Friday, September 21, 2012


Was overjoyed to see that headline. But turns out, it's not what I thought: 

The number of U.S. forces there peaked at about 101,000 last year, and they have been coming out slowly over the past several months.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


In JK Rowling's Harry Potter series there is a demon called a Boggart. Its purpose is to frighten you. When it cannot solve the puzzle in a way to make everyone afraid, it compromises, and loses. It can only scare you by trying to appear as something it's not. To remove its power over you just give it too many goofy things to attempt to be all at once.

The most bullshit ever to come out of the left follows closely to this formula:
A. Someone made a point I'd rather not think about
B. Here's a lot of half-baked ideas that show how evil they are
C. Because I know where it's really at. I'm the authority on this subject.

When the Chicago teachers struck, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown was there on the scene to interview the teachers, he seemed like an ally -- but reading it closely he was keeping his distance.   (1)  On the 13th for example, he happily was bashing the right (for them?) for picking a fight and trying to anticipate the spin:

All week, this strike has been playing out on two different levels: locally, where most of the public has been on the teachers’ side, and nationally, where a strange cadre of union-bashing conservative cheerleaders, self-styled “education reformers” and newspaper editorial boards have been singing the mayor’s praises.
I have no idea what the latter group is going to say about the mayor’s final product. They may decide he’s won as well if he retains the right of school principals to pass over laid-off teachers when they fill job openings. I’m sure that’s what Emanuel will be saying.
Three days later he was starting his column "Some people just don’t know when to leave well enough alone." Yes, when push came to shove though, he lectured the teachers to stand down. Now as he hears Karen Lewis give a speech (that he doesn't cite a single time), he magnanimously declares "teachers need to be heard" while "traditional education" is destroyed or at least harmed. Of course, he can't help but add " those two extra days on the picket line after the deal was ripe did not help them."

Another instance of Boggart-dom is this whole controversy around a book: first popping up in Reddit with the phrase "Kindle censors Naomi Wolf's book's title" had me lulled into thinking the left was on her side. Then a Penny quote showed up on my Facebook. 

"‎"Writing about one's vagina has become shorthand for a style of feminist writing where the personal being political becomes an excuse for the political to collapse at every stage into the personal."

The formula is the same: the person offends in some way, and then the bullshit starts to flow. I checked out the article and was appalled. It was trashing Wolf in every way imaginable without a single citation. In fairness to the author, I looked up Laruie Penny's writing where she quotes approvingly of Wolf. . I was happy to post a comment there saying I recognized her betrayal of Wolf (I assumed her readers knew her work well enough, but I've added her introduction to Wolf below) (2).

Today I got the new edition of the Nation, and what did I see? Another review of Wolf's new book, filled with lots of rhetoric and very few quotes.

I just wish there were a more serious debate on what unions and Naomi Wolf actually are talking about, rather than what wins emotional points. The truth is bigger than what a "slam" piece will give you.

2.  "The formal rules of late capitalist pornography are the fulcrum of modern sexual affectlessness: an endless parade of disembodied cocks going into holes, a joyless, piston-pumping assembly line of industrial sexuality". Meat Market, Laurie Penny. p 21.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Class Privilege And The Mayor's Assault On Chicago's Labor

In my other analysis, I purposefully left out class since it is not one of the declared principles of the anti-union side. As I saw it, the principles were not being greedy, accepting responsibility of education, and making serious claims.

But I couldn't help but see the parallels. I was having a conversation with a former class mate of mine who is now a teacher. Paraphrasing, the standardized testing model Rahm is pushing an unfair standard because poorer students -- and especially the ones coming from broken homes -- do not test as well. I responded:

Douglas and Paine both argued that the society is responsible for preventing abuse of the workers and for education -- and Paine was put in jail for the arbitrary reason of being a British citizen because the French didn't like him. Douglass was not even allowed to learn to read and was put under a new master when he stopped fearing the current one. That's a part of their disciplining of you. They're not just being stupid. In the times of slave whippings, everyone knew the abuse was going on, it was quietly tolerated (not celebrated), so long as the master did not get a reputation for enjoying it. That's about as far as their logic takes them even today.

There are two ways to come at this, principle and fact. The fact is, they are horribly misinformed. And so was I. There is coverage of class and test scores and it explains that race and class play a role in test scores. Whether or not that can be reasonably accommodated in testing, or whether it does enough, is something I have to do research on. It's an uphill battle. Market journalists need money for advertising and for campaign donations and by and large that comes from the same private interests who lie to us constantly as well, to put it bluntly. It's not a conspiracy, it's a business.I'm ready to disagree with the teachers on this principle if testing can be reformed. Bloggers like this, filled with comforting snark, still manage to question the status-quo fairly even-handedly:

In the Texas public schools, all three major demographic groups have tended to outscore their peers from around the nation. It may be that funding cuts will harm this statewide performance. But in recent years, there have been large funding cuts to public schools in other states too. In our view, the failure to compare the size of the Texas cuts to those in other states was one of the obvious, groaning flaws with yesterday’s news report.
Bottom line: Conservatives do enjoy blaming the unions. Liberals like to mess with Texas. 
We live in highly tribal times. Such times may tend to lower comprehension among even the brightest players.

It's here where the liberal heartstrings must be muted. Obama, by not speaking out, is also considered a victim, which is effectively support for Emmanuel.  I don't even have to cite this, this is his own dogma, his spokesman said he knows he wants "both sides" to solve it. In reality, both Fox News and NPR support this delusion. Honestly, Obama just paraded Emmanuel down here, effectively trading him for another Daley, and I'm supposed to pretend he had no idea this was going to happen? The teachers aren't dragging him into this, it's the other way around. Or I suppose you can believe that "By walking out on Second City kids, the AFT’s Chicago affiliate has inadvertently handed Emanuel a new opportunity to take a different approach to reform. " Like the teachers are Jonah and are being rescued by the whale. Sure. That's more likely.

Sorry for the snark. Back to the facts.

This does not neccesarily mean become exactly like Texas in every way, for example while unions are not widespread, they have other (less dignifified in my opinion) forms of collective bargaining:

Texas public school teachers may vote to have a group represent them in discussions with school management in a process known as “elected consultation” — if the local school board allows it. Elective consultation is similar but not identical to collective bargaining, with the most crucial difference being that any agreement reached through elected consultation is not binding on the school board, says Rob D’Amico, spokesman for the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers, one of several public school employee organizations. Texas AFT represents 65,000 public school employees but not administrators.

 But it is definitely a powerful argument in defense of public schools. The claims of "reform" are not usually made without some mention of charters though. Here is a Daily Beast columnist arguing to "tie federal aid, and thus ultimately school revenues and teacher compensation, to measured results" which is "paying off in small but sustained improvements in test scores nationwide." The mayor also made this claim in today's paper. Timothy Stanley from CNN gave a long reasonable-style account of the facts, concluding with "austerity isn't just a tea party slogan. It's an inescapable necessity." It's clear why they like to scapegoat the unions. Both portray the management of government, the bigwigs, as the victims. "Stanley, an Oxford professor, is amazed that "the latest elected official to do battle with a public-sector union isn't the Republican governor of Wisconsin. It's Rahm Emanuel, the Democrat mayor of Chicago and President Obama's former chief of staff." the Beast's Frum's headline blares "Rahm Stands Up To Teacher Union Bullies."

It looks like the message is established but it's on shaky ground. Emmanuel is keeping the focus off of poverty for now, who knows when the media will ever start, and I really don't feel like preparing for how ridiculous they are willing to bend the facts to get out of that.

My personal belief undercuts all of this though, and that's the teachers have not stopped teaching. This is probably the most educational thing that has ever happened to this city in my lifetime.


A More Principled Attack On Emmanuel and Union-busters

By saying what follows I should rightly be seen as jumping to conclusions. This is because the principles of society are not for me to dictate. I will keep to widely accepted sources on living a principled life -- Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, and Frederick Douglass.

First, what should not be controversial. The teachers have undeniable facts on their side. Their ability to form a union was challenged (still got 90% with a 75% minimum), and the President did not come to their aid as promised (by the way, "both sides" kind of people in questions of freedom is who Martin Luther King explicitly told to go to hell). 75% of fired teachers were non-white and the public did not find solidarity then.

Market education is against American conception principled government
One only need to search for #CTU on Twitter or read the columnists from the New York Times. The only argument for charter schools is if they are in fact a better form of protection to the students. The research is not clear on this, but as far as it is about the parent's authority, the argument loses merit. From the "first principles of government" liberty to control someone is not a defense of liberty. Keeping with the definitions of rights set out by Thomas Paine, "their rights are under the sacred guardianship of the aged" who "have not and cannot have the right to make a law to set up and establish hereditary government, or, to speak more distinctly, an hereditary succession of governors." 

Following this, parents cannot impose control on students, they can only act as guardians. Charter schools and private education are brought up in arguments opposing the teachers as being too expensive, not as bad guardians (although it is usually concluded for good measure).This is the ground for a principled debate, not whether the teachers or the city is asking too much. It's clear who sees this part on their side based on who is spinning more. The solution is to stop the spinning, not to spin the other way. Chicago  has indeed been making steady improvements in literacy.

Both sides can make principled arguments with Adam Smith's capitalism:
Doing the same thing day in and day out is the easiest way to make a person stupid. One only needs to look at Joe Biden who has been a professional politician for about half of his life to see this is the case.

There are serious questions that follow: What part of teaching is routine? What encourages students to break out of routine? Again, there is room for a debate here. If teachers are a problem at all, it's because they do the same job their whole lives. But the solution to that is not to make them work year-round, with a curriculum mandated by standardized tests, with less recess, and so forth. They are not babysitters, they are educators. Is allowing for natural intelligence important at all to the mayor and the charter school advocates? It's obvious whose side I see this point favoring but it's the facts that support me, not my ideology.

Why a strike is only the start
The easiest and probably least controversial example of self-defense should not be taken out of context. The most significant form of resistance this country's history provides comes down squarely on the side of the laborer, an educated one. Frederick Douglass did not fight his master until he knew that his master feared him being educated in ideas he did not like. Before resistance, Douglass could only survive as a by holding back. If you worked too efficiently, that raised expectations, which were impossible to live up to. His master was used to whipping him and was not about to lose this habit.  That's what is at stake with education since it should hold for all contracts, if self-respect and self-defense are to mean anything at all. There is no leader who can free you if you cannot demand freedom at all costs.

Emmanuel should live up to his principles of defending Chicago like he thought he was doing with Chick Fil A. Just give them the raise like the contract says and talk about the real issues. That's what the city wants. Nobody has his back except the president and various sophists in the media.

No sane person denies another the right to resist abuse. I can't imagine a more useful lesson in life. But it only now that they are demonstrating that ability. That ability is for anyone else to judge. That is why the common principles must also be addressed. Until, now, the teachers were in this situation alone to a considerable degree. The strike is the right thing to do. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Maddow Doubts Her Abilities Too Much

Fairly recently, NBC News' Rachel Maddow had this to say about studying terrorism (note 1):

But all of these little tweaks — all of these little changes that we made — had the effect of letting a president wage war without political restraint and letting us wage war in a way where we didn't necessarily notice or know the names of all of those who were deployed in our name. Because a lot of them were working for companies that didn't have any obligation to report to us when their people were killed. We ended up doing stuff in a way that insulated the American public from what our military was doing to the point where we don't feel much friction when Americans go downrange."

In this interview she also observed (I'm paraphrasing, there is no record of this online anymore) that she cannot imagine stepping into the shoes of a terrorist. But she gets all hot around the collar at the thought of interviewing Dick Cheney. Let me interview you is literally her plea in her book and in the interview.

What's odd is that she is perfectly capable of understanding most of the logic of terrorism, in fact, she assumes everyone understands it already. For a benchmark, here's Bin Laden arguing for why his friends should be acquiring WMD's:

"It would be a sin for Muslims not to try to possess the weapons that would prevent the infidels from inflicting harm on Muslims." -- Bin Laden 

MADDOW: One of the things that people have questioned is if the U.S. has this high level of electronic capability, why is Libyan state TV still on the air? Is that not one of the things they would want to shut down?

From NATO's website on bombing Libyan journalists via WSJ:

‎"Striking specifically these critical satellite dishes will reduce the regime's ability to oppress civilians while [preserving] television broadcast infrastructure that will be needed after the conflict" -- NATO

Her chirpy rebuttals are therefore false, Here's Maddow mockingly interprets Republicans "Terrorism isn't the big battle. It's the battle between us and the liberals." It's okay to say the truth, just do it in a funny voice. 

Note: I've since contacted NPR about this quote. It appears that either the interview is clipped or I'm mixing them up.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why Is the Truth Always An Aside?

Forbes columnists ;like to bullshit a lot, and they have an interesting tell. Right before they say something totally ridiculous, they first go through a "yes there's this other point of view but Serious People Know Best Just Ask Me."

You know what's the first sign of Nazis? Angry letters from your Congressman:

And it isn’t strictly about the First Amendment. Yes, it’s disgusting that a state legislator who purports to have a PhD knows nothing of his constituents’ free-speech rights (or the proper use capital letters), but he’s far from the only ignorant, hypocritical politician in America.[...]Earlier this summer, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino foolishly told a business, Chick-Fil-A, that it wasn’t welcome in his town because of the company’s political advocacy. He was lambasted and rightly so. This incident is far worse: Menino was targeting a business, not an individual, and it was a business he currently has no jurisdiction over. While repugnant, it was political blathering....Burns’ Gestapo tactic goes a level further, and it should make any business owner wince. 
The economy will be destroyed if the government goes into debt!

For most of us, the debt seems like an abstraction. We can’t see or feel the debt. The debt doesn’t appear to have any tangible effects. But the debt is a serious problem. It’s become a bit of a cliché to point out how the debt crisis is wrecking Europe. And the European situation is different from our own.
But rest assured that if foreign governments like China stop buying our debt, interest on that debt will rapidly rise.

 Imagine an America where all purchases are made with cash, and where nobody can buy or sell a home. That is an economy in free-fall.
I like to suspect the gods are angered by lies. They demand a sacrifice.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The New York Times Is Full Of Shit About Egypt

Two headlines in 2012 of the swag-filled paper warn of "Economic Crisis" followed by "Economic Struggle." But it's easily discovered, once the NewSpeak is accounted for, that Egyptian's parliament and public programs were killed off by groups like the IMF and US government -- they control aid.

Now the New York Times today scrambling to hide this by boasting of its intimate wisdom of democracy:
Mr. Morsi and his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, initially adopted the self-defeating posture of rejecting outside assistance. Since his election in June, however, Mr. Morsi has become much more pragmatic as he confronted the real challenges of governing.
But the Fund had the posture of rejection, not the Brotherhood (May 17th, 2012):

I'll take a question, if I may, "The Egyptian finance minister has said that Egypt will sign an agreement with the IMF on a loan to Egypt by the beginning of next month." He referred to some discussion between the IMF and the Egyptian government to get the first phase of the loan within two weeks.
Let me describe where things stand on Egypt.
We have no fixed timeline for an agreement on a standby arrangement with Egypt. We stand ready to support a home-grown program that maintains macro stability and promotes inclusive growth, and enjoys -- and here's the key point -- the necessary broad political support, and includes adequate external financing from Egypt's international partners. And so we look forward to advancing the discussion, with a view to consideration by the Executive Board, once those elements are in place.
So, as I said, no firm timeline on Egypt.
In fact, according to the Times' own reporting, it was the military who "rejected" the offer, but only on the terms that the government actually address public needs (links are theirs):

Egypt’s military rulers are now realizing how big a threat the collapsing economy is — and they clearly don’t want to be blamed. In May, they rejected a $3.2 billion loan from theInternational Monetary Fund, saying it would infringe on Egypt’s sovereignty. They wanted the money, but with no strings attached — no mandatory reforms or austerity measures, like cutting food and fuel subsidies. Now desperate, they resurrected the loan request this week and welcomed an I.M.F. delegation to discuss possible components of an economic program. The I.M.F. probably won’t make a decision on that request until March.
The fund’s officials say that they do not intend to impose conditions on the loan. But even without conditions, Egypt must make reforms if it wants to spur private business ventures, foreign investment and growth. Such measures can never be sustained without public support.