Why do we write?

In this morning’s newspaper three thoughtful members of our County Board responded to criticisms made by a fourth member.  I say they are “thoughtful” because their 600-word column beautifully described the complexity of making policy judgments.

I read their column and better understood their ideas and experiences with policy making:

(1) policy development is a complex process,

(2) a lot of thought goes into crafting policy language,

(3) people of good will can disagree about the best policy,

(4) that does not mean one side has good intentions and the other side does not.

While watching television later, I was subjected to the Rick Perry campaign commercial that starts, “Washington elites are wrecking American life.”

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Where do beliefs come from? #2 of 5

Plain and simple, beliefs come from experience.

Some like to make it complicated.  They want to distinguish between beliefs that are based on reason and facts, and those that are not.  Is that important, if all beliefs come from experience?  Are one person’s experiences more legitimate, or worthy than another’s?

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That’s your suggestion? Now give me the opposite.

I am troubled by Ron Suskind’s description of the Obama White House during the economic crisis of 2009:


He paints a not-so-pretty picture of the White House discussion.  We were confronting an economic disaster, and getting elected president does not make one expert in everything Americans care about.  Every president has to rely on the advice of experts.

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Instead of 6 virtues, we teach what?

The previous blog described the belief that our definition of “educated” should always be open to democratic debate.  Where has that belief led us?  Here are examples from the Education Week article, “State Lawmakers Make Curricular Demands of Schools.”

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Appearance of truth? You got it. Truth? Not really.

I just received an email from Michelle Obama. She wants me to be the first to know Charlotte has been chosen to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

(Thanks, Michelle. I assume this is your way of thanking me for the email I sent you, describing how you could defend your statement about being “proud” of America for the first time in your adult life. I was concerned that speaking this truth would cost your husband the election. We Americans don’t respond well to truths we don’t like. I still wonder how your husband’s team kept that under wraps. Silly me — I thought you should clarify your meaning by reminding us that pride is a vice and humility is a virtue. Then your statement could be interpreted to mean, “I have always been humbled by American accomplishments, but I naturally feel proud on the occasion of my husband’s nomination for president.”)
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A Return to False Equivalency

Now that MSNBC has exploded over President Obama’s “compromise” with Republicans, I want to return to Jon Stewart’s claim that MSNBC and Fox News are guilty of the same kind of biased journalism. In my earlier False Equivalency blog I asked readers to compare how often Fox News and MSNBC commentators prop up a “straw man,” which is the debating technique that distorts an opponent’s belief, and then ridicules the distortion.

In the earlier blog I claimed MSNBC does this much less than Fox News, making a false equivalency of Jon Stewart’s claim that the two channels do the same thing from opposite perspectives. I told Stewart that political discernment makes him funny, and he needs more discernment before making MSNBC the liberal equivalent of Fox News.
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False Equivalency

At his Washington rally, and during his Daily Show interview with Chris Wallace, John Stewart claimed Fox News and MSNBC are guilty of the same kind of biased journalism.

After the Washington rally, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann argued that this is a false equivalency.

Several months ago I wrote a Facebook message to a high school classmate on this topic:

This is how I describe the difference between right-wing and left-wing media:

The liberal media use the actual words of conservatives (sometimes out of context, sometimes not) to ridicule their ideas and philosophy. The right-wing media distorts the words (and beliefs) of liberals, and then ridicules them.

You can watch for yourself, any night of the week, except weekends.

Let’s see who is right — John Stewart or me. Watch O’Reilly, Hannity, Beck, etc. and count how many times they distort liberal beliefs and then ridicule them. Do they realize they are doing this? In the language of debate competitions, they “prop up a straw man and knock it down.”

Then watch MSNBC (Schultz, Matthews, Olbermann, Maddow, O’Donnell, etc.). Which side wins the straw man competition? All the Fox News viewers who commented at the end of the linked video should try this little experiment.

Yes, John Stewart — yours is a false equivalency. Your comedy is funny because it discerns both ridiculous truths and ridiculous distortions. You need more discernment on this one.

Tim Noah’s Crap

I will make it short because I already blogged about this at:


Below is the link for Tim Noah’s CBS Sunday Morning video on “The Great Divergence.” This is the term Paul Krugman gave to the period between 1980 and 2005, when 80% of income growth went to the wealthiest 1% of Americans.


Tim Noah’s Crap — Democrats don’t talk about “The Great Divergence” because they don’t want to “sound like left-wing class warriors.”

Cut the Crap — Democrats don’t talk about “The Great Divergence” because the wealthiest segment of the population funds the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats.

If you don’t like my cynicism, Fareed Zakaria provided this description of American politics in TIME magazine (November 1, 2010, p. 35):

The American tax code is a monstrosity, cumbersome and inefficient. It is 16,000 pages long and riddled with exemptions and loopholes, specific favors to special interests. As such, it represents the deep, institutionalized corruption at the heart of the American political process, in which it is now considered routine to buy a member of Congress’s support for a particular, narrow provision that will be advantageous for your business.

Five years from now Barack Obama will write a book about why we could not have “Change We Can Believe In.” By that time it may be too late. The Supreme Court may have already sealed our fate.

“Cut the Crap” Category Kick-off — Ben Stein’s Crap

Blogs in this category cite language that obscures the truth. Then they “cut the crap.”

This first one takes issue with Ben Stein’s commentary on CBS Sunday Morning. Here is the link:


Let’s look at how Ben’s language obscures the truth more than it enlightens.

Ben: “I am about to have my taxes raised dramatically.”

Let’s cut the crap: “Dramatically,” Ben? What is the actual amount? Using “dramatically,” instead of the actual amount, obscures the fact that the number may be large (in the thousands), but it is small, compared to all the thousands you make over $250,000.

Ben: “There is no known economic theory under which raising my taxes in the midst of a severe recession will help the economy recover. It isn’t part of any well known monetarist or Keynesian theory.”

Let’s cut the crap: Ben, we don’t need economic theories here. It is a simple idea, one I am sure you learned from your frugal parents–don’t spend money you don’t have. Your taxes are being raised so the government can cover more of its expenses. No fancy economic theories needed here, just the need to get out from under a crushing debt. Those of us with houses “under water” are a metaphor for the American government’s situation. We understand, so “cut the crap.”

Ben: “I tried to be successful, which is what I thought I was supposed to do. When did it turn out that was a crime to be punished?”

Let’s cut the crap: Punished for success, Ben? Again — bad choice of words, and this crap is real stinky. Evidently all those “unsuccessful” people who recently lost jobs are sneaky — getting laid off to avoid the “punishment” you are left to endure. This is not punishment. It is how an imperfect system works. We are all taxed at different levels. It is not punishment for you to be taxed at a certain rate any more than it is punishment for me to be taxed at my rate. Punishment? What crap!

Furthermore, Ben, a commentator who obscures the truth is not successful. If you are being punished (as you claim), it must be for something other than being “successful.”

Two Final Notes

Bill Maher took issue with Ben Stein’s commentary for these same reasons in his September 24 New Rules.

Readers should go to the transcript link to read other thoughtful responses to Ben. Evidently, many Americans want to “cut the crap” that came from Ben Stein’s commentary.

New Reports on Tracking!

Breaking News on Tracking– Read all about it.

The NASSP NewsLeader (February, 2010), summarized two new reports on tracking:

The focal points of the reports hinge on whether math tracking at the middle level has a positive or negative effect on high-achieving and low-achieving students. One camp argues that detracking holds back the best students, while the other camp believes that tracking is an unjust practice that puts low-income students at a severe disadvantage.

Evidently social scientists answer philosophical questions over and over, until saying the answer enough times makes it  “research-based.” This summary of findings on tracking could have been written 30 years ago.

On the other hand, chapter 9 of TSVOTEP explains that the tracking debate is resolved by adopting an inspiring, useful definition of what it means to be educated. It is amazing what happens when philosophy is used to answer philosophical questions.

My sarcasm in the headline is intentional. The social science improvement paradigm makes unimportant, irrelevant beliefs seem important and relevant. In this case, the belief that there is a best grouping practice is unimportant and irrelevant. There is no such practice because purpose is at the center of every grouping decision, and purpose is a philosophical concept, not a social scientific one.

A greater ugliness is distracting educators from the philosophical essence of education by pointing to the social scientific periphery.

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