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More Supression of Innovative Teaching!

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

In light of this, I breathlessly await a lengthy diatribe form Mickey Kaus in which he argues for strengthening teacher’s unions so that they’re protected from having their innovation crushed by nitwit bureaucrats who don’t really know anything about teaching. [But he doesn't care about educational outcomes--he cares about union-busting!--ed.]

Teaching Thoughts

[ 0 ] May 12, 2007 |

You may have seen this article in which Theda Skocpol called for a greater emphasis on teaching at Harvard. MMF has interesting commentary. It’s always been strange to me–especially in disciplines with large numbers of undergraduate majors–how little emphasis is placed on teaching for advancement. (One would think, at least, that departments would strive for balance–some great teachers, some great researchers–but in many places it seems as if tenure cases are evaluated among similar criteria, with the latter getting much more emphasis. Of course, research is also much easier to evaluate.) One place where my experience is different than Aspazia is that I had a lot of mentors at grad school who were excellent teachers and put a lot of work into it–more than would be strictly justified by a purely material cost-benefit ratio–and I learned a lot from them. As an international student, I also benefited from more training and systematic feedback than a graduate student instructor usually receives.

See also A White Bear, who has interesting thoughts about the relationship between teachers and students and the language of contracts.

Easy Answers To Simple Questions

[ 0 ] May 11, 2007 |

Melissa:

Speaking of mature and honest public dialogue, I wonder if it would be possible for anti-choice conservatives to address the reality that, even in countries where abortion is illegal and there are strong cultural disincentives surrounding women’s autonomous choice regarding reproduction, women still get abortions, though in unsafe and often fatal conditions. And I wonder further if they could acknowledge that used to be the reality in this country pre-Roe and would be again in a post-Roe world. And, lastly, I wonder if they could then admit at long last that they simply don’t care if women who want abortions die in the process of getting them, so we can put this whole “pro-life” bullshit to bed once and for all.

No, no, and no. If there’s one thing that not only the “pro-life” position but abortion “centrism” depend on, it’s scrupulously ignoring how abortion law actually works.

This has been easy answers to simple questions.

"A Solution In Serach of a Problem"

[ 0 ] May 11, 2007 |

A terrific article by Garrett Epps puts Karl Rove’s pressuring of US Attorneys to pursue bogus “vote fraud” cases into the larger (and highly consequential) context of the GOP’s vote fraud fraud. Epps also draws are attention to the Supreme Court’s endorsement of the GOP’s myths in a little-noticed opinion from 2006:

We can’t count on the U.S. Constitution to protect the election process. The Constitution does not explicitly protect the right to vote, and the conservative majority on the Rehnquist and Roberts courts has proved friendly to anti-turnout measures. As Mark Graber of the University of Maryland pointed out recently, the court echoed right-wing rhetoric about voter fraud in a little-noticed 2006 opinion allowing Arizona to implement its restrictive voter-ID law. “Voters who fear their legitimate votes will be outweighed by fraudulent ones will feel disenfranchised,” the court’s per curiam opinion stated. This is the argument that voter-restrictionists have fallen back on. There may be no voter fraud, but if people think there is, then we should tighten up anyway. That’s the argument used in Missouri (with support from the White House), where studies showed elections were mostly clean. As Graber noted, to restrictionists, “such a ‘feeling’ offsets the interests of voters who are disenfranchised by voter-ID laws by actually driving honest citizens out of the democratic process!”

One is reminded of the Bush v. Gore, in which the Court (as Ginsburg initially pointed out, although Scalia bullied her into removing the footnote) held that the fact that some people would have their votes “diluted” by other votes being counted was more important than the actual disenfranchisement of poor and African-American voters throughout the process (including by inferior vote-counting equipment that would be unconstitutional if Bush v. Gore was actually constitutional law.) So while, as Epps notes, the Missouri State Supreme Court prevented an atrocious voter-ID law that would have maintained Republican control of the Senate from being enforced in the 2006 elections, we should never forget that illegal disenfranchisement by the GOP put Bush in the White House. That Republicans have managed to conceal this while creating a mythical crisis of “vote fraud” is a remarkable and appalling achievement in Orwellian discourse.

Good Arguments Leading to Bad Conclusions

[ 0 ] May 11, 2007 |

Granting that is was only half-serious, the below-discussed d-squared post on Budweiser reminds me of Kelefa Sanneh’s arguments about rockism. Sanneh’s underlying points are often quite correct: there’s no particular reason to privilege white guys playing guitars, worrying about whether artists in question are “poseurs” or whatever are tautologies that are irrelevant to the quality of the music, there’s nothing wrong with production or hooks, “authenticity” is not a useful criterion of value, etc. The problem is that his perfectly valid premises lead to such appalling conclusions (“Mariah Carey is better than Nirvana!”) that it tends to undermine them–his judgment can be so bad that it reinforces rockism rather than undermining it, although the latter would be a useful project. Similarly, Dsquared is certainly right that we have no evidence that Budweiser isn’t “traditional” beer–for all I know in the olden days beer was an insipid, watery brew with virtually no hops in it–and mass producing crappy beer is perfectly “traditional.” The mere fact that beer isn’t mass-produced by a huge corporation does not make it good (cf. Gordon Biersch, Red Hook blonde, etc.), just as the fact that music or film is independently produced doesn’t guarantee its quality–indeed, I don’t understand the whole concept of saying one is a fan of “indie film” (as opposed to particular directors, genres, etc.) at all. The problem is that the meaninglessness of tradition, which is a bad argument against Budweiser, is also a bad argument for it–traditions of producing watery, insipid beer with virtually no hops in it are not worth preserving. (Although I suppose it should be noted that Budweiser has apparently gotten more tasteless and insipid over time to appeal to the palates of people who don’t actually like beer.)

But now I see that Yglesias is actually defending d-squared’s post without irony, claiming that Budweiser is in fact a fine beer vaguely malt-flavored water. (I would strongly advise the switch to a union product, given that taste is apparently not a criterion.) I have no idea which microbrews he has in mind that are much worse that Budweiser, but one fears that he may consider the (exceedingly mediocre) Brooklyn Brewery paradigmatic.

Who Is FDR to Compare Himself to Jon Voight?

[ 0 ] May 11, 2007 |

Hugh Hewitt seems unable to distinguish between reality and the movies, which admittedly is a desirable quality in a Bush dead-ender…

The Self-Immolation of Rudy

[ 0 ] May 10, 2007 |

As a staunch Giuliani opponent, I must admit a certain grudging admiration for his decision to be explicitly pro-choice rather than adopting the High Contrarian “I’m pro-choice, but it should be left to the states (and, er, whatever regulations Congress can pass” position, and it’s refreshing in a way that primary voters would see this as the kind of dodge it almost always is. It’s good for the country for a serious Republican candidate to take the normatively correct and (funding questions aside) majority position on the issue. Matt seems right, however, that “John McCain and Mitt Romney should, in my opinion, be popping some champagne this morning.” The strategic calculation seems to be that the front-loaded primary will include more liberal states in which his abortion position won’t be a big issue. The problem is that I don’t see much evidence that Republican primary voters in those states are particularly socially liberal. Schwarzenegger had to win a special election because he probably couldn’t have won his party’s primary in a state election (where an anti-choice position is much more damaging than for a national candidate.) New York Republicans, for reasons known only to them, also put forward an anti-choice candidate for governor last year. I’m sure Republicans in those states are more liberal than those in South Carolina, but not enough that I can see Giuliani having any chance. It’s over.

Having said that, I return to a question I still can’t answer–who the hell will win? I continue to agree that McCain’s bid is DOA; I still don’t see how someone who is both the most conservative candidate and the candidate most despised by conservatives can win, especially since his more-hawkish-than-Bush stance has shredded his support among NH independents. Romney seems like the default candidate on paper to me, but while it’s showing up in his fundraising it has yet to show up in polls. The field, in other words, seems ripe for another entry, but I still can’t take Fred Thompson or Gingrich that seriously. Until then, I guess I have to pick Romney, who I think benefits most from Giuliani’s decision (flip-flopping has to look better to a majority of GOP primary voters than being straight-up pro-choice.)

"Please address this matter immediately."

[ 0 ] May 10, 2007 |

I still don’t know how I would respond to this.

Abortion and Down Syndrome

[ 0 ] May 9, 2007 |

Atrios makes an interesting point with respect to my argument that pro-lifers are likely to identify certain types of abortion is particularly immoral and use that as a wedge, and fetuses identified with Down Syndrome would be one example:

I really don’t think so. I imagine large numbers of the “abortion is icky” and “pro choice for me but not for thee” crowds would see the abortion of children with severe disabilities as “good” abortions in many cases. I don’t think this would be an especially productive strategy for the anti-choice crowd.

It’s certainly possible. According to the story in today’s Times that Dana Goldtsein drew our attention to, for example, “About 90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion.” I suppose this won’t necessarily stop opponents of abortion rights from invoking these cases–according to the data I’ve seen, women who identify as “pro-life” are no less likely to get abortions than those who identify as “pro-choice”–but it has to create a strong presumption in favor of Atrios’ point that such a move would be ineffective. (Sex selection, which I lumped into the argument, is likely to be a more effective wedge.) I seem to remember the Down’s Syndrome argument being deployed, but without further data I have to concede Atrios’ point.

UPDATE: In comments, Michael reminds us about this post, [corrected!] which is also very much worth your attention.

As a matter of controversy late stage abortion is highly discussed in the political arena. For great info on medical doctors and procedures turn to med-help. Everything from hair loss advice like buying propecia online to learning CPR. Get great up-to-date medical information so you’ll know without waiting.

Joining the Increasing List Of People So Corrupt And Incompetent They Can’t Even Keep Working For the Bush Administration

[ 0 ] May 9, 2007 |

I mentioned earlier today the scandal concerning the DoE allowing loan companies to loot subsidies intended to help poor students–they were informed about the loophole by a whistleblower, who was of course blown off. Well, somebody has at least finally paid the price. Er, I mean she’s taking time off to spend more time with Randall Tobias’s masseurs:

Under criticism that it has been lax in policing the $85 billion student loan industry, the Education Department announced yesterday that the chief official responsible for overseeing the loan program was stepping down.

The resignation of the official, Theresa S. Shaw, was made public two days before Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is to testify to a Congressional committee. Ms. Spellings is expected to face tough questions about the oversight of lenders’ practices and her department’s enforcement of policies against conflicts of interest.

Officials in the department characterized Ms. Shaw’s departure as chief operating officer of the office of federal student aid as unrelated to disclosures about how lenders have plied universities and financial aid officers with favors to win more business.

Ms. Spellings said in a statement that Ms. Shaw told her in late February that she would leave in June. That was after the Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced an investigation of ties between lenders and universities.

“Terri has told us that she plans to take some time off,” a spokeswoman for the department, Katherine McLane, said.

Ms. Shaw was appointed in 2002 by Education Secretary Rod Paige after 22 years in industry, mostly at Sallie Mae, the largest student lender.

Ms. Spellings called Ms. Shaw “a tireless advocate for students and families,” saying that the aid program “now delivers more aid to more students at a lower operating cost with greater accuracy than at any point in its history.”

Mr. Cuomo, by contrast, recently told the House education committee that the Education Department had been “asleep at the switch” in regulating the practices of lenders.

Once again, the changes from the Democratic takeover of Congress are manifest and salutary.

But How Does He Hold A Megaphone?

[ 0 ] May 9, 2007 |

Jon Chait gets the modern GOP down cold:

Of all the low points during the Bush administration, perhaps the most surreal was the week in December 2004 when Bernie Kerik was poised to become secretary of Homeland Security. By the traditional measures used to judge qualifications for this sort of job, Kerik was not an ideal candidate. The main points in Kerik’s favor were his loyal service to Rudy Giuliani, first as driver for his mayoral campaign, then corrections commissioner, then police commissioner–the last of which was commemorated by the casting of 30 Kerik busts. On the negative side of the ledger were his multiple alleged felonies, including tax evasion and conspiracy to commit wiretapping (currently being investigated by federal prosecutors), and his (also alleged) ties to the DeCavalcante and Gambino crime families.

If a “Sopranos” writer proposed a plotline in which a Kerik-like figure rose through the ranks to become head of the department charged with preventing the next terrorist attack, he would be laughed off the show. So how did it almost happen in real life? The Washington Post recently reconstructed the Kerik nomination: The decisive factor seemed to be that Bush was “lulled by Kerik’s swaggering Sept. 11 reputation.”

That last sentence is, in many ways, the perfect epigraph for the Bush presidency. The Kerik episode displayed many of the pathologies of modern Republican governance: incompetence, corruption, an obsession with loyalty over traditional qualifications. But it shows with particular clarity Bush’s most distinct contribution: the mistaking of macho bluster for strategic acumen.

[...]

Alas, Republicans seem to be making the same exact mistake again. Exhibit A is the leading GOP candidate, Giuliani. Republicans love Giuliani, of course, for the same reason they loved Bush: He’s a 9/11 tough guy. Recently, GOP consultant Roger Stone explained the basis of Giuliani’s appeal to Texas Republicans. “Stylistically, Texans like the Giuliani swagger,” Stone told The Wall Street Journal. “He’s a tough guy, and Texans like tough guys.”

The war on terrorism, boasts Giuliani, “is something I understand better than anyone else running for president.” This would be very scary if it were true. In recent weeks, Giuliani mistakenly said that it was unclear whether North Korea was further along toward a nuclear bomb than Iran, casually lumped together Shia Iran and Sunni Al Qaeda, and confessed he didn’t know enough about the Bush administration’s approach to terrorism detainees to take a position. In fact, Giuliani wasn’t even a particularly good terrorism fighter as mayor. A mere six years after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, he decided to locate the city’s emergency headquarters in the World Trade Center itself–the one spot in all New York City he knew had been targeted for attack. He also failed to ensure that police and firefighters could communicate with one another, with disastrous results.

I am still inclined to think that Giuliani won’t win the nomination (although I must admit I can’t say who will win it.) But it does make sense that he would do better than one might suspect given his substantive positions. He’s the logical heir to the vapid candidacy of George Allen. Anti-terrorism is Giuliani’s selling point, but his actual record is one of gross incompetence that led to many unnecessary deaths on 9/11. But he looked good holding a megaphone, and to Republicans (not only the base but many elites) that’s what really matters.

For one of hundreds of examples of how this leads to appallingly bad governance, see the Bush Department of Education helping its friends in the student loan industry loot the public fisc.

[via Yglesias]

Informed Consent

[ 0 ] May 8, 2007 |

Just to be clear, I’m not claiming that there’s any right answer to balances of aesthetic (or other) pleasures and health risks, that drawing broad inferences based on consumption patterns common among very different people is a sensible thing, that feminism mandates particular fashion choices, etc. It does seem that this demonstration of the effects of heels on a woman’s body is something that it worth knowing, though.