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Daily Howler: Dowd reverses herself on one witch--and continues assaulting another
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MUST BE THE SEASON OF THE WITCH! Dowd reverses herself on one witch—and continues assaulting another: // link // print // previous // next //

BRIGHT STAR’S DECLINE: We’re beginning to think that all our fiery liberal leaders may have been kid-napped. We thought Kevin Drum’s piece on McCain and abortion was a tad weak (more below). But this post, about a study of LA charter schools, was remarkably so.

Kevin discusses a news report in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times. In the report, Mitchell Landsberg describes a new study by the California Charter Schools Association, an industry group. “Its conclusion is that charters generally perform better academically than nearby regular public schools,” Landsberg writes, “and that charters improve as they age.” After noting “at least a couple of huge caveats here,” Kevin offers an upbeat conclusion: “Still, it's encouraging news if the results can be confirmed.”

That’s right. And if it can be confirmed that gas costs 12 cents a gallon, that is encouraging too.

On its face, the study seems almost impossibly daft, a point Landsberg seems to suggest in his report. How absurd is the study’s design? Put this in your lunch box and swap it:

LANDSBERG (6/10/08): The study is sure to trigger debate about how to determine which schools are comparable—or whether that is even possible.


For the report, the charter association compared each charter in Los Angeles with three regular public schools within a five-mile radius that had similar demographics, in particular a similar racial breakdown.

For instance, it compared the Bright Star Secondary Academy, with 89 students, with three large, comprehensive high schools: Manual Arts, Crenshaw and Los Angeles. Bright Star scored more than 200 points higher than the average Academic Performance Index of the three schools, the biggest difference in the city.

Please. Bright Star Academy has 89 students. The study compares it to three behemoth high schools. (Current enrollment at Manual Arts is “nearly 4000” students.) If tiny schools do better than behemoths in a carefully designed comparison, you might want to build lots of tiny schools. But were this study’s comparisons well designed? As Landsberg continued, he quoted an expert making an obvious point:

LANDSBERG (continuing directly): Jeannie Oakes, a professor of education at UCLA, said that though she had not read the report, the comparison struck her as flawed, in part because of the difference in size between most charters and nearby traditional public schools, and because charters might attract more motivated students. She said a similar national report by Caroline Hoxby of Harvard University several years ago was criticized for “selection bias.”

Here’s what that means: The kids at Bright Star might be “demographically similar” to those at the three behemoths. Except for one thing: The kids at Bright Star all chose to opt out of those struggling schools! To simplify a bit: Of the (roughly) 10,000 kids at these three behemoths, these seem to be the 89 who were “motivated” enough to seek something different. (Or whose parents were so motivated.) There may be ways to control for that in comparing the 89 to the 10,000. But did this study make such an attempt? You can read it if you like. But most often, these studies are jokes.

Over the course of the past forty years, big news orgs have constantly shown “the soft bigotry of low expectations” when it comes to studies of low-income schools. Any hint of success is ostentatiously ballyhooed, no matter how absurd or patently bogus the hint of success might be. Big newspapers cheer, and readers can see how high-minded their editors must surely be. At the Times, Landsberg didn’t play this game. But now, we’re playing the silly old game on our “liberal” web.

By the way: Have Bright Star’s kids found the cure for cancer? If it can be confirmed that they have, that will be solid news too.

Regarding McCain and abortion: Do some people think McCain’s soft on abortion? If so, that may be because he played it that way when he ran for president in 1999 and 2000. First, he said he didn’t support repeal of Roe v. Wade. (The previous year, he had said the opposite.) Then, he said he wouldn’t have “a litmus test” for his running mate or for Supreme Court nominations. Later, he said he wouldn’t stop his 15-year-old daughter from getting an abortion. (Later that day, he semi-reversed.) In these instances, the apparent conflict with his prior record was so plain that the press corps actually asked him about it. On this, as on many other issues, he seemed to be in a perpetual state of confusion.

But so what? Senator, please pass the donuts! And would you mind telling us once again about that “dish” in Rio?

Our guesses? Most likely, McCain doesn’t care much about abortion; we’d guess that he simply cast the party vote on the issue throughout his career. That doesn’t mean that Dems should support him. There’s no real way to know what he’d do if he ended up in the White House. Who knows? He might follow the party line on Supreme Court picks—or he might get it into his head that his “honor” required doing different. That makes him a very bad bet for a Dem who supports the right to choose.

But if people think he’s soft on abortion, that may be because of the things he said (then often semi-unsaid) during his previous race for the White House. The liberal world has given a pass to McCain for the past dozen years, so most liberals don’t know about this.

MUST BE THE SEASON OF THE WITCH: They’ve married among themselves for so long that the effects can no longer be hidden. Yes, cosmetic surgeons can sand off their physical bumps—can even restore a gentleman’s preferred hair color when infernal science goes briefly astray (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/08 and 5/13/08). But nothing can hide the mental disorders. Hence, the spectacle of Maureen Dowd standing bravely against killing witches:

DOWD (6/11/08): It’s good news for Obama that Hillary’s out of the race. But it’s also bad news. Now Republicans can turn their full attention to demonizing Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama is the new, unwilling contestant in Round Two of the sulfurous national game of “Kill the witch.”

Republicans can turn their full attention to Michelle Obama! Can engage in that sulfurous game! Truly, a power elite which would put that in print, from Dowd, simply can’t be embarrassed.

Obviously, no one has killed more witches in recent years than the aforementioned Dowd. She comes very close to being the person who invented the sulfurous game. Indeed, if you’re a woman who is married to a Big Major Dem, the chances are you’ve enjoyed a good dunking in Dowd’s pond by now. In January 2004, for example, she described “a startling picture of [Howard Dean’s] wife on the front page of Tuesday's Times, accompanying a Jodi Wilgoren profile.” Continuing directly, the saver of witches let us know what had startled her so:

DOWD (1/15/04): In worn jeans and old sneakers, the shy and retiring Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean looked like a crunchy Vermont hippie, blithely uncoiffed, unadorned, unstyled and unconcerned about not being at her husband's side—the anti-Laura. You could easily imagine the din of Rush Limbaugh and Co. demonizing her as a counterculture fem-lib role model for the blue states.

You could imagine Rush Limbaugh demonizing her! It’s as we’ve told you for a very long time: This gang of defectives love to project their most foolish conduct onto others. Sometimes they project onto “late-night comedians.” In today’s column, Dowd uses “Republicans,” having used Rush in the past.

At any rate, as the tedious years have rolled by, Dowd has killed quite a few other witches—including Michelle Obama. At one point, banned from killing a cancer-afflicted wife, she even lit into a candidate’s daughter, helping us see that this young witch’s choices contradicted her father’s phony beliefs. As was common when discussing “the Breck Girl” (John Edwards), the cost of a haircut was cited:

DOWD (4/21/07): Mr. Edwards, the son of a mill worker, moved from a $5.2 million, six-bedroom Federal mansion in Georgetown to a 28,000-square-foot behemoth in North Carolina with a basketball court, a squash court, two stages and a swimming pool.

His 25-year-old daughter, Cate, a former editorial assistant for Vanity Fair, co-founded Urbanista, an online Rolodex that dispenses advice for ''hip'' girls in Manhattan, offering to be a ''bestie'' (a best friend) and answer questions like ''Where should I go to get my Marc Jacobs shoes reheeled?'' and ''Does anyone know the best place to get a really great haircut?'' One salon the site recommends is Warren-Tricomi, where Edward Tricomi says haircuts range from $121 to $300.

Did you follow that? Cate Edwards, age 25, had once co-founded a ceratin web site. The web site was now recommending a hair salon which might charge as much as $300! Inside the group still described as a press corps, this counted as “political analysis”—and apparently, as saving a witch.

In other words, Dowd is an undisguised nut. This has been true for many years, except to the gang of quasi-modos still described as a mainstream press corps. To get an idea of the way Dowd’s mind works, here’s the way she got started today, trying to save a witch:

DOWD: There are some who think it will be harder for America to accept a black first lady—the national hostess who serenely presides over the White House Christmas festivities and the Easter egg roll—than a black president.

There are creepy Web sites, like, dedicated to painting Michelle as a female version of Jeremiah Wright, an angry black woman, the disgruntled, lecturing “Mrs. Grievance” depicted on the cover of National Review.

On that site and others around the Internet, the seamy rumors still slither that there’s a tape of Michelle denouncing “whitey,” a rumor that Barack Obama disdained last week as “scurrilous.”

E.D. Hill, the Fox anchor who said that the celebrated fist pump between Michelle and her husband the night he snagged the nomination could be called a “terrorist fist jab,” apologized Tuesday.

As with defective Todd Purdum before her, Dowd started repeating “seamy rumors”—and naming (and linking to) “creepy Web sites.” By the way: When Dowd start tagging others as “creepy,” we’ve reached a new, irony-free low.

In fairness, you could imagine someone including these references in a sincere attack on witch-burning. Indeed, Dowd is complimentary to Michelle Obama in the bulk of this morning’s column; she says many nice thing about her. Unfortunately, when Dowd decides to start praising a witch, the voice of Robin Givhan starts creeping in. And of course, Dowd can’t make herself save one witch without quickly killing another:

DOWD: She’s going to take her big microphone on “The View” as a co-host next week, when she will no doubt try to put her remark about her belated pride in her country in context.

And she clearly scored a pre-emptive hit both with her chic style—Vogue’s André Leon Talley declared in The Times the dawn of “a black Camelot”—and with her playful fist pump that now has older white guys, like North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, awkwardly trying to do it with Obama.

The dap or pound, as it’s also called, was a natural and beguiling moment that showed the country that, even though she started out as her husband’s boss and has a résumé that matches his, she likes him and is rooting for him, and is not engaged in a dreaded Clintonesque competition with him.

In that passage, Givhanesque purrings about “chic style” and “the dap” give way to familiar—and evil—old stylings, concerning the Greatest Witch of Them All. But then, Quasimodo has been killing that witch for as long as we all can remember.

Who knows? Dowd may be setting out today to be more kind to Michelle Obama. But it’s her obsession with candidates’ wives (and daughters; and haircuts; and states of lactation) that defines her plu-creepy style. The kindest thing you can say about Dowd is that she, like Austin Powers, has arrived in some sort of time capsule. Judged most charitably, her work is a kooky throwback to the mid-50s “women’s page,” when ladies who were allowed to speak were only allowed to speak about ladies’ chic styles. To the intermarried group still described as a press corps, those were the days when gals were real gals—when witches like the Vile Witch Clinton hadn’t yet begun tormenting souls.

In fairness, other defects of this cohort have been on full display this week. In this post, The Poor Man shows us the stunning way Fred Hiatt continued a standard practice; incredibly, Hiatt cherry-picked the intelligence report to defend cherry-picking the intelligence! (On the other hand, treat yourself to a good solid laugh at Duncan Black’s “analysis” of Hiatt’s piece. So thoughtful! So deeply informative!) Meanwhile, in this morning’s Times, note the way Mark Leibovich invents a pleasing new construct—the notion that the Clintons are now compiling a brand-new enemies list. Note the skills! Leibovich specifically says that they aren’t making lists—but he keeps sliding ahead into use of the term. Result? Dowd makes instant use of the pleasing new construct, right at the start of her column:

DOWD: Hillary and Bill are busy updating their enemies lists. And Obama is racking his brain trying to figure out where to stash his erstwhile rival.

In fact, Leibovich says something quite different, especially about Hillary Clinton. But he knew to keep using the language of “lists.” He knew that defectives like Dowd wanted to hiss-spit that next.

For many people, it’s hard—perhaps impossible—to comprehend the depth of this cohort’s dysfunction. Dowd arrived on a spaceship from the 50s. (She even lives in Dear Jack’s 50s crib!) It’s the place where this intermarried elite would most like to be living.