The gentleman from Pearland yields…

…to the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist from The Washington Post, Tom Toles:

Toles on Citizens

Friday rant, Declaration of Incoherence edition

Apparently now we not only hold SOME truths to be self-evident, but also just about ANY POSITION we happen to prefer. It’s pretty self-evident that Obama is not a U.S. citizen because we don’t like him. It’s clear that he wants to take everybody’s guns away because that’s what a president who isn’t a real citizen would do. He’s somehow against white people because he just MUST be. The economic rescue package didn’t do any good because it was Democrats spending money. It’s Democrats who are the worse deficit offenders because Republicans keep saying so. Tax cuts pay for themselves because we don’t like taxes. Climate change is a hoax because we don’t like the implications.

Even the most cursory examination of evidence is now too much to ask. Climate change deniers continue to send me their strange little clutch of misleading factoids and sly questions as if I had never seen that stuff before. But it’s pretty clear that they have not themselves read the overwhelming case for climate change, or simply are unable to evaluate or even grasp the concept of PREPONDERANCE OF EVIDENCE. It’s not that the political spectrum drifts left or right, it’s that’s it is cascading into absolute fantasy. It is impossible to engage in debate with these strange fevers, because they emanate from HOT HEADS. Excuse the cold water, but all opinions are NOT created equal.

Somewhere (perhaps in Miami) Leonard Pitts, Jr. is smiling.

Should my feelings be hurt because my dog won’t poop for me?

No, it’s not a topic I’d have thought I’d ever contemplate, much less be addressing; but here we are.  It goes like this:

Freak Frances HollyThis past January my wife and I (and our current dog Buffy, who I call Freakshow) adopted another dog at the humane society shelter.   She’s a four-and-a half year old, medium-to-large yellow Lab mix who had clearly had at least one litter, was very calm and eager to please, and got along well with the other dog (better than I do).  The folks at the shelter said all they knew was that she was brought in as a stray three and a half months earlier and had her shots; they’d called her Holly, and so did we.

I started learning just how smart and well-trained Holly was the day I brought her home.  I walked her on a leash out the front door of the shelter and opened the hatchback on my car on the way to letting her squirt before, I thought, I’d have to coax her into the car—but she jumped right in, sat up straight, and looked at me as if to say, “OK, where we goin’?”  She obeyed when I asked her to step back out of the vehicle and she relieved herself, then calmly got back in the car, laid down, and didn’t make a sound all the way home.

She spent some time sniffing around the garage when we disembarked, and happily heeled when I asked to come with me through the gate into the back yard.  I opened the door to let Freakshow join us, there was mutual sniffing, then we all went inside to begin our lives together.

Holly was underweight from having been a stray, even had some broken teeth from, the vet surmises, trying to eat rocks while she was out on her own.  I can see how she might have gotten a little nutty out on the streets in a Houston summer, but she turned out to be quite normal.  She was housetrained; she filled out once she got on a regular meal schedule (and shadows our steps whenever she thinks there are treats in the offing); she loves to go for walks, she greets enthusiastically when we come home, she eagerly rolls on her back to have her belly rubbed, she grabs toys from a box and proudly shows them off (although she doesn’t really want us to take them, just to watch her carry them).

And for the first few months, when I got home from work and let the dogs outside she’d trot smartly across the deck to the lawn and without need of any encouragement…avail herself of the opportunity.

Until one day two months ago: I’m out back with both dogs and everything is normal, and I notice Freakshow doing something stupid or destructive (also, alas, normal) so I yelled “Buffy, stop it,” or words to that effect, I really don’t remember what I said; but whatever it was it got Holly’s attention.

Instantly she stopped what she was doing, loped over to where I was standing, sat at my feet, looked up at me, and she waited.  I inquired as to her needs but she said nothing, just looked up and waited.  So I walked away, but she hustled over in front of me where she sat down, and looked up and waited.  I petted her on the head and said “Good girl!” but she sat there and looked up at me, and waited.  I couldn’t figure out what she was waiting for, so I came inside; both dogs followed me and we all resumed our normal routines.

Holly waitingWhen next it was time for Holly to go outside she bounded to the door, walked proudly out onto the deck, sat down, looked up at me, and waited.   And she would not walk off the deck into the yard to poop and pee; she would only walk off the deck if that’s what it took to sit down in front of me and look up and, yes, wait.  When I got tired of waiting for her to stop waiting for me, I came inside and so did she and that was that.

Now two months later, and nothing has changed: she goes just fine when mommy takes her outside, she never seems to be in distress, but she will not go for me.  I’m convinced that whatever it was I said to Freakshow that day sounded to Holly like a command she’d been taught in her old life, and I don’t know how to undo it.

I am reduced to hope…left only to imagine…perchance, to dream?

Lying numbers, the people who use them, the people who count

The trouble with reporting numbers in the news is that the people who provide the numbers have an agenda and the people who write the news don’t pay enough attention to what they’re being fed.  We have a great example here in Texas—great in the sense of being a good example, because in fact children and taxpayers are being hurt.

100714_PRESS_JournalismByNumbers Last week I ran across a piece from Jack Shafer in Slate praising a new book that reminds us to be skeptical of the numbers.   “No debate lasts very long without a reference to data, and as the numbers boil their way into the argument, you must challenge them or be burned blind by them,” warns Shafer, and he highlights some of the authors’ examples of cases in which funny figures are used for moral and political suasion.  He’s reminding us all to be vigilant; he reminded me of a case that makes the point.

This came to my attention earlier this month in a column by Rick Casey in the Houston Chronicle.  He wrote about  Houstonhochberg state representative  Scott Hochberg, regarded across Texas as the man with the best understanding of our school finance system, and his discovery that the Texas Education Agency was manipulating statistics to show dramatic improvement in the number of schools with better student performance on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, the standardized test of primary and secondary students’ mastery of basic skills.

How could they do that?  Through use of a statistical tool called the Texas Projection Measure, which was developed by a national testing company.

Hochberg asked…how many correct answers a fourth-grader with barely passing math and reading scores at Benavidez Elementary in Houston needed to be counted as “passing” the writing test.

The unbelievable answer Hochberg had reached himself was confirmed…The child needed zero correct answers for his or her teachers and administrators to get credit for his or her “improvement.”

That’s right: zero.

Under questioning by someone they couldn’t bullshit, the TPM developers had to admit the tool considers inappropriate data to come up with this remarkable result.  That made news (here and here and here), and not just because the state’s education commissioner failed to attend the hearing.  The governor’s appointee sent staff to defend the use of a statistical tool which, we now know, translates the reality of continuing poor performance by students on standardized tests into the appearance of improved performance by schools and the bureaucrats who run them.

And all just months before the governor stands for re-election.

So there’s no real surprise that the education chief now opens his mouth (via e-mail), resorting to one of the favorite tactics of the governor himself: accusing anyone found not to be in lockstep with the powers that be of trying to harm the state and the little skoolchirrun of Texas.  He also says he’s considering new ways to use TPM: maybe use it less, or leave it up to the independent school districts to decide if they want to use it.

What?!  The TPM is flawed; it’s designed to let school administrators pad the TAKS results to make it appear that their schools—and they themselves—are doing a better job.  Casey sums it up well:

That the commissioner would allow a system such as the TPM to be put into place without serious evaluation, and then defend it as “reliable and accurate,” tells me that neither he nor the governor who appointed him take seriously the most daunting and vital challenge facing Texas: building up Texas by educating our children.

Boss, and Ballyard—both gone

In March, in the days when the final slashes of the cranes were knocking down the last pieces of Yankee Stadium in that old cow pasture in the South Bronx, I wrote about my family’s history with the Big Ballyard.

Today, the old building is gone…and on the day that Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner gave up the ghost, New York Times sports columnist William C. Rhoden wrote about time, The Boss, and the old stadium, looking out at the empty lot from his bedroom window across the Harlem River.

I’ve spent the last two years avoiding the sight of the old Stadium being dismantled, and wondering, Would you rather be demolished and go quickly, or be dismantled like this, little by little?   The symmetry of watching the vibrant old Stadium and the once robust Boss deteriorate became a daily reminder of my own mortality, a reminder that nothing lasts forever.

Pompous is funny—Fox News proves it

Talk about looking for excuse to pile on!  Fox News Channel found one and did, and Jon Stewart was there to skewer them.

On last night’s The Daily Show Stewart used the coverage of a recent contretemps involving NASA (full disclosure: I work for a NASA contractor) to ridicule Fox’s anti-anything-Obama  attitude and its religious intolerance.

Yeah, yeah, I know, “We report, you decide,” and the news shows versus the opinion shows, but still…(and don’t bail out before he cracks America’s News Mommy, too.)


I once thought Fox just hoped the rest of us weren’t paying attention, but now I realize they don’t care about that.  They have faith, my friends—faith that eventually, each of us loyal, God-fearing, right-thinking Americans will come around and agree with them, and the lack of fairness and balance won’t matter.  In the meantime, cha-ching!

(All in all, sort of the same attitude that ESPN has, as demonstrated by having finally put their last shard of editorial integrity into a blind trust.)