Temple Grandin and historical autism

Just finished watching the HBO Temple Grandin movie off my DVR.  It was terrific.  I was only going to watch a few minutes tonight and ended up watching the whole thing.  You should totally watch it when it comes out on DVD (or now, if you have HBO).   Two comments, one personal, one otherwise. 

 First, the personal.  I was somewhat struck and saddened by the fact that Temple Grandin is slightly older than my brother who has severe autism.  At that time, "experts" blamed cold, distant "refrigerator mothers" who failed to bond with the child and invariably recommend institutionalization.  Temple's mother fought this and did her damndest to get Temple to connect with the world and helped make her the success that she is in spite of her autism.  My parents, like most at the time, listened to the "experts" and put my brother Robbie in an institution where, I'm sure they were well meaning, but at that time clearly had no clue as to how to treat autism.  I don't blame my parents one bit for that, but I couldn't help thinking about how Robbie's life could have been better if my parents had rejected this expert wisdom and followed a route (admittedly a very difficult one) like Temple Grandin's mom.  Just makes me sad.

On a totally unrelated note, recent discussions over the re-definition and classification of Autism in the DSM-V have led to a number of interesting reports on autism and Asperger's who's links I don't feel like looking up.  Suffice it to say, I get awfully tired of hearing of all the famous historical figures who "might" have had Asperger's.  Maybe some, but I just don't really buy it.  What really bothers me is having Asperger's basically being dumbed down to "shy with deficient social skills."  It is so much more than that.  If every shy and awkward person was actually on the autism spectrum, that might be half the faculty in many a college science department.  Not to mention, the prevalence of autism would be more like 1 in 20.  Anyway, Asperger's is something to be taken seriously, and I don't think we do people with it (or just plain shy people) any favors when people want to diagnose a long dead figure based on anecdotes of social behavior. 


Let's stick with the theme of the media's interest in GOP-talking point ratings over honest journalism with the utterly deplorable case of Liz Cheney's organization releasing an ad referring to the Department of Justice as "Department of Jihad" because it employs lawyers who have worked defending Guantanamo detainees (most of whom we actually know were innocent, not "the worst of the worst."  For the moment, we'll hold off on how scurrilous, anti-American, and morally shameful this attack is and take a look at how CNN covered the matter.  Via Glenn Greenwald (you really should read the whole post, here's the key excerpts):

On Twitter yesterday, I wrote:  "How media figures treat Liz Cheney after her vile McCarthyite smear campaign will say a lot about their character."

CNN's Wolf Blitzer spoke volumes today about himself and his "news network."  First, on Twitter earlier today, he excitedly promoted
his upcoming story about what he called the "intense debate about Obama
Justice Dept bringing in lawyers who previously represented Gitmo

Blitzer first teased the
segment as this on-screen logo appeared, taken directly from the Cheney/Kristol ad:  "HAPPENING NOW: DEPT. OF JIHAD?"

The next time he teased the story, CNN flashed this logo — "Al Qaeda 7?"
— also taken directly from the Cheney/Kristol ad, as Blitzer explained
that numerous Justice Department lawyers have been — as he put it — "accused of disloyalty"
by a national security organization headed by Liz Cheney.  The
final Blitzer tease came as these words were flashed on the screen:  "Are Justice Dept. lawyers disloyal?"

story itself began when Blitzer posed this question:  "Should there be
a loyalty test over at the Justice Department?"  He then introduced
CNN Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve, who — echoing Liz
Cheney — introduced her segment by asking about the Obama DOJ:  "Should it really be called the Department of Jihad"?

segment then included, without any judgment, various opinions on these
questions, with "some" saying that lawyers shouldn't be judged by the
clients they represent while "others" explained that these lawyers'
presence in the Justice Department presents a serious national security
issue.  None of the facts compiled earlier today by ABC News' Jake Tapper
— such as the fact that the Bush DOJ also hired lawyers who had
represented Guantanamo detainees, just as Rudy Giuliani's firm had,
without any objections from the Right — made it into CNN's story, as I knew would happen.

Meserve's breezily neutral, "each-side-says" report, Blitzer hosted a
"debate," featuring right-wing lawyer Victoria Toensig defending the
Cheney/Kristol crusade, and some criminal defense lawyer meekly and
lamely objecting to some (though not all) of Toensig's
arguments.  Blitzer passively let Toensig ramble uninterrupted and
dominate the exchange, asking not a single challenging question.  The
entire time as Meserve's story itself was being broadcast and the
"debate" took place, this was the logo CNN had on screen:  "DEVELOPING STORY – ARE JUSTICE DEPT. LAWYERS DISLOYAL?"
 The two segments, from start to finish, were constructed based on the
exact McCarthyite narrative Cheney and Kristol puked up, and although
Blitzer did note that even some Bush officials found the ad to have
gone "too far," the entire 30 minutes of broadcast time — both when
the story was repeatedly previewed and when it finally appeared —
continuously reinforced the smears with both graphics and Blitzer's

As much as conservatives mindlessly believing in the "liberal media bias" annoys me, I don't think anything annoys me more than the absurdly mistaken belief that CNN, in particular, has a liberal bias.  What they have is pathetic standards for journalism.  And, on the merits of this disgusting smear, Eugene Robinson has a nice column highlighting the criticism from very conservative (yet, still with integrity) legal scholars.   Of course, the Post in there ongoing efforts to show "we're not part of the stinkin' Liberal Media" has hired former Bush speech-writing hack, Marc Thiessen, who actually tries to defend this. 

Reconciliation and the media

Sure, I've said it before and I'll say it again, the idea that the mainstream media has a liberal bias is generally preposterous.  Quite simply, they have a bias in favor of anything that will help get them ratings.  And, all too often, that bias is to have them mindlessly repeat the absurd claims of the right-wing noise machine that does the GOP's bidding.  With the Senate looking to slightly modify the financial aspects of health care reform– they already got 60 votes to pass the comprehensive plan on Christmas Eve– the Republicans are going nuts about "jamming" "ramming" etc., through health care via reconciliation and the media is simply doing their bidding for them in this.  And how did the media cover the GOP's use of reconciliation in 2003?  As you might expect, they pretty much ignored it.  Jamison Foser at Media Matters had the great idea of comparing media coverage of contreversial tax cut legislation in 2003 to today's overblown coverage and here's what he found:

The Senate reconciliation vote
occurred on May 23, 2003.
In the month of May, only one New York Times article so much as
mentioned the use of reconciliation for the tax cuts — a May 13, 2003, article that devoted
a few paragraphs to wrangling over whether Senate Republicans could assign the
bill number they wanted (S.2) to a bill approved via reconciliation. The Times also used the word "reconciliation"
in a May 9, 2003,
editorial, but gave no indication whatsoever of what it

And that's more attention than most
news outlets gave to the use of reconciliation that month. The
Washington Post
didn't run a single article, column, editorial, or
letter to the editor that used the words "reconciliation" and "senate." Not one. USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated
Press were similarly silent.

Cable news didn't care, either. CNN ran a quote by
Republican Sen. Chuck
Grassley about the substance of the tax cuts in which he used the word
"reconciliation" in passing — but that was it. Fox News aired two interviews in which
Republican members of Congress referred to the reconciliation
process in order to explain why the tax cuts would be temporary, but neither
they nor the reporters interviewing them treated reconciliation as a
controversial tactic.

And ABC, CBS, NBC? Nothing, nothing,

A nice editorial in TNR also addresses this ridiculousness:

In response, Republicans have exploded in indignation, and their
complaints have found a sympathetic hearing in the Washington media.
Here are a few select samples of the coverage–all from straight-news
reporters: “Democrats have not ruled out the possibility of using a
strong-arm tactic, called ‘budget reconciliation,’” (Associated Press);
“Obama may be ready to play hardball and lean on filibuster-busting
reconciliation rules” (Roll Call); “the hardball strategy would worsen partisan friction” (Congressional Quarterly). The New York Times, as if seized by a tic, has used the term “muscle” on at least three occasions to describe reconciliation.

Next time you hear some poorly mis-informed conservative soul mention the liberal media bias, you might want to bring up this whole sorry episode.  

Not entirely on the point of this post, but I love the conclusion to the editorial (I'm thinking Chait most have wrote it):

The health care debate, with opponents crying socialism about reform
that is patterned after classic moderate Republicanism, has exposed the
small-mindedness of the GOP. The party’s reconciliation hysteria may
not be its worst moment of this episode, but it is its most pathetic.
That opponents have had to lean so heavily on a completely trumped-up
objection speaks volumes about the overall strength of their case.

Update: Just found this… Stephen Colbert and Ezra Klein on reconciliation– what a combo!

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Action Center – Health Care Bill – Ezra Klein
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Skate Expectations

Wake schools

So, as occasionally happens, I've been requested to blog about a particular topic.  In this case, one actually near and dear to me because it is the dismantling of my kids' school system.  Rather than bus based on race, Wake County has been balancing schools based on socio-economic status with a very simply guideline– no more than 40% of the students in a school should qualify for free or reduced school lunch.  Bus some kids from downtown out to the 'burbs and bring suburban kids downtown through magnet schools and there you go.  It's not perfect, but it's worked pretty damn well.  And, of course, the genius is that it's not actually based on race, but the correlated factor that really matters: poverty.

The signal achievement is that there are no bad schools in Wake County.  You keep poverty in the school down and lots of good things happen: good teachers and administrators want to stay there and engaged and concerned parents want their kids to stay there.  You got that at at school and you're in business.  In contrast, once poverty starts climbing and bringing attendant problems, the best teachers and administrators and the parents of more promising students all flee and the school ends up in a downward spiral.  E.g., you can see quite clearly what happened in Mecklenburg County NC (Charlotte) when they ended their race-based busing.

All good, right?  Well, it so happens that having such a great school system means lots of people want to live here and thus Wake County schools have been growing at a huge rate.  You know what happens then– kids get bussed all over the place, especially from the high-growth fringe suburbs as schools cannot keep up with the growth.  Unfortunately, many kids end up being bussed 10 miles or more from home– a very unhappy situation.  The thing is, in most cases, this is a symptom of growth, not busing for socio-economic diversity.  Alas, busing for diversity makes an easy bogeyman for unhappy parents in lily-white suburbs and we've now got a very GOP-backed (in officially non-partisan elections) majority on our school board.  Diversity out, "neighborhood schools" in. 

It is, of course, more complicate than that, but that gets you 80% of the way there.  Toss in a previous majority that simply had a heavy-handed way of doing business (I supported their policies, but was not a fan) and also was increasingly requiring kids to attend mandatory year-round schools (9 weeks on, 3 weeks off on four different "tracks") and you've got plenty of unhappy parents.  I've always believed that if this was only about the economic diversity, our new anti-diversity majority would not have won.

So, what's so wrong with neighborhood schools.  Nothing, if you live in Cary, or Apex, or Wake Forest.  A lot, if your neighborhood is Southeast Raleigh.  The simple fact is that in many areas of Wake, schools will undergo a dramatic deterioration, greatly struggle, and ultimately fail to offer the consistently high level of education heretofore available throughout the entire school system. 

There is, of course, one potential step to mitigate this– invest tons of resources in these high poverty urban schools to ensure that they don't fall behind.  Do you really see a Republican majority board doing this?  Me neither.  They make vague mentions, but there's clearly, and not surprisingly given their ideology, no specific commitments or ideas to prevent this.  In short, it would take a lot of money and school spending– not generally the GOP approach. 

If you want some more background, the story has garnered national media attention.  Here's NPR.  And here's the NYT

Frum thoughts

Conservative thinker and former Bush administration flunky David Frum gave an address at NC State earlier this evening.  It was a weird experience, as for most of his speech, I found myself in a surprising amount of agreement with him.  I kept on turning to Cobb and saying "this is freaking me out."   When all was said and done, I realized why it was that I had so much agreement.  Frum approaches public policy seriously.  He believes in an honest accounting of costs and benefits to determine the best course of action.  The sad thing is, though, you could probably only apply that statement to a tiny handful of Republican elites (as opposed to plenty of elite Democrats).  Most Republican leaders these days have either outright disdain for thinking intelligently and seriously about policy or simply utter ignorance on the matter.  They see policy as something to be symbolically distorted for electoral goals, not something that is fundamental to how our country functions. 

Frum and I certainly have our disagreements, but I honestly feel that if you just put me and him in a room together, we could work out reasonable compromises composed of smart policy for the majority of America's problems.  Of course we disagree on subjective interpretations of various costs and benefits as well as certain goals we should have as a society.  For the most part (we'll leave out invading Iran), Frum struck me as a fellow traveler in the reality-based community (a specimen seemingly nearing extinction in the conservative world).  What separates Frum the vast reactionary and willfully ignorant body of the modern Republican party, though, is his willingness to think seriously about policy.  That's a sad, sad state of affairs.

Strategic Advice

Steve Benen had a nice post today pointing out the inanity of the idea that Republicans are somehow offering Democrats sincere advice on how to proceed on health care.  What's most frustrating to me is that the mainstream press keeps on quoting this drivel as if it were actually some sort of non-partisan, sincere, strategic advice.  Guess what, if Republicans keep on telling Democrats it would be a horrible thing for them to pass health care reform, it would most likely be a good thing for them.  Republicans now that passing this is good for Democrats, of course, but I think they believe that if they say it enough, maybe they can get the media to convince Democrats that this is actually the case. 

…it seems McConnell is awfully anxious to give Democrats campaign advice, which he expects Dems to take seriously.

"Every election this fall will be a referendum on this bill," McConnell said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

McConnell also said he sees no potential upside for the
Democrats, at least in the short term. "The benefits don't kick in for
four years," the Senate leader said. "Just looking at the politics of
it there's nothing but pain here for the next four years. Why in the
world would they conclude that would be popular?"…

In fact, I continue to think McConnell is protesting too much. If he
and his GOP colleagues were truly convinced that health care reform
would be the Democrats' death knell, they probably wouldn't be fighting
quite this hard to kill the bill.

It's more likely McConnell & Co. are feeling a little nervous.
After 100 years of talking about health care reform, Democrats may
actually deliver. After seven presidents tried to get this done,
President Obama may be the one to cross the finish line. For all the
GOP bravado, some Republicans might actually realize that the reform
bill, if given a fair hearing, is likely to be pretty popular with the

If Dems take electoral guidance from McConnell, they'd be making a colossal mistake.

Yep.  The voting public is none too bright, but they're not particularly known for rewarding failure. 


Quote of the day (finger puppets version)

Damn I wish I could write 1/4 as good as Jon Chait.  Here he is on the (much maligned by me) Politico's Mike Allen's inability to understand reconciliation (more on that general issue soon):

Does Conrad need to stop by Politico's offices with a picture book and
some finger puppets? I understand perfectly well how intelligent people
who don't follow this debate closely might not catch on to the
distinction. But this is what Mike Allen does all day — and, as I
understand it, much of the night and the wee hours of the morning as
well. How can anybody still not understand this?

Health care and abortion

I'm just so frustrated by the supposedly pro-life Democrats holding health care hostage in the House right now.  If it wasn't for Stupak and his blind followers, we'd already have legislation passed.  What's particularly frustrating, is that Stupak doesn't even know what he's talking about, as Tim Noah nicely demonstrates.   Stupak doesn't want the federal government paying for abortions.  I'm fine with that.  And so is the Senate Bill.  It sets up a seemingly ridiculous system where people make two separate premium payments to their insurer so that one of the payments, presumably not subsidized by government money pays for the part of the premium that covers abortion.  Sure, it's all accounting games, but look, once you have anything other than the government directly paying the cost of the abortion everything is potentially accounting games.  According to Stupak's logic, nobody who receives any money from the federal government should be able to have an abortion because that transfer of money allowed them to afford it.  You might as well say that anybody on welfare, rental assistance, unemployment, whatever, cannot haven an abortion because the fact that they have government money helped them pay for it.  Sure, this is less direct than the government helping to subsidize your health insurance premium, but again, once you get past directly paying for the abortion there's nothing close to a clear, bright line. 

It's also important to note that right now the federal government already subsidizes health insurance with abortions through tax law. Employer provided health insurance is a tax-free (i.e., subsidized) form of compensation and 87% of employer health plans provide abortion coverage (the insurers love it– an abortion costs a lot less than pregnancy and delivery).  Of course, if Stupak and friends actually wanted intellectual consistency, they'd demand that the tax exemption be removed from such health plans, but, of course, they are not about to do that.  

On a practical and moral level, what is so frustrating is that surely passing health care legislation will do so much more to save lives than killing this legislation would to prevent abortions.  Health care insurance saves lives!!  I really feel like that point cannot be emphasized enough.  Getting more people to have insurance means not only fewer unnecessary deaths, but quite simply will lead to dramatically less physical and emotional suffering (i.e., buy food or use the money to take your kid to the doctor) among many Americans.   Even if there were 1000 more abortions if this bill passed (I don't think too many people make abortion decisions based upon whether their health care plan covers it), which I honestly find highly unlikely, evidence suggests that perhaps 10's of thousands of lives would be saved and 100's of thousands probably materially improved.  That's nothing to sneeze out.  There's not some third alternative, this is an either/or choice.  What should have more value to our society– 1000 human beings yet to be born or 10's of thousands of people with mothers, fathers, children, friends, etc., who will die prematurely without access to health insurance.  That should be a no brainer if you really care about human life. 

Here's Harvard Sociologist Theda Skocpol making the same case (much more eloquently than me):

CATHOLIC PRO-LIFE DEMOCRATS also need to get a grip on core values. Do
they — or the U.S. Catholic Bishops — really want to be responsible for
scuttling access to health care for millions? Many deaths will be on
their hands if they do. Scuttling reform over abortion will give the
lie to “pro life” claims
. Abortion funding is not directly
available through public funds — it has not been for a long time, and
it won’t be under this legislation. Congressman Stupak, one suspects,
really wants to defeat comprehensive health reform; he was conspiring
with Republican leaders in the last episode. Other Democrats should not
follow Stupak. And responsible Catholic leaders should support the true
“pro-life” cause here: expanded, affordable health care coverage for
all Americans.


Blacksburg High (and my former life)

So, I was talking to my great friend Craig Brians, Virginia Tech Political Science professor, the other day and he told me that the roof of the gym at Blacksburg High School has collapsed.  My response: "I've been a substitute teacher in that gym!"  Fortunately, no one was hurt, but that's obviously quite a dramatic event. You can watch security camera video from the school here and also check out this photo gallery

That had to close down the whole school due to fear of further structural collapse and now the High Schoolers are finishing their year at Blacksburg Middle School (where I actually did the bulk of my substitute teaching) from 2:30-8:30 every day.  Ouch.  Beats having your High School fall on your head, though.

And, if you are curious about my illustrious career as a substitute teacher for Montgomery County public schools, it's like this.  Our last year of grad school, we lived in Blacksburg as Kim had an internship at the Va Tech Counseling Center.  In the Fall, I was fortunate enough to get a gig teaching 2 sections of American Government at Roanoke College.  In the Spring, no such luck. I had finished my dissertation in February and was doing a some research for my adviser, but I really needed to get out of the house.  Thus, my career as a substitute.  The weirdest part was after I had defended my dissertation in mid-March and I'm trying to stop 6th graders shooting spitballs at each other while watching a video and thinking, "I've got a PhD, Damnit!."  Anyway, the best part about those months of substituting is that to this day I am still grateful that I have the opportunity to teach college students and simply not worry about classroom management issues.  In many ways, teaching in high school is much harder than what I do.

My next career?

So, I had the Chief of Police of Cary, NC out to my class on Criminal Justice as a guest speaker on Wednesday.  She was awesome.  Great guest speaker and clearly an outstanding police chief.  I certainly feel safer knowing she's in charge.  Anyway, after class she was talking about the physical requirements to being a police officer and told me about the POPAT (Police Officer Physical Agility Test) and mentioned that she had to do her annual testing the next day.  To my great surprise, she invited me along.  You know I couldn't pass that up.  

The test basically requires you to: run 100 yards out; 100 yards back; pull a 150 pound person from a car and drag them 50 feet; up and down 4 stairs three times; through a 50-lb weighted door; 20 pushups and 20 sit-ups; steps again; crawl through 40 foot tunnel; 20 and 20 again; 100 yards out and back again; drag the person one more time; and you're done.  All that in 7:20 or less. 

There were about 6-8 other police officers who took the test.  I tied for second best with a time of 5:20.  Had a great time hanging out with some of Cary's finest, too.  If this whole Political Science professor thing doesn't work out, you'll know where to find me.


Cautiously Optimistic

Well, all the guys I trust (but Cohn, who has not weighed in yet) seem to be feeling quite optimistic on health care reform prospects today.  Chait, and Bernstein (whom I didn't know was also at Andrew Sullivan's blog), and honestly what makes me the most optimistic is how bullish Ezra Klein is today.  Especially from the sound of Chait, I think it is key that centrist Democrats are finally figuring out that it is the party's collective, and thus their personal interest to get this bill passed.  I'll be keeping my fingers metaphorically crossed.


Climate change skeptics = Johnnie Cochrane

If the glove don't fit, you must acquit.  Or not.  Bill McKibben has a great Op-Ed comparing climate change deniers to the defense in the OJ Simpson case.  It really seems like quite an apt analogy.  Especially, like OJ's lawyers, the climate change deniers are doing disturbingly well in public opinion:

In his closing arguments, Cochran compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler
and called him "a genocidal racist, a perjurer, America's worst
nightmare and the personification of evil." His only real audience was
the jury, many of whom had good reason to dislike the Los Angeles
Police Department, but the team managed to instill considerable doubt
in lots of Americans tuning in on TV as well. That's what happens when
you spend week after week dwelling on the cracks in a case, no matter
how small they may be. They made convincing mountains from the
molehills they had to work with.

Similarly, the immense pile of evidence now proving the science
of global warming beyond any reasonable doubt is in some ways a great
boon for those who deny that the biggest problem we've ever faced is
actually a problem at all. If you have a three-page report, it won't be
overwhelming, but it's also unlikely to have many mistakes. Three
thousand pages (the length of the latest report of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)? That pretty much guarantees
you'll get some things wrong.

It's good stuff.  Read the whole thing.


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