GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT! Waging his endless haircut wars, Roger Simon says good-bye to all that: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MAY 4, 2007
THE DOCTOR IS OUT: Its a big day for the whole HOWLER family. Our adorable niece gets her doctorate in international heath today, right here at Hopkins. Weve always admired her and her globe-trotting pals, so we look forward to all the excitement.
In our view, the best thing our niece did in her tours of the world was meet her handsome hubby, in the DR, when she was working for UNICEF. (He was coaching the Dominican track team, on loan from Cuba.) Yes, he finished eighth in the high jump at Barcelona (or fifth, depending on which AP story you read). But then again, whos keeping score? Were fairly sure that most families today have at least one 7-9 high jumper. (2.34m. We round up.)
In our view, C always wanted to get out and serve, right from the time, still in high school, when she spent a summer at elevation, in Ecuador, teaching kids how to take care of their teeth. Back then, she had two things in her favor. Her instincts, which made her want to go. And her parents, who told her to do it.
THEN TOO: Not long ago, her brother founded the Dublin Review. Can you believe it—that the name was available?
SCHOOLED BY BRACEY: All of which makes us think of Gerald Braceys column in yesterdays Post. Are Americas kids the worlds dumbest? Journos love to make such claims. And Bracey likes to debunk them.
In this column, Bracey addresses a familiar subject—the difficult standards maintained by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the set of tests which is often referred to as The Nations Report Card. Omigod! Only 29 percent of U.S. fourth-graders scored proficient on last years reading test! Journos love to rant and rail about how dumb this makes our kids—how crummy this means our schools must be. But uh-oh! Bracey notes that Sweden was the top-ranked country among 35 in the most recent international reading study. And only one-third of their fourth-graders would have passed the same test, he explains.
Compare this with Nicholas Kristofs doomsday piece in Tuesdays New York Times. Gold Stars and Dunce Caps, the headline says. But uh-oh! When we read this start of his column, we wondered why Kristof felt he knew this:
KRISTOF (5/1/07): In this presidential campaign, we need somebody who wants to address the question President Bush once raised: ''Is our children learning?''Is that true? Do international tests show that U.S. schools do a lousy job teaching math and science? Bracey doesnt address that question, but were not sure Kristof knows his brief. Here are the most recent TIMSS results in eighth-grade science, for example. Kids from 45 countries were tested. The U.S. kids scores placed them ninth.
Were always surprised at how many scribes consider themselves to be experts on urban education—including people who show no sign of having set foot in an urban school, or having any real idea what really goes on there. As he continues, Kristof works from the type of script high-minded liberals have loved at least since the 1960s:
KRISTOF (continuing directly): Moreover, the U.S. education system reinforces the gulfs of poverty and race. Well-off white kids tend to go to good schools that propel them ahead, while many poor black and Hispanic kids attend bad schools that hold them back.For decades, that script has made a type of liberal feel good. Why do poor kids do less well? Because their schools hold them back!
Kristof does a lot of work around the world, on issues he seems to know a great deal about. Then, theres this weeks column, in which his work seems less sure-footed. As someone who spent a dozen years teaching in Baltimores elementary schools, this kind of know-nothing, know-it-all, feel-good column always catches us by surprise.
[AS HE CONTINUES: As he continues, Kristof endorses a bold three-part plan for improving American schools. But the plan he endorses doesnt strike us as especially bold—or as especially promising.
The plan—from a provocative report on education from the Hamilton Project—seeks to improve the quality of teachers, especially in schools which serve poor children. Obviously, that would be a good thing to do. But readers, its so easy to pretend—so easy to dream of a brave new world! Can you spot the apparent gap in the logic driving this high-minded passage?
KRISTOF: [T]eachers still vary tremendously in their effectiveness, as the Hamilton Project study found when it examined results in Los Angeles schools. It looked at the 25 percent of teachers who raised their students' test scores the most, and the 25 percent who raised students' scores the least. A student assigned to a class with a teacher in the top 25 percent could expect—after just one year—to be 10 percentile points higher than a similar student with a bottom-tier teacher.So easy to wipe out that black-white score gap! Of course, this utopian reasoning only works if all the white kids are assigned to teachers in the bottom quartile for those four years. But elsewhere in his column, Kristof and the Hamilton Project recommend firing those bottom-tier teachers! But readers, if we fire them, there goes the ball-game! If we dont keep all the lousy teachers, how can the poor kids catch up?
But then, pseudo-liberals have been solving this problem for at least the past forty years. They type their latest utopian scheme; Times readers feel a warm inner glow, then go back to their other concerns. Yesterday, our analysts nominated Salons Glenn Greenwald for a much-deserved Nobel Peace Prize. For now, were afraid they wont be sending Mr. Kristof on a slow-boat to Stockholm.]
A SLAM DUNK RE-ELECTION: We pre-discussed this recent history on Wednesday, so well keep it short and sweet today. But we think the following point is worth noting: George Tenet was surely right when he said, on Sixty Minutes, that his slam dunk comment in December 02 didnt drive the nation to war. That said, its important to recall the major role this silly narrative played in Bushs re-election.
How silly was the slam dunk anecdote in Bob Woodwards ballyhooed Plan of Attack? The book appeared in April 2004. The weekend before the book was released, the Washington Post ran a 2800-word front-page report; it summarized what Woodwards book said. Written by reporter William Hamilton, it was the nations first real glimpse of the books contents. Hamilton started like this:
HAMILTON (4/17/04): Beginning in late December 2001, President Bush met repeatedly with Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks and his war cabinet to plan the U.S. attack on Iraq even as he and administration spokesmen insisted they were pursuing a diplomatic solution, according to a new book on the origins of the war.Right away, Hamilton said that Bushs war planning had been fueled in part by Tenets slam dunk remark. A few grafs later, he went into more detail. But this passage, which referenced the slam-dunk meeting, made no earthly sense:
HAMILTON: [Colin] Powell agreed to make the U.S. case against Hussein at the United Nations in February 2003, a presentation described by White House communications director Dan Bartlett as "the Powell buy-in." Bush wanted someone with Powell's credibility to present the evidence that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, a case the president had initially found less than convincing when presented to him by CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin at a White House meeting on Dec. 21, 2002.Thats the meeting where Woodward says Tenet saved the day by telling Bush it was all a slam-dunk.
In his front-page Post report, Hamilton highlighted this 12/02 meeting—but his narrative made no apparent sense. By December 21, 2002, Bush and Cheney had been already touring the country for four months, warning voters about Saddams WMD, saying there was no doubt he had them and wanted to use them against the U.S. and its friends. But according to Hamiltons report (see above), Bush had initially found the case for WMD unconvincing—at that December meeting, which took place four months after this push began! So no, this didnt make much sense. The real question was the following: Why did Bush and Cheney start making their claims back in August 2002? What sort of briefing did they receive before that? Why did they start telling the world, without qualification, that Saddam had those weapons—and was planning to use them? It was then, back in August, when they started making these claims. What had led Bush to think, all the way back then, that the case was as strong as he said?
But that obvious question wasnt asked, because Hamiltons account of this matter took hold. Pundits cited the slam dunk anecdote more than any other part of Woodwards book. The anecdote painted Tenet as the loudmouth bad guy—the guy who oversold the weapons. And not only that—in his account of the slam dunk meeting, Woodward included this pleasing passage, in which a conscientious Wise Leader urged caution on Tenet—several times:
WOODWARD: The president told Tenet several times, Make sure no one stretches to make our case.Gag me! It was right out of a Boys Life bio—so Woodward typed it on up. Several times, Bush warned Tenet against stretching the intel—four months after he himself began stretching it! Other silly, Bush-friendly anecdotes littered Woodwards book—perhaps the price one pays now for big access.
If you read Woodwards book very carefully, you could possibly torture the real rationale for that 12/21/02 meeting. Most likely, this was the meeting at which the Admin began planning Bushs State of the Union and Powells UN presentation. But pundits (including Hamilton) read the anecdote differently, and the image they portrayed became a big help to Bush on the trail. Had the Bush Admin stretched the intelligence? The question was already being asked as Campaign 04 unfolded. But Woodwards book seemed to show something different—a good, wise leader being misled by a wild and crazy CIA head. Chronologically, the passage made no earthly sense. But Bushs job approval was still at 50 percent, and the press corps agreed not to notice.
In the past few weeks, Tenet has complained about the way the public got played by that silly slam dunk anecdote. (Cheney was still pimping this pleasing nonsense on Meet the Press last September.) Whatever else Tenet may have done, he has surely been right in this critique. Woodward put a silly anecdote right at the heart of his blockbuster book. Hamilton built the Posts news report around it, and the bullsh*t ran downhill from there.
Wise Leader Bush had wisely urged that no one—but no one—should stretch the intelligence! For the full text of Woodwards slam dunk anecdote, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/25/05.
GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT: Do you see why we gave him the Nobel Peace Prize! Over this weekend, be sure to read Glenn Greenwalds treatment of Roger Simons ongoing haircut wars. No, these mindless wars arent going away. In the process, your way of life is.
Truly, this is the end of all that—the end of American customs and values. No, you just cant have democratic governance if an overpaid cadre of well-trained fools makes an endless joke of our public discussion—especially the public discussion by which we select a new president. Such work destroys the American system. Indeed, Simons work isnt just ante-American (sic); more simply put, its pre-Enlightenment. We return to a medieval, feudal state when cosmic fools like Simon build such colossal distractions. The age of reason is sent out the door. Weak boys type bull-roar for boss-man.
Well offer four brief thoughts on this matter. Well review last nights debate starting Monday:
What weve been talking about: These people will never stop discussing those haircuts—until theyre forced to stop. Some of you have never quite believed that weve been right about Campaign 2000, so lets make sure we all understand this: This is what they did to Gore during Campaign 2000, for twenty straight months—except they did it to Gore with much vigor. No, you really dont have a democracy when your journalists do this for the boss.
The question that lingers: Can Simon possibly be this stupid? Thats the question weve asked ourselves about these people for nine solid years. And weve never been able to figure it out! No, we wouldnt say its impossible; this is not an impressive cohort. But a different explanation is more likely. Well offer that explanation below.
Those puzzling polls: Yesterday, Michael Crowley couldnt figure it out: Why dont Dem hopefuls do better in the head-to-head polls, since the public generically favors their party? Duh! People like Simon have spent the past decade praising Saint John for all his straight talk and calling Saint Rudy Americas Mayor. Meanwhile, they talk about Edwards haircuts—and the troubling tone of Clintons voice. These narrative decided Campaign 2000; they threaten to do so again next year. Over at TNR, meanwhile, Crowley cant figure it out.
The answer that does make sense: An e-mailer complained to us on Tuesday. We appreciate and share his feelings, though we think hes most likely wrong in the end:
E-MAIL: Bob:We can sympathize with that; we think the money thing gets tiring too. But in fact, Williams work has been horrendous for years—he played the fool shamelessly during Campaign 2000—and nothing explains this ludicrous haircut-style coverage except the role big money can plays in the lives of overpaid elites. Sometimes, money makes people get dumb; sometimes, people play dumb to get it. But nothing else can explain the haircut wars—wars which have raged for the past fifteen years—other than the corrupting role being played here by big money.
Weve offered the following construct before: This coverage is exactly what youd expect from a multimillionaire press corps. Youd expect to get monstrously fatuous coverage, with story-lines which are endlessly tilted against the leaders of the more liberal party. Wed rather see the world differently too, but these men and women have behaved like fools over the course of the past fifteen years. In the process, theyre destroying American self-governance. And wed have to assume that theyre playing for pay. No, they just cant be that dumb.
Is Roger Simon really that stupid? This is the question each reader must ask. His work is destroying American customs; in the political realm, it ends the American way of life. Before we say good-bye to all that, surely its time we found the way to say good-bye to the Roger Simons. But well have to scream and yell and claw. They wont go away till we fight.