A passion for spontaneity: Chris Matthews wont be running for the Senate, Bill Carter reports, a bit belatedly, in todays New York Times. In the following passage, we thought the talker sketched an insightful self-portrait:
CARTER (3/23/09): [Matthews] said he had held a lifelong love affair with the Senate...To be a senator was the greatest thing in the world.''
He modified that view [last year] as he examined the current role of senators, which, he said, has become dominated by raising funds. And he came to question, he said, whether he had at least one prerequisite for a political career.
''Every great guy has three things,'' Mr. Matthews said. ''Motive, passion and spontaneity. Clearly I had the final two. But motive? I would say to my wife, 'When the tough calls come, I would do the right thing. I would check the Constitution.' And she would go, 'What do you want to do?' I didn't have that drive to do particular things.
Matthews is filled with passionbut passion for what? When his wife asked him, he had to admit. Theres nothing about which he cares.
By the way, the liberal worlds silence has created this frameworkits now set in stoneabout the past sixteen years:
CARTER: Supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton accused him of being overly tough on their candidate during the Democratic primaries. He said at one point that she owed her political career to the fact that her husband had ''messed around'' and later apologized, saying the remarks had been ''nasty'' and ''callous.
In fact, this influential talker trashed both Clintons, and especially Candidate Gore, over the course of a great many years. In the history-changing twenty months of Campaign 2000, no one trashed Gore in a crazier fashion. But liberals agreedhave continued to agreeto keep their traps shut about this misconduct. According to Carter, Matthews may have been overly tough on one of the three. For perhaps one year.
In this way, the liberal world has insisted on misinforming the publicto the other sides advantage.
The hot tub and the vegetable garden: We dont necessarily disagree with the thrust of Maureen Dowds latest column. But no ones more comically clueless than Dowd, even when she hits on something which may be right. We treated ourselves to a good solid laugh when we read this small chunk of her column:
DOWD (3/22/09): Now that Mr. Obama has made $8,605,429 on his booksincluding $500,000 for letting his memoir be condensed into a kids bookmaybe hes lost touch with his hole-in-the-shoe, hole-in-the-Datsun, have-not roots.
Look whos talking, we mordantly quipped. Then we let ourselves throw back our heads and enjoy one more solid laugh.
By the way: Who but Obama would ever dream of accepting pay for a childrens book? The answer, of course, is everyone. But so this big famous scribe snarks.
Dowd starts her piece with trenchant thoughts about the Obamas new vegetable garden. (And about Michelle Obamas sinewy arms.) But then, the lady has always had a strong sense of what belongs where at the White House. In 1997, Vile Clinton installed a (donated) hot tuband this tribune of the Average Joe quickly swung into action. Call me crazy, she said at the start of her piece. Sadly, after reading that column, nobody would have bothered:
DOWD (8/23/97): Call me crazy, but I had a funny feeling that I was never going to be invited to the President's hot tub. Michael McCurry, the White House press secretary, had said it belonged to the American public, so I considered just showing up one night at the northwest gate of the White House with flippers, a sand bucket and a towel.
My dermatologist, Tina Alster, was alarmed at the prospect. "Haven't you ever heard of hot tub folliculitis?" she asked. It's an organism that causes an itchy, bumpy rash on hair follicles. And the President, who has to worry about rosacea, that Jimmy Durante, W. C. Fields red-nose thing, should not be aggravating his blood vessels in a hot tub."
But then I came to California, home of hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, all therapy, and indeed, home of the President's Hot Spring Grandee seven-seater with 31 massaging jets, and I couldn't resist dropping by the showroom of the manufacturer that donated the hot tub to the National Park Service. I wanted a test soak, as they say.
I took some friends along so we could float a few theories about the iconic meaning of Bill Clinton installing a hot tub on the South LawnJerry Nachman, the former New York Post editor who now works in TV; Dee Dee Myers, the former White House press secretary who now lives in L.A. and works at Vanity Fair; Barbara Hower, author and TV personality; Rebecca Liss, a reporter for The Los Angeles Daily Journal, and Mickey Kaus, a magazine writer.
Memorize the names of Dowds friends. Learn to dismiss them completely.
This nonsense occurred before these dopes got Miss Lewinsky to play with. In part, your country is in the shape its in because this tribune of the people clowned her way through the Clinton-Gore years in this remarkable fashion. Gores bald spot was next. (Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct, he's practically lactating, she wrote on the day, in June 1999, when Candidate Gore was making his formal campaign launch.)
A bit later in yesterdays column, Dowd conspiratorially snarked that Tim Geithner grew up as a Republican. But then again, so did Dowd! Dowd is an expert at sniffing bad faithfrom her spot on one of Dear Jacks shag rugs, inside the high walls of Versailles.
The earlobe monologues: As we reviewed that hot tub column, a question popped into our heads: How many times has Dowds dermatologist, Tina Alster, appeared in the ladys column?
Our answer: According to Nexis, Alster made three appearances in Dowds columns in the worst of the call me crazy years, from 1997 through 2001.
Her first appearance came earlier in 1997, when Dowd was pondering the ways her beloved Average Josephines can keep themselves looking young. I dimly recall a time when women talked about books, plays and politics, she simpered at the start of her piece. Now all we talk about is skin.
Frankly, weve noticed. Before long, Alster appeared:
DOWD (3/22/97): Dr. Alster, the author of "Cosmetic Laser Surgery," is a glamorous blonde in Chanel whose motto is "Natural, shmatural."
"In D.C., everybody wants to be a natural beauty," she says. "People always ask me, 'Have you had anything done?' I say, 'Of course I have! Who do you think we try out these lasers on?' I've had peels. I've had the bikini hair-removal laser."
On this day, the 37-year-old has just had an injection of Botox. The toxin that causes botulism also relaxes the muscles that cause a frown. But you mustn't let the toxin drip down, where it could immobilize your eyeballs. "You just can't bend over to try on shoes for a few hours," Dr. Alster says, sitting up straight.
She guards against overkillwomen "wanting Daffy Duck lips," she says, or fixating on earlobe wrinkles. "Some people have hideously wrinkled faces and they're worried about these creases in their earlobes because God forbid their diamonds should be next to their wrinkles. (Or, God forbid, the diamond should drop into a wrinkle.) You can't get so caught up in this stuff that you get sucked down the drain.
How about women wanting Daffy Duck columns? At the Times, such desire is assumed.
More Alster. By 2001, Dowd was pondering abattoir betes noires, and the exciting new work of the McGhan Medical Corporation. No, her goal wasnt health care reform. Deferring to established authority, she let Alster have the last word:
DOWD (4/11/01): McGhan also has a biogenetically engineered human collagen waiting for F.D.A. approval that may eventually supersede bovine collagen. The foreskin of one infant boythe son of a company executive, according to Dr. Kleinwill be engineered into a supply that will replicate endlessly and provide lips, etc., for women all over the world ad infinitum. A bris to remember.
But until women can start injecting infant-boy foreskin into their faces, they must confront the specter of being quarantined if they start drooling and slobbering [a reference to mad cow disease].
Tina Alster, a Washington dermatologist who gives herself bovine collagen injections, is calm.
"I would rather be among the quarantined than on the outside of the ring," she says. "Let everyone else look horrible."
A few months later, Chandra Levys murder gave this gang another way to kill time till Osama struck. This is the way your press corps simpered during the transition years.
Yesterday, the lady was smacking Vile Obama for losing track of his Average Joe roots. She might even have had a point. But were often amazed when we take a look back at the ludicrous way we all got here.
Special report: David Brooks believes!
Read each thrilling installment: When it comes to public schools, David Brooks believes. Read each thrilling installment:
Part 1: David Brooks believes in Obamas agenda. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/17/09.
Part 2: David Brooks believes in the power of tests. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/18/09.
Part 3: David Brooks believes in higher standards. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/19/09.
Today, we conclude our report:
PART 4IN THE EXPERTS: In his column about Obamas education agenda, David Brooks quoted Arne Duncanand Duncan made some remarkable statements. Perhaps because Brooks doesnt really know schools, he didnt quite explain what they meant:
BROOKS (3/13/09): The problem is that as our ability to get data has improved, the education establishments ability to evade the consequences of data has improved, too. Most districts dont use data to reward good teachers. States have watered down their proficiency standards so parents think their own schools are much better than they are.
As Education Secretary Arne Duncan told me, Weve seen a race to the bottom. States are lying to children. They are lying to parents. Theyre ignoring failure, and thats unacceptable. We have to be fierce.
States are lying to parents, Duncan said (though Brooks doesnt seem to have asked him how many). And this process is part of a race to the bottom. Those are very striking remarks. But what did the new Ed Sec mean?
Presumably, Duncan refers to these unnamed states proficiency testsnot so much to the particular curriculum standards a state may prescribe for its fifth or sixth grade. There are at least two ways a state can lie to parents through those testscan water down [its] proficiency standards so parents think their own schools are much better than they are.
In the simplest sense, a state can create a set of tests which are quite easy to pass. If fifth-graders reading on third-grade level get ranked proficient on a states fifth-grade reading test, parents may get a false impression of how well their schools are doing.
In another sense, a state could make its proficiency tests easier from one year to the next. Most schools passing rates would increasebut only because the test was now easier. Here too, parents could get a false impressionthe impression that their schools are improving when they actually arent.
What exactly did Duncan mean when he made those striking remarks? How many states was he talking about? Which onesand how are they lying? Theres no real way to tell from Brooks column. Like many major pundits, Brooks doesnt seem especially well-versed in these issues. Theres no reason why he should be, of coursebut hes comfortable telling us who the heros are (the reformers), and hes comfortable naming familiar villains (the education establishment, liberal orthodoxy). In short, Brooks seems comfortable with familiar scriptsbut how well does he actually know his subject? His failure to clarify Duncans remark is maddening to the extreme.
For ourselves, well leave the L-word to Duncan. But can a state grossly mislead its parents by watering down its proficiency tests? Of course that can happenand Duncan offered some truly striking remarks. But though Brooks believes, he doesnt quite knowand he failed to ask the obvious questions. How many states have lied? Which ones? Duncans answers would have been major news. But there is no sign Duncan was asked.
We were especially struck bu Duncans remarks, because weve discussed these types of issues for many years, long predating THE HOWLER. And then, theres that recent, striking case involving the state of Virginia. In 2006, we did several months of work at this site concerning the way the state of Virginia was misstating its test scoresits school-by-school passing rates. (Before we were done, the head of the state school board had acknowledged the states error.) Virginias parents really had been grossly misled. But David Brooks didnt wrote about thatand neither did anyone else.
David Brooks seems to believe in the experts; he recited a good deal of their familiar cant all through his education piece. We thought it might be worth remembering how the experts (and the major journalists) behaved when it turned out that a major state had been faking its passing rateshad faked them so badly that the Washington Post got fooled by the con, right at the top of page one.
Long story short: Virginia had adopted a crackpot method for reporting elementary school passing rates. We became aware of the scam after the Post praised a small, low-income Alexandria school right at the top of page one. How bad was Virginias reporting system? This bad: At this small school, only five of its 19 third-graders had passed the states third-grade reading test. (At the time, Virginia was only testing third- and fifth-graders. Fourth- and sixth-graders werent tested.) At the third-grade level, this constituted the second-lowest passing rate in the whole state of Virginia! But uh-oh! While only five of 19 third-graders had passed, the state had reportedincorrectlythat seventeen of 19 had passed. And uh-oh! Failing to notice the statistical anomalies occurring in this schools complete data, the Washington Post had taken the bait. In reality, this school had the second-lowest passing rate in the entire state of Virginia at one of the two grade levels tested. But there it sat, at the top of page one, praised as an inspiring, high-scoring school! The school was a study in pride, progress, the Post headline said. For links to past reports, see below.
(How did this gross misreporting occur? This particular school had 19 third-graders; only five passed the reading test. But so what? Twelve fourth-graders were given the third-grade test and passed it; the state thus reported that seventeen students had passed the third-grade test, in a school which had nineteen third-graders. In this way, 5 out of 19 was magically transformed, and this floundering school ended up on page one, headlined as a study in progress. No, we really arent making this upand yes, this was the states standard procedure; it inflated passing rates all over the state. Just how crazy was this system? The state even had a rule about what to do if more than 100 percent of a schools students passed some particular test. Schools should round it down to 100 percent, the state instructedthereby hiding the sheer absurdity of its inexcusable procedures.)
This Alexandria school sits minutes from Washingtonin a region which teems with educational experts and top education reporters. But none of these experts had ever noticed the groaning problem with the way Virginia was reporting its passing ratesand we never saw any experts mention the problem after we revealed it. (After the head of the state school board acknowledged the depth of the problem.) Nope! None of these experts had ever noticed the truly clownish procedures which led to this particular bungleeven though these procedures were producing bogus passing rates at schools all over the state. None of these experts noticed the problem, even after Virginias second-lowest-scoring elementary school appeared at the top of the Posts front page.
None of the experts noticed; we did. What explains that anomaly?
Actually, the answer is fairly simple. We noticed the problem because we arent rubesbecause we arent the dumbest people on earth. We had learned long agomany decades agonot to trust the feel-good stories about public schools which often adorn our front pages. We had learned, decades ago, to take a second look at the data behind such claims. We had learned that you mustnt trust pleasing claims of the type which sat atop that front page. We had learned the oldest saw in the book: When a storys too good to be true, it often isnt.
We had first learned that in the early 1970s. Thirty-five years later, the Washington Post still didnt knowand neither did a capital city of experts. And oh yes: These are the experts to whose wisdom Brooks largely deferred in his column about public schools. When he offered his vague but familiar claims about who the villains are.
In large part, Brooks was reciting the views of the expertsthe experts who failed to notice Virginias problem, even after we revealed it. Like so many modern elites, these experts work from expert scripts. They refuse to tell you the truth.
In 2006, it was actually true: The state of Virginia was grossly deceiving its parents about the success of their schools. Passing rates were inflated all over the state, thanks to the craziest bureaucratic procedure weve ever seen, in any area.
In his column, Brooks expressed his concern about the terrible problem Duncan cited. You see, Brooks seems to believe in the expertsand this is one of their high-minded scripts. We were quite struck by Duncans remarks, because we recalled what Virginia had done. Because Brooks seems to believe a bit too truly, he might want to review what the experts did when a lie of this type was revealed.
In fairness, you cant blame Brooks for believing the experts. By one common standard of reckoning, when the experts all say the same thing, their high-minded notions should be believed. Over the years, though, weve learned something different: Whenever the experts all say the same thing, you can safely assume that theyre wrong.
By the way: Virginias groaning act of deception should have been major news. But your newspapers simply refused to report it. In Duncans argot, the state of Virginia had lied to its parents. Then your exceptionally high-minded newspapers lied to those parents again.
Brooks has never heard about his. As his experts whistled and cheered, his press corps chose not to report it.
Visit our incomparable archives: On February 2, 2006, the school in question hit the top of the Posts front page. By March 23, the head of the state school board had acknowledged the states (groaning) error.
For a summary of this nonsense, with links to previous work, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/20/06. In that post, we discuss a column which appeared on this topic. For a working link to that column, click here. (Youll encounter a somewhat standard procedure. Make snide remarks about the non-journalistbefore you note that he was right.)
The next week, we spoke with Kirk Shroder, a Richmond lawyer who was president of the Virginia Department of Education during the period when this program was enacted. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/23/06. Shroder told usand we believe himthat he hadnt understood the problem involved with these procedures. Obviously, though, the state department was full of professionals who knew this whole thing was a scam.
Was Duncan referring to this sort of thing? We dont know. Nobody asked him.