The Locker Room

May 13, 2004

A Rummy reminder

Posted by at 4:34 PM

Now is a good time to reflect on Rumsfled and not forget what most of the media cannot see.

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A new definition of insanity

Posted by John Hood at 2:31 PM

It used to be said that a working definition of insanity was to do the same thing over and over again and expect to get different results. But now, I observe, there is a new working definition of insanity:

Independent Weekly columnist Hal Crowther.

Seriously, a man who used to be an interesting left-of-center writer based in the Triangle has now turned into the literary equivalent of a sputtering, gesticulating loon seeking his dinner in your garbage can while muttering paranoid musings under his breath about space aliens and the Pope. Bush, taxes, Iraq, the environment — all are legitimate subjects for vigorous and even raucous public debate. But please read Crowther‘s (fair warning: lengthy) screed and tell me I’m the one who’s lost it.

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My three lawyer-sons

Posted by John Hood at 1:50 PM

Does anyone else pick up on the irony thick in this snippet from today's Charlotte Observer?

Mary "Ginner" Poe attended a talk on Medicare's new prescription drug discount card this week, hoping to make sense of the mailings she's received on the program. After hearing that N.C. seniors choose from 40 cards that cover different drugs and offer different discounts, Poe, 77, of Charlotte, was still puzzled. She now plans to enlist one of her three lawyer-sons to help her.

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A year later, USA Today weeps for poor Phil Donahue

Posted by Jon Sanders at 11:16 AM

In a sidebar to today's article on the difficulties of being a commencement speaker, USA Today heavily whitewashed last year's fiasco at N.C. State:

Talk-show pioneer Phil Donahue was booed when he asked students to "bring America back to basic constitutional values" and to stress civility rather than a "trend to the sword."

Merciful heavens, those loutish N.C. State grads! Right? Not quite — our own Baker Mitchell was in attendance, and here's his eyewitness report — on which I relied heavily (hope you don't mind, Baker) in the letter I sent to USA Today.

Now, judging by the large amount of letters USA Today says it receives daily, I figure I have a better chance of being insulted by a left-handed, tenured conservative sociologist than seeing it in print, so I'm publishing it here:

Susan O'Brian's description May 13 of Phil Donahue being booed during last year's commencement address at North Carolina State University was highly misleading. O'Brian made it sound as if N.C. State graduates booed Donahue for asking them to "bring America back to basic constitutional values" and stressing civility over a "trend to the sword." The fact is Donahue was insulting to the region, the parents, and the ceremony from the minute he began his talk. He began with a complaint that he had not been able to find another liberal to talk with since arriving in Raleigh and joked that after his talk he would go into witness protection. Again, these were in his opening comments. He then accused the parents of trampling the U.S. Constitution, citing several "violations," including his "loss" of speech rights when he lost his cable show. He then appealed to the students to uphold the Constitution by becoming liberals. He continued in this vein throughout the speech, concluding with a bizarre admonition to be liberal and teach Darwinian evolution. In other words, the boos were prompted by his silly politicization of the commencement, his disrespect for the ceremony, not the two innocent-sounding quotations O'Brian used. As N.C. State Chancellor Marye Anne Fox said afterwards, "I share your disappointment in Phil Donahue's address to our graduates on Saturday. Mr. Donahue chose instead to use our ceremonies as a platform for a speech better suited for a political audience."

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Public Schools, Baptists, the NEA, and Me

Posted by Dr. Karen Y. Palasek at 11:11 AM

I find myself in the odd position of being in agreement with North Carolina public schools, the Baptists, and the National Education Association on certain aspects of No Child Left Behind. Well, OK, the whole law.

I understand that you can’t be against a law that has good intentions, even if the thing is terrible, but there it is. As there is seldom a reward for honesty, and often a punishment, folks who ought to oppose this law are keeping mum. Perhaps they’re hoping for the best. Good luck to them. The NEA, to their credit, is baldly self-serving and isn’t even trying to hide the scheming to retain union power in the public schools.

Let's clarify a few things with respect to No Child Left Behind. NCLB is one of those "good intentions" federal programs (I hesitiate to call it just a law at this point) that centralizes the administration of school standards–accountability– and makes schools responsible to the federal government for certain prescribed outcomes. The hoped-for by-product is schools that are more acceptable, responsible, and effective wrt parents and children. But why should they be?

Certainly it's a good idea to want public schools to improve, but what have they been doing up till now? Just blundering along because they couldn't figure out how to do better, or just didn't want to? NCLB unfortunately is producing lots of incentives to satisfy THE LAW, as recent wriggling to adjust as much of it as possible reveals, as well as shameless grandstanding by almost everyone, but there is little evidence that this will eventually satisfy parents, or make children more accomplished.

Charter schools are the only schools in the K-12 public orbit that are willing to endure any element of market test, and as Roger Gerber, head of the League of Charter Schools pointed out at yesterday's Charter School Day at the Legislature press conference, they are held accountable to parents every day. Parents have no obligation to bring those kids back to the charter if its not up to snuff--whatever their view of what "snuff" happens to be. Unfortunately, the charter school movement is now locked into the NCLB model. This portends lip service to quality that will be judged at the federal level, and not primarily by parents, as was originally intended by the charter movement. Schools that are already doing a good job don't need NCLB; charters tht aren't doing a good job will lose clients and close. Fini.

Wherefore NCLB, then? Lots of teachers and school officials are unhappy with it because they may be caught in the headlights of poor performance, and nobody wants their incompetence or phoney programs exposed. They’re not embarrassed about past incompetence, they don't want federal sanctions. That they oppose NCLB is good, they just oppose it for the wrong reasons.

Federal intrusions into local control of local services are not the first-best, and perhaps not even the second or third-best solution to schools that have crashed and burned in terms of educational effectiveness. Like other federal programs (highways, health care, higher education) that impose standards in return for dollars, we should be careful not to be dazzled by the dollars, or by the old saw that "it just takes time."

Nope. It's not time, and its not dollars. We should be opposed to this law because its all wrong for freedom, even though it affords lots of opportunities to grandstand about how much whomever "cares" for the children. I think the Southern Baptist Convention
has seen the writing on the wall on this one, and, applause to them, they are taking a pro-freedom stand.

The problem with the federal approach is that there is virtually no going back, inefficient or not; besides that, there is little opportunity to test alternatives that were crowded out. No Child Left Behind is a bad law with good intentions, the consequences of which will certainly be a need for further regulation in some areas and watering down of intended standards in others. The schools may turn out to be "right" with the law, but where will the kids be? Same place, different day.

Correction: The original link to the Southern Baptist Convention material has been replaced by the source. This link refers generally to the same events.

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Junk Science hits the Big Screen

Posted by Jenna Ashley Robinson at 11:09 AM

The Day After Tomorrow promises to "raise awareness" and most likely paranoia about the threat of global warming.

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New catch-phrase: “Keep those slugs away from my spawn!”

Posted by John Hood at 10:36 AM

Folks in rural Columbus County say they may have discovered the ultimate “alternative crop” to replace tobacco: mushrooms. One farmer talks about his bumper crop of fungus this year here, including his sale of product at an amazing $8 a pound to a restaurant in Carrboro.

No, I can already see you smirking — not those kind of mushrooms, which I’m guessing are already widely available in Carrboro.

Get a load of the mouth-watering lingo involved in large-scale mushroom production:

The inoculation process involves an oversize plunger that places the right amount of spawn in the hole in the log. Melted wax seals the hole and the magic begins. Mushroom farming is not all harvesting and selling; since the mushroom spores travel through the air, the grower must seek out and discard native mushrooms that may find a home on the moist log. If the population of native fungi is too large, the best thing to do is to isolate the affected log. Slugs like to feast on the budding mushrooms on the bottom layer of logs, and deer and squirrels are fond of the fungi and must be dealt with. Moisture content of the log is vital and must be kept at the proper level.

Farmer and his group have discussed the selling of inoculated logs to others who may want to get into mushroom production.


I’m digging this story — sorry — even though some tobacco-settlement money appears to have been involved at the outset. Wouldn’t it be great to overhear “I’d like two inoculated logs, please” or “can you clear off the slugs off my log — they’re eating my spawn!”

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Must reading -- unfortunately -- on Iraq

Posted by John Hood at 09:39 AM

In Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami had an op-ed on the situation in Iraq that is simply must-reading for anyone trying to sort it all out from afar (both geographically and culturally). Unfortunately, the piece is not online unless you are a WSJ subscriber, so pass paper copies around your office or find yesterday's edition in the library before it gets stored.

Among other things, Ajami explains why the Bush policy of deferring to Lakhdar Brahimi’s meddling in the transition to self-rule was such a serious mistake, fortunately one that the Shiites helped Bush avoid in the end by saying, essentially, “hell, no” to Brahimi’s attempt to recapture Iraq on behalf of the pan-Arabist elites that tyrannize most of the region. He also notes that resolute if somewhat misunderstood military pressure is bearing fruit in Fallujah and Najaf while everyone is distracted by prison pictures.

Here’s a taste:

Mr. Brahimi hails from the very same political class that has wrecked the Arab world. He has partaken of the ways of that class: populism, anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, and a preference for the centralized state. He came from the apex of the Algerian system of power that turned that country into a charnel house, inflicted on it a long-running war between the secular powers-that-be and the Islamists, and a tradition of hostility by the Arab power-holders towards the country’s Berbers. No messenger more inappropriate could have been found if the aim was to introduce Iraqis to the ways of pluralism.

Mr. Brahimi owes us no loyalty. His prescription of a “technocratic government” for Iraq — which the Bush administration embraced only to retreat from, by latest accounts — is a cunning assault on the independent political life of Iraq. The Algerian seeks to return Iraq to the Pan-Arab councils of power. His entire policy seeks nothing less than a rout of the gains which the Kurds and Shiites have secured after the fall of the Tikriti-Baathist edifice. The Shiites have seen through his scheme.


Basically, American leaders lack the discernment, common sense, and confidence in the future that Iraq’s Shiite clergy has.

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Re: Sowell and Brown

Posted by George Leef at 07:38 AM

Brown v. Board is one of those cases that was decided the right way, but for the wrong reasons. I couldn't agree more that it was unconstitutional for states to maintain "separate but equal" school systems. The problem is that the Court's decision wasn't grounded in the Constitution at all, but rather in the murky sociology of Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish social scientist (who, strangely enough, shared the 1974 Nobel Prize with F.A. Hayek). Now it's quite possible that the "let's use law to make things right" notion would have swept in anyway, but the Supreme Court's decision, concluding that integration was a social good rather than that segregation was illegal, ensured that it would.

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