desired racial distribution. I don't see off the top of my head why we'd expect those to be better than some other sensible basis (musical talent, interview, shared interests, whatever).

#408 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 01:38 PM:

As an aside, it's worth pointing out how we select which kids go to which school now: A mix of neighborhood boundaries and desired racial/economic mix. The best normal schools in Montgomery County seem to overwhelmingly be ones packed with middle-class and up white and Asian kids.

#409 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 03:46 PM:

Albatross @#406: A great deal of your argument boils down to cost and efficiency. The thing is, that argument also depends on the current (abusive) shortchanging of the school system... if there's more teachers, more classrooms, more money for special-ed supplies, then a lot of those "can't afford it" arguments evaporate.

This is particularly clear in the recurring case of the blind student -- they don't need *that* much special equipment, especially nowadays when you can start with a computer and appropriate peripherals. (Kids who are actually dangerous to their peers will need a segregated facility anyway, and making it a boarding school can solve a bunch of problems at once.)

And frankly, a lot of the advantages of private schools do come from exactly the cherry-picking you describe, and that comes directly at the expense of the public school system.

#410 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 04:08 PM:

Juli @400 - has your friend tried Groves Academy in St Louis Park for her son? I friend of mine sent her son there, who has learning problems, and he did quite well, and is now in college.

Mary Francis @402 and others
(warning: rant ahead)
Some sort of school choice program akin to vouchers with ONLY public schools might be a step in the right direction. I think that's sort of what we have in Minneapolis. BUT, and it's a big one, I think for it to work we need to eliminate private schools. Yes, you can choose to have your child go to this or that public school. But no, you can't pull them out of the system. I know this isn't going to happen anytime soon. And by the way, no home schooling either. Yes, your kid HAS to learn about evolution. We need to get the school systems improved massively and this may be the only way to do it. If everyone knew their kids were going to public schools, we might be able to get the funding needed for decent schools for everyone. I'm not sure anything short of that will work. (end of rant)

#411 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 05:35 PM:

Magenta Griffith @410: That's actually fairly restrained for a rant. You should hear me when I get going on proposals for "fixing" the public school mess--I had to bite down, hard, while I was typing my previous comment. Normally, I start to foam at the mouth and chew furniture. The thing is, so many people advocating this or that process of change are doing so for all sorts of hidden motives--or else they are genuinely ignorant of the implications--that I tend to lose it. We are all just blue skying here, I think, at least those of us who don't have children and who aren't currently trying to find a viable path through the maze . . . but at least people are pointing up real problems and stating real objections.

#412 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 05:40 PM:

Albatross, @407: Valid points, every one. Some of them--especially "selectivity"--are already bedeviling the charter schools around Chicago. It's obviously a complex proposal, with lots of potential drawbacks that I have no idea how to cope with. But then, it's a complex mess, too . . . so maybe that follows?

I am watching the charter/magnet schools movement anxiously. If they work, it might point to a possible way out, for everyone. One day.

#413 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 07:09 PM:

albatross @407: the ability to kick out disruptive students is really important.

On the face of this, it seems reasonable -- after all, no one wants the classroom to be disrupted by a student, and particularly not a violent one.

However, like any regulation, it is subject to misinterpretation and misuse. "Disruptive behavior" is a vague term*, and can be used to stop normal boy behavior, which tends to be louder and more physical. It can also be used against ADHD children who are having a difficult time settling down, or against children with Tourette's who cannot control their outbursts.

I know you are trying to remove only the most extreme and the dangerous from the classroom; believe me, it would quickly get diluted into "any child who makes more noise than this teacher wants".

Having more teachers and assistants in the classroom will allow more one-on-one interactions, and that will reduce the disruption from one student. Having trained teachers who can handle a disruptive child is also important. Cross-linking topics: my math teacher from 9th grade was apparently a brilliant mathematician and flute player. He was tormented by one of my classmates who was a total jerk. I felt really bad for the teacher, but we didn't know how to tell him what not to say, and our classmate was too full of himself to stop bullying.

*In the US Federal Code, education for disabled students is covered under IDEA, and this specifically states that disruptive behavior is not reason enough to deny a child access to a fair and reasonable education.

#414 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 07:19 PM:

Mary Frances, #403/412: Magnet schools are more like private schools than they are like regular public schools, because they are allowed to be selective about the students they take. The ones I know about all insist on a minimum GPA; at HSPVA, applicants have to audition* (for performing arts) or submit work to a jury process (for visual arts); and one of the Big Sticks used to keep the kids in line is the threat of being sent back to their zoned school.

* Having mentioned this, now I have to tell the story of B's audition. She was going into the Musical Theater program, and the audition requirement was that she perform a song from a published musical. Any published musical would do. So she walked in and announced that her audition piece was "Going Through the Motions"** from Once More, With Feeling. There was a chorus of "Huh?" from the judges, and she elaborated: "It's the opening song from the Buffy musical episode." At which point one of the judges very nearly fell off his chair laughing -- apparently he was a Buffy fan! Her reasoning had been that at least this was something they were guaranteed not to have already heard a dozen times that day, and it worked; she got in with no trouble.

** Apparently the actual title of this piece is "Alive". But at that point the soundtrack CD was not yet available, so we took our best guess.

#415 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 07:44 PM:

The magnet middle schools in Montgomery County (MD) are a mix of selective (testing-in) and lottery-based. My son is in the creative and performing arts magnet school, and was chosen by lottery from a pool of out-of-consortium applicants. Children who live in the consortium get to choose which one of the three magnet middle schools they will call "home". The magnet schools near our house are science and math magnets, which select students based on elementary school GPA and a test.

All this is my roundabout way of saying "we just need lots of choices". Some schools need to be open, some can be selective, some can be partly selective, and some can be private/parochial. If you have a balanced portfolio of school types in a region, then you are more likely to have a healthy competition for students, plus you are more likely to have a broad mix of students in each school.

We live near Blair, but that will not be my son's high school; instead, we're in the Northwood Cluster. I think we will stick with Northwood as it has a creative arts portfolio, and not try for Blake (the school named for Eubie Blake). Also, it's on our way to work, and we can continue to carpool with him. I find advantages to driving him, not the least of which is our ability to remind him of certain tasks.

#416 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 09:39 PM:

Lee @414: The selectivity of magnet schools is one of the reasons why I think Chicago's experiment is potentially informative (whether or not it works). The CPS has apparently created something called "magnet cluster schools," which have regional attendance boundaries--that is, any child who lives in a certain neighborhood can attend, without having to take an entrance exam, while children from elsewhere in the city can apply for entrance, too. (Chicago also has "regular" magnet schools, available by entrance exam only.)

As I said, there are lots of problems with this system, both potential and already rearing their ugly heads . . . but at least the CPS is trying something, and the results might be instructive at least, for good or ill.

#417 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 11:54 PM:

Magenta @ 410 - Actually, he is in public school and doing well now. His mother did what all parents need to: raised holy hell to see to it that he was evaluated correctly (and repeatedly, when she thought things had changed), tried different medications until the doctor found the right one, fought for classroom implementation of the learning strategies he needed, and worked with him intensively on learning coping skills. (She had, obviously, the education, the resources and the moxie to do all this.) It did take several years, but he has found his niche.


My daughter goes to a charter school, which has good and bad points. One of my personal and particular gripes about NCLB (as opposed to the global and policy level gripes mentioned above), is that all the testing is in English.

My child is in an immersion school. There are around a dozen immersion schools in different languages in the Twin Cities alone, so they can hardly be rare around the country. She knows things, but not necessarily in English. But the school has to break the immersion model (in ways that everyone agrees are detrimental) to make sure she can pass English language tests.

Plus, her school uses the Singapore Math curriculum. This eventually covers everything the "standard curriculum" covers, and arguably does a better job, but things are in a different order. So we are just resigned to the fact that the whole school will have artificially low math grades.

(Here ends the particular rant about how MY child would be better served if the world were different.)

#418 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2008, 10:13 AM:

Magenta:

So the sales pitch here would be something like We have a product so lousy in many places that even though we give it away for free, lots of parents spend their own money, often a great deal of their available income, to buy a competing product. Obviously, the way to improve our product is to make it illegal for anyone to offer a competing one. After all, monopolies are famous for their good service and high-quality products.

It's hard for me to express how wrong and evil this idea of barring exit from the public school system sounds. All across the nation, if the local school system is a disaster and doesn't seem fixable, don't let anyone escape from it. Then, somehow, those kids and their parents will fix the broken school system. And if they don't, what the hell, it's just their kids' education and safety at stake.

I am obviously not neutral here, but I predict three results if your proposal is somehow adopted:

a. Parents with the means will simply relocate to places where the schools were decent. Nobody with kids and any choices will voluntarily move somewhere with lousy schools. This will result in more segregation by neighborhood, and will clear families out of a lot of big cities entirely.

b. The parents who now leave the public schools probably will become a big force in lobbying for fixes. But lobbying to make the schools work better is hard (because that probably requires a lot of fine detailed decision that can't easily be put on a ballot). Lobbying to get your preferred beliefs taught, or beliefs you oppose excluded, is much easier. The content of public education will become much more of a political issue when the most fervent opponents of what's now being taught cannot simply take their kids somewhere else.

c. The inequalities in outcomes will remain, blunted a bit by making sure that bright kids whose parents care about education, but who live in lousy school areas, can't escape to a better school system. Schools broadly will end up getting more money, but won't actually improve (since they've been getting more money without improvement for decades now, that's an easy prediction).

I can't see your proposal happening. That's good, because it's monstrous.

#419 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2008, 10:21 AM:

Ginger #413:

I don't think there's a power that can't be abused, but a whole lot of private and selective public schools do, in fact, have and occasionally use this power. So do normal public schools, in fact, though their limits for disruptive behavior is higher. This doesn't seem to be a huge source of problems, though I'm no expert. At any rate, there's no way to avoid having schools have this power. And I claim that it's very sensible to allow different competing schools to have different bounds for when you're too disruptive. That's a legitimate difference between different educational philosophies, and also between kids--you want to have a place for loud kids and distractable kids, and also for quiet kids.

#420 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2008, 10:23 AM:

Juli #417:

Yep, the one-size-fits-all mentality is a huge barrier to innovation or just variation among schools. ISTM that the more centralized control/regulation of education you have, the more you get rigid requirements that are applied in places where they don't make sense.

#421 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2008, 10:39 AM:

albatross: Pasadena Unified has an open enrollment in any school in the district (it's a small area, geographically). That has the positive effect of averaging out the problems of property values, to some extent (the same way that the huge size of LA Unified ought to, but doesn't because of the clout the better off parts of town have; they manage to lobby for more money, because they don't give a damn about what that does to the rest of the district... they got theirs).

This, oddly, places a premium on good administration. My housemate's school got a new principal, and she's horrid. The effect, parents started not applying to Don Benito, and a school which had a waiting list, no longer has one.

Arcadia, which is a single high school district, has higher housing prices as a result. Which means they have more money, and the price of houses stays higher (the average decline in housing prices in Arcadia is a bit less than that of the surrounding area).

Worse, because of Prop. 13 the inequities are oddly locked in. Unless a property is sold, the assessment doesn't change. Rental properties are sold less frequently than single family (esp. in the past 20 years), so those areas which are largely rentals see, even in boom times for real estate the money for the school district isn't keeping up the the real expenses.

The real problem, it seems to me, is more related to scale. Beverly Hills has one of the better public school systems in the area. It's also got properties which are valuable enough to be able to fund it. The thing is, property tax is a state issue, but the school districts are local. A bit of "redistribution" of this sort of inequity is in the best interests of all concerned. It's evident this is the argument of those who want to dismantle the public schools.

We have this national debate on what to do about them, and we have this national program designed to fix them. But the means to do it aren't provided, and then the local schools are blamed; as if all were starting from the same place, with the same resources.

At that point a host of groups, all with different agendas (from those who merely want to prove that white, middle class, kids are smarter than black/brown/immigrant kids, to those who want to dismantle the public school systems so they can run private ones for profit, to those who want to do away with public schools so nasty ideas like freedom of religion and evolution can be more easily supressed to those who hate unions and really hate that teachers have them) all take advantage of the sheer impossibility of imposing a top-down model, without the support needed to implement (quite apart from any actual merits to them) the program so imposed.

It's a great racket for someone opposed to a thing. Get the public up in arms. Impose a fix (with great hullabaloo about what a wonderful day lies ahead). See to it the fix is guaranteed to fail (even if it's well designed) and then blame the poor bastards who had to attempt the impossible.

#422 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2008, 02:53 PM:

albatross @418, thanks for putting that so well. I'm saddled with a bad school district (my family's tenancy here predates the founding of the district by around 60 years) and have, at times, had my kids in a private school, and homeschooled. The idea that somehow public schools will guarantee science will be taught free from religious noise is particularly at odds with my experience; teachers are not drawn from some special population free from the superstions of the rest of the country. It was easier to talk to my grade-school age kids about evolution and why fundamentalists were distorting both religion and science when they were in a Missouri Synod school than it is for my sister to cope with the unpredictable beliefs and teaching styles of her son's public school teachers.


As to why this district is bad: it's averaged one new grade school every three years since it was founded; it includes some of the poorest and some of the richest neighborhoods in the state. It is in the population impact zone of one of the biggest military bases in the world. The topography is such that middle school and high school students often live more than an hour by school bus and often more than a half-hour by car from their schools; large parts of the district are unserved by public transportation. There is a history of gang violence in the middle schools. There are so many new residents that passing school bonds is sometimes impossible, and there is little sense of positive institutional tradition.

#423 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2008, 12:32 AM:

albatross @ 418: For what it's worth, I'm with you on this. If people want to abandon the system created by the government, I see no reason for the state to pay their way, no more than it would pay for the relocation costs of those who want to move to Canada. But it shouldn't prohibit such actions either, no more than it should make it illegal to emigrate. The correct function of state power is to create a situation in which the socially beneficial action is also the most selfishly rewarding. Compelling individual behavior is just about the worst possible way to align those interests.

#424 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2008, 03:32 AM:

Lee@414: On my copy of the soundtrack album, track 1 is entitled "Overture / Going Through the Motions".

#425 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2008, 09:35 AM:

Her reasoning had been that at least this was something they were guaranteed not to have already heard a dozen times that day, and it worked; she got in with no trouble.

I once did an audition with "I Dreamed a Show"* from Forbidden Broadway: Volume II. The auditors' faces when the opening piano riff was over and I started the lyrics were priceless.

*: Uses the tune of "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Mis, which was one of the popular songs that year for girls who wanted to show how emotive they were.

#426 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2008, 11:23 AM:

One of the things which most offends me with the problems of schooling is how it has been used, perhaps indirectly, to starve the rest of an area's funds.

Prop. 13, in Calif. makes damned near impossible to get a new tax, even if temporary, dedicated and all that jazz, passed. Attempts to do so usually get about 55 percent of the vote (they need 66).

But bonds only require 50+1 (of the voters who show up, another complaint). They are sold as way to fund important things, "without raising taxes", and they don't.

But they take twice as much money out of the operating budget of the entity which sells them; while removing other money from the investment pools; and sequestering the net-gain to the buyers from being taxable (it's one of the incentives to buying bonds).

So on so many levels, a five year tax, often less than one percent, arosss the board would be cheaper, in effect, than passing the damned bonds.

#427 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2008, 03:54 PM:

Combining the original subject line with the topic it's drifted to: Obama campaign is donating leftover office supplies to public schools.

#428 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2008, 03:59 PM:

Lee #427:

Love it. No Teacher Left Behind (on her rent because she was buying school supplies)?

#429 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2008, 11:01 PM:

Man, that guy is really f--king with my cynicism. I hope he gets into office and starts breaking promises soon, or my whole worldview will be wrecked.

#430 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2008, 01:06 AM:

Hey, he's making Eric Holder AG! Whoo! Holder used to be a judge in DC, and he was a good one! Worked for Clinton, too.

#431 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2008, 08:08 PM:

albatross@429

Obama DID apparently play a decisive role in allowing Lieberman to keep his committee chairmanship.

(And yes, Obama usually knows what he's doing so this might even end up working out well. Still isn't going to make me LIKE it.)

#432 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2008, 10:35 PM:

E-Mail from John Podesta.

Anyone else get one, requesting your input for ideas to work on energy and the environment?

I'm guessing they've e-mailed everyone who submitted their concerns when the change.gov site first went up, and are now signaling yet another change.

Still, it feels pretty cool.

There is room to submit a real essay in response to this video they have for you to watch.

Love, C.

#433 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2008, 01:55 AM:

Michael I #431: Obama DID apparently play a decisive role in allowing Lieberman to keep his committee chairmanship.

Unfortunate. I don't think that Palestine will become a real autonomous nation until after Lieberman retires and is replaced by someone not quite so hideously dominated by the Israel lobby. He's not the only roadblock, of course, but it's a line item on the checklist.

#434 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2008, 02:41 AM:

As far as Lieberman goes, people have noticed that the decision to let Joe keep his Senatorial toys came about right around the time that it started too look like the Dems might actually be able to control 60 seats in the Senate, right?

And CNN is reporting that Obama likes Arizona governor Janet Napolitano for head of Fatherland Security. Feel free to make your own Concrete Blonde joke.

#435 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2008, 03:06 AM:

Avram #434: head of Fatherland Security

So, what is America's gender anyway? "Fatherland" is tainted by association with Nazism; "Homeland" is tainted by association with aparteid, and "Motherland" is tainted by association with Stalinism. "Siblingland", although it might offend the fewest people, doesn't have much going for it from a Madison Avenue perspective.

#436 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2008, 09:35 AM:

Constance @ 432

I got what sounds like the same email. Haven't had time to look at the video yet [ grumble about being jammed up this week deleted ], but I will tonight, most likely.

Incidentally, I wrote this last night, and when I tried to post it, Firefox crashed. When I brought it back up, none of the tabs containing Making Light pages would complete their load; they all stalled at cache.blogads.com. They only just were able to reload, about 7 hours later. Is this just me, or did anyone else have that problam last night?

#437 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2008, 10:57 AM:

Constance @432: I got mine! I took the opportunity to lobby for landfill mining and methane recovery. (Also to point out San Francisco's dog poop program.)

#438 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2008, 08:32 PM:

Homeland feels vaguely nazi to me. Heimland und Ausland as terms are things I find disturbubing. A painful sense of Us and Them. It's a weird thing, but there it is.

#439 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2008, 09:09 PM:

Personally, I can't see the phrase "Department of Homeland Security" without thinking about the Nightwatch from B5.

#440 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2008, 01:42 PM:

Lee, I think that has more to do with how they actually behave than with the name itself!

#441 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2008, 02:05 PM:

DHS is a Department of Defense; DoD is really the War Department. Shifting the War Department to "Defense" didn't leave room for a department dedicated to defending the country, so it had to keep going to find a spot.

Two wrongs may not make a right, but two euphemisms makes a creepy.

#442 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2008, 03:39 PM:

Terry Karney @ 438... I guess they had to call it 'Homeland' because 'Fatherland' would have been too blatant. Besides, writer Robert Harris might have objected.

#443 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2008, 04:19 PM:

Earl Cooley III at 435: it depends on whether you think of the United States as singular or plural. The singular United States is Uncle Sam, male. The plural United States (which is also called "America") is We the People, and is either genderless, androgynous, or multigendered, it's up to you.

I'm a We the People kind of person, and I vote for multigendered.

#444 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2008, 08:13 PM:

Actually, I've always just liked "home" as opposed to any kind of "-land," when referring to the country that I give my allegiance to. That's gender neutral, I suppose. I don't know if people would find The Department of Home Security confusing or not (selling house alarm systems, maybe?), but I think I might find find it more comfortable, less ominous.

Department of National Security? Or has that been taken? Department of Homefront Security? Hey, let's hold a Change the Department Name contest! :)

#445 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2008, 01:01 PM:

Mary Frances @ 444: I've always liked "The Department of Home Defense" myself. Or perhaps the "Department of Home Departments", just to keep things in a Pythonic vein.

#446 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2008, 02:28 PM:

Department of Epiceneland Security? The rabid sanctity of marriage crowd would probably hate that. heh.

#447 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2008, 03:18 PM:

Terry Karney #438: The German word for homeland is Heimat, which is also the title of an episodic film about German society.

#448 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2008, 05:38 PM:

Another e-mail from Podesta's office. This time inviting us to listen to Obama's speech today on a public works and infrastructure program and submit our thoughts, on change.gov.

I strongly suggested that this be carefully planned so the catastrophes of the highway programs destroying inner city neighborhoods, as in New Orleans, and so on not be repeated.

Love, C.

#449 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2008, 06:32 PM:

Constance, #448: Not just New Orleans. After the first couple of times my partner and I drove across I-10 thru Louisiana and Mississippi, I commented that it seemed as though whenever we exited to get gas or food in a city, we were in a poor and majority-black area. This, he told me, was no coincidence; when the interstate system was being built, those were the neighborhoods that weren't considered important enough to matter. It's just like the major city dump always going in next door to the poorest neighborhood.

#450 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2008, 01:12 AM:

Lee @449: Not just the south, either. The pattern was set in New York--at least according to Robert Caro's The Power Broker (subtitle: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York).

#451 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2008, 01:14 AM:

Ginger @ 445: "Department of Home Defense" sounds good to me, too, speaking seriously . . . but "Department of Home Departments" sounds more, ah, appropriately governmental, so to speak . . .

#452 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2008, 02:22 PM:

Lee -- I know. They did exactly the same thing in the Bronx. It was done everywhere. Of course, here, we also had the additional assistance of Robert Moses.

Love, C.

#453 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2008, 02:25 PM:

Mary Frances -- Ooops, I missed that you had already invoked the infamous Robert Moses! It still breaks my heart everytime we go up there, just as everytime we hang out with the broken up communities in NO, still doing their cookouts and reunions under the gigantic cement overpasses that tore up all the live oaks and their families' homes back then.

Love, C.

#454 ::: Debbie sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 03:48 AM:

Word salad and link spam.

#455 ::: Tom Whitmore sees Italian spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2012, 01:53 PM:

and more than one of it, too.... Would that be some sort of sausage, a salami perhaps or mortadella?

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.