R word

Apparently, there's been a bit of a micro-scandal based on reports that Rahm Emmanuel referred to the the strategies of liberal activists on health care as "[expletive] retarded."  If he's talking about Jane Hamsher and friends, he's right, but that's beside the point, here, which is that it has brought about a debate on the use of the word "retarded."  I've always been particularly interested in this debate as when I was a kid, we referred to my older brother who has severe autism as "retarded."  There was no slur intended, that's simply what people like him were called back in the day when most people did not know the word autism.  Now, of course, I have a son who in addition to his autism truly is "retarded" or intellectually disabled as we like to say now.  He is seven, but generally functions on a cognitive level of a 2-3 year old.  Kim likes the term "developmental delays" but to me "delay" implies he'll catch up.  He won't.  I honestly don't have a problem with the word retarded, again, probably because of my experience with my brother, but given the world we live in, I generally use "intellectual disability" or "cognitive impairment"  (I like the clinical sound of that, for some reason).  Anyway, by way of that long preface, in the Post on Sunday, Christopher Fairman had an interesting column arguing against "banning" the "r" word.  This particular section really resonated given my experience with my brother:

The irony is that the use of "mental retardation" and its variants was
originally an attempt to convey greater dignity and respect than
previous labels had. While the verb "retard" — meaning to delay or
hinder — has roots in the 15th century, its use in reference to mental
development didn't occur until the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
when medical texts began to describe children with "retarded mental
development," "retarded children" and "mentally retarded patients." By
the 1960s, "mental retardation" became the preferred medical term,
gradually replacing previous diagnostic standards such as "idiot,"
"imbecile" and "moron" — terms that had come to carry pejorative

As I was growing up in the 1970s, my father worked for the Texas
Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, one of the
now-renamed state agencies. The term "retardation" was common in my
home and life, but it was sterile and clinical. It is only in the past
generation that the medical term turned into the slang "retard" and
gained power as an insult. 

The next day, the Post followed up with a column from  Timothy Shriver (the son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics).  I was not entirely persuaded by his argument, though:

And the word "retard," whatever its history, reflects a massive problem.

Mental Disability Rights International has found evidence around the
world of horrific conditions — starvation, abuse, isolation — in
institutions serving people with intellectual disabilities. It happens
in this country. In Texas, caregivers were recently found to be forcing
residents of an institution to awake in the middle of the night and
fight one another while staffers cheered and taunted. Here in
Washington, repeated investigations have revealed people with
intellectual disabilities as the victims of abuse, indifference and
negligent death.

Something tells me these things would still be true if the victims were labeled "intellectually disabled."  If people are going to use the word as a slur, obviously it largely loses it's legitimate medical meaning, but I think Shriver definitely overstates the case against the word.  Anyway, regardless, given my personal experiences, I find this a really interesting issue.


 I should find a nice comprehensive article to link to about the interrogation of Abdulmutallab.  This one from Nick Bauman (filling in for Kevin Drum) is a little bit dated, but gets the main points across.  Mostly, I just want to say how sick I am of the stupid Republican fear-mongering on this issue.  God forbid we should give a terrorist a lawyer when we can pull off his fingernails.  You don't get to pick and choose who the Constitution applies to.  This is like the morons who support the 1st amendment until somebody says something they disagree with.  The Constitutional protections for those under prosecution protect all of us.  We don't get to just say, "oh, this is a really bad guy, let's skip the lawyer and fair trial business for him."  Well, if you're the Bush administration or their flunkies, I guess you do say that.  Slippery slope arguments are certainly over-done, but it is quite clear that once you start picking and choosing who gets Constitutional protections, you've set an extremely dangerous precedent.  Furthermore, its just dumb from a policy perspective as the Abdulmutallab case makes clear.  We've gotten good intelligence from him precisely because we did not torture him and his father worked with US authorities to help get him to cooperate.  Any chance that would've happened if we sent him to some secret site for "harsh interrogation."  Not to mention, all the torture methods we use were designed to elicit false confessions.  Thus, one of the things that upsets me about all the torture apologists and their Fox-news/sheep followers, is that not only is this policy immoral, it is demonstrably stupid. 


Quick Hits (Slate edition)

A number of interesting pieces in Slate this week well worth a read.

1) Tim Tebow's mom is so lucky she didn't die.  Will Saletan explains the details.  Of course, her explanation is basically that God loves her more than the mothers who die of placental abruption.  And, some further analysis on how dangerous this is. 

2) Tim Noah explains how absurdly crazy it is to get a health care policy in the individual market.  Basically seems to boil down to coverage for extremely healthy people who might get in a car accident or something totally unforeseen. 

3) I don't know if it brings my masculinity into question (alright, it already was) to admit I enjoy figure skating.  Anyway, here's an article explaining that no matter how they do the judging, the judges can be counted on to play favorites.


Myths of job creation

Nice essay on Five Myths about job creation in the Post recently.  Myth #1 "Surely there's a quick fix."  Ummm, nope.  Everybody needs to get that through their head.  An informative and quick read.

Birthday blogging

I'm 38 today.  I'm quite the rounder-upper, though, so I've already been thinking of myself as 38 for a while.  One of those ages that don't really seem to mean much.  I figured I was already "late 30's" and I've still got a couple years before the milestone 40.  Actually, I felt like 36 was a big deal, as so much pop culture, etc., is supposedly based on the "coveted 18-35 year old demographic."  So, I haven't been coveted by anybody (Kim?) for a few years now.


On Good teaching

I’ve been meaning to write a post for a bit on this really interesting Atlantic article on what makes a good teacher.  It’s based on extensive analysis of the Teach for America program.  As this week I was actually notified that I won the “Outstanding Teacher Award” from NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Science, this seems like a good time to get around to it.  I really don’t want to be bragging, but if I cannot share my pleasure at this with my loyal blog readers, who can I share it with?  Of my professional goals, my first was tenure, which I received a few years ago, but the second has been to receive a teaching award.  As anybody who knows me knows, teaching is hugely important to me and certainly the most personally important aspect of my job as a professor, so it’s very meaningful to be validated in this regard.  Now, I’ve got two remaining professional goals– get my damn book finished and published and make full professor.  Then, I can just hang it up, I suppose.  All that by the way as a long preface for saying that going by the standards of a great teacher in the Atlantic article, I definitely come up short:

First, great teachers tended to set big goals for their students. They were also perpetually looking for ways to improve their effectiveness. For example, when Farr called up teachers who were making remarkable gains and asked to visit their classrooms, he noticed he’d get a similar response from all of them: “They’d say, ‘You’re welcome to come, but I have to warn you—I am in the middle of just blowing up my classroom structure and changing my reading workshop because I think it’s not working as well as it could.’ When you hear that over and over, and you don’t hear that from other teachers, you start to form a hypothesis.” Great teachers, he concluded, constantly reevaluate what they are doing.

Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.

Surely, there’s some significant differences between successful college teaching and being successful in Teach for America (upon which the analysis was based), but man do all fall woefully short on all those metrics.  Constantly re-evaluating?  Yes, but I’m certainly not ever making radical changes to my classes.  Planning “exhaustively and purposefully”?  No way.  Working backward from desired outcomes?  Nope.  Oh well.  Yet, I do think I do a pretty solid job of not only entertaining my students (I’ve got that part totally down), but actually educating them.  Ever since David started elementary school, I’ve really intrigued by the subject of teacher quality (shout out here to Kingswood Elementary’s Hollie Johnson, definitely the best I’ve seen), so I found this analysis of the qualities that make the best teachers really interesting.  You ought to read it.  And, if you are interested in the topic and never read Gladwell’s great article comparing identifying good teachers to identifying good potential NFL quarterbacks, it is a must read.

Healthcare omnibus

A variety of things I've been thinking about health care reform of late, so I've decided to combine thin into one big, marginally coherent post.

1) It seems that Obama is finally taking the necessary leadership to get health care done.  Quite importantly, to use a term that I really don't like, but conveys the point, I think he's figured out the "optics" of the situation in a way that's going to help get this done.  Here, of course, I refer to the "summit" with Republican Congressional leaders.  Chait makes a couple great points on this:


I don't think that's what's going on. I actually had to read Obama's
remark twice to fully understand what he's getting at, but now that I
have, it seems pretty clear. I think Obama sees the perception that the
process is broken — that it's backroom deals and "ignoring the will of
the people" — to be the biggest impediment to passage of the bill. So
he's proposing a remedy to that perception.

The most important part is what Obama says should happen first: Democrats should settle their differences and work out a final bill.
That's crucial. Then he wants to sit down with both parties, and health
care experts, and walk through the details in a methodical way. I'd
guess he's imagining a process that might look a little like his
back-and-forth with House Republicans — they present him with wild
claims about a government takeover, and he calmly responds. They insist
that their ideas are better, and he gets to show that they're not. Then
you vote. In other words, a debate in which he gets to take center
stage, on top of the kabuki theater of a House debate. That way Obama
gets to demonstrate that the plan he has is the product of having
considered all the alternatives and arriving at the best way to solve
the problem, not just cooking up a backroom deal. The idea seems to be
to use his wonky, technocratic style to counteract the process-based
objections and sell the bill.

In a subsequent post, Chait goes on to explain why these perceptions are actually false and illogical.  

2) Ezra Klein has a similar take, I'll excerpt the heart of:

This is, first and foremost, about defusing the lines of attack that
have scared the hell out of Democratic legislators. If you talk to
people on the Hill, there's relatively little concern about the
substance of the likely compromise, but there's enormous anxiety over
the public's belief that the bill is thick with noxious deals, which is
fed by the idea that the process has been hidden from the American
people. After all, people reason, if the bill was so good, why wouldn't
they let C-SPAN into the negotiations? The White House hopes this
summit will be a clean break with that narrative.

Second, and more importantly, this creates a next step for
health-care reform. The House and the Senate have not been able to
agree on a path forward. The president, of course, cannot hold a vote
for them. But by setting this summit, he's bought them a few weeks to
figure out how to hold a vote themselves. That won't be easy, but it'll
be easier with the White House summit giving some structure and
narrative to an effort that had collapsed into murky chaos.

So, to sum up these two, I think there's considerable reason for optimism at this point.  Obama has pointedly inserted himself in the process in a way that he's really needed to; he's done so in a way designed to blunt the most potent criticisms of health care reform; he's shown Democrats in Congress a clear way forward and hopefully the summit will provide some political cover for antsy Dems.  This is all good.

Since this is an omnibus post, you get two more links on health care.  First, Ezra Klein has a post nicely summarizing the ways in which the Senate bill already encompasses key conservative ideas on health care reform.  For anybody who thinks that Republicans actually want a compromise bill, I've got a bridge to see you.  Secondly, EJ Dionne has a nice column analogizing health care reform to a kitchen remodeling.  All that's left is installing the granite countertops. 

Matt Yglesias on moral degenerates

This is certainly one of my favorite Matt Yglesias posts ever.  He takes on Bush administration torture apologist Marc Thiessen, who essentially argues that waterboarding done by Americans was not at all like waterboarding the Spanish inquisition, because they also used nasty ropes that cut into the skin.  Right– take away the mean ropes and waterboarding is all good.  Anyway, it's a terrific smackdown well-worth reading.  As for the title of this post, I'm going to take after Yglesias and mince no words on how we should refer to those who advocate torture as an appropriate policy.  


Quick hits

1) Not surprisingly the Republican party is, in fact, so scientifically illiterate as to actual suggest that recent VA snowstorms suggest global warming is not real.  

2)  In what state would they actually prosecute a nurse for blowing the whistle on a dangerous doctor?  If you guessed Texas— you win. 

3) This is just wrong.

Don’t tell, but ask away

Really interesting article in Slate the other day about Don't Ask; don't tell.  We know service members get kicked out on a regular basis for "telling," but does anyone ever get punished for "asking"?  Not surprisingly, the answer is no.  

 For most service members, it's not even against the rules. The "don't
tell" half of the 1993 agreement between Congress, the president, and
top military brass is a matter of federal law.
The "don't ask" portion stands for a combination of military
regulations and memoranda that ended the Pentagon's long-standing
practice of asking service members about their sexual orientation
during the recruitment and security-clearance processes. It also
limited the conditions under which a commanding officer may investigate
suspected homosexual conduct. But there is no provision in law or
regulation that forbids a rank-and-file service member from asking a
colleague whether he or she is gay. Superior officers, of course,
retain the general authority to discipline subordinates who engage in inappropriate behavior—like
harassing a peer with repeated accusations—but there is no record of a
service member being punished for asking about homosexual conduct.

It would be interesting to see just how different this policy would have actually been had it actually lived up to it's name– imagine of people had actually got kicked out of the military (or at least punished) for "asking."   Safe to say, it would have been quite different. 

Worth 1000 words

Via Huffington Post Sarah Palin's hand at the tea party convention.  

Closer inspection of a photo of Sarah Palin, during a speech in which
she mocked President Obama for his use of a teleprompter, reveals
several notes written on her left hand. The words "Energy", "Tax" and
"Lift American Spirits" are clearly visible. There's also what appears
to read as "Budget cuts" with the word Budget crossed out.

Again, I'll farm out short commentary to Chait: "This is pretty much the Republican program for you.  My favorite is budget cuts crossed out, replaced with tax cuts. Yup, that's it in a nutshell."  Can't imagine why anyone would question the intellectual credibility of the conservative movement.

Maybe because liberals are right

Interesting essay in the Post today called "Why are liberals so condescending."  Especially interesting was that this was written by a political science professor at UVA.  He seems to be a political science professor, though, he is oddly divorced from reality and political science research.  He may very well have a legitimate point, but he sure doesn't make it with stuff like: 

It is now an article of faith among many liberals that Republicans
win elections because they tap into white prejudice against blacks and

Race doubtless played a significant role in the shift of Deep South
whites to the Republican Party during and after the 1960s. But the
liberal narrative has gone essentially unchanged since then — recall
former president Carter's recent assertion that opposition to Obama reflects racism — even though survey research has shown a dramatic decline in prejudiced attitudes

As I said, he might want to check out some political science research that shows that, certainly in part, "Republicans
win elections because they tap into white prejudice against blacks and
immigrants."  While there has fortunately been a very real decline in prejudice, it has almost assuredly been less among Republicans and he is talking about overt prejudice in ways that a person would actually give a prejudiced answer to a stranger asking a survey question.  Due to social desirability, that has gone way down, but that does not mean prejudice itself has (and, in fact, alternative measuring schemes, still find much evidence for prejudice). 

I'm not going to deconstruct the whole essay, but needless to say, the rest is just as sloppy and misleading.  Also, the fact that this fellow with not only his conservative ideology, but non-impressive skills of argumentation is a tenured professor at University of Virginia would seem to suggest that there is not actually discrimination against conservatives in academia.  Or, maybe I'm just a smug liberal. 

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