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August 21, 2009

they teach people different down in texas

From ThinkProgress, let this be an example of what I was screeding about as far as public education functioning as a tool and dye that turns young minds into uniformly-shaped widgets -- Texas State Board of Education has decided to rewrite history in situ:
The Texas State Board of Education review committee is preparing to vote on a draft of proposed standards for history textbooks.  Noting that the draft has “nothing about liberals,” the Houston Chronicle reported:
The first draft for proposed standards in United States History Studies Since Reconstruction says students should be expected “to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority.” [...] Others have proposed adding talk show host Rush Limbaugh and the National Rifle Association.

Venal assholes, and fingers are crossed that it won't work, but if it does how can you reasonably expect someone raised in Texas not to assume as fact that the Moral Majority was a patriotic and wise force for all that is good and right in America?

And fighting fire with fire could be an appropriate response, but frankly it's a game I don't want to play.  I know that history is intrinsically subjective (visiting an East German WWII museum taught me that pretty fast), but I wouldn't want to stress progressives and ignore conservatives as some kind of sick sport.  It just doesn't seem fair.  And further, I have no desire to indoctrinate anyone -- give them the facts and let them make up their own minds.

Ultimately I am naive and do not understand why a grown-up with any concern about education would entertain such a thing but for cynical "profit" or "victory".  If you don't believe that there is a culture war going on but what you'd call "the other side" does, then at what point are you forced to fight a culture war?

Also, have a good weekend?  urgh.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:16 PM

abe sauer on zero-sum games

Another excellent piece of reportage from Abe Sauer in The Awl concerning our Heartland and those people who are free to attend healthcare reform events on workday afternoons.  Though there is a bit more seepage of cynicism in this one:
This whole "debate" [yeah, that one] proves we're a nation of suckers and rubes, teetering, one Nigerian email or Willie Horton ad away from economic and moral bankruptcy.  Yes, corporate interests are to blame; but so are we.  All of us.

To which I say, "Huzzah!"  A pox on all the damn houses including the one whose roof is right up there over my head.  Even to stretch Sauer's point (outcome of health care reform is predetermined and loud debate is just a buncha sound and fury) a bit sideways, "corporate interests" is actually just a small greedy subset of humanity, and at a certain point, no matter how you protest or what you read and write and how much you are not the Man, you gotta fess up and realize that the subset is indistinguishable from your own little subset, in the eyes of a god or a dog.  I'm not giving up and will still fervently believe in what I believe in, but it is very depressing and meaningless and frequently hopeless, to live in this age of unapologetic oligarchy and the feedback loop that is the well-intentioned.

Of course, if corporations have actually reached sentience, then I take that all back.  (And who says they haven't?)

Posted by mrbrent at 3:00 PM

a post about hewlett-packard?

Further to this story of Hewlett-Packard's gloomy forecast based on decreasing demand for printer ink cartridges:

First, really?  Softness in the ink cartridge market could bring down HP?  That'd be kind of terrible, I guess, but also kind of interesting, in a don't-that-take-all sense.

But overall (and this is a point not made in the source article), is maybe the fact that HP has stood astride the printer-ink market like a cross between the Colossus of Rhodes and a loan shark not affected demand?  Dunno if this is a universal consumer response, but every time I've had to pick up more ink I've felt like I'm knowingly walking into a dark alley to meet some large gentlemen who mean me harm.  Just the fact that ink costs exceed the cost of a printer in the time that it takes to grow a full beard should be a big tip-off.

Maybe this will be a learning moment for retail: corner a market with luxury prices and shoppers will start treating the product like it's a luxury.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:54 AM

ray lahood

I'm not sure what this is apropos of (aha! nothing!), but I while I was whipping up some awesome white chili for the wife and dog last night I had NPR on the headphones and caught a longish interview with the Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and he was a total pip.  He was engaged and sharp, and came off as committed to transportation as Mike and Mike in the Morning are committed to football.  He hit all the points that prick up my ears -- system-wide overhaul and repair of Interstate system, high-speed rail, intra-city light rail, rural mass transit and increased fuel efficiency.  He even took some calls.  Granted, these were NPR callers, but he did field a question about egregious gasoline tax with an explanation that said tax exclusively funds the Interstates, which are pretty awesome if you've ever driven halfway across the country without bothering to look at a map.

And Secretary LaHood is formerly a Republican representative from the state of Illinois, which you never would have guessed because he did not have that don't-piss-off-the-boss air of tentativeness that even party loyalists get when tapped as Secretary.

So good morning to you, and keep kicking the good ass, Secretary LaHood.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:03 AM

August 20, 2009


I forget which professor it was -- it must've been one of the Lefties -- but this one dude explained (in a sort of unrelated context -- philosophy 101?) that American public education was as much an economic ploy as it was a social boon.  A hundred and something years ago, when education was de-centralized and a function of either home or community, youth would grow up to form a workforce with no through-line, no unifying characteristic.  And as industrialization progressed, industry needed employees whose skills were primarily showing up on time and doing what one is told.  Enter public education, with its soft propaganda and its bells and late slips.  Think of them, the professor said, not as halls of education but as drone factories.

I don't entirely buy into that -- it seems a bit reductive -- but then again it's not that preposterous at all.

I'm reminded of this perspective by a snippet from a Town Hall I heard on NPR, held by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), in which an older gentleman reacted to the senator's opinion that a high-risk pool might reform he could support with a near-blubbering, "But that's socialized medicine!"

Yeah, well, so is Medicare, whatever.  And a big fucking whatever, because, thinking about the indoctrinating qualities of a good old fashioned American education, there is as much of a chance that this older gentleman will cease seeing socialized medicine as something un-American as there is that he will join the Communist Party.  Clint Eastwood, Chuck Norris and the ghost of Ronald Reagan could all visit each such older gentleman and personally vouch for socialized medicine, and the older gentleman will still think of socialized medicine as something that is against God's Own Constitution.  Twelve years of teaching pounded that into their heads.

This revelation is not so much of a wringing of the hands for me.  I'm still ungenerously inclined towards the stupid, but on the other hand, I had my own personal public education, and if I only believed everything that was taught from textbooks, I'd probably see socialism as one of the things our boys fought and died over in the Big One too.

Thinking about the heavy lifting required to get anything resembling "for the common good" done is enervating.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:00 AM

nyt: what actually happens when it's time to die

So many of you are not fans of the New York Times, be it for their ideological orientation, their licking of the boots of power, their typos -- ultimately we should thank the NYT for bringing so many different people together.

But as one who is a fan of the NYT (and believe me, I don't see this as a binary choice), I give enormous credit to the paper for this ginormous feature that is so depressing that you will not read it even if you want to.  It's about palliative care, and if you don't know yet that palliative care is the care that a terminal patient is given, you're lucky.  But this is why everybody should read it:

Palliative care has become a recognized subspecialty, with fellowships, hospital departments and medical school courses aimed at managing patients’ last months.  It has also become a focus of attacks on plans to overhaul the nation’s medical system, with false but persistent rumors that the government will set up “death panels” to decide who deserves treatment.  Many physicians dismiss these complaints as an absurd caricature of what palliative medicine is all about.

And then the next couple thousand words describe what palliative care is actually all about.  Sadly, most of you are the choir, but it's still some good wrenching stuff.  Even more sadly is that it's too long by a factor of ten to change the minds of the average American hiding under the bed because of the Death Panels.

Overall: "Show don't tell" still works.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:58 AM

August 19, 2009

91 was a long time ago

So yeah I got the headphones plugged into the work computer and the browser pointed at some Internet radio station playing the "music of the 90s" and I am lapping that shit up like it was money.

And before I go off on yet another block of "I'm old" verbiage, dig this -- a list of truths concerning the incoming college class of 2013 (who would've been born in '91 or whereabouts), including the following:

10.  Rap music has always been main stream.
17.  They have never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer.
73.  Nobody has ever responded to “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

See?  You're old too.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:28 PM

good morning 8.19.09

There are many Things The Internet Are Good For -- they are known mostly in hindsight or by neologists who get published in the New Yorker.  But one Thing The Internet Is Good For that I know is this: accountability to the randoms who most deserve it.

It's a self-correction to the size of the soapbox the Internet gives, well, everyone.  Someone non-famous does something heinous in public, something that a generation ago would not be reported on and therefor pass unmentioned to the public at large.  But now, with the Internet, the offending behavior is not only noticed but popularized as novelty-starved content-providers all latch on, and the links are passed around by novelty-starved end-users.  And then someone enterprising actually digs up all available information on the offender -- past associations, criminal record, unwise commenting -- and then all of a sudden it's, "Hey, asshole, the whole world is watching."

The perfect example, and what brought this to mind, is Pamela Pilger, who will become today the "Heil Hitler Lady".  And deservedly so.  Maybe the next time someone wants to taunt a Jew at a political event with, "Heil Hitler!" they'll think of Pamela Pilger and refrain.

It's the converse of Warhol's Fifteen Minutes of Fame (which, by the way, is now over forty years old).

Good morning, and may you never see the business end of this mechanism.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:50 AM

August 18, 2009

more on the armed

Hmm.  I can't pull myself away from the armed-protesters story.  It is fundamentally beyond the pale, and the undercurrent of "concerned citizens exercising their Second Amendment Rights" is a bit infuriating.

It isn't illegal, purely on paper, for these folk to carry guns, but then neither is standing outside a political function with a baseball bat in one hand that you slowly, rhythmically slap into the other hand.  For that matter, neither is cracking your knuckles and leering.  It's cutesy fun and games for the armed to claim that they're not doing nuthin' wrong, and even worse it's of the "they think they're so smart" variety of cutesy.

Josh Marshall spells out the actual history of right-wing violence and intimidation in American politics.  It ain't pretty, and you're probably familiar with it (i.e., civil rights activists didn't exactly lynch any southern sheriffs).  If you're not, give it a read.  But the salient paragraph is this:

Now, I know we'll likely get emails from right-wingers pointing out some animal rights activists who freed a bunch of gerbils, another fellow whose tires got slashed and no doubt a host of people with backwards Bs scrawled on their cheeks. But I think we all know the story here.

Equivalency is an easy trap to get caught into (at least if you write for a living), but it is a fact that skull-cracking is perpetrated by exactly one side of the great American Left vs. Right dispute, and it isn't the Left.  And the willingness of the deranged to display arms (over health care) is a bad moon rising.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:17 PM

favre steals novak's thunder

I like to think it happened like this.

Brett Favre, retired and happy, sits in his living room after a light breakfast of grapefruit and a soft-boiled egg.  He fires up the flatscreen, and as he changes channels to "The View" he notices a CNN update that Robert Novak has passed away.

"Now wait one minute," Brett thinks to himself, "Bob Novak was as dirty as they come.  He'd give up a source with one hand and promulgate the party line with the other, all while protecting his access to the corridors of power.  And now there's gonna be all kinds of people saying this nice thing or that nice thing about him just 'cause he died."

Brett opens a can of Diet Sprite.  "There's got to be some way, some simple way, to push Novak out of the headlines."

He stares at "The View" without even seeing it, and takes a pull of Diet Sprite.  "There must be some way -- I feel like it's starin' right at me."

Brett had an idea.  "Maybe -- just maybe -- that'll work."

Posted by mrbrent at 12:25 PM

August 17, 2009

my guy lost an election once, and i totally didn't arm myself

Further to news of more weapons at Obama town halls, how heartening is it that, each time we cross some line in the sand beyond which political events are purely absurb, a new line appears just over yonder.  Of all of the issues for the right wing to mobilize over, the issue that inspires them so is the possibility of health insurers losing a bit of their market share.  And by "so inspire" I mean tote around loaded firearms in public like they were binkies.

Imagine yourself reading some dystopian novel about an evil encroaching despotic government and the brave citizenry that rises up -- the ominous intro of this novel is totally filled with scenes of taciturn weapon-bearers amassing around public sites, like silent watchmen, defending liberty against a creeping enemy.

It's just like that right now, except for "silent watchmen" you have "delusional idiots", and for "creeping enemy" you have "the guy they didn't vote for"

The despotism they imagine they are witnessing is nothing but a shadow thrown by their desperate need for heroic wish-fulfillment.  Which means more and more guns (stretched to the logical conclusion) now that that horse is out of the barn.

But on the good side: "Red Dawn" is being remade!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:09 PM

splcenter's triptych of places to avoid

Maybe you like me are fatigued by the endless stories concerning the bright new future for America's hate groups and how they're not your father's Oldsmobile -- I mean who has the time to learn how to read in today's go-go world of talking moving pictures?  Not this guy, that's for sure.  I'd love to keep myself informed on hate groups -- who wouldn't? -- but I'm busy writing "Mad Men" recaps.  Hopefully I won't go to any cocktail parties anytime soon, where opportunities for social embarrassment over ignorance of hate groups abound.

Well stop right there, brother, because I have the answer and it is a righteous answer indeed.  The Southern Poverty Law Center (which forgot to change its name somewhere down the line) understands the situation, and has made this map, which is "interactive" (i.e., it moves, just like a comic book does when no one's looking) and shows how our proud strong American hate groups are scattered across the map like overused commas.  The hate groups even have little icons to tell you what kind of hate group each one is: a Doc Marten for racist skins, a wine glass for radical Catholics, and an asshole wearing a bedsheet (kind of obvious).

Check your own neighborhood to see what's lurking in the shadows, or just check shopping malls you visited and wonder which one of those fine American shoppers at the Limited with you has a dirty little secret.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:57 PM

thanks for nothing, mazda

So yeah the weekend was supposed to be chill and productive but it was not, predicated by an episode captured in this photo, which was taken in the looming shadow of a Perkins in a town called Stroudsburg, just off the Interstate.  And what is that parking lot that we spent a couple hot hours in close to?  Why, neither our place of departure or our destination.

And so the wife and the dog are still out that way, waiting for vehicle to be repaired (and the subsequent walletectomy), and I hopped an east-bound bus to get to work, where the story that Tom DeLay will be a contestant on some game show that masquerades as a reality show was waiting for me.  Oh sure it's chock full of zeitgeist, that one, but still, in the words of The Awl, that's when I clicked "close tab".  Because somewhere an ex-governor of Alaska is slapping her forehead.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:44 AM